Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Slice of Life Tuesday: When Writing Isn't Fun

Back in March I wrote about hearing author Ralph Fletcher speak about his grandson Solomon and how he observed him playing with a toy in the bathtub. Ralph watched his grandson examine how a toy worked by lifting it, tossing it, sharing it, and flipping it, etc. - similar to how writers play with ideas. 

There is joy in play. 

I'd like to think that writing always fills me with joy, especially when I am in the mood to write and it is low-stakes and playful. But what happens when writing isn't so fun, even when you are simply trying to play with an idea? 

This happened to me today. I had all sorts of ideas of what I could write a blog post about. First, I set a timer and wrote everything that came into my mind. I lifted lines from books I am currently reading. I jotted lists. I combed through my writer's notebook for past ideas. I talked to myself out loud. I even attempted some sketching. Yet, each time I put my ideas in writing, I despised what I wrote. Every idea I considered today sounded so much better in my mind. 

Today, writing was anything but fun for me. Even though I examined and played with ideas in a variety of ways and I wanted to write, I felt frustrated. I couldn't make my writing sound like I wanted it to.  

I did not think that I was going to publish a post tonight. Yet in the end, it was mostly about just showing up as a writer and reflecting about what was hard for me today. 

This reminds me that living a writerly life is sometimes like this. My ideas don't always come easy. 
Writing is not always fun or magical for me. I think that these kind of days are important to share as a teacher of writers, too. 

Everyone is welcome! Join the Two Writing Teachers Community and share a slice of your life today! 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Slice of Life Tuesday: Three Lines a Day

Recently, I was listening to a podcast called This Movie Changed Me. Writer Naomi Shihab Nye was the guest speaker in this episode. Since this episode centered around a movie about growing up, host Lily Percy invited Naomi Shihab Nye to read part of her introduction from A Maze Me: Poems for Girls, including this section: 

"If you write three lines down in a notebook every day (they don’t have to be great or important, they don’t have to relate to one another, you don’t have to show them to anyone)... 

you will find out what you notice. Uncanny connections will be made visible to you. That’s what I started learning when I was 12, and I never stopped learning it. 

Every year unfolds like a petal inside all the years that preceded it. You will feel your thinking springing up and layering inside your huge mind, a little differently. Your thinking will befriend you. Words will befriend you. You will be given more than you could ever dream.” (Greenwillow Books, 2005)

A Maze Me: Poems for Girls 
Although I read A Maze Me several years ago, I mostly paid attention to the coming-of-age poems, not Naomi Shihab Nye's stunning introduction. Yet, in listening to Naomi Shihab Nye read part of her introduction, I found myself mesmerized. 

When I first purchased and read this book, I wasn't in the habit of writing each day. Now, I set aside time each day to write. After I listened to the podcast, I reflected how daily writing has impacted me.  

Just like Naomi Shihab Nye wrote about, writing each day changed me.

After I gave myself time (and permission) to write, I discovered what I noticed and what I was thinking the most about. Often, this surprised me. Indeed, I found uncanny connections in my writing. In addition, I have experienced that writing gave back to me in a way that I didn't expect. 

In a way, writing and words have become my most trusted friends. 

I am reminded that these lines do not need to be great or important or even connected to each other. I am reminded that the act of daily writing is essential. I am reminded that a writer gets to pick which parts of her writing is published. I am reminded that writing always gives me back more than I think.

Three lines, friends. Three lines. 

Everyone is welcome! Join Two Writing Teachers and share your own Slice of Life today! 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Conquering Summer Boredom

"Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity." 

"Mom, I booooored!" Alaina, my ten-year-old daughter proclaimed, loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear. 

Isaac, my twelve-year-old son and I looked up from our books we were quietly reading on the couch. 

"Find a book to read." I offered.

"I already read all of my library books," Alaina volleyed. 

"How about a puzzle?" I suggested.

"Make a loom bracelet? Draw? Write a story? Play with the dogs? Work on your fairy garden?"

None of these options appealed to Alaina.

"You could clean your room, go through your backpack from school, fold laundry, pull weeds." I reminded her. Essentially, I shared parts of our bottomless to-do list. 

Alaina crinkled her nose in distaste.

"I guess I'll play ALONE... Can you play Monopoly by yourself?"

She trudged into the dining room, adjacent to were Isaac and I were reading, her loud sighs interrupting our silence. I knew that my quiet reading time was over. 

I grabbed a stack of old magazines and headed over to the dining room table.

"Want to find some poetry in these magazines with me?"

She looked at me quizzically. Although we have made found poetry before, it had been a while.

I began paging through magazines, snipping words and phrases that caught my eye:


"Find the words you like and arrange them. We can make poems based on what's already published." 

She paged through magazines. I paged through magazines. 

Snip. Snip. Snip. 

Pretty soon the table top was covered in words and phrases. 

Alaina played with the arrangement of words and phrases, gushing with excitement as we created poetry. She read the lines out loud, often pausing to admire our work. 

Found Poem #1
Here are the lines from the first found poem Alaina and I created together: 

Welcome confidence,
Love that everyone has a different story...
Live your best life reading,
Begin feeling good, gentle, glow,
It's about time you make noise.

Found Poem #2
Here are the lines from the second found poem we created together:

Make a big deal out of little moments
The here. The now. The ready.

Found Poem #3
Below are the lines from the third found poem we created:

One light as air, making style with intelligence,
the rainbow in your life,
Embrace your power to light,
Be bold. Be brave. Be better. Be beautiful!
The secret to joy and laughter is 
good news.

We just finished the first full week into summer vacation. Boredom is inevitable, but I am determined that we won't spend the majority of summer watching Netflix or playing video games. Although I am always drawn to a good book, I love spending time with my children, especially when we make things.

Celebrate this week with Ruth Ayres

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Slice of Life Tuesday: Startling Start to Summer

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Last Friday afternoon, school officially let out for the summer. Before sleepaway camps, summer school, PD, and afternoons of swimming were in full swing, I decided to travel with my two tweens to my parents' house for the weekend. 

The kids, nestled in the way back of the mini van, zoned out watching The Incredibles on the portable DVD player. I was intently listening to Louise Erdrich skillfully weave Evelina's story in The Plague of Doves

Aside from normal sibling squabbles and the steady stream of truckers I shared the two lane highway with, the trip was smooth. Until it wasn't. 

I saw her sneak into my peripheral vision first. 

A streak of blurry brown.

Suddenly, my eyes met enormous brown doe eyes.




The doe flow off our gray hood.

"AHH!!" One of my kids screamed.

"Is everyone okay?" My shaky voice cried out.

"Yeah." My son murmured. 

"What happened?" My daughter inquired. 

"Mom, was that was a deer?!!"

"Yeah. We hit a deer. It's going to be okay."

"It's going to be okay." I repeated, perhaps more for myself than for my children's reassurance.

My son matter-of-factly said, "now this is going to be a mess."  

Aside from a bit of shock, my kids and I were okay. (The deer, not so much.)  

Turning my hazard lights on, I parked the van along the gravel shoulder of the highway. Slowly, I crept out of the van and assessed the situation. Thankfully, I could open the driver's side of the vehicle. Debris from the crash littered the highway, including part of my front bumper. The left front headlight was missing, but I didn't see any fluids leaking or smoke escaping from the engine.  

Part of the deer damage.

Pieces of broken plastic I pulled behind the grill of our van.

Before I could even dial 911, a red truck
 pulled alongside us. Sporting a full beard, donning a ribbed white tank top, arms speckled with tattoos, a tall lanky man climbed out of the truck's cab. 

"Is everyone okay?" 

I nodded. 

I glanced at his Chevy adorned with bumper stickers bearing slogans like Make America Great Again and I Stand with Scott Walker and Huck Fillary! A Playboy bunny silhouette swung from his dash. My body was full of tension. I was leery. Uneasy. He would have been someone that I probably would have avoided in the grocery store, the last person I would have asked for help from. However, I was by myself with my kids. We had not reached the interstate yet, so we were literally in the middle of rural Central Wisconsin. By my estimation, the nearest gas station or city was at least seven miles away. And my parents' house was still at least an hour away. 

To my surprise, this man spoke with me in the most calm, peaceful way. He helped me report my accident to the State Patrol. He helped me pick debris from the accident off of the highway. It was a Friday night, but he stayed with us until he knew the State Patrol Officer was on his way and only after I repeatedly assured him that I would be okay if he left. He must have gently asked me three times if there was anything that he could do to help or get for us. 

Although I thanked him, I don't think that I even asked his name. 

After we are safely off the highway, my kids examine the damage. 

Now, several days later, back home and able to consider the long and short view, 
I am reminded that sometimes the good in people is revealed in unexpected places. 

As a teacher, I would like to think that I am open-minded and receptive to all kinds of people, but I cannot dismiss that I was initially wary of this man -  mostly because of my personal bias. It made me consider this question, how many times has my personal bias prevented me from talking to someone just because that person isn't like me or holds the same beliefs? Especially recently.

I am full of gratitude that this man, who probably holds dramatically different values and political beliefs than mine, yet he still stopped to help me and my kids. Would I have done the same? 

And so, it has definitely been a startling start to our summer. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

SOL Tuesday: Growth Through Reflection

Join Two Writing Teachers and share your own Slice of Life post today! 

"A defining condition of being human is that 
we have to understand the meaning of our experience." 

Late last week I met with Mike, one of our building's associate principals, who is also my primary evaluator this year. As a part of our teacher effectiveness system in Wisconsin, I needed to reflect on how I grew as an educator this year. Below are two areas that I highlighted with Mike regarding my professional growth for the 2017-2018 school year:

Retrospective Miscue Analysis (RMA)
One of the most exciting, rewarding things that I worked on this year was learning more about and how to deliver RMA to a small group of high school students. (You can read more about my experience with RMA in this post and this post.) Although I discovered that it was not as easy to show student growth on standardized tests and grades using RMA, my students showed growth in reading through other measures such as the frequency of self-corrections, charting the quality of their miscues, and improvements in retelling. However, what stands out the most to me was the rich conversations that I had with my students while delivering RMA. I gleaned invaluable insights about reading as students explained their perspectives to me. In addition, based on student responses from the Burke Reading Interview (BRI), my students' perceptions of themselves as readers became more positive as the year progressed, and they reported employing more strategies as readers by the end of the year. 
A view into a conversation I had with one of my students immediately following an RMA conversation. 
Learning and delivering RMA also provided me with the opportunity to network with experts in the field, such as Dr. Cathy Compton-Lilly and Dr. Yang Wang, both Language and Literacy Professors from the University of South Carolina. I am incredibly grateful for how they helped guide me in how I could use RMA effectively with my high school learners. They patiently answered my questions, routinely shared professional articles, and assisted me in problem solving how I could effectively measure and report student growth using RMA. 

Overall, I am confident that I am a better teacher of readers because of the work I did with RMA this year. As a result of learning, delivering, and analyzing RMA, I now think in a much deeper way regarding the complexity of reading, especially in considering how readers make meaning. I am eager to continue to use RMA with my students next year. 

Building Positive Relationships 
In addition, a huge take away for me was a reminder of how important relationships are. I realized that building relationships is not a "one and done" first few weeks of school activity, like learning student names, or ice breakers. Intentional positive relationship building (and working on a positive classroom community) must occur all year. Through honest student conversations and reading student reflections, I realized how the lack of positive relationships/community is often what impedes learning in a classroom. (You can read some of my journey from the beginning of the year in this post.) Students were not able to engage in learning until there was trust established between teacher and that student. For this reason, I modeled my own thinking, reading, and writing more than I ever have with students in the past. 
A Heart Map I created with my students last week using the document camera. 
As a part of striving to build more positive student-teacher relationships, I used a lot of conferring with all of my students this year. (You can read a bit about my experience in conferring in this post.) Most of my students were not used to a teacher conferring with them individually, especially in reading and writing. This was rocky with all of my classes at the beginning of the school year, but I am glad that I continued to confer with my students. Eventually, conferring became normal in all of my classes. I discovered that conferring with all of my students gave me unique entry points that helped me get to know my students better as individuals and also as learners.
One of my most valuable tools: a notebook I used for daily conferring

Blogging is one new way that I have reflected my growth as a teacher and learner this year. In fact, I was thrilled when I realized that I could use some of my writing as a part of my formal evaluation this year - so easy to embed links to show as artifacts. I anticipate that rereading my blog posts will continue to be a gauge for growth.  

Have you taken the time to reflect on the school year yet? How did you grow as a professional? 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Insights Gained From Reading Enticing Hard-To-Reach-Writers

Join Ruth Ayres and celebrate this week

"Writing is creating, and creation is messy. 
It's not a lockstep process. 
It's not a guarantee. 
Most of our best work is completely unexpected. 
This is why we must be faithful writer's: 
Showing up day after day is the best way to ensure success." 
By Ruth Ayres 
from Enticing Hard-To-Reach Writers 
(Stenhouse, 2017)

I bought Ruth Ayres' Enticing Hard-To-Reach Writers soon after it came out. I started it, then had to set it aside because of intense school and family commitments, and unfortunately, it got buried at school. But once I got into this book, I found myself so immersed in Ruth's voice that I stole whatever moments I could to read it. 

As you can see by my use of sticky notes,
Enticing Hard-To-Reach Writers is already a well-loved resource for me. 

While there is not a chapter from Enticing Hard-To-Reach Writers that I could not relate to or that is not all marked up from my annotations where I am basically having my own little private, pretend conversation with Ruth Ayres, I particularly appreciated Chapter 8: "Writing Always Gives More Than It Takes." Ruth Ayres highlights (in her exquisite writing voice with such thoughtful examples) what writing has given her:

  • Writing Helps Me Grow My Thinking and My Teaching
  • Writing Lets Me See the Importance of My Work
  • Writing Energizes Me for the Day
  • Writing Makes Me See More Accurately
  • Writing Lets Me take Hold of the Small Moments
While I agree with every single point Ruth Ayres highlighted, I would also add that writing helps me know myself better. You would think that in 41 years that I would be an expert at knowing who I am, but I'm always discovering how my insights change, how my curiosity shifts, and what I had not noticed before. Often it isn't until I write that I realize what I am feeling. Recently, as I paged through some of my older writer's notebooks, I realized that how I am changing and evolving as a person/parent/wife/teacher is documented again and again through my various lists, written prayers, poetry, Heart Maps, questions, and lines I want to remember.  

I've been writing off and on since I was in fourth grade, but I really started showing up leading a more consistently writerly life a little over two years ago, filling notebooks, and gifting myself with time to write each day. 

Like Ruth Ayres so honestly writes about, I too, often feel like I have nothing to say or that I have nothing worth writing about. (In fact, it still scares me to publish anything I write, even a blog post when barely even anyone reads my writing!) Yet Ruth Ayres gently reminds me that so many writers feel insecure at some point, even her, a published author. As Ruth Ayres wrote in Chapter 8, "...I realized that writing, for me, is essential" (Stenhouse, 51). Although I don't always feel confident about what I share publicly as a writer, but I am always grateful for how writing fills me as a person, teacher, parent, and human.

Even when I am stuck, I am reminded that it is worth it to keep going and continue to lead a writerly life. So, this week I am celebrating all that writing gives me, even when I don't feel like I have anything to say! 

Writing does give more than it takes. 

Slice of Life Challenge #21 Day 31: Easter Preparations

For the month of March, each day I am writing and posting  a slice of my life , hosted by Two Writing Teachers.  Slice of Life Challenge #21...