Monthly Archives: September 2013

Rights to Write

I love those unexpected treasures that pop up in the classroom.  I was lucky enough to experience one today!  (Not unlike these beautiful silky white roses that grow along the edge of our playground!)


We ask our students to write at home each week in something we call a Homework Writer’s Notebook (HWN).  Our goal is to help students establish a writerly habit of generating writing primarily for their own purposes (we look at the notebook on Monday’s).  We encourage students to use this notebook to play with writing and language and experiment with different kinds of writing.  They pick their own topics (although we do make suggestions of possibilities as they occur to us during the day) and create their own writing schedules.  We talk about how excited we are to read their writing…and how this writing helps us know them better, and teach them better.

Today was my first day of spending time with students’ HWNs this year (they went home for the first time last week).  I was immediately impressed that almost all of the notebooks made it into the classroom today…and almost all our students wrote at least two entries in their notebooks, and some wrote many more.  And then I came across this gem written by a second grader.

My Rights to Write

I have the right to write a story that will fill your mind with enchantment and glory.  I also have the right to write a story that will give you a pinch of fright and I’m warning you it might give you terrible dreams at night.  I have the the right to pick up a pencil and let it glide through day and night.  I have the right to let my imagination run wild.  I have the right to borrow ideas of books that have gorgeous language and place them in my pencil.  I have the right to make my stories expand through the sea, forest to open land…

This did not come out of the notebook of my most prolific writer or the one that loves to write the most. It wasn’t from a student looking for my approval, rushing to see me with notebook in hand. This is a student who is growing into a writer. Who is finding the stamina and desire to let her writerly voice emerge.

I love that this writer is thinking about her rights to write.  Not because we suggested it as a topic (we didn’t), although we do have a poster about rights of readers in the classroom.  And I’m certain she hasn’t read Spandel’s 9 Rights of Every Writer (although I thought of it when I read this piece this morning).  It appears to me that she is claiming her rights as a writer!

And then I read Deanna Mascle’s blog post this afternoon asking whether we should stop teaching writing and instead focus on teaching writers (musings based on her college level experience).  And I do think we need to focus on writers, helping them develop confidence, fluency, and processes that support the development of their own writing rather than tracking them into classes with teacher-focused writing assignments that leave little room for writers to emerge.

Working with young writers can be a challenge.  They have so much to juggle as they tackle each writing opportunity.  They not only have to find topics and develop their ideas, they also have to concentrate on forming letters, figure out how to spell the words they need, and deal with the complications of punctuation and other mechanics.

And working with young writers is inspirational!  They have fresh ideas–and when things are going well they are unfettered by the constraints of the expectations that adult writers often place on themselves.  This young writer today reignited my passion for supporting writers.  She reminded me that writers have the right to express themselves in ways that make sense to them.  I know I will hear her voice in my head as I meet with young writers in my classroom tomorrow…and I will remember that they have the rights to write!

Do you give your students the rights to write?  Do you claim your own rights to write?

Mentor Text: September Is…

As a teacher of writing, I see mentor text everywhere.  It exists in expected places–like well-written children’s literature and in less traditional places like Youtube videos, blog posts, and even billboards and advertisements.  The tricky part about using mentor text to support writers is finding the right mentor text to use in the situation at hand.  With that in mind, sharing our successes with mentor texts is a great way to help each other as we make our own classroom selections.  The 113 Mentor Texts Challenge over at SDAWP Voices attempts to do just that–create a collection of mentor texts that educators from all levels and all over are using.

Early in the school year in addition to doing some sentence level work, we also like to use mentor text to support students’ generation of whole text.  After examining a number of texts we had for consideration, we decided last week to go with a poem to support our young writers. Bobbi Katz wrote this poem called September Is that describes some qualities of the beginning of school that are easy for students to relate to.

September Is

September is

when yellow pencils

in brand new eraser hats

bravely wait on perfect points–

ready to march across miles of lines

in empty notebooks–


September is

when a piece of chalk

skates across the board–

swirling and looping–

until it spells your new teacher’s


Bobbi Katz

As we studied this piece as a class, students noticed that the pencils were described like people…with hats and ready to march.  (They do know that is called personification) They noticed the use of swirling and looping to further describe the skating of the chalk.  They noticed that Bobbi Katz didn’t just make a list of things in school, she picked two and then went into more detail about each of them.

As students got ready to use September Is as a mentor text for their own writing, we also talked about other ideas besides September as a focus for the writing.  They were thinking about Fall Is and School Is as other possibilities.

Students began to generate ideas on that first day and then set their writing aside.  The following day we asked a couple of volunteers to share their work in progress as we noticed what they were doing well.  Students definitely were including interesting verbs and expanded descriptions.  We all then went back to work…even those who thought they were done…to consider stronger words, to add more description and detail.

And here are a couple of student-generated drafts.

“E” — a first grader — wrote this:

Fall Is

Fall is Halloween when ghosts glide through the night sky and when leaves glide off the trees.

“S” — a third grader –wrote this:

Fall Is

Fall is…

when the reddish-brown leaves are too tired of hanging hopelessly on the weak branches so they twirl and spin in the air before they carefully float right on to the cold grassy land full of new seedlings that are going to grow in the summer.

Fall is also when you scoop all of the white tear-shaped seeds out of the big round orange pumpkin and carve a face for the spooky night when ghosts haunt the night sky and children in costumes are running about trick-or-treating and scaring everybody.

I feel like my students captured fall in their writing and that Bobbi Katz supported their ideas. They were able to use her basic structure and let her strong words and images guide them to their own compelling compositions.  That’s the power of mentor text!


Lines and Patterns

This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge at the Daily Post focuses on lines and patterns…something I have been exploring through my own #sdawpphotovoices photo-a-day challenges.  In August we captured design elements such as curves, angles, symmetry, repetition, and patterns in our daily photographs.

Lines and patterns seem to be everywhere!  Here’s a picture I took today on my way to a meeting at UCSD.


I like the way you can see the statue of the triton at the bottom through the lines and angles of the stairs.  A few weeks ago I took this picture of a bike rack…and the shadow it casts that continues the pattern.  It almost creates an image of giant paperclips!


I love to take pictures at the beach.  I noticed the way the lifeguards had organized their equipment on this rack…I love the lines and patterns…and colors with the ocean in the background.


Lines and patterns are everywhere!  What lines and patterns have you captured lately?

Engagement, Learning, and Technology

How do we, as teachers, use technology in ways that improve opportunities for student learning in our classrooms?  Now in our second year with 1:1 iPads, this question is always on our minds.  My teaching partner and I are always thinking about ways to increase student engagement and participation in all aspects of the classroom–in line with our beliefs that engagement and participation play an important role in learning.  Sometimes those ideas involve our iPads–and somethings they don’t, we are always considering student learning rather than iPad use as the goal.  Paula over at Amplifying Minds wrote earlier today about the role technology should or could play in enabling learning.

This week we experimented with using the app educreations as a tool during our morning calendar time to encourage more interaction and participation.  My immediate observation is that more students can share their mathematical equation generation since the white board feature allows students and teachers to see many more attempts than were available orally.  And the novelty factor is certainly at work–students are interested in using the iPad, so there is more immediate engagement.  I do realize we could do a similar process using our actual handheld white boards and markers–messier, but similar.

I’m also seeing students use different aspects of the educreations app for their equation generation–the typing feature, the writing feature, a variety of colors…  (And it’s way less messy than the markers!) I feel like this is just the tip of the iceberg of possibilities, and I suspect that students will show us more ways to use this tool.

And an added bonus was reported back to me…a guest teacher who worked for my teaching partner on Wednesday using this new tool in our classroom implemented this strategy in another classroom later this week.  She was quite excited about the success and engagement the students experienced, and proud of her own ability to implement a new strategy with the students.


Sometimes it take a new tool, like the 1:1 iPads to push our thinking about ways to modify our own teaching strategies…to move out of comfort zones and try new ways of working with and engaging students.  I don’t have any illusions that this particular strategy being a ground-breaking innovation in learning, but even small steps can improve the learning experience for students.  We just have to keep moving forward…and be open to experimentation and listen to student ideas about innovation as well!

How are you supporting and enhancing student learning in your classroom?

A Question? A Story?

I took the long way home from work today.  It is also a scenic route with beautiful vistas of the ocean bathed in the early evening sun, signature Torrey Pines gracing the center planters, and stop signs at regular intervals instead of evening freeway rush hour traffic.

My photography this week, scaly is the prompt, has not been terribly inspired.  I’ve been busy–too many meetings and not enough time to immerse myself in the projects that need attention, and require thoughtful time to get them done.

So on my way home, on this scenic route, I made a short detour thinking I remembered a piece of public art that just might fit my scaly search.  But the statue I remembered wasn’t there…so I drove a bit further and saw this house.


What?  What are all these poles for?  If you look closely you’ll see they have little flags on them. Is this construction of some sort?  Installation art?  A way to keep the birds away?

I think this photo would make a great writing prompt!  What story do you see?

Building Rhythms

As we enter the fourth week of school, I can feel the rhythm settling in.  It’s not the dulling thrum of never-changing routine, but the strong heartbeat of a community in progress.  You might think that because two thirds of our students remain the same each year, that the beginning of the year would be seamless.  But in fact, we feel the transition even with so much remaining the same.

Each year students take on a new role in the classroom. Those veteran third graders, who have already spent two years in the classroom with us, are figuring out just how to be a classroom and school leader.  They are considering how to provide support to their younger classmates while still maintaining their emerging “cool” image…not an easy balancing act!  Second graders, who used to be those “little kids,” are wrestling with stepping up to the demands of the being in the middle–no longer needing as much support, and yet grappling with no longer being the youngest.  And our brand new first graders have spent the last several weeks trying to figure out what it means to be a part of our multiage class.  A place with a history–a legacy of shared learning that pops up regularly, and they feel left out of.  They are learning to work with others, to accept help from their older peers, and to risk adding their contributions to our classroom learning.

This week feels like the turning point.  We are feeling like a cohesive community learning together.  Students are taking risks, supporting each other, and settling in…with the calm hum of learning-in-progress filling the room.

I can feel the rhythm building and soon the melody will come into focus.  I look forward to our voices blending and harmonizing as we grow together.

I love these moments of teaching.

Too Much of an Interesting Thing…

When I first spied the mushroom in my front yard I saw it as a photo opportunity.  I watched it grow, seeming to magnify right before my eyes.  I watched it for days until I found it kicked across the yard one morning–and then, once it was turn upside down, I captured what I had missed by looking at only the outside surface with my camera.

The following week I noticed a few more mushrooms growing in my lawn.  Again, I watched them grow…this time with some “portholes” to look inside and see what was beneath the surface.  I got out my macro lens and worked to capture my secret view of the underside of the mushroom.

And then this morning it seemed that an entire forest of mushrooms has exploded on my lawn!  One was so round and on a tall stem…looking almost like a lollipop.  When I got home–late (meeting and then traffic)–that forest had ballooned, each mushroom doubling in size from this morning.  And while my photos don’t really capture the drama of the growth, my eyes registered it.


And now I’m thinking that these fascinating mushrooms are becoming a problem.  What started as an interesting novelty has become a bit of an eyesore.  Just where do these mushrooms come from?  What effect do they have on my lawn?  How do they multiply?  What is making them thrive in my lawn?  And now…how do I get rid of them?

Early morning update:  As my husband was leaving for work, he came back into the house saying, “The fairies are having a field day at our house!”  I looked out the door…the mushrooms are enormous this morning!  They ballooned overnight–and the biggest among them are between 6 and 8 inches across.  Here’s a picture trying to capture the magnitude.  (The photos don’t really capture the size adequately!)