Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SOL - Reading Cycles




In a recent Choice Literacy Big Fresh newsletter, Jen Schwanke talked about how her reading has cycled depending on where she was in life. When I read that, it was as if she had read my mind.

As some of you are aware, I have had some sad and difficult times since just after Thanksgiving. But with getting ready for Christmas, helping organize a funeral for my mom, and having family surrounding us through Dec. 28, I wasn't great, but I was managing.

Then, one by one, my family left. My oldest daughter flew back to DC. My youngest daughter headed  down to the Sugar Bowl. My dad went back to his house. My husband went back to work.  And the grief enveloped me because I was all alone with no buffers. That's when I landed on the word "courage" for my OLW this year; I was going to need courage just to get up some mornings.

I needed a plan of escapism to accompany my courage; how could I escape the sadness that threatened to overwhelm at times? That's when I remembered the piece Jen had written. She was right; we need different types of reading depending on life's circumstances.  In this phase of my life, I needed books that would allow me to escape.

Enter my good friend, Katherine Sokolowski, who had mailed me an ARC of a book by Ally Carter titled All Fall Down. This will be the first in a series titled Embassy Row. It was an easy read and I forgot about being sad for awhile. Just like students, when I find an author I like, I want to know what else they have written. As it turned out, Ally Carter has a series called The Gallagher Girls and another called The Heist series. Both looked intriguing and better yet, almost the entire Gallagher Girls series was available on my public library's Overdrive. I downloaded the series to my Kindle and away I went!

For a week, I read for big chunks of the day. The Gallagher Girls is not a tough series. I think middle school girls, and maybe high school girls, might enjoy it. It is about a spy school for girls and speaks to the power of girls and how they can do so many things when they put their minds to it, especially with the support of their friends. The adventures of these girls across 6 books allowed me to escape, and for that I was grateful.

This weekend, I have discovered another new author to me, Terri DuLong. She has written many fictional stories about an island in Florida, Cedar Key.  Though you don't necessarily need to read them in order, each story has intertwined the characters from all of the stories. I have found my new escape series - plots and characters are predictable, happy endings, not a lot of thinking on my part.

In order to have courage this year, I do believe I will have to be kind to myself, and one way I plan to do that is by escaping form time to time with my books and stories and characters.  

Thanks to the wonderful ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday. You should head on over to read other slices for this week.

Monday, January 19, 2015

#IMWAYR - Dog Breath




As a literacy coach, I have the good fortune to work in many classrooms alongside teachers, and while doing that, get to see a wide variety of mentor texts used with students.  One of the books I read recently was purchased after I saw a teacher use it as a mentor text for her narrative writing unit.

Dog Breath: the Horrible Trouble with Hally Tosis has been around since 1994, but I had just never seen it. As I watched a 3rd grade teacher read it with her students, I found myself guffawing (I was way past laughing!) as the story unfolded.

The teacher who used this book used it as mentor for how narratives can have problems and solutions and story arcs. It worked beautifully for this as students could clearly identify the issue of the story: the dog, Hally Tosis (you have to love that play on words!), has incredibly bad breath which presents a real problem for his owners.

But this book could be used for so many more reasons which makes it a wonderful mentor. The idioms and language (play on words) would provide great conversation:
  • The dog with bad breath had the name, Hally Tosis.
  • When the children, trying to solve the problem, took him to see "breathtaking views."
  • They also tried to take him to a movie that advertised it would "leave you breathless."
  • Then the roller coaster that advertised "You'll lose your breath on our roller coaster."
  • "But that idea stunk too."
  • The last line of the story: "Because life without Hally Tosis just wouldn't make any scents!"
All sorts of fun to be had with words!!

Thanks to Jen for hosting the kidlit version of It's Monday, What Are You Reading? Head on over to her blog to see some other wonderful titles.


Friday, January 2, 2015

My #OLW for 2015


I actually had to go back and research what word I used for my #OLW this past year; I think that speaks to the fact that the word didn't find me, but rather I went looking for it. I could make up a post about how it truly guided my life this year, but it would be false, so I'm not even bothering.

This year, my word absolutely found me: COURAGE.

Many of you know this, but my mom died this past month - Dec. 13, to be precise. It came on the heels of the painful loss our friends had. It has been a difficult holiday season in many respects for my family and me.

But a friend who had recently lost a parent reached out and introduced me to an author I didn't know with this article. Glennon Doyle Melton's article spoke to me in important ways; ways that are helping me survive the grief of this past month. "Courage Today." That was something I could wake up each morning and try to live by. One day at a time. This was manageable, at least most days. Others were meant to be grieving with naps, tears, or total lethargy.

I truly wasn't going to participate in #OLW this year; it felt like one more thing on a plate I was barely balancing as it was. But there was that word - COURAGE - that I have been saying to myself each morning. Give me courage today. It was calling my name and I had to respond.

So COURAGE is the word that will guide me this year because it is currently helping me get through the day emotionally.

But, I think the longer-lasting impact of COURAGE will be important in my life as well, especially as I approach a new decade of life this year.

Courage to take even more chances professionally.
Courage to push my body to try new things athletically.
Courage to embrace all the small moments of life.
Courage to share the hard stuff; not just the good.
Courage to reach out and help others less fortunate than me.
Courage to embrace my new decade and all the wonderful it will bring.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

SOL - Grief

I do not normally share difficult personal stories here; I tend to focus on the more positive stories, the ones that are easier to write. My usual reaction when things are tough is to hibernate and withdraw. However, this piece begged to be written, so I am going to try to give it justice.



I have experienced grief, sorrow, and sadness at many times of my life, but my most recent encounter with grief has profoundly changed me. Friends of ours lost their 16 year old son. He was delightful - full of laughter, humor, spirit, and lots of orneriness. When he walked in a room, his engaging ways could make us smile, even when we didn't feel like it.

One day he was here; the next day he was gone. Any parent who has lost a child knows this isn't the "natural" order of things. Our children should outlive us, and when they don't, we are filled with a hole in our lives that leaves us inconsolable.

That feeling is what our friends are currently experiencing. Their grief is a living, breathing thing; it has a life of its own. I was with them at the calling hours, the funeral, and even at their home when we all sat around, cried, hugged each other, and told some stories about this child.  We held on to each other, trying to make sense of something that defies all logic.

The fact that they are our friends has me grieving, but another layer to this story is that I also had this child as a student. For about 175 days one year, we spent time learning from each other in our classroom. I imparted my knowledge about being a reader and writer, but I learned a lot from him about how to embrace life. He loved his family, his sports, his friends, and anything Cleveland. When his parents are ready, I have many "M" stories to share that will allow us to laugh and cry together.

He was life force all of his own, and now he's gone.

That fact has many reeling - his friends (a multitude of students from all 3 high schools in our community), his coaches, his teachers, his neighbors, his teammates, his extended family, his brothers, his mom, and his dad. The grief is real.

Learning how to live without "M" - that is a grief his parents are feeling, and the hard road they now need to travel. The best any of us, as friends, can do is to stand along the road to support them in whatever way needed.

Thanks to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Tuesday Slice of Life. Head on over there to read even more "slices" that others wrote.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

First Day Jitters - #SOL Dec. 2


It's move-in day again.  Not new house move-in.  Not college move-in. Not moving a daughter into her new apartment. No this is move-in day for me.

In my new position as intermediate literacy coach, I have the privilege of working beside my intermediate colleagues in four different buildings in our school district.  The number of colleagues I work with can be daunting, but not as daunting as the first day move-in.

A small portion of what moves into
my offices with me :)
Our district's coaching model finds us in one school at a time, for about a span of three weeks.  For me, that means four different offices.  I'm certain I will fine tune this by the end of the year, but for now, four different offices means all my mentor texts, professional resources, technology tools, container of chocolate (a must for all coaches!), and various sundry items all travel with me each time I make a move.

And then there are the first day worries:
  • Who will I sit and eat with at lunch?
  • Will people like me here?
  • Will I be able to find the bathrooms?
  • How do the copiers at this school work?
Let's just say, I have an entirely new appreciation for what it means to be the "new kid" at school.

But after I have moved in to the new office space, unloaded my things making sure that books are the first thing noticed when entering the office, and found the bathrooms, the jitters go away.  I find some people with whom to eat lunch and the staff welcomes me warmly.

But thank heaven, I don't have to find a group to play with at recess!

***Disclaimer - I actually wrote this Slice back in September, but never published it. As I am beginning my second cycle of coaching, I am currently back in my very first building. The moving in is still a thing, but I love that the relationships I built with people all the way back in August and September, have been incredibly helpful as we begin a deeper layer of collaborating together.  It's so nice not to be the new kid anymore, but I am grateful to all the colleagues who so graciously helped me to not have those "new kid" feelings.***

A huge thank you to the smart ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting a Slice of Life each Tuesday.

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - Dec. 1



A little over a week ago, at #ncte14, I attended the Children Literature Assembly's breakfast, and had the distinct pleasure of hearing Jon Klassen speak. As he shared two of his books, I Want My Hat Back and Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, it was delightful to look at the illustrations in each book again accompanied by Jon's commentary. Understanding the underlying thinking behind these illustrations had me giggling over and over, and I knew I wanted to reread both books.

After listening to Jon talk about the ending of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, I knew I had to reread it one more time on my own. If you haven't read this book, or it's been a while since you read it, it would be a good read. More importantly, it would be a great book to share with students. Having them share their thinking about the story would be a good way for them to process their understanding of the text. Having them see the pictures where the boys come oh-so-close to the treasure, but then back off, could lead to a conversation about frustration. But the conversation I would really love to hear is how students interpret the ending of the book - do they notice differences? Can they explain those differences? In all honesty, I totally missed it - this thing we call "close reading" - I was not engaged in that at all! My gut feeling is that given how visual many children are, they will notice, but then the conversation about the meaning they place on what they notice would be fun.

I also reread Flashlight by Lizi Boyd this week. It would be a great wordless picture book to help promote thinking and inferring and conversation. Each page not only tells its own story, but through cut-outs on the page, it gives a glimpse into creatures that may be on the next pages, as the little boy traverses the woods at night. The stories children could create as they use the beam of the flashlight to focus their thinking would be fun. Wordless picture books like Flashlight would not only be great for primary students, but it would have the same power in intermediate classrooms as well.

I hope you had some enjoyable reading experiences this past week. If you'd like to see what other children's books others read this week, head over to Teach Mentor Texts.  Thanks so much to Jen for hosting the kidlit version of IMWAYR!!

Happy reading this week!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More than Just a Number - #SOL Nov. 18

As I had off to #NCTE14 in Washington DC this week, I find myself looking forward to many learning opportunities with friends and colleagues from all over the country.  One of the topics I look forward to chatting about is assessment and the multiple ways in which we know our students.

With that in mind, I'd like to share a recent event:

Recently, I made a commitment to have better health, and one aspect of that commitment meant beginning to work with a personal trainer.

Initially, I fretted about the idea of personal training. Someone paying undivided attention to my body seemed overwhelming, but I scheduled my initial evaluation anyway. I grew increasingly anxious the closer the time came for this appointment, when the realization hit that the initial evaluation would probably include gathering numerical data about my body.

In the beginning, my anxiety seemed justified.  It was just as horrible as I had imagined – first the scales, then the BMI number, and finally the tape measure encircling all parts of my body, from head to toes. Though my glasses were off, leaving me unable to read the measurements the trainer actually wrote on the chart, I cringed each time he put his pen to the paper. None of this could be good.

Then something wonderful happened. The tape measure and scale were put away and the trainer began to collect data about my body and health in different ways. First, many questions were asked about my definition of being physically fit, my activity level, enjoyment of movement, family medical history, and any current concerns about health. With each response, the trainer drilled down a bit further, looking for more clarification of my initial answers.

After the interview was completed, the trainer began to observe my movements in space.  He asked me to walk, stand still, raise arms, bend at the waist, and bend at the knees to a squat position multiple times. As I complied, the trainer would carefully, with great focus, observe my movements, and then add his observations about those movements to his paper.

The final portion of the evaluation came when the trainer analyzed and synthesized all the information he had collected about me.  He spent some time in thoughtful reflection, and then shared his analysis. He first mentioned the things going well with my physical health, a short list, but at least a place from which to build. Then, he focused on what he considered to be my most immediate concerns – aligning my spine, working on gaining solid core muscles, and strengthening neck muscles. He shared that once those areas were addressed and in control, we could then focus on other items of concern. But for now, we were going to build a solid foundation for my body and its movements. Using those multiple pieces of data about my body, the trainer then devised my personal plan, and it had clear goals I would be working toward achieving.

While driving home from this initial evaluation, there was an “aha” moment when I realized what Adam, my trainer, had just done was incredibly similar to what I do as a literacy coach with colleagues, and what classroom teachers do with their students every day.

We gather data, and yes, for teachers, several of the pieces of data about students will be numerical in content. But as literacy coaches and educators, we need to push past the numbers, because we are all far more than just a number. As educators, we also need to observe and confer, then analyze what we discover. We should identify the most important need that will help individuals build a solid foundation in their learning. We are then able to make the best coaching or instructional plan for each person. We help our colleagues and students by sharing their strengths with them, and scaffold their learning by setting clear and attainable goals.


I learned a great deal from Adam that day, and it wasn't all about my physical well-being. To get the best picture of an individual in order to help them with positive changes, we need to look at multiple types of information and data. It was what Adam did for me as my trainer, and what I know is best for my colleagues with whom I collaborate as a literacy coach.

Thanks so much to my friends at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting Slice of Life. I hope to see many of you in DC this week! Head on over to their blog to check out some wonderful writing for Slice of Life Tuesday.