Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Just Write

I began this year with a goal—to try and get my students to love writing as much as they do reading. I think I have always done a decent job with reading, you see. Writing? It really varied from year to year. And so, I have worked hard at it. We’ve written daily, had lots of discussion around what we wrote, focused quite a bit on free choice, and I’ve tried hard to make sure they see the purpose of writing.

One area I have emphasized over and over is that their writing is for them. Sure, they might need to turn something in from time to time. Sometimes we even will do a certain type of writing and that will be graded, but their notebooks are theirs. I don’t see them most of the time. We’ve talked about what type of writing can go in there, how sketching is encouraged, etc. Something I addressed again and again is that writing can help us heal.

As much as I would love my fifth graders to have wonderful and carefree lives with no stress, pain, or hurt, I know that simply isn’t true. So we have talked about how when we are hurting, we can write about it. We can write about it simply, just write what is on our minds. We can use our feelings to inspire our writing, or maybe even a poem.

Over the years I have seen many poems about divorce, loss of a pet, friendship troubles. There has been writing about fear—students losing their homes, losing a grandparent, or the fear of not measuring up. I never ask to read this writing, of course. Writing is personal and it belongs to the writer unless they are ready and willing to share it.

Today we began class as we often do, with a quick write. For the month of December we’ve been sharing a haiku a day from the picture book Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka. After reading today’s haiku, I also shared one from my friend, Mary Lee. She had written one entitled Grief

I read it to my students and paused. Looking at their fabulous faces, I posed a variety of questions:

Why would Mary Lee write about this?
What makes a haiku a perfect form for this writing?
Do you ever turn to poetry versus prose to express strong emotions?

After asking my students to think about these questions—and each class also had their own conversation beyond those—we then turned to our notebooks to write for two minutes. Just two minutes to capture our thinking at the time.

I glanced around the room as each class wrote. I watched some students bopping their heads, fingers splayed out as they counted syllables. I saw some serious faces as students were curled around their notebooks, pencils clutched tightly in their hands. And I saw some students glance at me, give a shy smile or a shrug, and turn back to their notebook.

I hope with everything in me that they get the habit of writing instilled in them during our year together. I know that as they move forward in life that the simple act of writing your thoughts and feelings can be a huge blessing. The act of rereading your writing allows you to reflect and grow as you go forth. Watching my young writers today I was filled with hope. Right now, they seem to truly get it. That simple fact makes me smile. With that, I picked up my pen and joined them. Deep breaths, just write.

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Be sure to visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to learn more about the link up for It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 

Last week I finished up Egg & Spoon. I told my students I wasn't even sure where to begin explaining that beautiful book. There is the Russian fairy tales that are woven in, Baba Yaga for example. There is the peasant girl and a girl from a noble family. There is the Tsar, the egg, the talking cat. My head was spinning.

By the end, I loved the book. The first half, I only liked it. I absolutely grew more attached as I read. A good lesson for my students, and for me.

I also read a beautiful book of Christmas Stories from Cynthia Rylant that Margie Myers-Culver sent me. Thanks, Margie!

This week I’m reading an ARC from NCTE. Five days until break and then I will begin holiday #bookaday!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Good Reminder

Relationships. I talk and write all the time about how important they are, and they are important. In my opinion, relationships must come first in the classroom. Without them, without respect for my students, without sharing myself with my students, I’m sunk. It all begins with relationships.

What I don’t know if I’ve written about before is how hard they can be. With some, relationships are easy. Typically with my more vocal students, my attention seeking students, relationships come naturally. Also with my students with behavior issues, relationships grow quickly. If I want to help them make better choice and make my year easier as a result, I immediately begin the work of building.

But my shy kids, my kids that are having difficulties but don’t want people to know? Relationships are hard. I have to work on those. And the honest truth is, sometimes we don’t get where I think we need to by the end of the year.

It isn’t without tremendous effort, but there are times that the last day of school occurs, the last child gives me a hug, they walk out of our room, and I wish we had more time. Sometimes as much as I try, I struggle to reach them in the way I wanted.

Luckily for me in a small town such as this one, I get to keep trying. Yesterday I saw a student that falls into this category. Not shy, but I didn’t feel like I made a strong enough connection last year. I tried and tried, but there was a wall up that I just couldn’t break down. When I saw this child yesterday, I was busy. I had a full schedule and needed to keep moving. So I greeted him, asked how he was, said something in return, and then turned my attention elsewhere.

Then, that nagging voice in my head that drives me crazy said to ask him what he was reading. I dismissed it initially, he didn’t like reading. That was a yearlong struggle as well. The voice was insistent, so I asked.

He smiled, rattled off a title, I asked a few more questions, he answered, as did his friend, and we moved on.

It wasn’t much, but it was another step towards knowing him. It reminded me that my relationship with these kids is not a nine months and done kind of relationship, it is life long. I always tell them I am their teacher from the moment they are placed on my class list until the day I die. I need to also remember that just because I don’t get to the point I want in the year we spend together, I can’t stop trying. Maybe the kids I can’t reach in the way I want just need more time, and that is something I have plenty of.

I just can’t stop trying.

Friday, December 12, 2014


At NCTE I had the opportunity to go to the Wonderopolis breakfast. Sitting there I was, once again, reminded of the brilliance that is the site Wonderopolis. I have used their wonder of the day in mini-lessons, as mentor texts, and as part of my RTI groups. I love how their videos activate my students’ background knowledge. The vocabulary words they embed in the articles are fabulous. And each year I love how reading this site makes my students start to wonder as well.

Thinking of how I could make it a regular part of my classroom, I grabbed on to the hashtag #wonderwednesday that several folks at the breakfast said they used. I put it in the back of my mind and figured I’d begin trying that out when we returned from break.

Flash forward to a week ago Wednesday. Katie Muhtaris announces on Twitter that she and her students will be participating in #wonderwednesday and invites my class and others to join them. I got immediately excited, but was disappointed as well. I was home with a fever and knew we couldn’t join in that day. But next Wednesday it was on!

Tuesday night I realized we truly wouldn’t be able to join in this week after all. I had a curriculum meeting Wednesday morning and my mom would be the substitute in my classroom. I thought for a bit about having her let the kids get on Twitter, but thought that might be too much for their morning. Instead, we created a Wonder chart. My directions were simple. Have the students read the wonder of the day (Wednesday’s was on internet speeds). As their reaction – have them write one thing they “wonder” about (either still about the article topic or just in general) on a post it. I wondered what they’d come up with.

Yesterday I read them. The kids never fail to surprise me. Many were what I would assume fifth graders would wonder. We had lots of questions about animals, specifically communication with animals. But we had wonders that were personal that broke my heart. Silly wonders. Creative wonders. Wonders that made me wonder as well.

Today we will create a more permanent display, on a bulletin board outside of our three classrooms. There the kids can continue to wonder, or pull one down and begin to try and find an answer. Next week we will begin to blog about our wonders and, hopefully, join Katie’s class online to read their wonders. I cannot wait to see what they come up with.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Falling In Love With Writing, Again

It’s a funny thing about writing daily, you begin to see your ideas everywhere. When Linda Urban tweeted out about the #WriteDaily30 group, I was hesitant to join. I’ve written daily, of course, before. I have done the Slice of Life challenge each year. Yet writing daily? In December? When I’m already overwhelmed and stressed? That seemed like an insane idea.

And yet I knew I needed to do it.

This fall writing and I kind-of broke up.
Or maybe we just had a falling out.
I’m still not sure.

I had written so much this summer. I had started a book, written blogs, articles, curriculum, etc. Then, August hit. And everything dropped.

Family healthy issues,
Commitments to volunteering,
The start of the school year,
Writer’s block on my book.

I was dreading writing each day. I was uninspired. And, to be honest, I looked at my friends beginning the school year relaxed and I knew I wasn’t. I had so much on my plate and never had any down time. So I stopped. Or, to be more accurate, slowed down a bit.

In the process, I fell out of love with writing.

The less I wrote, the farther I moved away from it, the harder it was to get ideas when I did decide I should – not wanted to, but should – blog. I began to question why I did this blogging thing to begin with.

Then, like a miracle, Linda’s tweet.

When I signed on, I decided I just wanted to write daily.

Not on a book,
Not on a blog,
Not for a time limit,
Not for a word count goal.

Just write.

And I have. Each day has ended up going up on my blog, but I didn’t set out to do that. Just when I’ve been done, I have thought it fit there. I’m not requiring that of myself, however. So there might be days in December I don’t post, but I will write.

In writing daily I have found my way back.

Ideas come every morning as I open up the document. My journal has been stuck back in my purse. Writing and I have made up, and I am so glad we have.

Thanks, Linda.
Imagination Designs
Blog design by Imagination Designs Images from the Just Because kit by Laurie Ann