Slice of Life Tuesday: Why slice? Here’s why…

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

My weekend plans were gathered and focused in one place, the only spot with the room for it all, my dining room table:


Here were poetry notebooks, reading journals, charts to copy from the in-the-moment mess of student sharing to something useful we could all refer to, lesson plan book, lesson hand books, movies to screen for Social Studies, and books to read for the Cybils Awards (I’m a second round judge for middle grade fiction ūüôā ). ¬†But, the task I was itching to get to was still buried in my laptop: my students’ slice of life writing.

Of all the “stuff” that anchors our year of learning, it’s this weekly posting that brings us together and knits it into what we will will always be, even after the school year is over: a community. ¬†When I first present our Slice of Life writing project to my sixth graders, they are less than enthusiastic. ¬†“We have to do this every week?” they ask, ¬†“Why???”, they wonder. ¬†So, I show them the community of teachers who assemble every Tuesday here at TWT, I tell them about what it feels like to write for this community, and how doing so makes me a better writer. ¬†I tell them that hearing stories from all over the world expands my view about writing, yes, but also life and the way human beings can bring grace and pleasure and comfort into each other’s lives through sharing their writing. ¬†They look at me, that first day, utterly unconvinced. “Right…” they say, “Uh..huh.”

And then we begin, and so too does the magic.  This was some of the magic I entered when I began reading what my kids had to say:

From Naomi, something important she felt we ought to know:

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From Ethan, a nerve wracking chess match:

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From Lisa, the only bit she wished to share about her recent surgery:

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From Miriam, a slice of middle school life:

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And, from Romy, who has been sad of late, the reason why:

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By the time I’d read fifty slices of life and the thoughtful comments my kids had left for each other, I knew that my kids had already come to change their minds about this writing project. ¬†For, when we share a slice of our lives we do so much more than just practice writing…we become part of something much, more more: a community.


Slice of Life Tuesday: My teaching philosophy – summed up in two Tweets

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

I’m a week into the new school year, a time of excitement, trepidation, and exhaustion. It always takes a few weeks to regain teaching stamina, and I’m not even close to being there yet.

The new Smithlings are settling into life in our classroom: we know each other’s names, we share our stories, we chime into discussions about reading and writing and politics, and we laugh. ¬†I love the laughter…it will see us through the year, it will be among what we ¬†remember best.

I’m slowly learning about the children I have the privilege of teaching this year – it’s a watchful, close listening time for me, a time of observing small gestures and quick glances, for there is so much to be learned about my kids by simply being quiet and listening to them.

My slice of life today is really anchored by two Tweets. ¬†I came across each of them at the end of my block teaching time, when my kids had left the classroom but echoes of our time together were still reverberating in our space. ¬†At times like this, I sometimes feel a sense of panic: the work of a school year is so enormous, the responsibility of being part of what shapes a child’s progress as a learner and as a person is so great. ¬†Am I up to this task? And what is it that I truly want to accomplish as an educator – beyond just “the skills”.

So, these Tweets spoke to that sense of panic:

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Yes, what my kids need to know from me is that I am here for ALL of them – I choose to teach ALL of them: no labeling, no sidelining, no ignoring. ¬†Each child deserves to feel that she has a place in our learning community, each child deserves to know that I’ve got his back.

And this:

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I happened to see this Tweet after a particularly wrenching discussion about Charlottesville. ¬†My students had many questions and opinions, but mostly they were scared and wanted some form of reassurance that the world is still a good place. ¬†Listening to them, I was reminded of the words of Anne Frank: “It‚Äôs difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It‚Äôs a wonder I haven‚Äôt abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” ¬†Children want to know that good is good, and evil is evil, and that the grownups they trust will work to ensure that it stays that way. ¬† To care about what I am saying and what they are getting from what I am saying…that’s part of my work, too.

I found these messages reassuring and empowering Рthey helped anchor my teaching thinking in these early days.  For that I am grateful.


Slice of Life Tuesday: What I would like to hear and do on “Opening Day”

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers


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A new year – a new lesson plan book!

Opening day, the first official day for teachers in our school, is about a week away but I am dreading it already. ¬†It is my least favorite day of the school year, which is probably not a politically wise thing to admit to…but true.

Here’s what every opening day of my teaching life has looked like: Everyone arrives to sign in sheets and a breakfast of doughnuts, danish pastry, and weak coffee. Thank goodness for that weak coffee, though. ¬†We move from the cafeteria to the auditorium (more sign in sheets) and prepare ourselves for opening remarks in which someone from the School Board essentially tells us that we must do more with less and that (nevertheless) our school is the crown jewel of our town. ¬†A few inspiring quotes will be shared for that humanistic touch. There may be a PowerPoint. That is followed by someone from the school’s ¬†administration telling us what the district’s new goals will be (remember, we must do more with less) and how important it is for us to keep these goals in mind as we march into the new school year. ¬†There will definitely be a PowerPoint – many with pie charts and graphs so we can visualize how to do more with less. ¬†And inspiring quotes, hopefully not the same ones we saw in the previous one. Then we will troop out of the auditorium and into another meeting just for our particular school. ¬†Sign in sheets, and another PowerPoint to remind us of procedures, rules, expectations, changes in how things are done. ¬†There may be an ice breaker activity so that we can be reacquainted with our colleagues in the most awkward way possible. ¬†There may be additional quotes, one year we even had a pop song thrown in – the less I say about that, the better. ¬†Then we will be asked to meet with our teaching teams so that we can go over said rules, and changes in procedure. ¬†Definitely no PowerPoints to look forward to, thankfully. ¬†Finally…we can go back to the places where the real stuff of our teaching lives happens: our classrooms.

Every year, I sit through all of the above thinking of only that last part: my classroom. ¬†To be honest, I’ve been thinking about my classroom all summer, and I would have been there the week before getting it ready for the year (which is a good thing, because getting a classroom ready for a school year is a labor and thought intensive process). ¬†Our classroom is half of the ¬†beating heart my teaching life – every book, stick of furniture, placement of furniture, wall and corner of this room has been thought out to best suit the other half of the heart: the children.

When I think of these children, and the year ahead, I am filled with so much emotion: they are why I show up every day, they are why I read and think teaching things all summer, they are what will keep me up late into school nights. The children.

I wish Opening Day could be less about procedures and ¬†facts and directives and opining about lofty goals for the school district. ¬†I wish all of that could just be sent to us via email sometime before, so that our first official day back in our building could be more joyful, more nourishing of our teaching souls. ¬†Teaching is hard, hard work. ¬†The school year makes many demands ¬†on our time and on our emotions that vary as wildly from year to year as do the children we are responsible for. ¬†Opening Day should acknowledge that. ¬†I would love for it to be about a quick gathering of building staff and then TIME to get back to our rooms. ¬†I would love it be about being in that space upon which so much depends with time to make that shift of mental gears: from summer time research and planning to school time “here we go” reality. ¬†I would love the luxury of quiet time in which to put the last few things in order and immerse myself in thoughts of hope, and dreams of doing with the children – to get into the teaching zone again in the way I, the teacher, see best fit.

That’s what I would like to do on Opening Day.


Slice of Life Tuesday: July dreams

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers


July has come and gone, and August begins today. ¬†Those were my first thoughts upon waking this morning: July is gone, here comes August…here comes the new school year! Even though I have three more weeks of Summer vacation stretching out before me – somehow, the moment I see August on the calendar, I think about Room 202 and the kids who will be walking in.

July is for dreaming…August is for planning to make those dreams come true; here are some July dreams:

*carving out more time for students to share what they have been reading with each other. My summer book club has been so much fun – lots of reading, and lots of talking about the different books we’ve read and how they have impacted us as readers. I want to give my students a chance to do this, too.

*opening up our reading journals to new ways to experiment with reading responses. ¬†For my summer book club and the PD book groups I participated in, I deliberately experimented with sketch noting and a few other forms of responding to both fiction and nonfiction. ¬†I want to make time to share these with my new students, and to brainstorm with them for ideas they will undoubtedly also have. ¬†It’s time to have more response options in reading workshop!

*our soft start of the day was such a success, that I want to experiment by bookending our block of time (three periods) with a soft closing as well, just to give my sixth graders an opportunity to end their time in our classroom in a calm way as well.

*designing a short unit on “how to think like a historian” before we go on to examine the historical time frame mandated by our curriculum. My friend Julieanne shared this link with me:, and now I am more excited than ever about opening our year with this unit.

*creating a history blog, so that we are writing about the events we’re learning about, and carrying on with our class discussions after time to think/do some independent research. ¬†This is a work in progress, but that’s what August is for.

*a graphic novel book club. ¬†I think it’s time for this!

I have a few more dreams up my sleeve, but the above seems quite enough to get through for the moment.  After all, three weeks is not that long of a time to make all of those July dreams come true!

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


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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 Рknown 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 ‚Äď 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