Monthly Archives: February 2016

Random Princess Sighting

This week I celebrate childhood.

Right smack dab in the middle of a note taking page, a Disney princess showed up! Right there, after many, many serious lessons about text structures, reading and rereading, sketching and note taking, tackling the hard parts of text, and trying our best to be researchers with courage…


There she was. Waving to the map of California that shows precipitation patterns. My student neglected to read the key of the map, instead interpreting it visually.  Thus the land is green, blue is water…

I think Belle may be responsible for the distraction.IMG_4010

I love thinking about why this student decided to do this…

Was it purposeful? Did she want to decorate the page? Make it pretty?

Was she bored? Where did that come from?

Does it matter? Childhood is alive and well.

Princesses are everywhere.

I’ll celebrate that!

You can read other celebrations here, thank you Ruth Ayers!





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Big Bunch, Little Bunch


Here is a slice of life from last weekend. On Sunday husband and I made fresh spinach lasagna. We debated, as usual, as to the best way to cook it and how much to start with. We opted for four bunches, and it still wasn’t enough. It worked, but we could have gone with more. Geez! I was transported back to a winter’s night when I was in college and my roommate and best friend since fourth grade and I were experimenting with cooking. We felt so grown-up, in our own apartment and all. Living the life.


I can’t remember what was on the menu other than fresh steamed spinach. We were so proud of our healthy habits. We had a big bunch of spinach, and spent a long time washing it and getting rid of the sand. Then we steamed it. Then we lifted the lid. We were astonished and a little disappointed at the result. Enough to feed one person– one measly little bunch. After all that work! It started out so big…

It can be about this time of year that some of us teachers may begin to feel a little bit of the same disappointment/frustration/anxiety. Testing is around the corner. We are at or just past the half-way mark. We started out SO BIG. And, when we lift the lid… not what we are expecting. Some kids– still not reading.  Some going through the motions and complying, but not engaged. Some haven’t really moved at all from where they started with us.

And yet… if we remember to look at all of the students in our classroom, it can be quite encouraging. We need encouragement right about now. We don’t need to get down and frustrated and send out any hopeless vibes. We need a shot of energy – kind of like Popeye’s spinach.

Last week, I started looking at everyone. I found many examples of kids who have come a long way. During parent conferences I heard K’s dad say that yes, he has noticed a difference too. She is coming home, reading for longer, and her discussions of what she has read are filled with solid-sounding comprehension. And I listened to Y tell her grandmother all about the book she is reading right now, and she went on and on and on, and on. We both looked at each other. Wow. Very different than the first time we sat down and discussed her progress. K’s mom shared with me that he is spending more time reading and less fooling around than he used to. She’s not sure what is going on, but it is encouraging. Yes, it is. When I sat with A, who refused to do any reading or writing about reading whatsoever until about a month ago (when we started a book club for others like her), and gave her a running record, I had to give her the next two to find her independent level. And, at the beginning of workshop partner time, when I stop myself from running over to the seemingly-always-in-crisis group, and focus on what is working, I see many examples of authentic book talk. Not perfect. But real.

I reflect on this not to toot my horn. Nope, I reflect on this to remind myself time and again, it is my job to encourage and allow space for the act of reading and reading and reading. It is my role to help students in finding the books they love, and then giving them time to read and read and read some more. This will pay off in the end. It is messy and not clear all the time. But there is growth. Of course, it takes more than just letting them read. There are lots of other moves I make during a day. But, I remind myself that in a reading classroom that is designed to build readers, the focus must remain on building independence and engagement before visible growth and compliance. And it takes a BUNCH of process to get a little bunch of product.


Thank you Two Writing Teachers for the chance to share a slice. You can read lots more here.




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Confessions of a Part-time Facebook Junkie


This is part story, part confession.  Here is the confession: Facebook takes my time. Too much of it.

I love Facebook. It is fun to keep up with people I don’t usually see. It is fun to see what they are up to. It’s also fun to drop little mini-stories about little things that happen in my day.

smart and final

And I also hate it. There is a lot of negative energy at times. Even the above post– as righteous as it felt– also felt mean-spirited in a way. Faecbook is a total time-sucker and a perfect excuse to “just take a few minutes to unwind” after a long day. It is never a few minutes. And often I don’t feel unwinded. Not a word. Should be.

Ten to twenty minutes a day… that is some time out of a day. Okay, hold onto that twenty minutes. It’s coming back later.

Here we are on a Sunday morning. Beautiful sun shining, long walk already in. A whole day to get caught up on paper grading, planning, professional reading… and…. we get to Facebook! Like a moth to the flame. STOP IT.

So I get to my email, and Two Writing Teachers has this wonderfully thought-provoking post by Kathleen Sokolowski about how important it is for teachers to not only be readers but also writers. This cuts me to the quick. I carry some guilt around this issue. I KNOW this. Yet. Facebook calls. And I write little snippets. Suddenly I realize how like my fourth graders I am. It is so much easier to engage in quick things, light things, easily accessible things. It doesn’t make them less important or valuable. It just makes them… lighter.

Trying to write a blog post, an essay, a letter, a story… they take work. And time, and real effort. And, it opens you up. You become vulnerable when you put yourself on paper. That is scary sometimes, and tiring too. However. It is not too difficult. It can be done. Just a change in habit perhaps. Just some engagement. It is so worth it. How often do I lament about my students’ lack of engagement? Me thinks I doth protest too much!

Remember that twenty minutes? If I changed my unwind habit to one of twenty minutes of writing… first, before Facebook, maybe that would be enough to set that guilt down and start writing more. To kick into a writerly life once again.

There are so many good reasons to write. It is healthy, stress relieving. It is excellent preparation for teaching. It helps keep memories from flitting away. It helps me process and prioritize. And understand. I have so many reasons to write. But I am also good at coming up with excuses to not do so.

The past month has found me cleaning and decluttering. I feel energized and unburdened. (Yes, I did this before that book came out about the subject. Just sayin’.) It seems a natural next step to clean up this part of my life as well. Here I go.

Feeling better already.

Thank you TWT for the chance to share. I love Slice of Life stories.




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The Things We Hide Away

Today I am thankful for a moment to remember.


When I first started dating my husband, some thirty years ago, I remember a night when I called him to find a tearful, shaken man. His friend Ben Pinel had just been killed in a fire at The Proud Bird restaurant in Los Angeles. I didn’t know him, but his death was widely felt by many I knew in our small suburb of Los Angeles.

This morning I went to a new coffee place in downtown San Pedro called Sirens. My husband and I sat down to enjoy a quick latte with our daughter before she headed back up to school. We started up a conversation with the owner. I noticed there were a lot of firefighter references all around, including the Dalmatian, a dark and white chocolate latte, and asked her about them. Turns out, Yolanda is the sister of Ben, and she and my husband started talking about Ben and the fire, and on it went. She created this coffee house as a tribute to her beloved brother. She told us about the beautiful tile and clay artwork on the wall.


The lighthouse is a replica of a beautiful gem, Angel’s Gate, in our own Port of Los Angeles. Julie Bender, an artist and retired LA City firefighter, designed and created the work. The wings were painted one night by a group of widows whose husbands had died in the line of duty as first responders. The light in the lighthouse shines to symbolize how we will never forget those who gave their lives in service to their communities.

Yolanda shared with us how she met Julie, who just sort of showed up. Yolanda was looking for something to memorialize her brother and other first responders, and had in mind something that would fill up a large wall space in the back. As they talked, they realized they had a deeper firefighter connection. Julie had been at the Proud Bird fire, and she pulled out Ben’s partner. They were unable to save Ben in time. Yolanda told us she believes that creating the memorial allowed Julie to lay down some of that burden.

That is how it goes, isn’t it? There is so much around us, so many layers of life and experience that we can’t see unless we spend a little time digging. I have been thinking about this a lot in my classroom the past few weeks. Listening to children, instead of talking at them, always opens up my eyes to the lives they lead right under my nose. They have questions and goals, likes and worries, and they bring it all into the class. And then they seem to hide it away so they can learn the way we ask them to.

“Maybe we could talk about the things we have hidden away inside of us,” D told me last week. At a loss for words, I smiled through my tears. Yes we could. Yes we will.

That is how it goes…we spend our days walking around, carrying our burdens and the things we have hidden away. Some are heavier than others. Reaching out, showing up, sometimes it just works where we meet the person we are meant to meet, and life’s synchronicity works in our favor.

What a lovely way to remember.  What a lovely thing to celebrate.

Thank you to Ruth Ayers. I have missed celebrating with you on Saturdays, and am aiming to get back into that habit.


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