Effortful Learning

Would summer be so wonderful if we hadn’t lived through winter?

Would a vacation be as magical if we hadn’t worked so hard?

It seems to me that there is significantly more pleasure involved when the experience comes as a result of something that is challenging, difficult, and even unpleasant. Maybe that’s why I’m feeling so elated about my recent experience teaching teachers in Houston, Texas.

I spent this past week in Houston supporting grade 4 teachers as they prepare to launch Writing Workshop with their students in just a few weeks.  Preparing for these four days of professional development was challenging.  There was a Sunday training session to attend, there were plans to follow, materials to prepare, charts to create, tools to make, technology to figure out, new people to meet, travel to coordinate, and packing to do.  In addition, there was some emotional stress.  I’ve never traveled for work, and  I didn’t know the district, the participants, or my seven colleagues.   I’m sure I over-prepared, but I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing. The truth is, there was a lot that could have gone wrong.

But things didn’t go wrong.  The week was wonderful. It was probably one of the best professional development experiences of my career as a Literacy Coach. The travel was easy, all of the sessions (10 in all) went well, the participants were positive and engaged, and my colleagues were supportive, kind, and fun.  On top of it all, I was able to spend a little bit of time in a city that I’ve never been to. As each day ended, I felt stronger.  I got to know my participants.  I adjusted my plans in response to their strengths and needs, and the sessions improved.  I navigated the hotel, the city, the car, and the school with more ease, and I built relationships with my colleagues.  When people ask me how my week in Texas went, I’m thrilled to report that it was fabulous!  I learned so much and outgrew myself once again.

Would the week have been as great if I hadn’t been worried about it and spent so many of my summer days planning and organizing?  I don’t know, but what I do know is that working hard to achieve something feels so much better than when things come easily.  It’s strange, but for me it’s true.

Where I’m From

I’ve been reading the book by Katie Kelly and Lester Laminack titled Reading to Make a Difference.  In their book, the authors encourage us to explore our own identity in order to better support the social justice work and conversations we will have with our students.  One of the activities in the book was to write a Where I’m From poem.  I tried it.

Where I’m From

I’m from parents and stepparents, a sister and stepsiblings. 

I’m from daughters and stepchildren, grandparents, and grandchildren.

I’m from 1 Greenbrier Road.

I’m from beaches in the summer, and ice skating in the winter.

I’m from cinammon biscuits and blueberry muffins.

I’m from reading and writing, books and notebooks, paper and pens.

I’m from conversations around tables.

I’m from hard times and glorious times.

I’m from teaching and learning.


That’s where I’m from.

Weekend of Gratitude

Today is Sunday and I’m sitting down to write.  I’m overwhelmed with gratitude today, so I’ve decided to share what I’m so thankful for in this week’s post.

Friday:  A day with our daughter and grandchildren

We witnessed our grandson receive the “Coach’s Award” at his summer basketball camp.  The award was for good sportsmanship, kindness, and an all around great kid.  Cole is all of that and more.  I was grateful to see him recognized for all of that. I was grateful to see his smile, his pride, and also his humility and graciousness in receiving this award.

We had lunch together and my grandson (7 years old) worked to solve the mathematics problem 6×24.  It was his idea, and he solved it.  His math skills are pretty amazing (He got from 96 to 120 faster than I could!), but I was more impressed with his persistence and patience.

Then we headed to the lake and watched our granddaughter (4) swim independently for the first time.  She swam from her mom to me over and over and over and over again.  She was SO proud of her accomplishment! At one point she said, “My tummy and my elbow hurt, but who cares?  I want to keep going.  I’m really getting the hang of this!”  (Did I mention that she is 4 years old??)

Today was like watching magic happen right in front of our eyes!

Friday-Sunday:  A weekend with Mackensie

On Friday night, another of our daughters came home from NY City for a summer weekend in the “country.”

I made one of her favorite family dishes (Hamburger Casserole) for dinner and she loved it.

We played ping pong (She is getting really good at this game!).

We went to a car show and had lunch at a local place on the water.

We attended my stepmother’s art show.

We discovered a new (and really good) restaurant (Mackensie is a true foodie, so finding new places to eat is really fun when we are together!).

We read the paper and our books in the hammock, on the porch, and on the couch.

We had a Bastille Day lunch with my dad (her grandfather) and my stepmother (her step grandmother who is part French) on the shore.

We went to the beach, swam, and read, and talked.

Now everyone has gone back to their adult lives and I am here, alone, writing.  I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.  There are days when I just feel so lucky to be on this planet experiencing all of this!



First Times/Last Times

I’m continuing to try out some of the narrative writing strategies that I will be sharing with teachers in a few weeks during an institute in Texas.  One of my favorite strategies is the “First Times/Last Times” strategy for generating ideas.

Skill:  To generate ideas for writing stories.

Strategy:  Think of times that were the first time or the last time you did or experienced something.  Make a list.  Choose the one that you think would make the best story, and write it.

First Times

I went on a chair lift by myself (see last week’s entry)

I walked in a creek bed

I drove a car

I ate dinner alone in a restaurant

I saw my daughters

I set the table for 3 (instead of 4) after my parents separated

I ate an oyster (This is in the last time list too!)

I sat on a field in a cow farm to watch fireworks

Last Time:

I kissed my mom

I braided my daughter’s hair

I saw my dog, Pogo

I helped my daughter reach the water fountain

I ate an oyster (one was enough!)

I was in my childhood home

Fireworks in a Cow Field

When I started to make a list of “first times” they were mostly from my younger years; first time I went on a chair lift alone or ate dinner alone or drove a car, but then I realized that just this week I experienced something for the first time!  I spent an evening watching fireworks in a cow field!

We had arrived in upstate New York, in the village of Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario where my sister-in-law lives and runs a Bed and Breakfast. We were there for the Fourth of July weekend with our daughter, her husband, and our two grandchildren (ages 7 and 4).  Kate (my sister-in-law)’s son David called and said that we had been invited to a friend’s cow farm to watch fireworks on the fourth.  Were we interested?  Why not?  That sounds different.

The kids were excited.  This would be the first time they had been to a fireworks display. I thought it sounded like a good way to get an introduction to fireworks.  I imagined a few people gathered on a field with some sparklers and a few Roman Candles set off by some young kids in a field.  Boy was I wrong!

As the sky began to grow darker, we drove to the farm, parked in a field, and set up our chairs.  We doused ourselves in bug spray and got ready for the show.  More people arrived, and then more and more.  Trucks filled with families emptied onto the field.  There must have been over one hundred people by the time the first rocket blasted into the air. That’s when I noticed that the fireworks were coming from a pit that was managed by about six men.  This wasn’t any old pit.  David explained to me that there were concrete tubes set into the earth to handle the pyrotechnics and that these men, although not formally trained, had been creating this show for the past ten years.

The fireworks began.  One big blast, a bright orange flower burst into the sky above us.  Then another with red, white, and blue sparkles.  Then two at a time.  Then three, some with crackles and spirals coming out at the end of the blast. Then there were five and six explosions going off at once.  “This must be the grand finale!” I yelled to my grandson. But no, the grand finale happened again and again, each time bigger and more incredible than the one before.

Each time there was a display, the crowd cheered and clapped. I looked over at my grandchildren’s faces.  Their mouths would open as each firework exploded.  “Whoa!  Wow!  Ahhh!” they’d cry out. “That was the biggest one!  I like this one the best! No! That one was even bigger!”  

I began to realize that what we were seeing was not some little fireworks event in a field, but was more like one whole barge at the Macy’s New York City fireworks show!

The show went on for over an hour with each display feeling like the biggest one.  Finally there was a wild explosion of about ten fireworks and the event ended.  People clapped and cheered and yelled out, “Amazing! Happy Birthday, America!  Incredible!”  We slowly gathered up our chairs, packed up the cars, strapped the kids into the car seats, and headed home.  I love fireworks, and I’ve attended hundreds of fireworks displays, but there has been nothing like sitting in a cow field in the farming town of Adams, New York with a small crowd watching the most spectacular pyrotechnics ever! It was like experiencing magic.