Reflections from the All Write Institute — #1

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Reflection #1: The Art of Smart

Greg Tang opened the first day — early! Driving from Fort Wayne, where I scored free room and board with my mom (!), took longer than I thought, but I was ready to learn! It was 8:15 at the All Write Institute, and Greg Tang — the math teacher — started his keynote session: “What’s that math guy doing at a literacy retreat?” (Laughter and fun ensued throughout the hour presentation!) Although I was not present at this particular institute to learn math or how to teach math, I learned! I listened as teachers “ooh-ed” and “ah-ed” at his pattern “tricks” (which he firmly told us were not tricks, but ways to see patterns). I learned to use larger numbers. I learned that one uses math every day to experience the world. I learned that math, like reading or writing, is an art. The art of smart. Students should not learn their multiplication facts to 11; they should learn how to multiply. Greg Tang taught us, and we were in awe!

IMG_3487   One area of new thinking for me was that math is a language. I heard this before, but during this session, I lived it. Math — my somewhat foreign language — can become easier with practice and guidance (and more practice) that lead to understanding. Understanding is the key. Just like in reading! We read to make meaning. These literacy teachers from far and wide came together in Indiana to learn, to understand, and to have fun. Greg Tang makes math fun! I want to use Greg’s message in my classroom each day: You can learn to understand with the right supports and lots of practice, and you can have fun doing it! I want my students to practice what I teach. I want my students to understand what I teach. I want my students to have fun as they learn. Every day.

 

Summer Reading: Where Should I Start?

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Summer Reading: Where Should I Start?

In the last week, I have read no less than 14 (that’s where I stopped counting) book lists and recommendations for summer reading. I am overwhelmed at the sheer number of LISTS out there, and I wonder how I will ever be able to choose, start, and finish all the books on all the lists! Which list is best? Should I read a series? Should I stick with a certain genre or author? Will I be more satisfied with adult books, or should I stay with the YA bunch and prepare for the next year of teaching middle school? Maybe I could read all the picture books with my granddaughter and decide with her which ones stand out.

So many lists! So many questions! Then, it hit me. It’s summer, right? I should heed the call to read my choice of books! So simple! Then I panicked again. Where should I start?

Like a Mack Truck…smack! A friend’s blog post not only mirrored my thinking (thank you, Tara Smith), her words cemented my decision. I will start at the top of my own pile and read whatever I want, all summer long! That’s what we recommend to our students; that’s what the research says: Summer reading should be choice reading. Summer reading should be enjoyable. Just do it! So I am…reading what I find intriguing and loving every minute of it. And you should read, too. Whatever you want. Whenever you have time.

Just do it!

My students talked about these titles quite a bit. Maybe you’ll want to check these out:

Wonder (Palacio), Out of My Mind (Draper), Crossover (Alexander), The Impossible Knife of Memory (Anderson), Number the Stars (Lowry) , Divergent (series)(Roth), Percy Jackson (series) (Riordan), The Tiger Rising (DiCamillo), Big Nate (series) (Peirce), Michael Vey (series) (Evans), Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series)(Kinney), and El Deafo (Bell).

My YA favorites this year (in addition to the books above): Brown Girl Dreaming (Woodson), The One and Only Ivan (Applegate), The Fault in Our Stars (Green), When You Reach Me (Stead), Home of the Brave (Applegate), Fish in a Tree (Hunt), Counting by 7s (Sloan). There are so many others  – you don’t want to read my list…read the books!

My Starting Line Up of Summer Picks (Adult titles, not for school): Every Day I Fight (Scott), All the Light We Cannot See (Doerr), Summer Rental (Andrews), Zeitoun (Eggers), Gray Mountain (Grisham).

Picture Books we shared and loved: Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Barnett), Blackout (Rocco), Fossil (Thomson), It’s a Book (Smith), Flotsam (Wiesner), I Don’t Want to be a Frog (Petty).

Professional Development titles (that already won me over!): The Unstoppable Writing Teacher (Cruz), Reading Workshop 2.0: Supporting Readers in the Digital Age (Serafini), The Reading Strategies Book (Serravallo), and Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading (Beers/Probst) (which I used all year and have marked up well).

Summer Reading: Where will you start? Now…go find your happy place and read!

 

 

Slice of Life Tuesdays: Outliers

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Slice of Life Small LogoOutliers

Several days ago, I wanted a snack. I grabbed a bag of M & Ms my daughter and I had purchased earlier that day. I sat at the computer to browse, and poured some candy out of the bag, on to the desk — carefully, so they wouldn’t roll off on to the floor where the dog was anxiously waiting (chocolate is bad). The most amazing thing happened! I looked closely, noticing the color arrangement and the way the chocolate pieces followed each other out of the wrapping. Weird! Amazing! Beautiful! Really…I couldn’t believe it. I took out my phone and snapped a picture to prove to myself that it happened.

MandMLines

Today my daughter and I went out again. This time we actually needed a hair dryer, but you know…late night snack cravings…so I got another bag of M & Ms. I wanted to recreate that moment of discovery and watch again for the candy to spill perfectly out on the desk. Of course, that didn’t happen. But I did notice  something just as beautiful, amazing, and weird. The second that I saw it, I thought, “Outliers!” M & M candy outliers were just as cool and colorful as the straight-line ones from last week.

MandMOutliers

Then I thought, “What a way to smack me in the face with a writing idea!” It’s true, once you start looking closely and notice your surroundings, the more creative you can be. See, those M & Ms — arranged differently on different days — made me think of students at school.

There are the perfect students: “Line up!” and they just seem to do what they need to do. Easy, straightforward, conforming. Opposite of those children are the outliers: “Line up!” and they wander around the back of the room, looking for supplies, talking, and needing that extra push to comply with the simple request.  Difficult, wavering, non-conforming. But they are one in the same! Same students, same class. Some days are easy, others are not. But life is never boring with these little lovelies.

Funny how M & Ms can make you a writer.

Slice of Life Tuesdays: The Merry Month of May!

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Slice of Life Small LogoThe Merry Month of May!

May is MY month! It’s true. I’ve claimed it; it is mine. Starting with May Day (which was also my Grandma Jo’s birthday), I celebrate spring, life, love, happiness, and freedom.

May 1: Spring time! May Day!  May 6: Love for my 26 years of marriage (that’s a long time)!  May 18: Life — my life, my birthday.  May 25: Memorial Day, which is my freedom weekend usually. Also love, remembrance, and family times. May is absolutely MY month!

I love to share, though, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found out many of my students share in my joy over the month of May. Several students giggled happily during a conversation I had, and I overheard them talking: “Hers is the 18th? Mine is the 14th!” “Mine is the 6th!” “Mine is the 28th!” etc. It turns out that we are going to celebrate birthdays this month, and we are inviting the rest of the class along for the ride! Cake (no ice cream — melting issue), presents (books and pencils, I assume!), and pizza lunch on the 18th.

I told the class, “I’d better see balloons and cards!” LOL — I was kidding. It’s going to be great!

Happy May, everyone! Enjoy!

 

SOLSC Day 22: The Best Interest of Students

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Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers (www.twowritingteachers.wordpress.com) for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

The Best Interest of Students

I listened to a podcast today where Kelly Gallagher talked about his new book, In the Best Interest of Students. (Of course, I’m waiting for my copy!) In the first minute of the interview, Kelly addressed a problem with the Common Core State Standards, and I agreed. He stated that (for high school) the standards are actually quite good. (There is mention that the lower elementary grade teachers don’t seem to think that CCSS is good because they are not developmentally appropriate; since I am a middle school teacher, I’ll leave that for a different discussion.) This part of the podcast focused on “Lesson 2: Recognize the Standards by themselves are necessary, but insufficient.” Kelly explained: “The problem is, you can write down any standards on a piece of paper, but that doesn’t ensure what happens inside our classrooms when the bell rings.”

The lightbulb switched ON in my brain. Yes! I have my set of standards (although mine are Indiana State Standards) and my teaching plan, but if I don’t connect with the students, if I don’t teach them, and they don’t learn, then those standards mean nothing. One of our classroom walkthrough points for administrators (on teacher evaluation checklists) is that teachers should post the standards in the classroom and refer to them, so students will know what is expected.  I don’t mind. I typed them out and posted them on a bulletin board, and I showed them to the students. But we must not stop there! If my administrator checks that box (“Standards Posted in Classroom” or whatever it says), that doesn’t mean I’ve taught those standards. That doesn’t mean the students are learning them.

Teachers need to show students the purpose of deep learning — why those standards should matter to them. I’m thinking of a simple standard: “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English: capitalization, punctuation, and spelling…” Just because those words are displayed in my room doesn’t mean I teach them. And how should I teach that standard, anyway? With DOL sentences? Just as I was thinking about that, Jeff Anderson showed up in my Twitter feed. “I call DOLs & their ilk ‘correct alls’ because you get the same result as you would if you took a Correct All.” LOL! No, I don’t use DOLs. They don’t work.  My students can state any error in any sentence, and correct the sentence, in isolation. They do NOT practice capitalization and punctuation in their own writing. Jeff Anderson’s books are still my favorite mentor texts for teaching grammar and writing: Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing. If you want your work published, you HAVE to capitalize the “I.” (It takes the place of your name. Names are capitalized because they are very important and specific.) You HAVE to show the reader where your thought ends. (Period) Right? (Question mark) Your voice comes through your writing in the form of punctuation. Do you want to pause? How long? Use a comma, dash, ellipses, depending on the voice and tone you want to convey.

Back to the podcast: Teachers must teach the standards so students will learn (notice how I’m NOT saying, “so students will achieve high scores“). In practice. Every day. Out there in the real world. School is a place for learning and growing; if the “necessary” Common Core State Standards stop at the classroom bulletin board, then they are “insufficient.” And that is not in the “best interest of students.”

(The podcast mentioned is from Ed Talk with Dr. Bob Bravo, Interview with Kelly Gallagher, Monday Night Live, 3/9/2015. You can hear it on ITunes.)

Slice of Life Tuesday: On NOT Attending the NCTE14 Conference

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No, I wasn’t able to attend the NCTE Conference. Woe is me. (Aw, quit feeling sorry for me — I’m fine!) I am a life-long learner who loves to travel to educational conferences. “Weirdo.”  I know. But that’s what I like to do. Back in May, I asked my principal if I could attend two conferences this year. One event I really wanted to attend was the NCTE 14 Conference at the beautiful Gaylord Resort in National Harbor. I’ve never been to Washington, D.C. before. I was ready to see some new sights and take part in the best PD opportunity of the fall! She said, “You could do that one.” But when it came down to filling out the paperwork, life happened. Time, money, family obligations, just happened at the wrong time this year. (Don’t get me started on the year — 2014 will NOT be missed!)

I logged on to Facebook and Twitter and signed up for the mobile app for NCTE14, hoping that attending virtually would help me to get over the mental pain of staying home. I have to say, it was nice to stay home in my warm pajamas on Wednesday, getting up at my regular weekday time instead of 4:00 a.m. to catch a plane to D.C. It was cold and windy! However, the relief soon turned to anxiety as I heard friend after friend, author after author, role model after role model, land at the airport and start preparing for their presentations and dinners and fun! Oh, to miss out was torture!

I was home, though, attending to work and family. I did get to go out to dinner, see my nephew for his birthday, and relax for the weekend. I used social media for hours, reading about and “Tweeting” with those who were there. It was nice to hear how much learning soaked up in the minds of the participants. Everyone shared their stories and pictures. (Thank you!) Although jealously reared its ugly head, I was also excited to “see” and “hear” about the reunions of the great people I have admired from afar for many years. The “Slicer” dinner looked absolutely fabulous, and I was there in spirit. Many fellow Slicers commented to me and I felt welcome — even though I was only watching my iPad screen. “Next time,” I said.

“Story is the Landscape of Knowing.” My story starts and ends in Indiana, but stories are everywhere. My story is not new, nor is it significant in the overall scheme of things. One lesson I learned from the NCTE Conference this year is that NEXT TIME I will be a part of the landscape, paying my way if necessary. I KNOW that life is a journey, and I KNOW that my story will be told — as an insider — next year!

And since next year will NOT be 2014, nothing can stop me!

 

 

(To all those who shared with me via Facebook and Twitter, again I thank you for your generosity! I’m so glad you all had a great time at NCTE!)

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Running Out of Time

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Running, running, running…

To the school supply stores, to the doctor, to the dentist, to the SCUBA shop, to Ohio for SCUBA day…wait! Today is National Book Lovers Day! I have to read! I cannot believe these are the last days of summer. I agree with a fellow Slicer; I’m not ready!

Running, running, running...

I have draft-planned my first few weeks of school. There are so many great ideas, stories, and lessons. Mostly, I want my students to read and write well, and have fun doing it! Yet, I feel a sense of urgency, and the meetings for staff development start next week — wait! Oh, no, it’s THIS week!

Running, running, running…

With all of this running around, I should be in great shape to start the school year. We shall see!

First Reaction: I Saw the ISTEP Scores…and the News

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I read the news from our local TV sources about the state’s ISTEP scores, released this week. I thought about what I would say to others who saw the same results. As I teacher, I have a vested interest, but more importantly, as a citizen of this state (which is experiencing an education crisis), I want to know more about what I can do to help my students learn. As I read, my first reaction is that scores are basically flat. Some scores are tenths of a percent higher than last year, and some are tenths of a percent lower (remember: this is my first glance — no analysis yet). Not horrible, not worse than last year, but still not the improvements and growth I want to see.

After reading several comments from the public, (people can log in to the news websites and record opinions, etc. under the published stories) I thought, “Why are you doing this to yourself?” As I perused the snarky, mean-spirited words — writers voicing their frustrations about public schools vs. private schools, bad news, political views, arguing with each other instead of making suggestions —  I felt defensive. Then I stopped myself. “No way. These people are not teachers, administrators, or students at these schools, nor do they know what these standardized test scores really mean.” I wrote this instead:

“Bad-mouthing each other/schools does not help the children. Start the education at home, and then build at school. Do you read to your child every day? Do you help them with their math? Are there clubs/sports/social activities that your child does that enhance getting along with others and learning life-long skills? Teachers, we need to improve as well. Do we attend PD (professional development) with open minds and willingness to change to best practices of instruction? Do we plan and implement lessons and units with authentic learning goals in mind, or are we just teaching to pass the test?…The buck stops with me. Goal-setting…”

My goal is always to be the best teacher I can be. Some years are better than others, and there is always room for improvement. My goal for my students is to become life-long learners and leaders who know how to read and write, speak appropriately, and act intelligently —  ideals that the published standardized test numbers and percents just don’t show.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Original Ideas

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What is an original idea? Who has original ideas, really?

The definition of the adjective, original, is “belonging or pertaining to the origin; the beginning of something.” (dictionary.com) Synonyms include new, novel, fresh, and inventive.  I’m sad to say that I don’t have an original idea in my head. When I looked at the webpage again, there were a few more definitions, including: “arising or proceeding independently of anything else” and “capable of or given to thinking or acting in an independent, creative, or individual manner.” Still not feeling better, people! One more look: “created, undertaken, or presented for the first time.” There. Here on my blog, an original post — presented for the first time? Ah…nope. Not doing it for me.

Teachers are thieves. It’s a researched fact. We steal from each other all the time. Ideas, topics, “mentor texts…” yes, it’s all stealing. As I was thinking about writing something original today, I remembered that I heard that phrase often: “Teachers are thieves.” I feel badly, but why? “If everyone else is doing it…” (no, I don’t want to jump off a cliff, Mom.)  I really just want to be original, just once.

Many times, students have trouble writing because they feel like I do now. They don’t know what to say, or how to say it in a way that makes the topic original. What do we do? We tell them, “It’s ok.”  We show them mentor texts, we have them read more, and we have them keep on writing. The action of putting the pencil to the paper is what teachers are really looking for. We want to see evidence of thinking, and that students are willing to write what they think. They produce, then, their own, original ideas.

I read an interesting post on http://www.ted.com (TED talks!) about “What according to you is an original idea?” (www.ted.com…2011). Reading the comments section, the replies made me feel better about this “originality” problem. I don’t have to come up with the idea, but I have to DO something new and different with it.  I asked myself, “What do I want to DO?” Well, I want to write a SOL post right now, that’s what I want. And I want it to be original.

So here’s my first ever — original — post on originality. Or is it? Have I written this before?

Let me check.

(While I’m doing that, you have a great week!)

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Lifelong Learning

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I love being called a lifelong learner! I am extremely honored to be in the company of Carl Anderson this week at the Indiana Partnership for Young Writers summer institute. I am half jealous/half living vicariously through my pals who are attending various reading and writing summer institutes this week. We all travel to the ends of the earth for one purpose: to learn. Fabulous!

I remember the first time I went to New York to take part in a summer reading workshop — my gracious cousin invited me to Teachers College. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed. My family made fun of me, saying, “It’s like you think you’re going to hang out with celebrities.” Well, yeah! Lucy Calkins, Kylene Beers, Lester Laminack, and all the other literary geniuses I met are celebrities!

Now each year, I look forward to my “vacation learning experience.” I guess I’m the literary “groupie.” I’m so happy that there are so many of you out there just like me.

Have a great time learning. And…share your notes!

 

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