SOL Tuesday: Beckoning the lovely in Room 202

Tuesday’s  Slice of Life writing community is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

It’s the story of my teaching life: I have an idea, I toss it out to my kids, and then they blow me away.  Over the years, I’ve learned to place my trust my kids in a “Field of Dreams” kind of way – if you name the idea, scaffold it a bit, and invest it with purpose, they will rise to the occasion, and often exceed the idea you had in the first place.

Two weeks ago, while thinking about the recent loss of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, I felt the need to share her with my students.  I wanted them to know of her work, her spirit, and the joyous way in which she invited her readers to consider noticing and doing lovely things.  So, I came up with this Slice of Life Assignment (we write a slice of life every Friday on our class blog):Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 1.47.49 PM

At first, my students were puzzled.  There were a hundred anxious and agitated questions: what do you mean by “lovely”? does it have to be something written down? can I sing a song? can I work with a partner?

Then they were a bit annoyed by the open endedness of the assignment (these are kids who seem to need very explicit directions: how many paragraphs? how many lines in each paragraph? – so much of my work with them this year has been to break this neediness and encourage more risk taking).

Then they got to work…and I waited.  Some of our “lovelies” came in during the week, and were cause for celebration, like Lila’s painting:

On Sunday, when the assignment was due, I logged on to Google classroom and watched lovely unfold:

  • movies about lovely moments and memories
  • planting trees in our neighborhood inspired by #ALTNPSPLANTATREE:

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  • creating a community kindness project:

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  • poetry – lots of poetry!

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  • crafting something lovely for those we love (sketching a flower for mom, delivering treats to grandma)
  • looking out of the window and celebrating the lovely that Nature has to offer (a cherry blossom in bloom):

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On Sunday, I was overwhelmed by what my kids had been able to do: they came to that metaphorical field and they brought their A game.  They imagined what kindness looks like, and they paused to notice what was lovely in their everyday.  We beckoned the lovely in room 202, and the joy of our endeavor reverberates.








#SOLC17:Sharing a SOL once a week really does build a writing community

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing

My sixth graders write a slice of life once a week from September through June. These SOLs are posted by Friday with comments due by Sunday, which gives me my Saturday afternoon ritual: read and comment on all student slices, making suggestions and offering compliments as I go along.  It’s one of my favorite teacher chores, for it allows me to see our morning and afternoon classes grow as a writing community across the span of a whole year.  My kiddos spread their writing wings and try new things, they become more confident about their writing voices, they enjoy reading each others’ work and leaving encouraging comments.

Yesterday was an exceptional SOL day for me.  I loved reading through each slice of life, of course, but half way through I discovered that we’d had a class reunion in the process of sharing our SOLs.  Here’s a taste of what that felt like:

A’s post made me smile because of its connection to our Social Studies work:

It was a long 4 hour drive in the car. Hours passing by, doing nothing and the only thing to see, is trees. All I heard was my sister snoring in the back, while I was trying to read my book. After all those boring long hours in the car, we finally made it to Boston.

I had told my dad that we were learning about the USS Constitution in Social Studies, and since our hotel was like five minutes away from the USS constitution my Dad took my sister and I to go see the USS Constitution. We were really close to where the boat was, and I could already see part of it. Unfortunately, the last tour of the ship was at 3:30, but we still got to see the inside of museum and parts of the boat.

In the museum they had a station where you could engrave your name in copper, because since they are repairing the boat they are going add copper sheeting to the outside of the boat. Now once they place the copper onto the boat my name will be on the boat. The boat’s finished model is really detailed and nice. I really liked going to see the boat in person since we have learned some much about it in class and now I can said that I saw this magnificent ship with my own eyes!

A’s post had me laughing out loud with its wry sense of humor, it was also a glimpse into how kids feel about being over scheduled:

Finally! I raced out of an annoying study skills class I had to attend every Thursday. I pushed open the doors of the school and inhaled deeply. Freedom! We learn nothing in the class, which really annoys me. I only really doodle the whole time, unless it somehow magically gets interesting. I walked down the steps and sighed. Now to go from one prison to another. I now had to go to… *dun dun daaaaaa!* HEBREW SCHOOL! I sit there for two hours learning prayers which I don’t even know what they mean. I would be fine with it if I did, but if you’re going to teach me something, I have to know what it means, right? I said goodbye to my friend who also had to endure the class with me, and then, with my head down, set out for the Hebrew School. Sadly, it was only two blocks away, so I didn’t have to walk that far. The only good thing about the class I had to attend was that I got to miss 30 minutes of Hebrew School. I will take what I can get.

Each step closer brought pain to me. Then I realized I had been walking the wrong way, which I guess my mind did intentionally, because by the time I got back to my normal route, I had successfully wasted another 10 minutes. Thank you mind. I stopped when I first saw the school. I sighed deeply, and started walking as slowly as possible, taking the long route around the parking lot.

Then, all too soon, the doors were right in front of me. I looked at them, and they seemed to look back saying: “Mwah ha ha! You will never get out alive! Surrender or prepare to die!!! Mwah ha ha!” Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a tiny bit.

But, that is my tale of walking to Hebrew School. Now you feel my pain. Then, once I walked into the classroom, I remembered we were making Hamentashens! I sighed in relief. I looked at the clock, and saw we had an hour left. I could deal with that.

O’s ending had me laughing out loud again:

Squeak! Squeak! Basketball shoes on the court. I reach in to get the ball, Crack! I heard my thumb loud and clear. “It’s broken,” I thought, but then I looked at it, a little red and very painful thumb. Phew! I was relieved it wasn’t broken, but then the wave of pain came back like a tsunami hitting the shore. I walked to the bench in agonizing pain. “Is it broken?” Mr. Stewart my coach asked. “I don’t know,” I replied. I showed him my thumb. “We need to cut off your hand and get a prosthetic one,” he joked, and I laughed a little. It was getting really swollen now, and very, very painful. “Here’s some ice,” my dad said, running from the bleachers around the court. He got it from my mom, who ran to the front desk, got a bag and scooped ice out of the freezer with her bare hands. I wrapped it around my thumb. It was freezing, but it felt so good. I watched the game for the whole 4th quarter, which was so boring, but I knew I couldn’t risk hurting it again.

Later that night, my dad said I sprained my thumb. He made me soak my whole hand in freezing ice water for 5 minutes. I couldn’t feel my hand.  “Where did you get this idea?” I questioned. “The internet,” he replied.

The internet: how to get false information to almost give your kids frostbite. My thumb has been getting better and it will be fully healed soon, I hope.

E’s post was thoughtful and serious, reflective of what she is like.  E thinks about the world and her place in it, just as her sister had done when she was in my class many years ago:

Last weekend,  I saw the movie “Hidden Figures”. It’s about three real African-American women, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who worked at NASA during the launch of John Glenn. The women face struggles with race and gender, like when Johnson has to travel half a mile to go to the colored women’s restroom. Jackson wants to become an engineer, but in order to become one she has to take extra college courses while everyone else does not. Jackson petitions and wins her case so she can integrate the evening classes at a white-only high school. Vaughan is constantly passed over for promotions, and she nearly loses her job, when NASA gets an early computer that can do complicated math problems faster than a room full of humans. Many of these problems may seem like history, but in reality they are still issues today.

For example, the bathroom problem is extremely important right now, because a lot of transgender students can’t use the bathroom of the gender they identify as. It can be very humiliating for them. And in some countries, girls can’t go to school because there is no bathroom for them at their schools. This sounds like such an odd reason not to go to school. We take it for granted, but the truth is, having a safe place to go to the bathroom everyday can make a huge difference.

This movie also shows that women are smart and can work equally as well as men. Women are often expected to stay home and take care of the kids, and are criticized for “not being good mothers” or “not being there for their kids”. This happened in history, and is still happening today.“Hidden Figures” also made me wonder who else was skipped over throughout history. People who changed the world are sometimes are forgotten, especially if they are women or people of color. Why?

And then, this, an impromptu class reunion among the comments (Heeseong moved back to Korea in January, we have not heard from him, but he apparently still checks into our writing blog…for there he suddenly appeared!):

E:I like how you said “All of that hard work for nothing”. It made it seem really important because you put it at the end.

Lauren:I like the ending


Heeseong:What is going on? Did you lose passing time?





O:Heesong!!!!! 😮





A:Heesong! I miss you soooooooo much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

S:Heesong tell us all about your new home!!!

M:Make a S.O.L Heesong!

How exciting!  I could just hear my kids’ voices shrieking over the ether space in delight as they felt some small connection with their old friend now so far away.  We write in writing workshop, true, but best of all we connect and build a community.


Honor the work

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The week began with treats and writing celebrations – a fitting way in which to mark Halloween.

At the end of our sharing time, my students collected their compliments and stapled them to their published pieces, and the room was silent for a while.  Writers read what other writers thought about their work:what went well? what needed work? could you identify the “so what?”   This led to conversations, and quiet self discoveries about how to be clearer in what we mean to say, and how to value each other’s voice.

Then, they collected their drafts, and the copies of their many revisions to create “work” folders.  “Wow,” I heard more than one student say, “we put so much work into this.”   Because, yes, over the last few weeks, we have been working hard to make our writing what we hope it can be, what we are learning it can be.

Today, as I begin the process of assessing this work, I see before me stacks of published pieces, work folders, and an open computer screen which reveals 42 writing folders in our writing workshop Google Classroom.  Each folder contains narratives that went back and forth between my kiddos and me: comments shared, resolved, argued over.

Writing well takes time, effort, frustration and resolve. Writing is hard work.  My kiddos have just begun their sixth grade journey of writing, and there is much ground to be covered…but today I will put off the business of assessing, and be content to simply honor their hard work.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Where did October go?

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Where did October go? I asked myself this morning, as I tore it off my office calendar and came face to face with November.

What had happened to October? I wondered, as I put a great big red “X” through it on our classroom school calendar.

Then, the first of my students began walking into our classroom…two ballerinas, one robot, Minnie Mouse, and a pirate…yes, Halloween is here and October is definitely over.

The question remains…where did it go?

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We read Some Kind of Courage, and learned about being brave and staying true to the best in ourselves, the “best” we weren’t even sure we had.  And, somewhere in the listening, and turn and talking ,and note jotting, we became a community of readers.  Our read aloud gave us one story to gather around, experience, and learn through. We came to know  Joseph and Ah-kee, and our journey to learning about them was also a journey of learning about each other: what makes us laugh out loud, what moves us to tears, and what lies between.

At one point in the story, Joseph and Ah-kee trade mementos:

We looked at each other a minute, then we both put the other’s memory into our own pocket.  They were new memories, now, but they were tied up and bound to the old.  That’s how memories work, I suppose; you just go through life collecting them, never let go of the precious ones but leaving room in your heart for more.  Pg. 172

And that’s how great stories shared in readalouds work, too…we’re going through our school year together collecting them, loving them, and leaving room in our hearts for more.  So, there was a piece of October…

…which was also spent exploring our stories and writing our own personal narratives.  We dug into our writer’s notebooks and took some ideas for a spin all the way from a seed idea into drafting, revision, editing and publishing.  This anchor chart became our workshop reality, bit by bit, as we learned together that writing is purposeful, sometimes joyful, work:


And October ended with a Halloween themed writing celebration: kids in costume munching on sweet goodies, sharing stories.

We made room for silliness, too, it being Halloween and all.  When the last bell rang, Batman collected writing folders, Alice in Wonderland helped put things away, and a long-tailed, tutu sporting mouse assisted in sweeping away leftover crumbs.   Writing workshop involves many shared tasks.  So that was another piece of October.

Reading and writing, learning and sharing, doing the work of building community…that was our October.  It was a month, all in all,  well spent.

“Writing to think” with StoryCorps

One of my goals this year is to work towards essay as envisioned by Katherine Bomer in her book, The Journey is Everything.  Week before last, we laid the groundwork by beginning the habit of  “writing to think”, which I wrote about here.  We had brainstormed a chart to launch this kind of writing:


and my students mostly used these ideas to wonder and write about.  It was a great start, but I wanted my kids to reach into the wider world, I wanted to challenge them to think deeper about issues, and to think about their own perspectives on these issues.  My sixth graders are conscious of the larger and more complicated world beyond their safe and lovely suburb, they are curious about what they see and hear about this world, and they want to know their place in it.  Writing to think is one way to engage their imagination, to shift their focus a bit from their world to the bigger world.

Last week, in an effort to present slices of the bigger world for my students to consider and write about, I reframed our “writing to think” objectives a bit:


I shared a StoryCorps podcast I had just heard and been moved by.  These were stories about belonging and trying to find one’s place, they were personal and yet they intersected with the bigger world of race, learning disabilities, and prejudice.  These were stories, certainly, to think and write about: paused after each story (there were three), so that we could think, write, and share.  I modeled my own writing thinking for the first one, so that my kids had a frame of reference for the kind of writing we were aiming for:

“I’m thinking about the courage it must have taken for a 17 year old to be a trail blazer for civil rights.  His parents fought for his right to attend LSU and I’m, wondering about the resistance they must have struggled through from the white community and from the people at LSU, and I want to research this case to understand it better. How did they prepare A.P. for the prejudice he would face? And how does a parent even do that? I’m wondering what A.P. must think about the America he lives in today, so much of the promise of what his parents hoped for has been realized…and so much has not.  What is L.S.U. like  today in terms of integration and race relations?”

I wanted my kids to extrapolate beyond the personal stories of each of these individuals to the bigger issues they faced, and to write to think through those issues.  Here’s what one student had to say about Eileen’s story:

“Eileen was not stupid, she had a learning problem.  I’m wondering how come none of her teachers ever figured that out and tried to help her. I mean, that’s what teachers and school is for.  I’m wondering what she could have done if they had figured out her problem, she could have maybe gone to college cause she seems really smart and hardworking actually.  I’m wondering if she went to  poor school, if that happens in poor schools that kids don’t get help. That’s just wrong.  School is supposed to help every kid.”

As we shared our writing, I could see my students reaching for ideas beyond the personal and of the bigger world: education, disease, medicine, race, prejudice, inequality.   They empathize, they want to know more, and they are beginning to see how writing allows a thoughtful exploration of ideas to begin.  Somewhere in these explorations, I have a feeling, are topics they will feel moved to write essays about.

At the end of the podcast, the editors play voicemails they have received for previous broadcasts.  We didn’t listen to these in class, but they made such a powerful impression on me that I intend to do so this Friday (our “writing to think” day), and to invite my students to leave messages for the podcast we will listen to.  Students who wish to do so will write them out on index cards first, and then record their messages on my iphone so that I can call them in.  It will be, I think, a powerful lesson in how to connect and be compassionate in the wider world.






Slice of Life Tuesday:Planting the way for essaying

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Katherine Bomer’s book, The Journey is Everything was one of those transformative professional books that stopped me in my teaching tracks and made me want to do better right away.  All Spring and Summer long, I read and re-read this book, joining in on book groups, Voxer discussions, and Google hangouts in an effort to figure out how I could lead my students towards the beautiful writing that  Katherine envisioned: essays to help them think in reflective, open-minded ways, to stir their emotions, teach them about life, and move them to want to change the world.

We’ve spent our first three weeks of school planting seeds of the stories of our lives in our notebooks, and writing narratives based on these seed ideas.  Now, it was time to look beyond writing about small moments, and think about what Katherine Bomer calls writing to think.  In her fabulous keynote for The EdCollab Gathering last Saturday, Bomer shared a bit of the “how to” of this kind of writing with this slide:


and some generative questions in this slide:


which formed the basis of our writing workshop discussion and charting on Monday:

And then, both my students and I opened our writer’s notebooks and created lists of our own.

Today, we threw ourselves into a “try it” – reaching into our lists, finding an idea, and then writing to discover where our thinking would go.  It took all of us a little time to get going, but when we did, we discovered that the writing came quickly and led us into unexpected places.  Here’s where I went today (first for my morning block and then for my afternoon one):


I sketched some thoughts, then wrote…and in each case, my ideas began small (rude drivers, cut down trees) and journeyed towards something larger (kindness, civic responsibility).  I shared my writing with my kids, showing them that it was messy and rambling in parts, but seemed to get somewhere by the last few sentences.

My kiddos shared that this had been (for the most part) their writing experience,too.  We talked a bit about this journey, and then we tagged our entries with sticky notes with writing plans/thoughts/audiences should we ever want to return and extend our pieces.  It was, we agreed, interesting work – work we will return to this week, and from time to time in the weeks and months to follow.

This evening, as I think about our writing day, I return to this passage in Bomer’s book:

In our classrooms, we can create experiences that enable kids to literally see and touch the process of idea generating as it unfolds before them.  The writer’s notebook works supremely well for this – a tangible version of a mind that contemplates, sparks connections, remembers, and changes course.  (Pg. 65)

It’s exciting to think ahead as we make our own journey towards meaningful essaying with these first steps…

Slice of Life Tuesday: The Zone of Discomfort

Join the Slice of Life Tuesday writing community @ Two Writing Teachers


We were in the zone of discomfort yesterday, and it did not feel good.

All of last week, we had worked hard to create writing lists and visual writing tools.  All of last week, I had heard my students storytelling as they worked to create their lists and maps.  And all of last week there was a confidence and a sense of joy in this storytelling.  They were comfortable with storytelling, which is the foundation of our writing workshop.  That’s wonderful, I thought to myself on Friday, we are ready to move from collecting writing seed ideas to stretching those ideas into writing entries.  

On Monday, I walked my kids through my process of sifting through my lists and visuals, weighing the merits and interests of a few selections, and then deciding upon one to write about.  I thought aloud, modeling my quick-sketch of the seed idea, and the way I tried to think through the narrative once more, just to make sure that I had at least a tentative road map.  Then, I asked my kids to sift through their own lists and decide on their own writing topics and plans as they sat at our meeting area.  Once they felt ready to begin, they were to return to their seats and begin writing in their writer’s notebooks.  I looked around at attentive faces, seemingly ready to begin writing.

So far, so good.

I took my perch on the stool in front of the classroom, my own notebook open and began to write.  Deep into my first paragraph, I glanced up to check in on the progress my students were making.  A few had begun sketching out writing game plans, but many were gazing up the ceiling and out the windows, and some were beginning to make the first of many treks to sharpen their pencils or grab a tissue.

But, writing takes time, and gazing about or getting up to stretch is all part of my writing process as well.  I went back to my own writer’s notebook.Ten minutes in, I glanced up to see more of the same…a few writers, many gaze abouters.  My students seemed lost, their story telling desire extinguished.

We were settling into a zone of discomfort.

I knew that many of my kids wanted me to confer with them right away, to provide a nudge, or the beginnings of a plan.  Some had a title, some had the first few sentences, some had erased what they had written several times over…now, they had nothing.

The writing part of my brain continued to work on my entry, but the teaching part of my brain began to ponder the options.  Should I let those struggling to begin writing continue to struggle? Or should I let my kids feel their way through  this part of the writing process, the hardest part  – making a choice and getting started?

It was uncomfortable.

But, my writer self also knows that this struggle is something every writer, from beginning to expert,lives through and learns from.  Experience has taught me that each student finds their way through this struggle in their own way and in their own time.  A conference nudge may get them going this one time, but not the next.  If I swooped in to offer assistance, they will come to expect and rely upon it.  It would be the easy way out for my kids (who were looking rather hopefully in my direction) and for me (who was beginning to feel guilty).

So, we stayed in the zone of discomfort.  We muddled through…as all writers do.