Slice of Life 2020 is Coming!

Starting on the 1st of March I will be blogging each day for the Slice of Life Challenge from the TwoWritingTeachers. (So if you are looking for educational ideas and reflections you might just want to visit my Facebook page this month) This will be my 5th year participating in this challenge and for the past several I have tried a theme to pull my slices together. One year I wrote a small moment from the previous day, another year I wrote micro-poetry, and last year I wrote quick writes from my book Spark! This year I will be practicing memoir writing using exercises from Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away.

Screen Shot 2020-02-23 at 8.04.17 AMAs she says, “To write memoir, we must first know how to remember.” The book is filled with timed and meditative exercises to guide you through remembering. It is an invitation to “open forgotten doors of memory”.  So my #SOL20 for March 2020 will be meditations on memories and slices of my life that I want to remember and reflect on from my childhood or maybe even early adulthood. Though I want to try all of her exercises in the book, I will be mindful that my memories may not be shared memories for all who lived them and I will not be posting any that may be hard truths that others may dispute. I won’t shy away from writing them, I just won’t share them with the blogosphere.

If you would like to participate in this year’s Slice of Life Challenge I think you will find it to be a potentially life changing experience. I have met so many amazing people through these month long journeys that I have kept in touch with, met up with at conferences, and have formed wonderful friendships with. I have learned to appreciate the writing of others, the stories of others, and the joys and sufferings of others with so much more empathy and understanding. It will help you see small moments with the keen eyes and ears of a writer.  Ask any ‘slicer’ what the experience was like and I would bet most say it was a game-changer for them.

If you are interested (or think you might be) click HERE for information from the TwoWritingTeachers. It has all the information you need, and if you would like to chat with me about it, leave a comment or tweet me @LitCoachLady. I would be happy to help anyone with this challenge. Get your notebooks and pens ready!

One More Off My TBR Stack

MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU by Barbara Dee
What a powerful book! I think this will start a lot of conversations and hopefully stop a lot of heartache and hurt. Mila is a 7th grader who finds some boys giving her unwanted hugs, and then comments. When she tells her friends how uncomfortable it is making her feel they think she’s overreacting and tell her, “Maybe he just likes you.” But Mila knows in her gut that this isn’t ok. Their passive aggressive behavior is making life miserable but she can’t talk to her mom, who has just lost her job and she overhears arguing with their estranged dad over money. Who can she turn to? Who will listen and understand? This is a book I think all middle schoolers should read to build empathy and understanding so that all kids feel safe and respected.
Sexual harassment and bullying are becoming more problematic, I’m glad readers have books like this to help.

 

Rethinking Kindergarten

I’ve been teaching for 33 years and have seen a lot of trends and witnessed the shifts in society that have impacted our educational world. But the crisis we are seeing with our youngest students lately has been overwhelming our teachers and our schools in a way I have never seen. Children are coming into our schools with such an increase in dysregulated behavior that is impacting the educational environment for all students. Whether it is the result of ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences of trauma from violence, poverty, addiction, neglect, abuse, separation, mental health, etc) or some other reasons, we are having to rethink how we educate these young children so that they can have a more hopeful future.

In our district in Maine, we are taking some time this year as a kindergarten team to look at alternative ways to structure our teaching day that can help students develop a sense of belonging and find ways to cope with the stresses of life so that they CAN self-regulate in order to learn.

We have discussed incorporating more play, adjusting academic expectations, delaying classroom placement at the start of the year, examining supportive routines and rituals, and integrating experiences that tap into multiple intelligences.  At our last workshop day we focused on the latter-inviting in a professor from University of Maine at Farmington to help us take a look at how multiple intelligence (MI) theory could help us frame some experiential learning for kindergarten that may address the interests and needs of all learners, especially those most at risk.

Now I realize there is often conflation of learning styles and MI, but we are thinking about this theory as a rejection of the ‘one size fits all’ model of learning and recognizing that we all have intelligences beyond the 3 Rs and that we don’t just want to raise “college and career ready” students, but that we want to raise human beings who can have successful and fulfilling lives.

At this point, we still have more questions than answers. What is this going to look like? How will we integrate this into our current framework? What resources or materials will we need? How will this impact first grade? Subsequent grades? How will we support our teachers? We are clearly in the messy research and reflection phase with no clear direction, but we know we can’t continue with our current model. The meltdowns, disruptions, and defiance are corrupting the learning environment and not meeting the needs of those distressed children. We have adopted Collaborative Literacy: a  curriculum with a heavy focus on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as well as reading and writing. We’ve hired more social workers, counselors, and deans of students but the crisis is growing for those coming into the educational setting.

I’ll keep you posted on our journey, but in the meantime I would love to hear from others who may be having similar experiences with the growing needs of young students and how you are seeking to support them.

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Sketchnote of our Early Release Workshop on Rethinking Kindergarten

One More Off My TBR Stack

Image result for something rotten: a fresh look at roadkillSOMETHING ROTTEN: A FRESH LOOK AT ROADKILL by Heather L. Montgomery
Every once in awhile you read a book that changes the way you think about something-often something so common that you rarely give it much thought to begin with. This book is one of them. Author Heather Montgomery’s fascination with roadkill translates into a an en”gross”ing look at scientific research that depends on DOR (dead on road) and URP (unidentified road pizza) to research parasitic diseases, track species, cure cancer, and even cut down on auto accidents. She also found that roadkill is used for art and sustainable food sources. I had no idea about so many of these aspects. I can say for certain that I will never be able to look at roadkill the same way again-and that is the power of a well written book! If you think nonfiction is boring, you just aren’t reading the right books! Not for the squeamish, but perfect for the curious minds out there! (oh, and don’t skip the footnotes: informative and hilarious)

EdCamps Are Like a Box of Chocolates!

Ok, Forrest Gump fans, you know where I am going with this. The unpredictable nature of EdCamps can intimidate some, but pique the curiosity and passion of others who attend. Showing up on a precious Saturday to roll the dice on what will be shared, discussed, and/or learned isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you haven’t tried it, I strongly encourage you to unwrap this delicious box of chocolates and take a bite! (sorry, not sorry,  for all the mixed metaphors!)

Screen Shot 2020-02-07 at 2.15.49 PMLast weekend I attended EdCampWME (Western Maine) in the beautiful western mountains of my state. I lucked out with winter weather that was cold but dry to make the hour drive from my home. The group was by no means great in size, but they made up for that in passion and professionalism. Everyone there wanted to be there-wanted to learn and share ideas. When one of the organizers is Dan Ryder (Wicked Decent Learning), co-author of Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom, you know it’s going to be a great event.img_6923

As usual we created our idea board and merged some topics to create some inclusive groups and then found our rooms and found our voices. I shared resources, research and ideas on sketchnoting and the use of visual images in writing because I believe so strongly that expanding our definition of writing will create and engage more writers.

I met with teachers discussing topics on building independence and on reluctant learners and we shared ideas for engagement and expectations that led to some powerful discussions about the importance of teaching the whole child and the social-emotional aspects of learning/learners.

I came away with a great lesson on teaching about fairness, equity, and differentiation to children who sometimes complain, “That’s not fair! He gets to______ and I don’t!” It’s called the Band-Aid Lesson. I thought it was so powerful that I wrote it up as a lesson plan for my teachers, so you don’t have to go to Teachers Pay Teachers to get it, you can get mine here for free

Band-Aid Lesson

I had no idea I would learn about this or some of the other ideas and resources I walked away with, but my box of chocolates was quite delicious that day. Sure there were a couple of nutty nougat nuggets that I probably won’t nibble, but I could gorge on most of those chocolates for the rest of this year and beyond.

I’ve got two more EdCamps on my radar in the coming month (EdCamp207 and EdCampBoston). Maybe I’ll see some of you there. If you have EdCamps of your own that you are attending please send me the link to your idea boards so I can learn vicariously.

Here are a few of my takeaways from #EDCampWME

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One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2020-02-07 at 2.35.27 PMNEW KID by Jerry Craft

WOW! I can see why this book won the Newbery Award this year. I was literally laughing out loud and I am still laughing a few hours later. Jerry Craft has created a brilliant book about the challenges of starting over as a new kid when you are one of the few students of color in the entire school and well-meaning white teachers tell you, “Being different is a blessing. It’s what makes you special.” This story could only be told as a graphic novel as it is expressed with intelligence, insight, and humor that needs to be seen and not ‘explained’. This story, if written as a standard novel, would be like having to explain a joke-it loses its punch and power. This book belongs in classrooms and libraries everywhere. It will enlighten but it will also entertain middle grade to middle aged readers.
READ, LAUGH, LEARN!

Fostering Makers

The last few weeks I’ve been working in kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms trying to foster “makers”-book makers to be more precise.  Based on the work of Katie Wood Ray and Lisa Cleaveland*, we are encouraging our youngest writers to think about what they notice in the books they read and inviting them to use what they know to create their own books. Simple, right? And yet so powerfulScreen Shot 2020-01-19 at 5.39.11 PM.

*About the Authors was my first inspiration for making books years ago. Getting Started with Beginning Writers  is their latest.

 

 

First of all, the kids are excited to be making actual books, and by actual I mean two pieces of copy paper folded in half and stapled together, voilà…a book! They suddenly are filled with ideas that they want to turn into a book. Second, we get incredible insights into what they notice and know about print concepts and how books work. With no lines we can see how they choose to use space and if they have a solid grasp on directionality,

IMG_6572return sweep, and book layout. They get to make ALL the choices, not limited by lines or predetermined space for pictures on every page. (We created a space on the cover for now as a scaffold for determining fronts and backs.) Also, our writers are connecting ideas to one another in a way that they didn’t do with a single piece of lined paper. Some have miraculously moved from one to multiple sentences during workshop. IMG_6573

Because we work on a book for more than one day, they are being introduced to the concept of revision in a natural way. Going back the next day to add details in pictures or words is just how we roll. When they ‘fill up’ a page they don’t say, “I’m done!” because there are 6 to 8 more pages waiting for them to dive right in.

Is this anything new? No. Is this radical? No. Is it meaningful and effective? YES! It gives students a sense of agency as they create authentic texts for real audiences. We are putting some finished books into the classroom libraries, some kiddos want to give their books to someone as a gift, and we are curating a collection of amazing mentor texts from these real-life mentors that we can share with future students. How empowering. IMG_6575So do yourselves a favor and check out the books by Katie and Lisa (see above) and give book making a try as an option for your students. You’ll learn so much about those youngest writers, much of which isn’t linked to any standards!

One More Off My TBR Stack

Image result for tracking pythons kate messnerTRACKING PYTHONS by Kate Messner
This is Kate Messner’s first middle grade nonfiction book and it is fantastic. She takes us on a quest to control the population of invasive Burmese Pythons that have overrun south Florida, and the unique approach scientists are using to track them. She uses both a narrative and expository structure to tell the story and inform the reader. She includes QR codes that allow us to see scientists and pythons in action. She includes dozens of fascinating photos, sidebar facts, and a timeline of the invasion that help give a complete picture of the challenge. I was sent a copy of this text by the publisher but I would definitely seek out any book by Messner, because I know how much research and work goes into her books. Kids who are mesmerized by snakes or are interested in scientists and their work will be captivated by this book. I’m always on the lookout for good nonfiction-and this hits the mark

Don’t forget turn back around…

Those lyrics from Lori McKenna, made famous by Tim McGraw hold many life lessons that I try to live and learn from. Yesterday I spent my morning turning back around and helping the next ones in line as I worked with teachers who were candidates for National Board Certification. Our Maine Education Association sponsors a workshop once a month to support teachers working toward NBCT.  I participated in those workshops on my journey toward certification, and I was grateful for the support and encouragement. I vowed that if I achieved certification, that I would give back to that group and do what I could to help others achieve certification.

I’ve been working with an amazing kindergarten teacher in our district the past two years as she works her way through the four rigorous components and I’ve agreed to read entries from teachers outside of our district who I’ve met in a variety of educational contexts.  If you’re an NBCT, you know just how much of a lifeline that encouragement and feedback can be from colleagues-it is invaluable.  I was lucky to be one of four teachers from our district who worked together and nudged one another along.

As part of my #100DaysofNotebooking I created an entry to reflect on the core principles of NBCT and the day I learned I had become certified:

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Do you know someone who is working on a goal that may seem overwhelming at times? Perhaps someone is enrolled in a Master’s degree program, participating in the National Writing Project, or trying to get something published. Maybe they are just trying to survive and thrive in their first years of teaching. What supports could you offer (that wouldn’t drain your own precious time or energy to a deficit)? Is there a small lift you could offer? A note of encouragement? An invitation to read some work? A cup of coffee and a vote of confidence?

And if you have achieved something yourself: a degree, a certificate, an accolade…can you turn back around and help the next one in line? If we are going to sustain an excellence in our teaching profession we need to grow it. We need know we are not alone.

Always stay humble and kind.

 

One More Off My TBR Stack

forgotten city

FORGOTTEN CITY by Michael Ford
There is no shortage of dystopian books, but this one is unique in a number of ways. The world is not destroyed by war and conflict but rather by corporate greed. A deadly chemical (Waste) is unleashed on the world and devastates all life. Millions are killed and we think only Kobi and his father survive, but when Kobi’s father doesn’t return from one of his scientific missions, Kobi leaves their safe space to search for him. What he finds upends his reality…he finds he isn’t alone and cannot trust what he sees. So many twists and turns in this adventure: creative mutations, unexpected consequences, crafty characters all make this a terrific science fiction thriller. First in a series and currently on the 2019-20 MSBA list. A real page turner.

#100DaysofNotebooking

I am so lucky that I have a dedicated notebooker as a dear friend. Michelle Haseltine has been notebooking since 1982.  She is on her 83rd notebook!! I am so inspired by her dedication to “showing up to the page” every day.  Now she is even more inspiring; she has created a group called #100DaysofNotebooking that has members from around the world! The idea is to commit to notebooking for 100 days-whatever you want to put on a page is PERFECT.

Michelle says, Notebooking is about sharing your story. Show up to the page every day. Focus on that and soon you will have your story on the page. There is no right/wrong way to notebook. Show up! We invite you to join us into our community for support and encouragement!

My notebook entry today was based on the variety of formats and ideas I’ve read

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through in the past several days-and I know I did not capture all of them.  For anyone who thinks they can’t notebook or wouldn’t know what to write about, you’ll find so many ideas and inspiration from this group.

You can spend as much or as little time as you want writing each day. You can choose to share, or not to share. If you are on  Twitter, just use the hashtag #100DaysofNotebooking to see some examples.

Sure, we are a few days into the new year, but don’t let that stop you from giving it a GO. Once you start writing each day, you will experience the world around you in new ways. You’ll be more present and aware-you’ll notice more because you are open to ideas that you can notebook. Being a writer changes the way you see and experience the world.

What are the rules?

1.Show up to the page.

That’s it. Just turn a page each day and put pen to paper. See what comes out. Discover your thinking.

PLAY!

As a bonus, Michelle has also created a Spotify playlist of songs to inspire ideas and creativity. Seems like each day this group keeps growing with inspiring support. Check it out-I don’t think you’ll regret it! If you want to join the private Facebook page you can request permission here: 100 Days of Notebooking Facebook Group Hope to see you there!

 

One More Off My TBR Stack

What it isWHAT IT IS by Lynda Barry

My first book of 2020 and I think this one is going to change my life! It fits so well with my goals for notebooking as well. Lynda asks some big existential questions and playfully writes and draws some responses that invite even more questions that only the reader can answer for themself. She frames thoughts about writing in unique ways; “Handwriting is an image left by a living being in motion-it cannot be duplicated in time or space.” or “We are practicing a physical activity (writing)with a state of mind.” If you’ve ever wanted to keep a notebook of thoughts, wondering, doodles, or stories I encourage you to add this book to your collection. It’s been around since 2008 and I’m surprised it hadn’t found me yet.

Give the Gift That Promises a Lift!

Waking up on my first day of our winter vacation, filled with gratitude after a great night’s sleep. Vacations provide a much needed break to rest, replenish, and rejuvenate. But they also provide a stopping point that mark accomplishment. We did it. We made it to this point. We won!

But vacations don’t have to be the only stopping points to reflect on accomplishment. Teaching is hard and often we only stop to reflect when something frustrates or upsets us. In reality, our days are filled with many wonderful moments for our students and ourselves. There are many accomplishments that we don’t take time to celebrate because they may seem too small. I think that’s a mistake. One of my favorite sayings is, “Nothing is too small to celebrate!”

So this year I decided to build on the advice of some of my kindergarten friends who asked each other at the end of the day last year, “What’s your win?” I blogged about it in February (What’s Your Win? Feb 2019) but have thought about it all year. So for a holiday gift for all of our new teachers I created a What’s Your Win? book.  It started with a simple monthly calendar/planner. You can pick these up anywhere (and after Jan 1st you’ll get them 50%off or more!)img_5622

Inside I included a short message to encourage them to stop each day and jot (a very micro quick write) something positive that happened that day. It could be professional or personal,  profound or petty.  Those are your WINS!! The point being, there is something positive to be found and celebrated each and every day. Our lives are filled with wins that we neglect to celebrate. Imagine how much a lift you will feel by the end of the month when you see a page full of WINS. Imagine at the end of the year having a book of 365 WINS.  These teachers deserve some celebrations. They deserve a daily lift.

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Can you think of someone who could use a lift as a teacher? Are you and your buddies feeling overwhelmed and defeated too often? Why not pick up some inexpensive planners and give them a gift that promises a lift!? While you are at it, gift yourself, too! What a great way to end each day by asking your colleagues, “What’s your win, today?” Leaving school each day on a positive note sets up a positive trajectory for arriving home to your loved ones. Imagine what a gift it could be for them to have their mom or dad, husband or wife coming home feeling more upbeat and positive after a long day of teaching! Imagine how you’ll start to experience your day when you are on the look out for WINS?

We see what we look for.” – John Lubbock

But don’t wait until 2020. I just read an article in the New York Times encouraging us to practice any New Year’s Resolutions as a “dry run” to help encourage greater success with a new habit. It makes so much sense. Runners don’t enter races without practice, why do we set ourselves up for something meaningful without practice? Grab your planbook, a crumply 2019 calendar, a piece of scrap paper and jot a WIN at the end of a few days over vacation. I hope those wins include sleep, reading, calm, twinkling lights, good food, and lots of love.  Here’s to a year of WINS and some weeks of ‘winning’.

One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2019-12-21 at 8.37.11 AMBIG MAGICby Elizabeth Gilbert
Ok, I know this isn’t the KidLit that I usually review, but I’m still thinking about it two weeks after reading and it fits so well with thoughts on resolutions. This book was recommended in a recent Teach Write Twitter chat. It’s been out since 2015 so I am surprised that I missed it, but I am certainly glad that I found it. Elizabeth Gilbert shares the paradoxes of creativity (we are terrified, we are brave…we toil alone, we are accompanied by spirits…art is a crushing chore, art is a wonderful privilege) and invites us to make space for these paradoxes. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the notion that “Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form” that have consciousness and will, and that “the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner.” If an idea taps us to bring it forth we can say YES or NO, and that most of the time people say NO, so it moves on to someone else. This has me excited to welcome ideas into my life and to think about saying YES more often. I also love that she disavows the suffering artist concept and encourages more playfulness and joy. If you are looking to lead a more creative life, I strongly encourage you to bring some Big Magic into it.

Vicarious PD: Sharing the Wealth of #NCTE19

Last weekend I had the very good fortune to be able to attend NCTE 19 in Baltimore, Maryland and came away with inspiration and ideas to fuel me moving forward this school year. However, I realize there are so many teachers who do not have this opportunity so I try to share my takeaways with as many as I can. Looking for ways to make my learning accessible to others is always a bit tricky but I think vicarious learning can be a powerful PD opportunity. I think it is important to share the wealth of professional knowledge whenever we can.

This week I reflected on the sketchnotes I took during each session. As I revisit them, this is my opportunity to revise as well. I’ll add color and detail as I contemplate and reflect on the ideas the presenters shared. Sometimes I don’t fully color a sketchnote, leaving an open invitation for more reflection and revision.

Another revision I included this time was to insert QR codes into my sketchnotes with links to photos, handouts, or presentation links that I can revisit in the future. It was fun thinking about how to make my notes more interactive and meaningful. Here’s an example:

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Then I wanted to create a centralized location for all of the notes and resources I curated so I created a Google Doc with hyperlinks to material for the sessions I attended. Click on the link below the image for access to all of my resources.

Screen Shot 2019-12-01 at 9.43.35 AMhttps://docs.google.com/document/d/1BD1KUTwbTDEY3zUZfCSrNZCVhk2Um8WFfYSoPlZMKmI/edit?usp=sharing

Feel free to share with colleagues and connect with me on Twitter if you would like to chat more. Not being able to travel to a national conference shouldn’t mean you still can’t learn from them. I encourage anyone who has the good fortune to attend nErDcamps, conferences, or workshops to find ways to share those great ideas with colleagues and PLN members. Rising tides lift all boats, let’s create a tsunami of shared PD!

One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2019-12-01 at 9.50.19 AMMY JASPER JUNE by Laurel Snyder
I have loved every book Laurel Snyder has penned, and My Jasper June is no exception. A beautiful story of friendship and loss, and the danger of silence and secrets. As the school year ends, Leah is facing a summer alone, one year after the death of her younger brother, Sam. Her friends and neighbors don’t know how to relate to Leah, and her parents have become ‘ghosts’–there, but not really there- so loneliness has become a dark hole in her life. Then she meets Jasper, a mysterious girl with a real joie de vivre. But as their friendship forms, they each begin to share secrets that have haunted them and have to decide how long they can keep these secrets from others. A story of grief and loss, but also of love and hope. She even has a teaching guide for educators who would like to dig into this book more deeply.

Creating Playgrounds for Writers

Jean Piaget said it. Marie Montessori said it. Even Fred Rogers said it.

“Play is the work of childhood.”

As teachers we know how important play is to a child’s development, but we also know school is not an all day recess. So how do we incorporate more play into our students’ learning time? I believe quick writes throughout the school day allow children an opportunity to play on paper. They can play with ideas and play with ways to convey those ideas in writing.

What are quick writes? Short bursts of “thinking and inking” that are not evaluated or graded. They are invitations to explore thinking, feelings, and wonderings in whatever way speaks to them. In my book Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms I provide a variety of “sparks” to invite playful inquiry and reflection.

Just as there are “rules” for recess that are designed for students wellbeing, I have only a few “rules” for quick writes that support the wellbeing of the learner:

  • Write the whole time-just let those ideas flow onto the paper without a filter
  • Be kind when writing about others
  • You don’t have to share if you don’t want to
  • Have fun with it

I want them to see that writing is more than drafting stories or creating reports. WritingScreen Shot 2019-11-17 at 8.28.42 AM is a way to play on paper and find no judgements. I wish I’d had time like that as a student. I don’t think I would have found writing so intimidating or have been so reluctant to do it unless it was assigned.

I’ll be sharing some ideas and resources at NCTE 2019 in Baltimore this week to help create more PLAYGROUNDS for writers in our classrooms. I hope if you are going that you can join me, but I know many will not be able to attend so I’m happy to share my resources here as well.  You can access the link to my slides below.

 

 

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https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Bxy2SNES0NeSXipFWxUCKbylI2bB7HKUhKYnl9CH4ys/present?usp=sharing

Here is a copy of my handout with QR codes to some of my resources as well.

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You can find more ideas and resources for Quick Writes in my book SPARK! or you can connect with me anytime on social media @LitCoachLady on Twitter. Let’s bring more opportunities for purposeful play in our students’ day by creating Quick Write Playgrounds!

One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 9.32.51 AMGIVE AND TAKE by Elly Swartz
Elly Swartz has written another compelling and compassionate middle grade novel that opens minds and hearts to some of the fierce challenges our children face. In Give and Take we meet 12 year old Maggie whose grandmother recently passed away from dementia, whose family is temporarily fostering a newborn about to be adopted, and whose friend is bumped from their all-girl trap shooting team. Seems like Maggie is has had to say goodbye so much that she finds she can’t let go of things and saving mementos turns into a problem with hoarding that she can’t control. Swartz’s background in psychology has helped her create characters that need to work through mental health challenges and allow readers some insights and empathy for the human condition while crafting engaging storylines that pull you in and have you turning pages long into the night.

 

Kindling Joy and Thinking in Emergent Writers

In my book Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms I share sparks for some of our youngest writers with the idea that we meet them wherever they are in their writing development. For some that may be at a drawing or a label stage of early writing. For others it may be at a word or phrase level. Too often writing is often seen as legitimate and “real” when it conveyed at a sentence level. But if we limit our definition of writing to that advanced stage we are in danger of missing out on some powerful messages being conveyed and limiting the exploration of thought that can happen with the smallest of pencil strokes.

In my district there are two first grade teachers who have made daily quick writes a routine with their students. The “Sparks” they offer may be pictures and images, a single word, or a question to stimulate their thinking. To make it easy and accessible for all students they have used labels to print the verbal (written) sparks so that students don’t feel the need to copy over those words before diving into their own writing responses.

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These short quick writes are not just about transcribing responses onto a notebook page, they are opportunities to activate thinking, and sometimes emotions, as students contemplate what they know or what they believe. Yes, they are getting practice with encoding letter sound correspondences, but they are also playing with encoding as the process of actively relating new information to knowledge that is already in memory as they respond to each spark.

Here’s what these teachers had to say about quick writes with their first graders:

Since starting Quick Writes in the classroom this year, I notice my students can start writing right away knowing they only have 5 minutes to write. Most of them started with pictures first and now they are writing words. I see their confidence growing in their writing… they are no longer saying, “I don’t know what to write about,” they just write. As the teacher, I am learning a lot about my students in just 5 minutes of writing daily.”Maureen Cooper

Screen Shot 2019-10-26 at 9.31.29 PMI think Quick Writes are having a very positive impact on my students’ ability to write joyfully and without the worry of someone critiquing their writing. I’ve seen their creativity emerge during this time as they are able to respond to a prompt in any way they choose. I have also noticed that ALL of my students (every single one) are excited to share their quick writes with each other when writing time is over and they all have the confidence to share their writing in front of the whole class. Quick Writes have really helped even my most reluctant writers find their voice and share it with others.” -Kate Parker

I believe Quick Writes are a perfect way to empower writers of all ages, and I encourage teachers not to wait until they are “writers” before starting. When we redefine what writing is to encompass all marks that convey meaning, we can see all of our students as writers and we can ignite a writing passion early in their school careers. If you use Quick Writes with your emergent writers I’d love to hear from you.  Let’s spark joy, thinking, and creativity with more bursts of low-stakes writing for all students.

One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 10.51.09 AMThe Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras

WOW! I loved this medieval adventure for so many reasons. Diane Magras (Maine author) has given us a heroine we all need to cheer for-12 year old Drest is the youngest child of the Mad Wolf of the North, and when he and her 5 brothers are captured by invading knights and taken away to be hanged, she is the only one who can save them. She brings along a wounded enemy knight with her, who she plans to exchange for one of her brothers. But she encounters much danger along the way and is spurred on by the voices of her brothers in her head when she most needs their advice and encouragement. Drest also learns some hard ‘truths’ about her warband family that she wrestles with as she tries to make them proud, but also do what she feels is right in her heart. Her quest will keep readers riveted and they’ll be happy to know a sequel awaits them. I listened to the audio book narrated by the incredible Joshua Manning and it was fantastic! His Scottish voices brought each character to life so vividly. If you love a good adventure, do NOT miss this 2019-20 MSBA nominee! (Oh, and I equally love the sequel The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter!)