Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Feathers in my Brain

More Slice of Life Stories: Two Writing Teachers

June 28

Feathers in my Brain
(inspired by Jack, Mrs. Stretchberry,
and, of course, Ms. Sharon Creech)

I was in a funk.
My brain hurt.
Twitter overload,
I think.
I need an escape.

"In my head are so many
bells and buzzes and yips
all jingling and clanking around
bumping into each other.
Very noisy in my head."

Then . . .
to relieve me from
this stress and chaos
I picked up a book
to take me
on a journey.

Hate That Cat
by Sharon Creech
was the perfect
e  a  s  y
before the girls
woke up
from a nap.

I fell in love
with Jack again as
"he writes about . . .
the small ordinary moments
that you don't notice
until you read his poems."

My head was clear.
The funk had lifted and
I was feeling revived:
"I felt like there
were feathers
in my brain."
I was itching to write.

Love a good book
like I love to teach
I said I love a good book
like I love to teach
Love to read when I'm in a funk
love to say
"Thank you, Sharon Creech!"

[Words in italics are quotes from Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech.
Words that tickled my brain.]

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Twitter Dilemma

I'm a very organized person.  I have my piles, but I have organized piles.  But I'm running into some organization issues this week.  You see, I've been blogging for almost six months. I have blogs and awesome educators and writers that I follow daily, reading posts, thinking, reflecting, and commenting if I feel the need to respond.  That's all been manageable.

This week I joined millions of other world wide users:  I'm on Twitter.  Many have referred to it as microblogging.  You receive a snippet of information (140 characters or less) and usually a link to read more.  I really do love it and understand now why so many people utilize this social networking service to deepen and extend their knowledge.  I've made many new connections and I'm learning more each day. I realize that those "voices" out there have great ideas, books, and strategies to share and they are really just like me:  a teacher who wants to make a difference.

So, my dilemma:  I'm reading all these tweets (aka microblogs), clicking on this link, looking at that link, saving this great idea, and so on.  At the end of each day,  I have at least 20 minimized sites at the bottom of my screen that I want to go back and read or dig through or spend more time soaking in the great words of wisdom.  I cannot keep up with this chaos!

Today I found on the Free Technology for Teacher site:  How to Use Google Bookmarks.  Great timing!  Easy to set up.  You can even install a bookmarklet (a button) on your bookmark menu bar, so as I find a great site on Twitter, I click the link, click on my button and save (or bookmark) the site. After an hour of testing out the Google Bookmarks, my minimized sites are gone!

It's a start, but do you have any other suggestions for keeping all the sites from Twitter organized?  What do you do with all the information that you receive from tweets?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

SOLS: Summer is . . .

Summer is . . . inspired by Ruth's SOLS from last week.

Summer is . . .
a no-set-schedule kind of day
     To the zoo?  To the park?  To the pool?  To the library. (Air conditioning!)

Summer is . . .
uninterrupted time with family and friends
     without stress about checking off items on the to do list

Summer is . . .
an excuse to tell myself I can do "that" tomorrow
     whatever "that" might be today

Summer is . . .
a time to clean out and reorganize
     those closets and cupboards that so easily manage to get cluttered

Summer is . . .
wishing for cooler nights on the screened in porch
     with a cold drink in hand, sipping slowly to keep the lips moist

Summer is . . .
a lack of worry that I'm staying up too late reading or writing
     because there is time to sleep in a few extra minutes in the morning

Summer is . . .
numerous opportunities to rest and relax
     with my eyelids closed softly, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood

Summer is . . .
the perfect time to refresh and rejuvenate
     excited about the new school year armed with a notebook full of new ideas.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tweeter Twitter Tweeterific

Part of my mission when I jumped into this blogging world was to become active in the online community of educators that have so much to offer and share.  On the Stenhouse blog, I listened to a podcast that described a Personal Learning Network (PLN) as your own personal teacher's lounge with great educators and colleagues that you have hand selected: to be inspired, to be challenged, to learn from each other, to grow together, and that have experience, enthusiasm, and great ideas to share!

That is one reason why I started writing my own blog.  My initial goal for the blog was to share powerful lessons and creative learning opportunities with students.  I'm doing a little of that, but I've really taken ideas shared by others and created my own writing journal to practice my writer's craft so that I can better teach my students.  All thanks to the Two Writing Teachers and their supportive community of writers!  In just a few short months after I started blogging, I learned a lot about myself.  First and foremost, I AM a writer.  This powerful knowledge will only help me teach my students that they are writers too.

The blog is up and running.  I'm writing. I'm reading. I'm sharing and learning with so many great online colleagues!  Then it happened.  Two messages in the same day.  I had to do it.  My PLN just expanded . . . exponentially. 

My friend/colleague Chris (@ReadSoMuch) was already on Twitter and browsing many educator blogs.  She joined me in the blogging world a few months ago.   Then we had a deal:  Chris was going to help me get set up on Twitter this summer.  Our summer just started this week and a couple days ago she emailed me:  "We HAVE to get you set up on Twitter this summer. There are some great elementary people I recently follow.  I'm also following some book promoters, and I today I won a Jon Szieska book!!! Wooohooo!"

With that kind of excitement pouring through the email, I almost googled Twitter right then and there.  Eh, maybe later.  Plus she always wins things.  I don't.   (True fact!)  So what's the rush? 

Then I read a post from Cathy (@CathyMereon her blog, Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community.  She was providing PD in her district with another colleague about developing a PLN, including utilizing Twitter.  Cathy provided more than enough resources to get me started, including some great educators to follow.   

In addition, that podcast that I mentioned earlier.  Yeah, it was about Twitter for teachers.  Katie Keier (@bluskyz) author of the book and blog Catching Readers Before They Fall and Kassia Omohundro Wedekind (@kassiaowedekind) talk about how Twitter can provide awesome learning opportunities.  Easy explanation for using Twitter according to Katie: "Educators on Twitter share articles, blog links, research and engage in ongoing conversations that help us learn, grow and be better teachers."

Just another spark to light my Twitter fire!  So, I did it. I am now a "tweeter" on Twitter.  Well, not exactly.  I am currently reading tweets.  Still have not composed my own tweet.  Maybe one day.  

One 'click' at a time!

Thanks to Chris, Cathy, Katie, and Kassia for the extra nudges that I needed to try it out!  Now I just have to figure out this new language:  @this and @that and #this and #that.

Follow me following others on Twitter - @litlearningzone


UPDATE!  6/20/11  Tweeted for the very first time to personally thank those mentioned above -- I'm officially a tweeter!

Another great Twitter resource that I found on Twitter today!
A RT (retweet) from @web20classroom:  Edublogs Teacher Challenge: Using Twitter

Will YOU be joining me in the world of Twitter???

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Revolution for the Tested: Found Poem

I love when I stumble upon words that speak to me.  Months ago, I stumbled on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  Ruth's words spoke loud and clear:  Stop waiting and start a blog!  And look where I am today.  
under my umbrellaphoto © 2007 Gisela Giardino | more info (via: Wylio)

No, I'm not on the beach drawing in the sand.  (I could only wish.)  But today I am in love with writing and blogging!  So through my searching and browsing the many blogs I follow, look what I found!  I happened to stumble upon this on the sidebar of the Catching Readers blog.  True inspiration for both kids and adults!  Thank you Kate!


But don’t write what they tell you to.
Don’t write formulaic paragraphs
Counting sentences as you go
Put your pencil down.

Don’t write to fill in lines.
For a weary scorer earning minimum wage
Handing out points for main ideas
Supported by examples
From the carefully selected text.

Write for yourself.
Write because until you do,
You will never understand
What it is you mean to say
Or who you want to be.
Write because it makes you whole.

And write for the world.
Because your voice is important.
Write because people are hurting
Because animals are dying
Because there is injustice
That will never change if you don’t.
Write because it matters.

And know this.
They’ll tell you it won’t make a difference,
Not to trouble over grownup things,
Just fill in the lines
And leave it at that.
Tell them you know the truth.
That writing is powerful.
Just one voice on the page
Speaks loudly.
And not only can a chorus of those united change the world.
It is the only thing that ever has.


But don’t read what they tell you to.
Don’t read excerpts, half-poems,
Carefully selected for lexile content,
Or articles written for the sole purpose
Of testing your comprehension.

Don’t read for trinkets,
For pencils or fast food coupons.
Don’t even read for M&M’s.
And don’t read for points.

Read for yourself.
Read because it will show you who you are,
Who you want to be some day,
And who you need to understand.
Read because it will open doors
To college and opportunity, yes,
And better places still…
Doors to barns where pigs and spiders speak,
To lands where anything is possible.
To Hogwarts and Teribithia,
To Narnia and to Hope.

Read for the world.
Read to solve its problems.
Read to separate reality from ranting,
Possibility from false promise.
And leaders from snake oil peddlers.
Read so you can tell the difference.
Because an educated person is so much harder
To enslave.

And know this.
They’ll say they want what’s best for you,
That data doesn’t lie.
Tell them you know the truth.
Ideas can’t be trapped in tiny bubbles.
It’s not about points
On a chart or a test or points anywhere.
And it never will be.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where Will We Catch You Reading?

A few weeks ago, I shared an awesome prezi that my colleague, Chris, created.  Well, we just knew we had to share it at school to motivate our students to read this summer.

Our school day starts off with a morning broadcast.  A team of fifth grade students and our awesome LRC teacher work together to share daily school news updates, reminders, birthday announcements, and occasionally, they also introduce guest anchors.  Chris and I have become part of the news "family" and are quite comfortable going on the broadcast  -- even though their budget doesn't include hair and makeup.  

Time to reach all the students and teachers.  The last week of school, we made yet another debut on the news.  We shared the prezi.  We promoted summertime reading.  We suggested fun places to read.  We encouraged everyone to take a picture.

To spark some creative thinking, we also created a bulletin board asking: Where will you read this summer?  We enticed many of our small group work students to illustrate where we might catch them reading this summer: at the beach, at the pool, on a comfy chair, on a hill, on a roller coaster!!! The pictures are hanging up on the bulletin board until school begins again . . .

Our hope is that staff and students WILL read this summer and bring in a picture at the start of the new school year.  They can also email us pictures as well.  Many students were pumped:

"I know I'm moving to Washington D.C., but can I still send a picture?"


"My family is traveling to Denmark.  Can we take a picture?"


"I am going to California.  Maybe I could take a picture reading at Legoland."


"I'm not going anywhere.  Can I take a picture at my house?"


We can't wait to see where our kids will be reading this summer.
How about you?
Where will we catch you reading?
Me?  I'm reading in my screened-in porch while it drizzles and drops outside.

Michelle baring her dirty summer toes doing some
professional development reading:  
The Book Whisperer (Miller)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why Not Write?

Why Not Write?

The writing challenge
made me more aware
more attuned
more in sync with my world
happening around me.

I filled up my writer's notebook
an idea here
a meandering thought there
a playful list
a captured memory.

What's holding me back now?
My only excuse is life.
It continues on as I try to keep up
with every day tasks.
And I forget to be in the moment.

Life happens at an ever-increasing rate.
Never slowing or stopping.
Never taking a deep breath.
Always on the go like
a never ending merry-go-round.

I must make the time
to sow the seeds of life
into ideas that blossom
into stories to share,
moments to remember forever.

Writing brings me joy and peace
as a mother, as a teacher, and as a writer.
I will stop to smell the roses,
close my eyes and breathe deep
the scent of goodness and life.

I must discover the small moments again
play with the words and
build ideas into a piece worth sharing.
Life and time: Two of God's greatest gifts to

Monday, June 13, 2011

What's My Excuse?

5/4/2010: To-Do List
photo © 2010 john.schultz | more info (via: Wylio)

Fear is (almost) gone.

But I have . . .
To do lists
More laundry

Oh. Me?
I come last.
Time goes by.
Life goes on.

What to write?
What could I possibly share?
I dunno.  <sigh>  What did I do today?


Oh!  I have an idea -- Nah.
Maybe something will come to me tomorrow.

What's your excuse for not writing today?

Check out Ruth's inspiration at the TWT blog: {Discover. Play. Build.}
She gives us permission to be free of our excuses and just write!  Thanks Ruth!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Run Like a Fifth Grader

I did it.  We did it.  It was as much about me as it was about them.  I mean, I only started running six weeks ago.  And I'm not a runner.

It may have been Elizabeth sharing her Run Like a Mother attitude.  It may have been my husband encouraging me to push a little farther every time we ran together.   More than likely, it was signing up to be a running buddy for a fifth grader for a 5K in Chicago.  I had to think I could be a runner.

I talked with my running buddy a few weeks ago.  So, are you a runner?  Yes.  Are you a fast runner?  Yes.  Promise you'll help me out?  Yes.  (Giggle.) 

Our school participates in a powerful program with our fifth grade girls.  Girls on the Run encourages girls to take control of their health and body and builds self-confidence and self-respect through running.  Girls on the Run culminates at the end of the school year with the girls running a 5K.

The day arrived.  It was June in Chicago: hot, sticky, and humid.

I think we were all a bit nervous and excited.  "So, what's our game plan today?  Run, walk, a little of both?" I asked Cassi, my running buddy.

"Jog.  We'll start off with a slow jog and speed up," she replied as I nodded my head in agreement hoping I can keep her pace.  We've been waiting almost thirty minutes before our wave was set to go.  Crowds were cheering.  Music was pumping.  Sweat was dripping.  Excitement was building.

We stepped up and the announcer reminded us to hydrate.  It was H.O.T.  and we hadn't even started the run.

"Raise your hand if this is your first 5K."  Hundreds of hands popped into the air waving with delight.  "Well, you are thirty seconds away from beginning your race.  Good luck!"

Cassi and I, along with our team and hundreds of other girls and running buddies, swayed back and forth in anticipation.  Everyone was ready to go.

"5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1!"  The sound of the horn buzzed and we were off!  I looked down at my watch as we crossed the starting line:  9:28.

Because of the mass quantity of girls and their running buddies, we were jogging fairly slowly, but as the running path widened, the crowd spread out.  We finally got into a rhythm and I was feeling pretty good with my running buddy along side me.  I can do this.

I could see Cassi slowing down out of the corner of my eye.  "I need to walk," she gasped.  We slowed to a walk and moved toward the right.  I looked down at my watch:  9:34.  Six minutes.

What was I so worried about?  Kids have the strength and endurance to play all day, even in extreme heat.  But running?  I quickly learned in six minutes not so much.  But we forged ahead.

We pushed our way through the crowds of walkers and runners.  We jogged.  We ran.  We challenged each other.  We weaved in and out and around to stay together.  We walked when we needed to catch our breath and wipe our brows.

Fifty minutes later, little water, lots of heart, sweat, but no tears . . . We crossed that finish line.  Hands in the air.  We did it.

After completing the run, I realized what a big deal it was for these girls to run/walk/jog and finish a 5K.  It really is quite an accomplishment.

But I also realized that it was a big deal for me too.  My first 5K and I did it.  I can only imagine the power and self-confidence that I would have gained if I ran a 5K back when I was in fifth grade.  This is an accomplishment that Cassi, nor I, will ever forget!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Book Recommendations: Inspiration for Aspiration

How are we going to get better at reading?  Yes, by reading and reading more! 

As a reading teacher, I'm always encouraging students to read:  Find an author you love and read all her books.  How about a series that intrigues you?  Read the whole set!  I dibble and dabble and share various titles and some of my old favorites.

But lately, I'm feeling a bit defeated.  Deflated.  De--not-so-sure about all those great books to share.

My fellow reading teacher, Chris, is a master chef when she's cookin' with books.  I want to 'grow up' to be just like her.  You know the type:  the "Netflix" guru of children's books.  She knows titles.  She knows authors.  She knows the first book, the sequel, the prequel, and any books in between.  She can retrieve all that information in a click of a button.  If you liked that, try this.  Have you seen this one? What about that?  You'll love it.  This is a good fit book for you.  She's a know-it-all when it comes to great books for kids.

I want to improve -- No.  I need to improve in this area.  As a teacher of kids, a teacher of reading, and a lover of books, I want the ease and exuberance of making recommendations like my colleague.  I want to participate with my students in book talks, author studies, and literature clubs.

I easily became obsessed with picture books:  Books that I adore.  Little Pea.  Characters that I love.  Stellaluna.  Pictures that amaze.  Swimmy.  A writer's voice that inspires.  The Memory String. A message never to be forgotten.  Something Beautiful.  So many possibilities.  So many ideas.  So many options to enhance my teaching of reading and writing through glorious picture books.

Yet, I need to be reacquainted and introduced to great books that I will add to my library and share with my students.  It's time.  I'm jumping back into the wonderful world of children's literature.  Hope to see you there!

Do you have any recommendations, suggestions, or ideas of great books that you love to share?