Have You Exercised Your Writing Muscle Lately?

MusclesDuring the month of March, I  participated in the Slice of Life Story Challenge developed by  Two Writing Teachers. The challenge proposed was to write a blog post each day during the month of March. Today is March 30th and this marks my 25th post for the month. Yes, I missed a few days during the month. Life challenges got in the way. I didn’t complete the full challenge, but I am very pleased with my results. The journey has been an eye-opening experience – one that has stretched my writing muscle! I am a stronger writer because of this month-long excursion. So, what did I learn?

  • I learned that writing takes time. Most posts were not written in one sitting. I found evenings were my best time to write, but posts started sporadically through the day. Once I had an idea, I’d start the post as a draft. I would jot down key ideas. As my day continued, I would think about the idea and how to expand it.  Once evening came I would write, revise, and edit until I felt secure enough to click “publish.” Some ideas have not made it out of my “drafts” folder. Someday!
  • I need to think out loud. I talked to myself a lot. I rehearsed what I wanted to say. My dog thought I was crazy at times, but I think he got use to it. Reading posts out loud also guided the revision and editing stages throughout the process.
  • I wrote where I was comfortable. I wrote most posts from the comfort of my sofa rather than from the desk in my home office.  What does this have to say about our classroom writing spaces? This really got me thinking about wanting to help teachers redesign classrooms so that the mirror real life. Desks are too stiff and stifling for my liking and creativity!
  • My day wasn’t complete without writing. Even when I got overly busy or tired, I’d try to find time to post something. I felt bad on the days I didn’t post – but I didn’t let it bother me that much. I forced myself to just get back into the routine. Now I just need to do this with adding more exercise to my day!
  • Poetry was fun to write. Poetry hasn’t been a genre I’ve tried for a long time. The poems of other writers in the Slice of Life Challenge served as mentor text and provided the push I needed to give poetry a try.
  • Writing more expands your reach! I started out the month looking at my past blogging data. It framed my purpose for starting this challenge. I had noticed that my writing had greatly decreased over the last year.  This month I hit two all time highs for my almost 4-year-old blog. Blog hits this month totaled 7,352 with an average of 251 hits per day. Crazy!
  • Writing is social. The support and comments from blog readers fueled my excitement to keep writing. Today I had the opportunity to take that one step farther. The topic of blogging came up during a weekly Twitter chat (#educoach) I co-moderate each Wednesday. Today I spent an hour chatting with two #educoach-ers via Google+ Hangout on the topic of blogging. Thanks, @kennycmckee and @jbteachr. You pushed my thinking and inspired me on this writing journey! I look forward to learning and growing with you!
  • To teach writers we must BE WRITERS! This challenge, and blogging as a whole, has solidified my belief that in order to teach, encourage and inspire writers in our classrooms (and beyond) we need to be writers ourselves. Writing is more than a class period. It is more than assigned topics. It is more than a lesson aligned to the Common Core. It is more than turning in something to be read and graded by a teacher.  Writing is real. It is messy. It is challenging. It is rewarding. It takes grit to massage an idea and form it into something to you are willing to share with the world. It requires a lot of thought and reflection. It can’t be confined to a certain time and place. Real writing must be modeled and guided for students. I know as a teacher I encouraged writing but much was through “assigned” writing. I KNOW I didn’t model real, authentic writing enough for my students. They didn’t see me struggle as a real writer. They didn’t see the full progression of taking an idea to a final piece. They saw portions of that process – but not everything that went on “behind the scenes” in my mind. Writing, real writing, is far more than writing a draft, revising it, and then editing it. The process isn’t linear as so many classroom “Writing” charts and textbooks prescribe.

I’m thankful for this Slice of Life Challenging and my overall blogging journey. The support received from fellow bloggers has helped me discover that developing writing communities for ourselves and our students is essential. Together we build our writing muscles! Together we are STRONGER!

Now on to the next challenge – to keep this momentum going. I can’t say I will continue to write everyday – but I WILL continue to blog on a more consistent basis! Look out! More to come!

Photo credit: Personal photo taken on Muscle Beach, just south of the Santa Monica Pier.

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What Is Your Dream?

dreamsWhat is that one thing you dream of doing? What is that one goal you are striving to reach? Can you imagine the feeling you will have when your dreams become a reality? What will it look like? Feel like? Sound like?

Today, an article in the Iowa State Daily caused me to reflect on the topic of dreams, aspirations and ambitions. In the article, titled Home Sweet Home: Dustin Hogue’s Dream Becomes a Reality in New Yorkwe learned that Dustin grew up in the New York area. His life time dream was to play basketball in world’s most famous arena – Madison Square Garden! He had the opportunity to walk on to the Garden’s court yesterday with his teammates on the Iowa State University basketball team. Tonight, his dream will become a reality. He will play in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen game against Connecticut.

It will be a tough game. Both teams hit the court tonight with similar records throughout the year. Both coaches have  comparable coaching styles according to a recent article in the Hartford Courant. Iowa State’s coach, Fred Hoilberg, and UConn’s coach, Kevin Ollie,  both have spent a large portion of their professional careers in the NBA resulting in a more pro-like coaching style according to the article.

My dreams reflect more of a feeling, than a place. I am already living my dream, yet I know there is still more to come.

My dream is one of inspiring others

Empowering them to be the best they can be

Guiding them to open their eyes to the learning around them

Opening doors they never thought of opening

Seeking answers to ideas unknown

Giving the chance to grow

To DREAM

To SUCCEED

Collin Powell was once quoted to say, “A dream doesn’t become a reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” Dustin Houge didn’t stop at dreaming to play basketball at Madison Square Garden. He worked hard at his dream of playing basketball. It just so happened it landed him right in the middle of a spot he dreamed of as a kid!

What are your dreams? How will you get there?  Where will your dreams take you? How will you feel when your dreams become a reality? 

During March, I am blogging daily as a part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge! More Slice of Life posts can be found on Two Writing Teachers. As the month comes to a close I am proud of my commitment to the process. I have missed a few days here and there – but have written more this month than I have in a long time. 

This post also fulfills a pre-game ritual. Throughout March, before any ISU game, I’ve written a post inspired by the team. That post has resulted in a WIN for the team! So, now besides my lucky socks, sweatshirt and scarf – in order to WIN the game I need to write a post! So here it is! LET’S GO CYCLONES! Give it all you’ve got!

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Today is Instructional Coach Day (Well Sort Of)

coachWell, actually, today is Make Up Your Own Holiday Day, according to Days of the Year. The site states:

One of our favourite days of the year, Make Up Your Own Holiday Day is a chance to throw away the rule book and celebrate however you like! Get together with your friends and create your own special holiday, and who knows, if it becomes popular enough, it might end up on our calendar!

I chose to declare this Instructional Coaches Day to honor all my global Instructional Coach friends both near and far, especially those I’ve met through the Twitter Chat I co-moderate each Wednesday evening at 9:00 PM CST with @PrincipalJ and @ShiraLeibowitz. Since this is being posted late in the day – feel free to carry on the celebration in to tomorrow!

Here are my virtual gifts to all the Instructional Coaches out there. And the BEST THING virtual gifts have NO CALORIES!

extra

Instructional Coaches are pulled in many directions, yet they always give each task their ALL. Thanks for always going the “EXTRA” mile.

 

JoyInstructional Coaches are mindful of the climate and culture of their buildings. The strive to build trusting relationships with all staff members. They are always spreading JOY.

 

crunchMany Instructional Coaches are key players in assisting teachers with the analysis of student data and helping teachers in make instructional decisions based on data. They are number CRUNCHERS and strive to develop user-friendly methods to help save teachers time!

lifesaverAnd, Instructional Coaches are LIFE SAVERS! The support teacher and student growth.

paydayIf I could, I’d give all the Instructional Coaches a raise on PAY DAY! But, since I can’t I hope you know you are appreciated, admired and loved! Thank you for all you do to support professional learning among school staff as well as student learning each and every day. You are difference makers!

 

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A Close Reading Example: Let it Go

let it go

I have had  amazing opportunities helping teachers figure out close reading procedures to implement in their classrooms. This is a work in progress. Last year I wrote a post titled Close Reading: Am I Getting Close. Over the course of the year I have refined my thinking – mostly due to the continued, ongoing study of close reading. Most recently, the book Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts pushed me to shift my thinking. My earlier post was more about the teacher’s planning – especially in the area of developing text dependent questions. Lehman and Robert have helped me put my focus on the students. Their book describes developing close reading rituals with a focus on guiding students to gain a deeper understanding of text after reading it multiple times, rather than their surface level understanding after their first read. Rather than multitudes of text dependent questions, their rituals can be free-standing. The goal is to develop independent readers who know which text they need to read closely to gain a deeper understanding. The close reading ritual includes:

  1. Read though lenses
  2. Use lenses to find patterns
  3. Use the patterns to develop a new understanding of the text

Lehman and Roberts started their book with an example of using song lyrics. This is a form of  text that speaks to students. Often they can sing every word, but may not have thought through the lyrics closely to develop an understanding of the author’s/song writer’s purpose and intended message. (For additional information see the study guide to the book Falling in Love with Close Reading)

Most of my work in the area of close reading has been at the elementary level. At times it has been a little difficult to find song lyrics that are appropriate for use in the classroom. Recently I have turned to Disney songs. For the remainder of this post I am going to describe my process for developing a lesson using the Academy Award winning song, Let it Go, from the movie Frozen. 

Finding Songs – Audio

YouTube is a great, cost-effective place to find songs. For this lesson I chose to have students only listen to the song, rather than viewing the scene. I did this by finding the song on YouTube, but did not project the images. Student only listened to the song. For this lesson I used the song posted by the Walt Disney Animation Studio.

I purposely did not even tell the students which song they were going to listen to. I simply stated my purpose:

Text is all around us. Songs are one form of text. We typically listen to songs without seeing the actual text. Often we have ideas about popular songs, not just from the songs themselves but also because of what we may be experiencing in our lives at that time. If we lose someone special, every song seems sad. Sometimes that is just what you need. Today I want to show you how listening and looking carefully at a song’s lyrics can lead us to see things we may have missed before. (adapted from Falling in Love with Close Reading)

Finding Lyrics 

As I kid I remember writing down the lyrics of songs by playing them over and over, stopping and starting the 45 or LP numerous times. As cassettes, and later CDs, came out I was thrilled that many included the lyrics! Now, a simple google search can yield the lyrics in seconds! Just google “Let it Go lyrics” and you will find numerous sites. I simply copied the lyrics and pasted them into a Word document. Boy, have times changed!

Developing Lesson

In order to develop a close reading lesson teachers need to have a strong understanding of the text. I have found this takes time. It takes REALLY reading the text closely, multiple times. Duh! If we need to do this – all the more reason to facilitate this process with our students!

My preferred method is to discuss the text with another person gaining multiple perspectives and insights. Yet, that isn’t always possible. So, I have let Google be my friend. Since I haven’t seen the movie Frozen yet, I googled a phrases like “what does the song Let it Go mean.” I found multiple sites and interpretations to guide my lesson development. One blog in particular had two posts that were helpful. One was an analysis of the song and the other closely analyzed the facial expressions of the main character, Elza, as she sang the song. Both helped me gain a deeper understanding of the song.

For the example lesson below, I decided to have students look at character development and how the character’s motivations, struggles and changes add to the theme of the story/song.

Lesson Plan Template

My thoughts on a template have changed over time. In my earlier post I included a set of moves and a template. The template I used for this lesson was much more simplified. I still find that I use the same “moves” described earlier, but the focus guiding students to deeply understand the text in a way that they can do on their own, rather than depended on teacher developed, text-dependent questions. Real, authentic reading does not include teacher’s questions. Readers, students and adults alike, must make meaning of the text on their own. The close reading process, guided by teachers, should mirror authentic reading in order for students utilize close reading when the need to gain a deeper understanding of text independently.

A Focused Tie to Writing, Speaking and Listening

In order to implement the Common Core we need to focus on bundling standards. The close reading process is the perfect example of linking several reading standards together with writing, speaking and listening. Throughout a lesson, students’ collaborative talk is essential. Hence, speaking and listening standards are addressed. We can build in the use of Accountable Talk (something I will write about in a future post). A culminating writing prompt can serve as one formative assessment to determine each students’ grasp of the text.

This lesson isn’t perfect. I’ve used it on several occasions and each time I make adjustments. My hope is that it will help push your own thinking in the use of close reading. I’d love to hear your ideas. How have you used close reading? What resources have helped you understand how to begin to implement close reading in your classroom?

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NCAA: Sweet Sixteen

image

Two teams

Battled it out on the hardwood

Neither ever leading by much

Nerve-racking

Nail-biter

Well played battle

Right down to the final buzzer

Verdict unknown until refs review the tape

The call was made

One team heads home

One team advances

On to the SWEET SIXTEEN

NEW YORK HERE WE COME!

It’s a great time to be a CYCLONE!

slice-of-life_classroom-image-blackDuring March, I am blogging daily as a part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge! More Slice of Life posts can be found on Two Writing Teachers

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There is No I in Team

imageYou have probably heard the phrase There is no I in Team. We’ve seen examples of teamwork throughout our careers and life. Teamwork where no one wants or expects the credit when the team succeeds. Teamwork that supports each other in defeat.

March Madness is the yearly lens on teamwork. College basketball teams all over the United States hope to be a part of the NCAA Tournament. Teams pull together for the good of their program. We witness the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. This year’s bracket contest was complete with the hopes of winning 1 Billion dollars from a group backed by Warren Buffet. Upsets has come at a price. According to Time Magazine, no one is still in contention for the 1 Billion dollars.

CyIf you have been reading my blog this past month you have realized I am die-hard Iowa State University fan. I graduated from Iowa State in the early 80′s and have been a fan ever since – through the wins and losses both on the football field and basketball court. Our NCAA tournament opener on March 21, 2014 success with a 93-75 win over North Carolina Central came with a price. Sophomore forward, Georges Niang broke his ankle at the end of the game – causing him to sit out for the rest of the tournament adding to the above the eye injury he received in the ISU vs Kansas game earlier in the month. The picture to the left of the school’s mascot, CY, with Niang’s token band-aide and ankle boot have been circulating around Facebook today.

The Iowa State Daily ran an article about Niang and his thoughts as Iowa State advances in tournament. A few quotes from the article prove that Georges Niang believes there is No I in TEAM!

“This isn’t about me. I’m not this whole team; we’ve got other players on this team,” said Niang, who scored 24 points in his team’s second-round win. “Yeah, I got injured. That’s unfortunate, but that’s how it goes. We still have a great opportunity ahead of us, and I don’t want me being injured to ruin that.”

Coach Hoilberg was also quoted. He words remind us that he continues to instill the notion of TEAMWORK in his players! What a great message of collective efficacy!

“If you believe in each other, if you believe in yourselves, it’s pretty powerful,” Hoiberg said. “You can go out and compete with a team like this that has all these McDonald’s All-Americans and all these great athletes.”

The article ends with Niang reminding us:

“Listen, this doesn’t damper our parade,” Niang said. “We still won. We’re still in the NCAA tournament.”

At this writing tip-off is an hour away. My eyes will be glued to the television. I will adorn my lucky ISU scarf, sweatshirt and socks. I will be watching a team believing in themselves and the power of teamwork.

The BIG 12 Champions are a TEAM. They know there is No I in TEAM.

 

slice-of-life_classroom-image-blackDuring March, I am blogging daily as a part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge! More Slice of Life posts can be found on Two Writing Teachers

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Family Reading Night

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 4.06.01 PM

Recently a friend contacted me for some literacy ideas to share with parents to help promote the love of reading. I know if one person has this question, many others do as well. I have found blogging to be an excellent tool for sharing ideas and gaining new ones! In this post I will share a few ideas and hope readers will share others in the comment section.

Several years ago I had the privilege to help the teachers and the administrator of an elementary school put on family reading nights. Two separate nights were planned focusing on the grade level spans of K-2 and 3-5.  The purpose of each evening was to share a reading technique with parents/guardians that they could do at home.

The evenings all had the same schedule. The strategies and ideas changed to fit the specific grade level span.

1. Family would join together for a meal provided by the school. This was particular helpful and usually brought a large crowd.

2. Once the family meal was over, the teachers would take students to classrooms and engage them in some reading activities. The parents/guardians would stay together in a larger meeting area – in our case the gym.

3. A reading technique would be shared with the parents/guardians. This included describing the approach. A demonstration was provide, usually via video. The demonstrations were provided in both English and Spanish due to the population of our school. The videos were made at school with actual teachers/students from the school (with parent permission, of course). We wanted the videos to have a homey feel. In many cases the videos were shot in a classroom that happened to have a sofa and lamp. We didn’t want the videos the appear too school-like. A laminated bookmark was also given to the parents/guardians that described the approach. These were theirs to keep and take home.

4. The students reunited with their family. Prior to joining us in the gym the students were given the opportunity to choose a book that would be theirs to keep!  Students could choose books in either English or Spanish or both.

5. The parents/guardians would then have an opportunity to try out the reading approach learned that evening with their child and the new books! The teachers would provide support as needed.

The Family Reading Nights were always well attended both by the families and volunteer teachers. They were a great way to promote reading at home.

This bookmark was used with grade K-2 students. Our students were predominately English Language Learners and spoke Spanish at home. The bookmark was printed in English on one side and Spanish on the other.

This bookmark was used with grade 3-5 students. It also was printed with English on one side and Spanish on the other.

Have you had Family Reading Nights at your school? What have you found to be successful? Please consider sharing your ideas! 

slice-of-life_classroom-image-blackDuring March, I am blogging daily as a part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge! More Slice of Life posts can be found on Two Writing Teachers

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