Thank you, TWT

Earlier in this challenge, I wrote a post about the importance of setting the conditions and then getting out of the way One of Those Great Teaching Moments. That’s exactly what you did, Two Writing Teachers,  for me during this 31 day Slice of Life Challenge.

The conditions:  

Write for 31 days straight and post your blog on Two Writing Teachers SOLC.

There will be other “Slicers” to help you through the challenge.  (I think it was pretty much guaranteed that there would be comments and encouragement along the way.)

There are people to answer any questions you have.  As a matter of fact, there are many people to help.

There are prizes (This condition didn’t really matter to me.  I’m not motivated by prizes for some reason. But they are there if it helps someone keep writing!).

The “get out of the way”:

There were no consequences if you didn’t write one day. OK…Maybe you wouldn’t be in the running for a prize. (I am proud of myself for writing every single day, but I didn’t do it because I was afraid of a consequence.)

There was choice.  You told us we could write what we wanted to, when we wanted to, and how we wanted to.

There was encouragement, but no one was telling us what we had to do.

You provided peers and mentor texts (in other slices) to give us ideas and some scaffolds, but you didn’t take over.

For me, this is the teaching that works best.  I felt like I accepted the conditions and then knew I had to hold myself accountable for the work.  I knew I could reach out to others for ideas and encouragement, but I knew I was responsible.  I think this is why I now feel SO proud of myself.  I worked hard.  This was challenging work.  I wrote every day.  I tried my best.  I grew (the writing was not great, but I think I got a little bit better).

Thank you, TWT for setting conditions and getting out of the way!  I’m already trying to figure out how I can keep this habit going.




Thank You Notes

Today I will spend the morning penning thank you notes.  I will get out my Preppy fountain pen, my stack of note cards, stamps, return address labels, and a few pretty flower stickers I bought to add to the envelopes.  I’ll set myself up at the table in the kitchen that looks out over the back yard with a fresh cup of coffee at arms reach, and I’ll write.

With each note, I’ll take a minute to think about the people they are going to and how they have been so generous and kind and supportive across the years.  I’ll also get another chance to think of my mom, as she is the reason we had a fundraising event in the first place. (She is also the one who taught me the importance of writing thank you notes!)  And I’ll get another chance to write.  I’ll try to put in words how much I appreciate my friends and family, and how I can’t imagine a world without them.

I could have sent a mass email.  It would have been easier and faster, and maybe people would have been just fine with it, but I love the act of writing individual thank you notes,  so off I go.


It’s Complicated

I have a complicated family.  I have stepmothers and stepfathers and step siblings, a gay brother and brother-in-law, mixed religions, adopted children.  You name it, and we got it. But recently things have grown even more complicated.

My mother passed away about four and a half years ago.  My stepfather died this past December.  The plan had always been to bury my stepfather (his ashes) next to my mother.  After all, they had purchased side-by-side plots years ago.  But that’s where things got complicated.  You see, a lot has happened in the last four years, and those things have complicated this burial issue.

When I called the cemetery manager (if that is what you call the guy who runs a cemetery), I had to explain that we now only want to bury half of my stepfather next to my mother. Well that was just fine with him.  I sensed that he had heard some other complicated family stories. (Of course there was no discount available even though we are only going to take up half the space!  I think the manager/director/supervisor was a bit shocked that I even asked.)

I imagine you are wondering what is happening to my stepfather’s “other half”.  Well, believe it or not, the other half of Warren is going to be saved and mixed in with his ex-wife’s (who recently re-became his partner) ashes. Yup.  My stepfather, who left his ex-wife to marry my mother, came full circle, reconnected with his ex, and began (or re-began) a life with her. It all made sense in a crazy sort of way.  After all, they knew each other (“for better or worse”), they shared the same children and grandchildren, and maybe the “Devil you know is better than the Devil you don’t.”

So now I’m arguing with my step siblings over which half (top or bottom) goes to which wife.  Not!


Writing Lessons

For the most part, our teachers teach from the lessons that are suggested in the units of study we’ve been using for the past few years.  The lessons are well-designed, build beautifully on each other (as well as on the work that has come the year before and will come the year after).  Lessons are clearly aligned with standards, the work is rigorous, offers plenty of access for all learners, is engaging, and has been very effective.

But sometimes it can be powerful (for both teachers and students) to go off course a bit and create some lessons to meet the needs and interests of students. This month, I’ve been working with teachers in upper elementary grades to tackle some revision work. Students are asked to write conclusions to an opinion piece,  the introduction to a narrative, or even craft some dialogue in the middle of a story. Yes, this is a task on our state test that has given the children some difficulty.  Because of this, we asked one of our staff developers to help us with this work.  She showed us how to have children revise their own work and the work of others.  Then it was up to me to do some follow up.

I decided to try something different.  I wanted to start off by creating some high levels of engagement.  I decided to use television advertisements as my demonstration text. (Our kids really do love the visuals, and it was hard to resist the adorable puppy in the Bounty ad!) We studied the ads and talked about how they are an example of persuasive writing.  In the first lesson, I asked students to imagine they were hired by an ad agency to write the ending to some new ads.  I asked them to watch the ad, consider the claim, find reasons and evidence, and then write the conclusion.  They loved it!  They loved thinking about the ad as a piece of writing, and the conclusions they wrote not only included the claim, reasons, evidence, and a call to action, but they were also really clever!  One student wrote, “Buy Bounty today.  Use the code QUICKERPICKERUPPER25 at checkout to get an extra 25% off!” Another wrote, “Buy Ziploc Bags.  No mess. No stress!”

Today I did another lesson using the same ad.  This time we studied the author’s craft.  We looked for techniques and goals.  The kids were so engaged.  As they watched the ad, they noticed how the author told a personal story, gave reasons, used a quote from an expert, and even provided a comparison.  They thought about the author’s goals.  Was he trying to hook the reader, create a claim, or support his claim with evidence?  The way the students talked about this piece of “text” was so sophisticated and so impressive.

As I wrapped up the lesson, took down my chart, and picked up my bin of supplies, one student stopped me and said, “Thank you so much for this lesson.  It was SO interesting.  I really had fun, and I feel like I learned so much.”

I want teachers to know that they have the flexibility within the units of study to create lessons that meet the needs and interests of their students.  The process can be so powerful for both teachers and kids.

In or On?


Why do we say:

We are on the plane instead of in the plane? On the boat makes sense, but not on the plane.

We are on the train, but in the Quiet Car?

Stay in the crosswalk instead of on the crosswalk?

On the team, but in the group?

In the note, but on the list?

I guess it’s the old, “Why do we drive on a parkway and pay tolls on a freeway?” question.

What’s Your Secret?

I’m lucky enough to work in the town where my father lives (and where I was born and raised).  Dad is now 88, so I’m feeling particularly fortunate.  Tonight, after work,  I had dinner with my father and stepmother. We sat down and enjoyed a wonderful meal of sausage and peppers, potatoes, and my stepmother’s always delicious salad, along with a nice glass (or two) of wine.  We talked about travel and politics and books and family.

At some point dad mentioned that he had been to see a doctor earlier in the day. “How did that go?” I asked.

“Just fine,” he said.  “The doctor seemed very interested in me. He said that so many of his patients over the age of 80 seem not to be thriving, and he was wondering what I was doing that was making me so healthy. He asked me an interesting line of questions.”

Dad said that the doctor asked him if he exercised.

“Yes,” dad replied, “I walk or ride my bike every day all year long. Just today I put a new seat on my bike. If it’s really icy or there’s a snowstorm, I walk up and down the stairs many times, and try to lift some weights too.”

Dad said the doctor asked how he spends his days.

“Oh, well I’m an artist, so I spend at least four hours a day working in my studio. And I’ve picked up my guitar again.”

Dad said the doctor asked if he reads.

“Yes, of course I read!” dad said.

Dad said the doctor asked what kind of stuff he reads.

“Right now I’m reading a novel by Phillip Roth. Of course I read the newspaper every day as well.”

Dad said the doctor just looked at him and smiled.

I have a feeling that doctor stopped on his way home from work and bought himself a book, a bicycle, some paintbrushes and the latest Phillip Roth novel!

The Morning After (or Oh What a Night)

OK….It’s not what you are thinking from the title….but maybe I hooked you?

Yesterday I wrote about party planning.  Today I’m looking back on a pretty spectacular event that this family of party planners pulled off.

We spent the day cooking, running to the store for forgotten items, setting tables, setting up the food, rehearsing trivia questions, and getting ready for our guests. All of this to hopefully raise some money for the high school scholarship I started four years ago in my mom’s name.

At 5:00 pm, people started flowing in. They socialized, and I introduced friends from all parts of my life to one another.  People grabbed a snack and something to drink and gathered with a team for a night of trivia.    As I asked each question, the teams would  burst into conversation:  Some so serious, huddled around the answer sheet, whispering and jotting notes to each other, then writing down the answer.  Others giggling hysterically when they weren’t sure of the answers and coming up with funny responses instead.  My daughter then gathering the sheets and sharing the standings….”In last place, but very close to the next team, is Team #3!”  Team #3 members are seen high-fiving each other.  Do they know they are losing?  Yes, they do, but they are having such fun doing it!

We played trivia for about an hour and a half.  Then we awarded prizes to the winning team, and declared the night a huge success.

People gathered for a great cause.

People met new people.

People spent time with old friends.

People laughed.

People learned.

People helped.

Oh What a Night!