Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Slice of Life: Power and what we do with it

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

Like many people, I looked forward to the women's U.S. Open tennis final. I have admired and respected Serena Williams for many years. How cool is it that a woman could come back and win a major with a barely one year-old daughter?! I watched the match at a post-soccer game party trying to pay attention to both the score and the conversations. For a while, we all watched as we talked and ate, but then when controversy seemed to be happening, we turned up the volume. As Serena smashed her racquet and continued on a verbal tirade directed at the chair umpire, we all listened. In the company of 25 college students and several parents, none of us were sure of how to react as the events unfolded. Many of us were angry for Serena, some of us were angry at Serena, and we were all sad for Naomi Osaka. Serena was a well-known icon to the girls in the room, and Naomi was exactly the age of most of the girls who were watching, a fact not lost on them. They wanted to see her celebrate!

Later that night when I got home, I watched the match again with my mother who is a long-time tennis fan. She only knew there had been controversy and that Serena had lost. She didn't know what had happened. (For those of you who don't know what happened, Serena was penalized a point because the chair ump saw her coach giving hand signals. Two games later, Serena lost her serve when she double-faulted and she pounded her racket on the court, breaking it. That was a second violation and therefore a point penalty. She had a LOT to say to the umpire, and when he gave her a third violation for the verbal tirade, the consequence was a lost game.)

There has already been, and I'm sure there will continue to be, a LOT thought, tweeted, and written about this series of events. While I thought that Christina Torres's post, The Unpalatable Rage of Women: What Serena Williams's Experience Reminds Us About Schools, raises important and true points about schools and the experiences of Black girls, I also appreciate the point of the first commenter--Serena's behavior was unsportsmanlike, and coaching from the sidelines, regardless of how discrete or subtle, is not allowed. If she had smashed her racket without having had the first warning about coaching, maybe we wouldn't all be talking about it so much. But maybe we should be.

Because here's one of my takeaways from it all, and it's along similar lines as Christina's points in that it relates to school and our responsibilities as educators. Carlos Ramos was the umpire in the situation. He's experienced and a "gold badge-level umpire" (whatever that means). I am sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he knows that Serena is emotional and volatile. I am also sure that he knows that she is successful and mighty in the tennis world. After all, she has won 23 Grand Slam titles. During the first set, Serena struggled to find her rhythm, and she came back to the court for the second set looking more confident and focused. She was leading 3-1 when Ramos issued a warning for coaching. Maybe Serena's coach was violating a rule. One of the arguments is that the gesture he made--and it was a slight one--happens all the time from other coaches. Okay, cheating is cheating, and he got called out on it. But here's my thought: if I could have predicted that Ramos's warning would blow Serena's mind and rock her rhythm, then I bet Ramos could have predicted that, too. I'm not sure that during that critical juncture, at the final championship match, he should have chosen to take on the coaching issue. Even as I write this, I feel awkward defending the practice of cheating, and if it's happening, I agree it should be stopped, and if it really happens on a widespread basis, then take it on--just not on center court during an emotional championship final. My husband is known for saying that good referees aren't noticed in a game. Their job is to provide a safe setting for athletes to compete at their highest levels. Ramos's initial warning provoked Serena. Maybe she would have gone on to win that set--we'll never know. Osaka played great tennis, for sure.

Ramos had power over Serena, and power is a huge responsibility. His responsibility was to manage the match so that the spotlight stayed on the players and their incredible ability to play the game. Our job as educators is to manage the classrooms, using our power so that students learn at the highest levels possible. Maybe it means picking our battles--we learn quickly what sets students off. We know what provokes and what settles our volatile students. Maybe it's overlooking some violations on a pathway toward engagement...

So this post took me longer to write than I expected, and writing about it didn't clarify my thoughts as writing sometimes does. In fact, writing about this issue muddied it for me. Maybe it's because power is complicated. As an educator, the 2018 U.S. Open tennis final makes me more committed to providing environments where students feel empowered, respected, and engaged in their learning. If there's a way to manage behavior without exerting power, then I will work that much harder at doing it. Serena's experience on Saturday is an important reminder that few people perform optimally when they feel stripped of personal power. Not professional tennis players, and not children.

Friday, August 10, 2018

My List of Picture Books for the 2018 #pb10for10 Event

Thank you Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for hosting this Annual Picture Book 10 for 10 Event (#pb10for10)! 

I love picture books so I always look forward to this event to see new titles that I haven't read or heard of yet! Below is a list of some picture books I enjoyed reading & sharing with students and teachers this year.  

 After the Fall by Dan Santat is a great book to read aloud for growth mindset for students of all ages.  In fact, a first grade teacher and a 6th grade teacher both read it aloud to their class this past school year and both classrooms loved it! Students at different grade levels can get different messages out of it and have great conversations around them! 

 There Might be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi is a surprising story about a fear of the water.  Usually it is the human character who has the fear, but this book has a twist and it is her pet dog, Suki, who is afraid of the water because there might be lobsters in it! It is a great read aloud about overcoming fears and worries and how others can help you through it! 

What Do You Do With a Chance? by Kobi Yamada is the third book in the "What Do You Do With..." series and I love all of them! This one is a great read aloud to talk about how it takes courage to take chances in life and that amazing things can happen when you take a chance.  This book will lead to powerful conversations just like What Do You Do With a Problem? and What Do You Do With a an Idea? 

 Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall is a perfect read aloud for so many reasons! It is a great mentor text for writing small moments in writing workshop since it stretches out the moment when Jabari is trying to gain the courage to dive. It is also perfect for teaching/modeling how to use the "Somebody, Wants, But, So, Then" to summarize the story, identifying lessons learned, character impact, character change, and more! This is one of my favorite picture books! 

 The Bad Seed by Jory John is a hysterical book about a bad seed that has a bad attitude and bad manners at the beginning of the story. The seed changes positively throughout the book and shows the reader that change is always possible.  This is a fun book to read aloud to students of all ages. 

 A Bike Like Sergio's by Maribeth Boelts 
Maribeth Boelts is the author of Those Shoes, which is one of my favorite picture books so as soon as I saw she wrote a new book, I had to buy it and read it! This book reminds me of Those Shoes so it would be great to read aloud both of them to compare/contrast the books.  This book would be a great read aloud during a character unit or social issues book club unit.  It is also a great book to use when teaching "Somebody, Wants, But, So" to summarize, identifying character motivation, character change, character impact, turning points, and lessons learned. 

 The Thing Lou Couldn't Do by Ashley Spires 
Ashley Spires also wrote The Most Magnificent Thing, which is one of my favorite picture books for teaching about growth mindset so as soon as I saw she wrote this, I had to buy it! This book is another perfect read aloud for teaching and discussing growth mindset with your students.  I love that this book uses the phrase "not yet" in this book since that is such an important phrase for having a growth mindset.  This book is a great read aloud for all grades, including primary.  

 The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld is a cute book about the power of listening and that sometimes when we are going through a tough time, all we need is someone to be there to listen to us.  In this book, there are a bunch of animals that try to talk to the child or give advice, but it is the rabbit who just listens and it is just what the child needed.  This is an important book to remind us that sometimes our students and colleagues may just need someone to be there to listen.  

 The Word Collector by Peter Reynolds - I love all of Peter Reynolds' books so was excited to see this newer one.  This is a great book to read aloud and share with students to spread excitement for learning new words! 

 Saturday is Swimming Day by Hyewon Yum reminds me so much of Jabari Jumps. It is about a little girl who is afraid of swimming lessons on Saturdays and seems to always have a stomachache on Saturdays. Her swimming instructor continues to encourage her each Saturday and little by little the girl begins to gain confidence and faces her fears.  I look forward to sharing this book with students and teachers in the fall.  

Happy Reading! :)

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Slice of Life: In search of lunatic

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

Hiking through Rocky Mountain National Park, Larkin, Clare and I listened to the banter of a group of boys--most likely campers--playing a word game. I'd forgotten about the game until I listened to them debate whether flan was a word, and then the rules for the game came back to me. You had to go around in a circle adding letters, always with a word in mind, but whoever completed a word would be out. Larkin, Clare and I started our own game, agreeing that the first one of us to complete the word horse would be the loser. 

As we came upon a mountain lake, two men were taking a picture of themselves. I was struggling with how I was going to deal with the fact that I was facing L-U-N-A. (We agreed that luna seemed too foreign and we didn't have wifi to check whether to allow it or not. I was happy to be playing a game, and I didn't protest much...) I offered to take the picture, and I laughingly told them I needed a letter to continue the game--the only word I could think of was lunar. 

They didn't seem to be contemplating my issue too hard; they were much more interested in the scenery and the photo. They even offered to take our picture as I kept winding my way through the alphabet in search of a word other than lunar. They took a great picture--one of my favorites-- and as they headed away from us, one of the men turned around. 

"Lunatic," he said. 


Larkin would up with the next letter as we continued along our hike. 

I have since played this game with many different combinations of people, and it's great for spelling as well as vocabulary development. It's even great for a laugh!

Happy Slicing!

Monday, July 23, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate,  check out these blogs.                                   
I always look forward to digging into my large stack of "to read" books during the summer! So far, here are two of my favorites from this summer. 
  Paper Chains by Elaine Vickers has been in my "to read" stack for awhile and I so wish I moved it to the top sooner! I loved this book and will be purchasing multiple copies for 5th grade teachers to use for book clubs in the fall! This book is full of social issues, friendships, family relationships, and more.  The main character, Katie, knows she is adopted, but doesn't know anything about her birth parents. She is afraid to ask her adoptive parents and is also scared to talk about this part of her life with her best friend, Ana.  Ana is also struggling with her own family issues since her dad left the family to play for a different hockey team.  Their friendship is strong and helps them through these secrets and challenges.  It is a book that you won't want to put down because you want to find out what happens next! 
 Checked by Cynthia Kadohata was also in my stack for a long time and I was hesitant to read it because it focused on hockey and sports books usually aren't my favorites.  However I really enjoyed it and am so glad I gave it a try! There is so much more to this book than hockey. The main character, Conor, is 11 years old and is extremely passionate about playing hockey.  His father is very involved in helping him practice hockey and supports him all the way since he is a former pro hockey player himself.  Conor's mother passed away when he was younger so he has a strong relationship with his father and the two of them share the same passion for hockey. Since hockey is an expensive sport to play, they face some financial decisions along the way.  In addition to loving hockey, Conor also loves his dog, Sinbad, who faces some challenges during this book that bring them even closer.  I have some 6th graders in mind that will love this book in the fall! 

Happy Reading! :)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Slice of Life: A broken air-conditioner or an unwelcome encounter?

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

Up until about 6 on Saturday night, I felt guilty. Guilty that I wasn't flying to Michigan to help move Larkin to Denver. Guilty that I was at the beach with another daughter and her delightful friends. Guilty that the weather was perfect in Rhode Island as opposed to muggy and hot across the middle of the country. The most recent snapchat from my husband and Garth had them driving through Nebraska with the windows open and their hair whipping around. Somewhere between Des Moines and Omaha, the air conditioning had broken. Seventeen hours is a long time in the car in the best of circumstances. Without air-conditioning, it sounded really miserable. I felt really guilty. 

"Let's take the dogs for a quick walk before we make dinner," my sister-in-law, Amy, said. The dogs were thrilled. The girls were all playing games in the back yard, and the rest of our crew had plenty of chores to keep them occupied. Amy and I are fast in the kitchen. We could take the dogs for a walk and still serve up dinner before anyone showed signs of being hangry. 

We headed toward our favorite trail, a place where we could unclip the labs and let them run. Within seconds of Okie's freedom, he bolted into the bushes and then bolted out of the bushes. Reeking. Words I didn't know I knew spiraled out of my mouth as the sour skunk smell invaded the walk. Okie dashed to the open grass, rolling and rubbing. 

Amy made dinner on her own as I bathed Okie over and over with various concoctions of baking soda, vinegar, palmolive, and Nature's Secret Skunk Formula. 

As I write this slice, the air conditioner is fixed, and Okie has had a professional deoderizing at Petco. (One was much more expensive than the other.) I'm no longer feeling guilty--just excited to keep hearing about Larkin's latest adventures in her next chapter of life. 

Happy Slicing!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Slice of Life: When we want what we don't want

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

"What shoes do you think I should wear?"
I was talking to Larkin, our oldest daughter, as I drove across town. She was preparing for a first-job interview, and I was several hundred miles away preparing to interview someone else's 22 year-old for a first job. 
"It's a Skype, Larkin," I said. "I don't think your shoes are going to be the deciding factor."
"But --"
"Wear the shoes that make you feel the most confident," I interrupted, remembering my pledge to validate her. 

The next hour passed with an impressive demonstration lesson and thoughtful answers to our collection of questions. I managed to focus on the answers and content, although I wondered at one point how much thought had gone into our candidate's shoes. I liked them. I didn't compliment them, but I did share with her that my own daughter was having a parallel experience as we walked from the classroom back to the interview room. 

When our candidate left, I couldn't resist. 
"I'm sorry," I said. "I really need to check my phone and my own girl's experience before we debrief."
My phone was full of text messages. F.U.L.L. 
Mom. I got it!Mom. Mom, call me. Mom, I got it. CALL ME. MMMOOOOOMMMMM. 
My response shocked everyone-- including me-- because I started to cry.
"Go call her," they all said. "We will wait."

I called her and we had a quick celebration conversation. We'd plan the details of how to get her from Michigan to Denver (next week), and we'd figure out how we'd visit from Connecticut. No worries. There's a direct flight. 

I returned to the interview room. We debriefed. I focused.

And then, when I got back into the car to drive to a different school, I cried. To the point where I had to reapply mascara.

Sometimes in life there's a fine--almost invisible-- thread between what we want and what we don't want.

Happy slicing,

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Slice of life: Surprising squalls and unexpected peace

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

On Saturday afternoon, my husband, two of our daughters, and I headed down the small trail that leads to the beach. As soon as we got there, Julia looked up. 

"Doesn't look like it's going to stay much of a beach day," she said. Julia's frequently the master of the obvious.

Dark clouds lined the brighter ones, moving closer. I let the waves wash over my feet and ankles before giving her words and warning the credit they warranted. 

"Let's head back to town," I agreed. 

Good thing we did, as the skies opened up, and we were able to watch less forward-thinking beach-goers come dashing up the path and through the puddles, soaked through from the sudden outburst. 

Since that burst hadn't been on the radar, no one, not even the sailors out in the harbor were ready enough to head in and make it to cover. Another one of our girls works at the sailing club, and she had to take the launch out to help out those sailors whose boats were filling with water with sails spinning them into unplanned paths. It really was a surprise squall. 

Later, we had warnings  come up again, predicting hard rain in our area. 

"We're going to get pounded again," Clare said, holding up her phone. 

At least we were home where we could watch the storm brew and unleash. 

That being said, nothing arrived. Thes sky stayed clear, and the sunset was stunning. I think we all watched it with extra appreciation because we were so expecting storms.

It occurred to me that sometimes that's how teaching is. What you think will be fine--what you think will go smoothly without outbursts or thunder--sometimes surprises you, drenching you, especially if you're not ready. And other times, when you're hunkered down, expecting the storm, it's peaceful and productive. And while we try to anticipate and be prepared, sometimes there's laughter and joy in the unexpected. And sometimes the unexpected peace is the most appreciated. Sometimes it's those moments that embed themselves in lasting memories.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Slice of Life--Chasing hares

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

My mother's gardens are incredible. Somewhere far back in our lineage, I think we may cross genetic paths with the McGregor family who wanted so desperately to put Peter Rabbit into a stew because she really hates the rabbits who live in the back yard. I've come to understand her dislike (and empathize with Mr. McGregor in ways I never had before) because they really are hungry little creatures. When her old and deaf spaniel Holly caught and killed a baby bunny yesterday, my mother was thrilled. Even though the little dog couldn't hear it, she received a whole lot of praise for her attack on the bunny world, and she spent most of the day poised at the door, ready to head back toward the nest. 

Throughout the week, I've been percolating a post centered on the proverb:

If you run after two hares you will catch neither.

Holly, who is deaf, stiff, and slow was able to capture a bunny. I guess some of her senses and strategies are still pretty intact. I have not been thinking about this proverb in terms of spaniels, though; I've been thinking about it in terms of writing. 

In a kindergarten class, I watched a child diligently copy words onto his paper. He is a child with disabilities, so there are usually adults hovering around, ready to help and guide him through tasks. Since he struggles with handwriting and letter formation, his para had written a sentence on a whiteboard. During independent writing time, H. was working on copying the letters, while the rest of the class was writing opinion pieces about problems they'd identified and wanted fixed in their schools. 

I asked H. what he was working on. "My writing," he said.  I asked H. to read his work to me. His writing was a little messy but legible. He couldn't. I asked him to read the neater sentence on the whiteboard. He couldn't. 

I talked to his para about ways she could teach him that could involve more drawing and less writing--how the instruction and task could be closer to his independent level, and the para was wonderful about changing things up a bit so that the task could still involve letter formation, but wasn't the equivalent of copying hieroglyphics. I left the class thinking about tasks and how we balance teaching all of the skills students need in order to write. I emphasize approximation and not mastery when I talk to teachers about writing instruction, and sometimes I think we all feel like we are chasing a whole lot more than just two hares. 

The world is full of analogies, and maybe it's just that this one doesn't work for writing instruction. It's messy and involves chasing a whole lot of hares. Sometimes kids have to work on letter formation or keyboarding or spelling or capitals. Oh yes, and also thinking of ideas and sentence variation and different strategies for elaboration and... the list goes on, and I'm not sure we should ever ask students to stop paying attention to other aspects of writing and focus only on one. In fact, I'm sure we shouldn't. 

For now I'll leave the focus on one hare at a time to Holly, only preferably when I'm not around. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Slice of Life: Imperfection and Activism

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

I spent a rainy Saturday morning at the first Connecticut Council of Teachers of English conference. 
Truth: I debated going. I signed up at about 5 am when I was sure the morning would be a washout. The breakout sessions seemed to be more geared to secondary teachers than elementary, and I really had to get behind myself. 
Truth: Kate Robert and Maggie Beattie Roberts were the keynote speakers, and I knew they'd be funny. 
Truth: They were. And they were also incredibly insightful and inspirational.  
A lot of what they talked about had to do with the damaging quest so many of us have to be perfect. I loved the reminder from Kate that "Imperfection is not what keeps great things from happening." In fact, we have to survive a whole lot of imperfection in order to grow, learn, and achieve. We have to try and fail, try again and fail again. I know that, but perfect still tends to be the skunk at my party.

They also talked a lot about the importance of activism. Maggie described a neighbor who required, as admission to her birthday party, a letter each party-attender had written in the spirit of activism. Maggie challenged us all to think about what we have to do, how we have to be, in order to have a civic voice. Pause and think about that for a minute.

In the room, we talked about it, and then she spoke for the group: be informed, take risks, participate... "When you're complaining, what are you doing to change it?" she asked all of us.

When I got home from the conference, I mentioned to my daughter about something that was really bothering me. Something pretty big, pretty universal.

"You can't change that," she said. "Everyone does it. It's like a whole world thing."

"And black people once rode in the back of buses and their kids went to separate schools," I said.

She stared. Opened her mouth, then wisely closed it.

Like so many parents, I'm trying to be perfect. Clearly, I'm falling short in the realm of activism, but Kate and Maggie helped me think about that, too, on Saturday morning. How to work on imperfections?

  1. Focus and name the goal.
  2. Take baby steps.
  3. Get help--have mentors.
So here's my goal: Make sure my daughters understand the importance of doing something when they have complaints. Maybe Saturday morning counts as a baby step. Maybe sharing some of Kate and Maggie's important messages counts as another one!

Happy Slicing! 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Slice of Life: It's not my story!

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

My slice of life is happening even as I write. 

My teenage daughter is working on a personal narrative that she will receive a stakes grade on, and it's due tomorrow, and she keeps asking me for help. I've reminded her (and me) that it's not my story. Plus, I have a mantra, and many of you share it, as it comes from Lucy Calkins: Teach the writer, and not the writing. 

I'm trying. I'm really, really trying. 
I'm struggling. I'm really, really struggling. 

She's working on a google doc, and that complicates the issue for me. It's SO easy to make comments on those docs, and where's the line between teaching the writer something that will be transferrable, and telling the writer something to do on that one piece of writing? I made a comment where I told her to think about four ways to stretch the important moments of her stories: action, dialogue, description, and inner thinking. 

"Well, where should I do that?" she asked. 

You can bet she rolled her eyes when I suggested she's really the one who should decide on the important parts. 
"It's your story," I said. "It's not my story."

She rolled her eyes again when I asked if she had a rubric or a set of expectations from her teacher, and she opened up her classroom. Sure enough, there was a rubric with a list of clear learning targets. I have to say that I don't love that she's writing a story that will receive a  ___/50 total points, but I do appreciate that the list of clear expectations are there for the students. 

"I don't really have any of this," she said, and I could tell she was close to tears. "I hate writing narratives. I hope I NEVER have to do this again."

An invisible dagger sliced through my heart, but I agreed stories can be hard, and we had some ways we could think about revision that could work with all narratives just in case she ever has to write another story. 

Together, we sketched a story mountain of her story, and then I taught her about an emotional arc. That helped her change some of her plot points in ways that even she had to admit made better sense. 

As I write, she's still sending screen shots of some of her revised scenes, working hard to get me to better her writing. As I write, I'm trying to think of answers and responses that nudge her to do most of this thinking on her own by looking at the rubric and self-assessing whether she's met those targets of if she could do more. 

Have I mentioned how hard this is??? I'm still trying...still struggling...

Happy writing and slicing to all of you (and to my girl!)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Slice of Life- A High Pressure Small Group Lesson

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

Small group instruction usually doesn't make me too nervous. I have a few chartbooks that are well stocked with tools, and I can usually reach for one of those. If I don't have the tool I want, I feel pretty confident about creating something quickly that does the trick. But today, I had a high-pressure small group session. 

I had the tools. I had the students. They had their writing. I had my teaching point. You're thinking this is all good, right? Oh, I forgot to mention the pair of video cameras on my right and left. 

Nothing like video cameras to raise the stakes and my blood pressure. 

As I explained to the four boys why this lesson would be important for them, one of them played with his lead pencil. You know the type. Those intriguing pencils that have several tips that insert into a plastic tube, and if you don't have them all engineered just so, the pencil doesn't work. (These pencils might have been created in order to torture teachers, especially teachers who are trying to conduct a lesson on a video tape.) Fortunately, I had a collection of felt-tip pens and made a quick trade with my friend, which he dealt with. 

"I'll give you the pencil back after the lesson," I said, as I swept up the several parts he'd managed to get his pencil into as soon as the video got rolling. 

The lesson continued, and although it wasn't perfect, it was probably good enough. And maybe it will even be affirming for others to watch some of the real-life adventures of teaching. As my friend reminded me, good=real, and perfect=unbelievable. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Slice of Life: If students can't do the work without us---

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

I thought about skipping the slicing life tonight. Truth be told, I've been writing all day. I've worked on my first three chapters of my novel, I've revised my query letter, I've edited some descriptive paragraphs for summer programs, and I've written a critique of a book proposal. I've also made charts and written some demonstration pieces. All in all, there's been a lot of writing done today, and sometimes it gets in the way of a good slice.

Then, almost simultaneously, one of my favorite (I know I'm not supposed to have favorites, but) teachers texted asking if I'd take a look at some of her students' recent on-demand writing samples, and a tweet came through my feed from #tcrwp.

Of course I'll look at the writing samples, I texted right back. She went on to share how disappointed she was with the quality of the writing. I responded with the standards. They met the state standards--just not her standards. And now in our upcoming unit, we have a new bar set, and that is one where they go above the basics and into the realm of independent demonstration of all of her great instruction.

 We teach well beyond the standards, and sometimes the work we see in process pieces exceeds the work students produce in an on-demand situation. Let me revise that statement. Sometimes the work we see in process pieces exceeds the work we ALL produce in an on-demand situation. That being said, I think it's crucial that we are constantly and continually assessing students' internalization of our instruction because yes, if they can't do the work without us, they can't do it.

So here are some questions to help us build independence and repertoire regardless of unit and regardless of level:

  • How long can the student sustain productive work without adult intervention? Is that amount of time increasing?
  • How strong is the scaffold, and what is the plan for removing it? 
  • What is the student's understanding of the work they are doing?
  • Are we valuing the process and growth more than the product? 
When left to their own devices, sometimes students will wow us and sometimes they will disappoint us. Our job is to give them the instruction, power, motivation, and pride in becoming independent writers, regardless of their level.  

And now, I've completed my writing for the day, including a slice!

All good things,