Monthly Archives: November 2014

Random Reflections Resolved Part One

I came back from NCTE14 with so many thoughts flooding my head that I couldn’t begin to process any of it. I didn’t know how to start. I read other attendees blogs with very concise reflections, tight commentary, key ideas neatly lined up. People asked me how it was, and I felt trapped by the cacophony in my head – no idea how to answer without sounding like a crazy person.

I have wrestled with this feeling all week. Thanksgiving was a distraction by I was distracted already! And then I thought… write about it silly. Just write.

Here goes…

The Nerdy Book Club became more clear to me. I am stlll a little fuzzy about how to access it and get the most out of it, but I came away with the big idea that many of the “members” are kindred spirits, and like to talk about books just as much as I do. I got some great ideas for read-alouds: The Fourteenth Goldfish (read it, love it, quirky and sweet), El Deafo (met the author, heard about her process, bought two copies- signed!) It was lovely to be in the company of people who see authors as rock stars. The other big idea in this session was how important it is for students to connect with authors because it helps shape their reader and writer identities. I know this is true for me, of course I should try and facilitate that for my students. Goal #1.

Throughout the sessions I heard about the importance of allowing for authentic reading responses. A class Twitter account, blogs, padlet (not sure what that is, yet), book recommendations that are posted/published, book talks, letters to authors, lists of favorites…anything that is purposeful; academic opportunities not assignments!  The more students feel a purpose for their work, they will pursue this work, and that equals ENGAGEMENT! I have been tap dancing around this idea since August… time to jump in. Goal #2!

There was a lot of discussion of social justice and how to foster classroom environments that encourage students (and teachers) to take stands around issues they care deeply about. Harvey Daniels, Sara Ahmed and Steve Zemelman took us through their processes of helping students learn how to converse, ask questions, and grow ideas together. What results is purpose and authenticity– which also showed up in a session in which Brendan McGrath and Tom McKenna shared their students’ online discussions about articles and books. From Massachusetts to Alaska, students communicated and created places for reflection beyond the walls of their classrooms. I am definitely doing that! Goal #3.

I couldn’t get enough of Lester Laminack. A teacher’s stand up comic for sure. He started the conversation in my head about the intersection of story and information. While the Common Core Standards divide writing into three chunks, opinion/argument, narrative, and information, in reality they cross all over each other. As we travel through a story we have reactions that can lead to a need to respond, which entails having an opinion and making an argument. We will often have questions that we will want to answer… It is hard for me to see exactly what this will look like in my classroom, but I know it is where I am headed. Lester stressed that the three writing areas were not meant to split the academic year into three equal parts of writing. Rather, naturally, readers and writers weave in and out of genre, they pursue one thing only to end up in another place. I heard this from numerous authors all weekend. Let’s honor and provide for that jouney for our students. Preach it brother. Goal #4.

My brilliant colleague Julieanne Harmatz presented along with Vicki Vinton and three other teachers. They all asked WHAT IF questions about their practice. Julieanne reminded  me that the interactive read-aloud is some of the most effective instructional time in our day. Steve asked what if the goal is not to extract the main idea but rather to attune ourselves to the story- the conflict, the question, the tension, the oddity… in fiction or information, these questions lead to more reading and deeper understanding. Their journeys remind me to take my own– ask what if, and discover the answers in the students I serve. Goal #5.

That is part one…I still have to talk about Ellin Keene, Seymor Simon, Linda Hoyt, Jacqueline Woodson, Vicki Vinton, Mary Ehrenworth and Katherine Bomer. Wow.


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Sweet Reminders


Here is a slice of life for a Tuesday. You can read lots more here.

On Monday I drove around in the early morning hours to deliver some papers to a few schools for my fellow United Teachers of Los Angeles peeps. We are trying to get a raise after 7 years with none. There is very little hope. There is lots of angst and despair and anger here in LA.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

My route took me past my childhood home. The place I was lovingly raised. My mom and dad bought the house on 35th with a VA loan, my dad being a Korean War vet. We attended the most beautiful school in Los Angeles, right on the cliffs above the ocean, looking out at Catalina Island. We lived a modest life, my folks both being teachers, but we lived in a geographical paradise.
As I drove this morning, I saw the sidewalk I eagerly trotted along each morning, heading to a school with the sweet Mrs. Dankey, the principal who dried my tears when I didn’t get the math. I knew Mr. Harris, who cleaned that school as if it were his home. Always a kind word and a smile.

I parked near the cafeteria, where I served up many yummy grilled cheeses, brownies, coffee cake. I can remember the plastic apron and the hose I used to spray off the melamine trays. I can remember feeling important. And useful.

Getting back in my car, I glimpsed the hallway where my teacher told me that my aunt had just had a baby and my mom had delivered it! Right up the street! Did you know? No! I didn’t! I felt like family. Like everyone knew me and my family, and they cared. I was cared for.

I drove past the two story building where I wrote my heart out. I remember the smell of the rubber cement we used to construct the cardboard covers for the novels we wrote. I learned to love writing that year.

Then I went up the hill to the next school. Drove past Kevin’s, where his mom still lives. Lots of bottle caps flipped in that garage. Some other stuff too… good times. Yet I knew then that however comfortable that garage felt, I had other places to go.  My high school years were full of teachers who taught me to dream and reach.
It was like this weird time warp morning. A little time capsule. And I had to pull myself back to the present, had to get ready to teach and face the 32 faces that would be looking to me within the hour. I am a product of some of the kindest and best people that have ever existed. And I work to make my profession live up to that promise for more children to come. More teachers to come. I love public education. I love its promise and its hopefulness and its inclusiveness. It is messy. But it is the best hope we have.

I loved my unexpected time travel this morning. Sweet reminders of what really matters.


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Be right there


Here is my slice for today… Thanks to Two Writing Teachers who give us a place to share every Tuesday.

“Mom, what time can you drive me back up?”

Never, I wanted to say. Stay home with me and Dad. Never leave. Can’t we pop in a Harry Potter and cuddle on the couch?

Crazy mom, crazy idea.

“I am going for a walk and then I can take you. Is 8:30 okay?”

It was, and so we took off, once again making the trek to her new digs at college, a mere 45 minutes away on a good traffic day, two hours on a bad one. We stopped at Target on the way up for some cough drops and shampoo. And a cute sweater and oh, what about that denim top? I could wear that with leggings, jeans, lots of things. Sure honey.

On the way up we listened to a podcast of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me with Daniel Radcliff. We sipped our peppermint mochas. It was a beautiful sunny day and the freeway was wide open. Daniel wasn’t quite finished talking when we got there, so we sat in the car and listened for a few more minutes. Heaven. Then she grabbed her laundry, her bag, and got out of the car. I jumped out and hugged her. She was off. I still can’t watch her walk away and into that building.

This has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. I do not actually know how to do it. What is the balance between letting go and giving her support? How do I reconcile my a-piece-of-my-heart-got-ripped-out-grief with her joy over gaining wings? How do I help her adjust to this new communal life, what can I do to help her find her people, how can I make sure she is happy?

Yeah, I can’t. I can’t do any of those things. She is going to make her way and I am going to heal. We will take it as it comes, because that is all we can do. I always thought that getting her into college was the goal, and then we would sort of coast. I get it now. Parenting never ends. It just morphs.

Shortly after I dropped her off, waiting at a stoplight, I noticed the text.

Forgot my shampoo and stuff in the backseat!

Be right there.


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Shut the Front Door and Teach

My profession affords me the ability to get grounded and focused simply by shutting the door and teaching. I celebrate this.


You can celebrate too, or read other celebrations by clicking here.

This week was not fun. It was exhausting. It was frustrating. It was sad. And, being the end of the first week after daylight savings time either ending or beginning, can’t ever remember, I was not surprised – never seems to be a good week! Without going into details… some of the adults in my district in the City of the Angels are not acting in the best interest of students, instead they are throwing up roadblocks.


And so yesterday, I reacted by closing my door. With perhaps a little more passion than usual, you know- whistling in the dark– I read aloud a few chapters of Absolutely Almost and Andy noticed that the chapter called “some bugs” had a double meaning, because even though it was about a bug, it was really the author’s way of telling us that Darren was really starting to BUG Albie and Betsy, and, further, he was noticing that this was becoming a pattern and was probably going to be a big problem in this book. WOW Andy! I have been learning with you for thirteen weeks and on the last day of that thirteenth week you hit it out of the park! You have been paying attention! YES!

Then we entered the scariest writers workshop of the year for me. We took all of the material we had been collecting for our first-ever essays and started assembling them, finally, after much rehearsal. Shana Frazin always used to say, the less you know, the slower you go. Even though I have done this unit for six years, this part still feels like jumping off a cliff for me. So I did.  I modeled the process for one paragraph with the one we have been writing together. I gave them three things to remember: 1. You choose the order of your evidence and stories for a reason, 2. You use transition words and phrases to help things flow together, and 3. Repeat key words to help your reader see the connections between your evidence and your thesis. As they went off to try it, I stepped back and observed. They pasted, cut, taped… and looked like people who knew exactly what they were doing. Almost 100% engagement. YES!

After lunch we became scientists, using some large rocks as our focus for developing some questions we have about rocks and earth science in general. These questions will help guide our unit. I used the QFT technique from Make Just One Change.


 They loved it. Their conversations were rich with scientific language (we have been building background knowledge in shared reading for a few weeks), and they were once again, fully engaged. We have more work to do next week, but we are off to a strong start.

Celebrating at the end of this dark week has been very important for me. Understanding that I have the power to change my outlook, influence my little sphere, and settle myself down all through what I do for “my job”  has been a great AHA and a reminder. When the going gets tough, shut the door. Teach. Breathe. Repeat.


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Perfect Moments

Celebrating this week… a little tough to do, but I found it. You can read more celebrations here.

First, why is it tough? Well, I will tell you. I have been looking forward to attending the NCTE conference in Washington DC later this month. When I have been to large national conferences in the past, I have discovered I love being in the company of teachers and learners and hearing about excellent practices from my colleagues around the country. I use everything I learn–   with my students, my colleagues and with other teachers in my community.  I am also a Cotsen fellow, and have been granted some money for my own professional development. I have a plane ticket paid for as well as a spot at the conference. I also have a sub lined up for the two days I will need to take off that will be paid for by my grant. And… this week my new, interim superintendent said ALL travel is cancelled until January because we should stay in our schools and receive professional development there, or do it on weekends and holidays only. WHAT? This is a major frustration. So many things could be said about so much of his decision, but that wouldn’t be much of a celebration would it? Quite the opposite. Quite scary actually.

Speaking of scary… (here comes the celebration, I promise…)

                                                                     scary stories readers

Luckily, on Thursday night I participated in a little slice of heaven called Scary Stories. I have been reading for this event for twelve years. Each year I am transported by the fire, the dark, the open sky, and the magic that happens when other people share in a storytelling event. We don’t actually tell stories, we read them. There is a nice mix of kid-friendly ghost stories and mysterious tales, as well as more complex stories that adults appreciate. We have sound effects and a large bonfire. It takes a little over an hour. Magical, different, entertaining, plain fun.

This time, as I was reading I looked up into the sky and the small crescent moon was shining. The clouds were dancing around it and the wind was turning colder. The crowd was right there with me. It was a perfect moment. I was perfectly in it. I breathed it all in. It healed me a little – lifted a little weight off my shoulders.

It got me thinking about how much fun it might be to try something like this in class. Not scary– just good stories, short stories or chapters, that some of my students might want to read aloud to their classmates at a special event every few months. They could develop places where they needed music or sound effects. They could produce them using stuff we have around the classroom. Then we could move the furniture and sit around a fake fire (not sure what that would look like yet), and enjoy the listening.

scary stories

There’s a lot of literacy involved in finding stories to read and developing them into productions of words, sounds and music. Being active listeners during the presentation is solid work as well. And best of all, perhaps we will make some of our own perfect moments, to help us through the other not-so-perfect ones.


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