Wednesday, June 29, 2016

But, did you get in trouble for doing that?

The Question that Stopped Me in My Tracks

Dear Readers,

I am going to tell you a story. Think about what your initial, gut reaction would be. Please be honest with yourself. 

Visualize this......

It was the 2nd day of 1st grade and I intentionally missed the bus. As I walked home, I thought I had just solved my problem of not wanting to go to school. To my dismay, my mother put me in the car and drove me to the elementary school. Upon entering the main office, I was met by my principal, the nurse and my 1st grade classroom teacher. I started to cry and threw myself on the floor. The nurse told my mother to leave me, that they would "handle" me. Reluctantly, she left. The staff was unable to convince me to walk independently to the classroom and consequently I was picked up and carried across the hall. This resulted in me wrapping my little 6 year old fingers around the door frame so they were unable to get me into the room.

What thoughts and/or assumptions would you make about this child?
How would you, as an educator, handle this situation?

Personal Narrative Writing in 6th Grade

As a literacy teacher, I use this to write alongside my 6th graders during our personal narrative writing unit. I have used it for 3 years. I share it for several reasons.
  • It helps me build relationships when I share personal stories.
  • It allows me to model and go through the writing process with them.
  • It allows those that do not like school to have a connection to an adult who did not like school.
  • It is the reason I became a teacher.
The Revision Process

The 2nd year I wrote this story (2014-2015), I changed how I went through the revision process. I told the story purposely making me sound like, what some might consider, a defiant and difficult child. We were talking about what story we really want to tell to our readers (Thank you Units of Study!) and I decided that was not the story I wanted to tell. I revised my story and told the story of a young girl who was anxious about school and had anxiety about going. 

The Question That Stopped Me in My Teaching Tracks

This year (2015-2016) was the 3rd year I shared this story. One student asked me the question that changed my mindset.

"But, did you get in trouble for doing that?"

Aha-Moment! This question spoke volumes to me about what students are thinking and adults are modeling.
  • Why would the student automatically assume I would get in trouble?
  • What are we modeling for students?
  • What assumptions are students making based on adult actions and words?
  • Is this how our students view those that have social/emotional needs?
I immediately had a heart to heart talk with that class about my anxiety as a child and the fear of going to school. I assured them I did not get in trouble and we talked about the signs of anxiety I showed. Then I explained why I became a teacher. It was an extremely eye-opening experience for me.

It made me reflect on other school experiences that I remember like they happened yesterday. (Just to give a time frame, I am currently 39 years old, so this was in the early 80's.)

Violin Lessons

I vividly remember sitting in one of my violin lessons (I played from 3rd-12th grade) and being overwhelmed. I just burst into tears and cried for most of the lesson. The teacher tried to get me to participate, but eventually gave up. At the end of the lesson I was sent back to class. It was never acknowledged. 

How would you, as an educator, handle this situation?

Forgotten Binder

I had left my binder at home and was sent to the nurse's office to call home. As soon as I heard my mother's voice, I burst into tears. The simple act of forgetting my binder was too much for me to handle. When I hung up, I was sent back to class. It was never acknowledged. 

How would you, as an educator, handle this situation?

Looking at the Whole Child

I am not sure how these scenarios would have played out differently in today's academic world. I do know we have to look at the whole child and that includes social/emotional needs. In order for a student to be successful in school, he/she needs to feel like part of a supportive, caring, safe environment. How do we meet the needs of children who suffer from such extreme anxiety as I did?

  • We cannot make assumptions about children based on behavior. We need to look at what is causing that behavior. Why is the child acting like that? 
  • We need to accept all children for who they are. Those with social/emotional needs may need us more than any other students. How do we make connections with these students?
  • We need to observe and listen to our students. Are there patterns we notice? 
  • We need to collaborate and talk to our colleagues just like we would about instruction.
  • We need to teach students strategies for dealing with social/emotional needs. 
  • We need to be extremely careful and aware of what message is being sent to other students. How do we react as adults when a child is in crisis?
Building Connections

 Luckily for me, I have the experience of growing up and living with anxiety. I sincerely understand what some students go through. I can make authentic connections with them. 
  • I have always carried Worry Dolls with me. As a child I slept with them under my pillow and even as an adult they are everywhere (my home, my purse, my desk). I had a student this past year who suffered from anxiety. I purchased some dolls for her and explained what they were and what I used them for. She just lit up when I gave them to her. Hopefully they have found a place under her pillow or in her bag.
  • I worked with a student 1:1 when he was a 5th grader. This particular student had difficulty getting to school, staff would often have to get him out of the car. However, when we started reading and writing together, he would always make it for my time with him. As a result, I watched him read for the 1st time. We developed a great teacher-student collaboration where he obviously felt I provided a safe and supportive learning environment.
  • In middle school, relationships (especially between girls) can be tremendously difficult. I have had my fair share of tears in my classroom. However, I never send them away without talking about what's bothering them first and then checking in with them later that day or the next morning.
  • I have also had the experience of students bursting out into tears in class. I quickly guide them to the door and pull them outside to privately ask what is wrong. 99.9% of the time, they tell me, go to the restroom to regroup and head back into class. They just need a moment with a caring adult who wants to understand.
  • There really is no topic I am uncomfortable with. Students need to know we are there for them, regardless of what they are dealing with. Some controversial topics that people seem to shy away from or feel uncomfortable with are eating disorders, depression, cutting or suicide, to name a few. We have to know our own limitations and comfort levels as educators. If we cannot handle talking to a student about a particular topic or issue, we must know where to ask for help. We must never make the student feel ashamed about coming to us.
Final Thoughts

Just like students have academic strengths and difficulties, they have social/emotional strengths and difficulties. We must be sensitive to that. Our students need to feel safe, supported and cared for before learning can begin.

I share this personal blog with you, in the hope that it helps you understand your students in a different light. I never had any connection to school, in fact I barely remember my teachers or learning experiences. All I ever thought was, "I want out of here!" Now, I love my job and going to school every day. Even more, I love that I am making a difference in my students' lives. 


Monday, June 27, 2016

Design Thinking and Gamification: Part 1

Design Thinking and Gamification: Part 1

Dear Readers,

In anticipation of #LAUNCHBOOK discussions coming in July, I have been reading, taking notes and preparing our guiding questions. As I started learning about the specific phases of the cycle, I challenged myself to take an idea through the LAUNCH Cycle. Although I have not finished the book yet, I was anxious to share the connections I have made so far! 

I decided to use my Gamification implementation as my design idea.

L=Look, Listen and Learn

  • Audience:  my intervention students (7th-8th grade)
  • Awareness: students love gaming
  • Observation: listening and talking with students
  • Wonder: What makes you keep going back to the game, trying over and over again?
  • Awareness of Issue: students need to be engaged and they love gaming so how can we bridge the gap between learning and their worlds/interests
  • Empathy: I personally did not like school as a child, there was no connection for me
  • Problem: many students are dis-engaged because they do not connect to the learning, there is lack of ownership
  • Product Idea: Classroom Game Board with challenges
  • Geeky Interest: Explore Like a Pirate

A= Ask Tons of Questions 
  1. What do the worlds look like?
  2. How do they change?
  3. What characters are there?
  4. Can you design them?
  5. Can you name them?
  6. What games do you play?
  7. What is the goal of the game?
  8. Do you earn rewards?
  9. What are they?
  10. How do they help you?
  11. Can you lose them?
  12. Can you earn them back?
  13. What happens if your character dies?
  14. Does the game get harder as you increase levels?
  15. What keeps you going back?
  16. Who do you play against?
  17. Are the games online?
  18. What if someone is mean to other players?
  19. How often do you play?
  20. What if you could create your own world?
  21. What if you could create your own characters?
U=Understand the Information
  • Audience Research: my students
  • Skill-Based Research: elements of gaming
  • Research
    • read Explore Like a Pirate
    • engaged in twitter chats/individual conversations
    • Interviewed Students
Now, I head into Navigating Ideas. I hope you look forward to reading part 2!

N=Navigating Ideas
H=Highlight and Fix

LAUNCH to an audience!

I hope you will join us for our 1st chat on Sunday July 10th.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Classroom Chef on My Literacy Mind!

The Classroom Chef on My Literacy Mind!

Dear Readers,

I was recently reading The Classroom Chef and now have Barbie Zipline on the brain. I thought the entire concept was fascinating. I wanted to run out and try it myself! I NEVER had math classes or tasks like that when I was in school.

The connection to my literacy class? Today being the last day I would see my 8th graders, I gave them the last 15 minutes to play with Play-Doh, write on the chalkboard and listen to music. It really is entertaining and insightful to just sit back and watch what they do.

My observations:
  • A student in the front row made a basketball player and a basketball hoop.
  • A student next to him, took that idea a little further, he made a basketball hoop and started rolling about 20 mini-basketballs to actually throw into the hoop.
  • A student in the back row had a hoop set up against the back wall and was trying to round his ball enough to make it bounce into the hoop.
Three different students, similar concept. I kept watching.
  • The students got up and went over to the open area where the book corner was. One of them arranged my textbooks as a base and put a small garbage can in the center. They started to see if they could make baskets using Play-Doh basketballs..... and...... success!
As sometimes happens, when creating, something unexpected happens.
  • My yoga balls were balanced on the window sill next to the "basketball hoop" they constructed. A student accidentally hit one with Play-Doh and it bounced back. 
  • Of course, this was extremely intriguing to them and they started to experiment a little bit with it.
I was still watching carefully, but did not stop them. I wanted to see where they would go with it.
  • They started to discover that the Play-Doh would bounce back faster or slower depending on distance from the ball, speed it was thrown and angle.
What was I thinking during all this?
  • I wonder if there is a math or science lesson to be embedded in what looks like craziness?
  • At what distance would the Play-Doh bounce back the slowest? Fastest?
  • At what angle would the Play-Doh bounce back the highest? Lowest?
  • At what speed would the Play-Doh bounce back the slowest? Fastest?
Never in a million years would I have thought about any of this prior to reading this book. Thank you to John Stevens, Matt Vaudrey, Dave Burgess and Shelley Burgess for a fantastic read!

It's not just for math teachers!


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Love Learning

Love Learning About Literacy & Language

Dear Readers,

Here is my second blog post on recommended reading! I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

This book is truly a Hidden Gem. It made me look at writing in an entirely different light. Katherine Bomer focuses on finding the positive components in any piece of writing and has wonderful feedback prompts to give students.

The use of mentor texts is an essential component of literacy instruction. All students are authors, Lisa Eickholdt shows us how to use peer writing to showcase skills and strategies.

I always spend time building rapport with my students. However, Colleen Cruz has a fantastic interest survey that explores the a student's world including music, video games, television shows, etc. It really helped me to get to know my students on an entirely different level.

Why does it seem like most of our reluctant writers happen to be male? Ralph Fletcher discusses the inability for boys to write about topics of interest because they are frequently categorized as "inappropriate" for school. How do we help male students find their writing voice?

Middle School learners are going through developmental, social, emotional changes. Kelly Gallagher does an excellent job focusing on adolescents.

Academic writing contains argument, persuasion, cited sources, evidence, analysis, etc. Graff and Birkenstein do a terrific job of providing prompts, sentence starters and ideas for writing positions papers and essays. Depending on the grade level, can be a direct resource for high school and college students to own themselves. 

Students need models of writing as anchors when they proceed through the writing process. Ruth Culham puts a new focus on the Traits of Writing. This resource is a treasure chest of possible mentor texts.

Beth Olshansky has an innovative approach to writing. She shows how students can take pieces of art through a parallel "writing process" and then turn that art into writing. 

One of my favorite literacy sources of all time. Lehman and Roberts show us how to use close reading strategies in literature and informational text. It is a great visual for students to see their thinking.

Another of my favorite literacy resources. I have this right next to my desk and am constantly referring to it for prompts, especially when writing in response to reading or engaging in book discussions.

Who doesn't love being read to? Unfortunately, read aloud is often misunderstood and starts to disappear from classrooms as students move from elementary to middle school and beyond. Steven Layne has realistic examples of how to use read aloud at the secondary level.

A beautiful book about how and why children benefit from read alouds. Mem Fox gives excellent skills and strategies to an effective read aloud. 

This is one of the most important resources I have read. The lessons in here teach our students how to be upstanders in society, collaborate with each other and respectively disagree. Harvey Daniels and Sara Ahmed did an unbelievable job putting together texts, resources and lessons. 

Happy reading!


Monday, June 13, 2016

Recipe for Delightful Designs

Recipe for Delightful Designs

Dear Readers,

Today would have to rate as one of my top 5 favorite teaching days of all time. Read to find out why!


  • cardboard boxes
  • 3 rolls Duct Tape (purple, black, blue)
  • tissue paper
  • wrapping paper
  • ping-pong balls
  • plastic cups
  • Pool Noodles
  • yarn
  • stickers
  • scissors
  • glue sticks
  • transparent tape
  • pencils
  • 3 spools ribbon (green, pink, purple)
  • newspaper
  • innovative students


  1. Pack materials in the cardboard box and tape shut.
  2. Divide the class into groups (mix them up!)
  3. Give the following guidelines:
    • 1 class period to finish "invention"
    • can use any/all materials you are given
    • group must create 1 collaborative project
    • be ready to share
  4. Role of the teacher: sit back, observe and let students create away!

Photo Gallery

I have rarely seen such excitement and engagement in students. It was incredible to watch them interact, plan, naturally take leadership roles, divide "jobs"/tasks up and laugh......yes laugh!!!!!!!!

Please enjoy the pictures as I will let them tell the story.

Thank you to my amazing students who teach me something every day!