Unpublished Memories

Looking for a recent draft, I found this unpublished post written at the end of the 2018 school year. I’m not sure why I didn’t publish it at the time. Finding it brought back sweet memories.  That’s reason enough to publish it now.

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Thirty-four souls are members of room 32. They are a well-intended group that meets and often exceed expectations. Discussions have brought out insight and kindness.

As the days of this school year wind down, their growing selves barely fit inside this fourth-grade space.

I go out to meet them in their lines. They enjoy being little kids, but I notice signs of fifth grade in the air.

Today, emotions ran higher than usual.
She said. Her secrets. Tears.
He’s hogging it. It’s not fair. Tears.
Pressure mounts. Anger flairs.
What others think and say. Matters more than before.
Fights. Hurt happens.

But still, they squeal when they find out I’m reading the sequel to the Wild Robot. They are thrilled to start independent writing projects. Choice literacy options of poetry, blogging, new books, and art every week gives everyone reason to smile.

These are the waning days of fourth grade. They are bursting at the seams.  Their learning is clear as is the loss of their younger selves, never to be seen quite as before.

The loss is felt by some of the sensitive souls in the classroom. The ones that see the nuanced thematic messages of books we read. The ones that read into what you say. The ones that push back when asked to do things that are clearly driven by adult expectations and ask, Why do we have to?

And my answers aren’t what I would like them to be. Because I know. Life is waiting for them. Just around the corner. And that is scary sometimes. Oh to stay in fourth grade.

Bookshelves

Bookshelves. How one organizes and relates to the books that live in them is an evolving process. Books move.

The books I am currently reading and the stack of books that are on my to be considered next live on top of my bedside bookshelf.  After reading a book, it lingers. We had a relationship. It takes a while to let it go too far away. When I’m ready, the book will migrate to a more permanent home.

Moving to another shelf is not a simple task. Perhaps that is why I avoid it.

It may cause the moving of other books.  A memoir put amongst novels;  a book of essays muddled up with poetry; the short story collection placed with essays; the book that needs to be placed in the to be considered next shelf; books that have done their job taking up valuable bookshelf property.

Moving a book off of my bedside table is no simple matter.

My book bag is another story.

Below is one gorgeous poem. It lives among others in the book Many-Storied House. If you don’t own it, get a copy to live on your shelves.

On Those Shelves

by George Ella Lyon

From the landing you step
down into a room
out over the garage:
This is the room that made us who we were:
book lovers, scholars, people of the word,
who found a safe place between hard covers.
Deckle- or gilt-edged, the wide world opened:
story, knowledge, emotion we’d been taught
to hold in.

                  On those shelves Papaw built
into the wall below the windows
stood the many mansions of our house.

 

 

Reading joy and mindfulness

Last year, I cultivated my own reading life by reading books for myself. I spent precious hours entertaining myself with books.  I purposely did not pick up professional texts to better my teaching or new middle-grade books to introduce to my students.  I did this with a mixture of joy and sadness.

This summer, I let go of the sadness, because I am noticing the reader I am and growing toward. That thing we ask our children to do today and every day.

I’ve noticed that I drop or miss read beginnings and endings of words. Sometimes missing words completely. I catch myself because it doesn’t make sense. Is this a new thing? Something I do when I’m distracted or tired. Probably I have always done it. Perhaps it’s a reading disability I work around. How has it impacted my understanding?

I’ve noticed conversation with skilled readers adds joy and understanding. Talking with my son about Anna Karenina made me realize Tolstoy’s craft. How he seamlessly shifts the character voice. Reading alone, I didn’t notice the craft.  The conversation not only added to my understanding of the work but my reading skill set.

Reading mindfully takes the push of a skilled teacher. By looking through the lens of 180 Days by Kittle and Gallagher, I have had a teacher by my side. Attempting to do what they ask of their students, I have noticed the scattered nature of my thoughts as I read and the need to write about the text to be able to pull it together more coherently. Tracking my thinking as I read or write about a core idea, how a character’s decision has shown their values or supported a big idea is not second nature. It takes specific expectations and dedicated time.

Reading with others is a pleasure, an art, and an act of trust. Bringing something to a group is like bringing food to share.  You hope it will be appreciated and you hope other contributions will make the experience complete.  By welcoming wonderings and ideas, a group can create an interesting whole. But, this is a complex and vulnerable act. Something I have not acknowledged when I put readers together in class.

Reading should be simultaneously joyful and mindful. Readers need to notice what the book is offering and what the reader is doing. This balance is one we as teachers of readers need to explicitly teach. The joy and mindfulness need to be taught and accountable. Taught because we are always growing reader skills; accountable because everyone needs to be reminded and supported. This work is not second nature.  If we’re honest, many readers, even the most competent, read for plot. To reach beyond that takes a push.

 

 

Hello again

It has been so long.
I forgot how to open this page.
Typing a “j” in the URL bar did not produce what I remembered.

I have been reluctant to come here. Afraid is a better word.
What can I say that I haven’t already said; that matters?
I am realizing, now that the dust of the year has settled, that my focus and purpose has been obscured.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve been out of sorts, and unwilling to open this page.

But I am working on it.
A book, 180 Days by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, has helped. While their population is secondary, their mission aligns with my core and their approach to teaching into students’ reading and writing lives inspires me.

Conversation with old colleagues has helped. Being reminded of the fact that my best teaching and my best self comes from where my passions exist. The importance of reading and putting words together is always where I’ve found purpose and joy. Being sidetracked by other content areas has made it hard to put words together. Not to say that math isn’t fascinating, but for me, a great read is far more fulfilling. (Apologies to all the beautiful mathematical minds and friends I have made in the pursuit of understanding concepts and conjectures.) Realigning with what makes my heart sing won’t diminish my understanding, or the wonders of how students decompose a number. But it will make me much happier and a better teacher.

And finally, an email from a much-loved mentor and friend has helped me open up this page and write.

Thank you.

I’d begun to think this space was uninhabitable. I was afraid. But it’s like a loved book. After a few lines, it feels like home.

 

Seeking heartfelt dedications

I found Ursula LeGuin’s blog a few years ago and fell in love. Funny and fun, her blog showed the wise and witty thoughts of a master writer.

This week I started reading a collection of her blog posts, No Time to Spare, Thinking About What Matters,  Her ruminations leave me laughing out loud and thinking. About cats, literature, and teaching.

The other day, I was reading a post entitled “Kids’ Letters”.

…so many kids are perfectly willing to write a book (the book may be fifty words long). They are confident about doing it and about illustrating it. They take obvious pleasure in giving it chapters and a table of contents, and a cover, and a dedication. And at the end, they all write “The End” with a proud flourish… To have written a book is a very cool thing, when you are six or eight or ten years old. It leads to cool things, such as fearless reading. Why would anybody who’s written a book be afraid of reading one?

I have students write books and have been tickled by their table of contents and about the author pages, but I had not thought on the “cool” side effects. At least not in the way LeGuin puts it. If you write a book, how could you not want to be a part of?   What an important breakthrough for those who fear or perhaps say they “hate” reading. How can you hate something you lovingly add a dedication to?

As I’ve moved my students’ writing toward electronic composition, the booklike quality has diminished. When printed out on paper it does have the page-turning book feel. Maybe that’s why students want their fonts so large.

I read on.

…I can say the best letters and books by kids are handmade. A computer may make writing easier, but that’s not always an advantage: ease induces haste and glibness. From the visual point of view, the printout, with all indiosyncratic characters blanded into a standard font, is drably neat, while the artisanal script is full of vitality.

This notion of handmade haunts me. The things we piece together manually connect to us in a different way. I have been and am a proponent of writing electronically. I enjoy it. It makes the craft and revision easy, even playful. Copying text and moving it from one place to another allows a writer to try on different structures and sequences.  Why not allow students this same ability?

Of course. But, I’ve seen that skill used to lift another’s work and represent it as original thought. Perhaps I am asking too much of young writers.  Perhaps this copy/paste function is too tempting. Rather than liberating students from the arduous work of recopying their writing, the ease of movement makes interpretation of text seem silly.  Especially when the resource states it so clearly.  Why not simply copy/paste and modify a few words?

All of this has me thinking about how to approach our next round of writing. How my fourth graders need a mixture of technologies when then write. For years I had one device for every two students. That forced moderation. This year, I have a device for every child. While I’ve tried to be purposeful in the selection of writing tools, the electronic world is slippery and seductive. And a little heartless.

With every innovation and increased access to technology, we need a careful examination of writing purpose, genre, and student need. Why not a melding of the past and present writing tools rather than a wholesale adoption of abandonment? Tricky, but exciting.

Tomorrow, with a mixture of source material and media, we will start to write information books about things and ideas we know a lot about.
Things we have experiences with.
Things we want to learn more about.
Origami, guinea pigs, penguins, and competitive swimming.
World War II,  soccer, basketball, and owls.
Cats, dogs, foxes, and Star Wars.
All of it interpreted by students.
Guided by picture book mentors.
I’m hoping for books
that have
texture, color,
a page-turning quality,
and perhaps a heartfelt dedication.

 

Technology Bumps and Blessings

Two weeks after my hard drive crashed, I am still working out all the things my computer did for me without me having to think.

Connections to printers, wifi, passwords. All those automated maneuvers I took for granted were no longer. Every day I discover yet another roadblock I need to overcome.

When I attempted to log on to this blog tonight, the automatic, three stroke move did not work. My site was there but I had no access and when I tried to establish contact, WordPress greeted me with the possibility of creating a new site because I had no site.

Ack. No, no, no, no.

I retraced my clicks and found the correct email path. A reset and thankfully, the door unlocked and I was allowed back into the place I created years ago. The old posts and familiar faces who have commented over the years.

Those moments of not being able to access what was mine showed me how I value this space and the journey recorded. Years of moments and reflections. Comments and connections. All treasured bits of my life.

Technology. A blessing when it works.

 

Slice of Life: I Walk the Line

How often does one get to stand up for what matters?

It started in the dark. In the rain. Armed with laminated signs, rain gear, and caffeinated energy, teachers walked. All day for our students. A choreographed act of belief.

Today offered the chance to do the right thing.

Tomorrow, and until students get what they need, we use our voices and walk the line for the future of public education.

I embrace this opportunity.

Embracing 2019

Yesterday, my students returned to their classroom after Winter Break full of their usual energy and enthusiasm. All felt as it should be. But in buildings where adults manage issues that ultimately impact the future of my students, other things were happening.

As we read the next chapter in Some Kind of Courage, adults discussed their future. In a conference room somewhere in Los Angeles, my union and my employer confronted each other, again. Perhaps they were talking over whether or not my students will have a nurse on hand when they suffer an asthma attack. Maybe they were discussing the merits of psychological social workers in schools where the majority come from households who qualify for subsidized meals.  Possibly they were debating the merits of librarians and counselors in the high school my students will go to.

As my students and I analyzed a letter of an immigrant at Ellis Island in the 1800s, other people were making decisions that will impact their long and short term future.

When I worked with Leah on her blog post, I suspect our newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom was making his inaugural address. I wonder, does he plan on sending his adorable two-year-old son to a middle school with a class size that exceeds 44? How will this man I voted for the address the wealth gap in our state that mirrors the “…achievement gap in our schools and a readiness gap that holds back millions of our kids”? Will he step up for my students?

I have two more days with my students. To read the next chapter, write another article, develop a conjecture, do another experiment. It breaks my heart to acknowledge I probably will not be with them on Thursday. Perhaps this is what it takes to move the second largest public school district in the nation in a direction it needs to go.

Last night, with all of this running through my heart, I finally settled on a word for 2019.  One to hold on to. One that will allow me to step forward in a direction that is true to my beliefs.  A word that is positive and active. My one little (but powerful) word for 2019 is

Here’s to embracing all the challenges and opportunities, adults and children that 2019 presents.

Picture this

He whines.
I look up.
Bothered by the disruption
my annoyance is met with a look.
“What?”
He continues to stare. Probably thinking unkind thoughts.

Rousted from my comfort, I check
the bowls. Full.
The answer must be outside.

I open the door
out he prances,
paws in pursuit.

Done. I presume
returning to where I left off
when
I sense I’m being watched.
My unslakable explorer awaits.

seeking cat.JPG

Keeping Track of Myself

The light streams in the east facing window next to my writing space. And if I look to my left, I see copper wind chimes. Still. Perched just outside on an arbor that is at the forefront of the hillside. The photo in the header, what I saw as I walked up to my cluttered desk this morning, inspired me to open up my neglected blogging site. A new look for a new year. And with that, a reflection the year that has passed.

Last year my teaching life changed to include a new type of student and new content. Both fascinated and overloaded me. So much information swirled around me. I felt like my student, Steve”,  who had so much going on in his head he couldn’t decide what to write about. When he did start to write, he’d get distracted by another idea. Exactly. Too much stimulus did not allow my mind to settle enough to write.

I learned a lot last year. A lot of content and pedagogy around each domain. One of the costs of all that learning required me to step away from blogging. Last year my writing life changed from blogging to list making and notetaking.  A surprising benefit of this overwhelming stream of informational was that reading for pleasure became a necessity.

Last year, I learned about myself. I was overtaken by new learning. And in the process, l lost my bearings. Today I feel like I’ve pulled out of the swirling current of content to take a look. Take a breath. And realize the flow of learning and children will continue. Get over it. It’s on me to seek out still waters, to pull out, look back, and find myself.

The year ahead looks no calmer than the year that has passed. Personally and professionally it will be turbulent. As always. But this year I’ve made simple, measurable goals around areas that matter to me.

Reading: log books read on Goodreads.
Writing: a post a week, journal most days. poem a week
Making: a weekly photo that could become something
Family/Friends: daily contact with three individuals, a gratitude journal to keep track
Professional: three professional reads; one conference.

I shy away from metrics, but this year I want to capture what was done and what was undone. That is something I resist for many reasons. Mostly because I’d rather look ahead assuming the past could be better. But this year I’m giving it a go.

Here’s to a new year and new goals designed to capture memories and keep track of what matters.