Slice of Life Tuesdays: Celebrating

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Slice of Life Small LogoCelebrating

The Fourth of July, vacation, time to spend with family, sleeping in, staying up late, and homework? Yes, I am celebrating late tonight — thinking about how much I’ve done this summer, how much I’ve grown professionally and personally.

The fireworks at Newton Park were fabulous. I’m so glad that my daughters went with me, even after the rest of the family stayed behind due to exhaustion from playing sand-court volleyball (which was entertaining to watch). The girls are almost grown now, and they won’t be with me on these “minor” holidays forever. I have to enjoy the time while I can. (Hey, I’m NOT old!)

Fireworks2015Vacation time is so relaxing, yet busy! I’ve spent time with my granddaughter each week and my husband was off work this week, so it’s nice to see him again. I’ve stayed up late, mostly to watch movies and read, but also to eat S’mores by the campfire.

Passion Small BW Photo campfire from AshleyHomework? Yes! I have homework. Since I signed up to use the All Write Institute as a 3-credit “class” (to renew my teaching license next summer), I have spent time reading, studying, reflecting, and writing about teaching and learning. Literacy education is such a fascinating topic for me. It really is! I love reading and writing and I want to share my passion each and every day. I am learning from professional development opportunities, too.

RSBookMany blogging friends and current colleagues have helped me learn to use more technology in my personal life. I switched back to my iPad mini for some e-reading and other productivity tasks, and I started “voxing” on Voxer (a walkie-talkie-like app on my phone), which is fabulous for collaboration with teachers from around the country! I love being able to talk to people and hear their voices and feel their presence while I think, read, and write.

voxer-logo-blackI am celebrating life tonight! Fireworks, vacation, family time, reading, writing, technology — Whew! Now, I must settle down and get some sleep!

 

 

Slice of Life Tuesdays: Still Learning…

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Slice of Life Small LogoStill Learning…

Today I learned that teachers are passionate!

Today I learned that some teachers think what’s best for their students is completely opposite of what I think is best for students.

Today I learned that teachers are truly and deeply terrified of the consequences of their teaching actions in the classroom.

Today I learned that people still believe that standardized testing is the only way to assess students’ success in schools.

Today I learned that I need to keep writing and speaking about what is truly best for students.

Today, and every day, I am passionate about teaching and learning.

Today, and every day, I am passionate about the need to continue an education revolution in this state, in this country.

Today, and every day (thanks for the words, TCRWP!), I will think and act with students in mind — that growth mindset that we all so deeply need to incorporate into our teaching existence.

We are all still learning.

 

Reflections From the All Write Institute — #3

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The All Write Consortium hosted a summer institute in June in Warsaw, Indiana. I signed up because of the literacy leaders on the agenda: Lester Laminack, Jennifer Serravallo, Chris Lehman, Kylene Beers, Bob Probst, Maggie Roberts, Kate Roberts, Greg Tang, and the list goes on and on…I was only a little disappointed! (Kylene and Bob got stuck in a TX storm and couldn’t fly in.) Truth be told, I wanted to attend the “Notice and Note, Going Deeper with the Literary Signposts” session with Beers/Probst, but I chose “Studying Digital Texts to Improve Writing Craft” with Maggie Roberts instead. She’s one of my rock stars from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, and I really needed more experience — I am still a tech newbie, after all these years. I was sure she could help me.

Studying Digital Texts to Enhance Writing Workshop

As I walked into the room, I knew I was behind the technology times, but boy was I out-of-place! People were logging into the website shown in the front of the room, and already looking at presentation notes, and here I was, with my iPhone, which did not turn out to be worthy for this cause of learning about digital texts and how to use them better in my classroom.  All I could think of was, “I WISH we had the technology needed for the 21st century in our district!” (Maybe someday? Maybe I could buy it on my own?) Ugh. Anyway…I listened closely while I retrieved my notebook from my bag, low-tech as it was, and I saw an excellent lesson in action. Roberts said, “Strong writing is strong.” Students know when they see it, and they can learn to emulate great writing. In the first lesson activity, we watched a clip from The Dust Bowl, by Ken Burns. The teacher (Roberts) asked the students (audience), “What makes this a strong piece?” Audience members answered with: word choice, use of quotes, music, images that matched the author’s voice (dark, painful, etc.). Then we “wrote like Ken Burns.” The writing makeover activity helped us to see that students can write, and write well, when guided to notice and use what they already know, in their own texts.

The other two activities presented involved Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, I Have a Dream, where we studied argument (front-loading with a chart “12 Techniques That Argument Writers Use”) and answered the question again: What makes this a strong piece? Then we saw a clip from Modern Family (“We Cool” episode), the crowd-pleasing TV show (she called this method “crowdsourcing”). We discussed characterization, conflict, plot, and how the characters on the show played different parts in one scene — talking and making faces at us, the viewers, while also being in character and playing through the scene in the show.

I long to use more technology in my classroom this coming school year.  The lesson activities we saw (we ran out of time, actually) left me wanting more! The idea that students already know what makes good writing, drawing it out with them using digital texts, then leaving the students to try it on their own, is an engaging and wonderful lesson opportunity that I want to use. I definitely have questions about gathering and using more digital texts in my classroom, and I can only hope that I will ask the right administrators — when I ask about technology updates in the fall — and that I will become a better, more advanced teacher of writing.

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!

 

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