Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Gifts That Bring Me Back to Writing

Donald Graves tells us in All Children Can Write, "Four essentials to a successful writing-process program are described: the adequate provision of time (at least 4 days per week), child choice of writing topic, response to child meaning, and the establishment of a community of learners."  

The same is true for adult writers.  This week I celebrate writing.

For the last week and a half, I've had the opportunity to participate in the summer institute of the Columbus Area Writing Project.  It's been exactly what I needed as a writer.  For the last year, my writing life has been quiet.  I allowed the joy I find in writing slip away from me.  And in its place I let busyness and completion of projects take over.

The summer institute invites me to slow down and get reacquainted with my writing life.    We meet in the Martha King Center at OSU.  Such great educators have filled this space, their legacy woos me back into  writing.  The back walls are lined with tall dark bookshelves.  Picture books with worn covers spill out of the shelves while chapter books lean haphazardly against each other, waiting to be picked up and lingered over.  Our tables meet up in a rectangle, allowing all of us to participate in conversation.  We each come with our preferred writing needs...spiral bound notebooks, computers, tablets, stacks of books, pens and pencils.  So much to savor.

Time and choice open up new possibilities.  Two hours to write?  To write about anything I want? I've craved time to write about what I want to write.

Two. Whole. Hours.

Anything. I. Want.

Right away, I can feel myself unwind, and energy begins to seep into my being.    Writing brings me joy.  It brings me comfort.  It allows me to explore my thinking.  I  use it to sort through my feelings and confusions.  Writing fills a space for me like no other.

And then there are the people.  Each person answers the call to write and to be there for the other writers.  The people provide the gift of connection.    We are a community of teachers who write.  We give each other feedback.  We ask questions.  We cheer each other on and we think about our young writers back at school.  We learn not only from our own writing, but from the others as well.

Our 3 day retreat at Kenyon College begins to build community.

This week I celebrate the Columbus Area Writing Project and the people who come to learn and write every day.  Thank you Ruth Ayres for providing this space to share our celebrations.  Please visit Ruth's site to read about other celebrations. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Don't Blink

Wasn't it just yesterday?  Our old station wagon was filled to the brink with not one bit of room to spare for our camping adventure to the east coast.

We were prepared for our long drive...
books checked out of the library
snacks to be doled out in increments
surprise bags to keep little hands busy
planned pit stops to let little legs run around and stretch
And the memories...
wild horses running on the island
s'mores around the campfire
riding bikes on the trails
sleeping bags crammed around the pack-n-play inside the tent
catching fireflies
keeping Annie from toddling into the campfire
keeping Zach from bulldozing into the campfire
keeping Molly from being the boss of the campfire

Peals of laughter and gasps of amazement filled our days.

Fast forward 20 years.

We are no longer needed for the planning or the packing.
Three siblings
Best of friends
Headed for the trip of a lifetime touring
The sights of Europe
New memories
Lasting memories
Of new and exciting adventures
All on their own.

Our hearts fill with pride and joy
To see our children, all grown up
Ready to face the world

Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.  Head over to their site to read other slice of life stories.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

What I Know To Be True

Today I join Ruth Ayres and other bloggers to celebrate the good things that are happening.  Please visit Ruth's site to join the celebration.

The stress has been palatable this week in Room 204.  State testing begins next week.  This will also be the first year that we take the test online instead of using paper and pencil.  As we prepared this week, I began by asking my students, "How is reading for the test different than the kind of reading we do for pleasure or when we are researching?"

Right away, the room was abuzz with conversation.  I quickly began to chart their thinking.

Reading for the Test

  • It can be nerve wracking.
  • The paragraphs are numbered.
  • We have to go back and reread to find answers.
  • We get timed.
  • We have to choose the best answer for multiple choice questions.
  • We don't get to pick what we read.
  • We have to answer the test questions, not our own questions.
These last two stood out for me, because they speak to choice.  There is no choice when taking the test.  This is the complete opposite of what goes on in our classroom.  All year long, our students have been given choice.  They choose what they research. They ask their own questions.  They choose what they want to read.  They choose their goals. They choose how to respond to their reading.  They choose if they are going to read and write digitally or traditionally.

In a brief moment of weakness, I began to question myself.  Have I done a disservice to our students by not doing more contrived activities that mimic test taking?  Are they going to be prepared for the test?   As soon as the questions surfaced, I cringed.  Everything about those questions goes against what I believe to be true about educating children.  My job is not to create test takers.  My job is to give students opportunities to learn and find joy through reading and writing.  My most important work is to support my students in being curious and finding their way as learners.

Today I celebrate choice because...

  • H excitedly shared with me that for the first time, she finished a book this year.  At this time, she's read several books and is finding who she is as a reader.
  • Book clubs spring up without any involvement from me or my co-teacher.  Readers with similar interests are finding each other.
  • Graphic novels have hooked several of our readers who thought they didn't like to read.  Even my co-teacher found out that she likes them.
  • R discovered that poetry isn't so bad.  :)
  • Writing groups are forming as students with similar interests research topics and create digital compositions.
  • Real conversations are occurring about important topics that students initiate.
  • Parents are asking what we're doing...their kids are reading without a fight at home.
I believe with all my heart that having choice as a foundation in our classroom is what will bring success to our students.  They will use what they've learned this year to do their best over the next several weeks of testing.  I'll be glad when it's done so we can put it behind us and get back to what we know is best for kids and let them get back to the business of learning.  

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Poetry and Art

I am joining Two Writing Teachers in the March Slice of Life Challenge.  Please visit their site to read other Slice of Life stories.

Poetry and art on a field trip?  I can't think of anything better.  What a wonderful day we had.  Our fifth graders visited the Columbus Art Museum today to see beautiful art and explore poetry writing.  We each received a blank book and a pencil.  As the docent led us around, we stopped at different pieces of art to wonder and imagine and write.  The kids' words poured out onto the page.   Kids who usually don't share much in class became prolific poets and were eager to share their creations.  And our docent was the best.  As it got closer and closer to the time to leave, she said, "Oh, I have to show you just one more thing."  She said that THREE times.  Yes, we were one of the last ones to get back to the bus, but it was worth it.  Tomorrow, we will take our poems and create our own art to go with them.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Saying Good-bye to a Special Man

This month I'm participating in the Slice of Life Challenge.  Please visit Two Writing Teachers to read other Slice of Life stories and leave a comment or two.

For the last 5 years, I've had spaghetti dinner from the Italian Club in Akron with my Uncle Jack on the Tuesday of my spring break.  We began the tradition right after my Aunt Cathi died.  The two of them used to go to Carovalisse every Tuesday night when the club was open.  Two weeks after my aunt's death, I spent my spring break with him so he would't be alone in the house.  Being with him brought me the comfort I needed after losing my aunt and I hope that I did the same for him.

 This year, I was traveling for spring break and I made a promise to myself that I would get spaghetti with him this summer.  When I got a message from my mom to call her back, I could hear in her voice that something was wrong.  I called her from Charleston and got the news.  Uncle Jack had a heart attack the night before and passed away.

I have a hole in my heart.

So many wonderful memories...

He was my second dad whose arms opened for me without question when I needed a shoulder to cry on.  Growing up, he took my side whether I was right or wrong.  I knew that I could count on him no matter what.

  Uncle Jack was a dancer.  He and my aunt loved to dance and they knew how to cut a rug.   Dancing with him at my wedding holds a very special place in my heart.  As he guided me across the floor, he talked to me about having a happy marriage.  "You've got a good guy," he told me.  "You two are going to have a good life."   I took his words to heart because he and my aunt were my role models for a strong marriage.  I wanted what they had.

He lived life with gusto.  He loved with all his heart.  He argued with all his might.  And, oh, was he stubborn.  But, to me, he was the best.  I am going to miss him.

Uncle Jack and Aunt Cathi

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Today I am cross posting with Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge and DigiLit Sunday hosted by Margaret Simon.  I invite you to visit both of these sites to read other posts.

Margaret has invited us to write about trust.  There are some wonderful posts linked up at her site.  I hope you'll have a chance to stop by and read.

Trust is the foundation of all relationships.  We spend the first weeks of school building a safe community where students can take risks.   I am reminded again and again how our community needs to continually be nurtured.

The majority of my fifth graders have chosen to write their Slice of Life stories in their journals.  Since they weren't writing on their blogs, I knew it was important for them to have the experience of sharing their writing with each other in person.  One afternoon in early March,  I created an opportunity to share in small groups.  As I explained what we were going to do, I noticed a hesitancy with some of the students.

"Do we have to?"
"I don't want anyone to see what I wrote. It's not very good."

I encouraged those who were worried to choose a piece that they were comfortable sharing, while also giving them the choice to not share.  Once the room was abuzz with students sharing in small groups, I joined a group.  They were having some difficulty being respectful to each other.  I spotted some eye rolling and titters of laughter toward one child in particular.

What to do?  Although inside, I was angry, I knew that showing that anger wasn't going to help.   I've witnessed first hand the ups and downs of negotiating relationships among adolescents this school year.  They are trying to figure out where they fit in and how they fit in.  I took a deep breath and participated in the conversation like nothing was wrong.  I asked questions.  I invited the others to ask each other questions and comment on all of the writing, modeling what the conversation should look like and sound like.  My goal was to empower each student to feel valuable as a writer.

At the end of sharing, I asked the class as a whole who had been nervous about sharing their writing.  I was taken aback when most hands went up.  I had assumed that because we were in March and had been working together all year, that we had that trust issue down.

As I reflect, though, I realize that we always need to come back to nurturing those relationships.  Those first moans and groans that I heard from a few students were most likely signs of nervousness in sharing their writing.  The eye rolls and laughter that I observed in the small group was probably the same thing.  I imagine that by making themselves appear superior, these students were protecting themselves from being made fun of by the others.  It's easy to forget the vulnerability that is required in putting your work out there.

And so, we go back to building stronger relationships.  We go back to building trust with each other.  We have open, honest conversations and we (including me) allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  We don't throw our hands in the air and give up.

I hope that my students will look back on their fifth grade year and remember these very important lessons we've taught them.  If nothing else, I hope that they'll remember that each and every person has value and deserves to be respected.  If we can treat each other with kindness we'll earn others' trust and feel safe to let our guards down and trust in others.

Saturday, March 26, 2016


I'm cross posting today with Slice of Life March challenge with Two Writing Teachers and Celebrate with Ruth Ayres.  Please visit their sites to read others' posts!

After being on the road for a splendid spring break trip, we are home safe and sound.  Yes, the mess of the partially finished hardwood floors is still here.  There is a miter saw in the kitchen where the table usually sits and dust covers everything.  But, I am so grateful to be home.
It's here that...

  • I have two kids who I love watching grow into adults.  They are good friends who are there for each other (that is as long as Zach hasn't eaten all the food that Annie was planning on eating).
  • I have a husband who I celebrated 31 years of marriage with last week.  When we were first married we wondered what it might be like when we got to this point.  Would we be bored?  Hah!  I'm glad to say that each day brings something new.  (Right's a little remodel of the house).  We laugh together every day.
  • I have a daughter, who although she lives far away, has grown into a young woman that continues to amaze me.  We are so proud of her!
  • Three puppies were so glad to see us come home!  What a greeting!  And now they are camped out with us, conked out for the night.  (Yes, that's the suitcase that still needs to be unpacked in the background).

I am feeling very blessed tonight for this very good life that I have.  Knowing that my family is healthy and happy is all that I need.