Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Few Bumps Along the Way

Every Challenge Makes Us Stronger

Dear Readers,

It has been a tough week. My dad's birthday was last Monday and tomorrow is Father's Day. Even though he has been gone for over 11 years now, it is still a difficult month.  I remember meeting a woman once who had lost her daughter to suicide. She said that she gave herself permission to cry and feel sad when she needed it. In the beginning it was daily and over time decreased. Not being one to show my emotions publicly, that has always stayed in the back of my mind. It is normal to have sad moments and let ourselves feel them. I have definitely had my moments this week where I have taken that advice to heart.

I have always believed that people are sent into our lives for a reason. This morning I was putting groceries in the car and someone paid me the nicest compliment. Not long after that, someone gifted me with a random act of kindness. It was like they knew it was a tough weekend for me and I needed a little "pick me up". Isn't it funny how things happen when you need them?

My life has been filled with highs and lows, positives and negatives, traumas and triumphs. However, I believe everything that has happened to me has made me who I am today. I live very much in the present, I try not to dwell in the past, nor do I look too far forward into the future. It allows me to really live in the moment.  In Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, the "I" in PIRATE stands for "Immersion". On page 14 it states, "Your ability to completely give yourself up to the moment and fully "be" with your students is an awesome and unmistakably powerful technique." 

Transitions can be difficult for me, including ending the school year and heading into summer. However, fortunately my birthday is at the end of the month and always something to look forward to. Additionally, I have planned a big vacation this summer which is completely uncharacteristic of me, but it is a milestone birthday so why not? I also have work days already incorporated into my schedule. Going into the summer with a plan is essential for me. Especially those first few weeks off.

Some of my students have commented this week that they do not want school to end. I know it is for different reasons. Some like the structure and routine of school, some are very involved in the school environment (music, sports, clubs, friends, etc.) while others face uncertainty. Some see school as a safe haven. It is where they feel cared for, safe and loved.

While we celebrate the end of another fantastic year and look forward to sunny, hot, lazy days, let us not forget those who will be counting down the days to September.

I wish all of my students a relaxing and restful summer. May they all feel safe, cared for and loved. I hope they know how much I will miss them and look forward to seeing them in the fall.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

LAUNCH Day 2017

Put On Your Creative Thinking Caps!

Dear Readers,

After reading LAUNCH, I have implemented a LAUNCH Day at the end of the year. 


I gather boxes and purchase a few materials such as streamers, pool noodles, pipe cleaners and most importantly DUCT TAPE! I also scrounge up items I already have in the classroom such as stickers, plastic cups, tissue paper, markers, pencils, construction paper and wrapping paper.


Day 1 (L-A-U-N)

  • Getting into pre-determined groups.
  • Each group had a piece of chart paper.
  • (Modified "L") Think about something we have a need for in the classroom or something that would be fun to have for next year. (Jot down ideas and then share out.)
  • (Modified "A") Think about what materials you would need. How can you make something sturdy enough to be mobile and last through next school year?
  • (Modified "U") Open yours boxes, look at materials and think about what materials could you use to create something?
  • (Modified "N") Choose an idea and sketch a prototype!

Reflection: The students got in their groups and came up with both realistic and unrealistic ideas. Some of them looked around the room to see what we needed, while others were focused on what they wanted. They shared ideas and collaboration seemed to be going well. I heard some students offer their perspective to other ideas and why something may or may not work. Many wanted to start building before planning out the prototype. It was hard for some not to skip to the creating.

Day 2 (C)

  • (Modified "C") Today was really all about creating. The final ideas were a "materials" holder that would attach to the side of the desks, a pencil dispenser and a basketball hoop.
  • Students were trying out the different materials to see what worked and what didn't.

Reflection: Most of the groups appeared to be having fun. I saw a lot of smiles and heard a lot of laughter. I was picking up all kinds of scraps that had been discarded. Students were working together with minimal disagreements. I began to notice who was jumping right in and trying things out and who was sitting back and letting the others take the lead. I also noticed who was trying to look as though they were contributing, but upon closer examination were not really as collaborative as they seemed.

Day 3 (H)

  • (Modified "H") Definitely had some project fatigue today.
  • "Materials" Holder fell off the desk during the night. That was probably the biggest set-back. The students had a prototype that needed to be improved. They had to rethink purpose and function. 
  • Basketball Hoop: They ran out of duct tape. They had to problem solve using yarn and pipe cleaners. They also had to improve on their "hoop" as it was ripping when they threw the basketball in.
  • Pencil Dispenser: They had to figure out how to get the pencils to slide down because there was a hole in the box they were getting stuck on.

Reflection: Students definitely "hit a wall" when we started class today. They were frustrated for different reasons (as stated above) and I noticed communication started to break down. In one group, a student took over the lead, but was not allowing others to participate. In another group, one student kept trying to improve the product, but the rest of the group was just watching. In another group, two students were working on the product while two others were chatting. I went around and used the term project fatigue and explained exactly what I was observing. 


  • The basketball hoop was functional. I even brought out a whiteboard so they could keep score.
  • Material Holders were created for four tables. Instead of hanging off the side, they are created to sit on the table. They even have a pool noddle to hold pencils (stick right through Styrofoam) or a plastic cup.
  • The Pencil Dispenser is functional. As students take pencils, more fall through.

Student Reflections:

  • Overall, they seemed to agree the "C" (creating) was one of the easier steps. Some also thought the "L" (listen, look, learn) was easy because they came up with ideas.
  • On the other hand, most agreed the "H" was the most challenging. They thought trying to improve on their products after the initial "building" posed many obstacles.
  • About 50% of the group enjoyed the task and proceeding through the LAUNCH Cycle, while others were wishy washy about their feelings.
  • A few said they would like to try it again, however would like to choose their own groups.

Final Reflection

  • I was able to tell liked the freedom of being handed a box with little direction, while others struggled not knowing exactly what to do.
  • I saw natural leaders in the group who dove right in, I saw collaborative group members who jumped in to help and I saw some who were more observers than participants.
  • I was able to witness collaborative skills and strategies by listening to how they responded to one another. I was also able to hear how they disagreed with one another, whether it was respectful or not.
  • I watched them deal with set backs in an optimistic and growth minded way, while others seemed to sit back appearing to give up.
  • I saw some of them push through the project fatigue and seeing it as a way to improve and grow.

May all you find that creative spark this summer!


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Building Our Writing Lives as a Classroom Community

We Are All Authors!

Dear Readers,

I often hear, "I stink at writing," from my 7th graders. In fact I have heard it several times this past week as we were finishing up a writing piece. I had an interesting conversation with a student. He said to me, "When I take a test I feel confident that I did well. But when I write, I always think I did bad." I responded, "I am the exact opposite. When I write I am confident I did well, but when I take tests I am not sure."

Many of our students see themselves as readers, but not necessarily writers. In the same respect, I would argue that many adults also see themselves as readers before writers. It is rare that a student will choose writing as a preferred activity, however many love to curl up in the book corner with independent reading books or browsing books.

If I want my students to see themselves as writers, I need to share my writing life with them as well. I have spent the past few years really focusing on writing instruction and looking at it through a different lens. Traditionally, my students see writing as "essays" or "research" papers. I have tried to break the mold with different skills and strategies. 

Writing Is......

Communication with One Another: 
Whether it be a letter, a message of the day or a welcome to visitors.

Portable Word Walls:
We have mobile word walls of themes, character traits and transition words. The students have the freedom to get them out and use them as they need them. 

Stationary Word Walls:
Depending on our writing piece and where we are in the writing process, our word walls change. Sometimes they are content specific to Language & Literature, while other times they are vocabulary specific to the theme or big idea we are studying.

Often I will have students sketch ideas instead of traditional writing. For example, when we watch a video clip, listen to a song or what we are visualizing when listening to a read aloud such as a text excerpt. I also incorporate Sketchnotes into my instruction instead of traditional anchor charts.

Creative Control:
Students need a place that they have designed to write in, organize and own. I give little direction on how to maintain their writer's notebooks.

I use post-it notes as tabs in my notebooks. I tape mini-anchor charts, rubrics, examples, etc. into the notebook. I have a note section, reflection section and reading log section. I model how to draft, cross out (not erase), revise or edit. I also tell them the messier the better! The more thinking that is happening!

Mission Statements:
Writing a mission statement was not an easy task. I had to jot down ideas about myself, think about my passions, consider what is important to me in order to come up with this sentence. It was critical I had the words believe, dream, imagine, learner and positive influence.

"Language & Literature Manipulatives":
We used chart paper for the story arc, index cards to collect vocabulary, a "trunk" for artifacts, books for research/ideas, post-it notes for events/emotions/senses/etc. and lots of room to be messy!

Incorporating pop Culture into Our Lessons

Believe it or not, I used the concept of The Walking Dead to kick off our informational writing unit. We did song analysis from Wicked. Taking what students know and incorporating their lives into our classrooms increases engagement and is more authentic.

In Conclusion

Those are a few of the ways I have incorporated different genres of writing into our classroom. 

A few resources I would highly recommend include......

I would also add to this list, Feedback That Moves Writers Forward by Patty McGee.

Happy writing!