Day 24: Of the Boy and the Butterfly

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my teaching day every day with the Two Writing Teachers community.


Kids crowded around the drain pipe.
“You stepped on it!”
“No, I didn’t!
“Yes, you did.”

The back and forth of perceived injustice came inside.

“He’s got it.”


“In his desk.”

D lifted the dish for me to see, “Please can I have it after school?”

IMG_4880 (1)So close, so beautiful. It took your breath away.

I asked him to let it be,  but nothing could get D’s mind off that butterfly.
Nothing could hold him.
Off he went out the door and into the garden.
Came back.
Asked to go to the bathroom.
Came back.
Asked to get a drink of water.
Finally, he settled.

That evening, I sent the picture of the butterfly to D’s mom.
She had heard the story of the butterfly.
I hope she checked his backpack.

Of The Boy And Butterfly

by John Bunyan

Behold, how eager this our little boy
Is for a butterfly, as if all joy,
All profits, honours, yea, and lasting pleasures,
Were wrapped up in her, or the richest treasures
Found in her would be bundled up together,
When all her all is lighter than a feather.

He halloos, runs, and cries out, ‘Here, boys, here!’
Nor doth he brambles or the nettles fear:
He stumbles at the molehills, up he gets,
And runs again, as one bereft of wits;
And all his labour and his large outcry
Is only for a silly butterfly.


This little boy an emblem is of those
Whose hearts are wholly at the world’s dispose.
The butterfly doth represent to me
The world’s best things at best but fading be.
All are but painted nothings and false joys,
Like this poor butterfly to these our boys.

His running through nettles, thorns, and briers,
To gratify his boyish fond desires,
His tumbling over molehills to attain
His end, namely, his butterfly to gain,
Doth plainly show what hazards some men run
To get what will be lost as soon as won.

Read more Poetry Friday posts at Catherine Flynn’s blog Reading to the Core.


Day 23: Circle Time

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my teaching day every day.11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

Every Wednesday, a group of ten to twenty girls comes to talk and have lunch in my classroom. It’s a tradition started in fourth grade. Feelings are aired and general silliness ensues. Girl’s Circle Time provides a safe place to deal with fifth-grade life.  The boys meet on Thursdays.

Yesterday had the feel of a sleepover. Giggly girls came in holding their lunch trays and set up on the rug. They gathered with lunches and special objects to talk from. Early in the conversation, one of the kids came up with a question to answer. Your scariest moment, favorite singer, some favorite place have been common lines of inquiry.

Early in the conversation, one of the kids came up with a question to answer. Your scariest moment, favorite singer, some favorite place have been common lines of inquiry. But today, the question that they came up surprised me.

What is your favorite word and why?

Mine is technology because writing is hard and that makes it easier!

Mine’s eggplant because it’s delicious.

Bathtub because I love the way it sounds.

Love because you can’t live without it.

Pizza because it’s pizza.

Grant Gustin because he’s so cute.

That’s two words.


Why because I can use it for so
many things, like
Why is it like that? and
Why does it do that?

I can’t remember them all; I should have written them down. But I love what I remember. Especially the word why.

Each response offered a hint into the child.  I immediately thought of how this could translate into the classroom. But maybe not. This question came from the magic of circle time. It might not play out in the world of the class.

Seeing girls without boys in an informal setting show parts of their personalities I would not have seen if I just knew their classroom personas. Just the fact that they show up says something. I see sides of them I would not have known.

Some are lonely souls.
Some want a comfortable place to stay.
Some want to be heard.
Some want the camaraderie

Some want to ask questions

Whatever their reason, I am grateful to host them every Wednesday.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life challenge. Read more slices here.

Day 22: Demystifying Meaning

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my teaching day every day.11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

We sat in the room and heard the same words at the same time.

I walked away confused and sad.  I came home and turned it over in my head. By morning I still didn’t know what to make of it. Conversations started first thing in the morning. Now I’m coming to understand, everyone heard the words differently.

I’m still trying to figure it out, but I learned something.

We don’t hear the same. No matter how clear our choice of words, we hear from our perspective. And our ability to listen is compromised when emotions are high. When we are vulnerable the meaning can get tangled in our own perspective.

Fortunately, because we want to work it out, what was intended had a chance of being heard.

I wonder. How often does this type of missed communication occur and we don’t bother to demystify the meaning? How often do we assume and go on with hurt feelings?  How does this affect young children and their social-emotional behavior and the ability to learn, to be successful, to take risks?

Our words move hearts and minds in ways we can not imagine, and in ways we do not intend.

Listening in the moment is hard; we need to take the time to check in.  Or how will we know what was heard was what we intended?

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.

Day 21: A love note to a book

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my teaching day every day.11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

Tonight I found a post-it note while I was cleaning up the classroom.

This one must have fallen out of someone’s hand. Or maybe a notebook, perhaps a book.  I thought it would be something meaningless. Something about a sleepover or an “are you mad at me? Check yes or no” exchange in sparkly pink and purple ink. A lot of my kiddos use post-its this way. They are the perfect note passing size.

But this one was all about Melody in Out of My Mind. About the trouble, she held inside. About the friend, she hoped she had in Rose. About how this reader worried for Melody.

There on the ground was a snippet of a reader’s life. I found it under the desk sprinkled with cracker crumbs and kleenex stuffed inside. Near the dropped pen, crayon pieces, and white out spill, the dirt clods and broken pencil was the yellow post it.  An idea that was planted in a young reader’s mind. A thought transformed into writing on a yellow post-it note.

In the aftermath of the day, amid the muck left behind is a love note to a book.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Find more slices here.




Day 20: Covert Feedback

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my teaching day every day with Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Challenge.

Feedback. We writers thrive on it and we fear it.

I want feedback to lead to the next step. But in the writing workshop, sometimes it has to be covert. Something that feels like it germinates from the writer and not from me.

A asks me to read something right now.  A is in a fragile writer moment.  She wants her work to be blessed. If I have my wits about me, I suppress my need to improve and save my “next thing” for the next day. Limiting myself to compliments and questions.

B says he doesn’t know what to write.
This is when my full-scale teacher mode threatens to kick in pulling out all the ways writers grow ideas. But honestly,
those strategies weren’t good enough for B the first million  (that what it feels like) times he heard them. He needs something else.
What exactly, I’m not sure of. So I ask questions…
Is it about the genre?
Is it his writing history?
Is there something going on at home, on the playground?
I ask questions and don’t “teach” B. I listen, and he talks.
Then I leave.
I let B simmer, stare out the window, at his notebook, at mentor texts.
I write a note to myself to check in later.

C is reading a book during writer’s workshop.I’m done she says.
Gasp! When you’re done, you’ve just begun rings in my ears.
My urge is to look at her writing and dig into all of the possible things she could/should do.
But, if I put myself in her shoes,
I congratulate her. Yes!
Why not? She s accomplished something, and that’s a great feeling.
Why should I tear that from her?
Why not just venture into the best writing tool in the world, a few good mentor texts.
Why not take this opportunity to play with them. To try to write a beginning or an ending like the mentor.
Who knows what might filter into this writer’s mind. If nothing else the study of beginnings and endings.

on the best of writing workshop days,
I hear.
I think I need to look my beginning.
I think I want to change this.
what if I…

Indirect, covert feedback.
The kind that pushes the writer from their insides to see what they can do next.




Day 19: Innovation that Meets Needs

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my teaching day every day with Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Challenge.11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche posted this as the topic for DigiLit Sunday.

digilitsunday-innovation.png I am still pondering the quote. Thinking versus doing. In many cases, thinking would precede doing, but maybe not. Maybe there are some who first do and then think. Hmm. Perhaps it is an iterative process.

Another idea around innovation I found on Wikipedia credited to Steven Maranville. “…innovation is often also viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.” A marketer’s viewpoint, but also one that exists in a teaching life.

Better solutions that meet requirements and needs.

Unarticulated needs intrigue me. We are so busy meeting curricular demands and those glaring classroom needs that the unarticulated needs are often overlooked.

These are the students that sit quietly.  They don’t demand attention. In a busy classroom, these kiddos are undercover.

I walk up to V. Her book and notebook are open, pens, highlighters, and lead pencils are neatly lined beside her notebook.  She is quietly making perfect little boxes out of the square post-its provided for jots about reading. A bit of glitter has been placed in one of the boxes.

How is that book going?

Guilty looks.

This is a student who can read and access grade level texts when a teacher or parent is there. But left to her own devices, she will only engage deeply with graphic novels.

Many teachers have felt that V needs an IEP. Initially, she presents in this way. She is slow to talk and engage with classmates; she is reluctant to write and open a book. She’d rather operate in her own little world. But discussions with V show understanding and intelligence.  Open-ended requests to share what she noticed in a book and she lights up. Running records show her to be a very close to grade level.

The trouble with V and all the kiddos like her is that she is a child who moves to her own drummer. She is creative; filled with ideas and passions that don’t fit school expectations. She resists, quietly. And, she could go undetected in a large middle school classroom. Only calling attention to herself with missing homework.What to do? 

We innovate.

Our agreement is as long as she’s reading and writing, it can be on her terms.  She understands school requires assignments and tests. We meet. We modify her assignments. Currently, V is close to meeting reading and writing expectations. Which is great. I don’t worry about her literacy. What concerns me are the educational cracks she could fall through down the road. Will she get to do the things she is interested in and uniquely skilled to do?  

The system isn’t designed for V. And it makes me wonder, how many students are just like V.


Day 18: Discomfort

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my teaching day every day.


Learning requires fundamental internal changes. Reorganization and reordering of what was so we can add in new. It is a disruption in our internal state of being.  And that is uncomfortable.

Yesterday I asked students to figure something out. Alone.

Before this, I modeled. Students worked together on a similar problem. It was a culmination of years of modeling and practicing with others.  Now it was time to go it alone. Scary and uncomfortable for most.

Many students want someone there, to support, to prompt, and often to do for them. “I don’t get it” was the call for help. To which the teacher instinct in me says, “let me help.”

Yesterday, I steeled myself against my instincts and asked, “What can you do?”

That led to some blank stares. Which might translate into the fact that I have given in to their requests too readily. Or perhaps they are exquisitely skilled in seeking help.

I say. “This is your time to try. You are a reader and a writer. You have had many lessons on this. Figure it out.”

“Can I work with someone else?”

I say, “Not this time.”

More discomfort. Fidget. Fidget. Get a drink of water.

Finally, a solo attempt.

I’m cheering inside. But, I say, “What else can you do?”

More discomfort, but less fidgeting and another attempt.

“This is hard.”

I say, “And you are doing it!”

I take this lesson into the staff lounge where the conversations float toward teachers teaching new subjects, new grade levels. And out of my mouth, I hear, “I don’t want to learn that all alone. That scares me.”  I toss and turn with the prospect of not knowing. Perhaps I’ve become complacent or exquisitely skilled in my little world that makes anything outside it frightening. I am my students. How dare I not go there?

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.





Day 17: Following Instructions

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my teaching day every day.


I am a terrible baker and builder of IKEA furniture. I hate reading instructions.

My students operate in the same way. Reading questions and following directions is the last thing they want to do. And it’s no wonder.

We spend the majority of our reading and writing time thinking about and reading stories and articles. We share out thoughts in discussion and in writing. We spend a small percentage of our time reading questions. What reader does? So it’s no wonder my students pay little attention to the questions. All of their energy goes into the text.

But we test in six days.

I accept testing, knowing that it’s two days in one hundred and eighty days. I hope that each student wakes up healthy, well rested and in the right frame of mind. But what I can’t accept is if a student falls short because she doesn’t attend to the question.

So we’re focusing on the work of a test taker: how to read and answer questions. It is a legitimate skill. And it is the biggest bugaboo for my kiddos. They could have understood the text. They could have excellent writing skills, but if they don’t spend enough time on the question, if they don’t break it down and recheck, they won’t show one bit of all of their ability.  I can’t stand that.

I know it’s boring. That’s why I hate baking, constructing furniture, and test prep.
But at the end of the day, I’d like the brownies not to stick to the pan, the shelves to be straight and my students to show what they know. So we are pushing ourselves to follow directions.

plan your answer chartWe are breaking down questions into measurable pieces and creating checklists out of questions. The chart on the right has been the ticket to my students’ big aha. And the genesis of it was TCRWP’s work on test prep.

We are practicing the difference between narrative, information, and opinion writing, knowing a student could write an amazing story, but if the prompt asked for an opinion, they’d get nothing for their work,   Their skills would not be recognized because they didn’t read the directions.

Our work is coming into its own.
They understand they need to show what they know. They understand they need to dissect questions. These days, they can’t wait to write. The days fly by.

In six days for two days, they will do their best. In the meantime, we will practice by writing and reading AND following directions.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.


Day 16: Student Stories of the Classroom

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my teaching day every day.


Tonight I watched my fifth graders show their families their work during the annual school tradition: Open House.

At the desk in the back of the room, a student sat. Side by side with her mom. Chrome book open. Mom smiles as the doc her student emailed her comes up on her phone. She starts to read the story aloud. “No, Mom! I want to read it to you!”  Mom stops letting her daughter read the piece she is currently working on.

In the front of the room, a son takes his mom on a classroom tour. She looks, listens, nods, smiles. His hand reaches up to the chart as he explains “what we do with this.” He picks up a chrome book. Soon they are huddled around the screen discussing his writing.

This scene repeats over and over again as families file in and take up residence in a comfy part of the classroom. Siblings lean in over shoulders getting a picture of their brother’s life. Perhaps their future.

The importance of this is palpable.

In the upper grades, Open House is up to the students. They walk into their classroom looking as it always does. Nothing new or extraordinary on the walls. Students tell their story of the classroom.

Having someone to show your work to; having someone to whom your success matters have immeasurable value. The ties that bind parents and children lit up the classroom tonight. To every family who walked through the classroom doors tonight, thank you for being the most important support system for children. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.

Day 15: Finding our Yellow Umbrellas

I slip on three bracelets every day. One is from my daughter. One reminds me of my dear friends in far away places. And one holds a key with my one little word for 2017, lift. When I chose this word, my intent was to lift others. So far this year, I haven’t been providing much lift. I’ve needed it.

Tonight I drove home feeling less than. Diminished. Nothing had happened. Most days I find hope or have an expectation that something good is around the next corner. But driving home tonight I couldn’t conjure it.

I pulled into the driveway, walked into the kitchen, soup and salad and my husband were at the table. I forgot my low and gave thanks. Having someone waiting at home offering food is my idea of absolute love.  My self-deprecating mood abated.

Dishes cleaned, I sat down to read posts. My heart was filled with Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Elisabeth Ellington, Katherine Sokolowski, and Tara Smith all shared their insights and videos in their tributes to the personification of the word lift. I went on to watch Beckoning the Lovely and two of Amy’s TED talks.

Her yellow umbrella is a call to action. To make something beautiful. To beckon the lovely.
To “make more of what time we have.”  

With Amy’s words and all of the blessings that surround me, I am lifted to beckon the lovely in me and in my world. Here’s to finding our yellow umbrellas.

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.