Category Archives: Slice of Life

Primed for Summer Writing

Weirdly enough, this school year ended with 2 minimum days–on a Monday and Tuesday. With the class party dealt with on Friday, what do you plan for those last days of school with first graders?

Inspired by a post I saw on Two Writing Teachers, we began our last two days of school by creating a character–a puppet of sorts–to feature in our writing and to prime the pump for some possible summer writing.

Yesterday morning armed with cardstock, construction paper, scissors, glue, markers, and colored pencils we began creating our characters. Students knew I would make an egret. (They know I love egrets and often feature them in my writing) I demonstrated one way to put a character together…and also started talking through a story featuring the character that was brewing in my head. And then they were off…

As they crafted and created they were also having conversations about their characters. They talked about where the characters lived, their special features and coloring. All the perfect pre-writing you always wish for (and sometimes doesn’t happen). I love this time in the school year when students are comfortable and confident, allowing the creative juices to flow. Once completed, we left the character puppets to dry on the counter.

Today we began with our sketch pads, setting our characters in their places, giving them action and a problem to solve. And again, as students sketched and colored they also talked about their stories.

At this point students were eager to write. We talked about adding dialogue and thoughts, sound words, and setting. And on this very last day of first grade, these students wrote and wrote. They loved that they were filling the page (or more) with their writing. They were excited to read their stories out loud and they were willing to add even more details.

The added bonus is that they also created a list of other stories featuring this character that they may write in the next hours or days or weeks. They left with their notebooks and sketchbooks and their character in hand…and their brains primed and ready for some summer writing (I hope)! I leave the school year knowing that my students left on this last day of first grade as writers, knowing they can put their stories on the page for themselves and others to enjoy.

Would I have students write on the last day of school again…the answer is a resounding YES! It was a wonderful way to spend our last days together, immersed in this community of writers developed over the course of the school year. There were so many things that were hard about this year of teaching, which makes me even happier that these last two days were a joy…for me and for them. They and I left the school year wanting more…that wonderful bittersweet feeling of being happy and sad all at the same time.

Grow Where You Land: SOL22 Day 31

On this last day of the Slice of Life challenge I want to thank those at Two Writing Teachers for offering this blogging challenge. I also want to thank my fellow bloggers–those I left comments for and those I read and didn’t comment, and even those I simply didn’t have time to read for engaging in this place of words, ideas, and incredible generosity. There is something about this challenge that keeps me accountable and somehow motivates me to write each and every day in March.

It’s also the perfect day for a bit of reflection and thinking about the take aways of an already busy month of teaching, report card writing, parent conferencing also spent with daily writing. Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Writing begets writing. The more I write, the more I seem to have to write about. Early in the month I feel challenged to come up with writing topics and things to say with any kind of eloquence. With each successive day, I find myself mulling over writing topics as I go through the day, turning them over, considering angles I might take, and even then often surprising myself with the actual post that emerges.
  • A daily slice often means that I am making my teaching practice more visible. I consider the ways instruction and learning interact, often focusing on the ways writing develops with young writers. When I write about what I see my students produce, I understand it on another level. And when my colleagues comment, they also help me see if from new vantages.
  • Reading and commenting on others’ posts helps me see my teaching life in a larger perspective as I consider stories from other parts of the country (and the world), hearing struggles and successes and making connections in spite of differences.
  • I love the many stages of life expressed in slice of life posts. Stories of toddlers and teens, grandchildren and aging parents humanize us all. It helps to know that even the best teachers struggle to find the work/life balance and that writing is a way to process the curveballs that life throws.
  • This is a community where I feel like a dandelion. I thrive and grow where I land. Some days I might land in the crack of the sidewalk, trying to avoid the crush of feet walking over me. Other days I find myself in an open field, swaying in the breeze and soaking up the sun. I’m thankful for landing here and looking forward to next year’s challenge.

This might also be the year that I manage to write a weekly Tuesday slice. I’m making that a regular writing goal. Hope to engage with you all again soon!

6 Words for the Environment: SOL22 Day 30

Today, March 30, 2022, marks the date of the Worldwide Teach In for Climate/Justice sponsored by Bard College. That is significant because as a writing project, we have spent time and energy this year looking for ways to implement climate teaching in a writing centric way.

With my young students, my approach to climate/justice teaching is to raise their awareness and appreciation of our planet, the people who live on it, the animals they already love, and also include some study of people making a difference (Jane Goodall came up through Scholastic News–so we inquired a bit further about her and her work) and about actions they can take as 6 and 7 year olds.

I have writing project colleagues who adapted the idea of a 6-word memoir into an opportunity for students to write 6 words for the environment. It seemed a perfect fit for a week of minimum days (to allow for parent conferences) just before Spring Break (which begins after school ends on Friday).

So, after they finished some amazing Poetry Is writing (check yesterday’s post for more details), we started to brainstorm words about the earth, about people and animals who live on the earth, and about actions people might take to protect the earth. They helped me write a few 6 word attempts before I sent them back to the their notebooks to write as many 6-words for the environment as they could in 7 minutes.

Then, they had to select their favorite of the 6-word statements they had written to feature on a mini poster. Some struggled to figure out which of their 6-word pieces to use (“They’re all good!” You’ve gotta love the confidence of first graders!) while others knew just what they wanted to write and draw on their poster. And even with phonetic spelling and some questionable counting of 6 words, they had important messages to share. Here’s a small sampling:

Pick up after yourself
Beautiful plants, beautiful earth, beautiful life
Please clean the planet, with others
Be green to save the Earth
I love our earth and sky

Building time to learn about and think about positive actions to protect our precious planet is essential to our longevity as a species. My students know they can make a difference and they are ready to do their part (and urge others to help out too).

Let’s not give in to doomsday thinking and instead cultivate a love for this incredible planet and everything and everyone who resides here. Together we can make a difference.

Tulips and Poetry: SOL22 Day 29

As March comes to an end, National Poetry Month is right around the corner. To get a bit of a head start–especially since we begin our Spring Break next week–I decided we needed to immerse ourselves in some poetry this week.

Poetry is nothing new in our class. We study a poem each week and then illustrate it, creating an anthology of poems we’ve worked with during the school year. We’ve written some poems of our own here and there. But the time is right for a deeper dive.

Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer is a perfect book to get started. The first graders loved that the poem Daniel wrote was a compilation of the answers from all the animals that answered Daniel’s question, “What is poetry?” And it set the perfect stage for our own Poetry Is… brainstorm. After a start yesterday, we took this idea further today, stretching out ideas and embellishing them with vivid description. Here’s a few examples:

  • Poetry is a glass of warm hot chocolate on a cold, snowy winter day.
  • Poetry is a grasshopper jumping and hopping and bouncing all around the fields.
  • Poetry is a coconut with the flavor inside and the outside is so hard and thick like a layer of armor.
  • Poetry is a slippery fish, as beautiful as a butterfly.
  • Poetry is the sound of my dad snoring.

And somehow, in my mind, poetry and flowers are a perfect pairing. I had purchased some tulips and daffodils from Trader Joes over the weekend, knowing I wanted students to have a close up look at these symbols of spring (that are not commonly found growing around here). Yesterday students used a black oil pastel on watercolor paper to do a directed drawing of tulips in a vase. Today, we used liquid watercolor to create vibrant paintings of these beautiful spring flowers. The results are stunning!

Watercolor paintings drying on the classroom floor.

I plan to matte them along with the “Poetry Is…” writing. And I think I may have each student contribute one line to create a class Poetry Is poem for a poster to hang on our door! After all, National Poetry Month is right around the corner!

Rainy Days and Mondays: SOL22 Day 28

Some days are the perfect convergence of conditions–that can either make or break your day.

Mondays can be challenging. Coming off the weekend students are unsettled–some tired, some amped, some seemingly have forgotten what this whole school thing is all about. And somehow, I always start parent conference week with an early morning conference. Today was no different.

I like morning parent conferences. They feel almost leisurely in the quiet of the morning before the stresses of the day emerge. But…today I had to rearrange my lesson plans since someone would come in to teach my class while I attended an IEP meeting. And…I didn’t know who it would be until I was already teaching this morning.

Then there’s the forecast. Last week we had summer mid-week, with coastal temperatures in the 80s. Today’s weather called for wind and rain…maybe even thunder and lightening. Any weather in these parts is an event–and my rain boot, umbrella toting students came to school ready for it! (What is it about wind and the prospect of rain that causes students to lose their minds? They were definitely stirred up today!)

No breaks later, it hadn’t rained. I wrangled the students back into learning mode as we explored some poetry (reading and writing) and did some drawing (tulips) that we will paint tomorrow. A minimum day dismissal arrived before the rain–so all those boots and umbrellas were not needed at school today.

But the rain did come, wafting in sheets during one of my conferences. We could hear the wind and see the sheets of water through the windows as we chatted about progress and appreciated the child’s unique qualities. And I was thankful for a rain-free teaching day since cooped-up kids are not my favorite start to the week.

You can see the rain pouring out the drains after the downpour.

Once my conferences were done for the day, the sun came out and I couldn’t resist a bit of photography outside the classroom, trying to catch the sunlight on the damp flowers that were clearly enjoying some rainfall in this usually dry climate.

While there is still some more rain in the forecast for the evening, it held off long enough for a neighborhood walk once I got home this afternoon. The snails were out everywhere creating their own kind of obstacle course (how I hate that crunch when I accidentally step on one!) as I made my way up and down the sidewalks.

End result? This rainy day and Monday converged in a way I can claim as a good day. It was busy and hectic as all parent conference week days are, but the rain made its appearances at times when I could appreciate it rather than curse it. All in all, a pretty darn good rainy day and Monday!

It’s the Small Things: SOL22 Day 27

Some days it’s all about the small things.

Not setting the alarm clock and sleeping in on Sunday morning. (Or at least not getting out of bed when you wake up even though there is no alarm going off.)

A walk on the beach with my sister who is visiting from the northern part of the state. And the sun even decided to come out to play after two days of thick, gray marine layer over the coast.

Dinner cooked by my husband (that part is not unusual) for my mom, my sister, and me–complete with a from scratch chocolate cake dessert. He manages to cook with love and care, even at a moment’s notice. He’s definitely a keeper!

Trader Joe’s flowers: tulips and daffodils to bring spring inside. And because I am planning an art project with my students tomorrow that features tulips, I wanted to bring the real thing into the classroom.

So I indulged and bought both tulips and daffodils. Last week we read a poem that included daffodils and my students didn’t seem familiar with them–so I was on the lookout for those inexpensive bunches that are around every spring at Trader Joes. And I had to have the tulips, even though they were only available in the larger bunch that was a bit pricier than I wanted. But…I have enough of each type of flower to bring some in the classroom and leave myself the bright beauty of spring on the dining room table!

Any small things bring you joy and appreciation today?

A Contradiction? SOL22 Day 26

One of the things I love about walking on the beach is that it is forever different and always fascinating. Today was gray with a pretty thick marine layers covering the coast. I love low tides when the reef is exposed, the beach is wide, and if I’m lucky there will be more shore birds and other sea creatures visible.

Today it was the tiny sandpipers that caught my eye. They gather in groups, perhaps safety in numbers, and move in unison. I crept close today (they spook easily) and waited and watched with my camera at the ready. Their coloring helps them camouflage with the reef, making it hard to get great photos.

So many birds stand on one leg…and this one is a perfect example. I’m guessing it’s a way to rest. I know when I am standing a lot (like every day teaching), I find myself standing one one leg or resting one foot on the other.

As I was thinking about these birds that run and fly in perfect synch–their little feet almost like perpetual motion machines–I was also wondering about their collective noun. What is a group of sandpipers called? With a question like this, I did the usual and turned to Google. There I learned there are a number of names for a group of sandpipers including a contradiction, a fling, a hill, and even a time-step! Where do these names come from…and why? A contradiction?

If I were to choose from these nouns, I would definitely go with time-step. I love to watch their little legs move in a blur of constant motion and in perfect step with each other–definitely a time-step!

And…I was lucky enough to catch this guy mid leap! Notice the little drip of water from the tiny bird foot raised above the ground.

It’s fun to leave the beach wondering and thinking. No two days are alike and every day gets me thinking. Where do you go to think and wonder? (And maybe even walk and photograph)

Finding Gold: SOL22 Day 25

I’ve heard it said that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But I live in a place where rain is rare, which means we also don’t see too many rainbows. So I guess that means we need to look for our gold elsewhere.

With many of my university colleagues enjoying a three-day weekend thanks to Cesar Chavez, I found my day unstructured. I had no scheduled calls, no imminent deadlines, just wide open time to complete some of those work projects that keep falling to the bottom of my list of things to do. Gold!

Wednesday’s summer was short-lived. Today arrived cloaked in a gray cape, keeping the sun at bay and temperatures back down into the low 60s. And when I saw that the tide would be low near lunch time, it occurred to me that I should take advantage of my flexible schedule and take my walk smack dab in the middle of my typical work day! Gold!

As I walked along the shoreline, I watched the seagulls hanging out and as usual they were engaged in loud conversation with one another. I noticed interesting shells and bits of kelp and other algaes that had washed up onto the shore. And then I spied a bit of gold. A closer look revealed a tiny golden lion snuggled up against the red algae. More gold!

After I took a photo, my husband snatched up the plastic creature–we’re working hard to eliminate beach plastics and doing our part to keep them off the beach.

As long as we were out, we decided we might as well head off to our favorite hole-in-the-wall local Mexican restaurant: Juanita’s. My taquitos with guacamole were encrusted with golden cheese. and also picture perfect! (My husband added some of this golden treasure to his burrito, pictured in the background.)

We definitely struck gold with our day today. A perfectly unstructured day that allowed for both productive work AND a satisfying low-tide beach walk followed by a yummy, comforting lunch. The perfect way to end the work week!

Critter Crisis Averted: SOL22 Day 24

Be aware of your surroundings.

Those admonitions are common, usually a reminder when going somewhere unfamiliar or someplace with potential hazards.

A momentary commotion during our neighborhood walk had my husband asking me if I wanted to take a photo.

Of what, I asked?

Of the critter you nearly stepped on.

I guess it’s the grasshopper that needs to be aware of its surroundings!

Mini Vacay: SOL22 Day 23

Today summer arrived in March with warm Santa Ana winds from the desert bringing 80 degree temperatures to the coast. It was a typical work day–except that I had no after school meetings today. That is a rare occurrence and I took full advantage. I left school at a reasonable hour, called my husband to see if he was interested in heading out for coffee and a peek at the beach, and headed home feeling like we were embarking on a vacation–even if it was of the 60 minute variety!

I’d read on Monday that our beach was getting sand this week–part of an infrastructure project that involves dredging the local lagoon and relocating sand to sand deprived beaches. I wondered just what that would look like.

Sure enough, heavy equipment was parked on the beach and new sand was evident along the shoreline.

We weren’t sure just how much beach there would be for walking, high tide often means the water covers the ground right up the cliff (and walking too close to the cliffs is an accident waiting to happen–cliff failures are well-known in these parts and have been known to be deadly!). But after only a couple steps where my foot squished way down in the brand new muddy sand, we could see plenty of room for walking ahead.

Just like the winds, we headed in the opposite direction today–walking north instead of south. While the sea birds I love to photograph weren’t present, there was plenty of other action to observe. We came across lifeguards training on jet skis, roaring up and over waves, dragging a water stretcher with another helmeted lifeguard aboard. I watched them soar over the whitewater, doing donuts in the surf. I snapped and snapped and snapped, playing with capturing action in a still photograph. (My favorite photo is posted on Instagram, but this one shows the swirl of the water.)

With the sun a warm hug on our shoulders, we continued our walk to a popular surfing area. Like ants, we watched the trail of surfers going up and down to the water’s edge. The weather makes the beach irresistible, calling loudly with blue skies, warm air, and adequate surf, in spite of the not quite warm water (61 degrees).

We couldn’t quite make it to our turnaround point as we watched the waves splashing up all the way to seawall. I couldn’t help but snap these young people trying to time their move from the stairs of this private residence to the shore. (Note the seagull on lookout above).

This afternoon foray to the beach was exactly what I needed today. It’s been a stressful week following a too-short weekend, working on getting report cards finished for an upcoming week of parent conferences, not to mention those frequent after school meetings. Today was a perfect respite–a tiny vacation in the middle of the week spent with the one I love. Sometimes a mini vacay is the perfect solution to the mid-week blues. Thursday–I’m ready for you!