Slice of Life: Things I didn’t expect

For most of my teaching life, I have taught two classes of language arts. And I’ve loved it. It gave me a chance to focus on something I’m passionate about and the time to become better at teaching something complex.

When our school made the decision to have upper-grade teachers teach all subjects, I had mixed emotions.

There were good things about being an expert in a subject matter, and it was a joy to know an entire grade level of children.  These were things I knew I would miss.  But there were things I didn’t expect.

After a reading or writing lesson I think, next time I’ll… but the next time I teach it, won’t be in forty minutes, it will be next year. This is a serious shift in my teaching brain. I miss not having immediate do-overs. I miss the opportunity to tweak the lessons. Slightly. Now, I must write my thinking in a way that will translate to next year’s teaching. This is a change. Perhaps for the better. I’ll know next year when the do-over happens.

Reading and writing workshop is the time to learn the lesson. To do the work. While this practice is one I believe in and continually study, I have wrestled with the part of it that makes reading and writing work. Something we push students to try on. To do. This is necessary. But. The thing is, I know the only way anyone will read and write enough to become good at it is when it is done a lot. And that means doing it by choice and for enjoyment. If all we do in class is the work of reading, when do kiddos get a chance to practice loving it enough to want to do it outside of the classroom?

When I only taught reading and writing, I had trouble finding time to practice loving books. I’d squeeze in moments here and there. But it wasn’t enough. Instructional time was limited and precious. It still is. But, now I that I have students all day, and with no lost transition time between classes, I’ve found the time in ways I didn’t expect.

I found it as we walk back from the library. Each kiddo, nose in a book, just missing trees, walking up steps, into the classroom, reading. And I found scheduled, in-the-plan-book, listed-on-the-white-board time. Time later in the day, outside the workshop, nose-in-book, giggling-in-the-corner reading.  That was something I didn’t expect.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.





Slice of Life: Reading Partners

My first week of school has come to a close.

There were no drills, messages, disabled copiers, or eclipses.

Today, every fourth grader was there, really there.

Today, eight students found reading partners and books to read.

Side by side, two boys, fell into Hatchet.  One minute they were looking through book baskets the next minute they were engrossed. Side by side, perfection.

Another pair of boys grabbed Barbara Park’s Skinnybones, and I overhear,  “I loved Junie B. She’s so funny, this one’s gonna be good.”

T* approached me and requested a partner. He knew exactly who he wanted to read with and what he wanted to read. Unfortunately, Shiloh was not what his partner wanted. Not that she didn’t try. She sat on the carpet and read the first five pages. In the end, she shook her head saying, no, it’s not right.

I wondered, are their tastes aligned? Will this partnership work?

“That’s ok,” he said, I’ll read it another time.”

These two taught me what really matters for a successful partnership. Honesty, flexibility, and kindness.

Setting up reading partnerships is a hopeful time. The year is in front of us. Everything is possible.

#IMWAYR: Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

This year I promised my fourth graders that I would read 30 to 50 pages a night. Just like them. Every year, my reading life dissolves when school starts. The day-to-day eats up my energy, and the end result is the absence of a reading life. By committing to my kiddos, daily reading is now a necessary part of my teaching life. I’m doing it for them, but I get added benefits.


Last week I read Laurel Synder’s beautiful Orphan Island, a story about the joys of childhood and the pain associated with stepping away from it. Each orphan brought to the island as a young child, soon forgets what and who they came from. Their world becomes the magical island and the eight other children. With the arrival of a new child each year, the eldest must leave. On the same boat. The same day. It’s the rule, and it maintains the balance of nine. The next eldest becomes the Elder and is responsible for teaching the newest orphan, or Care, tFEE88543-10FF-4C33-BE88-64762EC94159hree things: to swim, to fish and to read. Swimming and fishing are essential on an island, and reading is the children’s source of entertainment and information of the outside world. All they know is their island, and the world presented in books. Jinny the eldest loves the island and refuses to leave when it is her time.


Each morning this week I shared Orphan Island with students by talking about how the writer made me feel; what I’m thinking and I tried to explain why. I’d read a line, or two show the magical way Synder brought the setting to life.  I shared the time when I stayed up late reading because it was impossible not to read on. You know that feeling? I asked my students when you must turn the page.

By Thursday, one of my students asked if he could borrow the book. Of course, I want to share. But, when I came to the end of this book, I wonder this is something for an older student. The magic and adventure would appeal to a young fourth grader, but the meaning of this book would be lost on those still on the island of childhood. Perhaps by the end of fifth grade. Or perhaps I am sheltering them. Just as Jinny did with her Care, Ess.

This year I’m also keeping track of my reading. It’s a choice on my part as it is for my students. This simple tracker of pages read was designed by my brilliant colleague, Michelle for students who want it. She showed it to me last year, and I recoiled at the thought of it.  But, as we started the school year, I revisited it and decided to give it a try. So far it’s easy and rather satisfying. Each morning before we talk, I record my reading with the kids who have chosen this method.

reading log.JPG

My reading life is alive and living beside my students.

Celebrate: Stepping into the Middle

This weekend I celebrate the first week of school.
Finally, all of those unknown faces came to life in the classroom.
Every day they were there. Early. Waiting. Excited. So was I.

We’re learning to be fourth graders.
To have ten more children in the classroom.
To go to lunch twenty minutes later.
To take more responsibility.

Fourth graders aren’t the littles anymore. And they aren’t the big kids on campus, yet.

Bit by bit each day, I saw students negotiate how to be with each other.
“I partner with whoever doesn’t have a partner.”

Bit by bit each day, I saw students learn something about themselves.
“I can’t read my writing.”

Bit by bit each day, I saw students be brave.
“Can I share my work?”

This week I celebrate the energy and enthusiasm that fills the classroom and the playground. The noise that rises up and up when the math manipulatives are out. And the quiet that settles when heads are buried in books. The playground balls that fly toward the ball box at the end of recess. And the two-by-two, lunch box in hand, walk-towards-the-lunch-benches calm.

Bit by bit each day, we stepped into the middle-grade space.

Read more celebrations here, on Ruth Ayer’s blog Discover, Play, Build.

Slice of Life: The Year Begins with Read Aloud

Just make a mark and see where it takes you.
— Vashti’s teacher, The Dot by Peter Reynolds

This line bounced out of the first day of school’s read aloud. It hit me not just for what it might mean for my students as they crack open that brand new writer’s notebook, but what it means for me as I open to the first page of this year’s teaching journey.

That nervous, excited feeling of the first day of school is a part of every year. But this day, this year, everything is new in every way. I enter the classroom with the same feeling my students have. Brand new to the room and the grade level. We will sit together on a brand new carpet, and we will christen it with picture books read alouds.

We’ll take that first step with Marla Frazee’s wise words in Walk On.  Even though our first steps are scary, sitting around doing the same safe thing will bore us to tears.

If we try hard enough, we will fail like Rosie Revere and the little girl in the Most Magnificient Thing.  We’ll fly, right before we crash. And if we don’t give up, if we persist, the memory of flight will push us onward.

Easy, it’s not. We’ll stumble and have set backs and want to give up.

We might pull the flowers and not the weeds like Francisco in A Day’s Work. Painful as it may be, we’ll have to face up to our mistakes. Otherwise, how will we learn to tend our garden?

We may doubt our abilities. It might be easier to make excuses. But, like Farah in One Green Apple, Chibi in Crow Boy, and Emmanuel in Emmanuel’s Dream, we will keep on through difficulties. We have hope even when things seem impossible and uncomfortable.

Characters like Beekle will light our way. We may be different or think differently. But like Maya in Going Places and Donna Jo Napoli’s Albert, we will find our way. To that person, that place. That fits us. And in doing so, we’ll soar above the rest.

My students and I are sure to have moments that resemble the darker side of Vashti in The Dot. The side that says, I can’t. That turns away.


But, if we just make that mark, take that step, our journey will continue.  We’ll reach out with our pens and our hearts and discover the world and ourselves.

Here’s starting the year with picture books. Here’s to a year of discovery.


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesday. Read more slices here.


Slice of Life: Bringing a Classroom to Life

Before the school year begins, all is anticipatory. The scenarios swim in my head. Whole entire lessons and imagined student conversations wake me up in the middle of the night and rattle around until I fall asleep or daylight comes.

The first days of school are a week away, and while I’m still sorting through the nuts and bolts of content and teaching points, I’m also thinking about listening to and learning from my new students.  I am aching to know them.

What do you wonder?
What makes you smile?
What makes you want to turn the page?
What makes you open your notebook and write another page?
Where do you do your best work?
How do you see yourself in this classroom? In the world?

Big questions for brand new fourth graders with a brand new teacher.

So I’m working on some topics they can talk to a partner about. Maybe write about.
Favorite food and why.
Favorite thing in your room and why.
Favorite game and why.
Favorite book and why.
Favorite place to read and why.
Name one thing you miss about kindergarten and why.
Name one thing you are an expert in and one thing that you need help doing.
Name one thing you want to get good at this year.
Name one thing you are worried about and why.
Tell about a time you did something that scared you.
Tell of a time you helped someone.
Tell of a time someone helped you.

I’d love any thoughts you might have to stimulate their 9-year-old hearts and minds. So they bring their lives into the classroom. And bring the classroom to life.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.



New Beginnings: I Need a Purple Door

This month I am the host for Spiritual Thursday bloggers. Welcome.

I have not been posting, perhaps this is a new beginning. But I can’t promise because I have a whole lot of new happening.t The theme is new beginnings.

New grade level, new subject matter, new science standards, new room. The list of things I have to do to feel like I’m ready is long and the days left to get ready are getting fewer and fewer.

After complaining to my daughter about “not being ready,” she offered me advice that sounded vaguely familiar. “You have to decide what is a want versus a need and do the needs first,”


She’s right.

I want to repaint the walls and the bookshelves. I’ve found the just-right silver-tinged gray and a purple that will be perfect on the door. Want not need? Wasted time?

My old classroom was far from perfect, but it was home.  I believe I need a classroom to be a home.  It creates a mood that makes a difference.

I told my daughter all of that.

She didn’t agree with my want versus need analysis, but took pity on me and offered to sand and paint the bookshelves.

I accepted.

I know there is no amount of time, work or paint I can apply that can make me feel ready. At some point, doing something new requires a leap.  The acceptance that it won’t be perfect and that I won’t know everything is a difficult pill to swallow.  But, it will be easier with a pretty purple door.

Please, post your links in the comments.


Slice of Life: Sorting out THIS room

I’ve been itching to get into my classroom for some time; anxious at the thought of all those books locked away in cabinets this close to the beginning of the school year.

Friday the room was clean and mine.  I’ve been there ever since.
Sorting and shuffling books have a calming effect on me.

The boxes of fiction are sorted.

The nonfiction books have become piles of science, social studies, biography, and math: little islands of information.

And then there are the picture books that can do anything and everything if you take the time to notice. So I sort for themes and reading and writing lessons that lurk in each.  I look up Carrie Gelson’s recent post for inspiration. That takes time.

My stack for writing craft is high. Each one is a mentor.

Today, THIS book catches my eye.

 And these words –

As she draws, she tells the story of what she is drawing. She always starts with the word THIS. THIS door to the subway…and THIS is a…

William’s story of Cherries and Cherry Pits made me think about all of the stories that were waiting in THIS room.

The person who will sit at THIS desk and fill THIS space with her books and pens. She’ll sit next to her friend and read and write. She’ll come to the carpet to listen, to watch, to share, to think, to play. And she’ll plant a seed or two or three next to her classmates’ that by the end of the year will grow into full grown ideas.

THIS space will be filled with stories and ideas until there is a whole forest of ideas right in THIS room.

Here’s to dreaming about next year’s garden.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.