Thank you, TWT

Dear TWT and Fellow Slicers,

Thank you for creating the conditions for me to grow as a writer. You never forced me. You never bugged me. You never made me feel guilty or ashamed. You invited me. You created a space. You sent me gentle daily reminders. You gave me an amazing family of writers.

It was my choice to show up, but I knew that if I did, you would be there. You would be there with comments and questions and likes. Your writing would be there for me to use as inspiration or as a mentor for my own work. You would be there if I needed encouragement, support, or even someone to struggle beside. And you were always there to spread joy.

When I selected my OLW with all of you in January, I decided on the word hope. I quickly followed by adding the word action (feeling that hope just wasn’t enough with all that was going on). I have always hoped to be a writer. This month, you created the conditions that moved me to action.

I thank you for that.

With sincerity,

Erika

What I’ve Learned


We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

We are nearing the end of this 31 day writing journey.  I have spent most of the month trying to reflect on my experience as a remote learning teacher.  Here are my big Ah Ha’s:

-Relationships matter!

-Relationships matter!

-Relationships matter!

-All voices need to be heard.

-Having a supportive family behind a remote student makes ALL the difference.

-Teaching needs to be responsive and engaging in order to be effective.

-Teaching remotely is hard, but you can make magic happen.

-Teaching writing remotely is extra hard.

-Kids are a lot of fun.

-Choice is powerful.

-We can build community in a virtual space.

-I’ve learned a lot about math, and that is informing my literacy work.

-I couldn’t have done this work without my colleagues, friends, and family.

-It’s OK to ask for help.

-It’s OK to cry.

-I can learn lots and lots of new things, and quickly.

-It’s hard to be on Zoom for such a long time every day.

-I can push through adversity. 

-I need to listen to my daughters. They are wise.

-I love to teach.

-Kids are amazing.

Spending this month writing about this experience has helped me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  I hope it has  helped some of you as well.

What I’ve Learned About Teaching Literacy From Teaching Math (Part 2)

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

As you probably know, I’m a literacy person.  You may also know that I’ve been teaching a first grade class (remotely) this year.  That means that I’ve had to teach all subjects, including math.  At first I was worried.  I don’t know much about how children develop as mathemeticians.  I don’t have knowledge of the content or the progression or the approach to teaching math in our district.  And so I learned, with the help of many.  I began to study the teaching of math.  I asked questions of our amazing math coach. I read some of the research. I had a chance to hear Marilyn Burns speak twice (once with Jen Serravallo and once with Lucy Calkins).  I’ve learned some things while teaching math that I want to think more about in my literacy work.  Here are some of them:

Inquiry:  I think kids would benefit from more inquiry in their literacy work.  I remember years ago we used to show a piece of writing or read a section of text and simply ask, “What do you notice?” The high engagement and level of thinking from students was pretty remarkable. I think we can do more of this.  I heard Paul Anderson talk about science instruction last week and he talked about how this kind of inquiry provides access for all, full inclusion.  This seems worth some exploration (an inquiry, perhaps).

Give the the Answer: Marilyn Burns talks about the importance of focusing on process in mathematics.  She encourages teachers to give kids the answer to problems and then push students to show their process.  How did they get to the answer? I’m wondering if we could do this in literacy too.  What if, when we were studying character traits, we said, “Here’s the character trait.  Now….How can you figure that out?  What are the clues that got you there?” or, in writing, “Here’s how you would punctuate that sentence.  Why is this so?”  I’m just starting to think about how we might try some of this out in our literacy classrooms.

More Manipulatives: For many children the math and literacy concepts we are teaching are quite abstract.  In teaching math, I’ve seen how helpful manipulatives can be in helping students really understand a concept.  Is there a place for some of this in literacy?  

More Games: Saying this makes me a little nervous.  What I don’t want is for literacy work to become silly.  I don’t want a bunch of literacy games taking the place of independent reading and writing, and the authentic work of the reading and writing workshop.  But I have seen how engaged children are in the math games and activities.  They are learning math concepts, and having fun (often with other children) learning them. I wonder if there is a place for some game-like work in literacy.  

So now I’m embracing the work I was pushed to do in math this year.  It’s helping me do some new thinking that might make our literacy work stronger.  

What I’ve Learned From Teaching Math (Part 1)

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

This year I’ve had to teach math for the first time in a long time. I remember when I first voiced my concern over teaching math to my family, they said, “How hard can it be?  They are only in first grade, right?”  I tried to explain that it can be hard. Very hard, if you want to do it well. After all, I know how children learn to read and write. I understand the learning progression for literacy learning. I’ve studied it for years.  I am always learning, but I have a set of skills and a knowledge base that I can lean on.  This wasn’t the case for math.  When I did teach math, all of those years ago, I spent a lot of time using a text by Marilyn Burns. I don’t remember the title of the book (I think it was light blue and purple in color.), but I do remember that the problems were interesting, complicated, and that there were no answers in the book.  That meant I had to figure everything out on my own before I taught it.  I think that’s really how I learned to teach math.  

And so….when I saw that Jennifer Serravallo was going to have an interview with Marilyn Burns, I signed in.  And then, a few weeks later, when I saw that Lucy Calkins was going to present a workshop on writing and math with Marilyn Burns, I signed in.  Here are a few things I learned about how literacy learning and numeracy learning are alike:

-The focus is on the process:  

Teach the reader/writer, not the book/writing (literacy).  Give them the answer and have them focus on how they got there (math).

-It’s all about making meaning.

-The teacher’s job is to observe readers, writers, and problem-solvers, puzzle out what they are doing, know the process well enough to know where to go next, and then to teach so that children learn.

-Children learn best when the work is engaging (which often means just a bit challenging) and when the environment feels safe for risk-taking.

I may not know a great deal about teaching math, but paying attention to these similarities has definitely helped.

Can I Ask You a Question?

I’m working on a piece about summer reading for our local library. I thought I would start at the beginning of the writing process and do a bit of thinking before I start drafting. I realize that I don’t spend enough time in this first phase of the process. I tend to jump right to drafting. I think my writing would be better if I spent more time in rehearsal. And so, here I am, rehearsing.

I ask kids to jot ideas, sketch across pages, talk with partners, just sit and do some thinking, some wondering. It’s hard for them. They want to get started right away. I realize that it’s hard for me too. And so, here I am, rehearsing.

I started with notes:

The summer slide – bigger concern this summer than ever before.

What is summer reading?

What do I do?

What do I hope kids will do?

What is my vision, my hope, my dream for our kids as we send them off for a summer of reading?

I started wondering: What do kids envision when they hear the words summer reading? Do they envision books in a beach bag, reading in the back yard, or in a park, or in a special place in a home or apartment? Do they see stacks of favorite books piled next to their beds? Do they picture trips to the library? Or do they envision “lists and Pizza Hut and some kid who always read like 80 books” (my daughter’s response to my research question – a dinner at Pizza Hut being the reward for a summer of reading)? Does summer reading say pleasure, or does it say torture?

I was wondering what you envision when you hear the words summer reading? If you have school aged children, I’d love to hear their responses too.

Can you help me with this first phase of my process?

What Can We Hold On To?

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

In an earlier post, I started to ask myself these questions:

After this storm is over….

Who will I be?

How will I carry forward all that I’ve learned, all that I’ve experienced, into the next phase?

What will I hold on to?

What will I let go of?

What have I learned?

How will I be better?

This afternoon I had my spring parent-teacher conferences, and I found some answers to the “How will I carry forward all that I’ve learned?” and “What will I hold on to?”

Now granted, the parent-teacher relationships one develops as a distance learning teacher are quite different from those of teachers who work with children who are in school while their parents are at home or at work.  As a distance learning teacher you know the parents and families very well (sometimes too well).  You know their habits, how they interact with their children and other adults in the home; even how they treat the cats and dogs.  You know what they wear during the day and how they handle crises – always rather telling.  

But remember….they also know us pretty intimately!  They know our good days and our hard days, what we wear (and how often we wear the same shirt or sweater), and how we handle crises – always rather telling.

Today’s conferences were more like conversations around a dinner table.  I shared my observations, and the parents shared theirs.  After all, they are watching their children in the process of learning, just like I am.  They are true partners in this work.  I want to hold on to that.

Then came the part of the conference when I share the books children are reading and the writing and math work they are producing.  I quickly realized that my parents were the ones who took pictures and sent me the student work.  I realized that my parents are the ones who pick up our bi-weekly book bags.  They know exactly what their children are reading.  They have seen the work their children are producing, and they’ve seen how they are producing it.  So the conversations were different.  We were sharing our observations. They asked good questions.  I shared my thoughts.  They shared theirs.  We were partners.  I want to hold on to that.

So as I think about what we might want to do as we all return to in person school, I want to find ways to create true partnerships with parents and I want to make sure they are seeing more of what their children’s learning process looks like. I also want them to see more of their children’s work, especially the work in process.  Then we can have authentic conversations about student learning.  Then we can collaborate on setting goals and supporting all of our children.  That’s worth holding on to.

If You Want to Write, Get a Cat

It starts out quietly. A gentle mew in the hallway. Then silence. A few minutes later, another gentle mew. More silence. I check the clock. 5:05am. She’ll go away if I’m really quiet. Then, a bit later, there is the light sound of paws on the door. Just a gentle tap, tap, tap, followed by a slightly louder mew. 5:15 am. I hear her body plop down gently on the floor. Oh good, she’s resting there at the top of the stairs. Maybe she’ll go down and look around for a while. Tap, tap, tap. Louder now. More insistent. 5:30 am. And then the meow. No longer a mew. She’s up. She’s been patient. She’s hungry. She’s lonely. I roll out of bed, pull on my sweatshirt and socks, and head downstairs to feed the cat.

I’m up. I might as well get to my writing. And so I settle in to my seat in the kitchen, tap the keyboard to wake the computer, and start my own tap, tap, tapping, creating slices and stories.

Many of the writers I listen to or read about talk about their habit of getting up early to write. Kate DiCamillo talks about how she gets up early and starts writing before her doubting voice wakes up. That voice that tells you it’s not good enough. You’re not good enough. I remember hearing R.J. Palacio speak about how she used to get up in the middle of the night and work for a few hours (She was working a full time job and had young children.) to write what became the middle grade novel, Wonder.

And so, thanks to my daughter’s pandemic rescue kitty, I’m up early and writing.

When The Storm is Over

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

This past weekend, I attended the annual TCRWP Saturday Reunion (via Zoom, of course).  Someone (I’m pretty sure it was Lucy Calkins herself) shared this quote from Haruki Murakami:

And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.  You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over.  But one thing is certain.  When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.

Who will I be?

How will I carry forward all that I’ve learned, all that I’ve experienced?

What will I hold onto?

What will I let go of?

What have I learned?

How will I be better?

With Spring Comes Hope


We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

Yesterday was the first day of spring, and boy was it a beauty.  The sun was shining, temperatures were reaching toward 60 degrees (F), daffodils were working themselves a bit further out of the cold ground, and birds were singing like they were part of the chorus in a musical. 

With spring comes hope, and this year I am searching for hope wherever I can find it.  Yesterday delivered.  Here is what my first day of spring, 2021 looked like:

7:30 AM:  

Wake to a warmer feeling sunshine.

Let the dog out.  

Make coffee.

Write a slice.

Chat with my husband and daughter.

Play with the cat.

Eat a quick breakfast.

8:45 AM:

Grab another cup of coffee.

Set up my computer in the sunroom.

Grab my notebook.

Sign in to Zoom.

Prepare for one of my favorite days of learning – The TCRWP Spring Saturday Reunion.

9:00 AM:

Lucy welcomes us and says things like, We hold the next generation in our hands.  We can teach them to be kinder, but only if we are kinder and live our lives in a way that is kinder. (paraphrased)

Marc Brackett reminds us about the importance of self-care and of helping each other.  He makes the statement that everyone needs to be granted equal permission to feel.

Natalie Louis talks about upper grade word work and makes the strong statement that teachers need to know phonics, how our language works, and how children learn. She encourages us to understand that there is no one right way. As always, Natalie makes sure she sees all of us (impressive when there are more than 600 on the call).

Lucy puts out a call to action asking that we pause, reflect, recommit, and make choices about what our new world will look like.  

10:00 AM:  I text my dad, “Do you think it’s warm enough to meet up outside today?” (We haven’t seen each other in person in over 3 months due to the pandemic and the cold weather.)

“Can you come for lunch?” he responds quickly. 

“We’ll be there at noon!” (My dad has to eat at noon or he gets cranky.)

Lucy unveils the new units of study in reading and writing and shares the rationale – more inclusive, more responsive to new research; better.  I’ve always been impressed by TCRWP’s bravery in constantly reflecting, relearning, and outgrowing themselves and the work.

Anna Sheehan gave tips and materials to help us implement the fantasy unit in grade 5 (virtually or in person).

Lucy and Marilyn Burns (who knew they were friends and spent time together in the Adirondacks.  What fun it would be to hang out on the dock, go for a swim, and do some thinking work with these two smart women!) shared their thinking on how writing workshop and mathematics instruction are similar.  The key takeaways for me:  It’s about process and finding meaning, not just about products and answers. (I think there is another slice here.)

11:30 AM:  We order up some sandwiches and head to the deli, then to dad’s for an outdoor lunch.  I’m beyond excited to see my dad and his wife.  To sit in the same space.  No hugs yet, but that’s coming soon!

11:40 AM:  Sonya Cherry-Paul (in the car on my phone) provides scenarios and a talk protocol to help us disrupt racism wherever and whenver we see it.

Noon:  Lunch at my dad’s basking in the warm sunshine and the warmth of family.  I’m so happy. So hopeful.

Afternoon: Walk the dog.  Shop for dinner.  Walk the dog again (Why not?).  Pay some bills (OK, it’s got to get done.). Write another slice.  Publish it.  Watch Jeapordy (a rerun with Alex).  Eat dinner (salmon).  Watch a movie (The Rider.  It was good.).

10:00 PM:  Go to bed.  

What a day!  I just needed to write about it so that I could experience it all one more time.