Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Slice of Life - Surprises within Intentions

"Mrs. Robek!" and at the same moment from behind me came the biggest bear hug.  "You came, Mrs. Robek!"  Then our conversation continued at a rapid rate because Will, a student in my room, was getting ready to participate in the high school drama performance.  His older sister was in the performance and they had a few spots for the main character to be viewed at a younger age.  Will had been leaving this week just a few minutes early to attend practices at the high school.  I knew he was excited by his daily sharing and I told him I would try to come.  His honest and joyous reaction to seeing me before the show just warmed my heart.

While watching the show, I couldn't wait until Will had his speaking part and of course it came in the very last scene.  He spoke with confidence.   He smiled with joy.   He moved and interacted with the high school students naturally.  Without going into personal details, I haven't always seen this Will in the classroom.  Watching Will just reinforced again we need to have Ss doing a variety of responding and sharing of their learning to find the strengths and interest each child has.

After the show, I stepped aside and watched families and friends greet all the actors.  The cafe was a like a beehive, busy with activity.  I couldn't find Will and thought he was probably in the middle of the post show congrats and hugs. I had turned and was getting closer to the exit when I heard my name again in a peppy repetitive manner.  I knew right away Will found me.  I wanted to find him but didn't want to interrupt his interactions with family and friends.  

He was beaming with pride and excitement.  We hugged again and I gushed about his performance and requested his picture with me.  I live in the community where I teach.  I see students at the pool, on the softball field, and in the grocery store.  This was different.  I intentionally set out to see Will in a different setting on a new adventure.  I intentionally went to support him.  I intentionally congratulated him.  I didn't expect his joy and hugs when he saw me.  My heart has been full since these moments.  Making room for the surprises in our intentions matter.  

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for hosting this writing community and for encouraging us to live a writerly life.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Stella Batts Needs a New Name by Courtney Sheinmel

Stella Batts Needs a New Name by Courtney Sheinmel has been in my To Be Read pile for a couple of months and I'm so glad I spent time this weekend getting to know Stella.  Stella is a third grade girl with plans to be a writer.  I fell in love with her when she declared she wasn't going to wait until she grows up to be a writer, she's writing her first book right now; an autobiography.  

Stella has a younger sister who can make Stella's patience a bit thin but in the end really helps Stella figure something out.  Stella has a best friend, a group of friends, and then some boys at school who she doesn't like.  One in particular made fun of her name and changed it to Smella.  Stella doesn't want to relive the event that got her this nickname so she decides she is unhappy with her name and wants to change it.  Her friends love this idea and decide to join her.  How the girls go about thinking up new names is entertaining.  Her teacher doesn't love this idea so much.  Her parents "roll" with the idea, as all good parents would.  

This book has two features I enjoy and love to read; an introduction about the characters before the actual story begins and an epilogue.  When I finish a book I really enjoy, I always want to read more about the characters in the future and this doesn't always happen.  There's a lot of dialogue in this story but easy for readers to follow and understand.  I feel Courtney Sheinmel gave Stella a great voice; she defines words for the reader, she wrestles with her own thinking, and she's learning how to stand up for herself.   A fun new character to add to our classroom library with several titles.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Celebrate This Week

I'm celebrating joy and enjoying.

It was Wonder Wednesday which led us to Wonder of the Day #1677 - What Makes Your Tongue Burn?  We've been visiting Tuesday's actual wonders so we can then visit The Poem Farm and enjoy Wallow in Wonder.  This week we were quite intrigued with Miss Amy's poem If We Were Whales and was so happy to have her explain how she from tongues burning to whales as she explains her writing process.  

My instructional plan was unfolding.  We had stretched our inquiring minds by generating further questions for the day's wonder.  We listened to the wonder being read and then wrote down new learning we had.  We orally shared some new learning for each of us.  We were learning from our favorite mentor poet and suddenly this planned out path went a little curvy.  We learned about Emily Callahan and her students from Kansas City while visiting The Poem Farm and wanted to know more about them.  As we read through their post, we discovered their video Popcorn and Poetry Movie.  My class begged me to watch it.  I was already off the planned path and had to honor their request but I didn't expect what happened next.

Joy.  The music to the video is quite upbeat and my students knew every word.  Each of them started singing with a full and happy heart.  Their joy made my heart full.  I kept watching the video and singing myself because I didn't want to look at them for fear I would tear up or one of them would stop singing.  My heart became full because we/they were having fun.  They were inspired by other students. Their reaction was honest and joyful.

The curvy path brought us joy.  The curvy path reminded me to allow them to enjoy our space, our community and our time together.  We have fifteen precious days together and each day I'm going to find moments for us to enjoy.  This feeling of joy and the act of enjoying has brought me back to why I wanted to be a teacher.

Thank you Ruth at Ruth Ayers Writes for being that little voice in my head today saying this story needs to be told.  It feels good to return to celebrating what matters.  If you need to read more positive things stop by this weeks linkup.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

Mouse Scouts by Sarah Dillard

I have a confession before I share any more about this book, I was a Girl Scout until my freshman year in high school and then I've been a troop leader for 13 years with one or two of my girls at a time, in various roles.  So, just the front cover of this book tugs at my heart.  

Mouse Scouts by Sarah Dillard is cute story about a scouting troop made up of mice.  The mice just bridge from one level of scouting to another and now have a new scout leader, Miss Poppy.  Miss Poppy isn't as warm and fuzzy as their initial leader, she goes by the handbook a bit more.  Violet and Tigerlily are the main characters and best friends.  The whole troop is excited to earn their merit badges and begin with a badge about gardening.  I found the mice approach to gardening quite interesting and practical given their physical size.  If you garden, you can imagine the problems that might arise.  As each problem arises, I was happy to read the mice were positive and cooperation helped them solve their gardening struggles.  

This book may not catch the eye of boy readers in my classroom but each year I seem to have a cluster of girls who participate in scouting that will find this book enjoyable.  I do love the transitional reader format; picture support, larger font, appropriate white space, ten chapters and an epilogue.  In between several chapters, the reader discovers pages that resemble a Scout handbook which just made me chuckle because they mirror many of my own experiences.  I thought for my readers it was a great way to weave in nonfiction reading in a fantasy book.  There are three books total and I can't wait to see how my students respond to this classroom library addition.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Slice of Life - My Notebook

I just sat down after a long day; family, teaching, family - makes me think of a sandwich and I actually sat here contemplating about writing and elaborating on the sandwich idea but it wasn't coming easily to me.  I tried to brainstorm a list of different sandwiches my day could be but realized it would depend on the type of day I was having.  Was it sticky so it would be peanut butter or was it fresh veggies filled with new ideas or maybe heavy in thought with roast beef and melted cheddar cheese.  Then I realized I had the same dilemma with family representing the bread and that would probably depend on how our day was going interacting with each other.  Realistically, we all know families can't be classic Wonder bread every moment.  Which brings me back to the title of this piece, my notebook.  For 31 days, we were partners and teamed up quite nicely.  I found gathering ideas and drafting pieces of writing made my blogpost composition go faster and was easier.  Tonight I'm writing without my notebook and maybe that's why my sandwich comparison is a bit jumbled.  I did feel like my notebook was an important tool to use for 31 days and there was something about writing with a pencil on paper that felt right again.  

I did a poetry lesson today during writing workshop and thought afterwards the work we did during our mini-lesson would have been great to house in a notebook rather than on single sheets of paper.  One resource I am using suggests having students collect mentor text in a special folder but maybe I could copy smaller versions and these get placed in our notebooks.  I love creating heart maps for showing students possible poetry ideas.  In the past, we made them on large paper but what if we made them smaller and placed them directly on the covers of our notebooks, using clear contact paper to protect them and let them stick to the covers.  We could make them larger though, photograph them and then adhere them to the covers of their new writer's notebooks.

It's interesting how I sat down to write about one idea and it took off in a different direction giving me some thoughts to ponder before tomorrow's writing workshop.  

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for encouraging teachers to write and fostering this community.



Monday, April 4, 2016

Lost! A Dog Called Bear! by Wendy Orr

I love dog stories and I hadn't heard of the Rainbow Street Shelter series but I am so glad I recently stumbled upon this first title.  Lost! A Dog Called Bear! by Wendy Orr tugs at the readers heart, encourages the reader to hope for the characters, and is filled with literacy language that will make readers stop and think.  I was reading along, enjoying the literary language, and imaging the excitement my second grade readers as they figure out the intended literary language messages when something felt familiar to me.  I read the author blurb on the back and instantly knew why this book felt familiar.  Wendy Orr wrote Nim's Island, another favorite book of mine to read to third graders.  

Logan lives in the country on a farm and loves it all.  Riding in the back of a pickup truck with his dog Bear, racing the wind, and watching Bear chase sheep.  Things change for Logan when his parents decide to get a divorce and he moves to the city with his mom.  Bear comes with him but gets lost on the journey there when they stopped for a rest.  Hannah is another character in the story that parallels with Logan's and then they cross into each others.  A dog shelter is an important piece of the setting and I have to stop here so I don't give away too many important details.  I want you to read this one or find the dog loving student in your classroom to share it with.

Here are a few literary examples to give you a feel of the rich writing Wendy Orr shares with readers-

"Logan felt like the turkey's wishbone being pulled apart after Thanksgiving dinner."

"...a sparkle of hope flickered through his black thoughts."

"Suddenly, the grumpiness dissolved like a Popsicle on the sidewalk."

A friend asked me if this was a sad story when I sent a tweet out I had just finished it and it is not.  

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Slice of Life - Reflections

31 Days
Hooray and Phew!

When I decided to join Slice of Life 2016 I wanted to notice, gather ideas, and collect stories.  I decided to use a notebook and mechanical pencil in hopes of making the gatherings of ideas a habit.  I found taking notes in a list format my preferred method.  As I typed my posts, I would add white space - do some editing and tweaking.  Then I tried to share nuggets and/or why I wrote/gathered these notes.  I began sharing my writing - my readers who left comments referred to my slices as poetry, quite often.  I was surprised.  I did play a bit with white space and words but never intended to write poetry.  I'm still not sure any of my slices are poetry.  They are just notes and thoughts; Snippets for/of stories.  However - writers can't ignore feedback and their readers, so maybe I need to ponder the ideas of my slices as poetry.  

I really did see the value of gathering my thoughts in a notebook - two slices made writing mini lessons easier the next day in class.  I leave this monthly community with two more thoughts I've read, heard, and now can attest to.  To be a teacher of writing, you need to write.  Using a notebook is a tool for idea gathering, collecting, and rehearsal.

Thank you Two Writing Teachers!