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.