Tag Archives: Slice of Life

At a Snail’s Pace

In my profession, May roars, leaving me windblown and mud spattered in the wake of the urgency to squeeze in every last bit of learning, every memorable project, and all the performances, displays, meetings, and endless, but somehow necessary, paperwork before school ends in mid June.

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And May is rich.  Students have blossomed into their most curious, creative, innovative, and independents selves.  They seem to peak as the rains ease and the skies warm, classroom routines providing the inner rhythm, the back beat, that allows imaginations and a year’s worth of learning to come together in perfect synergy.  The classroom is busy in May, with students leading the charge…both eager for school to end and reticent leave the comfortable place the classroom has become.

But there is a week in May where time crawls to a snails’ pace.  State testing, mandated in public schools, demands that my students spend hours demonstrating their learning.  During those times I hear each click of the clock reverberate against my eardrums.  The room is unnaturally quiet as students work through question after question designed to test their mastery of third grade.  The work is not too hard for my students, but it is too long…and requires them to operate very differently from our typical classroom routine.

It seems almost from birth, our students were encouraged to collaborate.  They’ve learned to work in groups, sort out misunderstandings through discussion and conversations, negotiate roles and responsibilities, turn to each other for support and critical feedback…until it’s time for the test.  Then they are asked to be quiet, to read and understand complex questions independently, write and revise without feedback, and sit for long stretches of time.

The minutes drag as I roam the room.  I check to make sure these first time test takers are progressing through their tests rather than spending inordinate amounts of time on any one question.  I search their faces, ready to intervene when signs suggest they are ready to crumble.  I remind them to use their tools, to take a breath, to stretch, and to check their work. That clock slows to a snail’s pace, each click requiring the coil of the snail’s body to snap forward, oozing its slimy self toward its destination.

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After the second day of testing I can feel the mood shift.  Novelty got us through day one and two, but day three feels heavy.  The hands of the clock are now mired in sludge.  Students need more encouragement to keep moving forward.  I need to summon some super powers to settle the boiling tummy, churning with uncertainty.  A walk and a talk helps, we are able to settle in again.

I’m proud of my students.  They did it.  All persisted, all persevered, all finished the tests in front of them.  And honestly, that is accomplishment enough at this stage of the game.  Now we can get back to the real learning–the noisy, messy, complex, interactive projects that bring joy to the classroom.  I’ll be the one who is windblown and mud spattered and reveling in the mess.

Learning from Writing: Reflections on the Poem-a-Day Challenge 2019

After 60 days of daily writing, it’s time to reflect on all I’ve learned from writing every day.  My first 30 days were entries classified as “slice of life,” vignettes and stories from life as I lived it. The second 30 days were poems, one each day of April as part of my classroom poem-a-day challenge.

The first and most important lesson learned is that daily writing makes daily writing easier. The more I write, the more I have to say.  That is not to say that writing is easy.  In fact, writing is work.  Every. Single. Day.  I have my share of “writer’s block,” but when I expect to write every day, I look for strategies to push through it.  Throughout my day I find myself paying attention to words, images, interactions…everything I encounter is potential fodder for my writing.

A tiny, furry caterpillar scurrying across the sidewalk grabs my attention and I stop to take a photo or two, knowing that there’s a story or a poem or a musing about life somewhere in that fuzzy body.  I’m reminded that attention to tiny, perfect things primes me for daily writing.

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I’ve also learned that my students need me to give them tips, techniques, and inspiring mentor texts to nurture them as writers.  They need to see me as not just their teacher, but as a fellow writer who also experiences challenges and successes, who starts and stops, and even stalls sometimes during the composing process.  My scribbles and scratch throughs show that writing takes effort and that it is worth the effort.  Being a writer in a community of writer breathes wind beneath our writerly wings.

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I’ve learned to see revision as a gift rather than a chore.  Writing doesn’t have to be perfect as you lay the words on the page.  Revision invites opportunities to revisit and re-see, allowing for new ideas to reshape that thinking on the page.  I especially love what revision offers my students.  Once they push past the idea that “done” is the goal, they are willing to rework their writing, especially when they have specific techniques to experiment with and concrete feedback to focus the reworking.

The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say a brain surgeon.  You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.  Robert Cormier

I leave this post saying now what?  60 days of blogging challenges have kept me accountable to my daily writing.  Will I write tomorrow without a challenge to motivate me?  Will I invent a new challenge to keep myself going?  Can I keep up a daily writing practice without posting publicly?  And what will keep my students writing?  They will spend time over the next week or two curating their poems: selecting and revising to create a book that showcases ten of the poems written in April.

Habits are hard to form and easy to break, so I’ll be working to keep this writing habit alive…for myself and for my students.

 

 

Poetry Play

We challenged the SDAWP SI folks to transmediate their own writing by adding sound and/or animation.  And that meant that I had to figure it out too!  I know I am most comfortable with still photographs and words, so this pushed me out of my comfort zone.  After some frustrating attempts at other applications, I turned to iMovie for my make.  I used my original photos along with a couple others had taken of our group, added a poem I wrote on yesterday’s writing marathon around the UCSD campus, and then recorded my voice.

Here’s my first attempt:

I am wishing that I had taken some video on the writing marathon to add some other texture to the piece. What suggestions would you make to improve this piece?

A Love Story

Last Tuesday morning I fell in love.  Head over heels, irrevocably, intensely, impossibly, and wonderfully in love.  I expected it…and yet, the depth and utter wonder was unexpected and emotional.

I felt my heart expand when I laid eyes on him.  I looked closely and realized I knew him, maybe I’ve always known him. It was truly love at first sight.

How could this tiny being have so much power over me? And all of the those feelings were magnified this weekend when I met him in person.

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I am a grandma and I want to shout from the rooftops!  My baby boy now has a baby boy of his own…a tiny little boy who takes me back in time to when his father was a baby. But…it’s also so different. I get the delight of cuddling that sweet baby, smelling that incredible newborn baby smell, but I also get to hand him back to his capable mom and dad when he needs to be fed and I get to sleep when he is fussy in the middle of the night. I get to be helpful (I hope) and supportive, but the big decisions are not mine.  I can worry–but he has parents to worry for him too.

It was hard to say goodbye and go home last night, leaving that beautiful boy and his amazing parents to their new lives together as we returned home to our everyday lives. But everything has changed too, enriched by a new life and new possibility.  The world is just a bit better with that little guy in it and my world has expanded–just like my heart, and I have new things to think about, learn about, and plan for.  (And yes, the next trip to see him is already planned!)

And this is just the beginning…I will be a grandma again in the next week or so when my other son also becomes a dad.  There’s plenty of room in my heart and in my world–and I am sure that I will be falling in love again and again.  I am a grandma, it’s an incredible state of mind!

 

Breaking Through

Living where I do, sometimes it seems like the skies are always blue and the sun is always shining.  And lots of people equate the blue skies and sunshine with happiness.  Sometimes, though, it is gray skies, dense clouds, and the promise of rain that soothe the parched land and the stresses of everyday life.

As much as I love my work, the end of the school year brings its share of stresses.  And for me the answer to those stresses is not more work (to catch up–as tempting as that is), but to get away and clear my mind, move my body and appreciate the beauty and love in my life.

Heading up toward Stonewall Peak with thick, wet clouds wrapping us in their embrace quieted the roar of all the tasks that need to be done and made space to listen to the bird songs, the wind, and the sound of my own breath.  And as I broke through my own funk, I also noticed how nature was dealing with the effects of the devastating fires from a few years ago.

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This Tennessee Williams quote captures the quiet power of nature.

The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks.

We found ourselves mesmerized by this tree that had grown into and around a big boulder.

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As we hiked, I noticed details…like raindrops on wildflowers and the still life arranged by the wind.  And as I noticed, the knots in my shoulders loosened and I felt relaxation breaking through.

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When we drove down the mountain heading toward home, the skies were still gray but my own mood had lifted.  I felt the satisfying tiredness that comes from following trails, climbing rocks, and walking miles.  Like the violets breaking rocks, I can feel the healing breaking through life’s stresses giving me energy and strength for the week ahead.

Life in Motion

Sometimes life seems to be taking place in fast forward–moving at speeds that make it impossible to  catch up (or keep up, for that matter).  Weekends offer opportunities to reconnect with loved ones, squeezed between chores like laundry and grocery shopping…and when I’m really lucky, time for an adventure or two.

I love the way my camera makes time stand still for an instant, but today I was trying to capture moments of motion.  We headed north to the San Onofre State Beach, also home of the now defunct nuclear power plant.  I’m always surprised by the multitudes of treasures I’ve yet to discover not far from my home…how have I missed this place I have passed by on the freeway so many times?

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The day was gray and threatening.  The weather forecasters had dismissed the rain for the weekend, but the clouds hung dark and heavy in the distance.  We saw a couple of cars with surfboards on top heading away as we pulled in, and my husband joked that the surfers were done for the day.  Until we turned the corner and saw the sea dotted with wet suited surfers afloat on their boards.

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And a few were in motion.

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I love watching sea birds, and I wasn’t disappointed today.  I saw egrets and cormorants as well as the usual seagulls and pelicans.

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I also caught this sandpiper frolicking in the surf.

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Further north, we strolled out on the San Clemente pier with the wind whipping my hair and making me wish for the heavier jacket in the back seat of my car.  The colorful flags danced in the breeze, in constant motion.

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Surprisingly, there were no seabirds on the pier.  But there were lots of pigeons.  I noticed these bobbing their heads to drink from this sink.  (Notice the sign…hmmm, were they drinking salt water or were they sipping from tiny pools left from the increasing drizzle?)

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I love to go under a pier.  There is something about watching the waves through the mussel-laden pilings that I find mesmerizing.  The color of the water, the sound of the rocks, and the rush of the waves creates a musical performance of constant motion.

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As we headed to the car, the rain began in earnest.  And after all that motion, I am now sitting, near motionless, listening to the rain fall outside as I cuddle with the cats, chat with my husband, and try to stock up on some much needed rest to fuel the week ahead.

March Madness

It’s that time of the year…

No, I’m not talking college basketball, brackets, and the sweet sixteen.

It’s report card time, and I can feel the March madness starting to seep in.  That insidious doubt that narrows my vision and makes me doubt what I know to be true.

If I weren’t writing report cards right now and you asked me to describe student learning in my classroom in one word, I would say blossoming.

Our students are blossoming.  They are reading and writing eagerly.  There’s a sense of confidence and fluency among this group of 6, 7, 8, and 9 year olds that defies grade level benchmarks.  Last week when students learned about how reasoning could make their evidence more compelling in a piece they were writing about this special place where they live, they were undaunted and dug in to add reasoning to their evidence, carefully explaining just why the beach makes this place special and why having a family owned donut shop matters to them.  A line like this one makes my heart sing… A second grader describing an iconic statue in our community that makes the community a special place to live wrote:  We also have a Cardiff Kook that loves to get dressed up.  I think everyday is Halloween for him.  And I want to shout from the rooftops when I read an ending like this one a third grader used to close the essay: So where were we again in the beginning? Oh yes, the beach.  Now the sunset kisses the dusk with oranges, yellows, reds, pinks, purples, and blues too beautiful to explain, and as you see the last foamy white whale spout on the horizon, there’s no doubt Encinitas is a very special place.  

Of course they weren’t written on demand in an decontextualized setting.  They are the result of rich discussion and leveraging of background knowledge, a writing community where revision is ongoing and expected, instruction that encouraged students to go back and add reasoning to their claims and evidence, and a space filled with mentor texts that highlight and celebrate beautiful language.  These complex sentences mean that the punctuation isn’t perfect…and the vocabulary students use push them to depend on phonics to express the words they don’t yet know how to spell, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But I know the first thing people see when they look at student writing is the mechanics…and that sometimes it can stop them from even noticing the beauty of the language and composition.

And then there’s math.  All year we have worked to develop a strong sense of number and the ability to solve real life (or as close as you can get in a classroom) mathematical problems.  So why did we hand our students traditional equations to solve?  March madness is my best excuse.  Luckily I took the time to look closely and notice that every one of our third graders competently solved a problem that featured Alexander Calder and his wire circus–and required both multiplication and division to solve.  And the majority of them solved three different versions of the problem that varied the level of difficulty!  (Thank goodness we decided to add that problem to our assessment to represent the kind of problem solving we have worked on all year!)

And most people don’t even ask about students’ programming skills, design abilities, persistence and resilience, empathy…or even their dispositions as budding scientists.  (You can read a bit about that here and here)

So, as I write report cards I’m trying to remind myself to breathe…and focus on the blossoming, pushing against the March madness.  Are all our students right where we want them to be?  No. Is there still room for growth?  Of course!  Can I improve my instruction to better support student learning?  Yes–and I’m working on that every day.

But, our students are blossoming.  And I want to make sure that the way I communicate progress helps their families and other educators see all that they can do, all the ways they have grown as learners…and help our students recognize that growth can be measured and documented in lots of ways.  And also know where they need to continue to work and grow…because learning continues for a lifetime.

I understand the importance of accountability and communication in our educational system.  I want to make sure that students are making progress and not slipping through the cracks.  But I also want to honor hard-earned growth and pay attention to the attitudes and processes that aren’t measured by standardized tests or traditionally reported on through report cards and assessments.

I’ll keep pushing against the March madness…and once the report cards are done, maybe I’ll watch a bit of basketball…