Category Archives: Reflections on teaching

#Sol18 March 16 Writing with Kids

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 wrote with 5th graders today.
I invited them to write a  “Right now I am…” slice, 
first we practiced together 

I have missed the feeling of a class 
shouting out a brainstorm
challenging me to try new things
wondering what I’ll do next


There’s something about 
writing with kids
writing in front of kids
talking about writing 
joking with kids
teaching with friends
laughing with a class

In just a half an hour we explored
writing, yes but also
running starts
mentor texts
writing habits
and more

They asked great questions like, “How did you do that?” 
And, my favorite, a hopeful sounding pair of 5th graders asking,
“Will you be teaching at the middle school next year?”



A Guest Slice! #sol18

Slice of LIfe Power of One: A Guest Blogger Slice!

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! 

In my slice yesterday, I wrote, “I can’t wait to get the whole story from his teacher.” Well, wishes come true, this time in the form of a guest slice from H’s amazing teacher. I am beyond grateful that Mrs. Hall wrote this, sent it to me, and agreed to have me publish it as a guest post today. Also, this is my first guest post! That’s super exciting, I think. 

Power of One

When a 5th grader wants to walk out with the masses but is only one, what do they do?  Do they walk out alone or come up with a different plan?  A plan that still has the same meaning but is delivered in a 5th grade way versus a High School way.  He is excited, anxious, chatty, off task most of the morning. No other grade is going outside for recess because it’s only 17 degrees. The 5th grade teachers talk and decide to go out for 15 minutes, just long enough for this young “man” to carry out is plan.

He sits alone on a bench
He moves to a picnic table
He talks to others about what he’s doing
They decide to march around the playground
Others join
The mass gathers in the center field
Arm and arm they form a circle

It’s time to go in, we’ve been out longer then we should, it’s cold, the wind is howling, “We can’t go just yet," he asks, "we want to have a moment of silence.”

They are one loud voice while not saying anything. They may not all have understood what they were standing for or why they were silent, but they did understand what it feels like to come together, to stand together, to be one in a group of many!

Power of One

#Sol18 March 14 What Would You March For?

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!


7:00 AM

“Why isn’t our school doing a walk out?” H asked me this morning after he heard his 9th grade sister talking about her school’s plan. “It’s stupid. I’m walking out.” 

I didn’t think I’d be the kind of adult who would pause at this. But, I did. 

“Well, why would you walk out?” 

He paused this time. He knew a little bit of information, but not a ton. I wondered aloud if he might be trying to get out of class, or just do something cool. He denied this, but still didn’t have any sort of passionate or informed set  of reasons why he would walk out. 

“You can’t just leave school.” I said matter-of-factly. “The schools that are doing that have it set up. There will be extra security. You can’t just walk out of your elementary school by yourself.” 

Why? I wondered. I felt like The Children’s March documentary was playing in the back of my head. I wondered what kind of person I was to tell my own son not to stand up for something. I believe in peaceful protest, gatherings, memorials. I believe in students, children, hope. 

I tried to articulate my feelings as we went back and forth about the very idea of a walk out. Who plans it? Does it belong in elementary school? Should Kindergarten kids do it? What does it mean to protest? 

If I tell him not to do this, what kind of person does that make me? Should he do it anyway? Would Dumbledore give him house points for that?

Image result for dumbledore gives house points to neville

I decided honesty was my best bet. “I’m going to be with your principal all day in a meeting. I’m going to be sitting there when he gets the phone call that you walked out of school. If you tell me that you have thought a lot about this, and feel passionate about it, I’ll back you up– 100%. If you aren’t quite sure why you want to do it, then I’m not sure what I can say. Plus, I’m worried about your safety just walking out of school by yourself in the middle of the day.” 

What do I mean? We live in this neighborhood. He would probably be fine walking outside the school building for 17 minutes. But what would he do? Sit there? Does he even have his watch? Would he get in trouble? Would that be ok? Does he care that much about this issue that I care so much about… even though I’ve barely talked to him about it at all?

He looked at me and thought a bit. “What if I sit out at recess for 17 minutes. I’ll try to get other kids to do that with me.” 

“That’s something I would be very proud of.” I said. And, I meant it. 

1:14 PM

Messages from his teacher, like poetry. 

"Got some people to join." 
"Now they are marching." 
"Moment of Silence." 


At home I can’t wait to hear the whole story.  “I’m so proud of you. Tell me all about it.”  

H told me that he sat down, someone joined him so he explained why he was sitting. Then more kids joined, and more. They decided to walk (“It is a walk out…” they realized),  they read the names of the 17 kids. At some point there was research about who these 17 victims were.  Apparently there was even a short speech by H. Or, so the story goes.

I can’t wait to get the whole story from his teacher.  

“Did you slice about it?” I asked. 

“Not yet. Tomorrow. I’ll definitely slice about it tomorrow.” 

“Well, I have to slice about it today, you know.”

“I know.”



We ask the kids, “What are the highlights of your day?”

H says right away, “Well, like I said. I was really proud of how I got a lot of people to join in a memorial for the 17 kids.” 

And then we had a beautiful conversation about the issues surrounding today’s #NationalStudentWalkout. H was more informed and passionate than he had been this morning. He had learned so much. He had researched! He had spoken about it! He had taken action! 

“What do you think about the grown ups on social media who are saying that kids shouldn’t walk out, that students don’t know enough, that kids shouldn’t challenge authority?” 

It was a proud moment for me when my own children looked at me perplexed.

“Why would they say that?”

“That’s stupid.”

“Get a life.” (The teenager said this, and I was even oddly proud of her sass.)

Well, grown ups on social media.. .  I know what I think. My 11 year old who started the day with a vague idea that there was something to march for? He ended the day a proud change maker in training. He learned about issues of school safety, guns, Second Amendment rights, current events, civil rights, and civil disobedience.

He researched. He spoke. He took action.

He learned the power of being a positive leader.

"Got some people to join." 
"Now they are marching." 
"Moment of Silence." 


#Sol18 March 12 Assessment Lessons

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!

Assessment Lessons from E’s yellow stripe Tae Kwon Do Test today

  1. Encourage your class.
    You have worked so hard! You guys can do this.”
  2. Frame the test for your students so they know what’s happening.
    “Do you know what’s going to happen today? We are going to do your kicks, blocks, punches and forms.” 
  3. Coach when possible, give learners the nudge they need.
    “Straighten your arm!”
  4. Give students more than one chance.
    “Which was your worst form just now? Come up here and try again.”
  5. Involve students with feedback.
    What do you think your best was today? What about your worst?”
  6. Help students make goals.
    “What do you think you should work on practicing now?” 
  7. Rituals and celebrations are important.
    “Line up here, we will put the yellow stripe on the left side of your belt. Congratulations!” 

#Sol18 March 6 March Madness

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 love overhearing conversations in the car, when somehow the kids don’t seem to remember that I can hear them while I’m driving. When my 8 year old who loves to read (E) and my 11 year old who hates to read (H) talk about books, it’s even better.

E: Are you doing the March Madness books in your class?
H: Oh yea.
E: Which ones have you read already?
H: So many. I’ve read Ghost, Restart, Love that Dog. . .  
E looks confused so… I interject: E is talking about the picture books, H also read the novels.
E: Which grades read the picture book ones?
Me: Well, the whole school can do the picture books, but some of the older kids are also reading the chapter books.
E: Oh. Well, which picture books have you read? We have done It’s not Jack in the Beanstalk, and that one won over Each Kindness. I hate that book because the ending! It just ends! 
H: Well, it’s a good book. It has a great message…it just has a weird ending.
E: She just goes away!
H: It just doesn’t really have a climax or a resolution. I mean it has a conflict, but it’s not really a problem-solution kind of shaped plot. It’s like problem-problem-problem!

Sometimes, your 11 year old who hates to read accidentally lets it slip that one, he’s been reading, and two, he’s been learning a lot about reading. When that happens,  just keep driving: Eyes ahead, no comment… pretend you didn’t hear. It’s for the best. Instead just take a deep breath and silently thank his teacher and the creators of March Madness. He might never be a book lover. . but he’s growing! 


Celebrating A Good Start

celebrate-image So happy to Celebrate with Ruth Ayres this weekend! What are you celebrating


I’m celebrating learning today because I’m at Teachers College’s Coaching of Reading Institute. I always know I’m going to learn so much when I get the chance to come here. I am never disappointed.

I am especially celebrating good starts. There’s so much power in a good start.

This morning started with a new notebook, and a session with a title that made me want to shout, “Amen!”


We started with a few minutes of a Ted Talk, and then the amazing Katy Wishow took us through the Essentials of a Learning Community. These are things we know students need in our Reader’s Workshop. . . but they are true for our own teacher communities too:

  1. Embracing Risk (which means, embracing failure too!)
    Ask for help, be vulnerable
  2. A Shared Spotlight
    Build up your team, turn your spotlight to others
  3. Team Mentality
    Everyone gets what they need
  4. Joy and Celebration
    We celebrate with kids, how can we build this with teachers? 

When you start a day about coaching with a session about how we need communities to learn and grow, about how we need joy and celebration… that’s a good start to the day. That’s a great start to a Coaching Institute. That’s something to celebrate.

Thanks for the great start, TCRWP!

Celebrating a few Themes at TCRWP

celebrate-image So happy to Celebrate with Ruth Ayres this weekend! 

So much to celebrate after the 93rd Saturday Reunion at TCRWP.  Of course the day is full of all kinds of learning, and that is a huge celebration for me… a true gift. Another gift that I love about every Saturday Reunion I’ve been to is that there are always a few themes and connections that I follow the whole day — at the conference and sometimes around the city itself.

Here’s just a handful of celebrations from my time there this weekend…

Celebrating Writing and Teaching…

Arriving in front of Riverside Church just a little early (okay, an hour early) we had time to walk around, and bump into Jack Gantos. Well, by bump into, I mean…

Me: I think that’s Jack Gantos
Friends: No…Oh wait, is it?
Me: Googles picture of Jack Gantos and shows it to friends
Friends: Nod.
Me & Friends: Silently wish we had the courage to stop him, ask each other why we didn’t stop him after he walks by, and decide it would have been rude anyway…

Don’t worry. We snuck up after his keynote to shake his hand and say thank you.

Picture by Kris Hall

Jack Gantos started his keynote looking out into the audience of teachers and saying, “We have so much in common. We are agents of positive change. When you are an agent of positive change, you get it back!”

Then, he talked about writing, his new book called Writing Radar, and effective writing instruction.

“The world right in front of me.” He said. “The first person world. That is the world I should be writing about… That’s the real stuff.”

Jack Gantos speaking at TCRWP Picture by Kris Hall

Later, after many trips on the hotel elevator, the three of us were trying to figure out why we could never find our floor number. Why was the 26th floor button always somewhere different? We knew this would make an excellent math problem, so we were taking pictures of the button panel to compare with our other button panel pictures.

We turned to the only other person on the elevator with us.

Us: We just want to figure out exactly what is happening with these numbers.
Man: I know! Number 16 is always in a different place!
Us: Well, we’re teachers so we have fun figuring this sort of thing out.
Man: (exiting elevator, turning towards us one last time.) You guys are teachers? Thank you for being teachers. I have children.
Me: I’m writing that down

I think this is what Jack Gantos said to write about … this is the real stuff… and teachers are agents of positive change. Nice to be thanked. Go thank a teacher next time you see one. 😉

Speaking of being an agent of change…Celebrating Cornelius Minor.

My new favorite picture. Love connecting to the powerful force that is @MisterMinor. (Picture by Kris Hall – Thanks, Friend!)

I can’t pass up an opportunity to see Cornelius speak. I went to his session last year and was happy to hear him again. Cornelius spoke about change, he mentioned it is evolutionary not revolutionary.  He told us that “everybody wants to make a difference. Not everyone gets invited to do so…We need a posse to help… and that can just be one other person…Change takes time.”

Later, walking the High Line, we couldn’t help but notice the story of 2 neighborhood leaders starting the fight against demolishing the high line. Now, the old abandoned railroad tracks are a beautiful garden path. Those leaders had a posse!



Celebrating Revision…

In Lucy Calkins’ session, she talked about writing expecting revision. “Breathe in, breathe out. Draft, Revise.” She shared writing quotes with us that resonated.


Later at the Strand Bookstore,  I saw a sticker that I think captured some of that, in a different sort of way.

Celebrating each other…

At Lucy’s closing, she told us that this work we are doing is noble, and she reminded us of the importance of standing by each other. For our workshops to flourish, we need to rally together and support one another. “How we are to each other is most important.”  After spending the weekend with a couple of amazing teachers whom I get to call friends… I couldn’t agree with her more.





A slice from my chair

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

From my chair, I see
An empty grape juice bottle, not in the recycling bin
A red and grey backpack, not hung up
A sweatshirt that should probably go in the laundry
A dishtowel too.

For some reason there are 2 folding chairs and a folding table
folded up, and just leaning

and a basket of Mr. Thought’s clean laundry. Folded!
(So many things folded… does this mean something?)

From my chair, I see Mr. Thought working in the other room,
the lights from his computer
brighter than the old floor lamp leaning there

I’m not sure why this room is such a mess.
My books from my classroom are still sitting here
and even though I should be annoyed at how they spill out of their bins,
I’m not
Because it reminds me of how the books have been lent and given
to teachers
to kids
to friends

From my chair, I see
this computer
with my blog window covering up
my calendar
my to do list
my email

I wonder if it’s still called procrastinating
if it is writing?




Celebrating. . . Children speak in poetry


So happy to Celebrate with Ruth Ayres this weekend!  (In a better late than never sort of way. . . )

I want to celebrate going outside to write slices of life with second graders.

We walked outside, a monarch butterfly to release, and slices of the butterfly garden to write. After a brief butterfly lesson, we sent them off to notice and wonder and write about the things they saw. Their teacher and I looked at each other and decided we couldn’t write with them … we would be too busy supervising, conferring, helping…

And we were busy… but later, as we gathered the children to go back inside, we both confessed that we had put pencil to paper…we couldn’t help it.

These children speak in poetry! I kept crying out to them, “That sounds like a line in a poem! Write that down!” And they did. They wrote their words down (after speaking them to their teacher, to their friends, to me). As I walked around, I heard these kids noticing and wondering, and saying lines that belong in poetry and on inspirational posters.

Goldenrod Butterfly
       Children speak in poetry

We found red berries
This is the perfect spot for monarch butterflies
And also spiders

Write it down, friends! 
       Children speak in poetry

Follow me!
Another path!
I know where everything is in this school

Write that down, the things you say are lines of slices
       Children speak in poetry

This leaf feels like wool
I see nature all around me
I notice, I love nature
Trees, plants give us oxygen

Say it to the page, boys and girls! 
       Children speak in poetry

Oh! The monarch's still here
A path full of plants
Even though some plants are pokey
You should want them to live. 
It's nature

Goldenrod, Butterflies
     Children speak in poetry

I almost wrote down everything. 

A Slice of Life, It’s Not Easy!

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

You know what’s hard?

It’s hard to do algebra when you’re 39, re-learning it on the fly
to help your 9th grader with radicals – simplified
“This is stupid! When will I ever need this in life?” She asks.

It’s hard not to answer her with sarcasm,
“Well, when your 9th grader is crying to you about algebra,
You might wish you paid a little more attention!”

It’s hard to push back your own memories of hating. math. class.
so that you can say instead,
“Algebra helps you in later math classes, and the logic behind it helps you in life…”

It’s hard to hear yourself sound like a cartoon mom
saying some sort of script instead of
the inspiration you wish you could be.

It’s hard to watch your child try and try
struggling, worried, stressed
with new teachers, new classes, new expectations.

You know what’s hard?
High School.
High School is hard
Learning, that’s hard
Parenting, teaching,
having patience,
knowing when it’s okay to fail, when you should try harder…
when it’s time to ask for help.