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.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Celebrate! (A day late)



I have much to celebrate lately, so even though this is coming out a day late, I wanted to post anyway.

I am celebrating Family:

  • A week ago, my niece got married, and it brought our entire family together. Our oldest daughter came in from DC, and our youngest daughter chose to spend the nights before and after the wedding at our house, even though she has her own apartment here in town. As a mom, I celebrated that we were all together as a family.
I am celebrating Friends:
  • A close friends' daughter got married yesterday. Even though the day itself was cold and gloomy, the gathering of friends as we celebrated this young couple was a gift. We ate, drank, cried at the father's toast to his daughter and her new husband, danced the night away and laughed. As dancers, we might not look that great, but we sure did have fun -- so much fun that several times, friends of the bride and groom joined our dancing group.  And laughter - what a gift!!  I can't remember the last time I laughed for that many hours on end.
I am celebrating Colleagues:
  • I took on a new role this year, transitioning from the 5th grade classroom to becoming an intermediate literacy coach in 4 of our district's buildings.  My learning curve has been huge, as I now work with adults all day. But similarly to working with students, the satisfaction of helping a colleague scaffold from one learning place to the next is huge cause for celebration.  In addition, I work with 7 other literacy coaches in our district, as well as our brilliant leader.  These women keep me grounded, help guide me into best practices with adult learning, and more importantly, make me laugh.  Every day, I celebrate that these women are now a huge part of my professional life.
I hope you had some thing(s) to celebrate this week. To see what others were celebrating, head on over to Ruth's blog, where she so generously hosts this Celebration event each Saturday.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Choice in Summer Reading

As I join this Sunday Series about Summer Reading, it is only fair to let you know that while I am currently a literacy coach, I taught 5th grade for the past ten years.  I share this information because summer reading is not a topic with which I had to deal.

However, in recent years, I made it a personal crusade to make sure my students, who all embraced reading while in my classroom during the school year, continued their reading lives once they left fifth grade for the summer, where weeks of doing nothing but what they wanted appeared quite delightful to some.

The last week of reading workshop became the time we planned for what our summer reading would be like.  Much like having a 40 Book Challenge (Donalyn Miller) during the school year, for a variety of reasons, students might not be able to achieve everything listed as a goal on their summer reading plan.  That's okay because I knew that having the plan might just be the kickstart they needed to keep reading, rather the end result is two, ten, or thirty books completed.  It beat the number zero every time!

When we developed our plans, we spent time looking at a variety of reading possibilities:

  • the new book release calendar that John Schumaker kindly curates so that they could plan to read new books from favorite authors or series
  • books that were so popular in our class they just didn't get their hands on them
  • rereads of some of our read-alouds
  • online reading
  • audio book reading
  • magazine and newspaper reading
  • trying a genre they had never read before
  • fun, easy on the brain, books
  • the book they chose from the 6th grade summer reading list
The list went on and on.  As students developed their own summer reading plan, tailored just for them by them, I could see the ownership they had in their reading.  Students knew their likes and dislikes, and were basing their summer reading plan on that information.

But here's the thing - because those students moved on to middle school, a new building where I didn't see them, I'm not aware of how those reading plans fared.  It would be wonderful to have a district plan where, each year, we all had students create summer reading plans for themselves, and then had the conversation of how they did with those plans at the beginning of the school year as we begin to learn about our new groups of readers.  Wouldn't the knowledge based on that type of conversation be incredibly helpful at knowing students' reading interests and abilities?

When reading is assigned for the summer, I worry about the readers who do not have the tools to be able to access an understanding of the text.  It is the same argument for why I believe read aloud is a critical part of a child's literacy day - it levels the playing field for those who might not be able to read the text on their own, but if I read it aloud, they can share in the contextual thinking along with everyone else.

Teaching, and in this case teaching literacy, is an art.  So, is it fair to ask students lacking in those skills needed to understand a text, to read something "above their understanding" during the summer?  Wouldn't it better to wait until we could use our "artistry" of teaching to best help them scaffold and understand a piece of literature?

I've rambled a bit today; I apologize.  I do think this is an important conversation to have, and I am thrilled that Lee Ann started it now as she is reflecting on the summer reading her students did.  It could help guide all of us to a better understanding of what are the best practices when it comes to summer reading.  To read more about what others are saying around this topic, check out Lee Ann's blog.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Boom Snot Twitty - #IMWAYR



With a title like Boom Snot Twitty, I'm not sure I need to write a lot more about why I loved this book, but I can't resist.

I was at our public library, and this lovely gem was sitting on the new picture book shelves.  I picked it up for the title and the darling characters illustrated on the front cover, but as I read the book, I realized it had huge potential in the classroom.

Boom Snot Twitty is the story of three friends who are incredibly different in the choices they make in similar circumstances.  Boom is a bear, Twitty is a bird, and Snot is a snail.  Fun with alliteration right off the bat!

But then understanding characters - wow!  This book could carry you far in thinking about that standard with students.  I once heard Dorothy Barnhouse say that when teaching complex ideas and thinking, it is best to start with a simple text and build skills, and then work to applying those complex ideas and thinking with more complex texts.  For that reason, I knew this simple picture book would be perfect in the intermediate classrooms in which I work.

The 3rd grade common core standard, RL.3.3 says: 
"Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events."

The 4th grade common core standard, RL.4.3 says:
"Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions)."

The 5th grade common core standard, RL.5.3 says:
"Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact)."

Boom Snot Twitty is a perfect introductory text for all three of these standards.  It is a simple text that will allow 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade readers to access each of them.  Describing characters - check.  Describe in depth a character, drawing on specific details in the text - check.  Compare/contrast two or more characters, drawing on specific details in the text - check.

This is a book I will be both purchasing and recommending to all intermediate grade teachers.

But before I order, I will be reading all the other posts at Jen Vincent's blog, Teach Mentor Texts, to see what other people read and loved this week.  Thanks so much to her for hosting the Kidlit version of #IMWAYR meme.