Slice of Life Tuesday: The sound of (summer) silence

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers


Summer has just begun, but I still hear the echoes of my sixth grade classroom: the voices of my students talking, the bang and clatter of their movement, the cacophony that is passing time in our hallways.

Summer has just begun, but I still awake with a start at 5 a.m. and wonder if I had taken care of the this and that which will make the school day ahead move as smoothly as can be hoped for when one teaches eleven and twelve year olds.

Summer has just begun, but…I am still in school mode.

This evening I emptied my trusty L.L.Bean back pack – out came student notes to me, reminders from me to me, a schedule of the last week of school, copies of student work I need to analyze over the summer, books I plan to read, scraps of paper with information I cannot remember enough to decode, and one very squished up clementine.

Tomorrow I will begin to fill it up again: summer work, summer goals, summer dreams.

What do I wish for? Here’s a slice of my summer list:

*Quiet time to sit on my porch, unpack my school year, reflect, and think.

*Quiet time to read uninterrupted, undisturbed by the “do this, do that” of the school year.

*Quiet time to write, to make many journeys of thought about who I am as a teacher, a parent and spouse, a human being.

*Quiet time to drive along long stretches of upstate New York countryside, with cornfields and cows and mountains as far as the eye can see, and just be in the moment: to savor what the soul needs.

Summer quiet is a lovely thing…I am so looking forward to it.



Slice of Life Tuesday: Another year…another multi genre project

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

We’ve been working towards Monday’s multi genre writing celebration for the last month. Day after day, and evening after evening (thanks to the wonders of GoogleDocs), my students worked at writing about a topic of their choice in four of the ten genres we had explored in writing workshop, and I worked at commenting on their writing and offering my suggestions.

Some days were productive, and some days were less so.  Summer beckoned from our classroom windows during the week, and it was even harder to focus on the weekends. But, we kept at it, chipping away at what seemed at first a huge and hard to manage task.

Sometimes we loved our topic of choice and they ways in we had chosen to write about them, and sometimes (especially in the middle of the process), we were much less enthusiastic.  But, we kept at it, trying our best to do our best.

And then, the end came into view: our multi genre writing celebration, the day we open our doors to parents, and share our work.  First, we signed up for celebration day jobs:


Then we made invitations:


And then we set up for presentation day:


I  stood to one side  of the classroom, taking in the scene. Parents milled about, reading and chatting, students answered questions about process and intention: this was what an authentic audience looks like and sounds like.  My kiddos looked happy, proud, and just a bit abashed at the attention their writing was garnering.

All that work was worth this.




Slice of Life Tuesday: Honoring Anne Frank


Image result for anne frank quotes i don't want to have lived

Anne Frank would have been 88 yesterday.  We took some time to remember her life, and re read her words.  We  spent time looking at photographs of  Anne, noting her clear eyed and steady gaze, her gentle and somewhat mischievous smile.  And we paid a virtual visit to the secret annex – known today as the Anne Frank House.  Then, we wrote Anne to tell her spirit that she still lives within the best of each of us, and that we hope to honor her memory by living in a way that would live up to her hopes for humanity and the world it inhabits.


Some of what we wrote….

Here is what your words mean to me – even though one may lose something when giving it to others, they do not become poor because they have given all they could and improved our world. You become richer by giving, and you grow a little each time.  It’s important that the world knows this.  I think that if everybody in the world gave, we would have a little less hate and war and sadness.

Although you went through extremely hard times, you still managed to see the good in people.  Everyone should learn that even through dark times, a light will always shine through.  If we believe the world is beautiful, maybe we can make it beautiful…We can make the world a better place if we would only try. ~ Elena

That single candle was you, you defied and defined the Holocaust.  ~ Amelia

Everybody could improve the world.  Even in times without hope, you believed that hate wasn’t the answer, and your spirit never ceased to be fun and outgoing.  You were optimistic, and even in darkness you were able to see light.  You were able to improve the world in your own way – with your diary that taught people important lessons about love and seeing the good in people. ~ Liza

What you said really taught me something: you can define your own life.  Even if something is bad, you can choose not to let it bring you down. You can be the candle in the darkness that is hate and fear. ~ Robbie















Slice of Life Tuesday: Of gardening and teaching

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Last weekend, my husband and I spent hours and hours choosing sites, preparing the ground, and planting everything from rhubarb to blue berry bushes.  Each young plant came with a few general instructions about how to go about this endeavor, and a note of caution: these plants were young, it would be several years before we could expect any blossoms or fruits.

We knew this. We were planting for the future, for our children and their children, and for who ever else may own our farm years and years from now.  Still, we took care to research what was needed for each variety of plant, to find the spot that would give them the best chance to thrive, and to prepare the soil with what each needed.  And, in the weeks and months and years ahead, we will tend to them.

Teacher nerd that I am, I (of course!) was making many connections between gardening and teaching.  We plant for the future, and we teach for the future.  We plant hoping that, with the right kind of nurturance, things will take root, grow bit by bit, blossom here and there, and eventually thrive and bloom with consistency, year after year.  We teach, day after day, with that same faith and hope.

The end of each gardening day, of collecting assorted gardening tools and storing away the bone meal, peat moss, and the like,  felt very much like the end of my teaching day -collecting  notebooks, storing away our pencils and pens, and restoring order to our classroom library.

In these last few weeks of the school year, I want to hold on to each moment of our classroom lives.  I see so much growth already, and yet I know that I will not be there to witness the flourishing.  Soon, and ever after, my kids will be tended to by other teaching hands.   They are ready to go…we have done good work this year, and they are prepared for the journey ahead…

…but I have begun missing them already.

Slice of Life Tuesday: It’s time to do…and be watchful

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

We are in that interesting, end of the school year place in our classroom life: on the one hand we are ready to:
Image result for getting it doneWith six weeks to go,  I’ve turned over our writing workshop entirely to my kiddos.  They have just begun their multi genre unit , which they will navigate mostly on their own, with some guidance from me if and when needed.  In history, I story tell as they  work to incorporate what we’ve learned into various interactive projects (games, skits, narrative stories, learning tools).  And in reading, we read alone and together, talking when we can, writing our thoughts out when we feel like, and sharing the joy of one last read aloud.  My kids have learned to do and get things done; in that way, my work with them is largely done.  Now, it’s their chance to show what they know, what they can do…what their sixth grade year of learning has yielded.

On the other hand, when it comes to other aspects of our sixth grade life, it is also the time to be extra vigilant, for my kids to know:

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They are too-comfortable with their sixth grade lives – all the nervousness of entering middle school is long past, and they are edging into seventh grade wise aleck-dom.  Their old (and very sweet) enthusiasm has given way to a practiced appearance of boredom, a sense of  entitlement and a disregard for authority.  They are entering a dangerous part of adolescence, pushing away and pushing back just when they are most confused and need our guidance.  It’s an easy time to step back, throw up one’s hands, and complain. It’s an easy time, often,  NOT to like them.  And sometimes it’s easy just to look away from what they do, to pretend to not hear what they say and not see what they do…it’s the end of the school year, and we are all tired.  BUT, this is when I find I need to be extra watchful, to let them know that my eyes are trained on them and that I am hoping to see the fruits of all the work we have done together to practice every kindness, to build a compassionate and responsible community.  I want them to know that I still have expectations, and that I will hold them accountable.

So there you have it, the story of my last weeks of school: stepping back in one way, and stepping up in another.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Prepping our kids for life

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

We are halfway through reading workshop, period two in our sixth grade day.  Period one was writing workshop, but its work spilled over into the next period and we just kept going.

Kids are spread out all over every work space – desk tops, reading rug, floor and even out into the hallway.  The place, quite frankly, looks a mess.  Since all our laptops are busy being used elsewhere in our school, we are working on photo essays the old fashioned way – big sheets of easel note paper, magazines for pictures, markers, and scissors.  In between stretches of purposeful work (gathering pictures, framing a story, reading for information to add to the story, sequencing the narrative, and putting it all together) there are short bursts of tomfoolery (wise cracks, someone practicing using someone else’s crutches).  There is a steady hum of conversation punctuated by the occasional snort or laugh.  We are working hard.

Earlier in the year, first and second marking period for instance, the scenario would have been very different. Group projects then were often agonizing efforts, and some of them were entirely fruitless.  Turn and talks needed much prodding, and book club conversations needed careful supervisions.  It was exhausting.

Watching my kids at work this morning, I thought about this Tweet from last week’s Good to Great chat:

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In my Voxer conversations with teacher friends, we talk about this transfer all the time. The reading and writing part goes hand in hand with the thinking and living part. But, teaching the reading and writing and thinking, we always agree, is easier than the living. Teaching the living is messy, makes-you-want-to-pull-out-your-hair-work, because it is so unpredictable and progress is often unpredictable, with fits and starts and stops along the way.

And yet, the richness of our classroom lives depends upon this work. How carefully do our kids listen to each other? How deeply do they care about valuing each others’ ideas and making room in their thinking for their classmates’ thinking?  How often do they give each other wait time?  With what frequency and depth do they dip into their toolkits of strategies to help themselves, and each other, move through the difficult work of every day learning?

Cornelius’ Tweet led me to the work of Grant Wiggins, and a quote from an article he’d written many years ago, which I’d copied into my curriculum plan book:

Independent and self-regulated behavior is practiced all the time, not postponed until many discrete “sideline” activities are done over many lessons. You have to practice transfer to master it!

Have learners practice judgment, not just skill. Transfer is about judging which skill and knowledge to use when. Transfer is thus not about plugging in a “skill” but “judgment” – smart strategy – in the use of a repertoire of skills.

Grant Wiggins: What Is Transfer?

Practice and judgement.  Perhaps this is what Cornelius was referring to in his Tweet. We must make every day opportunities for practice and judgement, even when it doesn’t go as planned, even when we think we’re wasting time…

…because, as I look out at my kids working together, I know it was all so worth it.  Cornelius is right – our work is also about prepping our kids for life, and it is such important, worthwhile work.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Testing, testing, testing…

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Spring Break is over and testing season is here – the PARCC test, and the “too cool for school” test.   The PARCC test will be over and done with in a week…the other test, well, that will take longer than we have time for this school year.

Every year,my sixth graders return from their Spring Break on the precipice of adolescence.   A switch is flipped by some mysterious, known-only-to-sixth-graders force, and they return from break seventh graders in spirit and behavior.  Suddenly (or so it seems), there is a need to present a cool facade, a demeanor of disinterest, a sort of “I’m kinda done with this little place-ness”.  Everyone has a crush on someone else, and middle school drama begins to show up at inopportune times…in the middle of book club, for instance.

Sly smiles, and throwing serious shade  become common place; a need to watch oneself becomes moment by moment work, for one never knows who is watching, or what they might say.

Of course, all of the above does daily battle with the pre-Spring Break self who fights mightily, and with success, at every turn.   That sophisticated sixth grader can (ion the blink of an eye) morph back into the kid who laughs at fart jokes, needs to build a “reading fort” behind the easel, and wants to spend choice time writing about magic wands.

And, of course, there is the unrelenting need to test boundaries, rules, limits, patience…and sometimes even kindness.  They are watchful when testing, paying close attention to how far they can push before there is push back, to whether the same rules apply in the same way they did when the year first began.

They are comfortable with each other and me, sometimes too comfortable.  Throughout the day there is the constant push and pull of maintaining that exact level of comfort that allows for freedom of expression, creativity, and thinking, and yet prevents all of that good stuff from careening off into mayhem (which they both yearn for and and are terrified of).

Testing, testing, testing….