Monthly Archives: March 2014

#sol14 March 21

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

In New York on my escape…#tcrwp tomorrow! Odd to blog from my ipad on an unsteady hotspot! Luckily, I sliced today, on paper between proctoring the last day of testing. It’s a picture poem.


#sol14 March 20

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 am in the middle of guiltily packing for a conference, while my 4 year old is sleeping off a fever and cough. (Fingers crossed he sleeps it off. Poor kid…. and also, this mama already felt guilty escaping to a conference with friends for the weekend before there was a fever and a cough and a nebulizer!)

I wrote this slice while I sat with sleeping E, while listening in as “Mr. Thought” read the big kids the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was either post this poetry slice, or just post the following words: Harried. Hurried. Test days, sick days.  Kid sick. Snuggles. Sleep. Pack. Escape. Guilty. Mother. 

We rock in this chair
I used to nurse you in
You're warmer than the
thermometer tells me, and your
breathing is quicker, more labored
than I want it to be

You cozied up
refused dinner
asked for snuggles
before falling asleep
at 6:30
while daddy was still out
picking up your medicine

Early bedtime
hopeful for a speedy recovery

#sol14 March 19: Classroom Signs

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 am staring at a sign in my classroom: “Sorry about the mess, but we are learning here.” It rings true in my classroom for sure.  Peek into my room,  and you will see an elementary eruption. When we are creating our muppets,  fleece scraps are slumped on desk tops, chair tops, and our own tops. Sometimes liquid watercolor is drying on paintings, waiting to be cleaned up on the counter and still in use by some kids. Supply baskets are full and ready to go. (Truth be told, we often lose track of time, so cleaning up is left until later.)

My mess sign is deeper than that though. The mind is messy: jumbled up while the light bulb starts to flicker, before we’ve been able to file our knowledge in the appropriate mind folder. I imagine it looks like my desk in the summer, when I have all my paperwork out in order to organize, de-clutter, and get ready for the next school year. Who am I kidding? That’s what my desk looks like right now. Yikes!

I should probably edit my sign to say: “Sorry about the mess and the noise, but we are learning here.”  In my classroom we value and practice the art of a silent reading, writing and work time. But we aren’t always quiet (just ask my teacher neighbors…). Our learning squawks and giggles, hoots and stomps it’s feet.  We collaborate, debate, articulate and create our own understanding.  I am proud of my students. They take responsibility for gathering information when they need it. They ask questions, and question answers. I facilitate. I guide, scaffold, correct, help, ask and answer along with them. I am proud of our learning environment – walls of student work and helpful charts. We spend almost all day together in this classroom, it may as well be fun and comfortable.

“Sorry about the mess, the noise, and the colorful clutter. . . but we are learning here.”   

But not today, not the rest of this week. This week I need a new sign: “Today we aren’t learning.” These mornings will be silent. All the colorful charts and helpful strategies have been covered. Students are not permitted to ask me for help. I am not empowered to guide them. (I know, I know, I’m still allowed to help by encouragement.)

They are taking their standardized tests you see – and these tests have very little to do with learning.

I know what you want me to say, reader. You want me to say that of course we need some kind of standardized assessment. But I won’t. Because I don’t think we do. It isn’t information that helps me enough to warrant the stress, the time, or the cost. So I’ll keep giving the test this year, and forever more. I’ll follow the rules and regulations. I’ll cover my posters, count and sign for my tests, silence my class, read the directions and monitor my students. I’ll collect the tests, return the tests, sign that I returned the tests. And tomorrow I’ll start again. But I won’t say we need to do this. Because I don’t think we do.

#sol14 March 18 I am Thankful

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

On the way to our monthly Mother Daughter book club this evening, my daughter was trying to put her earrings back in. She has to take them out twice a week for karate, and putting them back in can be tricky since her holes try to close up at every opportunity. She was complaining, whining a bit. She was annoyed about having to take them out for karate, jealous of friends who can just wear earrings or not, with no problems.

Complaining and whining are habits I’m trying to help her get over. I told her that I was trying to stop complaining too. I said, “I try to take a deep breath when I’m frustrated, and think of something about the situation that I’m thankful for…even if it seems silly. For example, if I’m annoyed at having to do dishes, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I’m thankful to have a sink and a kitchen, and dishes and food.”  We decided that she can be thankful for ears, and the gold studs that my mom gave her, and for a mama that will help her “as soon as we aren’t driving.”  A few seconds after deciding what to be thankful for about her earring situation, she was able to get her earring in, and all was well. “See that?” I said. “It’s a thankful miracle! It’s like magic!”

So today – I could complain. I could talk about how taking a sick day used to be about resting and getting better… But how now it’s about resting a little, taking advil, getting a flat tire on the way to pick up kids, stopping at school, covering bulletin boards the guest teacher missed, still going to mother daughter book club, so as not to disappoint, and spending the night catching up on the day-before-state-tests work you missed at school…..  but I won’t bore you with my complaints. Instead, I will be thankful.

I am thankful 
for children who wake me up at 5:30 on my sick day
for my cozy bed that I didn't want to leave
for the dishes, all the dishes

I am thankful
for schools that my children have to race to
for teachers who will forgive their lateness
for husbands who drive them there

I am thankful
for my washer and dryer
for all the clothes that are waiting to be folded
for my slippers and jammies and new books

I am thankful
for doctors who say "Very good, very good, very good." 
for medicine that will make me drowsy if I decide to try it
for my acupuncturist who actually did help me  

I am thankful
for my car (to get a flat tire you need to have a car)
for my husband who rushed to get my 4 year old 
for my parents' car I borrowed

I am thankful
for bulletin boards to cover
for students to encourage
for work to do

I am thankful.

#sol14 March 17

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

Ugh. I’m getting sick, so all the slices of my day are fuzzy, surrounded by a dizziness for days, and now a sore throat.

By the way, if you go to a Walk-In Doctor’s office, and tell them you are dizzy, you get some great customer service! A nurse came out right away. They took me off the “Walk-In” waiting list, and gave me an appointment.  The very nice Doctor told me I was “very good, very good, very healthy, very healthy.”

But earlier today, while I was still deciding if I should go to the Doctor, we had a lovely time during Literacy. We voted on our next read aloud (Tangle of Knots wins by a landslide!) I didn’t do my status of the class before we read today. So after “Read to Self,” I took a picture of the books being read, and wrote down everyone’s titles, just for you. There were some repeats – we are doing book clubs, but the books being read, (and a few soon to be read) by my 6th graders are….


I love overhearing the students as they talk about the books they are reading and are about to read. Some of them have so many books to read in their reading plans, they are having a hard time picking which to read when. One girl put down Divergent today and switched to The Shadow Throne, simply because The Shadow Throne was suddenly available. Don’t worry, she’ll pick up Divergent in a day or two. We have sticky notes in many of our books with lists of kids who want to read the book. The new rule is, if a book has a sticky note in it with names… you have to check with those names first before you read. Those names get first dibs.

As we were finishing our reading time today, the kids and I joked that our current problem was…. drum roll please… too many good books to pick from!

Currently, we are reading. . .
The Watson’s Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis
Doll Bones by Holly Black  
Divergent by Veronica Roth 
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest by Ann McGovern 
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord
Unbelievable by Sara Shepard
The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Unwanteds: Island of Silence by Lisa McMann
Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

#sol14 March 16 What do you do?

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

What do you do?

What do you do when the slices of your life aren’t sliceable? When the parts you want to write about are the parts you can’t?

What about when what you want to slice about are students that you have had, have, or will have? What about students who don’t understand a topic, students with learning differences, or who are new to English? You can’t tell the details, but you wish you could. You wish you could describe in detail the way you try to scaffold for them, help them, give them a chance to see themselves as capable. You want to talk about that time they worked so hard on that topic and then it clicked.  You want to write about details! You want to explain the frustration and the worry and the hard work. You want to write about the anger you have that this week they will take a test that might not show their growth, even though you have seen growth. So much growth.  But you can’t write about these learners, because you would need to spin so much fiction in order to maintain confidentiality.

What do you do when your biggest slice is the prayers you have for a person you care about, waiting for good news? But you can’t slice what isn’t yours to slice.

What about when you want to slice about your own children, their emotions, the tough times – the worries you have that you only talk about with some of your friends? You can’t. It seems like the story isn’t quite yours to tell.

What do you do when the things on your mind aren’t slice-able?

#sol14 March 15: Using Your Resources

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

State tests are coming next week. Last week we went over testing tips – general things like “pace yourself” and “It’s just one test.” We were creating a foldable that I made from an idea I saw here. In general, I am not a big proponent of  devoting tons of time to”test prep.” I think my job is to teach 6th grade students to be the best readers and writers and mathematicians and historians (and until this year, scientists too). I believe that all we do in school (especially choice reading!) will help them in life, and as a side benefit, it will help them on standardized tests. We spend time looking at test prep questions almost as a genre study, so that they won’t come as a surprise during the tests.

But this is the kind of test prep I can appreciate – It says to the kids: you’ve got this, you know this, chill out and do your best. I owe it to my students to remind them that they are not only more than a test but can also be successful on the test.

One of my students asked me if they could keep the foldable with them during the test. I had to tell him “No.”


That’s the big question, isn’t it? I explained to my class that the test was standardized, that everyone’s testing experience across the state needed to be controlled, and that the state had decided that no other reference materials were allowed.

But I cringed inside as I said it.

When else in life are we allowed no references, no resources? My colleagues and I wondered about this in the hallway after school…I am still wondering.

So I will cover my word wall, my anchor charts, my posters.  I will put up privacy walls between my students, and I will follow the testing code that I promised to follow.  Then when this year’s tests are finished, I will uncover my walls.  We will be a community of learners again, and I think we’ll use extra resources that next week. . . just because we can. Off to write a lesson where students collaborate in groups, and need a dictionary, thesaurus, online encyclopedia, almanac, and the teacher’s help…. 

#sol14 March 14 Balance

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 step out of the shower, hopeful that everyone will stay asleep as I finish getting ready for my early meeting at school. But as soon as I breathe a sigh of relief, I hear my littlest guy, E wake up. He’s four and the pitter patter of his feet is one of the cutest sounds in the world. His crying is one of the saddest sounds. As soon as he realizes that I’m not still in my  jammies and in my bed, he begins to cry. These are not crocodile tears, or manipulative cries, but real sadness overflowing.

“I wanted to snuggle you!” he says and my heart breaks.

“Put your jammies back on!” he begs and I want to cry.

I can’t snuggle. I’m already running late for my meeting and I can’t afford to do anything but rush. I can’t not snuggle. His sadness and pleas  are honest, and being a mom is my most important job. I sit with him for a bit. We snuggle on his chair as a compromise.  He settles until I remind him that I have to get ready for work. We snuggle some more, his eyes closed as his head rests on my shoulder. I give kisses and hugs. (“Hugs are very important, mommy.”)  Then I say, “I really need to go. I have a meeting.”

“Snuggles are more important than meetings, mommy.”

He’s right. They are. But I need to go. So I give last hugs, rush rush rush rush rush, give more last hugs to everyone, hop in my car and drive away.

Mornings aren’t always emotionally tough, but when they are, I tend to spend my drive to work wondering if I should quit my job. Mornings that aren’t emotionally tough still make me wonder: How can I bring balance to this double life I lead, as mommy and teacher?

If you have the magic answer, I’d love to hear it.

#sol14 March 13 The book box (aka How I spend my paycheck)

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

The scholastic box came today. We have been waiting and waiting. . . forever it seems, with spring break in the mix. What is it about a box of new books? My favorite thing is to unpack the books with the kids, and savor the excitement. Today I had to unpack the box without them, so I left the stack on my table and realized a stack of books might be even better than a box. I enjoyed the questioning eyes, the pointing, the asking, “Are these books for us?”

I get it. All I want to do is go home and read these too!
I get it. All I want to do is go home and read these too!

Each time students asked me about the books, I pretended to think about it for a moment, but couldn’t let them worry about it for long. Yes! Yes the books are for you.

One lucky girl caught me before lunch, and asked for a copy of  Counting by 7s, but the rest of the students have to wait until tomorrow when we will look at all the new titles together and settle on our lists of who gets the books. Tomorrow we will also choose our next read aloud. It will be a day of reading choices: My favorite kind of day.

But today was good too: A day for browsing and grabbing and previewing. Students came up at the end of the day to take a look at what their next book might be, ask to be first on the list, and recommend books from the pile to others.

IMG_1122 IMG_1121 IMG_1120 IMG_1119

I find it hard to describe, this feeling of joy while I listen to my students’ excitement over new books. My smile is hard to contain, and I love to listen in.

As I was reflecting on this time we spend in our classroom enjoying reading, I wondered if people might consider it wasted time. After all, “choosing books” is probably not a question on the state tests. (Although, I wouldn’t know since I’m not allowed to see the tests…)  Yesterday I got a parent email that I think answers that question. The parent wrote “… she has finally and surprisingly become a lover of reading — thanks to your own love of reading and your great book suggestions. I want to thank you for the personal attentions that have helped her gain confidence. I am sure that she will be reflecting on your gentle and powerful influence for many years to come.”

I think she is most likely exaggerating my influence – her daughter is a reader and became one for many reasons.  But, I like to think that the time we spend loving books, reading books, talking about books… and enjoying stories makes a difference to these kids.

#sol14 March 12 I remember this

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 remember this, when school is quiet in the early morning. I’m the only one in the parking lot, in the hallway. Before I was a mom, I started most days arriving at school before 7:00. Often walking in the dark morning to the door. I’d sit at my desk with my coffee and finish waking up in my classroom, as I put the finishing touches on the days plans. Mornings were the time when I would make last minute copies, anchor charts, straighten up my classroom, and grade papers I hadn’t gotten to the night before.

Now I have 3 children, so my mornings are spent at home getting everyone ready – and there’s rarely a time I get to school early. Usually I’m here just in time.

Sure, today it was still not dawn when I left home only because we recently changed the clocks and nobody is at school yet because it’s an inservice day. I have no last minute plans to do because the students aren’t here today. But it still feels good. It feels good to sit at my desk, and think about the day ahead, to not only have had time to stop at starbucks, but to sit and drink it.

I’m ready for the day!