Monthly Archives: March 2014

#sol14 March 31: The last

Slice of LIfe

I participated in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March.  You should do it next March! Check it out here. Thank you,  Two Writing Teachers

Slicing has become a household (and classroom) word around here. My students ask me what I sliced, and joke about classroom happenings by saying, “Is this going to be your slice today?” “Am I your slice?” My husband has taken to saying things like “If I sliced, this would be my slice,” after a particularly ironic, funny or upsetting moment or story.

One of my favorite slices of any day is listening to my children talk. The other day, E (4) must have been tired of the winter when he said, “I wish we were in Rwanda. It never snows there. Do you even know where Rwanda is, mommy? It’s in Africa.”

On the way home from school one day last week, I asked my kids where they would want to go with the snap of their fingers, for 24 hours.

“Hawaii” said H, immediately.

“The Sistine Chapel” was L’s surprising answer.

E couldn’t pick just one. “Space. Santa’s Workshop. New York City, where you went, Mama. Savannah. … where lions live.”

Every conversation with my kids is a slice, so tonight I asked them about their slices of the day.

H (7) said his slice was the walk we took tonight, home from getting dinner. “It was fun, and interesting how long it was to get to our house. ”

“What did you see?” I asked him.

“We didn’t see anything.” He whispered to me. “We saw trees, and lots of people walking dogs…and that’s it!”

“What was the temperature?” I asked, trying to elicit details.

“32.” He made up. I reminded him we hadn’t even needed jackets.

“Well, it was really cold.”

“How did you feel?” I asked. Expecting an emotion.

“I felt, really… well, I was all worn out…. Yea! Okay that’s it. Yea.”

L (10) said her slice was P.E. A game of kickball. Her story was complete, with no need for prompts and questions from me: “We did this thing that was kickball… but instead of being tagged you just run around the bases. It was really fun, but it was really really hot out. I felt all the sweat dripping down my face. We had a cup of water but I had a really dry sore throat and I kept breathing ahhhhhh hhhhuuuu ahhhhh huuuuuuuu. When we went inside from it, we were so hot and sweaty we used our ice packs from our lunch box to cool us down.”

E (4) came in and I asked him about his slice. I reminded him that I write every day, and I wanted to know a story from his day. This was a question that was too mature for him tonight. He had many answers:

“My favorite part of my day was a long time ago when we made that little pig book!”

“No, no, no,” I reminded him, “Favorite part of this day! This day that we just had!”

“My favorite day was when we made that pig book!”

“Not your favorite day! Your favorite part of this day!”

After several more jokes, and questions from me, he finally settled in and said, “My favorite part of the day is right now because we are snuggling.”

Me too, E! Me too!

Happy last day of the March Slice of Life Challenge!

See you tomorrow for Tuesday’s slice!



#sol14 March 30: Connecting, Learning

Slice of LIfe

I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March.  You should do it too! Check it out here. Thank you,  Two Writing Teachers

Last night I drove home in the rain. My brain settled in on thinking about the Slice of Life Challenge, and about how much I’ve enjoyed writing and connecting to others this month. I thought about how, in a way,  I’ve spent my March close reading my days because of this challenge. (Thanks again, Kate Roberts! ) I spend my days noticing slices, snapshots, pieces. This isn’t totally abnormal for me, I’m married to a film editor, but it is new to do it this much and for the purpose of writing. Now small moments become slices in my mind, and sometimes on my page.

Now, small moments of playing with my 4 year old become slices in my mind, and sometimes on my page
Playing with my 4 year old becomes a slice
Reading a book on a Sunday = A slice
Reading a book on a Sunday becomes a  slice

When I decided to Slice, I told my friend M, and she said “I’ll slice too, on a google.” And she has. So has my other friend K. It meant a lot to have my real life friends slicing along with me. Not to mention the ones who read my blog, comment, tweet, email and talk to me about my writing in person. I’ve “met” new people online, and read blogs I may not have seen otherwise. It really is a conversation.  Starting this writing habit has been an amazing thing. Not just writing, but blogging. I saw this yesterday (wish I remember where I found it!)


Yesterday I was blown away by the extra views my blog got, the tweeting and retweeting. I went to Fran’s blog to reread her “right now” slice, and noticed other bloggers mentioning my link in her comments. Then, I saw that someone pinned my piece on balance on pinterest. I was so excited about these connections, and it started my mind thinking about how I can help my students get more connections with their writing. More sharing. More commenting. More complimenting.

As soon as I started this challenge, I had fuzzy  thoughts about how beneficial writing daily would be. Ruth Ayres articulated the benefits in this post at Choice Literacy.  I love when thoughts I have swirling around are made lucid by someone. It is affirming. Ruth’s post speaks to me about how important it is to do the things we ask students to do. Learning is messy, and if I’m not learning and thinking about learning while I’m teaching, I think it can be easy to lose sight of what it means to learn. If I hadn’t started writing more, started blogging and started the Slice challenge, I wouldn’t be reflecting about how important sharing is in a writing community. I wouldn’t be thinking about how to fit in more acknowledgement in my Writer’s Workshop. I’ve always known it is important, but I often forget, and I never truly understood.

Years ago I started to take piano lessons again, after having quit my senior year of high school. I was talking to my aunt one day about my trying to create a habit of practicing piano as an adult. She remarked that it must be great for my teaching, to be learning piano. I misunderstood her, and went into a whole speech about how it was so powerful to be learning something while I’m teaching, how it really made me think about how my students learn. She nodded, looked at me quizzically and said, “Oh, I just meant you could have a piano in your classroom to play and sing with your class.”

There’s no way my piano skills are up to that, but my learning has always informed my teaching. Thanks to Slice of Life, I will be taking many awesome learning and writing lessons back to my classroom.


#sol14 March 29 Right Now

Slice of LIfe

I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March.  You should do it too! Check it out here. Thank you,  Two Writing Teachers

“Right Now” is a piece I saw here on Fran McVeigh’s blog this morning, when I hopped over there after she retweeted my #sol from yesterday. (Thanks, Fran!) What a great idea. Then I saw the same kind of piece in Terje Äkke’s blog in the “be inspired” section of today’s #sol of Two Writing Teachers. So, it seemed like it was a good idea to give it a try. 

Right Now I am. . . 

Thanking people near and far for their retweets, shares, comments and favorites of my post from yesterday.

Praying for my friend

Watching my kids watch The Muppets


Watching The Muppets

Waiting to spend time with friends tonight

Thinking about what to slice about for the rest of the challenge days

Feeling proud about sticking with this writing challenge

Wondering if I can sneak a nap

Choosing what to make children for dinner

Stretching verbs

Planning to respond to comments

Rocking in my favorite chair

Avoiding  grading




#sol14 March 28 Thank you, Kate Roberts

Slice of LIfe

I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March.  You should do it too! Check it out here. Thank you,  Two Writing Teachers

Last Saturday at #TCRWP, we had a lot of choices to make about sessions. During the drive to New York City, my friends and I spent time reading through the session descriptions and coming up with our priority list. So many amazing presenters were going to be there! It was difficult to prioritize. For me, there were a few musts. I wasn’t leaving New York City until I saw Diane Ravitch and Kate Roberts.  The last session of the day was the session we agreed on to see Kate Roberts: Falling in Love with Close Reading. 

Dear Kate Roberts,

We were lucky to arrive in time to get great seats. As soon as you walked in, the energy level went up.

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Earlier this year I read Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts–and Life I had heard so many people talk about and I had read so many things about “close reading” that seemed, well… boring, and non-authentic. But I started to see tweets, and then I read some blogs, including A Day in the Life of a Close Reader. Soon I was reading your book, and well, I fell in love! The passion that surrounds the book and your presentation last Saturday about close reading is contagious.

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You reminded me that…

  • As humans we already know how to come back to something look at the details that we love
  • Students know how to close read because they do it with the things they love in this world
  • We need close reading structure and ritual
  • We should be reaching for happiness,  engagement and independence
  • Close reading is part of a balanced reading instruction

Thank you for taking us through a close read of “Let it Go.” You inspired us with your energy. I loved how you walked around recording what we were saying and used that information to continue the close read. The ritual and structure were there, and it was fluid; the way you showed us how to go from first read, to finding evidence to finding patterns to finding understanding.



All too quickly,  your session was over, and my friend K said: Go! She knew I wanted to meet you.

It’s not my normal personality to jump up and go introduce myself to someone I admire. I had a flashback to years ago (pre-kids) when my husband and I went to a Tori Amos concert at a small venue, right at the time when she was really outgrowing small venues. I remember sitting next to my husband about halfway back as the concert began. When Tori came out on stage, we all got up and I quickly noticed that a lot of people were running towards the stage. I left my husband in the dust, of course, and went closer. I was nervous that I’d get in trouble. If I had more confidence, I could have easily gotten right up to the stage. I stopped pretty close though – and there I stood for the whole concert. We also stood in a small crowd near the stage door and waited for Tori to come out, which she did. She spoke to some fans who were confident enough to push their way into a conversation, and I’ll always regret not pushing my way in to say hello and thank you.

I don’t know if I’m comparing you to Tori Amos here, or not… but I was determined last Saturday to not leave with regret about not pushing my way in to tell you that I so admire your work and your ideas.  So I did. I jumped out of my chair, and pretended it was my normal personality to introduce myself.

Thank you for acting like it was a totally normal thing for me. Thank you for shaking my hand, asking my name, asking if I was on twitter, and agreeing to a picture. Thanks for letting my friend K sneak around the table to join the picture.

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When I came back to school this week, I was fired up about close reading. I had been rolling around an idea of having the kids choose songs, videos, etc. to practice the ritual of close reading more independently, so that’s what we’ve been working on this week.

Today students sat happily engaged. They independently close read songs and you tube videos.

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My intern and I walked around and listened in to their thinking. We discussed and scaffolded. We were impressed… and jealous! We both wanted to do the activity too!

Then, one of my students blurted out: “This if fun! We should do this over and over again!”

Thank you, Kate Roberts!


#sol14 March 27 zzzzzzzzz

Slice of LIfe

I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March.  You should do it too! Check it out here. Thank you,  Two Writing Teachers

I’ve been sitting here for about an hour, typing up my slice about Kate Roberts at  #TCRWP Saturday Reunion. I have just woken up from my third accidental nap at my laptop. I’ve tried to walk around, and drink a seltzer water. I’m on my 3rd hard candy to try to wake up. Nothing’s working.

I haven’t been good about sleep this week, staying up late to work then slice. A couple of nights ago I stayed up to catch up on Parenthood on Hulu…

So tonight, like last night, I can’t keep my eyes open. They feel so heavy. I’m annoyed because I have things to write about – I was writing! I have pictures, and thoughts, and I’m loving reflecting on Kate Roberts’ presentation last Saturday. But the post deserves to be finished while I’m fully awake.

So sleep tight, reader…



#sol14 March 26 Writing Choices

Slice of LIfe

I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March.  You should do it too! Check it out here. Thank you,  Two Writing Teachers

I’ve been so excited about slicing ever since I found out about it, and started Slicing on Tuesdays. Having my 6th graders Slice instead of my traditional weekly writing assignment seemed more authentic. It was for the most part… for awhile. Some of the slices were awesome, and others were “phoned in.” Students have gotten really great at writing comments to other slicers on our classroom blog. (We use kidblog.)

At first I tried to ignore the complaints (“Do we have a  Slice due again??”) and the groans,  because of how excited I am about slicing. But, then I realized something. I slice because I choose to, my students were slicing because it was an assignment. Duh.

I thought about what I like about blogging. I like that I get to write whatever I want. I like that I get to choose what link ups, challenges, etc. that I want to take part in. I like connecting with readers and other bloggers. So I decided to create choice with my students. I took ideas from blog link ups and challenges I have either done or have read and sound interesting. I made up some of my own as well.  Slices are still an option on Tuesdays. Other options include poetry, book reviews, 25 word stories, opinions and celebrations.  Students will choose one assignment a week to work on.

Today I showed them  the new assignment. One of my students, who has complained before about the slicing, looked visibly relieved when we were done looking at the new assignment choices. “Wow!” he said as he closed his laptop. “This is cool. I can do this.” After the last bell rang and he was at his locker, I talked to him about what he had said and he nodded again. “Yea. It sounds fun.”

“Much better than before.” Another student chimed in.

“I know which one I’m doing first! 25 word stories!” said another.

Students nodded along as they said their goodbyes, and I nodded too. Another review lesson for this teacher: Choice!

I can’t wait to read their blog posts next week.


#sol14 March 25: How do you want to spend your time?

Slice of LIfe

I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March.  You should do it too! Check it out here. Thank you,  Two Writing Teachers

Scene 1: SLO (Student Learning Objectives – Part of the new Teacher Evaluation) Faculty Meeting

My team and I sit and we listen, and we try to understand.

I feel like an idiot, honestly because I don’t truly understand all the rules and percentages, and most of all, I don’t understand the why. SLO, Value Added….  I don’t know much, but know this is busy work for teachers:  Select students, create objectives, fill out paperwork, assess students before and after… Our ability to show student growth will be used (how, I’m not sure) as part of the complicated matrix of our evaluation. Obviously, I already assess my students to inform my teaching.  By all accounts, this won’t be difficult. The teachers who piloted it said we just follow a step by step process.

I blurt out to my team, “I don’t care if this will be easy. It’s stupid.” This is not my most eloquent reflection, but other teachers are annoyed as well and they echo my thoughts: “I don’t have time for one more thing.” “How does the state have the resources to read through our paperwork? They don’t.”  I want to spend my time teaching my students, planning for my students (not to mention some time with my family).

Do I want my students to grow as the year progresses? Of course I do. Do I want to assess my students? Of course I do. I don’t want to do busy work. I don’t want to calculate percentages of instructional responsibility with my math co-teacher. My team wonders a lot. We wonder for instance how our amazing Learning Support teacher (my math co-teacher)  will survive this current “Value Added Measurement” system. One of my colleagues says “She’s not. She will fail forever until they cure learning disabilities.” Her sarcasm makes her point.

My administrator and the others who shared the information with us truly did their best to explain how this will all work. Now I’d like to hear from the Department of Education about why.

While I wait for that answer, I reflect on Saturday’s learning.

Scene 2: TCRWP Saturday Reunion. . . 

We rush up 4 flights of stairs, M gets to the top first (of course) and yells down “It’s full!” So we rush down to the other session we had circled on our program, “Using Media to Strengthen Students’ Critical and Close Reading.”   Cornelius Minor (@MisterMinor) engages immediately, and his content resonates with us. We are immediately grateful for the closed session that made us come downstairs for this.  His fast pace is perfect: He moves around the room and inspires by listening to us and showing us amazing new ideas. This is my kind of professional development – completely full of concepts, rituals and lessons that I can take back to the classroom, reminders of things I know and forget mixed with new ideas that I can’t wait to try with my students. “Play!” he tells us.  “You don’t own vocabulary by writing it down. You have to play around with saying it.” I immediately tweet that.  He reminds us of the importance of skill isolation. All too often we forget this and wonder why students are forgetting things they usually know as they are trying out new skills. Practice skills with media, and then you can replace the media with written text. He tells us that engagement means that kids are ready to fail and get back up to try again, that critical thinking is a ritual

I learned so much, and I brought it back to my classroom for my kids immediately. 

I don’t even need to wonder about which kind of experiences I want to spend my time with: SLOs or planning for engaging my students in close reading and critical thinking. One helps children, one pretends to help the state. When I have the chance to decide how to best spend my time,  I will choose helping children. Every time.



#sol14 March 24 Alone

Slice of LIfe

I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March.  You should do it too! Check it out here. Thank you,  Two Writing Teachers

I had a doctor appointment this morning as a follow up to my dizziness. (I’m fine, feel back to normal!) I didn’t know how long my appointment would be, so I have the morning still before me, until going back to school. I stopped at this small coffee shop that I hardly ever get to go to. I  ordered a pumpkin spice latte with almond milk, plugged in my laptop and I’m all alone.

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I’m not alone much. I spend my days with so many people: my own children, my students, teachers, interns, parents. (Occasionally I even see my husband. Every other week or so we get to finish a sentence, and sometimes a conversation.) I love being with all of these people. I love the energy around me, and the noise. I also love the quiet, I guess. I remember my mom talking about loving her time alone. I used to go with my dad to visit my grandma sometimes, and my mom would stay behind. Only after having my own children did I understand this concept. As a kid and a teenager, I don’t think I minded having time by myself, but I certainly didn’t strive to get more. Sometimes being alone felt lonely, isolated, un-cool. But that’s not how I feel right now. This is peaceful. People are starting to filter in and order their coffee. Some of them are with others, some are alone. They order their coffee and look at their phones. The music is playing, and I’m letting my coffee start its work. Soon I will start my work, I will grade and plan, and then I will drive to school to teach literacy and have meetings. Later, I will pick up my children and get them ready for a busy evening of karate, and their school science fair.  For now, I’m going to chill…

…with my husband, who just walked in. This never happens. This short coffee date before we go our separate ways is even better than being alone. ❤

#sol14 March 23 Speak Up

Slice of LIfe

I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March.  You should do it too! Check it out here. Thank you,  Two Writing Teachers

A Slice on the Keynote Address by Diane Ravitch at #TCRWP Saturday Reunion:

My alarm woke me at 6:50 on Saturday morning. My eyes popped open as I reached up to pull on the bedside light chain. Angry sleepy friends, M and K made fun of me for this for the rest of the weekend, but we had places to go! We were ready quickly and headed, map in hand on a walk to Riverside Church.  We stopped for some Starbucks, and to take a quick picture of the “real” Seinfeld restaurant… (We weren’t sure, but I looked it up…) Image 5We arrived with half an hour to spare.

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M and K knew how much I was looking forward to hearing Diane Ravitch at the keynote, so we hurried in, passing a woman with a clipboard and a name tag that said “Diane Ravitch: Guest.” I felt a slight tug in my brain to just sit down next to that woman so I could introduce myself when Diane Ravitch came, and tell her how much I respect how she is speaking up and defending public eduction. But, that isn’t really my personality, so we went in and found great seats, front and center.


Lucy Caulkins came out to speak to us before the start of the keynote. I had never “seen Lucy” before. (That’s how people seem to refer to this, as in “Have you seen Lucy? Are you going to see Lucy?”) and I was struck by how comfortable she seemed talking to this huge crowd. She was such a teacher, using her hands to tell us directions and some rules. (“Don’t get hit by a car!”) She then went on to say that she was involved in working on a new website to collect transparent data about common core testing:, she believes it will be called.  She wants us all to contribute, with our names attached. She talked about feeling afraid sometimes to speak up, and how Diane Ravitch is an inspiration for telling the truth, speaking out and taking action.

And yes, when 9:00 came, Diane Ravitch inspired just that. photo 3

I couldn’t take notes fast enough.

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She painted a sobering picture of what is happening to schools right now, and her facts called me to speak up too. She didn’t hem and haw or measure her words to make them more comfortable and less than the truth. Children are different, she told us, even if taught exactly the same standardized curriculum. “It’s called humanity….Teaching can not be standardized. Children are not appliances…..” She called the situation right now a hoax, and totally insane.

I decided something listening to her. I decided that I do need to speak up. I decided this even though I have it good. I teach in a district that is measured in its approach to the common core, and thoughtful.  But, I need to speak up because the way the common core was developed was not ethical, and in many places, it isn’t being approached in a measured or thoughtful manner. I haven’t been told to teach to the test. But, I need to speak up because there are too many teachers who must do just that. My district puts in a splendid effort to put kids first, and empower teachers. But I need to speak up because there are so many kids who aren’t put first in this country, and so many teachers who have been vilified.  I have worked on unpacking some of the Common Core with my curriculum office, and found many parts to be solid and good practice. But, I need to speak up because there are plenty of developmentally inappropriate parts as well, and children are being pushed too hard. Sometimes, it’s okay to stand on principle and speak up.  Thank you, Diane Ravitch for reigniting me. I will speak up. (Shh…. I did have a whole different  last paragraph that I erased… I was speaking up just a little too loudly…. balance, Ona, balance.) 

#sol14 March 22 Slices of the City

Slice of LIfe

I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March.  You should do it too! Check it out here. Thank you,  Two Writing Teachers

This is hard, and it isn’t because I’m on my iPad. I’m full, and it isn’t the guacamole they made at our table for dinner. I’m full from today. I’m not sure if people who live in the city just automatically have more slices. You’re going to have to tell me, city readers. Visiting New York City this weekend for the Teacher’s College Reading Writing Project (#TCRWP) Saturday reunion has been so full of slices, that I’m still processing all of them. I’m not ready to slice about the conference moments that meant the most to me. But, in this city, there are stories everywhere that jump jump jump out at you.

The front desk shower directions


Finding a tiny Italian place for dinner, delicious – and there’s nothing like a whole dinner with friends and talking and laughing.


Finding the same mess I pick up at home on the streets of New York.


Walking back today we saw kids playing baseball and soccer, climbing fences and laughing. It was a spring day in the city, and I am lucky to have spent it with my friends. We were people watching, talking and breathing in the feel. We saw people laying on the street, and picking through trash, but the moment that burned into us was watching a young man get up from his outdoor cafe seat, to help an elderly woman with her walker. “Do you want to hold on to this?” He asked. “No? You want to hold on to me?” We walked away crying a little bit, at the kindness you find.