Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Board Game

Write with us each Tuesday at Slice of Life
My daughter taught me a new game yesterday.  We are a card\board gaming family.  My daughter taught me mancala.  She plays during extended day with her friends.  She upcycled the marbles from the Chinese checkers set that she received for Christmas to make the pieces and she put the eggs  in a bowl to make a board using the egg carton. She taught me once and bested me 4 times. Later her dad came home and she taught him too. She currently reigns  as the Mancala champion of the roost.

With a week left in my break, I hope to continue to learn how to play better and spend more time making memories with her
and the rest of my family.  I wish the same for you and yours!
Thank you for making the time to read my words
this year and have a wonderful holiday and new year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Winter To-do

Two weeks at home seem so idyllic. Here is a short list of what I am looking forward to doing.

10. Read books with me girl.
9. Art days with friends.
8. Clean my closet.
7.Revise my syllabus.
6. Start writing my article.
5. Collaborate on a proposal for NCTE/ALAN.
4. Hang out with fiends.
3. Work on my taxes.
2. Spring hop.
1. Do more reading.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Quickwrite: Gratitude List

This time of year is always crazy and I loved the Two Writing Teachers post suggestion on Sunday that we teach students to express gratitude in writing. It is an antidote to the stress as shared in the post.  Currently we are moving at work out of a building and into a new/old office and furniture keeps popping and piling up.  It is a great time of year to see old friends and family as I was able to do this past weekend, but it can be hectic.  Part of seeking six is keeping that balance during times just like these and my one little word is to focus on well.  If we don't note our gratitude, we lose sight about what really matters.  Here is my quick top 20 in no particular order.

20. Living in a country where I have access to clean water, flushing toilets, and electricity daily.
19. Freedom of speech
18. Choosing how I spend my time
17. The ability to give and share and receive gracefully
16. The ability to recommend and give books---Booksgiving
15.  Spending time with people
14.  Slowing down to spark back up...
13.  Long-time friends
12.  Serving on the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Committee
11. The ability to move physically
12. My job and my contribution to the world are one and the same
11. Living in sunny Florida
10. My virtual writing community
9.   My ulty friends
8.   My health insurance
7.   My CG family
6.   My Knight job and the students there
5.   My day job and my colleagues there
4.   My good friends
3.   My extended family
2.   My healthy husband & daughter
1.   My charmed life

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lessons Learned

My college students have just finished their last blogs for the semester. You can find their reflection posts here. This semester is the second one that I have required all of my undergraduate and graduate students to create and write a blog for our Teaching Writing in Middle and High School class. I first participated in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge in March 2012. I then created a two week mini-challenge in May for my freshmen with my cohort, Lee Ann Spillane.  In the spring of 2013 I challenged my grad students with a range of digital writing choices.  Five of them elected to do the Slice of Life Story Challenge in March with me.  In the fall of 2013, I made digital writing via a blog a mandatory component of the graduate section of the class.  In the spring of 2014, I made it a mandatory component for both undergrads and grads and then have continued that requirement this fall.

Lessons Learned 
  • Even adult writers can struggle coming up with ideas for Open Posts.
  • Some sites such as Tumblr and Wikis are not as easy for others to post feedback. 
  • Be mindful of how/when/what you require for posts.
  • A discussion of audience & purpose are still invaluable.
  • The lessons learned about yourself as a writer and about digital writing matter most for your future students, not the quantity of the posts or comments.  
  • You will learn so much more about your students than what they can reveal to you in class.
  • A mini-lesson on commenting can be helpful.
  • A dedicated feedback partner for each student other than the teacher ensures some writing accountability and everyone gets at least two comments.
  • Students are scared to go public even the ones who seem confidant in class.
  • It takes time to comment on every single student.  Be sure to set aside that time each week.
This year is the fall is the first that I have been dedicated to writing weekly. I want to thank Stacey and her team for creating and continuing to host the weekly slice and the March challenge. It is truly your contribution to the world!  I want to thank Lee Ann Spillane who challenged me to do this with her in 2012.  I also want to thank all of my students and colleagues who have taken the writing plunge. I love every minute of this digital writing learning journey!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

DC Photo-Op

One of the mistakes that I have made in my traveling life as an Ultimate Frisbee player, a conference goer, and a teacher consultant was to neglect the city of my destination.  In my forties when I began to pay my way to conferences and come to the realization that I have been to cities such as Savannah, Georgia over 20 times and never seen more than the building surrounding Forsyth Park, I began to deliberately plan my trips with at least one off day.  In Vegas, I enjoyed the NCTE & ALAN conference, but spent my Sunday in Red Rock Canyon and at the Hoover Dam.  In Boston, we toured the historical sites on Sunday including the Boston Public Library, gorgeous.  When I found out my conference was going to be in DC this year, I planned 4 extra days, two with my friend and two with my family. I thought I would share some of my top five sites from this visit since my eye is twitching from reading too many essays today.

5. Crossing the Potomac!  The power of GPS!

 4.  Eleanor...one of the few women represented on the Mall!

 3. The thought and creativity in the design of the 9-11 Memorial at the Pentagon. Visually stunning both day and night!

2. The important ideals of our leaders as invaluable reminders throughout the city.

1.  Seeing the Library of Congress and a real snowfall with my kid.

Now I have a year to figure out what to do in Minneapolis!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giving Thanks!

In the ALAN workshop today in a session that was billed as a master class in YA lit, Cris Crowe talked about his professionalization or how he came to be a teacher-leader.  Don Gallo also shared his story too. They both didn't get their alone.  They had mentors, peers, and memberships in organizationsthat helped  them  grow.  I wanted to say thank you to the Stacey Shubitz and the slice community be ukase they go have helped me grow as writer and a teacher of writing! I had the exciting opportunity to meet some of the members and Stacey on Saturday. It was exciting to put faces to blogs and discover other people to add to my blogroll. I have been a member of this professional learning network for almost three years and never met anyone face-2-face before Saturday. When I think about my professionalization, being an activity writer in the Slice community is one of those keys! Happy Thanksgiving! 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sacred Saturday

Teaching is hard work, no matter your experience.  There is always work to be done.  You could spend the next 72 hours working and still find more to do, that's the truth.  Therefore it is important to carve out sacred time for yourself.  I call mine Saturday.  This Saturday, however, I gave it up for a worthy cause. Our debate team needed judges.  My friend is the debate coach.  It was a simple equation.  It is important to give back to those who give to you, those who fill you up as a friend and colleague. Hence my Saturday spent at school.

If you have never spent a day contributing to the world by judging competitors in a high school debate tournament, you are missing something.  The perks, food and beverage galore, would be enough for some to give up their Saturday, but truly the best part of my day was garnering in inspiration from the students themselves. If you are ever worried about the youth of tomorrow, spend a half a day in Congress where students work to pass legislation that they have crafted and present arguments for and against each law.  It was the swiftest two and half hours of my teaching life. The twenty students debated about mandatory Ebola screenings for travelers and providing free internet for all Americans. There were many other laws that they considered passing.   Congress is a level playing field for all levels of debaters, novices and varsity members.  The students managed themselves. I just listened and evaluated..   I was in awe.

I suggest that if you are a secondary English language arts educator, you donate some time judging. You don't need much experience just time. You also will be able to study teens and learn about them as critical listeners, readers, writers, speakers, and thinkers. Powerful stuff!  They were powerful. Students are most always the fount of our teaching inspiration and I was glad to give up my Saturday to be reminded of that truth.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Light Up the Night

Yellow lanterns were carried in memory.
Red lanterns were for supporters.
White for survivors.
Last Thursday was out of my ordinary. I headed up to Jacksonville for a Light Up the Night Walk with my friend and daughter to meet my family to walk in memory of my Aunt Joanie who lost her short, but fierce battle with ACL last January.  The purpose of the walk was to raise money to defeat blood cancers, Everywhere you turn, you might be asked to donate for a cause and the money is certainly a part of it.  Without events, there might not be a cure.  You might even question the necessity of putting on a walk, a run, or an event. Wouldn't money just be better spent giving directly to the cause? Ultimately the events are for the living too.  The events celebrate the surviving, celebrate the supporters, and memorialize those who didn't survive because there are always                                                               those who must carry on when they are no survivors

It was a beautiful night to celebrate a life lost.  Last week would have been around the time that my aunt confessed she didn't feel well and went to the hospital.  Once she was admitted in November, she spent only a few days from November to January out of hospital care.   This fall we created TEAM JEM.  Friends and family donated money.  A few of us, her husband, her sister, her niece, and friends, walked.  Our hearts weren't light that night, because the first year is always the hardest.  The first of everything without them always is.  Later the firsts become less, but the firsts without never end.  The two mile walk was a small way for us to collectively face the sadness.  My daughter summed it up wisely, especially for a ten year old.  As we crossed the last bridge, she said that she wished there were more white lanterns, because that would mean that there were more survivors. Which is always in the end why we walk.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Pie Slice

Frederick Buechner once wrote or said, "Vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world's hunger."  I credit Jaana, a fellow slicer, for allowing me the steal from her slice last October. I copied it from her blog as well as her link and created a draft which I have come back to several times over course of this the year. Read her amazing post here!   

I've only meet Jaana through blogging as part of the Slice of Life writing community.  She probably doesn't know about the impact or inspiration that I derived from her write.  I kept coming back to that draft post all year.  I finally found the words today that went well with her quote.  I engage in a vocation that meets my students' hunger and feeds my gladness.   It only took one of Oprah's writing exercises last weekend, pie graphing our life to help me uncover the connection. Trust me, I have graphed my life before, but this time was different.  I discovered that I was pretty lucky; my pie pieces melded.  My hobbies are directly connected to my health and occupation and friends.  I don't feel torn.  My biggest aha was that my occupation and my contribution to the world were married.  I don't think many adults can say that, but in the teaching profession we can.  

We need to remember it is each child's story and our story that matters especially when we are asked to crunch kid's data like they are dollars on a spreadsheet or when teachers's VAM scores are being crunched to calculate our value. There is no doubt in my mind that each teacher's contribution to student life cannot be quantified and reduced to a number.  We might not see our contribution in the short-term or in the long-run, but in the end it the students matter most.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Life You Want Weekend

I wouldn't seek out spending a weekend with Oprah.  Most people who know me, know that I love to spend time outdoors and I love to read.  I love to spend my time and money that way.  In May when my sister asked me to join her for the weekend, I didn't hesitate. I didn't consider the cost, time and money. If she was going to make all the arrangements, then I would definitely go along for the ride.  I had absolutely no expectations for the weekend except for wanting to have one good meal and have a good time with my aunt, sister, mom, and friend.

In a movie or in a book, the backdrop of rain and dark clouds would indicate that we were off to an ominous beginning as a front sat right down on typically sunny Miami, Friday.  We spent our day outside regardless of the weather trekking through O-Town.  We all waded through the mud, but my day started off right. I won a pair of $150 pants.  Wow!  I got lucky! Normally, I might spend $150 on a pair of sturdy sensible shoes or my entire wardrobe for the year. But that win was only the beginning.

What followed was an evening with Oprah where she kicked off  her keynote dissecting the composition of stars.  She ultimately led us to the idea that star material is what we are all made of. What a powerful message, especially one to bring back to students.  She then gave an overview of her life and what resonated most with me was how reading impacted her life.  She went to kindergarten as a reader and it was the caretaker in her life, her grandmother, that led her to that love.  She also told the story of how she loved The Color Purple so much that she carried around copies of it and gave it away to people who hadn't read it.  She loved it so much that she desperately wanted to be in that movie.  By no accident, she was. Her keynote left us full that night, full of inspiration, full of hope, full of the anticipation of more.

In the morning we were given an unexpected seat upgrade.  Although I didn't expect Oprah to stay all day when the rest of the speakers were they, I was delighted by the fact that she did facilitate the entire day.  We kicked off the morning with meditation led by Deepak Chopra.  We had a brief interlude with Elizabeth Gilbert, who waxed eloquently about Joseph Campell's theory of the monomyth and the importance of hero's story, especially for women.  A science and spirit lesson with followed.  Laughter, stories, and wisdom from Iyanla Vanzant closed out our afternoon.   The day was also interspersed with writing exercises with Oprah. (What I know for sure is that when Oprah looks over your shoulder to read your paper.  You better be ready to share.) I used Storify to capture my takeaways from their speeches.
Rob Bell

What I loved most was that I carried the energy and spirit of the event into my Monday...and into my Tuesday and I felt people such as my fellow teachers, administrators and students alike responding to my mirror neurons over the past two days.  I wonder how long I can sustain that sustain that energy and how I can foster it into my everyday living. I want that energy to last.  In the end, I want to thank my sister for organizing the trip and getting us to go. Often that first step is the hardest part. I'm glad she made it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sewing Adventure

My zombie 
Halloween is tricky in Florida. It can be in the eighties or sixties.  For many reasons not due to the weather, I've missed Halloween with my daughter. These absentee excuses include writing my dissertation, teaching night classes, and being in the hospital.  I have, however, always prided myself on her having a homemade costume.    Okay, maybe there are two exceptions, her frog costume, and her flapper costume, but she often decides what to be a year in advance and doesn't change her mind. My husband is an artist and can craft most of her costumes.  My favorite was the mermaid tail that he made by cutting metallic and green cupcake wrappers In half and attaching them to a skirt.

This year is the year of Greek mythology.  My daughter became obsessed Greek mythology by reading the Rick Riordan books and decided to be Artemis.  I am excited by her decision, because her reading life is fueling her imagination.  She has challenged me, however, to sew her costume. She doesn't believe I can do it. I know I can, but it won't be pretty. I did get that badge in Girl Scouts, where I am certified to make and do small things such as the bag made out of dish towels that you hang your mess kit out to dry in when you are camping or sew buttons. I often rely on tape for hems, forgetting to take it off before I put clothes in the dryer. 

 I do think my sewing blundering is a good life lesson for my daughter. We often make things we do as adults seem easy at home or at school and kids do not see the practice it takes to get there. It is important to let your children watch you struggle, learn, and  make mistakes. My daughter got a lot of that this weekend when I created a pattern and cut fabric to do a preliminary practice run for Skipper. I didn't account for the dimension of the doll. I cut out material in a pattern that would be better suited for a paper doll than a Barbie. I sewed the dress right on the doll. I did figure out what my mistakes were before I started with my kid-sized costume. I am keeping my fingers crossed that my stitches stay kid proof tomorrow during her Super Ball,  but what's most important were my openness to feedback and willingness to take a risk when I wasn't quite sure.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


My aunt Joanie & daughter, last vacation together 
Less than a year ago, I lost someone special in my life, my aunt Joanie, an unforeseeable event occurred which life often brings. I didn't really know my aunt during my childhood.  She lived in Rhode Island and I lived in Florida.  I only saw her once at her first wedding when I was a fifth grader. Eight years later I would miss her second wedding because my dad died. I did, however, get to know her in my young adult life, get to know her well as her roommate.

My uncle still calls me "roomie" affectionately. My aunt and uncle relocated to Orlando in the early nineties and there our lives converged when I was 23.  Fresh out of college, I interviewed for my first teaching job in Orlando on a Friday, was offered the job on Sunday night and started Monday morning.  I needed a place to stay since I was currently residing in Jacksonville. She offered it. I joined her family, baby Kelsey and her husband, on Baker Street and stayed for two and half months.  That is what family does.

It is hard losing your parent at any age, but sticks with you when you are young.  My dad died quickly.  I remember him at the height of happiness, heading off on a vacation that he never came back from. I dropped two parents off at the airport and picked up one.  I didn't see my dad die.  I remember his laughter, his rosy cheeks, and his twinkling eyes.  It didn't happen that way for my two cousins. My aunt died slowly, yet swiftly as time flies.  Although I haven't had to do it, I believe it is harder watching your parent die slowly.  Cancer changes a person into someone you don't recognize on the outside and yet someone you do on the inside.  My aunt spent the last two months of her life in the hospital. The irony of my aunt's hospital stay was that her room overlooked the bridge we crossed together 8 months earlier toward the finish line of half marathon celebrating my other aunt's victory over breast cancer. My aunt Joanie wouldn't cross it on foot again.  She had a different bridge to cross. That is what blood cancer does.

After enduring rounds of chemo and blood transfusions over the holiday season, the new year brought the sentence of chemo-resistant transfusion-dependent leukemia, an insidious blood cancer. My aunt's life expectancy dwindled swiftly from "we will beat this" to "a matter of days to live."  She chose to spend her final days in hospice.  She welcome the last goodbyes and weathered the pain.That is what strength does.

Since  she passed, I've been on the lookout for double rainbows and dolphins, which is what she said she would send. Over the past eight months, I've seen more double rainbows than I have ever seen in my adult life.  I live inland so dolphins are pretty much out of the question unless I go to Sea World. It was at this time last year that she started noticing symptoms, but we wouldn't get a diagnosis until Thanksgiving.  This November, however, we won't be making visits to the hospital.  We will walk to celebrate her life in the the Light Up the Night walk. That is what the living does.

 Check out TEAM JEM and join us in any way you can.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Nature Walk

It's 9:35 and I am home from open house. I didn't get my work done, but I need to post.  Never miss a Tuesday writing is my brain mantra much like never miss a Monday workout is my body manta. So I am drawing inspiration from images that I have captured from the great outdoors. 

1. Objects are as small as they appear. Although you have done something many times, pay attention to the details.  

Tiny perfect starfish on the shore of Crescent Beach, Florida.

Baby alligator snapping turtle found on the bikeway of Lake Baldwin on Sunday. We moved him\her to the grass. He\She was one of a few we found that morning.

2.  Are things feeling tired?  Are you going through the motions?  Perspective is everything. Change it! I have passed this bridge over 100 times by car. It is on the side of the road next too my school.  We turned right out of our school rather than left on our Friday weekly walk and discovered this cove.  Remnants of the swamp that my school was built upon. If we didn't changed our perspective, we wouldn't have noticed it.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Numbers Don't Add Up

We have approximately 3,150 students enrolled in our school.  We have a One Book, One Grade Level summer reading program where each grade level reads the same book and then they read a second book of their choice.  Based on the data I have gathered, I estimate that approximately only 21% of our student population outside of the IB junior and senior courses are participating in summer reading.
9th-12th grade check out data from our media center (MC) and purchases at Barnes and Noble (BN) are listed here.  The total number of students from 9 to 12 excludes the number of students enrolled in 11th & 12th grade IB as well as dual enrollment.  It is not totally scientific.  Just a snapshot of the data that I have.  
As I shared in my first post about summer reading and access, we had 150 copies for the ninth and tenth grade book and 120 copies of the 11th grade book.  All of the ninth grade books where checked out as were most of the tenth grade books.  We never ran out of 11th grade books and due to the changing titles each year for our 12th graders, we weren't able to purchase books.  Although we have books in our media center, I am not sure that we have enough books to get in all of our students' hands.

We work hard to inform our incoming ninth graders at our well-attended Freshman Fair in February about our summer reading requirements.  We send flyers home to our feeder schools.  We were able to get all of our books checked out at Freshman Orientation, a week before school started.  It is not surprising that freshmen read more since we seemed to work harder here, perhaps because they are farther away.

At school, we tried to do a sale at school before summer ended, but most students balked at buying a book.   I am not surprised, 75% of our students eat free and reduced lunch.  I have a few ideas about how to overcome that, but I think at this point, we are missing a  huge piece of data here...student voice!  What obstacles keep them from acquiring and then reading for summer.

When I taught ninth graders,100% of my students completed summer reading because I actually put a book into student hands. That, however, didn't mean they read over summer, rather they just couldn't opt out of participate in the summer reading book.  I think that is ok,  but what is the purpose of summer reading if kids aren't doing it?  I know the research and now summer reading matters. I read more in the summer than I do at anytime during the year as does my daughter.

What can we do as a learning community in May and June to frontload summer reading and continue throughout the summer to ensure that all of our students in grades 9-12 read?  How can  we work with parents to promote summer reading?  Sales peaked Barnes and Noble in June when we did a Connect-Ed home and perhaps we need to do that more often and just target specific groups of students.  I also wonder if we could do an at school or at Barnes and Noble summer event to get parents and students out. It is hard building a culture of reading outside of school during the school year and then sustain it throughout the summer. My next steps as literacy coach are to survey the students and the teachers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Fears, we all have them.  We shouldn't live defined by them, but they do hold us back, yet they also keep us safe.  I am afraid of heights, lightening, and enclosed spaces.  You won't see me voluntarily climbing walls or trees, but I will if needed.  You won't see me lingering outside during a lightening storm.  You won't see me shouting with glee when I have to crawl through tunnels.  My throat tightens up a little and my pulse races.  I breathe deep and talk myself calm. I have other fears too, ones that don't cause an obvious physiological reaction. I am afraid of hurting my ACL again and afraid to do the things that I once did before. I have yet to step foot on the ultimate field. I will, I am just not ready. When confronted with new exercise or life challenge, I fear how my blood glucose will react.  I can never be too prepared. This weekend I had the opportunity to face my fears. I completed the Great American Mud Run, a 5K with obstacles.  It took one hour and 51 minutes.  I might actually better label it my Great American Mud Walk, but I finished. I didn't hurt my knee.  I didn't go too low.  I didn't go around obstacles that required climbing or crawling.

The questioning and nagging doubts about my ability to complete this race  began while waiting in the line for parking. I contemplated just turning around and going home. I didn't.  I have done races alone before.  You talk to the people around you.  You push them; they push you.   You can' t imagine my delight when my friend Lee Ann texted me and said that she would join me.  Because it is different for me running a race alone; no one knows how to respond to a dia-mergency like my friends do.  I just feel  safer when I don't have to go it alone.

I negotiated several obstacles that challenged my fear of heights, low walls, a spider climb, and 3 story ladder and slide.  My strategy for successfully scaling them was to never look down.  In fact, the adrenaline kicks in when I begin to contemplate the getting down. What helped me down was the words of advice and the cheers of encouragement from random strangers.  Helping words and positive encouragement go far when someone is stuck in a hard place, farther than you think. This weekend they helped me over the spider wall.

I still carried fear that manifests as good sense or caution as a T1.  During the last portion of the race, my meter got waterlogged, It died after a trek in the muddy water where swimming was the better option. It was an error on my part, the only casualty of my day.  Honestly, I am just not that good at closing things, the refrigerator door, lids on jars, and Ziplocks carrying items that are not waterproof.  I was feeling good, however.  Just in case, I ate my remaining Sweet Tarts.  I had a plan of action.  Having a plan helped me manage my fear.

Participating in the Great American Mud Walk was the most fun that I have had in 2014, a sheer in the moment joy.  I don't know if my exhilaration came from the satisfaction of completing the event or my knowledge that we are stronger than we think we are.  We are stronger than our fears.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banned Books Week

As a parent, I admit that I have a liberal perspective about what my kid can read. She started reading The Walking Dead comic books in 2nd grade with her dad, a consummate lover of comic books or graphic novels. At first, I felt a little uncomfortable with the content, zombies and violence, but she was reading with a trusted adult.  She read Divergent and the Hunger Games series last year as a fourth grader, because she was ready to read them on her own. We read Lois Lowry's The Giver together this past summer, because  we needed to talk about the issues that the book raised. I take a different approach in my classroom, however, based on my belief that teachers are "in loco parentis" during the day. 

We must always be mindful of our students, our purpose, and our community when we make instructional decisions about the books we choose to teach.  I always have sent a letter hime to parents at the beginning of the year to tell them about the diversity of books in my classroom library including content as well as let them share any values that I should be mindful of when recommending independent reading books to their child. 

My favorite often challenged book is Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I once sat on a committee to review that book after a parent challenged the use of it for AP summer reading. A committee of twelve, with members from the community and teachers from different disciplines read or reread  the book, reviewed the complaints, and made a recommendation.  I found that in my rereading of the book, the first at age 20, the second at age 34, the book had evolved into a classic. We decided that the book should be read with teacher support during the year to address the issues that arise in the text.  The parents left satisfied that their concerns had been addressed and the teacher was satisfied that she could continue to use the book. We had a plan in place. Each school should have a protocol in place to deal with such issues when they arise. The best place to find help is here at NCTE's sitehttp://www.ncte.org/action/anti-censorship. 

After my experience on the committee, I made sure that I had a clearly defined purpose and rationale for teaching titles such as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak to my students.  What I discovered is that the details that we pay attention to as we read to ourselves independently differ from when we find ourselves reading a book aloud to our students or to an imagined audience. We must take care. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

8 to 10

I just came home from my daughter's Open House. I have been lucky. I have been happy with her education at Lake George Elementary for the past five years and I still am. They find time for art, PE, and music for kids each day.   I find inspiration in the work that elementary educators are doing with my child. They always have a school-wide theme. This year it is related to superheroes and super powers.  Elementary educators inform my instructional practice. When we went to the rotational model in reading classes at my high school, I turned to Debbie Diller.  When I wanted to learn more about contextualizing grammar instruction by using mentor sentences, I turned to the work of Jeff Anderson (perhaps he is more upper elementary/middle school).  I respect the work of elementary educators.  In this county they are not only responsible for 18-22 students all day, but also hundreds of academic standards teaching reading, writing, social studies, science and math.

In this year, my daughter's last year of elementary school, I find fear.  It is not the fear I have over the impending change of middle school looming in her future.  She is having a wonderful time in a book club for reading enrichment and as  a patrol, as well as advancing to the the highest level of math offered at her school. My fear, however, stems from the changes that are in store for her with the new Florida Standards and the new high stakes tests mandated by the state of Florida in each and every subject.  My ten year old will take 8 high stakes tests at the end of  the year in reading, writing, social studies, math, science, art, PE, and music, most on computers.  Fifth graders at this school aren't the only ones impacted with such tests. Kindergartners will face such examinations also. I am not sure how many. I hope not 8.

I am not afraid the Florida Standards.  I do fear the hastily cobbled together high stakes tests that educators in this state are learning about daily as new information comes out from the state and the district.  I fear the results of the tests that my daughter, her teacher, her school, this district and this state will be judged upon.   I have been studying and working with the CCSS, now know in this state as LAFS, for the past three years. It is part of my job. Teachers at all grade levels are digging in deep to the teaching of the standards that have just merely been words on a page.  We are still developing our instructional practices. We are novices as are our kids grappling with complex texts, writing academic arguments, and figuring out how to teach all the learners in the room. To quell my fear, we need breathing room.  We need more time to practice without penalty.  Our kids too.

As I finished up my final round of questions for her teacher, who had as many as I about the high stakes tests she said, "Is it just me or us (elementary school teachers) that are overwhelmed and burdened by this work?"

The best that I could do was to reassure her that, "No, we all are."  Everyone in this profession who earnestly cares about the development of children as learners are just as worried, perhaps like me afraid.  The question is I keep asking is do parents know enough about what is going to be asked of their children at the end of the year to be worried as we are?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

EdCamp Edspiration

     Like many educators, I spend part of my weekend working.  I do, however, try to leave my Saturdays open for me, for my daughter, for fun.  This past Saturday, I engaged in professional learning by attending EdCamp Citrus.  It wasn't a day of work, but a day of professional inspiration.  I left feeling like I do after I leave NCTE and ALAN each year, awed by the professional teachers and energized to do more, do better.  I woke up early and headed north with my BTF, Lee Ann Spillane.  Lee Ann was my impetus to go because she has been thinking about hosting an edcamp in Orlando for awhile.  I arrived at edcamp with no expectations.  It was free and I had been hearing about unconferences. I wanted to learn more.  EdCamp Citrus is five years old and the organizer, Jerry Swiatek, put together a day that more than exceeded my expectations.
     If you haven't been to an edcamp, you go thinking about what you would like discuss or share with other educators. If you want to led, you sign-up that morning.  Therefore the opening was just the pulling together of the topics for the sessions.  I didn't choose to lead. I didn't, however, lurk;  I actively participated in the sessions.  The premise is you choose with your feet.  You are encouraged to leave sessions that aren't meeting your expectations.  The sessions were mostly teacher-led although there was one student-led session.
     My learning path that day included Redefining Digital Citizenship, Using Data Binders, Gamefication and Bullying in Schools.  The sessions ranged from informal discussions to formal presentations, but I learned more than I anticipated even when a session didn't meet my expectations. I gained insight into gamefication, a term I thought I knew, but the session uncovered my misconceptions.  I am still thinking about gamefication  and how it jives with the research on motivation.  Lunch featured an App Smackdown where individuals came up and gave a 90 second share out of their tech tool.  Of the many that were shared, I loved Kahoot, which a teacher could use for formative assessment or if thinking about Marzano, a virtual/face-to-face academic game. I am excited by the new tools, not just tech tools that I have to push my thinking forward as an educator.
     Ultimately it was the connections that I made with teachers that mattered most.  Tech experts helped me process some tools that I knew, but hadn't figured out how to use purposefully (LiveBinder).  I discovered experts right next door, literally a third grade teacher at my daughter's school. I was awed by the work that teachers are doing in districts that have less resources than the district that I currently work.  If you want to connect  with Florida educators, join the Florida Educators Chat on Wednesday nights at 8 pm on Twitter, #fledchat. I can't wait to take my future teachers there.  You can also check out the next close-by EdCamp in Lake County next month or if you are reading this from other place find an edcamp near you by checking out this Wiki.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Access & Summer Reading

I've taught for the past 21 years and at three different schools.  At my first school where I taught for 9 years, we didn't have summer reading. We didn't do fire drills either.  In 2001 I began grappling with summer reading as both a teacher and now as a literacy coach.  Access to summer reading books is one of my greatest issues or concern. What are the ways we communicate our purpose and titles to the community?  What are the ways that we support struggling readers and English language learners?  How do we give students physical access to books and how do we ensure that students can comprehend the books once they read them? If we don't consider issues related to access and work systemically to remove the barriers of access, students who won't read, can't.

At both sites where I have worked we set-up school-wide summer reading so that students read two books. Both sites allowed for student choice for one of the titles.  Choice in my mind removes some of the greatest barriers. They key is that students know how to choose a book and have it in their hands to do so.  In a literacy-rich classroom, you continue to feed the readers and they are able to choose. I think, however, this choosing is a challenge for readers, who just pick something that they have read in the past to get by.  More work should be done through the media specialist or in the classrooms during the last weeks of school to help kids make a thoughtful choice as they head into the summer.

The tricky part is the "required" book option.  At my first school, the teachers chose 4-6 high interest required titles, appropriate for a range of readers. The problem here was that the teachers didn't read all of the required titles  (a different blog post).  At the school where I currently work, we have a One Book\One Grade Level as our required book.  This set-up allows for students to have a common conversation and assessment. But I, however, think that we can do better in our required choices.  If we are requiring a title, we should consider the following questions:  Is is available in not only English, but the predominant native language of most of the students at your school? Is it available in audio format?  I am not sure that we are so conscious in our choosing. Considering these questions not only begins to remove access issue for our students, but it also allows the parents of our students to be a part of this process.

How ensure access to your your program?

  • Book Fair at the school site with the titles
  • Flyers at freshman orientation in February & sent to feeder schools at the end of the year
  • 150 copies of required titles for each grade level available  in the media center for check out
  • Loan sets of the summer reading books to teachers doing the summer school programs
  • Flyers in the native languages of your students
  • Connect-ed phone calls home to remind parents
  • Signing summer reading contracts at the end of the school year
  • Providing flyers in your guidance office for registration
  • Providing flyers in the main office
  • Connecting with your local library
  • Using social media as an outlet to promote summer reading
  • Connecting with your local bookstore to promote & provide titles
  • Upper grade students promoting the titles to younger students
  • Meeting during the summer at school or in the community to discuss the books
  • Survey students about summer reading
  • Have students help choose summer reading books
  • Ensure that you have up-to-date information on the school website

What happens when you remove access issues and students still don't choose to read?  I'll consider that question/barrier/challenge next week!

What are ways you ensure access to your students for summer reading?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

OLW: Well-Knit

Just a tiny slice tonight because it is about the act of writing sometimes when you aren't inspired to write.  Well-knit is my OLW intention for this month.  September is the time of year when you are trying to pull your work team, professional learning community, or your students closely together. It is also valuable time to rejoin yourself after navigating the chaos of school opening. Well-knit can also be synonymous with strong or sturdy, the key to any foundation as you build community in your classroom.  

Two strategies that keep me well-knit throughout the year in my job as literacy coach are my calendar, paper only, and routinely meeting with my team members.  I decided, however, that I needed to do something else to this school year to stay well-knit, keep a little of summer in my school year. I am building day-trip excursions that I normally do in the summer as part of my weekend life.  I decided that I don't want to cram my fun just in the summer months.   I envision that these excursions will give me a necessary distance from the work I tend to engage in when I just stay home on the weekends.  It is a distance that I used to have playing ultimate and traveling to tournaments on weekends. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Summer Reading

Add your voice to the summer reading Sunday series during September & October by linking here: http://portable-teacher.blogspot.com/

I do summer reading.  So does my daughter. She does not have a required summer reading, yet.  Summer reading in our household is a natural part of our daily routine as swimming is.  We read every night regardless of the season.  Most recently, we read The Giver together. The movie is coming out and I know with the focus on the Language Arts Florida Standards (LAFS) aka Common Core Reading Standards in disguise, she will not experience this full text in her fifth grade classroom this school year.

My daughter, age 10, quite capable of reading alone, likes me to still read books to her and that is okay. Sometimes we get her dad to read books to us.  One thing that always stood out in my mind is that my students used to say that my daughter was lucky that she had me to read to her.  I wish every student was as lucky.  I don't worry about my daughter as a reader, yet. I do worry about the hundreds of students who don't read during the summer and they do anything but.  Over the next 8 Sundays,  I will be exploring that and other issues around summer reading that I confront in my job as a reading coach.  I hope you will join our conversation.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Life Sentence

Sick, the day after
my diagnosis.
I received my life sentence six years ago tomorrow. Among my tribe we call it our diaversary. I've written about it each year and this blog was initially created with the purpose of processing my life sentence and finding balance. My mission hasn't changed.

Well-Managed, six years later!
Over the six years, I've learned some key steps to the management of my chronic disease with the sole goal of living with the longest life sentence possible.

What I know for sure is that what we worry about or imagine is not as hard as we make-it-up to be when we actually face it. Taking care of yourself requires care and patience and a tiny bit of selfishness. Paying close attention to the overwhelmedness clues in your life matters. My clues happen to be a misplaced purse, phone, keys, meter, or pump---never lost, but misplaced.  Gently educate the people in your life, they mean well, but they don't know well. What they do or say is often out of love and a desire to help. Don't beat yourself up about the management or mismanagement of your life sentence, you are working as hard as you can.  I know I will continue to learn more, but acknowledging my diaversary is one small step in celebrating my daily wins over my life sentence.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Aloha means hello and goodbye! It signifies greeting and parting.
Aloha students!  Wednesday is our district's last day for students.  Some of you have already said goodbye and some of you have a few more weeks. I love the arc of teaching. It is the perfect story. The end.

Aloha slicing! I always think I have more time to write in April and May, but invariably find no energy. I spend most of my time during the 4th nine weeks proctoring tests.  At last count, 28905 tests were administered to the 2900 students at our school. .This number doesn't include other mandated tests.  We are still counting. Test fatigue or life fatigue, I am not sure.  I have find that with last nine weeks comes the planning for next year while closing the current and my energy isn't there to write. I have no excuses now, it's June.

Aloha self! A year ago I injured myself and I was in the midst of getting stronger and fit. I ended up being sidelined for 7 months in 2013 and have spent the last 5 months of 2014 moving closer to fine.  I'm not 100% yet.  I'm not where I thought I would be, but I am closer. I feel great.  Summer is the perfect time to challenge myself and meet my fitness goals.

Aloha summer! Time to explore my one little word, well.   Time to traipse in the mountains and disconnect. Time to push myself as a writer. Time to to learn something new, paddle boarding. Time to swimm in the springs. Time to lay in the hammock and read. Time with my daughter, friends, and family.   Aloha summer!

How will you spend yours?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You've Got Mail

A fed ex package from New York arrived for my daughter on Saturday.  Luckily the driver waited for us to get home. The chances of him being able to actually deliver it to my door on the weekend are slim to none.

We opened a small package from my aunt in New York. She is the only one of five children left on my father's side.  She mailed us her great-grandmother's ring and a picture of my grandmother at age 20 with the ring on her finger.  I guess this makes it my great-great-grandmother's ring and my daughter's great great great grandmother's ring.  It was a welcome surprise since my dad passed away when I was 21 and I haven't been to see that part of my family since my daughter was little.  We exchange cards. They send Christmas cards and I send Happy Spring cards.

What I've learned in the years that have passed is that sometimes when someone in your family dies, you just don't lose that person, you lose part of your family too.  The struggle is to rebuild it in a way that makes sense.   It was nice, however, to recapture a small bit in the mail this weekend. A thank you note is on its way.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ruminating on my Saturday

I got be a part of many wonderfuls this weekend, but the most wonderous was my afternoon spent with teen writers and a former grad student in the Teen Zone at the UCF Book Festival. Seventeen teens from all over the Central Florida region varying from grades 6th-12th gave up their spring afternoon to spend indoors on their craft.  They brought their pieces for feedback and were treated to Kristen Simmons' discussion of her writerly life and a question and answer session. Time flew.

What stood out to me listening to Simmons was how long it actually took for her to go from writing a book to actually getting one published. It took her ten years.  Her continued effort reminded me of the ten thousand hour expert rule shared in Gladwell's Outliers. She wrote over four books in that time and endured 200 rejections.  What a story for these teens to hear. They got it.  They walked away understanding the tenacity and practice it took for her to accomplish her dream, of holding her published book in her hand. Many of them not sure that was what they could do, write every day and endure the rejection, but most left happy to have their writing heard and  advice to think about as aspiring writers.

I left with some unanswered questions know that writing is a solitary activity, but you must have some kind of community to share.  I wondered what that looked like for her. She also shared that now with a one year old daughter she writes during naps.  Again confirming that what you value, you will find time to do. If you want to be a writer, then write every day.  Just like the SOLSC in March pushes one too.  How do you carry on after that?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

One Little Word: April Focus

April kicks off the next chapter of my one little word action.  The word being, well.  The intent being well-balanced.  It is a continuation of my focus last month on being well-ordered.  Last year I seriously derailed at this time.  Perhaps it was the non-stop proctoring.  The third job. I am not sure.  My goal this month is to continue to focus on maintaining a work life-balance, especially amping up my cardio, focusing on my food and water, and lowering my blood glucose levels while cultivating my writing life.This slice makes 32 days in a row.  It's time, however, to shift a little energy toward my fitness. I was much better at blogging this past month than completing my My Fitness Pal and reaching my daily goals.

I took my first step toward being well-balanced last night.  I was able to mostly run and a little walk a half mile in 6 minutes, a super big deal to me since I haven't been able to run like that since May 31st, 2013. Last night I came in last, really far last, some might describe it as, earmuffs please, DFL, but I finished.  Random people in the park cheered me.  It was embarrassingly nice.  Not really an attention I wanted, but one that made me smile. Someone in our Camp Gladiator workout team actually came back and ran with me the end with me. When someone is behind, no one gets left behind.  My CG family cheered me when I finished. I didn't elect to do it the second time, I chose a personal dispensation knowing that adrenal will sometimes mask the forthcoming pain.  My knee felt great today. It was the right thing for me to do.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Slice 31 and Done (for today)

This is my last slice, last slice, last slice for March. You know it is funny---a song resonated through my head this morning as I began to think about my last slice even before I went to the Two Writing Teacher's page and noticed that Stacey had a song in her head this morning.  My song was Donna Summer's Last Dance.

My first official dance class, at age 3.
Writing is like dancing. We all can dance. We can all write. Granted some dance or write better, but I would wager that they have spent more time practicing.  Practice is what it takes to do most everything better. What we deliberately practice, we get good at. We only read books like Gladwell's Outliers, Coyle's Talent Code and Hattie's Visible Learning for Teachers to understand about the power of deliberate practice.   Practice is at the heart of growing as a writer or a dancer and growing our students as writers. That is what the SOLSC challenge is for me, daily deliberate practice at writing, practice that is not always easy or fun, but most definitely deliberate.

I often say that I prefer reading over writing.  It's true.  For me, it is easier and an escape. I love sci-fi and fantasy.  Writing is hard work. Writing every day is harder.  I've noticed, however, a changed writer self through my participation in the SOLSC over the past three years.  I used to anguish over about what to write each day and wanted it to be meaningful and powerful.  I used to worry that I wouldn't get my blog posted each day.  This year I wrote with a confidence that I would get my writing done each day. I knew it wouldn't always be meaningful or power, sometimes it would just be done.  My two years of practice helped me with develop that confidence.

I am also confident that all of us are able to carve out time to do what we point our eye toward.  In the past I've been exhausted trying to post at the end of each challenge and not been able to muster the energy to write. I don't feel that this time. My practice over the past two years built that.   As I posted earlier this month, the third time's a charm.

I want to thank my friends, the readers I know, the readers who only know me through my blog, and the readers who comment during the month-long Slice of Life Writing Challenge.    Your life is busy and there are many distractions and much work to do. Thanks for taking time out of your day to read my words.

I want to thank Stacey and her team for putting in the time to do, craft a space to cultivate teachers as digital writers and students as digital writers.  I wouldn't have understood how digital writing matters for students without the opportunity to do it myself and deliberately practice.  I still dance, but I don't practice.  After this month is over, I will, however, keep writing and practicing since those are the moves that I am still aiming to perfect as a writer and a teacher of writers.