Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Slice of Life - Notice and Move On

In an attempt of holding on to the past week and long walks along the lake road or hiking a mountain, I headed out for a long walk with just one of my two dogs.  She likes to walk faster and our other dog was outside all day "doing" yard work with my husband.  I wanted to hold on to my walks and climbs of the past week in New Hampshire and our longer journey might just do that.  

We were almost through this small wooden part of our trek when something shiny caught my attention.  It was low to the ground and looked a bit glassy but was very dark.  I looked again and then saw stripes.  I looked again but it was hard to distinguish what I was seeing because the woods were settling in for the night.  After several quick short glances, while my dog kept going forward I decided the stripes were brown and black.  I then realized there were not only two shiny eyes looking my way from the edge of the path.  I counted four sets of eyes and decided there were four raccoon pups looking at me.  Now, when I call them pups they were probably teenagers.  They were bigger than my hand, maybe the size of a bunny, small cat, or a very small dog.  

I wanted to stop and observe.  I wanted to know about them and wondered if their Mama was near.  I wondered why my dog didn't notice them and kept on walking for a brief moment because then I realized if she did chase them we might be in trouble.  What would four raccoon pups do if they were spooked?  What would their mother or father do if they thought the pups were in trouble?  

As I walked away reluctantly, I thought about my classroom and while we want to capture everything that happens, it might just be unrealistic.  It is unrealistic.  Maybe there are small moments where one needs to only savor and/or ponder that observation.  Maybe students, like these raccoon pups need to explore the world without the notion of someone always watching and jotting things down.  Maybe the notebook, electronic device, or photo equipment should/can be laid to rest, a bit more.  

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

Friday, May 20, 2016

Celebrate This Week - Best and Difference

Today I celebrate a year of trying my best and knowing today I made a difference for one.  W walked into my classroom with his huge charming grin and held a little mesh bag for me with a handwritten note.  I could tell he was eager for me to open it.  I opened it, found a bracelet, and slowly burst into tears.  See that careful word choice because I was really trying to not instantaneously burst into tears.   He held up his wrist and said, "I got one too" with that huge charming grin.  As I hugged him, I asked if he knew I would cry and he replied with a yea.

This became our word this year; a little guidance, a little patience with uncertainty, a little encouragement when redirected, a little increase in stamina, a willingness to try again, a willingness to slow down, believing in himself, and less tears.


Thank you Ruth at Ruth Ayers Writes for encouraging us to find celebrations in daily lives.  If you need to read more positive things stop by this weeks linkup.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Mostly Monty by Johanna Hurwitz

Here it is the last week of school and I'm adding new characters and books to our classroom library.  I justified it because I need more boy characters.   Mostly Monty by Johanna Hurwitz is going to be a great addition to our collection and the three other books in the series.  Monty is a first grader but I think a mature first grader that second graders will enjoy getting to know.  

The first chapter might be my favorite.  We learn Monty has asthma and it's just part of his everyday life, like a pair of glasses.  He is worried about starting first grade.  He settles in and loves going to the library.  The librarian, Mr. Harris suggests the students pick from the picture book area in the library but Monty wanders over to the nonfiction section because he loves reading about animals.  Mr. Harris suggest these are too hard and Monty should wait a couple of years to read books in this section.  Don't worry, Mrs. Meaney his teacher saves the day and confirms Monty is a very good reader and can read anything.  Mr. Harris congratulates Monty and lets him browse for a book.  

Monty's next adventure involves having a pet caterpillar because anything with fur would bring an asthma but this caterpillar isn't a caterpillar for long.  Then  Monty rescues some treasures from the neighbor only to realize some of them are broken and can't be repaired.  However, there is one treasure he can keep and won't upset his asthma.  Then Monty becomes a lost and found expert at school which has an interesting twist for him.  Each adventure is told with humor and honest reactions that little kids would offer as they interact with each other.  It's interesting how each story has a small twist and turn with a positive outcome.  

A favorite line to enjoy - "Reading was the one thing he could do without worrying about his breathing."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Slice of Life - Finding Joy

Last week I shared one way I find joy in teaching is through helping my students create.  It stirs my passion and keeps me going.  Several readers mentioned wanting to see photos of our poetry publication I had planned.  Today is a photo essay of sorts, I've been reading a lot of Elsie Tries Writing as a mentor text.

Before you look at the photos you must know this was worthwhile hard work.  The night I brought home 80 poems to read and offer some quick editing advice on was tiring.  The busy room was joyful and every student knew what they had to get done and what they wanted to get done.  There was lots of choice and voice.  I believe choice and voice brings magic and growth.  I wasn't happy using tempera paints as the color wash.  The students struggled with getting the right watery consistency.  Next year I will use liquid watercolors instead.  Oh there were moments of spills and messes but during those moments I encouraged the children to clean it up.  Messes happen but there was a double spill for one child that took a few deep breathes.  He doesn't understand the balancing act of a brush in a cup of water.  How is he going to learn?  There was paint on the floor.  Clean up means teamwork and it was amazing to see how clean we got our room.  There's still a small amount of paint in the hallway but the waxing this summer will get that off.  Watching each student pick one poem to orally share at our Poetry Cafe was joyful.  Watching parents mingle and read many student's poems was joyful.  Bringing home 20 books and reading 80 poems last night while leaving them a Reader's Comment was joyful.  
Drafting, Editing, Comparing Drafts and Final Copies

Creating Mental Images from the Words with Oil Pastels

Color Wash with Tempera Cakes

Messy, Yes!  Drying in the Hallway, Clean Up

Poetry Cafe

Published Poetry

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Call Me Marianne {Poetry Friday}

Call Me Marianne by Jen Bryant is a picture book every teacher of writing needs and/or poet themselves.  David A Johnson's ink and soft watercolor illustrations help make this a soothing story for readers and one where the words lead the reader's journey.  

The story begins when Jonathan takes a bus ride on the bus to the city zoo.  He notices a woman city on the bus looking at the same article from the New York Times - "Exotic Lizards Have New Home at City Zoo."  The reader quickly learns Jonathan must visit the zoo often.  He knows the names of the elephants and sometimes the keeper lets him feed them peanuts.  On his journey to the new exhibit he sees a hat that belonged to the woman on the bus.  He hurries along and finds the woman at the new reptile house.  Jonathan returns the hat and after introductions he is invited to join.  He learns her name is Marianne and that she isn't a scientist but a poet.  

They travel throughout the zoo together and she explains what she does as a poet.   It all begins by watching.  It involves reading.  It requires looking for details.  Of course, she is taking notes.  Jen Bryant's detailed description is a must read.  Here is a snippet, "Then I write them all down, I shuffle them around, like pieces of a puzzle and I read them over and over out loud.   I'm patient, very patient - "  After she shares this with Jonathan, Marianne just happens to have an extra notebook for him to use.  

This story is a fictional account by Marianne Moore, a real poet who lived in NYC and wore a black cape and hat.  She was interested in the natural world and visited the zoo quite often.  This is a perfect book to help children see poetry comes from observations.  

Thank you Violet Nesdoly / Poems for hosting Poetry Friday this week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Slice of Life - Sad, Brave, Follow your Heart

I've been sitting on this Slice of Life for a couple of weeks.  It's not my story to tell but my reflections are.  My friend is in her second year of teaching and in her early thirties.  I checked on her one day a couple of weeks ago and I was so thankful there wasn't an away softball game because I could sit and listen.  Not only did I listen, I cried with her and for her.

Here is a mature, bubbly, young lady full of life, kindness, and joy.  Sadness surrounded her this day.  As I listened, I heard; teaching isn't what I thought it was going to be, I can't keep up with all of this as her desk was a mess of papers, my heart isn't here like I want it to be, I'm spending so much time here I can't work out, or help my family when they need me.  She's talking about her extended family, she doesn't have children of her own yet.  I sensed some frustration with managing the party of a classroom and I felt her sadness but a sadness of my own because this job has gotten really hard during my twenty years of education.  She commented on not feeling the passion and then told me you just radiate passion for teaching and get us all excited.  She caught me by surprise and I've been wrestling with this thought. 

Since our time together, I find myself asking, how do I find this passion when documentation is out of control.  Testing is way overboard.  Emails come pouring in.  My friend knew the joy wasn't there for her and as I pondered her situation my sadness turned to admiration.  I've felt these same frustrations.  I don't think any of us should have to search for the joy when we get the honor to work with children daily.  But I do.  My admiration found the word brave.  My friend is being very brave.  She is leaving something she's always wanted to do and has a plan to make teaching work for her in another way.  Every time I've seen her since our day of listening and crying - she smiles, there's a skip in her step, she's giggly with excitement.  She is following her heart and will continue to make a difference. 

This week I decided the best way to find my passion was to do what I/we love.  Create.  We are publishing our poetry into a hard covered book.  Our PTO is so supportive.  They prep the chipboard, contact paper covers and are ready to help us sew with needle and thread our stories.  The final product is always joyful but the process is what I love best.  Today we edited, made better 80 poems and hand wrote new clean copies in sharpie.  Tomorrow we will create About the Author pages in Google Drive and use oil pastels to illustrate our mental images.  Thursday will be our day to color wash over the illustrations and words.  Friday is our binding day.  Next week is our Poetry Cafe, sharing.  I think it's hard to stop and enjoy teaching right now but I am definitely on the lookout and trying to plan for those moments. It boosts my passion and will hopefully guide those days when sadness comes and I am feeling worn down.

Thank you to my friend for sharing a story that will stay with me a long time.

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

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Celebrate This Week - Field Trips

This week I'm celebrating field trips.

I was able to take 20 students to our local Ohio Historical Society Museum this week and the day was perfect.  I had five parent chaperones.  I could place four students in each group.  I could float and spend time with each student; watching them enjoying and exploring artifacts from history.  Their natural interest, inquiry, and wondering made our day full of interactions about exploring changes over time.  The rain held off and there was moments of sunshine to brighten our day.

Each year I can't wait for students to start exploring the toys in the courtyard of the old village.  The minute the stilts come out of the box, I have to hide my excitement.  I wait until the students try the stilts on their own and then I have an introduction to join in the fun.  I can model how to walk on stilts!  Stilts are not historically from my childhood but they were a part of my childhood because my grandparents shared a piece of theirs with me.  My grandfather built a set of low and high stilts and they were always a hit at the family reunions grandma planned and hosted.  

Just like a lesson in the classroom, I model walking on the stilts, I offer my successful tips for stilt walking, and then I provide some support while different students try to walk on the stilts.  They don't pick it up the first time they try but they are willing to try and that is the first step in learning anything.  While field trips enhance the curriculum, they foster communities by creating memories and fostering connections.

Thank you Ruth at Ruth Ayers Writes for encouraging us to find celebrations in daily lives.  If you need to read more positive things stop by this weeks linkup.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Finding a Purpose for Writing {Poetry Friday}

This week I felt success as a writing teacher.  It wasn't during a mini lesson, a conferences, or a sharing at the end of writing workshop.  It didn't happen during writing workshop.  It happened while reading darling notes from my students for Teacher Appreciation Week.  All the work we do in school is really important and essential.  However, does all the work we do really matter if students only do it within our classroom walls?  

I received notes from so many students that were just lovely.  Most of them were of a narrative nature with kind words about our time together but two notes made me stop and think about our current poetry unit of writing really mattering.  Two of my students found a purpose to write poetry at home and I am blessed they have these thoughts.

My Teacher

When the bell rings
I go to class
I can't wait
to see her
My teacher
makes me laugh
her name is Mrs. Robek 

Your a great 
teacher with
many features
because your a 

your funny, your
happy, and far far

Radiant, shining light.
Open minded.
Big hearted.

Thank you to Sylvia at Poetry for Children for hosting Poetry Friday this week.  You will want to see her collection of poems for Mother's Day.  

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 W, 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.  W 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 W 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 W 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 W 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 W 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 W 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 will 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.