Sunday, March 31, 2013


It's the final day of the month long Slice of Life Story Challenge. Last year I reflected by creating a word picture of my blog, so I thought I'd take another look and see. I'm glad to see students take center spot and I am interested in how reading and writing are similarly sized. For me, this year's challenge was about writing and so much more. You know that soda commercial that says "and..., and..." ? That sums up the abundance of this month's challenge:
  • writing and
  • reflection and
  • community and 
  • commenting and
  • students and
  • five classes and
  • new friends and 
  • using the schedule feature on Blogger and 
  • skyping and
  • creating writing quotes in CS5 and
  • writing with my son and
  • posting a round up slice for students each day and 
  • welcoming new slicers and
  • celebrating being joined by colleagues B and K and
  • enjoying every minute
  • of together.
I hope you'll come back Tuesday as the Slice of Life continues. Happy slicing everyone!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Love Like That

What would teaching look like with the Sun's attitude?  What does a love like that look like in a classroom?
  • selfless
  • less interested in taking credit than in spreading the wealth
  • curious and eager
  • a teacher that greets students at the door with a smile and or a greeting
  • a teacher that knows at least 3 things--likes,dislikes,interests-- if not 5 or more about each student in the room
  • gentle
  • loving
  • dedicated o
  • a teacher that takes responsibility and ownership of students' learning (or not learning) 
  • a teacher who accepts late work 
  • a teacher who grades what students know and are able to do in terms of course content and not behavior
  • kind
  • compassionate
  • peaceful
  • a teacher who uses quizzes as formative assessment not punishment
  • a teacher who believes writing aids in processing information (not in curbing unwanted behaviors)
  • caring
  • joyful
  • a teacher who listens 
  • a teacher who gives students voice and opportunity
  • honest
  • self-controlled
  • gracious
  • a teacher who teaches bell to bell instead of handing out an assignment (and then shopping on the computer or browsing the Internet while students work)
  • a teacher who adjusts when warranted and doesn't lean on legalism
  • empathetic
  • responsible
  • a teacher whose mind can be changed in the course of a conversation
  • a teacher who admits mistakes and takes corrective action

Some friends and I were talking about just this idea as we discussed punitive moves some of our children's teachers made this year and in years past. Our children started middle school this year. The sixth grade team's philosophy in the K-8 school often doesn't jive with mine. They  look to give every student in sixth grade a detention and or an undone (a slip for a missing assignment)  the first  of school to set the tone. "What kind of tone?" I wish I'd asked at Open House.

I do appreciate how such differences in philosophy force me to examine my own beliefs and practices.  I still cringe thinking about times in my own classroom when I might have been on the look out for bad behavior instead of good. Come Monday we'll be celebrating the good work students did for the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I hope you have a lot of good to look forward to as the last quarter of the school year gets underway.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Crafting Care

Wednesday, I went out for a birthday dinner with two girlfriends whose birthdays are also this week. One is a teacher, the other an occupational therapist. My therapist friend said she was tempted to buy me a grabber or elastic shoelaces or another piece of adaptive equipment to make independence easier during my shoulder recovery. She couldn't bring herself to do it and said she'd save the grabber idea for when we reached 80. We laughed. So lucky I am. We are.

Her conversation stuck. I am currently reading Steven Wolk's Caring Hearts and Critical Minds. The two came together in an idea for a unit. 

I started by researching adaptive equipment as I started thinking about inquiry units I could loosely structure for students to dive into after our reading tests in April. I came across "I Can Do That: Coping Successfully with Amputations", a Think Quest project designed by students one of whom is an amputee. Then, of couse, I started thinking about books.

Wolk talks about anchor texts he used with students during literature-based inquiry units. Though I have used anchor texts with the whole class in the past, I do much less of it now. Instead, I offer students choices in themed sets. Students group themselves by book choice (or I group them after they declared their top 3 choices). I teach from short texts that connect with the themes and use them to teach the content I want students to learn over the course of the unit. It's not quite literature circles and it's not quite what Wolk describes, but there is overlap between the two.  I'll write a proper review of Wolk's Caring Hearts and Critical Minds once I finish it, but you know, if a professional book sparks this much thinking and sets me right to work, it's good. You can preview/read the entire book online at Stenhouse now too.

Wolk illustrates the paths of the inquiry units he designs in flow charts. Here is the beginning of his unit based on the novel Rash by Pete Hautman.

Ideas in this unit will seem familiar to many as he structures activities before, during and after reading. Many teachers have written units as such. Now though instead of having students all begin reading the same, whole-class novel, Rash circled above in this case. I would offer choices around the theme--this one being  Government, Freedom and the Future say. Choices could include: 

The Compound, S. A. Bodeen

Divergent, Veronica Roth
Matched, Allie Condie
Rash, Pete Hautman
Running Out of Time, Margaret Peterson Haddix
Unwind, Neil Shusterman
When She Woke, Hilary Jordan

Students would read the books in groups of three. Together we'd delve into, discuss and write from short texts. It can work. I've done it before. What I haven't done is try to run several issues at a time. I was thinking that students might enjoy investigating an issue with a group and creating a web resource like the ThinkQuest pages. So I started a book list. You are welcome to add to the list. It's public on Google Drive here.

I created the list with books I have read and that I know are in my classroom library or media center. Now I need to cull articles, poems and short mentor-texts that connect to the big ideas or questions like: "What's the issue?" or "What's at stake?"  I'm still in the early, creative stages of planning. I'm ready to jump into Poetry 180, The Poetry Foundation or the Poemeleon. This part of teaching is all adventure and exploration.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Evolution of Lesson Plans: Throwback Thursday

I write out my lesson plans, always have. It started in a journal and quickly moved to a computer--my handwriting can be a mess. I've taught at three schools and worked under five principals. Very few have asked teachers to submit lesson plans. Ones that have asked, use them for committee notebooks, but don't seem to read them.

The Lesson Plan Book I discovered on the book shelves served as a student tool. I made it for students to check after an absence. I kept it because it was the first time I'd documented an entire year and organized it one place. How I plan has changed significantly since 1998.  In 1998 I planned a quarter at a time usually the entire first semester was finished prior to the start of school. Once school started and I learned a bit about students, I got specific writing out plans week by week, day by day. Here's a monthly map:

Classics before Christmas, that's what I should have called this unit. I remember a near revolt over De Crevecoeur's "Letters to an American Farmer." In 1998, works in the public domain were just beginning to show up online. I could connect, dial up mind you, via the Florida Information Resource Network (FIRN, established in 1995). I believed in "whole works." I eschewed excerpts from the textbook. Have you ever asked a student to read De Crevecoeur's letters in their entirety? I printed it out. By Christmas Juniors were finished with me. Definitely revolt material. Have you seen De Crevecoeur's letters?

Once I had the months in mind, I planned week by week for each prep. In 1998 I create plans in a table using Claris Works on an Apple 2e.

Structures, instructional routines are clearer. Writing prompts at the start of class worked as review, choice was limited in 1998.

By the year 2000, I'd learned basic web editing with a WYSIWYG editor, so my plans went digital.You can peruse them here.

Tables on a webpage? So passé, a definite throwback. In terms of instruction, reading workshop is solidly established. Then, as now, it was a regular part of our class time. We wrote daily but for extended time on Wednesdays; students' choices were limited. Writing workshop, like push-ups, take practice and work over time; now writing workshop time is structured around mini-lessons and mentor texts.

In 2000, I taught on a block schedule. My school ran a four by four block, but we decided as a faculty to give ninth graders one class all year. Ninth graders did not switch at the semester in this one class as happens to all classes on a four by four schedule. Luckily that one class was English. I did my best teaching when I had students every day for 90 minutes for a full 180 days.

Now I keep my lessons plans in  Google spreadsheet. I post a link to the plans on my class webpage, so that students can access them at any time (English I page and AP Language).

 Eventually the class website will change. I'm between programs right now and not updating it as frequently as I used to, but that's another post. The format has changed. Now plans are written in the "common board configuration" language teachers are expected to used. I still print the lesson plans out weekly, but I keep them on a clipboard, instead of a notebook, in class. I plan a week at a time (though I have a big picture of  a unit in my mind) even then the plans change depending on what happens in class. One thing is certain, as I learn my instruction and how I plan for it shifts.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Poetry and Opportunity

Last year our local Barnes and Noble hosted an open mic evening once a month from January to April. It was fantastic. A family-friendly space in the book store, set with chairs, where student poets could perform their work. We brought the microphone and the community coordinator at the store, set up the space.

It honored students' voices. They looked forward to it,  loved it.

Poetry and appreciation for it, blossomed on campus. Unfortunately Barnes and Noble couldn't host us  this year--chair rental was too expensive and though we offered to bring our own chairs, we couldn't work out any dates that didn't clash with the store's calendar. We've been searching for a space, opportunities to in front of a microphone.

We decided we would meet once a month at a local open-mic venue. Shoulder willing,  I'll meet the poets there this month. The venue is a coffee-house, adult open mic night. One dream I have is to host our own teen open-mic night twice a month, weekly, once a month. What would it take? Surely I should be able to find time and a space--a  coffee house, a book store, somewhere cozy, free and friendly. If you have ideas, or know someone who knows someone, please share by leaving a comment.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I Struggle with Students

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted each March by authors, Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres.
Check it out  and serve up your slice at Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays and everyday in March.

"You just don't get me like other teachers do," he said to me  one afternoon after school. "Other teachers, they make it easier. They go along with my dumb jokes. You don't like me."

Ever hear that before? What are the problems in what this ninth grader is saying to me? He thinks I don't get him. He thinks I work him too hard or expect to much. What else? He is spending time with me after school. He's either come for detention  or academic intervention (help session/make up time after school for students that need it). He's blaming his academic performance on his perception of my attitude toward him. He has an external locus of control.

One truth, from my perspective, is he has not been doing school work: in class or at home. He wanders. He watches. He waits. He won't write, much. He told me during that same conversation that his, "writing sucks." He said, "I can't write. I can't write a novel (we tried NaNoWriMo this year). I can't write an essay. When I try to write a paragraph it's terrible." I told him the first time he served a tennis ball cross court it was probably terrible too. He disagreed. I replied with the idea that we can work with a terrible paragraph, but we can't work with nothing on a page. Again, he disagreed. He's thirteen.

A team at school has looked at ninth graders who are failing. In terms of our school data, thirteen year old ninth graders have the largest percentage of Ds and Fs during the first and second quarters.
These young ninth graders have 29% of all Fs earned in the first quarter and 54% of the Fs earned in the second quarter. Wow. There is practical significance for teachers and parents in the relationship between age, achievement and the transition to high school.   In terms of Ds, passing grades nearly worthless to a student's grade point average, these students garner  23 % of the market. This same age group only earns 8% of the As for the second quarter. See how the colors shift in the distribution below.

What's happening here? What kind of pressures are these children facing? Why the steep failure rates?  What does it mean?  It's a problem I continue to puzzle over and research.

Especially as I sit after school with this student. He pretends to read. He scans the page. He stars into space.  He's thinking about something, but he's not enamored by story.  He's not enamored by school either. I don't mind that, but he's sometimes mean. I can understand how repeated failure could harden your heart.

He's social. He likes to talk about what he wants to talk about to his friends or acquaintances in class. He uses the garbage can and pencil sharpener and sink often in class. He perambulates. He hasn't engaged in academics, yet. I often ask him to come for academic intervention--it's a time I offer students who have work to make up even long after due dates or grades. I've mentioned the afternoon sessions to his parents. He rarely comes.

I am trying to figure it out. I've talked to his parents. We've conferenced after school. I've asked him more than once what I can do to support him.

The day after our conversation I tried to listen more, so that I could catch a joke or two and play along as he'd asked. Unfortunately, his idea of a joke ("Want to suck my d...?") to a girl sitting across from him doesn't match mine at all. Seriously. So now what?

He's angry. He has a difficult home life. He's acting out. He's under the stress poverty creates.  I'm trying to have honest conversations with him, but they aren't working, obviously. We'll see what happens.

What do you do with students like this? What's worked in your room?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Update Grades

Recently a student sliced about grades and how long some teachers take to update grades in our computer system: Progress Book. I found myself leaving the student a long comment and then decided to just blog my thinking. 

I want to tell this students that he is absolutely right.  Grades matter. Grades matter to students. Grades matter to parents. Grades matter to most colleges. They might even matter to most teachers. If grades are not updated regularly students may have a false sense of poor (or stellar) performance.

I am guilty of sometimes taking two weeks to transfer grades from my clipboard to the computer.  Why does it take so long to get grades entered? 

Grading is my least favorite part of teaching. Perhaps grades do not matter to me much. I love reading student work. I love talking to students about their work. I enjoy assessing where students are and designing a lesson to bring them further in terms of writing or reading skill. I do not love putting a number or a value on student work. I do not love reducing the richness of a student's performance to a letter grade. I do it though. It takes time, also, because when I do it, I want it to be accurate.

We make time for what we enjoy, for what we value.  So much of my teaching time goes to other things:  Poetry Club, lesson planning, department meeting, and more. Some meetings I am required to attend, some I am required to lead, others I do by choice. Poetry Club is one of those. It is an hour or two a week (depending on where we are in the slam season). That hour or two may not sound like much time, but think about a teacher's schedule.

 We all spend time outside of the duty day working. We plan. We collect. We grade. We write. We connect. All goes toward the work we do in front of students. A lot happens behind the classroom scene.

At my school, our work day begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 2:30 p.m. Every teacher also gets a 45 minute planning period, or 47, I don't have the exact number of minutes clear in my mind, but we get one class period. On Wednesdays the class period is shorter by about ten minutes. We also have 19 minutes of common planning time after school. Rarely do I use that time to meet with colleagues and plan. Sometimes we meet then to plan a meeting or create a plan for a course we have in common, but that generally takes more than the 19 minutes we're allotted. Here's how a recent week went in terms of time.

I did grade. I responded to a set of reviews I'd been carrying around. I did that the Saturday not pictured and finished Monday evening. I also recorded students' blog posts--check marks in columns by date and number. I fought against the checking as I did it, but I know that I need to know who is not posting, who might need additional help, who is hit or miss. I  read and commented on many Slice of Life posts Wednesday evening while having dinner at my parents' house. This Saturday morning (actually two weeks ago once this posts) I'm at it again and hoping to actually get the grades from my paper roster into the computer program that students and parents see.  

I've got to be alone and able to focus in order to evaluate and grade. Finding alone-time at school is nearly impossible. Making it happen at home, with a family, feels unfair. Grading and posting grades takes time away from doing the work that matters more to me.  Helping students and teachers, in person, in the moment and beyond, that's what I really want to do with my time. Time is terrible, no matter how you slice it, for everyone. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Birthday Lists

I am selfish when it comes to my birthday. I like the celebration: food, family, funny hats, laughter, kindness, cake with ice cream. Life is good. Birthdays are great.

This birthday is especially great because I don’t have cancer. I was worried. I hurt my shoulder last spring. Even with physical therapy and cortisone shots and strength training, it was still waking me up at two in the morning six months later. It hurt. Sometimes the pain ran down my arm to my fingernails or up the side of my neck to circle my scalp. It reminded me of a family friend. He thought he’d hurt himself moving. He had a deep ache in his shoulder. It was too late when doctors discovered it wasn’t a pulled muscle.

I am lucky. My shoulder was torn. After I shared my fears with my doctor he sent me for a scan. He was surprised by the size and seriousness of the tears. I was relieved. The older I get, the more I want to celebrate.

I’d like to do a better job celebrating my students’ birthdays. I don’t have a birthday ritual or class chart, something my son’s teachers did so well. I don’t have a special read aloud for school or a poem or note or a birthday hat (The hat is likely out of the question, I know, but I do love a little whimsy.)
 I once read a column about a veteran who kept a list written about him by his classmates in his pocket or wallet all through the Vietnam war. It was a list of compliments or good wishes or kindnesses or it was all of those things.  He walked through war with those good wishes on his person and in his mind. I want to give gifts like that.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Reading Record Revised

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 

Penny Kittle's Book Love made me re-examine how I record and value students' independent reading. I have used class time for reading since I started teaching.  I've taken flak for it. I've rationalized it. I've researched it. I've kept at it. I've recorded titles students have read. I've had charts, logs, projects and tests. I've written individualized essay questions to get students to synthesize their reading. Encouraging and nurturing readers brings me teaching joy. I believe in the Power of Reading (see Krashen speak of it here). After reading Kittle's book, I came again to the discussion of quantity and tracking students' reading progress. In December I wrote about Penny's method of calculating students' weekly page goals. In January I adapted my Reading Record form and started using one like the one Penny shares in Book Love.

I started tracking students' reading on a form that resembled Nancie Atwell's "status of the class." I called it a reading recording. It had large rows for each student, cells that would hold anecdotal notes as well as book titles and page numbers. A circled H meant the student had left her book at home, BR mean bathroom, OT, off task, TK talking (students often talk about their reading during reading a portion of our reading time), AB is absent, "fini" means finished the book. Here's a picture of such a status from probably a decade ago.

Over time I have recorded ending page numbers on index cards, in a fold out file folder, and on a roster.   I've created my own tables in word or Pagemaker and tinkered with  layout going from portrait to landscape in order to keep the pages in a binder a certain way. I made it so that I could keep two weeks at a time to minimize photocopy and changing of the pages. When I spotted Kittle's record: one page, every student. I wondered if I could shrink my capture, distill it to fit on just one page. It seemed simple, clean. I tried.

The first week, I imported a roster from our computer grading program into Excel and arranged columns for the week landscape. I modeled mine after the one Kittle pictured in Book Love though I'd loaned the book out  and wasn't sure if I'd gotten it right. Students read. We passed around the roster and recorded page numbers. When it came time to add up for the week, I had a few ah-has. Our sheet was messy. Students, some of them, were still sampling books and hadn't settled into one title, so we had titles everywhere and across the page. Our sheet did not allow for weekend reading. I knew students had read, but there was no record, no way to count those pages.  The reading record I'd created ran Monday to Friday. I thought that was how Penny described it, but I also remembered that she'd talked about students catching up in terms of pages read over the weekend. My Monday to Friday Reading Record didn't allow for that. I posed the question in the Book Love Book Club group.

Can I just say, I love how easy it is to share our questions and practice. I got answers right away.

So for a week or so I shifted to a Friday to Friday form and in the process realized that I could do the same thing, maybe easier, if I kept my reading record online. I wouldn't have to make copies or transcribe Friday from one sheet to the next. I wouldn't have to manage the passing around of the clipboard or hound students to keep the sheet moving (sometimes ours would get hung up at a table so immersed in their books the sheet wouldn't move on). I had set up a Google spread sheet the first day we returned from winter vacation, but I abandoned it after a week because it was me-focused.

I was calling students' names at the end of reading time and I was the one recording page numbers on the form. It didn't take more than two or three minutes, but it also didn't make students responsible. I wanted students to take ownership of the process, but I hadn't figured out how to make it work.  I knew I'd have to find a way to share the spreadsheet and teach students how to use it. My students learn about Google drive in my class--all but 3% (and I might be generous with that) have never used it before. So, I'd abandoned it and gone to Penny's roster recording idea.

By February's start I'd figured it out how to manage it and I was tickled to have that week from January still on the Google document. I made a shortcut to the document. I wrote the shortcut on a sentence strip and posted it above our whiteboard--yes, old tools run alongside new in my classroom. Students photographed the link (I should have printed a QR code, I thought. Soon.). I tweeted the link.
If only it worked on our antiquated machines. The shortened URL wouldn't work on the students' machines (it worked on students' mobile devices and worked on my laptops and iPad). I didn't have time to spend chasing that rabbit. Students using the old machines in the room needed a new link, so  I made another shortcut using That one loaded just fine. Go figure. 

We've kept our reading record electronically, since. I'm sure I could further organize by making the Reading Record one file of several in a binder on Evernote or LiveBinder. I can imagine recording my book talks, keeping links to our VoiceThread book talks or posting review clips and the like to a binder--but we're not there yet. 

We are still discovering benefits to tracking  reading together in the shared document. Here are a few: 
  • 24/7 access: students can update their pages from home when they are sick or over the weekend if they need to
  • Students don't have to record the pages they read everyday if they are reading the same book. We only need a beginning and ending page for the week--but my observations and conference notes during reading time in class should support or affirm the reading they record. Students can access the document from their cell phones. 
  • Students can access the document from their cell phones. 
  • Everyone contributes.
  • Google documents save automatically.
  • If we fear something has been erased or lost we can pull up the  revision history.
  • There are no secrets or mysteries as to how page goals are calculated for the week--students do it themselves and I record their math (the percentage of their weekly page reading goal they achieved). 
  • The Reading Record grows over time and makes it easy to see patterns.
  • Show or hide columns as needed to assess or track student progress.
  • Cell size can be as large or as small as we like--it doesn't have to fit a page or be easy to pass around the room. 

I did a short screen cast tour of the document--it's just a quick look, my apologies for how loud the keyboard sounds: 

If you'd like to explore the Reading Record I'm using, I  made a copy you can play with here.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Positive Focus

"Fall seven times, stand up eight. " - Japanese Proverb

I sometimes have difficulty focusing. No surprise, I'm a classroom teacher and when twenty-five students stomp into our portable classroom the room can get pretty riotous with before class chatter, pre-class music, an occasional moment of dancing. I refocus by changing my state (moving, changing positions), by writing, by drawing, by counting--I'm a veteran re-focuser. My students are not.

Students have difficulty focusing (or re-focusing) especially when it comes to reading. It takes us a few minutes to settle into our stories. If there are rumors of a fight, we might settle down only to be distracted by a whispered question or rumor. If the weather turns, if it rains, the metal tap-tap sound of drops on our roof will pull students' minds away, some of them, right out of a good book. Then it's chair-tilting, eyes-staring, mouth-yawning, pencil-sharpening time.

I gave up "shh" several years ago for Lent. I have a quiet signal--though I don't use it during reading time. To help students settle during reading time, I get quiet. My son's kindergarten teacher taught me that. She says, "the louder the children get, the quieter I get." Now, like Mrs. Delemos, I use my presence, not my voice. I minimize the distraction of me to support students in their effort to refocus.  I get still and stay still until all students are submersed in their books; only then will their eyes not track me around the room. Then, I encourage. I conference. I book talk or check-in.

It works with readers.  With students who are still sampling books or skimming the room with their eyes skirting the book covers, it's hit or miss. At this point in the year, all but a couple are reading away and begging for entire class periods to just read. Learning what will re-engage the browsers and samplers makes teaching like exploration and discovery.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

When the Student is Ready

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
~ Buddhist Proverb

This morning a senior student, E,  came to my room after first period to talk to me about an essay he's written as part of an application to a special program at one of our local universities. I had E as a freshman and again his junior year. He rushes up to me between classes as I'm trying to dash out to the bathroom, so I say, "walk with me." He does, talking as I listen.

"Miss, you know that program I'm applying to?"
"Well, I wrote the essay..."
"And you want me to go over it with you?"
"Well, I gave it to my girlfriend and she said it's like atrocious, horrible! Can you..."
"Look at it with you?"
"Well, I have it on a flash drive."
"I like to sit with the writer when we look at piece."
"Can you come after school?"
"Um...I didn't drive today."
"Or in the morning?"
"Yea that would be good. Oh and..."
"Do you have like a grammar for dummies book or somethin' I can borrow?"
"I am sure that I do, E."
"Sweet! See ya in the morning."

I made the turn off the sidewalk to the teachers' restrooms and he continued on to his second period class. I have to admit, I did a little dance; it was a happy dance moment for my teacher self. Finally! Finally, he sees the importance of editing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Lift, grab,  raise, twist, reach, push, pull, grasp, extend.

We hold children and books husbands or lovers, we hold bags and groceries, dogs or cats, our parents' hands and friends' hearts we hold plates, carry laundry, lift luggage, sort bills, shift pantry shelves, We chop, cook, slice, bake, julienne, serve. 

We women carry our weight

The night before I
filled the  pot with water,
poured it  into the coffee maker,
set a good morning to brew.

Morning made

Before the sun I wake
Stretch, roll over
Push up and out of bed
Pour a cup of coffee
Home roast, earthy and hot
Hold the mug in one hand
Cradle the moment
Set the hot cup on a counter
Take out a fresh loaf  of bread 
Hold it down with my left hand
Slice with the right
Toaster oven activate
Turn the knob
Set the timer
Reach for a plate
Close the cupboard door
Wash the knife
Open the fridge or pantry door
Grab the jar
Loosen the lid: Peanut butter or blueberry preserves?
Simple dilemmas
Ding! The toast is done.
Turn off the timer
Scootch the toast out onto a plate
Spread the jam
To the table carrying my bread and cup

Devote myself to the day
Ready to come clean

Daily hygeine routine
Pull the shower curtain aside
Grab the faucet handle 
Turn to hot
Close the curtain
Circle in steam
Lather up in water's warmth
Shower, shave, step out
Twist the towel atop my head
Sunscreen swish the face powder
Swirl of blush
Line the eyes pencil held still
Swipe mascara over top lashes
Decide on hair: curly or straight?
Blow dry for straight
Lift dryer left and roll round brush right
Smooth, hot iron
Get dressed
Step in to pants, a skirt, a dress
wrap, tie, zip, button, hook.
put arms into a blouse or pull a sweater over head
Slide on socks or knee-highs or wrestle dreaded hose
then slip into shoes

Gather the day's goods:
book bag, lunch, briefcase, to-go mug
Roll out to the the in the dark-parked wagon
Juggle  keys in hand
Press a button
Lift the hatch, open the trunk
Hold the briefcase wheels aloft
heave with both hands around straps
the work carried home and back
settle it into the cargo space

open the driver's door slide in to sit while setting a mug
in the cup holder, purse on the passenger's seat
Button the garage closed,
turn the key and head off to school.

*          *          *

It seems so simple, my morning routine, such a small part of many long days. The time from waking up to driving to school is no more than 90 minutes most days, sometimes less. I drafted this short appreciation on March 10th, ten days before the morning of my shoulder surgery. I've  been preparing, my slices and my self. It will be a few months before my right arm will bear even the smallest weight, but already, I'm planning to reach for it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tanka Slice

Sometimes things start small
a chirp, a tweet, an email
community seeds
sown in fertile soil
reach toward the sun together.


Monday, March 18, 2013


Our quarter ends this week. Students start spring break on Friday. Several students have not been able to post a slice a day. When they asked if they could make up posts or slices they missed, I said sure.

Does it matter? Slicing on time during in the adult challenge matters to the community and it matters in terms of prize eligibility. I take late work. I am generous, according to some teachers, in terms of any penalities that may apply to said late work. Some folks I've read advocate no penalty at all. I've not been able to make that work for me or my students yet.

But, I take make up work. I give students time after school every week to come in and make up work they need to do. Most do not take advantage of that time. I think they don't because they have transportation issues.

I go long for the hail Mary pass from a student who is willing to do something in order to improve a failing average. I want students to meet the goals of the activity or assignment or project. I want them to learn. I explain how projects will be graded before we begin. For the Slice of Life challenge students will earn a quantity grade and a quality grade. The quality grade is the most subjective. Students will answer some self-evaluative questions and I will add to that my evaluation of their writing based on mini-lessons we've done throughout the month. The quantity grade is by the numbers: how many on-time posts, how many comments. I thought I did a decent job revising the descriptions this year. I used a range of posts 25-31 instead of all 31 which seemed more manageable.

I don't want to grade students' behavior or grade their supportive or non-supportive home environment. I want to grade their work. It's tricky though when their work comes in late, late, late and does not demonstrate much learning. I do want them to feel a deadline and to be held to one.

Today, as I was checking off slices. I am giving students a participation grade for the Slice of Life challenge this week. I've checked up on slices and noted who is posting and who is not. At first I did the checking to ward off issues of access and ability. Today's recheck was just to "see" how it's going. I've been commenting as much as can: not on every student every day. I wanted a clearer picture than I've seen in comments.  I noticed that a student posted eleven slices on Sunday. Eleven. He caught up in one fell swoop. His slices are cut from a story he wrote. Sometimes the segment he posts does not even start with a complete sentence. Here's a snapshot:

I love that the writer wrote about Santa. I like that the writer is taking risks with sentence structure in places. I enjoyed some of the details; I am starting to hear the writer's voice. Still... I  wonder. What would you do?

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Visit Two Writing Teachers and serve up your own slice!

I'm done. I didn't finish the laundry. I haven't made dinner. I forgot to wash the dog, but I'm done.  I didn't think it would take the day, but it did. The round up slices for my students for the rest of the month are scheduled. Today I finished 18-31. Last year, my friend Beth and I collaborated. We did a ten-day challenge with students and took turns creating the round up slices. I remember looking forward to seeing what she'd use for the day's round up--each slice a surprise. This year I'm on my own. It's been challenging, but I am was determined to do it. It feels good to have finished and scheduled the round up posts.

They aren't long, just a quote, a few words, a tag, date and time and publish: done. I enjoyed working on the quotes. I played in Photoshop. Today I learned how to fill a section with a pattern instead of just a color. I learn a little bit at a time. 

Today's crafting helped me think my way through the rest of the month and the personal challenges ahead. From Tuesday's worries--I'm having surgery on my right should Wednesday--to my birthday slice and our grand finale celebration, I imagined each day. 

My husband worked today so that he doesn't have spend vacation time to care for me later in the week. I will work Monday and Tuesday and then start my spring break early with the shoulder repair. I need to shop for a dress I can pull-on underneath a sling. I need to grocery shop. I should have cooked more ahead, but I know I won't starve. I know surgery will go well. I have a good doctor and family and friends who will help. Today I could have done all sorts of things to get the house or my wardrobe ready. Instead, I spent it on students and writing. I felt a bit guilty when my husband came home to a quiet house, no dinner made. 

I'm thinking these quotes will make nice note cards. Work is never wasted.

See the images on Flicker here

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Be Transformative

Delve into details at

Monday I'm hosting Engchat. The slated topic  Reading Amplified: Digital Tools that Engage Students in Words, Books and Ideas. The beautiful and brilliant, Meenoo Rami has been tweeting the usual Engchat reminders this week. A reply from Julie Balen got me thinking this morning. Integrating technology needs to be transformative. Balen is right. I want to share examples of such transformation, but I started small when I began to integrate technology.

Reading Amplified is not a book about sweeping projects or deep inquiry or solving world problems. Reading Amplified is more about reading instruction than technology.   I would love to write about social justice and poverty and tap into to examine economics and have students micro-manage loans and build businesses. I can imagine that unit and how Nerdfighteria could help me craft it. Maybe next year. Adam Garry and Bill Ferriter, The Tempered Radical, do just that in  Teaching the iGeneration, a book I highly recommend.

Reading Amplified isn't that book. It wasn't written for that audience. My audience teaches in schools that walk the line between Title I and everyone else. My audience teaches students whose parents probably did not go to college. My audience teaches students who have the lowest numbers in this study of Teens and Technology from the Pew Research Center.  

My audience might not include you.

I didn't write the book for blog readers or blog writers. I didn't write the book for Tweeps or Facebook friends. I didn't write it for smart-phone wielding literacy leaders or ed-tech gurus. I didn't write the book for teachers who have websites or use wikis.I didn't write the book for professional development mavens or anyone who consults full or part-time. I did not write the book for my PLN.


I wrote the book for teachers, specifically, English, language arts and reading teachers. I wrote the book for teachers who have not had a tech-rich classroom or learning life. I wrote the book for teachers who are a little afraid of the brave new world. I wrote the book for teachers who think integrating technology has to be something complicated. I wrote the book, and created videos, for teachers who want to learn and need a place to start.

Really, if I'm being honest, teachers (and students) have to start somewhere. Isn't all learning transformative?

Simple tools new to the user transform the landscape. 

*     *     *
I'm doing a lot of thinking today about transformation and learning continuums.  Where we do start when it comes to integrating digital tools? How do we help teachers who don't know how, begin? At what point do we become transformative?  Those a few ideas we could chat up on Monday, but what would you like to talk about during Engchat? Tweet questions and ideas to @spillarke or begin in comments. We'll have an hour Monday evening to dig in and discuss.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Poetry Poems

Linda at Teacher Dance inspires me to participate.
Poetry Friday is hosted by Jone MacCullough.
Find more from Sara Holbrook here.

At a recent poetry club meeting we talked about how poets often write about poetry. I shared Sara Holbrook's poem, "If I Were Poem" from Chicks Up Front, Michael Salinger's "Neon,"  "Ars Poetica" by Macleish and Niki Giovanni's "Kidnap Poem." I shared this list of poems about poetry along with a challenge: Write your own poetry poem. Here's my (unfinished) draft from that afternoon. 

Stuck, stuck, stuck
Sometimes poems come
flow from pen to page
like water finding
the lowest point.

Poems slide, slip, and surf
Gulf stream currents
skirting the coastline of dream
or memory, rhythms
made more vibrant
in metered rhyme

Sometimes poems
get stuck, stilled
like water in a retention pond
or a river dammed
ideas swirl and shift
fermenting, rising to the surface
like scum no  one wants to skim

Sometimes poems come.


Get in on the goodness.
Visit Two Writing Teachers
and add your slice to the pie.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Treasures Unearthed

It was an asymmetrical, bi-level
haircut back then, circa 1990. 
Throwback Thursday, who does it? Pictures posted and tagged #throwbackthursday on Twitter and Instagram make me smile when I catch them. Go ahead. Do an image search of the hashtag. Add a year or a topic to your search string:  "#throwbackthursday mullet" for example.

I'm not up on hip memes though. I hardly have time to keep up with the feed in my Google Reader. I'll gain time now though, once Google Reader is no more.  Occasionally, a meme idea gets stuck in my mind like an old song or something you forget mid-story. It distracts me until I do something about it.  Throwback Thursday got me thinking about discoveries that come from looking back. I blame two things for my recent throwback thinking: one, Stacey Shubitz's themed Throwback Thursday post on Two Writing Teachers a couple of weeks ago and again today, and two, the need to sort and clean my classroom.

Have you looked in the back of the bottom drawer of your filing cabinet lately? Have you cleaned the corners of the bookshelves?  I've been at my current school going on five years, so it's been about that long since I did it.

I found all sorts of things in the filing cabinet  and on the book shelves by my desk. I was searching for a specific piece of writing and for a specific old book.  I can picture the writing typed on the page and the book's cover. I didn't find either, but I did uncover a few gems. I started a  throwback folder on Dropbox and dumped pictures of my treasures into it, so I can come back and write about them later.

On the book shelf of professional resources I found this:

My Lesson Plan book from 1997-1998, pages preserved in plastic sleeves.  A few students were working in my room after school. One said, "I wasn't even born then!" Fifteen years ago, I remember it better than what I had for lunch yesterday.

The book is full too. There are even a few pages from 1996-97, the year I participated in the National Writing Project.

The first thing I noticed was the classroom layout page. I made the book for students, so it holds more than lesson plans. I found procedure notes, handouts, lesson plans, even transparencies (perfectly preserved). This page reviews procedures for students.

Look at all the desks. Then, classes were capped at 32 not 25 and that cap, created by that Guidance department wasn't law, but courtesy. What does this room about my teaching or my beliefs about students and learning?

This year's layouts focus on students not procedures. Here's one of six classes: 

Where's all the stuff? Where are the computers?  Where are the book shelves or filing cabinets or our permanently set up seats in a circle or the "kitchen" area or sink? 

Big differences. What does this picture say about what I value? 

Here a quick photo-tour of my classroom. I teach in a double-wide portable, also known as a trailer or shoe-box. Fortunately, it's the biggest trailer on campus. It must be fifty feet long, maybe more. My school is about to embark on a construction journey and the trailer will be retired--the windowsills and floors are rotting, so that's a good thing--still, it's a huge space. The district doesn't put up-to-date equipment in portable classrooms. It gets stolen, so portable teachers get things we can afford to lose.

There's a discussion circle set with 27 chairs behind the teal book shelves. Student poets were  practicing when I took this picture.

I only work at this desk before or after school, it's a long view to the end of the room.

When I found the Lesson Plan book one of my first thoughts was: What was I doing the week before spring break then?

I wondered as I opened the book, felt the shiny Plasticine pages and flipped to March. Book talks, I discovered. My students were presenting the entire week before spring break. Smart move, I congratulated myself. I still like keeping students busy before a vacation.

I laughed at my assignment reminders at the top of the page.  Mind your eye contact, be enthusiastic while delivering your spiel. My reminders and the idea that students had to make a poster made me laugh.

If only I'd had students record the titles of their books on the sign-up sheet for presentations.
If I had, we'd all know which book Hank Green talked up that Wednesday, March 11, 1998.