Feeling Some Normal

Do you want to come over for dinner?

How about if I order some pizza and we come by for an early Sunday dinner?

I haven’t said these words for over a year! COVID has kept us from seeing our friends and family over the dinner table. We have done our best to stay in touch by phone or Zoom. We have gathered outside around firepits. We have had meals together, but sitting at separate tables, at least 6 feet apart. We have taken walks with masks and more recently, without.

But this week, Tim and I gathered on several different occasions with friends and family (We are all vaccinated, of course.). We gathered around the same table, inside, and without masks. We talked and laughed and ate and drank for hours on end. We hugged on the way in. We hugged again on the way out. We made plans for our next dinner gathering.

I’m feeling some normal. It feels so good.

The Big Day

The day had finally arrived. I’ve had it marked in my calendar with stars and exclamation marks for over a month. Today is the big day. I got ready quickly, jumped in the car, and headed out. I drove quickly, but was careful not to drive too fast. Can you imagine getting a speeding ticket and having to delay this special day for another minute? I pulled in the driveway. The door opened. There he was. My dad, all 90 years of him framed in the doorway. He said, “Come on in!” I haven’t been through that front door and inside my dad’s house in over 13 months. I started to put on my mask and then remembered that it’s been 14 days since my second shot. I am now vaccinated. So is my dad. No masks needed today. I walked up the path to the door. It felt like it took hours to go just a few feet. He reached out his ams. I reached out mine. It was like a slow motion scene in a movie. He pulled me into his arms, and I wrapped my arms around his waist the way I’ve done so many times in my life. He hugged me tight. I hugged him back, tighter. And then the tears pushed their way up and out of my eyes. I was sobbing. Overwhelmed with the idea that I was finally able to hug my dad again. Such a simple and once ordinary gesture. Now so filled with importance.

Taking a Break

Today is the first day of our April vacation. I always look forward to a week off, but this year I really need a break. I need a break from Zoom. I need a break from all day mask wearing. I need a break from constant worry. And so, I am taking one. I’m taking a complete break from school.

I’m planning to read books (not professional ones).

I’m going to write (for pleasure).

I’m organizing (because it gives me a sense of control).

I’m cleaning (see above).

I’m paying bills (I’m behind.).

I’m going to take care of appointments (has to be done).

I’m driving with my husband to visit my sister-in-law and her family. It’s been 18 months since we’ve seen her (to return to some sort of normalcy now that we are all vaccinated) .

I’m going to sand, prime, and paint a chair (I have time to complete a project.)

I’m going to do some gardening (It gives me hope.).

I’m taking a break and hoping to return to school next Monday with energy and optimism to finish out one of the hardest school years ever.

Planning a Unit with a Colleague

In our district, we use the Teachers College Units of Study as our core curriculum. We have a pacing guide that is usually quite tight. We often find ourselves having to modify units here and there to make sure we get to all of our units by the end of the year. But this year is different (I know. That is quite the understatement!). This year when we created our pacing calendar, we were still in a hybrid setting and not sure what would happen next. Would we shut down in a few weeks? Would we be fully remote? Would things work out and we would return to a full schedule? Who knew? So we created a pacing calendar that had more time for each unit (since we were only in school for half the day and that meant a bit less time for everything we needed to do).

Fast forward a few months: We have been back in school full time for about a month now. That means there is some room in our pacing calendar. So, our second grade team decided to add a unit on poetry. We have a writing unit, but we needed to create a reading unit. One of my second grade teachers (and fellow Slicer) asked if we could find some time to map out this unit together.

I got out my professional books (Calkins, Heard, Routman, Fletcher) and looked through them for some ideas. I found some of the poems I have saved in folders. I remembered a series of Shared Reading lessons with poetry we had done last year. We met. We talked and shared ideas in my office (This hasn’t happened much this year!). Elena shared her vision for a virtual poetry cafe so that families would be able to visit their children and celebrate their learning. (She’s a teacher who is finding ways to make things work this year.) We talked about how we might get there. We brainstormed some lessons; a bit of inquiry, some comprehension strategies, and, of course, some fluency work.

We shared. We created. We planned. It felt so good!

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,


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?