Monthly Archives: March 2015

SOLC21- March 21, 2015 Trying to Beat the Rain- Will I Ever Learn?


March 21, 2105

While it is officially the dry season here there have been many days with rain lately. I refuse to wear a rain coat because they make me too hot, and I  usually do not take an umbrella along either. I notice  the locals do not  either, so what to do when the rain comes down? It is not often a gentle pitter patter, but quickly accelerates to a torrential downpour. Sometimes when I look out my window it looks fine out, but by the time I get the elevator down 15 stories it is chucking down. Rather than go back up I will usually (unwisely as it often turns out) decide to brave the weather.

Today when I left to catch a bus the wind was really whipping up- usually a sign of an imminent storm. I was only going about 10 minutes away and arrived safely before any rain. Fast forward a few hours and upon setting out for home later it was ever so slightly drizzling and looked like it was ending, so I dodged the storm… or did I? I got on the bus safely but had a longer than necessary ride home because of tons of traffic. When I got to my stop there was road construction (welcome to Malaysia), so I had to walk in the street as the sidewalk was no more. Then the rain started coming down harder so that by the time I got to cross the street I was pretty wet. I ducked into the mall to get a few groceries and when I headed home it was just drizzling again, so the walk next door to get home was dry. I would like to think that the next time I go out the door I would carry an umbrella “just in case”, but I know me- realistically it is unlikely, as I always think I will avoid the rain. Happily (as I told a taxi driver the other day who was concerned about me getting out into the rain) I always dry!

SOLC20- March 20, 2015 Communities


March 20, 2015


It was after school today that I thought about what I would write today. After school on a Friday, is not “prime time” for a teacher- I was exhausted. I first went to the MS/HS campus of our school for a support vigil in honor of colleagues from a nearby international school. It was a moving testimony it was lovely to see our school supporting in any way possible. There I reflected upon the “international school community” and how important a network is when times are tough. Sometimes just supporting from a distance is all that you can do. I then went to a colleague’s apartment for a quick drink before moving on to a larger gathering. TWe met up with a larger group of colleagues (mostly other teachers new to the school, but with a nice mix of older hands too). By nature I am a fairly solitary person and moving this summer has made me even more so, but tonight I was reminded of the need for community- a chance to be together, talk about everything and nothing at all, just being together to know each other better. It was nice to hear about vacation plans, sick kids recovering, a new mom’s adjustments to being back at work, weekend goals, what is going on in other parts of the school. I really want to be more involved in the world beyond me and I need to get better at being more social and seeking out opportunities. When you are away from “home” building community can take more work, but it always is worth it in the end.

SOLC19- March 19, 2015 Special Days


Special Days

I was thinking about special days today when I looked at the calendar to double check when “spring” starts. Seasons have a different meaning here  in the tropics, and we are not waiting for snow to melt, flowers to bloom, trees to bud, or any of the signs of spring I am used to seeing. They say we have a rainy season and a dry season here, but it is HOT year round. While I was consulting the calendar I checked for Easter. I am living in a Muslim country after spending 11 of the last 12 years in Germany, and while Germany is not “Christian” Easter was evident in a big way there. The last 8 months have actually been a bit confusing calendar wise. As the weather does not really change, time seems quite nebulous. Special days are different here and I do not really know them yet. Malaysia is a mix of cultures, with the dominant ones being Malay, Chinese, and Indian. There are 14 national

Special days are different here and I do not really know them yet. Malaysia is a mix of cultures, with the dominant ones being Malay, Chinese, and Indian. There are 14 national public holidays and sometimes additional ones depending on the state. When I arrived in July and was surprised to see what I think of as Christmas lights still up on a main road I was told that they were for the festive season, but that Malaysia has a lot of festive seasons. At school, we have had dress up days for Hari Raya, Deepavali, and Chinese New Year.  Many shops are open 365 days a year here, so even when it is a local holiday it is sometimes hard to know, except that the malls will have elaborate decorations and there are often fireworks at night. Last week there were fireworks one evening and I have no idea why- consulting the calendar did not help me at all. I look forward to continuing to learn more about the special days here, but know that many traditions and celebrations will always be a surprise to me. Much as I love my memories of special days in the past I am happy to anticipate new ones as well!

SOLC18- March 18, 2015 Mentor Texts


Mentor Texts

Lately I have been thinking a lot about mentor texts in writing. One of my colleagues maintains that using mentor texts to help develop writers is not a very effective way to teach. My gut disagrees with this because I have seen student writers really take off based on mini-lessons where we have studied mentor texts.

In the last few weeks I have seen one writer who was not very interested in writing his own stories really take off after looking closely at Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel. He was taking his own ideas and using the structure of the book to guide him. Other students were inspired by his enthusiasm and started creating their own versions. I have often used picture books as whole class mentor texts, but this was one of the first times that I used a mentor text we had not used as a group with a student in an individual writing conference. This one conference has now affected many writers. Last week I saw a poem that I thought would inspire one of the writers in the room. Yesterday when conferring with her I shared the poem and she was fascinated. I sent the link to her via email so that she could look at it more carefully later and as an afterthought sent it on to the rest of the class. One student emailed me back to thank me for sharing it and today we heard the original student share her poem inspired by the mentor text. Wow! This was really powerful writing and others are ready to try it out. Today in class we were looking at “Currently” a poem type that slicer Fran McVeigh introduced me to. We looked at her inspiration, her version, and that of one of her student’s. Then we looked at my own attempt. After that, I set my students off to write. It was a perfect type of text, as we have been working on strong verbs and consistent verb tenses. While some students struggled initially when they looked back at the mentor texts they gained confidence. This short session yielded some amazing imagery and the students were eager to further revise and share. Students looked at each others’ writing and made note of powerful verbs they wanted to “keep” for future use. The domino effect of writers using mentor texts to create their own originals seems powerful in our class. The more we look at each other as mentors the better, but we will never push aside the great published writers who also can teach us. I wonder what mentors we will lean into next!

You can see some of my third graders trying out “Currently” here.

SOLC17-March 17, 2015 Currently


Thanks to Fran McVeigh who recently posted her own version of “Currently” and tried it out in her class of sixth graders. I am going to use this kind of slice to have my third graders practice using strong verbs while keeping a consistent tense, so here is my try…


Waiting for the oven to preheat so that I can cook a spinach pizza,

Listening to the distant sound of traffic 15 floors below,

Reclining on the living room couch,

Scrunching up my face when Pele will not stop rubbing on the computer,

Feeling the gentle breeze from the ceiling fan cooling the area,

Wondering what is rattling in the air conditioning,

Scurrying away to slide dinner into the oven,

Scolding Berlin as he lounges on the table,

Sliding my fingers through my too short new haircut,

Rushing to complete a slice before I eat, (ironically a few slices will be eaten!)

Deciding when my brain is ready.

I look forward to seeing what my third graders make of this kind of slice.

SOL16- March 16, 2015 I’m Still Writing


March 16, 2016

It is all the tiny decisions you make that end up changing your life- whether you planned for it or not. When I started this challenge it had a few purposes- one to kickstart me as a blogger again, because I have not been blogging much at all lately; secondly to walk the walk- I know that as a teacher of writing I should be a writer myself and this was one way I could do that; and thirdly in order to challenge my students to slice daily I knew I had to model that bravery.

What I did not count on was the way that it would change my brain. I find myself thinking about writing a lot more than I ever have in the past. Things happen or words are said and I think, “That would make a great slice!” I also am noticing other people’s writing more- as I read slices (which I have done regularly in the past) I find inspiration and opportunities, where before I simply enjoyed the stories. I see mini-lessons- craft moves I want to try out myself and pass on to my students. What I did not predict, but now am living is how hard it is to willfully break this new habit. Today is Monday and I started the day already sleepy. After a busy day at school, I had a planning meeting with a few colleagues, followed by a bit more than an hour helping out as some of our fifth graders worked with some Somali refugees as part of an ongoing service project. On the way home I decided to stop off to make an appointment for a long overdue haircut but discovered I could have it cut right then and there. I knew I was too tired, but as I am a master procrastinator I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to get it done. Once home, I had to link up the slices that my great third graders have written. Having done all this, I was ready to slide into bed but no, I still had a slice to write! Realistically I know that nobody would notice if I missed one day. But here’s the thing- I would know and for today that is all that matters. I know there will still be days when I do not write, but I hope they come after March 31. As for me now, I can honestly say that today I feel like a writer and my day would not have felt complete if I had not taken these few minutes to get some words down. Because I know that other people might be feeling what I am I will also comment, however briefly, on at least three blog posts before I crawl into bed and think about the posts that have yet to come. I’ll call that prewriting! Who would have thought.

SOLC15- March 15, 2015 5 Things I Loved About Last Week



March 15, 2015- 5 Things I Loved About Last Week

1. Trying out new ideas- I have been reading Notice and Note and love the signposts they identify for students to focus on for close reading. This week we used our read aloud, The One and Only Ivan for several of the signposts and I have planned more of the same for next week.

2. Making connections- Through a comment I received on a slice my class has connected with another in New York and we will have our students comment on each other’s blog posts. I also loved that even though we are far apart I have been able to help get them started with blogging.

3. Spreading the (book) love- Even though World Read Aloud Day was not this week a colleague heard about the Skyes we had with authors that day and was interested in trying it with her class and she did this week. I love that more students are exposed to amazing authors (thanks, Erin Dealey!).

4. Slicing- To be completely honest I was not sure I would stick with it, and so far I have! I am also so impressed that so many of my students are slicing each day too. I have really seen growth in them as writers and love the way it has changed our outlook (see slice 12 I think).

5. A new student is arriving- Monday we will welcome our 20th student ( the maximum we can have) and I am so happy. I love having an even number- it just makes things easier, as we do so much in partners and small groups. I had my students fill in a speech bubble with things someone should know about our class, third grade, or the school, and they really nailed so many of the important things. It was great to see that they “get” that we are a community and are there for each other. I wish I had taken a photo of it to attach here, but take my word for it: reading, writing, math, were all mentioned, but support, making mistakes, and caring were highlighted. They are excited to welcome a new student to our community.

I hope you had lots to celebrate this week too!

SOLC14- March 14, 2015 10 Cities I’ve Lived in and Something to Love About Them All


March 14, 2015 SOLC14/31

10 Cities I Have Lived in and Something I Have Loved About Each One

Yesterday’s slices for many were lists and I was inspired to create one of my own. I have moved a fair bit in my life and I really have loved each place, so here (not in chronological order, because I   have lived in a few places more than once) are ten of the cities I have lived in and some highlights of each.

1. Newton, MA- we lived here when I was 3-6 and again from age 12-22. I loved that Newton was fairly diverse and had something for everyone. I loved that as a teenager it gave me easy access via public transportation to Boston and Cambridge. I have so many fond memories of people and places here.

2. Amherst, MA- This is where I went to university and it was such a great time in my life. I loved the big school feel, but the small town of Amherst. I loved that this part of Massachusetts was arty and an interesting combination of the many different “groups” there. I loved that it felt really far away from “home”.

3. Hull, England- I loved being in this city for my junior year of university. I loved the down-to-earthiness of the people and the opportunity I had to teach there (even though I was scared witless at the start- middle school math and science was not what I considered my areas of expertise). This was really a year of growth.

4. Columbia, MD- I moved here right after university to teach and found it a great place to live then for the proximity to both DC and Baltimore, but also for the convenience of having everything nearby within Columbia. Later when I returned with children I appreciated the school system even more along with the great outdoor spaces. I  loved the diversity here too.

5. Amsterdam, The Netherlands- I LOVED the art here and the ease of being here with a baby stroller. We spent a lot of time walking in parks and museums.

6. Hong Kong- Of course I loved the food here. I also loved the freneticness (for awhile) and had fun at markets, even though I am not a shopper.

7. Warsaw, Poland- Initially I did not want to move there and personally it was a rough time family wise, but I loved the feel of being in a city on the rise. The people I met were kind and the expat community at the school was special.

8. Mumbai, India- I loved the color and surprise here. I only was here for a year and know I only scratched the surface. I love the smell of block printed fabrics from India because they can still transport me there. Again, I loved the school.

9. Berlin, Germany- I loved it’s originality and the variety there. I never found it particularly beautiful, although parts were. I loved that I got to live here twice. It was great to be a part of a school community where I felt I could teach the way I believed was best.

10. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia- my current home. I love that I am getting to see new places with new friends (but I sure am missing old friends!). It feels like a brand new start, as I have moved here all alone. I love wondering what memories I will take away from here.

SOLC13- March 13, 2015 We Are Writers!


March 13, 2015

It has been an amazing (almost) two weeks of slicing! As I have said before, I was only “trying” this challenge because I had mentioned it to my third graders months ago, so I felt semi-obligated to give it a whirl.  We had never sliced as a class before- some of us had experimented earlier, but many had not. With March starting on a Sunday on the third day of a 3-day weekend, I felt like I was taking a leap of faith when I asked the on Thursday who planned to join. Well, here we are almost two weeks later and today 17 of the 19 students sliced. Keep in mind this is optional for my students. The numbers vary from day to day, but at least 10 are regulars.

It has been so fun to hear students talk throughout the days about comments they have received, slices they have read written by others far away, and how often they have sliced. It has been happening more and more often that when we are in the middle of something a students will say, “This could be my slice for the day!”. Students notice that sometimes they are involved in something else when an idea comes to them. We have a new agreement that we can always scurry away to quickly write an idea down we do not want to forget.

Today we were reading a particularly important section of The One and Only Ivan and the students were blogging their responses, many chose to use that for their daily slice because it felt so meaningful to them. In their comments on each others posts, they frequently remark that the writer has inspired them. I have told them as a group and individually that they are continually inspiring me. Being a part of a writing community on The Two Writing Teachers blog has been wonderful and I appreciate all the learning and growing I am doing as a writer (and teacher), but developing our writing support group inside our classroom has also been pretty special. The writers are all improving and they are learning much about themselves and each other. I know we are only at the midpoint and there will more highs and lows, but today I am thankful for the double dipping I am getting to do as part of two writing communities.

A Community Indeed! SOLC12- March 12, 2015 Day 12/31


March 12, 2015 A Community Indeed!

I made a big move this summer and left lots behind (see previous posts), but when it came time to slim down what I was shipping, the main choice was clear- BOOKS!  I knew that I would be moving into a classroom with a library, but I also know me, and my vision of a library is not the same as most people’s idea. I NEED books to teach with, I need books to recommend, I need books most of all to help build our community. I arrived with only a dozen books and for the first few weeks had to rely on the classroom library that was in place. We read we wrote, we did all of the usual things you do at school. In the first few weeks of school, I spend a lot of time building community, as that is our foundation for the year. Part of that is various surveys, getting to know the students in the class. I asked questions about their reading likes and wanted to know more about their interests. I asked about favorite books and what they would like to read more of. In those first few weeks, I visited new bookstores and bought more books and soon I got the call I had been waiting for. That Thursday the truck came to my apartment and dropped off 14 boxes- clothing, a few boxes of mementos belonging to my sons and some household items. The next day 18 boxes arrived at school- BOOKS! I spent much of the weekend organizing the books, sort of.

On Monday, the students were surprised to see the changed classroom. We spent a lot of time deciding how to organize and label boxes so that readers could find what they wanted. We boxed up the small classroom library that belonged to the school so that readers in other classes could use those books, and we really began the work of third grade. To me, one of my main jobs as a teacher is to help these students find books that they love. We spend a lot of time sharing books we love, passing books back and forth, trying out new authors, reading aloud, and generally developing our reading community. Since that day we have participated in Picture Book Month, a Mock Caldecott unit, watched the ALA book awards announcements, shared favorite books via Skype with other classes, blogged about books, celebrated International Dot Day, loved the Global Read Aloud, “met” two authors via Skype for World Read Aloud Day (thanks to Erin Dealey and Tara Lazar), and now we are keen participants in Tony Keefer’s March Book Madness. We are busy building our community!

  Today was a day that really reinforced to me that we are a community of readers. After recess, I read aloud from The One and Only Ivan and the students were a rapt audience. Then one boy blurted out, “Isn’t today the day we can check how the vote turned out?” We all knew just what he meant- the next round of voting for March Madness had finished and now we could see the results. This is a boy who only recently identifies himself as a reader. We plugged in my laptop and crowded around the SmartBoard so we could see the results. As I slowly revealed the bracket there were loud shouts of glee, tempered by groans of disappointment at the books that had been eliminated. One student busily circled the winners on our class charts, others rushed to look at books that were still in the running that they did not know, everyone was actively involved in sharing their opinions. Some students immediately went to vote in the next round. A few students told me that they had left some blanks- not because they did not know the books, but because the choice between them was so hard and they could not make that call. A few students came to me and said, “I am sorry, Ms. Victor, I had to vote for _______ and I know that is not what you would have done.” Our community of readers!

Other signs of a healthy community of readers: There has been a used book sale at school this week and my students have been buying like crazy; two books from our classroom have been located in the lost and found this week- returned by a student who knows our books; a lovely student bought me a book at the book sale, because she knew I would love it; the classroom assistant came in with a box this afternoon, which she quietly put on a table- totally distracting a few students, because they knew what was inside- books that I had ordered for the classroom.

There is lots more I could share about our community of readers, but I will leave it for another day. Meanwhile, I have a book waiting for me- I am almost finished and I know that there are students in the class waiting to be the next readers for it. As the year winds down in June I will spend time preparing this community for the transition that is summer, and life beyond our classroom, but one thing is for sure- we are readers!