Friday, January 30, 2015

#Edweek'stweet The Pressures Our Students Feel

Check out @educationweek's Tweet:
which will take you to this link:

This is a an opinion piece by Thomas Bonnell, a NYC administrator, about what might be a growing concern in our schools: kids who are afraid to fail.  As I read this short piece, my mind raced to my students, my former students, my former grad students who are teachers and those who are with me now and want to be teachers and I think about their workload, often much greater than I could ever imagine.

As we move into the second half of the school year (that will begin next week in my part of the world) let's all try to remember that we still have another 5 months with our students. We have more than enough time to show them the strategies they will need on the high stakes tests.  We have more than enough time to work with those who are just catching on to the curriculum or the language.  We have 5 months to guide their passions and plant seeds of life long learning.  Let's make sure we remember to focus on that will endure rather than on details to be forgotten.

"Part of our professional obligation as a school is to be mindful of the total workload we place upon our students' shoulder." 

Thursday, January 29, 2015


I use a straw in my morning coffee most days as I'm sipping that wonderful elixir as I drive to work.  Honestly, it reduces the spillage onto my work clothes! Sometimes, as I drive along, I think of how straws were the "sickbed" treat for kids with strep throat or the chicken pox when I was a kid.

I must admit that I rarely think of the other kind of straw except, perhaps, if I get around to decorating for Halloween or when I watch those clips about Pilgrim homes with thatched roofs around Thanksgiving time.
I mention all this as a prelude to my post about how confusing our English language can be for our students even if they are native English speakers.

As we read about the first little pig building his house today, one of my students looked puzzled.  "Why would he do that," he asked. "It would be hard to keep all those straws in a house."

"Ah, but straw is not a straw," I smiled as we began a little CCS inspired trip on Google exploring straw and straw homes of yore. I pondered if I might find some straw buried under a snowbank?

While I've read this story more times than I can remember, it takes on new perspectives and inspires questions and thinking when viewed through the eyes of a child. A straw IS NOT a straw; however, I wonder what might have happened if Pig 1 had lashed those heavy duty numbers they have a Dunkin Donuts?

Talk, sing and read with your kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now advised doctors to deliver a clear message at the 2 month check-up about the role of talking, reading, and singing with their infants and toddlers.  Too Small to Fail is one of several initiatives that passes out books and a clear message in the pediatrician's office. Other programs give out books and messages in the maternity ward!    
I could say, "Duh." Those of us working with your children realize that word knowledge makes a difference.  Those who sailed across the sea to reach the Land Of Opportunity sang and talked to their kids! 
Talk, sing and read with your kids.  
It should be a Super Bowl Slogan!  
If we really want to make a difference,
let's start saving for a commercial!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

When Things Are Better Than We Expect

We all had 8-12 inches of snow around these parts yesterday leading to a long anticipated (first for us) snow day. It was windy and bitter cold for a good part of the day and typically, there would have been lots of complaints about the snow, wind or cold!

Yet, something miraculous seemed to happen as we returned to school and shared stories about our "snow day."

"It wasn't that bad,"  seemed to be a standard comment.
"I spent the day in my pajamas," seemed to be a common theme.
"It was great and I am glad to get back to school," was even noted by a few.

The recent "blizzard" in the NY Metropolitan region became more accurately a "blizzette"*  when a cold front pushed it just a few miles out to sea.  Long Island, the Connecticut coast, Rhode Island and Boston took the brunt of this storm.  Anyway you looked at it, there was a lot of snow and cold; however, it was not as bad as we expected.

While I don't propose adopting a "sky is falling" or "cup is half empty" mentality most of the time, there was abundant relief in these parts when we realized the 3 feet of predicted snow was in reality less than a foot! Sometimes it's like that for our students, too.  A project or a test is not as bad as they feared.  Sometimes it's like that for us, too. The lesson we dreaded teaching goes really well in spite of the fact that we had a "pop in" administrator visit!  A student who was struggling or challenging turns the corner and is learning, fitting in, and happier.

Sometimes things are just better than we expect! Let's hope that Friday's anticipated "small snow event" and Sunday night's Super Bowl of Snow will both be "better" (meaning less stressful) than we expect!    

*blizzette -  according to my household's #1 meteorologist, this is a new term used to describe a snow event that does not live up to its hype

Monday, January 26, 2015

#sol2105 To like or perhaps even to love what you do.

It's not so much do what you like, 
as it is that you like what you do.” 
I went to the theater,
Way, way, way off Broadway,
Way, way, way up in an old barn.
On a snowy, cold winter evening.
As you can see, 
There was not much of a crowd.
Yet, the artists sang for hours
Just like they do on Broadway.

The play was fabulous,
George and Marie made 
Lasting impressions,
Characters from the classic painting,
Walking out of the painting,
Embracing the challenges, trials
Of life in the 1800s and today. 

Watching their passion,
Listening to their hearts,
I thought about 
The power of art and artists,
Singing, dancing, cooking, writing, 
Knitting, sewing, gardening, painting, 
Photographing, building, molding, 
Using their hands, voices, hearts, to create
Images from their hearts.

It was clear,
To all of us,
On that cold winter night,
They love what they do
And if you do love what you do,
It shines through.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Reader Response: Why Teachers Feel Bad

Valerie Strauss wrote an interesting/sad/scary/moving/important piece the other day after what appears to be some deep personal reflection about why she thinks "teachers feel bad" so much of the time.

Friday, January 23, 2015

#celebratelu What happens when you get to Z?

While I embrace the concept of using leveled texts to scaffold students' reading and to assess students' reading progress, I rarely talk about "levels"in conversations with kids about books.  I talk about characters, setting, plots, and the way authors use words.  Sometimes, we talk about how the books are a little longer or a little shorter than other books we have read.  Always we talk about the parts/ones we like (or don't) and why (or why not).

So, it took me  by surprise when a student asked me, "What happens when I get to the Zs."  At first, I really wasn't even sure what he was talking about and so I must have given him a puzzled look.  Then I noticed the "level" emblazoned on the back of the book he was holding.  

"I'm already up to I," he said proudly, admiring the back of a book he had just finished where it said either "H" or "I" depending on how you held the book!  (Clearly, if you turned the book sideways, it looked like an "I.")
I smiled and said without any reservation, "You know that reading isn't about levels, right?"  

"I know," he assured me, "but at the rate I am going, I am going to be a Z real soon!" Without waiting for my response, he answered his own question.  "I guess you start over at A again, he quipped as he skipped out of the room.  Moments later he was back at the door, "I really liked that book a lot," he smiled. "See you Monday."

Smiling, as I tucked his group's books back into their bin, I thanked my lucky stars that we would not need to start over on A texts as after nearly 18 months of hard work, he was emerging as a reader!  Working together, he would soon be reading longer, more challenging books!  Someday soon, he really will be reading I level books!

Then, I jotted a reminder to write about this wonderful, tiny celebration in the middle of a jam-packed-full day.  Even if I can't take away the pressure kids feel from levels and scores, I'm doing my job IF they feel good about themselves as learners, learn to like reading, and want to come back Monday morning for "more."  


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sharing a post from Two Writing Teachers: Math and Science Mentor texts

As I am prepping for class - tomorrow - literacy across the curriculum in inclusive classrooms - I find this post on one of my favorite sites - Two Writing Teachers - by one of my favorite teacher bloggers - Stacy Shubitz

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

#sol2014 Hidden Gems

An icy storm this weekend brought our lives to a standstill.  I took the opportunity to begin a huge cleaning project: my office.  It was a glittery, cluttered, mess of books and many unfinished projects.  It was so bad that I actually had ordered ANOTHER copy of a book for a class I am teaching this semester!  I just could not find the copy I HAD last spring!  As is usually the case with a big cleaning project, the bags of garbage and recycling were huge.  The cleaning actually made things look WORSE for a while.  At the 24 hour point, the floor was still littered with "stuff" looking for a home.

I guess my husband took pity on me, or perhaps he really wanted to see the floor of the office appear!  Whatever the reason, he went out to attack the ice while I finished up.  In time, after hours of scraping and calcium chloriding the blacktop areas that would carry a vehicle, he found the hidden GEM of a driveway.  Blacktop, even if wet and still slippery, never looked so good!

Meanwhile, back in the office area,  I found a few GEMS myself. Along with the "missing" textbook, there were some wayward Barns and Noble gift cards and a few Dunkin Donuts coffee cards!  Sigh, sometimes, things get shoved into folders and bins.

There was also this long forgotten GEM, a story, written long ago by a first grader who never was one to ask for cookies or cake.  Instead, he would ask for a good meal of chicken, steak or bluefish!  He still likes to eat a whole lot of good food,only now he might include Sushi!

There were some indeed hidden GEMS in our icy day and my neat, for now, organized bookcase is just one of them!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reflecting on MLK: We should do this every day.

There are lots of his quotes circling around Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter this week, reminders that our legacy is not in the length of time we spend on earth but rather on our interactions with others.  This one was a message to newlyweds.  It's more like a message to all humans!.
This is so incredibly and wonderfully true. If you live your life by this statement, no one will forget you and you will leave a legacy of love. That's the kind of legacy that I want to leave.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Warning: We Can Make Kids Hate Reading

Thanks to Twitter, Elisabeth Ellington's SOL post from December 8th is still getting re-tweeted.  It's too important to let the subject languish.  Ellington refers to what is happening in one school, including the Scholastic workbook they use, as "malpractice."
This is a scary scenario.  Over the years, I have watched, gratefully, our profession change from basal manual and workbook page turning practitioners to dedicated professionals capable of and eager to use assessment-driven differentiated instruction in workshop settings that encourage reading and writing for meaningful purposes.  There have been wonderful changes in teacher professional development and our own understanding of reading and writing.  Donald Graves, Lucy Calkins, Regie Routman have worked together with a host of other seminal thinking professionals to change teaching and learning for the better.  Most of us look forward to reading and writing workshop!  It's hard, but rewarding work and I am sad that some schools have lost their way....or perhaps they never found it? I can suggest rereading a few "classics" that might help them find their way!

Embedded image permalink


Saturday, January 17, 2015

#celebratelu2105 The Sun Will Come Out

I saw a glimpse of a sunrise this week. I was near work after another day of a horrific commute,so I was a bit later than I should have been arriving at that spot; however, the orange glow peaking over the horizon was bright as a brand new penny, right out of the mint!  It's been a while, almost two months, since I saw that wonderful welcoming image on my way to work, but I could feel the smile build inside. 

Perhaps it's been "living in darkness" that has contributed to more than the usual number of accidents and crazy drivers of late? Perhaps it's been "darkness" that has contributed to grumpier than usual parents and colleagues?  Perhaps it's been the lack of Vitamin D" that has contributed to crankier than usual kids?  

So this week, I celebrate the bright and wonderful sign that (as Annie sang) the sun will come out (some day soon) on our way to work.  Some day (soon) we'll need to find those sunglasses.  Some day (soon), the darkness will give way to light and perhaps drivers, colleagues, and the kids will be a little less cranky! 

Friday, January 16, 2015

I don't know which door it is?

"I don't know what door it is," she said in a panicked voice.  I bolted out of my chair and hurried her to the right door.  I knew part of what she was feeling; although, clearly, I cannot remember not knowing which door to use.  Those of us who have been reading for a long, long time can forget how it must feel to need to be able to manipulate a world managed by print and not-yet-be-able to read.

There are adults and kids alike, sometimes new to our land, sometimes visitors, and those who are not-yet-literate who experience that panic many times, every day.  I was reminded as I looked at her eyes, bulging out of her face, and heard her voice, filled with fear of an losing control, how scary our world must be for ANYONE (kids and sadly some adults, too) who have not yet broken the print code.

Learning to read has posed big challenges for this little one; however, yesterday we learned that even though those rooms are often near each other, the letters GIRLS on the door means a bathroom designated for girls. We put the word on her word ring along with go, I, see and cat.

Then, I printed a universally acceptable sign to help all the little ones who do not yet read when they are in my hallway in my school.  I should have noticed the need long ago.  I should have put up a sign long ago.  I am reminded that teachers, all of us, need to think about what our kids need to manipulate their world!  I am reminded we should try to "walk a mile" in their moccasins (or sneakers).


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

#sliceoflife2015 Why Not?

It's late in the day and I've been thinking of the many slices of my life I COULD write about since 4:45 AM (16 hours ago).  I could write about sliding down the steep slope we call a driveway and vowing to move BEFORE next winter or I could write about the slow, accident plagued trip to work (AGAIN) today.  It's been a tough stretch weather and commuting wise!

I could write about my wedding anniversary (today) or about the fact that while we are both grateful to NOT eat CYO hotdogs this year (we did that for about 5 years straight long ago), there were no flowers, no jewels and not even a card.  I did, however, restring some pearls that I hope to pick up soon and there was a wonderful hot meal of sautéed salmon and fresh green beans along with a smiling face to greet me when I finally got home, late.  

I could write about my insane schedule at work or the student who smiled, finally, today as we did a second grade style retrospective miscue analysis (second grade style).   "I did really good," he assured ME long before I could assure him! (I  think APPR would call that highly effective!)

Instead, I am going to share my Two Little Words that have been lurking for a while in my psyche.  I am NOT abandoning JOY as it has served me well.  I'm keeping that in my "backpack" and building on it rather than discarding it.  This year, I hope to find greater balance in the many intersecting identities of my life and to more effectively balance faith, friends, and family.  Rather than chose balance as my one little word (OLW) I am taking my TWT friend Terje's perspective (she chose WHAT IF?) and going with a phrase that is really a question, WHY NOT?

My life has been busy and full but not always balanced.  In order to help me find the balance between work, chores, responsibilities, and personal time, I will use the phrase WHY NOT?  For example, WHY NOT hike the Grand Canyon?  My knee is not likely to get better!  WHY NOT go out to celebrate a friend's birthday?  You could do that paperwork tomorrow!  Why not go to a movie?  You will never catch up on laundry anyway!  WHY NOT blog tonight? WHY NOT have a little fun?  Life is short and our days are fraught with challenges.  WHY NOT make the choice to smile and to find the JOY in each day? 

Monday, January 12, 2015

@rubberbootsandelfshoes Sharing books about penguins

Today's share is a collection of PENGUIN books that Sandi at Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes shared over on her blog ...perhaps but not only for kindergarten immersion in thinking about these waddling wonders.  I can't wait to talk about central messages in these books! I can't wait to share this before today unknown to me book with my students:)

@performingineducation Mentor Texts for Persuasive Thinking

I had already been immersed in the thinking about reading clusters of books around themes/big ideas/ enduring understandings as I prepared for this spring semester when I cam upon this Performing In Education post about mentor texts for teaching persuasive thinking!
You really should check out the whole list......I'm ordering this, new-to-me, text right now!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

@Nerdybookclub: Books to Spur Thinking About Peace

I had already been immersed in the thinking about reading clusters of books around themes/big ideas/ enduring understandings as I prepared for this spring semester when I cam upon this nerdy book club post the other day.

whoever you are

"Reading allows us to learn about our own reality as well as that of others and begin considering other points of view and perspectives."  How True :)


Saturday, January 10, 2015

#celebratelu When You Slow Down


It's been a few weeks since I celebrated here, even though I HAVE done quite a bit of celebrating!
It has been a long, exhausting, and at times frustrating first week back from a long and wonderful winter vacation; yet, I need to celebrate that in spite of the challenges, there were some great moments worth celebrating!

First, I've had a cold, the kind that is just enough to be totally annoying and not enough to give you "permission" to stay home.  No fever, no malaise, just a nose that runs and runs like a faucet with a worn out washer!  Just a filled up in the head cough that could rattle your bones. I could blow and blow...(sorry, TMI) Well likely you know.....and I look a  lot like Rudolph (left behind) when Santa returned to the North! Thus, I want to celebrate the magical healing, make-you-fell better qualities of wonderful, fresh brewed hot tea (with lemon).  While Mucinex and Robitussin have there value, Harneys is the best medicine for a good old winter cold!  
Second, please don't judge me, but sometimes, when driving to work, I glance down at the speedometer and it reads 75!  I am just going with the morning flow, often in the "middle, least bumpy lane" and that is how the flow is going! This week, however, a combo of black ice, deadly cold temps, more-significant than predicted snow, and perhaps some drivers who were rushing because they overslept contributed to some interesting driving where I would, while crawling down the highway, I would glance and see the speedometer REACH 15 mph!  While I am NOT celebrating my FOUR-HOUR long commute yesterday (thank goodness I did not grab coffee!) , I am celebrating the drivers, all of us, who slowed down, significantly, respecting the dangerous conditions and realized that getting there safe and sound was the best plan for all of us.


Last, I did NOT get one this week (thus the driving in the snow) but I still value and celebrate the wonder and images of snow days.  They were once the perk of being a teacher; however, in our modern day world, we teachers COMMUTE through the snow and all those lucky enough to be able to WORK FROM HOME take advantage of the miracle of the internet.  SO, while I did not "get one" this week, I still appreciate and celebrate the wonder and beauty of staying in PJs, drinking hot tea all morning, working from home, and napping as needed!

A Picture Can Get You Thinking and Researching

Embedded image permalink

This image popped up on Twitter
and I must admit I had trouble accepting it as I did a bit of research...
well at least I Googled (verb) the name and it is TRUE!   There was a company in England called Elliot Brothers who built about 250 of these in the late 1950s.  The size is amazing but the price even better £583 thousand as of 2015 - which converts, according to Google again, to 
$881,670.90 US Dollars!  
As I did this, because I was interested, I was thinking of the POWER of a PICTURE to get us thinking and asking questions!  A picture can certainly spur INQUIRY!   

The 8 Minutes That Matter Most | Edutopia

Teachers seem to be "complaining" about not having enough "time" these days.  We blame the standards, the assured experiences, the mandated programs; yet, making every moment count and assuring the greatest possible student engagement is not always at the top of our plans.  

So as I scrolled down Twitter this morning, Amy's tweet from Edutopia captured my attention!
                            The 8 Minutes That Matter Most | Edutopia

As this article so clearly points out, "The eight minutes that matter most are the beginning and endings. If a lesson does not start off strong by activating prior knowledge, creating anticipation, or establishing goals, student interest wanes, and you have to do some heavy lifting to get them back. If it fails to check for understanding, you will never know if the lesson's goal was attained." 

The article goes on to suggest ways to increase engagement at the beginning and at the end of your lesson that mimic Social Media!    This is a must morning read :)
A FEW of the links.....

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

#sol2015 You "gotta" be careful when you pick OLW (one little word)!

Last year, well rested and relaxed after a long, lazy, vacation when I spent more time reading and "vegging" than going and doing, I wrote, "I've.....begun this New Year with JOY in my heart."  At that moment, it was a bit of a stretch to think that I would find JOY even when I was tired, frustrated, or exasperated!  After all, there were the endless trials of care-giving for my not-always-cheerful, sometimes-despondent,and frequently-lonely, older-people. It was also a huge stretch to think I would find JOY in oatmeal, exercise, or reading stacks of reader responses!  Yet, last January, I could never have imagined the JOY as well as the challenges of a second career that required evenings, weekends, and applying a life-time of accumulated skills!
 I could never have dreamed of the potential for love and exercise in a rescued "puppy" who nibbles at pine needles and kale sticks!

I could never have imagined my year would culminate in "Bethlehem" in a wild and wonderful wedding weekend that formally enlarged my family!
While there were many, many, many stresses along the way, many frustrating moments, piles of prayers, buckets of tears, days of intense sadness, and some losses of friends and family so deep that the scars will last forever, somehow, the JOY I hoped for, really did find me in 2014!  As I reflected, I wondered if JOY found me, in spite of the inevitable sad times of life, or if I sought JOY, in spite of the trials of life!  No matter which way it happens, I do think this means that OLWs can be powerful!

So, what do I do for THIS YEAR?  I think I know, but I am not willing to post it, just yet. This much I DO KNOW: You have to be really careful in picking a "OLW" because you just might find what you seek!