Dear Mentor, thank you

noun 1an experienced and trusted adviser.

I credit a lot of my success in life to my strong belief in finding a mentor who has what you want. It is among the first things I do when I start anything that matters to me.

So when I knew I wanted to be a better writing teacher, I spent quite a bit of time finding a mentor. Back in 2011 (or maybe 2012?) I was writing with the very first Teachers Write! that Kate Messner, Gae Polisner, and Jen Vincent started. As I learned about becoming someone who wrote daily, I also began to meet teachers who had what I wanted. Teachers who learned more about their craft by writing, reading great books, and surrounding themselves with great writers and teachers of writing. I dug deeper and found a few people who lived in Maine as I do.

Among those wonderful Maine teachers and writers, I found a woman who has become my friend, my inspiration, and my mentor. Kim Oldenburgh and I began a conversation nearly 4 years ago and it continues in ways I'm not even sure she gets. 

She gave me one of the best ideas ever when I was asked to teach a lesson for a second interview. She told me to have the kids write out the alphabet and add punctuation marks. Then, to have them read the alphabet as it would be inflected and expressed with this added punctuation. ABC? DEFG! HIJ. KLM, NOP? You get the idea. It's one I use in my teaching now when kids aren't stopping to use punctuation. P.S. It got me my current job!

Next, she inspired me to join the Maine Writing Project so that I could have a concrete path towards becoming a better writer and a better writing teacher. My path through this project was not as simple as I've heard it was for others. Many other people (including Kim) thought the MWP was mind blowing--the greatest experience ever. For me its value was slow to come and sometimes hidden, until now. Suddenly I am seeing how valuable the experience has been. For one, I am writing now more than ever before. Two, I know what to expect from my writing, submissions, and from other writers. Finally, it is bringing me to others who inspire and support me, but also people who need me to inspire and support them. My mentor and friend brought me to a community that I didn't know I needed as badly as I do.

Kim didn't just bring me to the water to drink alone, she shares her brilliant ideas in a way that is completely unassuming. She is someone who can be trusted. When Kim tells you a book works for teaching writing or for getting kids will. It won't just be a decent idea, it will make you feel like a rock star teacher. Some of the books she has recommended are:
Today I started Bad Kitty as I am currently teaching writing fiction stories. I couldn't have taught it better. The kids were thrilled that I was using this book and I was amazed at how well they understood words like Protagonist and Antagonist. Another winner, Kim.

When I need an idea, she is the first person I text or Facebook message or email because I know she will give me a great response and she will never fail to tell me when she isn't sure. She is someone I know I will be connected to for a long time and I truly hope that one day, she and I will teach together...maybe this summer?

Thanks Kim, my mentor and friend.


Graphic Retell

I'm always looking for new ways to hook my young readers. I need them to practice retelling stories. This helps their reading and their writing. Today I completed a read aloud of

My second graders loved this book. They found Lulu to be humorous. They loved connecting the story parts with the fiction writing they've been doing. They also loved how Viorst talks to them as readers.

We talked a lot about how a writer controls a readers mind. They thought that was great.

After we completed this book, we created a graphic retell. First we planned out our retell and counted how many boxes we'd need.
Then each student chose one block to create. In many ways I stood back and watched. They acted like this was the most natural process. I was amazed by the end result. We added in some transitional words and VOILA, we have a great way for kids to remember a story they loved.


Writing Instruction Miscommunication

I had a break through teaching moment today. I've been teaching fiction writing. We've been writing fiction stories. As always we follow a chart to help us be independent and to help us remember all the components of good story writing.
I've been working on showing how important revising is and how close reading of your piece and revising your piece enriches it. I thought I covered all my bases. I thought I was very clear.

But what I saw as I conferenced was that kids were taking forever to get through each story. They were creating crazy things like zombie booby traps and planets where skeletons exploded. These would be okay if they made any sense. A student would say that the story was called the volcano booby trap and there would be no booby trap.

Stories would go on and on without any point.

I couldn't figure out why this was such a struggle.

Today I read aloud one of the stories I've been writing. It was a simple story about a girl who loses a tooth on a school bus.  One of the boys in my class raised his hand
       Boy: But are we allowed to write true stories?
       Me: This story wasn't true.
       Boy: but it could happen.
       Girl: it's called realistic fiction.


I suddenly realized what had happened. My students thought fiction writing was fantasy and they didn't have a lot of experience with story structure there. I kept telling them how I had miscommunicated! Fiction is just things that haven't happened to you where you get to make up your own stuff too. So you can use real things and add pretend characters. It could happen, but it hasn't yet.

The writing after that mini lesson was silent and furious. My writing workshop is thriving. I can't wait to see what these people do out in the world.


Modeling Writing

I've been working hard this year (all 20 days of this year, ha!) to get better results from my writing workshop. Today a few of my writers were doing more talking than writing. Since a part of writing workshop every day includes a sharing time at the end, I do not allow talking time during writing time. So I asked them to focus on writing. "This is your 20 minutes of precious writing time," I reminded. "Don't waste it!"

My English must not be so good, so I removed one child to a quieter spot.

My sign language must be poor as well because the talking continued. So I stood up, grabbed a piece of paper and sat down at the table. As I began to write a story, Little Miss Talker asked, "Hey, what are you writing?" I looked up and whispered, "Can you please be quiet? I'm trying to write a story." She whispered back, "Oh sorry, of course." Then she turned to her paper, picked up a No. 2 and wrote for the rest of writing time.

I have thought about it all day. Sometimes we need to model what it looks like, this quiet writing time we want them to feel and breath.


Seamless Integration

Digilit Sunday brought to you by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche

I'm working harder than ever to create a more seamless integration of my classroom technology into our day. Up until now I've managed technology by assigning ipads and laptops to certain children on certain days. This felt too required and stilted. I noticed kids coming to me more and more to ask what they should blog about. In my writing world, I only blog when I want to. In fact, when I have to blog, I struggle with my own ideas. So I wanted to give them more real situations for creating blog posts and responding to learning.

This week I sat my 22 second graders down to discuss how I wanted us to be using our technology. I told them I wanted them to think about technology as a tool. That in order to respond to our learning or practice our writing in many different ways, we needed to know what tools were available.

We decided as a group

  1. To set up our tools throughout the classroom and brainstorm ways to use them. 
  2. To chart creative ways of solving problems that come up. One of the main problems we have is that everyone wants to use technology in some way, but we don't have enough technology to suit that want. 
  3. That for now we will have to consider responding through art, pencil/paper writing, and structure building, before we use technology to take a picture and upload that picture to a blog. 
  4. To set a tech use time limit of 10 minutes in order to be focused and allow for others to use technology as well. 
  5. To limit how many apps we use so that we will be able to become efficient and effective enough on each app. This will help us achieve the best response in the ten minutes allotted. 
The most important thing I realized this week is that the way my classroom ebbs and flows differs every month. I can't beat myself up over ideas that aren't working anymore. I can only strive to solve the problems that are most pressing.

To read my other thoughts about iPads in the classroom, click here.


Poetry and children

Tonight we read Sharon Creech's Love That Dog.

My 7 1/2 year old and 9 year old lay across our bed in our late 19th century house up north in Maine. My husband stretched out as well to hear this lovely book.

We laughed, we cried, we admired Creech's writing. My son commented on the poetry and the boy's words. It was a moment to remember. I couldn't stop thinking about how smart and funny my children are.

After we read the book...we read poetry. We took turns reading William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost and Walter Dean Myers. We talked about what we thought the poems meant. We talked about the beauty of how poems can mean what we need them to mean.

As my dear friend Barbara reminded me, this is the precious time that I must remember and relish.

I do.


Bold Beginnings

Since deciding that my One Little Word is iWrite, I've begun to focus on how I teach writing. I thought about what I do when I write so I could help my students. I realized that I would not be able to write if I didn't have access to Mentor Texts.

I am teaching fiction writing right now in my second grade classroom. I taught my students the basics of how a story works. Today, though, I began to focus on what makes a story better.

I shared five different ways to write a Bold Beginning.
Next, I found five books that each started with one of the ways. The kids chose one bold beginning and revised their stories to incorporate this type. I'm excited with the results and how enthusiastic my students are about learning this way. This writers workshop model is working.