Saturday, March 31, 2012

Last Day Reflection

Sometimes live gives you just the nudge you need.  Several months ago I was sitting at the kitchen table with my parents.  My father has been showing true signs of memory loss and yet with such clarity he looks right at me, rather through me, and says, "I've been thinking, why aren't you writing anymore?"  As that was playing and replaying in my mind I discover the Slice of Life March Challenge.  I am sure I didn't really understand it at all, however it meant writing each day, just what my father ordered!

I was ready to jump in but I did not have a blog, I had no idea how to set-up a blog. But I dug in with the help of dedicated friends. Not only did these friends help me set-up, they also checked in and left encouraging comments along the way.  Thank you dear friends.

Through this I have learned a lot about myself as a writer. I remembered writing isn’t easy. I have discovered that narrative is kind of tricky for me. I feel all telly and preachy, not storyteller like at all. Also, writing takes time; I learned this lesson long ago, when I took a class with the now late Virginia Hamilton  author of so many eloquent novels for children. She once wrote on one of my rushed papers – “give your writing the time it deserves.” Those words both stung and encouraged. They stung because they were so true – I had indeed rushed the piece. (I rushed plenty of pieces this month too.  Some lessons are hard to learn!)  But her words also encouraged as I realized that my writing did indeed deserve time. Everyone’s writing does. I think that those participating in this challenge are thinking just that as they interact with kids.  Kids deserve the time to write and all the nourishing of writing that goes with that time. I have now asked myself, why if I think that all kids deserve the time to write and I believe that we all do, then why had I let my writing go? Many believe that if you do something for 21 days it becomes a habit. I think the habit is not as important as the need and the desire. I am counting on my need and desire to push me forward to continue writing.

I have learned to love falling asleep with my laptop!

I learned that I should have listened to my friend when she said write several slices during the early part of the month so that you are ready on the hard writing days…
There is real joy of spending time reading others' slices.
As one friend said the community holds you up and gives you the strength to write again. I feel like I have made new friends just from the glimpses into their life.
Like so many have said, participating in this makes you so aware of stories everywhere. You are keenly listening and looking. I think I’ll be better at capturing lists of ideas and thoughts because of this month. Just as in conversations, one story slice leads to another, whether it is a story from another participant or from one of my own.

I have a need to say thank you to Ruth and Stacey for their time in hosting this event. Only teachers with such passion for writing would do this for so many of us. Sincerely, thank you. Also, thank you to all of you for writing. I have loved reading your slices, getting a glimpse into your live, your classroom. Thank you SOL for bringing me even closer to people I already adore. Thank you to my friends who held my hand and gently taught and retaught me. 

Finally, I think these words from Little Bee describe the story telling we have experienced this month:
...I had started my story it wanted to be finished
We cannot choose where to start and stop. Our stories are the tellers of us.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lessons in Scaffolding

 Day 30 SOL

Being trained in Reading Recovery I have heard the word scaffolding countless times. Part of the beauty of the program is how scaffolding is built into all of the procedures. Of course I believe in scaffolding students and my own learning. Who wouldn’t want to be on the cutting edge of their own personal learning? Lucky for me one student has been teaching me big lessons in scaffolding and trust.

From the first time I started reading with him in a small group I knew that together we were setting out on a challenge, not because of ability rather I suspected from mindset. His overused phrase, “I can’t.” His most overused word, “No!” 

Once my reading coach, who is also my teacher leader, came to observe the small group he was somewhat a part of. He stood at the doorway, not sure he was going to participate. After inviting him in once, we both ignored him and went on with the lesson; he eased his way in and really wanted to be a part of the group but on his own terms. Hey, who among us doesn’t prefer things on our own terms? At the end of the lesson she looked at me and said, “Reading Recovery?” We both knew at that point that he would be better served one on one.

Now I should be clear, this little guy is really used to things on his own terms. Once in a conference with his dad, all of his teachers, and the principal, he refused to follow any direction or request. He clearly illustrated in the conference why the teachers were worried and yes, let’s be honest, frustrated. It is frustrating to see capability that is not being used. He was often choosing not to participate in class.  Was it fear, was it a language barrier, was it simply a behavior issue or was he really not equipped to participate?  The truth is, the why didn't matter as much as the how we were going to turn it around.  

There is pressure in RR to accelerate students, that is the goal. I was nervous as he entered into RR but totally endeared to him and looking forward to the challenge of getting into his mind and trying to figure out what was holding him back.

At first, true to RR, our lessons only revolved around what he knew. We built on this quickly and made his known solid and obvious to him.  We wrote about sharks every day. Writing is his least favorite thing, but talking about sharks is his favorite. I read shark books to him and we found some that he could read independently. He then wrote his own shark book. Small steps.

As he moved into lessons his teacher and I started to see a slight change.  Small steps.
And these steps of progress have continued.
We have gone from sharing the reading of the new book, to him taking total charge.  Bigger steps.  
We have gone from him refusing to write, to him writing two sentences. Small steps.  We have gone from him saying "no" to the running record book to him understanding that it is part of his lesson. Must have step! Yesterday he read to the Kindergarten class! Exciting step.  Today he read to HIS class.  Even more exciting step!
He is still in charge of picking his new book. Believe me if I don’t let him choose there will be no reading!  He has to have ownership.  

Goodbye routines, hello what is best for this child. Hello teacher willing to compromise and learn to patiently build.  Yes, he has taught me, step by step.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thinking about TEAM

Everyone Needs a Team?...

I have never been on an official sports team, that’s right never I was always one of the last kids picked when choosing sides for yard games, or sides in gym class and that was okay because to be honest no one wanted to play less than me.

But I am finding more and more that there is so much power in being on a team and cheering on a team.
There is something about having a team you can believe in, someone to root for. There is a sense of belonging and a sense of pride.  Those of you who have been rooting on the poets in Ed DeCaria's Madness! 2012 know this to be true. While I usually referred to my classes as family, the classroom community feels like a team and being a part of a group of teachers is a lifeline kind of team. In a broader sense our school staff is a team.

Last year when someone from our Central Office asked me how things were going at school I said I felt like a cheerleader.   I really felt foolish for saying that but then I started reflecting.  Often times at school I do feel like a cheerleader. So much of what we do is encourage and help kids develop skills so that they have the confidence that leads to their success. It is the nudge and nurture factors. I see teachers doing just that all day long.  Don't you love and treasure those quick encounters with children, in the hall, at the lunch table, etc. when you get to ask them about that special book they are reading or a piece of writing that they are crafting; the kind of encounter that is honoring and honest, lets them know that you have time to think about them and what they care about.  

I think being a part of SOL has given me even more reason to think about being on a team.  Thank you for gathering together, writing, sharing and as a team cheering one another on.    

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Empty Nesting

SOL   Day 28
My husband and I admit it, we wrapped our lives around our daughters' lives and yet we have never regretted that.  We planned so that we could be home with our girls or nearby when they were out and about.  We were happy, yes sometimes weary, to be the drivers for car pooling to the mall, movies, games, dances, etc. And we were always an open door home, where kids came and went, were fed and welcomed.  I am sure that there are plenty of books out there that instruct nurturing the husband/wife relationship more carefully or tell you to find time for dating.  I am not saying that we did it right, I am just saying we did what worked and came naturally for us.

When our oldest daughter was a senior in high school we knew the truth, she would be moving out soon and our youngest wouldn't be far behind.  Then what?  So while our daughter was filling out college applications we were beginning to fill in the blanks to now what?

The now what? has been unfolding during this entire school year as my first school work day just happened to be the college move in day for our youngest.  Neither girl is too far away, but then again they aren't here.  My husband and I have each had our turn at sentimental tears and questioning where time has gone.  But that has made us more sensitive to one another.  So the empty nesting dance began and we are taking it step by step.  Like any true dance the rhythm is falling into place naturally. We are finding the beat and the pace.

It turns out that building our family together was nurturing our relationship all along.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Noticing Literacy Moments

Day 27 SOL
Today was a fabulous day to just have a few peeks into human interactions with words and the power of words that touch your heart and bring us closer together.

I started my day with a teacher in my doorway so excited to share a book title with me. Wow, what a perfect morning greeting!

Before school started we had an optional meeting. The focus was on building relationships through reading. We were asked to bring a book or two that means something to you or your students. As so often happens, it seemed that the agenda was dual purposed as once we started talking about our books the relationships between us strengthened. There were so many cross-connections as people shared, as one teacher talked about a book, memories, ideas and thoughts were shared that wrapped us closer to the books and closer to one another. We talked about past classes, our own children, the power of read aloud and how books give us common language.

The next interaction I observed was a new student walking into a first grade classroom. The girl was of Chinese decent and the teacher had no idea if this student was new to the United States or not. As the child slowly advanced into the room to meet her teacher, the teacher extended her hand and said ni3 hao3 (pronounced knee how) and the child said hi! It was precious. The child with her anxious eyes seemed to quickly relax and smile, she saw the humor and felt the welcome.

Mid-day, in a fifth grade classroom one student who is ready to dig into a great book, he looks at me desperately from across the room, he shrugs his shoulders, he needs a book. I had lent a book to a teacher and I told him that it just might be the type of book he was looking for. Don’t be afraid I tell him; just go ask for the book. He left the room and returned with book in hand. I sat down next to him and introduced the book. Tried to pull him in with some of the humor of the book. I could not tell if he bought into the idea of reading this book or not. Just as I was leaving the room I observe him calling over a friend and sharing the sentences that I had pointed out and both boys are cracking up! I can’t wait to see what he thinks of the book – tomorrow will tell.

Later in the day, several emails fly through our building as we rejoice in our resident poet, Mary Lee's, next work.  We rally around her gift for words and are excited to read all the poetry written for kids.

All day, all around me, there are literacy moments to take in and celebrate.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring Break Reading

SOL Day 26

Spring break was outstanding, time spent with family, friends and great books. This year at the pool I noticed that my mom and aunt were reading a lot as well. Our friend who shared the trip with us read throughout our time together. Being surrounded by a reading community meant that it was okay to open your book at any time and get lost without feeling that you were unsocial, actually quite the opposite as we talked about our reading frequently.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I purchased Wonder and The One and Only Ivan for the trip. Neither of these books disappointed. When I first started Ivan I wondered how a book told by a Gorilla would grab me. Well it grabbed and never let go! I love Katherine Applegate’s books in this prose-type style. Amazing.

I cried so many times while reading Wonder that my husband said, “I don’t know if I should say sorry honey or I am glad you love your book!” This made me giggle and wipe my tears. How is it that YA books always touch so very deeply? I fell in love with the characters and was surprised when the chapters alternated narrators. I was not expecting this format but thought it was powerful.

I also finished Out of My Head. After listening to Sharon Draper at the Dublin Literacy Conference, many teachers on our staff are reading this book and will come together for a book talk. What a range of emotions I felt reading this one. And it was particularly interesting to read it right after Wonder. Actually, all three of these books teach us about compassion and celebrate what we can learn from one another and our unique gifts.

Finally, for the car ride I started Breadcrumbs. I have about 20 pages to go and if laundry and life weren’t calling me I would have this book completed too. I am intrigued whenever an author can weave classics into modern day. Brilliant so far!

There is just magic about books for readers starting in about grade 4, I call it YA but not sure that is the right label. These books just touch a place in my heart. Perhaps it is the honesty, the searching for life answers, the friendships, the struggles, or simply all of that and so much more. Maybe it is that writers who can write for YA are just that gifted and it is a good thing because these young readers deserve the very best. Whatever the reason, by far, these are my favorite books.

For my adult “reading” I listened to the first two Cd's of Little Bee while I was in the driver’s seat. You guessed it, my drive to school and back will be filled with this story.

I returned to school filled with new stories in my head and heart and all day I just wanted to share these books with readers of all ages.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Parking Lot

SOL #24 on March 25th
Posting twice today.
I didn’t get to post this yesterday before leaving Florida heading for Ohio but these images were in my head. The contrasts of arriving and leaving in the parking lot.

Parking Lot

Car turns into
The parking lot
emotions turn in happiness
We have arrived
our familiar place

There they are!
waving and protecting
our  parking spot

car door
flies open
Deep breath of the
Florida breeze

spring out
to hug and hold my
tears of happiness
in our eyes

Parking lot

yellow lines
painted number
of condo
 we are

Deep breath
Smell hot tar

Breathe deep
Do not cry
Kiss mom
        Kiss dad
Hug mom
           Hug dad

Return to mom
And hold on so

she has that look
I know so well
eyes swell

to hold
back tears

Be brave I whisper
        In my head
Soon they will
head north

Be brave I whisper
to self

in parking lot

try not
to cry
Next year
    Next year
           Next year
I say as we pull

Friday, March 23, 2012

Waiting Room

Day 23 SOL 
Today I thought I 'd try a poem about a medical waiting room.  We were the lucky ones, our appointment was on time, but most others were waiting for hours.  Thankful I grabbed a book as we raced out the door to head to the appointment.

Waiting Room

I am the encourager

Not the patient

Only to find that 
I can


come back
with my patient

Must wait

In waiting


comfortable chairs
no one talking
open book
close eyes
doze lightly

only to be 
Jumped out 
of trance 

Patients waiting

                     l   o   n   g 

Appointment at 2pm

Report at 1:30pm

Time is  d
                                     to 4pm
fasting for hours

Patients out of
voices raised
faces drained
no more smiles

only polite 
we are doing 
our best

they wait
in waiting

slowly called one



PSI       CAT    or

I am only
The daughter
waiting nervously

Thursday, March 22, 2012

March Madness

SOL Day 22
Ohio State Buckeye fans are gearing up for the March Madness match up tonight; they are in the sweet 16. I used to think that March Madness was all about basketball, but I was mistaken. Thanks to Ruth and Stacey and Ed DeCaria at Think Kid Think!  I have learned that March Madness is really about writing and sharing and reading and learning with and from fellow literacy lovers.

The TV is on the right channel, our big game comes on, but my laptop is with me and my mind and heart are more invested in the SOL challenge as I continue to play with several drafts.

The fun of having a favorite basketball team in the Sweet 16 of the tournament is real. The joy in having a friend write poetry and being in the regional semifinals of Madness! 2012 a kid's poetry tournament is priceless! Chanting for your favorite basketball team is exciting. But cheering your old-time friends and new found blogging friends as they post their daily Slice of Life writing has brought the kind of excitement and joy that will last long past March.

I suspect that for many of us participating in either the SOL or the poetry tournament the experience will impact us in ways unimaginable.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Another beautiful day at the beach

Day 21 SOL

We have a new routine here on Spring break, our morning walk on the beach. It is absolutely gorgeous and my eyes and mind are not taking the view for granted. Each morning when we step out of the car it is as if I am seeing the beach for the very first time. We stopped to take this picture today. I can say exercise has never been so easy, even tops a great book waiting for me on the treadmill!

Heartbeat up and soul filled with the beauty, it is another great day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Rabbit Lady?

Day 20

There are a close group of friends who gather at this Florida condo complex year after year. Together they face tough times in life, like illnesses and loss. They also find ways to celebrate each day anew and laugh together day after day. Each set of parents has family members come and go. When the visiting families leave and say our goodbyes, it is always with a promise of seeing them next year.

This year there was big news. A lady has moved in and she has a pet rabbit. This rabbit is reaching celebrity status around the pool area and when I met her for the first time, I said, “Oh, yes I have heard about your rabbit.” She was at that moment the rabbit lady. Ah, but not really.

A few minutes after our quick introduction she came back over to our chairs and handed my friend a stack of cookies wrapped in a paper towel. The cookies were warm out of the oven. We thanked her repeatedly almost shocked by her thoughtfulness after all we had just met her. Later we left the pool and when we returned, everyone was thanking her for cookies. She was sharing cookies with everyone. And there on our chair sat a new stack of cookies! We thanked her again and she was tickled that we had truly enjoyed her gift. We continued to talk. She shared about her mother country, her feeling about America, how she raised her children and much more.

In the middle of our conversation it began to rain. We all moved to a covered spot where she stretched her feet into the rain proclaiming the beauty of the rain. She explained that she was an attorney in the Ukraine but here in America she went to culinary school, but never had the opportunity to use that degree officially. So, she bakes when she wants to and shares her talents with everyone around her. Then she promised us a warm chocolate volcano for tomorrow. Of course we said that was not necessary but she insisted and said we wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight thinking of her chocolate dessert. At the end of our visit she finally she shared the biggest truth – she strives to make others happy because that is where her happiness lies.

Rabbit lady, sure, her pet is bringing much happiness to the elderly residents here, but hardly the right name for her. I think she is the happiness lady, the lady who spreads happiness, one cookie at a time.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Dad, the English Language Learner

Day 19

Here we are in Florida spending time with my parents.  Today my dad shared a story that I have heard many times but I still sat and listened to each word trying to predict what would come next and trying to commit it all to memory. Then I thought why not try to capture it for SOL.

In 1947 my father left his mother in Italy and he and his older sister were heading to America on a ship. His sister’s husband was working in the states and they would soon join together in New York. They were heading to upper state New York, where their aunt lived. She would take them in and get them started in their new life in America. Much to his surprise, his aunt did not waste any time to do two things. The first was to put him to work. The two jobs that he always talks about were mowing the large lawn and also sweeping the floors in his aunt’s ladies lingerie factory. That alone always gets to me – the image of my dad at the age of 13 going into a factory where ladies sat at sewing machines constructing slips, bras and other ladies lingerie. These ladies loved him and each day when he came in they would take turns hugging him up!  I am not sure if this entire scenario was a teen’s dream or if it was completely embarrassing. It did not matter either way, as he had to go there each day and contribute to the family. The second thing that she did promptly was to put him in school. From the tone of the story I am not sure which was the most challenging the factory work or going to school.

The school initially placed him in a sixth grade classroom but since he did not know one word of English. It was a real struggle so they moved him to a 4th grade classroom where there was a boy, Bruno, who could interpret everything English into Italian for dad. Each time dad talked to Bruno in Italian, two little boys in their class snickered. Well dad had enough; he knew why they were laughing at him. He asked Bruno to tell the two boys to meet him after school. They all met at the hill near the schoolyard. My dad managed to communicate through Bruno that he was tired of these boys laughing at him and that he would not stand for it anymore. After Bruno repeated this message in English dad grabbed the boys one at a time and shoved each of those two snickering boys down the hill. Needless to say they did not laugh at Bruno or my dad ever again. I guess this is one danger of putting a 13year old in a 4th grade classroom! And believe me we all laugh at this part of the story, even though we know this isn’t how things should be settled.

Dad’s story returns to the classroom. He raises his hands to the sky and says “God bless that teacher, she had such patience with me."  She stayed every night after school determined to teach him English.  Her name has escaped him, but the little boy in him says she had a nice name.  This teacher worked with him every night at school. She pointed to pictures and repeated the names of items to help him learn. He will never forget her.

I think it is more than coincidence that my teaching career has taken me to a school that is beautifully filled with English Language Learners. And there isn’t any question as to why I have a soft spot for the many ELL kids at our school.  Their bravery and tenacity speaks to my heart.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Common Language

Speaking common language.

Recently I have had several nudges to make me think about spending time with people who "speak your language." In one context we were challenged to find people who have a common passion to bring positive change. In the second context we were challenged to think about how much you can grow from those around you who you don't always agree with. As always, both of these talks led me back to school.

It makes sense that at school, we gravitate to those who speak our language. For me, I align with people who are passionate about reading and writing. I love the language of those passionate about literacy, it is honoring of kids: their students' thinking, their efforts, their growth, and their struggles. They get excited about a new book or a snippet that a student has written, and they share it with other teachers. They celebrate minute and major student growth. And really, what is more honoring of kids than strong workshops and nudging literacy learning?

Good things come from common beliefs and common language. Good things come from questioning one another, once you have the security and trust of that common foundation. Sometimes when we ask hard questions at school, our very core can be challenged. But it is our common language that holds us together, our trust, and our strength that allows us to reconsider and reexamine, and most importantly take action.

Isn’t that exactly what we do in our classrooms? We build those strong foundations of language and expectations. Then we move forward together, digging deeper in our learning and thinking. We ask the questions that help young readers and writers to push their thinking and to take action.
I am going to be more mindful in my school community – am I only considering the opinions and thoughts of those who I have bonded with? Am I open to the challenges of change? Will I find ways to incorporate change yet be true to my beliefs, finding the balance? Will I be astute and open enough to really hear the hard questions?

Participating in the SOL challenge has strengthened my community of those who speak the same language. Thanks to each of you for sharing your stories and opening my world wider.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

All in One Day?

Day 17
We traveled through the night and continued traveling until 12:30pm. I took the sunrise driving shift so as I rolled on towards the south, the sun rose to my left gradually welcoming the new day.  And what a full and joyous day it has been.

- travel from 5pm yesterday until 12:30pm today from Ohio to Florida

- arrive in Florida, greeted by my dad and mom hugging and kissing and more hugging

- enjoy lunch prepared by my mom

- change clothes and head to the pool

- sit at pool and read for several hours

- clean up

- help prepare dinner

- clean up from dinner

- go out for the evening, listen to a band, people watch

- come home, read, work on blog, watch evening news

I am so thankful that one day can bring so much joy. The joy of the sunrise unfolding before me, the joy of spending time with my parents, the joy of warmth and relaxation, the joy of realizing how very blessed I truly am and the joy of participating in this SOL challenge that gives me a vehicle to reflect.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Florida Dreaming Part 1

Day 16

The first time that we made the trip to Florida it was very cold here in Columbus, OH and we had just celebrated Christmas. Our family filled the car with suitcases, coolers of drinks, sangwiches (no not a misspelling but the proper pronunciation if you are Italian) and snacks. We were very anxious to get to Florida and stay in our aunt and uncle’s new condo. I had to be 9 or 10 years old and for my “little” brother and me it was our first trip to Florida. While we had never made such an extensive road trip prior, my brother had already learned the fine art of taking over the entire backseat of the car and I had not learned the fine art of saying NO. I do not remember the exact car, I do remember that the backseat seemed big as we started out but it didn’t take long for my brother to stretch the length of the entire seat. He sure looked comfortable...

As we made our way south, the cassette played on and on with one song over and over. I am pretty sure that my father played it continuously just to keep us content and singing. Still to this day I can’t hear Feliz Navida by Jose Feliciano without smiling, singing along, and having my mind go back to that first Florida trip.

There will not be any music by Jose Feliciano playing on this trip, but as we head to the very same destination, all the same feelings are stirred. That condo has become our family destination ever since. That very condo is now owned by my parents and the vacation has become a tradition for my kids and my brothers’ families as well.  Each time we pull into the parking lot at the condo, a little piece of my childhood is reborn.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thinking about focus...

Tonight we held our second round of spring conferences. I join many teachers and parents being a reading support teacher. It is interesting how many times I hear the word focus from parents and teachers. It is even more interesting that I am finding myself out of focus tonight.

So, since I am so out of focus I thought I'd focus on just that...
- What holds us back from being focused?

- Who decides what is worthy of our focus?

- Do we ask kids to focus too long on one task?

- Are we building focus through true engagement?

- I think choice leads to focus

- Does focus look the same for everyone?

Tonight I am focusing on too many things and not deeply enough on one thing (Therefore I am not packed for our vacation, the washing machine is still going, and I am just posting for the day!)

Good night SOL challenge friends - wishing you a new day filled with the power of focusing on what makes you happy!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Here's to the newest of teachers

Day 14 SOL
I really feel pained for the youngest of our teachers. I know that our district can’t be the only one facing continued budget cuts and woes. And once again these teachers with only a few years of experience are in jeopardy of not having a contract. They are faced with the tough question, should they wait it out or should they interview elsewhere? They are heartbroken by this question as this is where they really want to be, in this community of learners.
I selfishly need these young people, they push me and teach me. But the students need them more so here is my try at poetry in honor of who they are in my teaching life…

New teachers,

You are the energy,

The spirit

The renewal

You are the learners
builders of hope

Experience is the foundation
       but you are like
                falling rain,
eroding practice by habit
            nurishing practice by thinking

You bring
the perspective
the vision

Spunky personalities
quiet or  shy
         you find a place and a way

You bring the courage, the resilience

You are fragile, sometimes unsure,
        yet very strong

You are the re-affirmers
Questioners of why

I depend on you
          to teach me new

You are
our reflection
of who we once were

of who we always
hope to be