Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Ahead

It seems that I repeatedly see comments on Facebook that people are ready for 2017, that 2016 cannot be gone soon enough. I can understand the sentiment. 2016 was filled with many negative, or sad, highlights. But it was also filled with joy, with love, with amazing memories I will treasure.

That being said, I love a new year. Just as I love the start of the school year, I also love the start of a new calendar year. To me it is full of possibilities. I don't do much in the way of resolutions - I think we've seen with #nerdlution that I'm rubbish with those. I'm great for about the first two weeks, but after that, nothing. What I do instead is pick a word. This stems from Ali Edwards blog (HERE) where she began to pick one little word as her goal for each year back in 2006. I always pick a word. Sometimes I even get my word written on jewelry to remind me of my goal for the year. Some words I've used in the past are:


This year my word is present.

This is something I've been struggling with. I'm so busy, as we all are, and I take too much on. I fill my time with a million tasks and don't pay attention to what's in front of me. Even things I love - reading and writing - aren't great if that is the only thing I fill up my time with. So I'm working on it.

In 2016 I didn't pick a word, I'm not sure why. But looking over the year I was already working on present, or presence, but didn't realize it. I read less. Now I know I'm always telling my students to read, but I read a ton. I think, at times, I read for the sake of reading. I'm trying to slow down, to savor books more. I'm trying to go out, be with friends, not just stay in and read. I no longer do Goodreads book goals, but looking at my stats I know I was a moderate success in taking some time back from reading. I read 382 books in 2015 and 283 in 2016. Next year I hope to read less. Bizarre goal, but a necessary one.

I've written less. I count beginning to write publicly as a transformation in my teaching. I absolutely became a better teacher when I began writing. But then writing took over. I blogged 4-5 times a week, wrote for other places besides this blog, I wanted to write a book. Writing was what I filled my time with (when not reading). In 2016 I looked at my goals. I don't want to leave the classroom. I don't want to speak to crowds regularly. I don't want to be a consultant. Thus, I don't need to write a book. Maybe one day, but not now. Teaching is my goal, it is what I'm here to do. So, writing a book went to the side. Looking at my blog, you can see I no longer update 4-5 times a week, or a month even at times. And while I wish I blogged more at times, I love what I'm doing more.

Present. I think I laid some good groundwork in 2016 in this regard, but I have more to do. So thanks for being ok with less posts, but I promise to still be here. My goal in 2017 is one post a week, maybe two, which would be an improvement. I'm guessing I'll make it some weeks, fail on others. More than that, what I do want to fill 2017 with is:

Time with family and friends
Dates with Chris
Watching my boys do what they love
Books (in moderation)
Writing (in moderation)

I need to restore my balance, which is so hard as a mom, as a teacher, as a person living in this age of constant connection, but I'm working on it. 

How about you? Do you do resolutions? Do you pick a word? Let me know in the comments. Wishing you and your family a glorious 2017. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Nerdy Book Club - Nerdy Awards

Attention, attention. We need to have a quick meeting. 

Time is running out quickly. The award ballot for this year's Nerdy Award closes at midnight on 12/20. That would be in just over seven hours! I know, I know. Where has the time gone? I just submitted my votes and thought I'd remind you all. Have you submitted your nominations? If not, here's how to do it in a few easy steps. 

--> Vote for Nerdy

Also, in more Nerdy business, Donalyn Miller posted on the blog yesterday evening. (Her post is HERE.) We're needing to switch things up a bit over at the site. Instead of having a new post every day, there will be a new post five days a week. There are a variety of reasons Donalyn cites for this change, but a main one is we need folks to submit posts! Our readership is strong, growing each year. However many folks seem to be under the impression that once you post, you are done. If this might be what you've believed, please know that we'd love you to post again. Head on over to You Want to Be a Nerdy Blogger (HERE) and sign up! 

That's enough Nerdy business for now. Thanks for popping over for our informal meeting. Grab a donut on your way out and please head on over to nominate your favorite children's books from 2016. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Yarn with Jason Reynolds


Each day my seventh grade language arts class follows a predictable routine: 10 minutes of independent reading, a move to the carpet with a quick grammar lesson, followed by a quick write, a mini lesson, and workshop time. It helps my students know what to expect each day. What we write about, our grammar focus, and the topic for mini lesson units all change, yet the structure remains. Today for our quick write we listened to a podcast.

This was our first time writing from a podcast this year, but when I listened to the latest episode of The Yarn this weekend, I knew I wanted the kids to hear it. I loved that Jason Reynolds shared that his path to publication wasn't without pitfalls. My students love his book, Ghost. Many have begun to read As Brave As You as well. I love that he told them the importance of rap lyrics and poetry. I love that they listened, and absorbed, how he believes in their generation. So we listened. For their quick write they wrote down things they heard Jason say that they liked. I loved watching them sit and all bend over their notebooks at the same line. I loved watching them furiously scribble, trying to get down exactly what he said. I loved it because that was what I did when I listened for the first time. So much goodness packed into nineteen minutes.

I was talking to a colleague later about the experience. She asked what I did if kids didn't write down any quotes, if they refused to participate. I think, as teachers, we have to let some of that go. My students do get graded on quick writes - about once every two weeks they turn in their notebooks, I grade them for having completed the correct number of quick writes and then grade more closely one quick write from that date span they have chosen to have me look at. So yes, there will be a grade. However I don't think that's what's important here. If a child doesn't choose to write, that's on them. I won't chastise them, shame them. Maybe they're having a bad day. Maybe the lesson didn't connect for whatever reason. But I choose to remember that out of 70+ kids today, one didn't write anything. One other child wrote very little. The other 68+ filled more than a page each. I choose to celebrate that. 

After the podcast I asked each class to share some things they felt compelled to write down. All three classes had similar lines strike a cord with them. They include:

  • "Running is the acceptance of suffocation." (This blew their minds.)
  • " that have become accustomed to suffocation." 
  • That Jason writes from 7:30am-2:30pm five days a week. One kid commented, "He's writing now!"
  • Didn't read a novel until he was 17 years old.
  • Read, and listened, to a lot of rap music. Rap lyrics tied to poetry.
  • "It's the stories that build our culture, it's the stories that build our lives."
  • "You can't be what you can't see." 
  • "I want young people to feel cared for."
  • "If you see something, say something."
  • "You can't live your best life if the rest of us can't. That's a reality." 
  • "Your life is made better when my life is made better."
We talked in each class about writing some of Jason's words on chart paper and hanging it in the classroom. The words resonated. The kids soaked them in, and so did I. Thanks to Colby Sharp and Travis Jonker for putting this out into the world. My students, and myself, walked away from listening with so much to discuss. 

Listen to the podcast. I'm sure you will agree that it is well worth your time. (HERE)

Finally - don't forget to vote for The Nerdies! Voting for 2016 nominees closes 12/20. Hurry and nominate your favorite children's books - up to five in each category. Vote HERE