Monthly Archives: March 2016

#sol16 March 11 A Tiny Slice of a Family Story

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!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing! 


My family came over for dinner tonight because my sister was in for a surprise short visit. We all chatted at the table after dinner and some of our favorite stories came up. Do you have stories like that in your family? Stories where some of the details are a little fuzzy, but others are crystal clear? Stories that are like little slices of your family’s history? Stories like the Halloween dinner story: 

When I was in middle school, I invited a new friend over to go trick-or-treating. She arrived with her mom and dad and a brother or two. It seemed normal at first, they were dropping off my friend, so of course they would want to come in and meet my family. As we got ready to go trick-or-treating, we realized that this family was not leaving. I have a vague memory of the whole family going around the neighborhood with us. A few houses in, we all realized that the entire family was planning on staying for dinner as well.  My mom remembers leading us to her friend across the street. She ran a little ahead of us so that when her friend opened the door,  my mom was able to quickly whisper, “These people think they are having dinner with us, but I didn’t plan on a dinner. What should I do? Do you have any tomato sauce?”

I don’t remember many specifics from that night. What was my costume?  The dinner is foggy. We had spaghetti, I guess… I don’t know what costume I had on. I don’t remember how many brothers my friend had. What I do remember is the awkward feeling of the whole evening. We didn’t understand what was going on, we had to figure it out moment by moment.   It was a weird and uncomfortable night… but at least now it’s a funny little story… A tiny slice of my childhood.


#sol16 March 10 A Slice of a Sick Day

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!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing! 


Sick Days

Sick Days when I was a kid
Mom took care of me
I rested on the couch, on my bed
I read books
Watched TV
The Price is Right
Little House on the Prairie. 
I slept off and on
My mom brought me water and saltines
I watched People's Court
Read another book
Went to bed 

Sick Days now
I am awakened at 6:30 
head downstairs
I fill the dishwasher
Wash pots and pans
Clean the stove
Wipe down the fridge 
Clear and clean the counters
Step over legos
Mediate bickering
Go to Target for essentials
Stop at Trader Joes 
Come home to more dishes
Sit for a minute, open a book
Console a crying 6 year old
Go outside on this blustery, grey windy day
Listen to children make a fort
Wait for after bedtime
to rest, to sleep

#sol16 March 9 A Slice of Slowing it down

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!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing! 


On my way out of Wegmans I was rushed – already late, with a chest cold brewing. I just wanted to go home. I rounded the bend to the exit door, and found myself behind an elderly man slowly pushing his cart. He was in the middle of the corridor, blocking my way. I went a little to the right, a little to the left, but I didn’t want him to feel like I was annoyed. So, I just slowed my pace. I took a deep breath, and put a smile on my face.

I noticed that in front of the man was an elderly woman with her own cart. They matched, this woman and this man – both with the small two story cart, both with a couple of bags, both walking slowly. I noticed that the man had a cane resting on his cart, and I wondered if the cart was helping them each walk.

We made our way to the automatic doors, I felt like I was in a slow parade. Once both of them were outside, I noticed the woman stop and wait for the man. They had a short conversation, and I walked by. As I passed them, I started thinking about these people. Wondering about their story. Then I started hoping. I hoped that I will be lucky enough to one day go to the grocery store with an elderly Mr. Thought, both of us leaning on our individual carts, taking our time, chatting about this or that.

On my way back to my car I kept thinking about the couple. I noticed that the car beside me, the clean as a whistle sedan, had two hats resting on the shelf behind the backseat. As I stared at the hats, one plaid, one straw, I hoped it was their car. I could imagine them putting on their hats, maybe sitting outside with some tea and cookies when they got back from Wegmans.

I was a little disappointed to see them walk the other direction to a different car, but I was happy that I had slowed my pace, and allowed my imagination to whirl.


#sol16 March 8 A Slice of Going Beyond

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!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing! 


My poor children. I find it nearly impossible to turn my  teacher brain off when I’m helping them with their school work, or even just reading with them.

My 9 year old has a big project due at the end of the month: The 3rd grade “Going Beyond” project. H’s inquiry is “How does the brain work?” I’m sure we should have been working on it for the last few months…Let’s just say that homework is not our specialty around here.

I made him bring all of his things home for spring break, though. The other day we bought fun index cards and some poster supplies. This morning, we sat together at the kitchen counter and started working. One thing I have found out about H is that writing  can be a deal breaker as far as stamina goes, so if the assignment isn’t about writing specifically, I scribe for him. Reading is another challenge that we are working on. It’s a balance, always. What do we do for him to help modify the assignment, and what do we push him to accomplish on his own?

We sat at the counter, with our colored index cards, post-it tags, and his favorite brain book. He organized his cards. I noticed later that he had put a quarter in front of each stack. I’m not sure why… but it made me laugh. As we read, I led him to agree to first take notes on the parts of the brain, and he carefully put post-it tags on important other information.

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“What should I write about that?” I asked over and over.

“Just write what it says!” he replied a few times. I tried to explain that we can’t just copy someone else’s words. I’m not sure I have him convinced about that yet.

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He was working on his attention getter: A paragraph that you can read even though many of the letters are mixed up. It’s actually a hoax, and as we wrote down how to explain that to his class, I asked him what the point of sharing this was.  I was trying to have him bridge the hoax to the rest of his presentation. He took offense for a minute, misunderstanding my question, and that’s when I knew his stamina was at an end. We had worked for over half an hour on a beautiful spring break morning. I would call that a success. We worked for a minute or two more and then he said. “Okay. I’m done.” We piled up his cards and notes and book. I hope later we can have another work session. I know he will feel proud when he is ready to present it to his class.

Reflecting on the work this morning, I was reminded (of course!) of some of the conferring notes I had taken at the recent Jennifer Serravallo conference.


Now, I wasn’t technically conferring with my son. I was working with him. But, I’d call it pretty close. Jennifer told us that kids do their “best work when you are just with them.” I’d say that H benefitted from the time I was with him. I gave him feedback, I named the things he was doing well, I told him what I thought he should do next. I worked with him. I’m supposed to put myself out of a job as a teacher, by equipping my kids with strategies and a desire to read. I take that on as a parent too. This morning, I did some of the work to show H what to do, we did some of it together as well. Somehow I have to get him to work with other kids, and then do it alone. Knowing my son, it will be a slow and steady marathon to that independence when it comes to reading and writing. Third grade is almost over, I hope his fourth grade teacher is up for the challenge. You could say that working with H takes a little “Going Beyond.”

Maybe I should buy his fourth grade teacher a few Jennifer Serravallo books.

#Sol16 March 7 A Slice of Spring Break

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!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing! 


I think it’s time for another “Fortunately/Unfortunately” summarizing poem– learned from Sara Holbrook (@saraholbrook) at a wonderful inservice years ago. With many apologies to Sara Holbrook, I will try this again (I did it for a slice a couple of summers ago) First write using the words Fortunately and Unfortunately… Then revise taking out extra words. Here we go! 

Mr. Thought woke up with my early-riser middle son this morning
Fortunately I got to sleep until 7:20
Unfortunately the smoothie making woke me up
Fortunately we have a dishwasher now
Unfortunately we forgot to run it last night
Fortunately we have a sink too
Unfortunately it was full of last night's pizza making mess

After smoothie time, I chatted with L about her new favorite show: Fixer Upper
Fortunately the boys were playing legos in the basement
Unfortunately I got caught up in watching a Fixer Upper
Fortunately the sun is shining
Unfortunately the kids are still watching shows on iPads
Fortunately that is giving me time to write
Unfortunately, it's a bit hard to concentrate

Soon we will venture to the park
Unfortunately I have to make lunch for everyone first
Fortunately Mr. Thought will be on dish-duty
Unfortunately I haven't told him that yet 
Fortunately I bought cheap, thin paper plates yesterday
Unfortunately that makes me feel guilty
Fortunately I don't buy them often

This is spring break
Fortunately the weather is beautiful
Unfortunately I only have 2 days - spring breaklet
Fortunately for my children, they have all week
Unfortunately, my children have all week
Fortunately, it's a whole week of not packing lunches
Unfortunately, It's a lot of time for bickering 

Revised. . .
This is Spring Break 

Mr. Thought woke up with my early-riser 
I sleep 
smoothie making woke me
dishwasher now
 forgot last night
 full of last night's mess

 I chat with L 
  boys play in basement
the sun shines
kids still watch  
giving me time to write
   a bit hard to concentrate

Soon we will venture to the park
  lunch  first
Mr. Thought will be on dish-duty
I haven't told him that yet 
 I bought cheap, thin paper plates yesterday
 makes me guilty

This is spring break
weather is beautiful
I only have 2 days 
My children, they have all week
 a whole week of not packing lunches 
    time for bickering 

This is spring break

#sol16 March 6 A Slice of Noticing

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!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing! 


It was a beautiful day here today. Friends came over, and the kids were in and out, in and out. If you are a parent, you know that sound of the opening and closing. You know how you yell, “Put on a sweatshirt!” and “You need shoes!” and “Leave your shoes on the mat when you come in!” You know how you open and close the door too – to check on the boys making a fort on the side of the house, and open and close it again when someone wants a snack.

When our friends left, we opened and closed the door a few more times, including when we realized they had left a fancy headband. H ran out, the door slamming behind him, ran up the street waving the yellow headband, pom poms bouncing. Defeated, he came back inside, opening and closing the door once again.

A little while later, we decided to go on a walk around the block. We opened the door, and my daughter said, “Wait? What is that? Is that a nest?”


There, right on our storm door wreath, an industrious bird built a beautiful nest. I can’t believe we didn’t notice this amazing sign of spring all day, as the door opened and closed, opened and closed. I can’t help but wonder; what else have we been missing?

#sol16 March 5 A slice of sleep

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!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing! 


We were going to watch a movie,
"after the kids fall asleep"
You know how that goes, 
well, all the reasons it doesn't.
A 6 year old's shower isn't "quick"
The Weird School book is pretty funny
The tween finishes just "one more" Fixer Upper on Netflix
But mostly, 3 kids want to snuggle

I know, I know
there will always be movies to watch
but there won't always be
sweet babies to snuggle

I drifted to sleep 
during the third snuggle
Keeping her company
the room, dark
the music, soft

#sol16 March 4 A Slice of Toast

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!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing! 


I walked down the hall today with my teacup in my hand. I had been invited to join a special 6th grade reading celebration: “Toast and Tea and Time to Read.” It was the perfect middle to my Friday.

As I walked into the class, students were settling at their desks, books facing out, ready for instructions. Their teacher reminded them that the purpose was to read, and everyone got organized around the room in various comfy spaces. I was stationed at the tea, the teacher managed the toasters. As students started coming by for tea, I grabbed a copy of John Green’s Paper Towns that was calling to me from the shelf next to the counter.


It was a mostly calm job. I pushed the lever down to fill the mugs with hot water, with only the occasional close call when students got distracted by the sugar packets and started to move their mugs out of the stream of water. Some students seemed to be tea-making experts. I also heard many a whisper of, “I’ve never had tea” and watched students fumble to get their tea bag ready and into their mug. I found myself explaining the skill of making a cup of tea. Suddenly I heard myself teaching  tea strategies: “Put the tea bag in, with the tag hanging out. We’ll pour the hot water on top of that. Now keep the tea bag in there for awhile so it can steep for a few minutes before you drink it. You can take the tea bag out, or just leave it in.”

I laughed at myself, as I realized I was conferring about tea strategies. A tea workshop!

The goal of course, was for everyone to have a relaxed time to read. One of the skills for this “Toast and Tea and Time to Read” was to be able to make that cup of tea. There were a few strategies for making tea: Tea bag in first or after the water? Adding sugar, unwrapping different kinds of tea bags. Each time a new group of students came to the tea line, I quickly assessed. Do they know how to make tea? If not, what kind of help do they need? Most of the time I was conferring with one student at a time  in a Research-Decide-Teach type of conference. However occasionally, I noticed that a few students needed the same strategy and we had a strategy group. I might not have my own classroom right now, but I’m putting these workshop skills to immediate use! Thank you, Jennifer Serravallo! 🙂

Of course, I looked over at the toast table across the room. I heard the toasting conferences a bit as well. “Decide which kind of bread. Do you want it toasted? Oh  no – you can’t put the bread in the toaster after you bite it. We don’t want to have your mouth in our toaster!”


Luckily I already know how to make tea, and toast. So after my groups were done, I did just that, sat down, and read Paper Towns. Modeling, of course, the main goal of the day.

49 hours of PD! Jennifer Serravallo Reflection 1

Jennifer Serravallo asked us, a conference audience of over 400 educators, to think back on our experiences as reading students. As teachers chatted for a minute about their memories, Jennifer walked around, listening in before she brought our conversations together. We laughed as we collectively remembered. There were SRA kits and trying to get to the aqua card.

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Who can forget round robin reading when we counted lines so we could practice our part instead of listening to anyone else read? I know there were reading groups in elementary school, but I don’t remember if I was in the red robins, cardinals or blue jays. I was a fluent reader early, and I do remember being bored. I read ahead because I was either just reading at my quicker pace to lessen the boredom, or to make sure there weren’t any tricky words or names that would be stressful to read aloud. (Michael vs. Michelle, for example was a huge stressor for me!) Reading practices have grown since we were in school as students, and looking back feels like a good reflection as we examine our instructional practices.

According to research cited by Jennifer, “When things are challenging (And what could be more challenging than teaching in today’s educational climate?) we are more likely to revert back to how we were taught, than how we were taught to teach.” Take a moment with that idea. I did. (It probably applies to how we parent too!)

Now reflect on Jennifer’s next point: It takes 49 hours of professional development to outgrow your current practice, before you are trying new things that impact students. 49 hours! This number put me in immediate reflection mode: Is there enough time for teachers to learn? What slice of that 49 hours of time have I helped with as a coach?

 As a new instructional coach these past several weeks, I have have been immersed in differentiating reader’s workshop professional development for teachers. Teachers choose a selected component to learn about and work on. They may want to learn more about conferring, small strategy groups, assessment or mini lessons, for example. As I plan for sessions centered on reader’s workshop, I spend hours learning more about the components. I read, listen to podcasts, watch example videos, take notes, etc. I know I’ve spent over 49 hours immersed in these workshop topics.

Teachers want varying levels of change — to tweak or to try something completely new. One thing seems consistent with all the teachers I’ve been lucky to work with: They always want to do what’s best for their students and what makes sense to them as teachers. As I spend 2 half days with teachers, along with their other grade level inservice time, I wonder about how quickly we can expect any tweaks or changes to happen. I know when I’m teaching, I often think I should be able to do something new right away  — my coach would remind me to chill out when things weren’t working exactly how we envisioned it the first time. We need to be patient, coaches and teachers together. Learning is a journey, right? It’s going to take us at least 49 hours to get where we want to be –so let’s buckle in and enjoy the ride!

I learned so much at the conference with Jennifer Serravallo, and I hope to reflect on many parts of that learning in the days to come. I must have had a great time, as this was my reaction to meeting her. . . 


#SOL16 March 3 A slice of 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!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing! 

Tonight’s post is a form from an inspiration 2 years ago.

Right Now I am. . . 

Trying  to remember how to slice every day

Thinking about all the now-too-fuzzy snapshots I could have written down

Paying attention more than I’d like to the debates my husband has playing on his phone

Taking too long to write

Drinking tea as it gets cold  – but no snacks after dinner…

Deleting almost finished “slices” that were more like information than moments

Looking around at the mess of the week

Deciding not to clean (there’s always tomorrow)

Listening to my wheezing, snoring 6 year old on the old baby monitor

Wondering if I should nebulize him now or right before I go to sleep

Making new tea

Wishing so many wishes for safety and health and peace