Monthly Archives: July 2016

#sol Mentors


July 26, 2016


I started working in my classroom yesterday. As I consulted our schedule for the week of teacher work days that begin next Tuesday I saw that a lot of time was taken up by meetings, so I made a decision to work short days this week. I like to have a slow start to the school year, because I want to take the time to really think about the new year.

This summer I was fortunate enough to attend lots of professional development, both live and virtual. I also made a point to do plenty of professional reading. As I tried to synthesize it all in my head I decided it came down to passionate mentors. Wherever I was this summer I was inspired by passion.

As I sat in my classroom this morning I was looking at new ways to set up the room and I kept asking myself what these mentors would suggest. As I typed up the text from the first mentor text we will study in our narrative writing unit I heard Stacey Shubitz’s voice in my head-pushing me to find the power moves the author is making that I can teach to my future students. As I pull ideas to use in the first days of the new school year I really feel these mentors in the room with me. I love having the time to let all the ideas swirl around before the busy days of actually teaching start. I printed out book covers of books that I read this summer to create the first book door of the year- authors and illustrators are powerful mentors.  I have yet to unearth last year’s plan book-the nitty gritty of planning will come soon enough, for now I am enjooying hearing the voices of others in the room with me.

Tomorrow I get to meet up with more mentors- students from my last year’s class are coming in to help clean up and organize the classroom. From them I will get to learn what books they loved this summer and how they had fun. Their energy and enthusiasm will inspire me to make this year the best one yet. Counting down the days until I get to meet my new class!

#sol Packing and Unpacking


Packing and Unpacking

I am a lucky person and I know it. I have lived all over the world and as a result, I have traveled a fair bit. Here’s the thing- I have never mastered packing. Not packing for moves or packing for trips. I am sure that some of this is learned helplessness- I do not enjoy packing, so I do not work at it. My usual  m.o. is to start a list for longer trips (I just decided to not delete my most current list from my phone as it could be useful AFTER I found I had recreated almost the same list in another note on my phone). I generally do not pack until hours before departure, which is really ridiculous when you consider all the stress I experience from my worries that I will have forgotten something (I usually will frantically text a friend before departure asking what I might have forgotten).

This summer I had a long term plan. I was going to be away from home for just over 6 weeks. My plan was to pack my carry on with what I would need and put that inside my checked bag. I was going to carry my liquids, a few books, and my computer in a backpack. Every time I travel I have bag stress. I am never satisfied with the purse/bag I will take- I only want to take one and I want it to be everything: casual, not slobby, big enough to hold necessities without being too heavy, and the list goes on and on. The day before I was leaving town I admired a friend’s bag, only to find out she bought it right near where I live. Being the procrastinator that I am I had not started packing for my late night departure and I figured I needed some errands to fill my day, so off I went. I tried out various versions of the “healthy back bag”. I have to admit I am swayed by color, so purple it was!


Hello! It is not fashionable, but so practical, and that is me anyway- my first time traveling without bag envy.

This summer I have had to unpack 10 times! Only at my long stay place (my mom’s in Boston) did I use both suitcases. I leave for home tomorrow and I know how eager I am to be home by the fact that I started packing yesterday. After arranging things the ways I wanted I weighed my bigger bag-53 pounds. Now I know I could redistribute things to get more of the weight in my carry on, but I rebelled. All summer I have said “no thanks” to  arcs (advance reader copies) and autographed books available at ILA and nErDcampMI. I saved my book purchases for professional books I can not get in KL. I bought some clothes but did not buy shoes, shampoo, or anything too heavy.  Last night I was tired and cranky and decided that I was going to pay extra for a second checked bag. I decided I would buy a smallish duffle which would be a good purchase anyway for long weekends (and it takes up no space when empty). Now today I am regretting saying no to all those arcs and autographed books, but as I prepare to pack for the eleventh time this summer I am off to fill my bag with a few more things *cough*, I may buy some consolation books… and it is still the day before I leave!

Quite enough practice packing and unpacking for awhile!

#cyberpd Week 3- DIY Literacy

#cyberpd Week 3- DIY Literacy

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Chapter 5- Just for You- Tailoring Teaching to Meet Students’ Needs

My reflections:

Bringing it back to the students again- how to use each of the tools to match our students’ needs and be ready to have students not need them anymore, as we want students to use them to grow (which means they will not always need the same tools, but will be ready to move on to the next)

Chapter 6- Nuts and Bolts- Tips for Making Teaching Tools Effective and Engaging

I loved the problem and solution format of this chapter- another example of how Maggie and Kate seemed to be talking directly to ME! All of these problems are MY problems (how did they know?!). My main issue is my lack of confidence in my artistic skills- I have even bought a book this summer in an effort to remediate my chart creation skills. Having confessed this, my students have never once said, “What is that?” “I can’t read that!” or anything similar and that is one of the bonuses of creating charts with students, as they know what they are all about. I wish I were more artistic, but I know that I can make teaching tools that work, even if they are not award winning.  I liked watching charts being created live on the videos.

As with any good professional book, I can see the need for me to take action based on this book. I am excited to use these teaching tools this year and will definitely go beyond literacy. I love the Padlet that Michelle has set up so that we can see more examples and I hope that we can keep learning with each other throughout the year ahead. I am excited that our ELA coach is reading the book too because she is a change maker (yay Heather!). Hearing all of the #cyberpd voices has made this a richer experience for sure!

#cyberpd Week 2 Chapters 3 and 4 DIY Literacy Reflections

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Chapter 3-Remember This- Helping Students Recall Teaching

My main things to remember:

  • Students default to what is most comfortable (me too!)
  • We teach lots therefore we have to decide what is most essential for them to remember
  • The ultimate goal is that students outgrow the tool
  • I want to use our class blog to post photos of charts, micro-progressions- so that parents can “see” more of what is going on and students have access from home

Chapter 4- You Can Do It- Motivating Students to Work Harder

My main things to remember:

  • Micro-progressions help students see how to work harder
  • Look at how to assess whether students are working hard (and whether teaching tools worked)
  • I loved the “Fostering a Culture of Rigor: 5 Ways to Cultivate Intrinsic Motivation”
  • The signs students are ready to give up a teaching tool- important for me to not over scaffold (beyond when students really need it- being aware of not promoting learned helplessness/dependence)


Posting later in the week than others means that I have stayed away from reading posts until afrer I post, but I did see Michelle’s tweet about micro-progressions and I am so excited to peek at what others have started. I am excited to use micro-progressions beyond literacy too!


Wings and Roots


#sol July 12, 2016

Wings and Roots

My sons have lived all over the world- that is a great thing and a hard thing on different occasions. I know one of my main jobs as a parent is to raise my sons to be independent- at the ages of 23 and 25, I can see the rationale for that. I could go on and on about the other jobs I felt I had as a parent (without any comment as to how successful I have/have not been in achieving these goals).

Both sons have always been fairly independent. They showed this in many ways large and small. When it came time for university (I was living in Berlin, Germany at the time) I tried to convince them to go to the UK, as it would be close and more reasonable priced. Neither was sold on that idea and both ended up at private universities in the US (although son #1 spent a year on exchange in Madrid). It actually worked out well that by coincidence son #1 went to school in the city where my mom lived- they developed a close relationship during that time. Son #2 ended up going to school in the city where my dad lived and they also developed a great relationship. Son #1 stayed in Boston after graduation and ended up living with my mom. She is the epitome of laid back, so it was really an easy way for him to pay less rent in an expensive city and he never felt stifled by living with her, nor a lack of independence. Son #2 ventured almost 2000 miles away from anyone he knew after graduation and began his independent life.

This week son #2 made a brave decision. He decided he is ready for a career change and a new location. About a year and a half ago he worked on a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. It was hard to complete as he worked full-time, as it involved lots of work and even practicums. When he finished he wanted to move to South Korea to teach. He pursued positions, but at the last minute was offered the possibility of increased responsibilities at his present job, so decided to stay put. Fast forward to the present and he is feeling frustrated at work. For a variety of reasons, this job was just not the right fit for him anymore. He reactivated his job search and went on interviews with local companies to stay in the same industry he has been working as the beer manager at a liquor store. Recently he decided to look for jobs as an English teacher. He decided that he would most like to work in South Korea and he worked with a recruiter. A few days ago he had an interview with several people at a school recommended to him by the recruiter. The afterschool program looked good and a friend of mine who had worked in South Korea as an English teacher years ago said it looked fine. Shortly after the  interview he got the call- he was being offered the job.

As any sensible person would, he asked for time to decide. He texted me excitedly to tell me he was offered the job, but he was still uncertain. Later that day an unreliable source told him that he was about to be offered a job at a firm locally that he liked. He was debating the pros and cons of each possibility, knowing that the rumored job was just that, a rumor. He kept asking me, “Do you think I should take it?” and I kept responding positively. I offered to send the contract on to my friend for her to examine, if he was feeling uncertain. I encouraged him to share his news with his dad (with my fingers crossed that his father would be positive). As I write this, it is Sunday night and his window to let the school know his decision is closing. Tonight when he comes home from his current job he is going to accept the offer. In just over a month he will be on his way to South Korea to start the next chapter of his life.

I recently told him, “No matter what, as always, I will be your rock.” He made mention of this last night as we walked home from a Red Sox game, “I know if anything goes wrong I have you, Grandma, and Dad who will help me out.”

He made mention of this last night as we walked home from a Red Sox game, “I know if anything goes wrong I have you, Grandma, and Dad who will help me out. It’s not like with other people who have to put tons of stuff in storage, take care of canceling lots of contracts, and get out of leases to move across the world.”

I smiled with a lump in my throat. My son has wings and roots. He knows that he has lots of people who will support him up close or at a distance and he has the courage to try something entirely new. One of the cool things is he will actually be on the same continent as me, which is a nice thing to know (even if it is still a 6 1/2 hour flight away). Phew, this job of mother is never simple.

#sol Collecting and Shedding


Collecting and Shedding

I am having a vagabond summer, sleeping on couches along the way. I packed my carryon bag inside my suitcase so that I would have space to add things that I bought along the way (and could leave the larger mostly empty at my mom’s when I took trips within the trip). I brought small gifts for some of my hosts and my sons, so these were distributed as soon as possible to create more space. My number one weakness is books. I knew that I would be buying lots of professional books, as these are harder to get in Malaysia. I figured I could get away with reading books in bookstores and using the library and my Kindle. My first two weeks were spent visiting friends in Berlin I did not visit any bookstores, so I did not buy any books- probably a new record for me.

My first week in the US was spent at Teachers College and thanks to this I accumulated a few notebooks (those are musts, right?) and the books that we used in our sessions. I also bought four professional books at their book sale over two visits, not bad considering I was at two other bookstores on other days and left without buying anything extra. Week two I bought two books I had wanted to read (The Seventh Wish and The War That Saved My Life). I had a plan for these books because I knew that I could buy these books again in Malaysia. I read these books on my flights to visit my son and in the first day I was there. Last year when I visited him I had dragged him to a Little Free Library to donate books, so this year I convinced him that a visit to one was a new tradition and had to be scheduled.

He was working on the first two days of our visit and then we had a long list of places we wanted to visit (including shopping for both of us). On Sunday he said, “I assume you want to visit Barnes and Noble, right?” Smart guy- he knows me well. I read a stack of picture books and added many of them to my list to be purchased when I return home, but I did not buy any.

On Monday part of our agenda was to drop off my two books at a Little Free Library. I knew from the website that there were four choices, so after some to and fro we steeled on our destination. Imagine our surprise to see the library covered in plastic- that seemed to indicate that they were not collecting books, so it was back to the map. We headed out with my son complaining how far out of the way we were going (note, it was less than two miles away- he may have inherited his mother’s affinity for exaggeration). We pulled up and I deposited the two books after snapping a few pictures.

IMG_1367.JPGI did not see the owners, but I did see their huge dog at the doorway and got a friendly wave from a neighbor across the street. Then we were on our way (and I started imaging the tugged heartstrings these books would bring to their next readers). It is safe to say that with this second trip to a Little Free Library we have solidified a tradition, my son and I.

I still have 15 days in the US. This weekend I head to ILA where I hope to buy the rest of the professional books on my list. From there I head to nErDcampMI where I know my swag will include a book or two and the book sale on site will likely tempt me to buy several more. These books may be shed before I go (I have two nephews and a niece who know I am “the book aunt” and who knows, I may even find a Little Free Library near my mom) if my bags seem too full.

The great thing about books is that even if they are no longer physically with me the great ones will always be a part of me, so this summer while I am collecting and shedding I know that the books I leave behind are affecting more than just my life.

#cyberpd Week 1 DIY Literacy

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Many thanks to Cathy Mere, Laura Komos, and Michelle Nero for this amazing community of learners!

#cyberpd- DIY Literacy- Week 1- Chapters 1-bonus

This is one of those examples of the right book at the right time. Last school year was my first using the TCRWP Units of Study and I LOVED them! One thing I am always trying to improve is my conferring, so although I sort of used a conferring notebook I set myself a goal of setting this up more completely in the summer. I am a vagabond this summer- travelling to New York, upstate New York, Boston, Arkansas, Boston, Michigan, and Boston, so I am trying to travel light. I knew I would need some professional books to help me on my quest and DIY Literacy was on my list to buy, so it was perfect that this is our choice this year. I spent a week ar Teachers College for the June Writing Institute and small group work was one of the major themes, not surprisingly this book was referenced often and I bought my copy to get started. If you have not watched the videos that Kate and Maggie made for the book watch them! The friendly coaching you read in the books is evident on screen too.

Chapter 1 Reflection: I really like the emphasis that these tools allow us as teachers to “extend our reach”. The reminders that the students will not refer to the tools if we don’t is a good one for me. I (like many teachers) have a problem with limited wall space, so I am trying to think creatively about how to keep charts readily accessible. As a person who is not neat or artistic, I am rarely proud of how my charts look. I know I need to get over this (and get better at creating charts that do the job).

Chapter 2 Reflection: I liked the explicit definitions included here for each of the different tool types and the steps for the teacher for creating them. The micro-progressions and bookmarks are newest to me and I can definitely see how these will help my students, but I wish I had a way to ensure that the students hold on to their bookmarks. Maybe having them be tools they created will make it more likely that they will not lose them. I like to share the research behind what we do, so telling the students that people who  write down and share their goals with others have a 33% higher success rate is good to know.

Bonus Chapter Reflection: This chapter spoke to my biggest need. I do not have the confidence that I know how to find and write strategies for teaching tools. I would like to create the bulk of my conferring notebook (what they call the demonstration notebook) before school starts. I have decided that I will create one for each genre (knowing that there will be some overlap in strategies). Specifically breaking it down into “THE WHAT” and “THE HOW” is a good way for me to think about this. Knowing that other times students may just need “THE HOW” was a good way for me to see the difference in the tools.

I have decided that due to the bulk of what I aim to create I really can not do the making until I am back in KL. What I am doing to help make this a less onerous task is collecting examples. I am taking pictures of anything I see in my reading that I think I can use/adapt. I will arrive back home 10 days before teachers report, so I will dedicate time to the notebook creation then. I would love to have a way to collect more examples in an organized way that will make my 10 days at the end of the month really productive. The charts, micro-progressions, and bookmarks require student input, so those will be works in progress throughout the year. I actually have saved my charts from last year- not to reuse, but to remind me of what I did. I need to take pictures of them all and put them in organized digital folders so that I can throw out the actual paper. I know I will continue to add to and refine my conferring notebooks throughout the year(s), but I hope to have a solid core of them all before our teacher work days. DIY Literacy has been a great book for me to get my brain in gear. I have lots more summer reading to do to push me along.