celebrate — OLW 2017 — lift

The end of the year provides extra time to read and reflect.
To collect ideas
To envision the next year.

For the past four years, I’ve chosen one word to act as a guide or a mantra. A word to remind me of what I want to act on and grow toward. I believed my success with last year’s word lift, had fallen short of my original intent.  To be fair to my OLW I decided to I reread last year’s posts and look for possible evidence of its effects. I was surprised to find more than I expected and pleased that my writing provided me benefits beyond the moment of initial reflection. This week I want to celebrate the subtle power of finding and honoring a word that can light a path for the year.

This week I celebrate my OLW with a found poem reflection.

Overwhelmed by the scope, and intensity
one sentence, line, word
sharpens meaning
to face constraints

and find the necessary
words to heal.
Counteract the ones that sting, confuse, worry
and make something beautiful.

Children lift their arms and spin around
waving warmth
taking others further
shared humanity.

Offer it
say it
out loud
every student
a bit higher every day.

Still thinking about OLW 2018 and grateful for the writing process.

Thank you, Ruth, for your inspiration and the weekly call to celebrate. Read others here at Ruth Ayers writes.

Celebrate: Home

This morning I heard a report about families in Santa Rosa putting up Christmas trees in the places their homes once stood. Because they are working-class families, some without homeowners insurance, rebuilding may not happen for some time. The interviewer spoke with Lily and her dad as they set up their Christmas tree in a burnt out space that was their home. She crawled under it, looked up and said, “Makes me feel like our house is still standing. It’s not like we can’t ever see our house again. It will always be there. You just can’t see it, but I can feel it.”

That sense of home is what you want children to feel. It grounds them in times of trouble. And once they leave home, it calls them back.

Today my children are on their way home.  Each one is in the process of learning and growing. On their own. Finding passions to pursue.

For now, home is where they grew up and the holiday provides permission to pause and reconnect with that physical space.  The house will fill up beyond capacity. They will rub against each other and figure out how to fit together.  As they grow and their sense of home evolves, I wonder, what will stay in their hearts.  What will they carry on?

Today I celebrate homecoming. If not for them for me.

Thank you, Ruth, for your weekly call to celebrate the week. Find out about the link up here at Ruth Ayers Writes.


Slice of Life: Courageous Conversations

“When someone with the authority of a teacher describes the world, and you’re not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing.” –Adrienne Rich.

Sometimes it takes miles, special places, and special people to see what is right in front of us.

It took NCTE in St. Louis to talk with Courtney Kinney.
It took her caring responsiveness and commitment.
It took the resources provided by my own district to start my education towards creating courageous conversations (Courtney’s words) in my classroom.

Seeing around the majority requires a heightened sense of awareness. No matter the circumstance, there is always someone who does not fit. And our kids engage with these differences unacknowledged and unseen. I’ve had several conversations with students about the holidays. Both student-initiated. Both students felt as outsiders.  One told me not to tell anyone. It began with, “Please don’t tell anyone but…” What does a discussion about faith indicate about the other things our children harbor. Things that make them an outsider. Acknowledging the difference that surrounds us directly, courageously is the work we are supposed to be dong. But to do this work takes overcoming fear. Fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. Fortunately, there are so many resources and books to enrich and support us as educators so that fear is supplanted with belief and mission.

Andrew Soloman’s TED talk, Love No Matter What is well worth the twenty-three minutes.  So far I’ve watched it three times. I laughed and cried the first time; the second and third time I took notes.  He quietly touches you on so many levels. As a teacher, a parent a person.

I’m reading up on books to get ready for #ReadYourWorld. Find lists and more here. Reading aloud books is one way to start opening the windows and seeing ourselves in the mirror.cropped-banner2018.jpg

And more books from The Journey Project.

These books along with the Gender Inclusive Schools Toolkit provided by genderspectrum.org offer the beginnings of my journey towards a more courageous classroom.

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


Celebrating Hope

“Hope is thing with feathers”

Last Thursday, our entire fourth-grade class lined up to perform for their parents. Alongside the excitement and carefully styled hair and immaculate clothing was hurt feelings. Things were said in that line.  Unkind words. Fortunately, children are less skilled at hiding their emotions. If you watch and listen in the midst of merry sadness stands out. Then a student pulls you aside to say, “Can I tell you what happened?”

The doors to the auditorium opened. It was our turn. They filed in. Shoulders back, tears dried and recited Emily Dickenson’s “Hope” alongside their own metaphors for hope.  One student stood and said nothing. The words of hope ring around her, but at this point, she refused.

Words can break us down.

In between performances, there was time for private conversations. Still no smiles from that hurt child.

After the last performance, they ran to the playground equipment. I walked over and saw two kiddos, the cause and the effect of the sadness side by side smiling. I commented on their change, and the cause said, “I kept thinking of a way to apologize, and I finally came up with this — hope is a simple sorry and makes people open.”

Ah, the power of words.

The next day, we walk out to lunch to screams and cries, “Hope is in the sky!”

They were right. There it was. Skywritten above us:  H O P E.

“It’s there for us!”

“It’s fading.”

“It’s so cool. Someone did that for us.”

Watching these young souls fills me up and pushes me not give in to the incessant newsfeed that counters their future.

Our children, these kids right here and now, are the antidote to the unbelievable world events and dangerous words that have the potential to us beat down. They are the reason to act on and act up. We can not fail the gorgeous creatures before us.

Hope is the thing with jingles
That sings around on trees
And spreads the joy that people need
And never breaks nor quits

Hope is the thing with wishes
That makes you wander far
And takes you on a journey
And never escapes your heart

© Room 32,  December 2017.

Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for your weekly call to celebrate. Read more here.



Slice of Life: I’m missing the big idea

Teaching summary feels like hitting my head against a wall. I have made the argument for it. But today I’m wondering, why. Does directly teaching and expecting kids to summarize, prove or improve comprehension?

Consider what nonfiction reading looks like in my world.  I question, mark pages, underline words.’I’ve been inspired to find out more about a subject, talked to someone as a result of reading. I have blogged about texts I’ve read. I’ve taken action as a result of reading. But what I’ve dissected, analyzed, discussed, and written about after reading was not a summary. I siphoned off what was meaningful to me at the time of reading.

One of the delights of a well-written text is that it meets you where you are.  I had a student who was a football fanatic. He read a text that was “mostly about” the risk young people take when they play competitive sports, but what he saw as important was about football. And while that wasn’t the “main idea” of the text, it was what mattered to him at that point in his life. I contend he was doing exactly what readers do: pulling information that mattered and connected to him. Did he get the whole message? No. But he did get what intrigued him. He noticed, questioned, and read more. That is in fact what readers really do. But his summary did not score well on the rubric.

Rereading a text after a year or two, I’ve seen entirely different things. Did I not comprehend the text in my first read? Am I, a few years later a better reader? I’m a different reader bringing different experiences and needs to the text.  And, I am no different than my football loving student.

I struggle with the idea of summarizing. Students struggle doing it.

If students don’t see “the main idea,” they aren’t ready to see it and by not acknowledging what students do see as valuable I’m not valuing where they are as readers and thinkers. We see texts differently based on who we are and what we are ready to access.

By measuring students’ reading abilities with the summary alone, we take the reader’s interests and needs out of the text. And that bothers me. Because after all, that is the most important part.

English teachers, push back on my thinking. I’d love to see summary in a positive, authentic light. Perhaps I’m missing the big idea.

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


Celebrate: Access and Permission

Wednesday the wind kicked up and dislodged dried flowers from trees surrounding my classroom. They floated onto the playground and children lifted their arms and spun around.  It was “the funniest thing ever” according to the three who took the longest to get back into the classroom. Wilder winds caused havoc to the north and south of us, but for my kiddos the wind is magical.

Wind, the impending winter holiday break, Christmas decorations on everything from sweaters to classrooms has heightened emotions and not surprisingly led to frustration and tears. This is a difficult time for students and teachers. Hurt feelings and worry bubble up in unexpected ways.  To counter these effects, I have focused on keeping the classroom inviting and low pressure by celebrating picture books and student writing.

This week students scoured potential Caldecott Medal winners. Every day my kiddos get a new book to read and evaluate. We are so fortunate to have a public library with access to these beautiful books.  I love this work not just for the conversations it inspires but for the discoveries. The selection of books are so diverse, students are engaged in many ways. World War I ships, Muddy Waters, poetry, the study of elephants, a bathtub version of Moby Dick are just some of the topics covered by this wide array of books. The stories are sweet and funny. A perfect way to celebrate books.

I gave my students spirals for poetry. My intent was to start a weekly collection of poems, but my students had other ideas.
“Can we write poetry?”
“Can we look at the poetry books?”
I had no idea they thought they needed permission or a notebook to read or write poetry.

I set aside thirty minutes a day to introduce and promote our new blog.  It has taken very little effort on my part to get the blog going.  I set up categories of narrative, informational, book reviews, poetry, and opinion. With those simple descriptors, students got the idea. After one week we have 48 published posts and nearly 200 comments. It never fails: giving students a way to write for each other is a way to get students to write.

This week I celebrate access and permission. A simple and often overlooked formula for engagement in literacy.

Read more celebration posts here, on Ruth Ayers Writes.


Slice of Life: This is just for fun

“So this is just for fun? We can write whenever we want?”

That’s what T* asked me about our classroom blog launched on Friday.


Her questions surprised me. The purpose of student blogging had become so second nature, I’d forgotten the liberation it offers.  I forgot my intent.

I started blogging with students over five years ago because I was worried about the unit by unit workshop standards-based writing I was offering. I worried it sucked the love out of what writing could be.

Writing attached to a grade no matter how constructive, seemed to move counter to all that a writer needs to keep writing. Comments, compliments, suggestions yes, but a rubric and points assigned to every piece of writing bred a feeling a dread and nudged me to create writers as defined by standards rather than engaged writers.

This is not to say that the units of study are unnecessary. On the contrary, they are the rock on which my students stand. They have had years of explicit lessons on how and why. But just like the explicit teaching of reading, students need lots of time to practice.   Blogging offers students the freedom to write what they want for their classmates and a teaching window into their writing.

Today, E* posted a humorous slice of life. Full of voice. One that only capitalized my name and the word washer. I asked him, what was his intent.

His response, “I was lazy.”

My response, “Oh, I thought the lack of capitals had a meaning. You see, writers do that. They use capitalization to show things. I thought there was something you were showing me.”

His response, “Oh.”

Next thing I know, “Would you look at my post again?”

Amazing, capital letters. I resisted my desire to ask about the one lower case “i.” Perhaps capitalization holds a little more meaning for E.

Passion breeds practice and with practice comes proficiency. With that, skills and strategies have a purpose.

After one day of blogging, I have seen a half dozen completed posts and nearly 20 comments. How to make slime, how much I love my cat, why the guitar is an amazing instrument, and small silly moments are just a few of what is being published. A constant flow of writing, just for fun.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. So we can write. Just for fun. Read more slices here.