Thursday, March 17, 2016

TBT: Happy St. Patrick's Day

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writings. This is post 17 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Today is a two-fer. A St. Patrick's day picture of my dad taken this afternoon when he and Mom picked up our dog, Daisy, to take her to their house for spring break and a throw back post about Dad and St. Patrick's Day from a few years ago.
Gotta love the shoes and socks! 

This post first appeared on Pink Stone Days in 2012.

This post is #18 of 31 for the Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

I forgot yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. It slipped my mind in the sweetness of Saturday morning. I can't believe I forgot. In my forty plus years, I've never forgotten St. Patrick's Day. 

I've never forgotten because for me, St. Patrick's Day isn't about wearing green and drinking beer. It's about my Dad. 

Mom & Dad on Park Ave. for the Art Festival today.
Eventually, I remembered. I remembered the minute I saw I'd missed a call from my Dad.  At 1:20 in the afternoon on our way home from a conference, Collin and I called him back. I was kicking my mom-self. I hadn't shared any stories of Ireland with Collin that morning. We didn't pull out the old photo album and look at pictures from Donegal. We didn't read an Irish story much less say the Irish blessing or laugh over the curseHow did I forget?

Usually, it's a first-thing in the morning sort of celebration, sometimes green pancakes or waffles have even been involved. I wanted to kick myself, but I was driving. 

My Dad's first language was Gaelic. He spoke Gaelic at home with his mother. He was the first of his family born in the United States. Dad forgot Gaelic once he went to school. He doesn't speak with a brogue either, but he puts one on for St. Patrick's Day.Ever since I was a child, Dad would perk us up with a lilt and a laugh in his voice, laying the accent on thick the more my brother and I giggled. It is one of many things about my father that delights me, no matter what he and I may have been fighting about when I was a teen and young adult, he was always joyful when he spoke with a Brogue on St. Patrick's Day. 

I think it is his joy and the sharing of it that still gets me. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Six Impossible Things

Some weeks feel like a gauntlet teaching high school. There are demands on teachers' time, our energy, our minds, our moods, our health, our strengths, our minds, and our hearts. We run the race with the best of intentions, but it easy for me to get caught up in the what did not work moments of my week. Instead of doing that, this evening's slice is a quick draft of six of my favorite impossibilities from everyday life. I live among miracles.  Sometimes I need to slow down and remember just that.

Early morning trip to the well to check the problem. Loved how the tree lit up.


We expect it. We take it for granted. We believe it is pure, clear, clean and safe to drink. We fill our tubs with it and soak in it. We don't walk for it or haul it. One morning, recently, I woke up. Stumbled into the kitchen. Put a glass under the faucet for some water. Turned the white ceramic handle and nothing. The pump on our well had gone bad. Even then, the contractor did a same-day fix while I was at work. We didn't even have to be here to witness the miracle. Water was restored by the time we got home from school and track practice.

Second Day Air

Shipping is mysterious. I understand the concept and some of the distribution or transportation channels involved, but really it's amorphous. The idea that a package or an envelope can travel across the country or across the world in two days by plane is one I can image but not quite practically explain. We recently received a second day air mailing label so that we could send our passports in to get visas to travel. Of course it worked. The passports got where they needed to be. Then they flew fleetly back to us and we are sticker ready for four a.m. Friday travel. 


Photocopiers continue to fascinate me. I need to invest in this wondering, but I love thinking about it, so I don't read too deeply into opposites attracking, photo-electric charges or the elementals involved in printing the image from the rotating semi-conductor-coated drum. I love photocopiers. I love thinking about how they work. Perhaps the fascination stems from my early days teaching. I started during the in-between age. Between the photocopier and the end of the  Purple-Ink Age, the age when making copies meant cranking a handle. Both were available to me in the mail room at Winter Park High School. Somedays standing at the copier, I can imagine the wuft, wuft of the copy machine while smelling the ink from the drum and seeing Rosalie Gwinn standing at the counter, turning the handle.

Portable Document Format

PDF documents: oh so crisp, so clean, so sharp. I remember saving documents in PDF format from Adobe PageMaker. I loved the early read-only format. Documents on a screen, rendered at high resolutions are nearly as old world charming as Adobe Garamond. Now there are all sorts of ways to capture and alter PDFs. Readable, shareable, downloadable, change-able. beautiful, the PDF sure is gorgeous at a resolution of 300 dpi.

Image credit:
Domestic Electrification

Sure, we have had domestic electrification several relative life times, but it has enable many of my favorite every day appliances: the programmable coffee machine, the washer and dryer, the refrigerator and who would I be to forget the electric light. The lighting cords currently charging personal devices on the kitchen counter and the USB AC/DC plug adapter. I do not even have the vocabulary to describe such technological marvels. All though, seem to have been parented by domesticated electricity (Thank you, Edison and Tesla). 


Love wins. Love endures. Love conquers. Love strengthens and supports. Love shows me everyday what is possible even in the face of seeming impossibilities. So many of these marvels are the result of love and a passion to invest love in learning, in doing, in creating, in helping, in solving and in making the world the place of wonders we know it is.

Six impossible things, that don't quite tell a slice of life story as I've written them, but that I'm happily thinking about as the last day before spring break approaches. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Reflecting on DQ 4

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writings. This is post 15 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

This post may get a little messy. I want to spend some writing time reflecting on the first day of our Macbeth on Trial activity. Writing helps me work out my thinking--but it's in progress stuff, so bear with me.

This year my principal pushed the entire faculty to do a Design Question 4 activity with our students. The principal earmarked extended class periods on days at the end of our first semester for us to try an activity that engaged kids in cognitively complex tasks. We did that with a heart transplant decision making activity. My kids loved it and asked to do something like it again, so I planned a collaborative decision making activity to wrap up our study of complex characters. Students have been studying the characters in Shakespeare's Macbeth and as you may know from my post last week, we are putting Macbeth on trial.

Last week I wrote about grouping students and their levels of engagement. Today was day one of the trial and I want to reflect on several things:

  • Based on what I observed during their preparation and the first half of the trail, where are my students in terms of meeting the goal(s) I set for the work?
  • Are the tasks students must complete in order to put  Macbeth on trial cognitively complex (is it really a DQ4 activity)?

I am going to focus on the later in this post.

There are all sorts of mock trial activities educators and curriculum writers have posted online. I adapted one I found on Ms Beattie's Study Mcbeth Wiki here to suit elements in  Design Question 4. I wanted students to apply their knowledge of argument and analysis to their new and growing knowledge about complex characters.

Engaging students in a mock trial requires that make decisions as a group as to how to create and support and argument about Macbeth's character: his guilt or innocence. It does deepen their knowledge of character (a Design Question 3 practice), but it also also allows them to question and making meaning of their learning about character, Shakespeare, and argument.
Lucy taking an aggressive stance to question a witness. 

 This learning extension over concepts, the study of characters in the play and the focus on decision making via the mock trial experience fall in Design Question 4. Students are "taking their new knowledge" about character and argument and "applying it in a different way to generate new understandings" both of the the characters in Macbeth and of how to structure effective arguments and support claims with evidence (Edwards).

Students' roles in the trial vary. Obviously we have a Macbeth and a Lady Macbeth, other students are witnesses, some serve the prosecution or defense, others serve as jurors and judges. Some jurors and judges researched the time period the play was written in order to craft their trial personas. Others researched the time period the play was set to do that. Each student who served as a judge or jury member crafted a persona; they also discussed how they would note the evidence presented and make their decisions.
Such enthusiastic speaking today. Javier reviewing evidence collected by law enforcement.

Students who served on prosecution or defense teams had to create the case for or against Macbeth. They reviewed evidence with "law enforcement" and then crafted an opening statement and planned to question witnesses. Here is one defense group's work in progress.

 I reviewed the sequence and tasks and rubric with all of the students before sending them off to research, plan and create.

Macbeth on Trial: Roles and Sequence

Macbeth on Trial Group Writing Tasks

Ms Corlies Macbeth on Trial Rubric

Students who played law enforcement officers investigated how to write up evidence and a narrative report of a crime using resources I posted for them on Edmodo as a spring board. Many of these groups did their own research and found better ways of writing up the homicide.

Crime Scene Search Study Guide - informational jumping off point for the law enforcement group's inquiry

Example Police Report form- to guide creation of crime scene narrative for law enforcement group

I realized this morning that students needed more support with formal diction (court language) so I created a language bank for them: Formal Language Cheat Sheet for Court. I used it  to redirect kids on the spot during first period to refocus their language so that it was appropriate to the decision making task of the mock trial. Then for the rest of the day I used it to as a mini-lesson to review the sequence for the trial and frame the expectations about character and argument.

It was an interesting day. Beyond how engaged kids were, I was interested in seeing which kids started to evaluate the arguments presented by the prosecution and defense. There were clear errors in reasoning when it came to some of the questions each side asked their witnesses. A few students realized the errors and those came out in reflective conversations at the end of each court session.

Tomorrow the defense will question their last witnesses and each side will deliver closing arguments. Then while the jury deliberates I will ask everyone to explain what decision should be made about Macbeth and why. We'll hear the verdict and the sentencing (which many judges pulled from history during the preparation phase). Then we'll wrap up by reflecting on the process. I'm looking forward to hearing what students think about how they did and where there is room to improve the process, should I try it again.

An instructional coach and I were talking about DQ 4 activities after school to clarify our thinking around and about them and she asked me a great question: what would an administrator have to see in order to automatically think DQ4? An assistant principal stopped by room after school too and he echoed that question as we discussed the trial (kids had eagerly told him about it during lunch and asked him to come see them speak). I think the reflective pieces (which will come tomorrow) would be important as would review all the supporting documents. If administrators walked into a classroom having review the teacher's lesson plans and supporting documents--if they had not, then surely, a conversation after the fact or walk and read over kids' shoulders should make the learning of a cognitively complex task visible to the observer(s). I'm still thinking about this though--especially as it applies across content areas.

I think it's important for teachers to consider how to reveal the depth of their practice to administrators, peers, instructional coaches and/or other stakeholders who may visit their rooms in order to observe learning in action. Writing about our practice is one way to do that as is having reflective conversations. Knowledge, after all, is powerful.


Beattie. "Process of Trial." Study Macbeth Wikispaces.

Corlies, "trial_details2.doc (trial rubric)." Ms. Corlies 11th Grade Wikispace.

Edwards, John. (2013). "Design Question 4." Learning Sciences: Marzano Center.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Destination Digital

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writing. This is post 14 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

We are going digital next year. This means that students and teachers at my school will each have their own district-issued device. We are going 1 to 1! I am on the team to support the shift, so I've been participating in monthly sessions to prepare for next year. As you can imagine, I am eager for the coming changes.

My classroom has been a bring your own device, blended and shared learning environment for several years. The move to 1 to 1 will streamline routines I have been practicing and it has also prompted me to revise and refine ways I engage kids in digital environments (more on that later).

This afternoon the team met to start making decisions. We talked Edmodo and Google Drive and committing to calendars and web-based tools. We decided on a naming convention for digital common boards (agendas),  lesson plans or unit files. Then we dug into the summer itinerary.

The group, led by our district vision, is planning to visit five fabulous ports of call during the Destination Digital Summer "Cruise." We are offering two, most expenses paid*, cruise dates: seven days in June and seven days in July. We will host parents and students the first week of August for device distribution and education sessions too.

There was a lot of energy around the table this afternoon as we committed to summer dates and cruise offerings. With good weather and wind, we will surely reach our year one destination of adoption as described on the TIMs matrix.

I'm hoping we plan a bon voyage, dance party on deck before we set sail!

*Teachers will be paid for the work they do during the seven day summer cruises. They can opt for one or even two cruise sessions as school.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Macbeth on Trial

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writing. This is post 11 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

"Keep reading it!" Eric laughed. "Oh my God. Is he dead too?  (More laughter.) Ooohhh, I understand now."

Kids are working in groups today to prepare to put Macbeth on Trial. For this culminating activity, I let them choose  groups. They have been sitting in groups I purposefully arranged and rearrange since school started and it always interesting to see what happens when I then allow them to choose. At least half of the eight groups chose to continue together which tells me they've formed (or strengthened) bonds. I love to see that growth in our community.

I also love to see kids so engaged in rehearsing events from a Shakespearean play. The room was full of chatter and chuckle. Comprehension came to life in many of the conversations I listened in on.

"No, remember, Malcolm left. He left with Donlablain! I love Danalblain! But I don't think we can blame him--he wasn't there. " Oh the delight of engagment and exuberance. 

"Ms. Spillane, Mrs. Spillane, we got it!" Sam said. Good to hear such confidence. I have the students in eight groups. Each group will prepare and write pieces to use during next week's trial. The idea of kids putting a character on trial is not a new one; there are several such sites online. When writing curriculum for Plugged-in to Reading, I created crime reports for students to use to pratice writing sequences and description. That was years ago,  but my high school kids still like the role play involved in writing witness and crime reports--though we don't use an organizer or worksheet to write them. Now, kids in the law enforcement group look at several examples and determine what needs to be included. Different groups are working on different parts of the trial, but everyone is researching, writing, speaking or doing something to get ready for next week.

Macbeth on Trial Group Writing Tasks

"Tell her, Abigail!" Abigail had worked out an alternative murderer and her group was eager to share. Kids read Thurber's "The Macbeth Murder Mystery" before jumping into trial preparation. The story is included in our Florida Collections textbook (thank to Kylene BeersCarol JagoBill McBride and Erik Palmer, who all worked on that writing team). The story primed students' imaginations and gave them a way to re-see the tragedy.  

"Her hands, her hands, do this," one encourages as she wrings hands for one of the witness groups.

"All right prosecutions. We've got your evidence!" said another student from the law enforcement group as she swaggered over to a table of young lawyers laptop open in her hands.

I love the approximations as kids try on new-to-them language. I love the energy in the room. And oh how I love the laughter. Sometimes engagement is quiet, creeping on cats feet across pages of print. Other times engagement rumbles and roars, shouts and acts just a little silly. So fun, this teaching life.

Happy weekend all!

PS: To see what my students slicing, step over to our class blog, 31 Students. They'd love to see you there.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016


I woke up wondering: wondering about today's weather: wondering about my lesson plans, wondering about going 1 to 1 digital next year, wondering about assessing students, wondering about our Thursday Socratic discussion routine, wondering about my PLC group,  wondering about students' understandings of Macbeth, and wondering about comments on the blog.

I wonder why some comments are posting more than once. I wonder why commenting on Blogger blogs is so challenging when I'm using my phone or the iPad mini. I wonder if the settings for comments are creating double and triple postings?

I woke up wondering about grades. The end of the quarter nears and I know my students, high-achievers and gifted among them, worry--sometimes incessantly--about grade percentages. I woke up wondering about weighting grades and teacher grades and make up policies and motivation. I wondered about drive and outliers and traits of children tagged gifted. I woke up wondering about the pollen count and the coughs per class period and the sneeze to tissue ratio. 

Lots of mid-week wonderings today. Do you wake up in wonder? I do. It's one of the things I love about teaching: all the wondering.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writing. This is post 10 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

On Teaching

I had to make a doctor's appointment for this afternoon. I needed a quick check of something that has been bothering me and the appointment nurse fit me in after school and my son's track practice. After I checked in and paid my co-payment, I picked up the newspaper to read while I waited to be called to an examining room.

One of the English teachers in my department was on the front of the Family & Life section for speaking out at the school board last night. The article ran as "Orange Teachers Complain about Ratings." There is likely an entire lesson in word choice I could teach just with the headline and the less than two-minute video clip.

Lisa Marie Lewis speaks out at the school board meeting. 
The article was a surprise to me in that doctor's waiting room. I knew she'd spoken out because a colleague mentioned it during our afternoon PLC meeting, but I didn't read the paper this morning, so I hadn't seen the article.

Discovering it was a mix of emotions. There was a time, years and a couple schools ago, where teachers would pass such things around via email or word of mouth while sharing a table in the teachers' lounge. We are not so connected now.

So much divides us.

We are in our fifth year of a "new" teacher evaluation system in Florida. When I work in other places teachers ask is yours a "Danielson state" or a "Marzano state"--shorthand speak for the two most popular teacher evaluation models in our current Race to the Top system. Florida is a Marzano state. Up for debate at the moment are the number of teachers who received "highly effective" ratings. My county went from over 80% rated highly effective to less than 3%. We had a "no harm" year with a new standardized test, but that may not account for such a drastic drop in "teacher quality."

It is frustrating to work your passion in such a system. It can be worrisome too, to entrust your child's education to such a culture, such a system.

It is easy for educators to get beaten down by the rhetoric that labels them as "complainers." It is easy to get discouraged by the shifting target on standardized tests or the changing language from legislature to school room. It is easy, too easy, to listen to the voices that would distract us from doing important work for and with the children in our classrooms. Work that in my classroom world involves reading and writing and speaking every day.

I did not hear what my colleague had to say. I know she advocates for teachers. I have long admired how she not only attends but actively participates in our local school board meetings. The article reported that she discourages students from going into teaching. That line brought me back to one of my own: Quina.

Quina is one of the most talented young women I've ever taught: amazing writer, passionate speaker (she's since recorded and released her own spoken word album), voracious reader and killer volleyball player. She wrote me on Linked In at the end of her senior year at USF asking about becoming a teacher as she neared graduation. I wish I had connected her with Joan Kaywell. I wished I'd followed up. I wish, I wish... we need passionate learners and teachers.

I didn't want to discourage her. But, I might have.

Teaching is hard work. Teaching is also the most satisfying work I've ever done. If I didn't love it, I wouldn't still be working at my craft. I wouldn't still be learning how to be a better teacher. But, I am. Still learning that is. And still loving purposeful acts of instruction: teaching.

I'm proud of my colleague for speaking her piece. I'm glad that there are teachers who take the time to attend board meetings and share their thinking during such public moments. I'm also proud of my colleagues that do the hard work of everyday in the classroom, meeting learners where they are and bringing them to places they never imagined they could go.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

In the Details

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writing. This is post 8 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

My students are taking turns writing on our class blog this month. Yesterday I got an email from a student who's post would not publish. 

Her email came through on my phone, but I was out to dinner with family and could not make out the Wordpress Dashboard on my small screen in the dim restaurant. It was late when I got home and realized I'd left my laptop at school, so the solution waited until this morning. 

We connected just before first period. I found the problem quickly. I'd mis-assigned rights to the blog and made her (and a few others) contributors instead of authors. So, I changed the setting on the Wordpress dashboard and published the posts that had accumulated in the "pending" outbox. 

Whew! Problem solved. 

At the end of a class period, there are always loose ends: pressing questions, grading concerns, learning issues, storing concerns (packing away laptops). Each I need to address as I make my way from the room to the hallway. Sometimes the phone even rings during that first minute of our six-minute passing time. 

I know I left adding users to the blog to the end of a class period one day and in the rush to do what needs doing, I missed the type of users I added. I need to adjust how I add users to the class blog next year. I am going to remember to slow down. Less is more as Ted Sizer said and reminds me. No need to rush. I will remember there is time enough for everything if I take my time to work each moment mindfully. Luckily we got the blog users and posts straightened out in less than five minutes. 

I love an easy fix. 

If you'd like to see what my students have been writing about, click the image above to visit our class blog. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016


My brother, John, sister-in-law, Jenny and niece, Charlotte flew down from winter in New Hampshire. My friend Lee drove down from Montgomery, Alabama. My in-laws and sister-in-law, Kathie are driving over from Clermont and Celebration. My parents are bringing their friend Sally Spencer who is visiting from Washington state.  My teacher friends and school friends and church friends: people I love and who love me are coming to skate to celebrate my fiftieth. 

We will have the skating rink to ourselves.

Birthday banner and fez crafting pre-party! 

We will rock knee socks and birthday fezzes and dance to YMCA and eat pizza and skate, skate, skate! 

We will have two glorious skating hours. #pinkstone 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Testing Testing

Tap, tap, rat a tap, tap, tap. Click. Click.

Sniff. Cough. Shuffle, shuffle, sniff.

Scritch. Click. Scritch.

Tap, tap, rat a tap, tap, tap. Click. Click. 
Keyboards click, clack, click. 
Fingers tap, tap, tap
Touch type, tap, tap.

They sound like the future. 
Like insects chattering across the keys. 
Sending signals out to midnight blue skies.
Scritch, scritch. Click, click, tap, click.
Metallic chatter, bursts of sound.

Then there is a sigh, a shift. The plastic squeak of desk chairs 
and the dusty slide of sandy-soled shoes across the linoleum. 

These are the sounds of computer-based testing today.  

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for creating community and valuing voice. Join us atTwo Writing Teachers. Slide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.

Thursday, March 3, 2016


Suddenly the light shifted slanting through the classroom's open window. The light, bright, splashed across students' desks. It was after noon, maybe the end of C lunch just before the bell. I thought of them. My brother. My sister-in-law. My niece.

So I sent a message.

We exchanged a few funny photos and notes. I cannot wait to spend some time with them. 

They came to town for my weekend birthday celebration--it is a big one and I am so tickled they are here. Just the idea that we are in the same state made me grin as I stepped into the hall to supervise during passing time. My teenager was walking the hall and caught me, smiling.

"What are you smiling at?" he smirked. There was some serious shade in his voice.

Seriously? I thought. A riff from "Let It Go" ran through my thoughts.

Sigh. Sometimes, teenagers try us. They take any and all opportunities to push buttons, push back, push off of what ever they do not want to do or deal with. I know this because I am the parent of an amazing fourteen-year-old. He is the love of my life, but like all teenagers, he sometimes throws shade "both sides" as my niece will say.

It has taken me many years of practice to let some things slide. I am learning how to choose my battles as a parent/. It's a good review for my teacher-self.

"I'm happy," I replied more to myself than him as I stepped into class. He continued down the hall. It is difficult having a teacher Mom. No doubt.

I know I have to choose not to engage with negativity.  Teenagers are testing all sorts of water. They try on sarcasm for sophistication. They test a range of tones and attitudes during a week, a month, our entire year at school. I am a safe testing ground.

That teens test and try is one thing I love about them. They are fluid and flexible--becoming. My son has joined this tribe. I am used to teenagers as a teacher, but parenting one is new territory.

When I tell people I teach high school, I hear a mix that spans "God bless you!" to "How could you?" 

I wouldn't have it any other way.  Teenagers are awesome. They care. They act. They do. They engage and are curious. Teenagers are one interesting group.

I love them.

I love how passionate they are. I love their commitment to friends, their loyalty. I love their energy and the buzz of a classroom when I've harnessed it. I even love them when they suck their teeth and roll their eyes with an exaggerated sigh.

I love them when they say,  "What are you looking at?" When I'm only wool gathering and happen to do the thinking stare in their direction.  I even love them when they throw shade "both sides."

Teens, like mine, belong to a tender tribe.  

Thank you to Stacey, Betsy, Dana, Tara, Beth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for creating community and valuing voice. Join us at Two Writing Teachers. Slide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Water Runs

When I got home from school yesterday, the house looked the same. It sat squatting in the semi-green grass. The front-door faced the corner woods. The house looked the same but it was gloriously different.

When I walked in, my first stop was the kitchen sink. I twisted the cold-water knob and just like that, water spluttered and then flowed from the faucet. Years ago after watching charity videos during Project for Awesome, I counted up the number of faucets in and around my house.

We have thirteen faucets. There is no walking, no hand pumping, no carrying, no lugging, no hooking bucket handles over the horns of oxen. Water runs--through the miracle of modern engineering-- into and out of our homes, schools, kitchens, baths, laundry rooms, garages--even onto some lawns. I am so thankful that I do not have to chase it.

 Many thanks to D & E Pump Contractors for fixing the pump in less than twenty-four hours.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Happy 9th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for cultivating such a
supportive writing community. If you'd like to participate by blogging
everyday during the month of March, head over to TWT to get the details.

The coffee is set to brew at o'dark thirty in my house.  I woke to the nutty scent of a dark roast. I love a strong cup of coffee. I made my way to the kitchen stepping over dog toys, the tile cold on my bare feet. I grabbed a glass from a kitchen cabinet and turned to the sink to for water. I held the glass under the goose-neck faucet.  I turned the knob for cold water. Nothing. No water came spilling out of the faucet.

We live out in the country and draw our water from a well. I'd gotten comfortable with the water service person we recently hired. I've been feeling comfortable with the service, so I haven't checked on the well or the pump in a while.

It is easy to take things for granted especially when things seem to be running smoothly. I take things for granted at home and I have known myself to take things for granted in my classroom too.

By this time of year writing routines are humming along in class. Our state writing test is this week. During our last grade-level practice the prompt derailed students, so I built in time to practice taking apart writing prompts this week.

I am confident the kids are ready. They have had a lot of writing practice. Students have been writing with me and for themselves or others since August (and before if you take prior experience into account).

Though they have prior experience writing, many have not had a lot of experience with our new state requirements for argumentive and informative writing. Today, kids reviewed two argument prompts and two informative prompts using editorial cartoons as source material. Working in triads, students did a quick "pass" for each. They talked about purpose, audience, sides and sources (for argument) and sensory detail and sources (for informative). 

Just when I thought we were finished and could tap out of the prompt practice a  student asked,

"Does an informative essay need a counter argument?"
 I sighed inside. Then cleared up the student's misunderstanding.
It is easy to assume kids have a firm grip on the differences between argument and informative writing. By February it feels like I've taught and reviewed and touched argument and expository writing a million times. It feels that way to me because to me, argumentative and informative writing are familiar modes. To some of my tenth graders though,  argument is still new territory. 

The test is in three days. I am going to make the most of our final practice and review, so that when kids sit down to write not  the prompts are as clear as the water that will hopefully be running from my taps this afternoon.  I called a contractor and as of lunch time, they were on their way to get the job done.
Clean water and effective writing, two things I am not taking for granted today.