slice of life: distanced from our future reminded of the past

The shut-in shut down mode of the world has reminded me of what’s only a 20-minute walk from my house. IMG_9181.jpeg

The trails weave up and down and around. The narrow path makes avoiding puddles challenging. I hear birdsong, someone calling their dog, and the occasional patter of a runner coming from behind. I take a left up the hill, not sure where this trail might lead. It winds around and connects with another. This space is at most two square miles, but I could walk around for hours without (knowingly) retracing my steps.

This peaceful plot of land has a surprising history.  It’s been home to native Gabrieleños,  Spanish landowners, Japanese farmers, the US military’s WWII and Cold War weaponry.  Now, these open fields are home to small creatures and native plants protected by the Nature Conservancy. Humans and canines plod through the trails distanced from the past, moving respectfully in this restored habitat.

As I walk by the Nature Preserve building and the occasional historical plaque, I think this would be a fantastic field trip. When it might happen and for which group of fourth-graders I don’t know.

For now, we are all distanced from each other and our future plans.


slice of life: plans for play

I made a wide turn to enter my driveway, avoiding the GMC 4×4 truck to find an abandoned bike and scooter. The owners are two houses down, oblivious to my car and the possible destruction of their toys. There is ample room, so I maneuver around and park. This is my neighborhood.

I’m surrounded by little ones on wheels. They scoot and bike up and down the street. I overlook their helmetless status, their scattering of toys, and am grateful. They are lean and agile. Doing exactly what kids should be doing. Playing.

While I get my online learning ready for tomorrow, I hear wailing. Then, Dad appears to pick up, dust off, and kiss a scrape. Not long after, there are screams of play that echo through our house.  This goes on until dark.

It’s an idyllic scene. Kids run free with an adult nearby to help out if there is a problem. This is not the scenario for many families.  Schools, sports teams, afterschool programs provide this kind of adult-supervised play for many of my students. Now, these outlets are being shuttered. No practices, no games, no play. More than the academic loss of school closings, I worry about the impact of losing playtime.

So as I pull together academic opportunities for my home-bound kiddos, I’m looking for ways to encourage play. Kinderart projects don’t require many supplies and have easy to follow directions. Jarrett Lerner’s blog activities will be perfect for my cartoon-loving students. And of course, there is Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s Poetry Farm, who is providing daily inspiration so we can play in our notebooks.

In times like these, our kiddos and we need to find ways to play on.



slice of life: school is closed

Around 9:30 am, the emails and phone calls went out to parents informing them that our schools would close for two weeks. The “fluid” situation now had defining edges that shifted our classroom’s direction on Friday.

I pose the question.
What if we had to learn at home for a while?

The electronic solutions came first.
Google classroom, slides, docs, blogs.
But what about kids who don’t have devices?
And what about WiFi?
How about notebooks, books?
But how can we communicate with our reading partners?
What about setting up chats?
Back and forth.

We settle down, eat breakfast, play math games, write, get books, set up shared google docs for book conversations, share Gold Rush learning.
I make sure all students have a device for home use.
Do an experiment with electricity, distribute textbooks, and memos from the district. Play games.

Normal and not so normal.

Students are unsettled.
D– says he will miss school.
C– says she is looking forward to sleeping in.
K– sits alone, writing up her daily plan.
A– mentions this is the second year we have had to leave school in the middle of the school year. Last year was the strike.
M– says that was sooo boring!

I talk with students privately.
About who will be there for them at home.
If they need anything.

The day ends too quickly.
Off they go.

I pack up my plants. IMG_9177Take pictures of charts I might need to send students, and then I see this

The graphic novel section of the library my students maintain.

So sad.

slice of life: a reader’s journey

The other night I saw a beautiful book on top of the mail.

First the author caught my eye. Alberto Manguel’s fluid storytelling in All Men Are Liars was magical.  Then, I noticed the title, The Traveler, the Tower, and the Worm — The Reader as Metaphor.

This book is from my son.  Rather than send a text or make a call,, like most people, he sends books.
img_9148After reading the inside front jacket,  I am smitten.

As far as we can tell, we are the only species for whom the world seems to be made of stories.

Be it an observation, an action, or a reaction, we make sense of the storms that rage within and around us with stories. We find solace, wisdom, and escape in our stories. Even though words fall short of experience, storytelling and the search for stories that enlighten, feed us.

We are reading creatures. We ingest words, we are made of words.
It is through words that we identify our reality and by means of words that we ourselves are identified.

It is through reading we find our past, our future, and ourselves.  The journey the writer sets out for us allows us to discover our own and ourselves. 

The solid book of paper and ink is the ground we journey through. a starting point for commentary and conjectures.

This makes me want to abandon all electronic reading and re-read with a pen in hand. Not to write notes in a disconnected notebook but to put my thoughts alongside the writer. By leaving my thoughts in the book, I become a part of it.


slice of life: little bits

It’s the weather. That’s why I’m home early. Emotional weather. It has accumulated. Little bits of sadness. An old friend coming toward her last days. A toddler killed in an accident. Another article on COVID-19.

Now, I sit at the window that looks out over my garden. The gray light makes the green pop. And, with a closer look, the beginnings of buds on succulents are making their appearance. Delicate blooms poking out from drought-resistant leaves. I never expect them. Little bits of beauty pushing out the gloom.

slice of life: linking the past to present reading skills

Today our class tackled primary resource reading. Kathleen Tolan style. Years ago, I had the opportunity to learn with Kathleen at TCRWP. She is one of those teachers who leaves an indelible mark on you.  Her unrelenting commitment to students and their ability to learn complicated things.  Her energy was inspirational. Kathleen was someone you wanted to approximate.

Our class has been researching the California Gold Rush as a part of a unit on reading history. Today our class studied primary documents from for the first time. Their background knowledge from reading a field trip to the Wells Fargo Museum gave them some prior understanding.

We looked at this picture as a whole class.


I notice a ship.
It looks like the man is waving at the ship.
Maybe he’s the captain.
I think Randolph M. Cooley wrote this.
Where’s 88 Wall Street.
We should Google it.
Maybe the man waving is Henry Barber.
It’s a Clipper Ship.
Maybe it is taking gold back that they found.
I notice the miners.
It’s really close to the ocean.
But the gold mines were 150 miles away.
Maybe they wanted it to look like they could just get off the boat and get gold.
Maybe they wanted to make lots of people come.

I love the mixture of historical knowledge they synthesized–how far away the goldfields really were from the ocean — mixed in with their ways to solve a question–Google an unknown location. Absolutely perfect fourth-grade thinking.

From this whole group study, I sent teams of 3-4 students on a primary research inquiry. They rotated through the documents leaving their comments behind. The one below was met with wonderings.


Are they brothers?
Taking a break from mining?
What are they talking about?
Are they finding a place to mine?
Is one the boss?

The next cartoon really puzzled them.


Why doesn’t he buy food if he has so much gold?
Is it fake gold?
Maybe he’s homeless.
How is he starving if he has pure gold?
It’s fake!
Maybe it’s fake to fool peeps.

That last comment evoked conversation:
“Look at the title it says to raise prices, to ruin fools. Maybe things were so expensive you couldn’t get anything to eat.”
“Maybe this was in a newspaper to warn people.

To find these images, I did a quick search on Gold Rush images. The cartoons of the time were fascinating. This last one is so simple yet provocative.

It always amazes me who sees what in this kind of work. Interestingly my crazy-for-graphic-novels kiddo made put the text and the picture together.
Not surprising.
The wonders of the past and present collide.


Slice of Life: it’s the weekend

It’s the weekend.
Not much to do.
I’ll look through their math,
first thing Saturday.
It shouldn’t take long.
Must write comments on their report cards.
Should be done by nine.
Then I’ll read.
Maybe finish that book.
Next week’s plan’s charted out.
After Sunday breakfast,
I’ll stop by the school.
Charge the devices.
It shouldn’t take long.
Since I’m there,
I’ll get those charts ready.
Maybe start planning that geometry unit.
Look through last year’s work.
The afternoon will be free,
I’ll plan the revision lesson
after I look through their writing.
If I start at three,
I’ll be done by dinner.

It’s almost nine.
I haven’t started yet.
I get another cup of tea.
Revise my list,
while I watch the sun break through the clouds.

Slice of Life: this is really just writing

This morning I had students in class 20 minutes before the start of school.

“I’m so excited about my slide show. Do you want to see?”

“I worked so much on it last night.”

I knew they were motivated, but had no idea a new way to write up science learning would generate this enthusiasm.

On Monday, students finished their paper roller coasters. An eight-day process where students faced the design and social challenges of working in teams. Structures failed. And were rebuilt. Friendships, as well as engineering ideas, are tested.  It was stressful fun, and in the end, all achieved their goals.

A lot of me wanted to let the experience of experimentation be the end, but I know that writing about creation and learning is essential to solidify both. In past science units, I have them write up a page to represent their learning. But the hint of that possibility evoked groans.

Enter the option of Google Slides, and the energy in the room shifted as did their motivation to work well beyond my expectations.

Today, as they continued their write-ups, M– sat on the carpet, Chromebook on her lap. Notebook open. She looked up at me and said, “You know, this is really just writing.”

“Hmm,” I said.

She smiled and went back to writing.


Slice of Life: mending fences

S– and D– were BFFs and partners in everything. But, last week, they asked to change partnerships.

What happened? I ask.
S– says something about the science project.
D– says something about talking smack.

After a little research, I find out mistakes were made. Feelings were hurt, and now their friendship is at risk.

During a quiet time, I sit next to S– and ask him if he’d like to have a conversation with D–. Both agreed, and we sit down after school.

I start them out: “Tell D– how you feel by saying, ‘you hurt me when you…’ and D– you need to listen. You might not have meant it but, you can’t deny how S– feels.” After a few tries back and forth, with lowered heads and soft mumbling, both boys get out what was said and how they felt.

A few deep breaths later, I ask them, “Can you try to trust each other again and be friends?”

“I like to if he would,” S– said, looking at me.
“How about you, D–?”
“Ok, I’ll try, ” D says.

They break my heart as they confessed their feelings.

Today, the two seemed to be getting along so as D– was walking out of class, I ask, “How’s it going with S–?”
“We’re 75% there!” he says.
“Yay!” I cheer.

So much about getting along is about being able to make up. Even the best of friends hurt one another. And it seems a fair amount of my teaching life is spent trying to mend fences.

Now on to M– and S–. This formidable duo is noticeably detached.  They are my project for tomorrow.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for their supportive writing community. Find more slice of life stories here.

A wake-up call to write

I woke up too early with too much on my mind. This isn’t unusual. Today, the difference was where my thoughts led me.  Not to my notebook to le6 thoughts out, or my book to escape into another world, but here.

There has been a lot of conversation about writing at my school. About expectations. Translation grades. I have sat in these conversations. Knowing that all teachers sit in strongly-held convictions. With as much respect I can muster, I have gotten involved in haggling over minutia embedded in progressions. As to whether something is below, on, or above grade level.  I have been distracted and overwhelmed by these conversations.

A text from last night from a colleague is probably the source of my way-to-early-morning wakefulness. The text said she overheard my conversation and wanted to support me as a teacher of writing. That phrase, a teacher of writing, shook me.

Writing is personal. When we write, really write, we are putting ourselves in a frightening position. And this presents the question, how does one grade or place an expectation on a struggling writer? And let’s face it, everyone is a struggling writer.

My students’ writing is brave and bold and silly. And I love every word. It’s not that I don’t see the writing potholes that need to be filled. That is part of the work. But I believe, the work of a writing teacher is not setting or defining expectations. The work is creating an environment of inspiration: getting students to want to write. Only by doing do we improve. And, I believe that receiving a grade of any kind does not inspire students to write. It may validate some for their effort, but does it make them want to open a notebook, to write a blog post, to write a poem, I think not.

I started this blog years ago to do the work my students do. And through the blog, I found writing communities such as Two Writing Teachers. There, I made dear friends and learned my most important writing lessons. Getting and giving feedback in a writing community is a gift. That is what our students need to write. The gift of community and feedback, not grades. It is time for me to write in a community. To do the work, my students need to do.

I didn’t sign up for the March Slicer Challenge, so I am a rogue writer. But, knowing this community as I do, I hope to find acceptance, as well as old and new writing friends. Grateful to you all.