Thursday, December 7, 2017

conferring matters

Now that we've finished our Literary Essay unit in Writing Workshop, we're back in a reading unit, so our writing toggles back to blogging. This week, kiddos are writing a post inspired by the word PERFECT. (Thank you #TeachWrite and #DWHabit for the idea!)

After the explanation and my example, kids got to work. Some students had a topic easily and went to writing, others needed some tools to get started. I helped those kiddos out, then another student walked up to me and asked how long it had to be.

"As long as you need to make your point. Did you read mine? You need enough writing some your ideas are clear."

"Yes," he replied, "but mine is different." I asked him to go get his iPad so he could read it to me.

He came back, sat down at our conferring space, and read his writing to me while I followed along on the screen. It was really good! He basically wrote about how perfect is a fraud, because nothing is perfect, and how everything has a flaw. When he finished I told him that I really liked his ideas and that I thought it was great. Then I asked if he wanted coaching to make it better.

"You mean on the punctuation, right?"

"No, not at all!" I said. "My idea is more in the elaboration of your points. I was thinking that if you are saying nothing is perfect, and that there is a flaw with everything, a good writing strategy would be to show, and not tell. So what I would do if I were you is think of an example."

I was then thinking aloud to him. "Think of your perfect friend, and list three traits." Then I began to write in the air... "Katie is the perfect friend because she is fun, and we both like to write and teach so we talk about that stuff, and also because her jokes are funny." Then I went back to coaching... "But then, say her flaw too, to make your point." and I went back to writing in the air again. "But here's the thing, Katie lives in Phoenix, so far from me. So can I say she's the perfect friend, if there is a flaw? Wouldn't the perfect friend live in your zip code? This is what I mean about perfect. It's a fraud."

I continued, "What do you think of my tip, you know, to give an example to show  your point? Do you think you can do that?"

He smiled, nodded, and said yes. "Off you go then, try it out!"

He went back to his seat and then the class preceded on as normal, until it ended, and everyone had left. Except one of my other kiddos who needed a heart-to-heart. But my writer was still there, too. My heart-to-heart kiddo shouts at him, in a lovingly, middle-school-way, "Come on, why are you even still here?"

With a smile he shows the screen of his iPad to us, and says, "Because I want to show Ms. Brezek my blog."
My heart about exploded.

You guys! Conferring matters - yes, it matters because you help kids make their writing better, but even more so, it matters because you create a space for kids to be heard. They sit in front of you, gather all their courage, and read their writing to you. Their writing is their heart. And they put it out there for us to read and critique.

And so when they have positive experiences and they grow, they want to revel in that glow.

And we must create the space needed to let them.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

the perfect teaching neighbor

This week students will write blog posts inspired by the word perfect. Here's what that might look like!

There are many ways you could describe the perfect teaching neighbor...





You've met my perfect teaching neighbor - Ms. Belkov. She's all those things I mentioned above!

She's musical. Ms. Belkov sings lots of songs, like "I've had the time of my life" from Dirty Dancing. Or a song about Taco Tuesday. Or old school hip hop from the 90's that is now on 104.3.

She's silly, too. She does funny things to make you laugh, like singing in the middle school hallway with a purple stuffed mic. Or telling jokes at team meetings that make you laugh so hard you fall off your chair.

She's also hardcore. What I mean by this is that she expects a lot. If she assigns some work, you better complete it, and complete it well. You better not be rude to her, because then she will have to show you how to talk respectfully. Another thing she's hard core about? Feeling good by exercising. She wakes up SUPER early some mornings and goes to the gym. She means business about her stuff!

She's engaging. You guys, she acts things out. If I were a kid, I'd want to be in her eighth grade class. (I'm an adult and I want to be in it!) Her face lights up a room with her smile, she sings and tells jokes and dances around. All of these things are engaging about being in her presence.

But the thing that makes Ms. Belkov the perfect teaching neighbor? Well, it's that she is my friend. She helps me understand things when I'm confused, she lets me cry when I'm sad, she gives me advice when I get in a fight with my mom or sister, she teaches me yoga, and she inspires me with her work ethic. Friends do all this and more, and she's that person for me.

There's no one I'd rather have a classroom next to.
Ms. Belkov is the perfect neighbor.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Actionable Steps

My coteacher, Andrea, and I are wrapping up a literary analysis paper with our middle school kiddos. One of our colleagues shared an awesome organizer for analyzing quotes from a text... TIQA. Kids write a TOPIC, INTRODUCE the quote they found, include the QUOTE, then complete ANALYSIS on the meaning of the quote.

Meanwhile, one of the other coaches in our district asked me to deliver a brief PD on writing to her third year teachers. I got to reading the front of the Writing Strategies Book (Serravallo) and remembering listening to her speak at the Illinois Reading Council Conference - about actionable steps. And so, the writing PD became a session on creating actionable steps for writing tasks, and then my instruction was enhanced when I realized I wasn't doing awesome at this with my students.

You guys, EVERYTHING has to be broken down to a set of actionable steps. EVERY TASK. Telling students, "write a thesis" - that's not an actionable step, that's the goal. You have to show them how to do so. Let me elaborate a bit on goals vs. actionable steps with some examples:

Goal: Punctuate correctly.
Actionable steps: (1) Read your paper aloud, listening for the pauses you will naturally take. (2) When you find the pause, add punctuation. (3) Reread your work with punctuation and decide if if looks right and sounds right. 

Goal: Introduce the quote (for literary analysis)

Actionable steps: (1) Identify who spoke / thought the quote. (2) Think about the setting when the person spoke or thought the quote. (3) Write a sentence that shares the setting and/or action that had just happened prior to the quote. (4) Add that sentence before the quote in your draft.

Goal: Complete Analysis for your quote

So Andrea and I were extra prepared today for our mini-lesson, and we had modified one of Serravallo's strategies. We did a great job with mini-lesson, but then as I was conferring, and sitting with students attempting this, I saw HOW HARD ANALYSIS IS. Friends, so so hard...not impossible, but kids will have to sit and understand that ideas might not just pop up super fast. Analysis, like all the other things we ask our kids to do, would be taught best when we tell our kiddos the specific actions they should take to accomplish the task.

So to recap the big ideas I've learned this week:
1. You can't just tell kids what to do, you have to SHOW THEM. (I knew that, but am reminded again.)
2. Even when you write out great actionable steps, the task can still be super hard, and probably, your teaching can be revised further!

I already have evidence that the analysis our kiddos are doing are going to take them from basic to extra (as I told my kids today, which was met with some giggles and a few eye rolls.) The final drafts will tell it all...including how I can teach it even better next time.

Anyone have more ideas for actionable steps for Analysis? I'd love to hear them and enhance what I've got! We're always better when we're putting our heads together!

Happy Friday Eve! :-)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

from striving to thriving - a giveaway!

It's time to coin a new phrase, friends. No more 'struggling' readers - let's change our mindset and go with 'striving' readers. In their new book, Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward have just this point to make, and share with us how we can move our readers from Striving to Thriving.

First Impressions
I just got these copies a few days ago, and haven't had time to read more than just the introduction, but already it's a hit. Here's why.

First, the work is grounded in research by two of my favorites: Rosenblatt and Goodman. I've written about Louise Rosenblatt before, but she came up with the transactional theory of reading. This theory states that no two readers read the same  story, because each text is a transaction between the book and the reader. Since all readers bring a different set of experiences and schema to the books they read, each interpretation of the text will be slightly different.

But Yetta Goodman, well I haven't written much about her. She's a pretty prominent person in my studies, too, because of her 'kidwatching' research. This is basically about how teachers have to observe their students in their work with literacy (teachers as kidwatchers), believe in their own professional judgments, and respect children's abilities. With all of that success will come.

In a time when we have so many exteranal ways to collect information - various applications students work on that put out reports of their progress (i.e. Accelerated Reader, Achieve 3000, Lexia, etc), I'm happy to read and be reminded that the teacher is the trained professional in the room, the teacher is the person who should be doing the observations, having the conversations, taking the anecdotal notes, and moving our children forward, rather than waiting on a system of some sort to tell us what to do.

The guiding framework throughout this text is Trust, Teach, Transform. The chapters are written in a common format, beginning with a vignette, including key research and teacher moves, and with practice and lessons. In addition, there is a section entitled Assessing Readers in the Round (ARR) which provides questions to guide your kidwatching.

I just went through the first chapter and loved what I saw. First, research upon research upon research. There tons of studies referenced and other books that are associated in meaning. Additionally, the practice and lessons are plentiful. One awesome idea that came along with helping kids build their identity was choosing a Walk-Up Song - you know, like at pro baseball games? Well, each reader chooses their own song, they share it with one another, and perhaps a teacher would pay it as they walk up to do a presentation.

Through each chapter you will find all of these things: research, classroom vignettes, practice, lessons, and questions to guide your thoughts and actions. All of this is delivered on beautiful, colored pages with tons of graphics and examples of work.

The Big Idea
After getting through the introduction and first chapter, I'm seeing that the big theme here is that time with books is what is best for our striving readers. Many times, the kids that need the most time with books are pulled to do work with programs to intervene, but in reality, what students need most is time with books and meaningful opportunities to confer with their teachers and peers. Harvey and Ward remind us that, "Programs don't teach kids, teachers do." and that "Becoming a wise reading teacher takes time, thoughtfulness, deep study, and sheer effort." What I'm getting is that you can't just impose a program on kids, but instead, you have to meet with them, read with them, and coach them... and most importantly, provide them HOURS and HOURS and HOURS of reading time. That is the way they will move from striving to thriving.

You guys, there's just a little bit on the book, but there is really so so much more. I can't wait to spend even more time with this book, and I'd love for you to do the same!

I have an extra copy of the book to give away! To be entered into the drawing, just leave a comment here on this blog post. Tell me about how you kidwatch in your classrooms - what observations are you using and how is that guiding your instruction with your students?

Next Saturday (10/28/17) I'll randomly select a winner from the list of comments. But a few things:

1. Make sure you are not a no-reply commentor. Check out this link to make sure I'll be able to reach out to you if you are chosen.
2. Chosen winner must be from the United States.

Looking forward to hearing your kidwatching stories! And, if you like what you've read here, follow my blog and connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @bigtimeliteracy :-)

Have a fab weekend!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

making small groups work in the middle

I'm 15 years into teaching and I've finally figured out small groups in the middle school classroom. Of course, I've been seeing small groups in some way or another over the years, but they haven't been as systematic as I've finally figured out this year.

In the past, I'd get kids learning with the activity and then I'd bounce around haphazardly, usually helping kids who were struggling, and leaving the higher-performing kids to their own devices...with no anecdotals about anything I was accomplishing. It was the best I could do at the time, but now I'm able to see all the kids in my class in a smaller setting over the course of 4 sessions of class.

I am lucky to teach on a block schedule, which affords me 88 minutes of ELA every day. We've got a lot of different things going on in 88 minutes, but no matter what we do, I try to save time for workshop: mini-lesson, workshop, and share time:

As much as I'd love my pacing to go like this, it just doesn't always work out that way. The past two weeks, my coteacher, Andrea and I were teaching the Signposts from Notice and Note - those are not mini-lesson lessons - they take a lot of time to teach and model. But this week, we've finally released that work off to pairs and small groups, which is happening in that 12:30-1:00 time frame.

There is one other important routine I set in place to make this work, too: Accountability Buddies, which I originally learned about on this blog post. Cliff's notes is that kids pick a partner that they want to work with for the long term. When we read poetry, they work with this partner. When they get confused and a teacher is unavailable, they go to this person. And, when Andrea and I are seeing a small group, we make sure a pair is either split between the two of us or both independent, and we require them to work together.

Side note about these buddies: when I was evaluated last year, I saw a small group, and my principal observed the buddies asking so many high level questions to one another about their task. What I love about this system is the long term partnership (and choice in the buddy) creates a lot of trust which allows for risk taking. I had no idea that this would be one of the many awesome results of this forming these long term pairs!

So after I have the buddy system set up, and after we have the routines down, and after I have explicitly taught whatever is the thing we are learning, when we're ready to release work to kids, then we are able to follow the pacing guide above. When we get to workshop time, I let the kids know where they will be working on a rotating basis, so each day I show them one of these charts:

Side notes about the charts if you want to try: Make them different colors - it will be easier for you and the kids to see the differences. Also, I prefer to name these "Conferring Day 1, 2..." instead of by the days of the week. Biggest reason is holidays - We probably miss a lot more Mondays than any other day, so this system just uses an ongoing, rotating basis for the groups.

With this schedule, every other day kids are working with a teacher. On the days away from the teacher, they have their Accountability Buddy as a support. They are taught they cannot interrupt a small group, and they don't! It's been great getting into a routine with this schedule.

And the best part? I get to see kids in smaller settings. All kiddos in my group get very specific feedback about their work, which I can see easily as they sit with me at the horseshoe table. They use guided writing practices (Jan Richardson) to orally rehearse the notes they are about to take. They learn to share to their small group (rather than just to me) and ask for clarification to the small group (rather than just from me). The quiet kiddo speaks up. And when awesome predictions or comments about theme or plot are made, I have the ability to take anecdotal notes that inform my knowledge of what kids know and can do.

Win. Win.

Of course this isn't the only way to make this happen...what are you all doing out there in teacher blog land? Leave a comment below with some ideas so we can keep the conversation going!

Happy Wednesday!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

who is brezek, really?

Talking identity this month in ELA. So here's what I'm thinking about that....

First thing that comes to mind is CHEERLEADER. High school was where it all began and that was so fun, and then even ever since then I haven't changed much. Always rootin' for people and doing little dances and cheers and high fives on the sideline of whatever they are working on. Love to make people happy and let them know I think they can do the hard things. So first one, cheerleader... especially for the Sun Devils, my fave team!

Next, I'm an AUNTIE! Here's a pic of my niece from long ago...

Love to spoil her and my other nieces and nephews and spend some time with them in the summer. I wish they lived closer than Charlotte, but Caitlyn gets to come visit me every summer for a week, just her and I. Caitlyn and I are always talking books too... she texts me for titles and I LOVE THAT! (She's currently reading Nicola Yoon, highly recommend!) Here's a more recent pic of a special kiddo who makes me Auntie.

BEST FRIEND. We all have the special people in our lives that make us who we are, who understand us and love us even thought we're SO STRANGE. Love my group of BFFs, they are the family that I choose!
Also Identity: Sports Fan. Go CUBBIES!

Next, WORLD TRAVELER. I love seeing new places, and really I LOVED SPAIN. Like I think I need to change my identity and become Spanish and move to Madrid! I've been to London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, and a few other cities in Spain, and I can't wait to go to another continent again! (And cities here the states, too!)

You guys, of course, TEACHER. Year 15. I totally love it. Especially kids who look at me, with that expression of disbelief and ask me, "Did you really just do that?" Yes, yes I just did speak in acronym to you, and you understand it, *and you like it. Plus, I get to do the things I love every day, reading and writing, and teaching kids why reading and writing are so amazing and perfect and wonderful. So teaching, my identity (and, I've known this would be part of my identity since I was in third grade!!)

Okay lastly, I'm an ELA RESEARCHER STALKER. Don't judge me but I love reading books about teaching ELA and it's awesome when I get to meet the writers of these books IRL. Like Kelly Gallagher. You can thank him for Article of the Week and reading lots of Just Right books! And, I met him in person with our ELA Squad from HMS. Don't be jelly!

Well this is a start for now. Pretty sure I'll be adding onto this list in the coming years - like wife and mom! Until then I have bunch of "kids" in room 230.

What's your identity? Write your blog post and leave your link in my comments so we can share!


Saturday, August 26, 2017

in love

It has been my dream for years to have a 7/8 combo ELA class where the seventh graders loop, a la Nancie Atwell. My dream is beginning to take flight this year!

Last year I had a combo class, but it was small. Mostly 8th graders, with three seventh graders. Those seventh graders are now in eighth, but my new combo class is a 50-50 mix of seventh and eighth, including my three from last year. The brilliance behind this plan has been found already, just in week one.

In four short sessions of ELA, I can already see the potential for this combo class design. This week, we began some procedures that will turn into daily routines. The first one is poetry, which is another recommendation from Nancie Atwell. Have kids study poetry every day because it packs big meaning in short text.

So there I was sitting with the kids in our meeting space, and after reading our first poem, Human Family to them, I asked them to partner read with their Accountability Buddy (long term partnership chosen by kids). The kids of mine who were with me last year knew exactly what was coming, and so it was such a delight to have them get right to work by prompting their partner to begin.

The choral reading of the poem we did, no complaints this year, no feelings that it was weird, because I had kids who were already accustomed to this practice. If I have just three kids looping this year, imagine the impact when I have 14 models next!

It's just the beginning, and I believe in my heart that this is such an effective way to deliver ELA instruction! I can't wait to see what other little insights I'll have as we move forward this year.

And to top it all off, on an exit ticket, one of my seventh graders wrote this:

"The highlight of ELA was being with the 8th graders."

Totally, #allthefeels.

Does anyone else have a combo, looping class? I'd love to hear more about your experiences!

Happy Saturday!

Friday, August 11, 2017


"Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments - often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we're too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we're so afraid of the dark we don't dare let ourselves enjoy the light. A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith."
-Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Trust. I trust that I really do not need another new planner for the year. Here's the thing - I buy them every year, sometimes super expensive ones from Erin Condren, but then I don't use them. I use my iCal pretty consistently for meetings and appointments and I use a notebook all the time to process my thinking in PD sessions and in meetings. So, even though there was a super cute planner at Home Goods, I resisted. I trust I will not miss it!

Gratitude. Feeling pretty thankful for a great new coteacher. We spent some time yesterday in our room purging a bunch of crap from eons ago and deciding what we will do with the room. It's going to be a great collaboration, and I can't wait for this year with her!

Also feeling thankful for my super thoughtful friend who has sent me not one, but two little polaroid on-the-go printers. This one works really well for pictures, this one is better for text. I used the one that does good text to design my new Writer's Notebook. It's going to be my goal to write every morning before work, and meditate. Now that I've got a beautiful notebook, I can't skip it!

Inspiration. There are so many teachers on Instagram that inspire me; I have been loving following the back to school journeys and seeing all the classrooms. Especially flexible seating options! Sitting on the beach gives me inspiration, too. While I mostly sit on the Fresh Coast where the waves don't roll in as big as on the East of West Coasts, it still feels pretty great to clear my thoughts there. Inspired by the app Calm - did you know they will give educators a free account to use their meditations with students? Check it out! Anyways, I have been meditating now for four days, and it really makes a difference in my day being able to label emotions but not flying off the deep end with them. I've been thinking about how I could use this with my students....

FaithI'm having faith that there's something better out there for me. I'm about to put a final end to a relationship, one that isn't serving me, one that I know I am better off without. It's so hard though, especially when you can see potential. Especially when you can see all the good, and even when you are able to put all the bad stuff over to the side and move forward. But people do not change because anyone wants them to, they only change when they want to. Who knows when or even if that would ever happen? So, it's sad that there's going to be an ending, but I am having faith that something better is just around the corner.

Feel like bringing some joy to your life? Write a TGIF post and leave your link in my comments so I can be sure to check it out!

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

writing joy

New chat in town, #TeachWrite. Last Monday was their first twitter chat, and it was awesome. It's specific to a special group of people, us teacher writers! And, they've taken it to the next level, by offering up an invitation to write after the chat. This month the topic of conversation is JOY :-)

There are many reasons writing brings me joy, but here are just a few...

It's cool to create stuff. I didn't consider myself a writer until a few years ago, but to be a part of a group that is creating content is amazing. One of my teacher friends, Kayla just published a post about how to make your desktop look cuter. I watched her video tutorial, and then spiced mine up. All of that happened because of blogs, because of creativity, and I can't tell you how much joy my new desktop, and the conversation around it on Twitter and Instagram, has brought me!

Writing brings me joy because when it's on a blog, it's not this solitary task, it's social! I've made new friends online, and some I've even met in real life! Relationships are so important to me, so to have more friends because of writing is something I definitely treasure.

Writing is joyful because when you are writing in a public format, you see that you are not alone. When others read your work, they sometimes leave comments, and to know that you are not the only one to experience things makes you happy. I am so thankful for the interactions that have come about because of my blog.

Writing and students... My students do a lot of writing. We quick write or journal write almost daily, they publish blog posts, and of course we write more formally, too. Because I do the work with them, I'm better able to coach them at writing. I understand that it takes vulnerability to put your writing in front of someone else, to wait to have them critique it. Mem Fox said it best...

But to the point about students and writing and joy - sometimes, there are a few students who end up loving to write. Without my sharing of it with them in an authentic way, they may have never realized that. If each year even one student considers a writing life, that's enough cause for joy.

Sharing about my writing life with teachers brings me joy, too! Tomorrow I'm teaching a small PD session to a few teachers who are interested in beginning their own blog. To share something you love with others, to inspire them, to be their cheerleaders, all excellent reasons to feel joyous about writing.

How has writing brought you joy?

Be sure to check out Teach Write, their website, their twitter, and tune in the first Monday of every month for a Twitter Chat. They *even set up a remind account for text message reminders for their chat, so smart!

Friday, August 4, 2017


"Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments - often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we're too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we're so afraid of the dark we don't dare let ourselves enjoy the light. A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith."
-Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Trust. I'm trusting that these cool Chicago temps are just a nice break from the heat, but that summer is still upon us. That the universe actually does have my back and is working behind the scenes to create amazing things. That I'll get to see my BFFs all together sometime in the near future. That there is a Goldendoodle puppy in my future, sooner or later.

Gratitude. Thankful for the easy summer days where I wake up slowly, coffee in hand, blogging happening at 8:15 in the morning. For my nieces who sent me the cutest cheer up note in the mail after a day I had been feeling pretty sad. For my friends who call, who share, who lunch with me, who listen. For a job I love so much, with kids who are amazing and funny and like coming to ELA, at least most of the time. For Arbonne: products that are toxin-free, but more so, for the community of friends who cheer me on every day.

Inspiration. Inspired by my nephew, Jackman, who is the cutest kid I've see, always cheesin' for the camera. 

By Beers & Probst and their book, Disrupting Thinking. By the teachers and bloggers who keep producing writing and sharing their lives with me. By Brené Brown and her work, that I've been immersed in all summer - so much that the format of this blog post comes from her book, The Gifts of Imperfection. By all the teachers on facebook and Instagram, and their beautiful classrooms that are coming together as we speak.

Faith. Faith that this school year will be the best one yet. That I will keep myself balanced with work and personal obligations, and fun! That my single friends and I will find our way in romance, but knowing that we'll have other until then (and after, too!)

Feel like bringing some joy to your life? Write a TGIF post and leave your link in my comments so I can be sure to check it out!

Happy Friday!

Friday, July 28, 2017


This week I read Brené Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection... it was so good! I'll save the book review for another day, but loved this idea she had about a gratitude blog she used to write on Fridays, called TGIF:

In her research, she found that she could create joy in her life by practicing gratitude. She uses a metaphor of Christmas lights to explain:

"Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments - often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we're too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we're so afraid of the dark we don't dare let ourselves enjoy the light. A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith."

And so I bring another blogging format you might like to try out for yourself... TGIF: trust, gratitude, inspiration, faith.

I am trusting that Amazon really is going to show up with my next two books, Posted and The Universe Has Your Back.

I'm trusting that my family and friends understand the intent of my choices and behaviors is always positive, even when they could be interpreted another way.

I'm trusting that even though I feel that I've not done enough work for the coming school year (read: any work) I will still get things together in time enough for a great 15th (!!!) year of teaching.

I'm trusting that I'll find the perfect first day picture book to read to my class...any ideas?!

Feeling gratitude for my new mani-pedi. I was so in need, it had been like 6 weeks!

Feeling gratitude for the twinkle lights strung in my living room, that remind me to continually cultivate joy in my life by practicing gratitude.

Feeling gratitude for cool summer days with a breeze through the windows and amazing evening light on the bedroom side of my apartment. (idk my directions in Chicago!) 

Feeling inspired by Brené Brown, today, and always.

Feeling inspired by the amazing teachers I follow on social media, and my bffs who are teachers, too.

Feeling inspired by my friend Rachel who made a pie... from scratch. It was beautiful and smelled delicious and I think she saved me a piece!

Having faith in those I love most, that each one of them will find the things that bring them much happiness.

Having faith that I will make it to another Cubs game before the school year begins!

Having faith that my half sister, who I haven't been in much contact with, will decide that she'd like to build a more solid friendship with me in the coming years.

So, what did you think? I'd love to read your TGIF post! Write one and leave the link in my comments!

Happy Friday!

Monday, July 24, 2017

brought to life

There are so many things in life to be thankful for, and those things that really awaken your spirit - those are my favorite. Today I stopped by school and saw a few kids and felt brought back to life in some strange way, which got me to thinking about other ways I feel like my most happy, authentic self. Here's what I came up with on the fly :-)

Best friends, especially all together in a group
Usually, my friends and I get together for a long weekend every summer. Chicago or Southern California so far (our hometowns) but I'm sure we'll venture out next. (Vegas has been thrown around.) The thing about this is when we're all together, the hilarity always ensues. The friendships are more than a decade old, and the inside jokes and stories of years past are there, and never forgotten. Sitting with them, laughing with them, being silly, seeing new things - that is most certainly enough to make me feel like a pretty powerful version of myself.

I love seeing new places, and one of my friends, Heather, travels every summer with her high school students. This year, on our Spain trip, was the first time I had one of my former students with her and her students. It's awesome to see the Alhambra, but add a former student and his 15 new bffs, you've got a recipe for happiness. Traveling is amazing, and especially with loved ones. I feel so thankful for the opportunities I've been afforded by Heather and her travel group, #nixitravel.

Significant Other
I'm a work in progress in this department, trying to figure things out and do things as right as I know how to do. Like everyone, I screw up sometimes, but I also have boundaries that are meant to protect myself and those I care about. When there's a special guy, and we're doing cool stuff together, and even when we're not... we could just be chilling at home watching TV or reading, but being with my best, favorite person.... nothing. better.

Actually not teaching as much as the kids that bring me to life. It's been like 6 or 8 weeks since I last saw kids, and while I'm thankful for the rest and rejuvenation, I know I will be so happy to get back to school when it's time. Today I had to run into work to open up our doors for kids to come check out summer reading books. A group of 4 upcoming seventh graders came in, with their reading logs and with an amazing summer energy, and I was so brought back to life just being in their presence. Even though teaching is hard as hell, it's so rewarding; I love kids.

This one is kinda like friends, like it's awesome to be with family in little pockets, but when we're all together at once, even better. At Easter we were ALL at my sisters for the holiday and it was so fun to have so many people around.

I guess I'm seeing a trend in all these things - it's the people in my life that I love so much and just want to be with, family included.

What brings you to life? What are your things? Write a post and leave your link in my comments!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

gratitude lately

Sometimes life is a major bummer. And when that happens, you have to find things to help you through. In my case, it's yoga and friends and church, and though it's Sunday I'm not feeling super churchy, so I thought I'd also remember to find gratitude in other areas of my life.

Thankful for my fave yoga teacher and friend, Rachel, who reminded me to practice gratitude as she set the intention for class today. I needed this, which is why I come to my mat. Even better when you love your teach.

Also thankful that the first song in class today was Despacito. Check out my niece and I doing our rendition of it here. (An aside: we can't sing for crap, but everytime I watch, I can't help but laugh!)

Thankful for a filter on my thoughts, like today in Rachel's yoga class when I wanted to light her up with a string of explicatives for the crazy cardio routines she was insisting on. For the record, I did way more in that class than I *ever would have on my own.

Thankful for friends who pick up their phones and spend time with me, especially when I need them most. Pretty Princess Time with Katie, catching up with Anita, hanging out with Liz tonight.

Thankful for a warm (cozy warm, not warm-warm) home that is now almost super clean, too.

Thankful for great books to pass the time.

Thankful for Phytosport to replenish hydration when I haven't been taking the best care of myself.

Thankful for this blog, Canva for cute images, and friends who read and leave comments.

Thankful for forgiveness, like forgiving myself for not writing every day this month like I had planned.

Thankful for the people in my life who are passionate about stuff - their work, their family, their friends or significant others, hobbies. I can't understand people with no passions...

Thankful for tacos.

I think that's all for today. Maybe I will make it to church after all. What are you thankful for? Write your post and leave your link in my comments so I can be sure to read it!

Happy Sunday,

Saturday, July 22, 2017

won't budge

In my middle school ELA class, I expect two things to happen on an ongoing, daily basis: Independent Reading and Writing.

Independent Reading
I expect my students to read every day. That happens in class and it happens at home. Independent reading is the cornerstone of my middle school ELA classroom, because...

If children are to build vocabulary,
they should read.
If they need to develop fluency,
they should read.
If they need to learn about a topic,
they should read.
If they need to be a person they are not,
they should read.
If they need to grow, to stretch, to dream, to laugh, to cry, to find a friend, to vanquish a foe,
they should read.
-Kyleen Beers by way of Stacey Riedmiller @literacyforbigkids

So in my class, reading is paramount. Kids must read, and they will. There are a few things I do to create readers.

1. My library is full. I spend my classroom money not on anything else but books (well, also some Sketcher markers, composition notebooks, and folders, too). But mostly books. I follow people on Social Media who are reading new titles, and I get my hands on them and get them into my classroom. And I read! I read the books in my library so I can recommend them to my students. I know my library. I learn my readers. I match them up.

2. I provide time in class to read. If kids are to value reading, they have to see that their teacher values it so much that they create time in class for them to do so. Sometimes it's 10 minutes each day for the week. Other times it's 45 minutes once for the week. But every week in my classroom, students are reading.

3. Additionally, students are required to read 20 pages of their book at home each night. My kids do not do reading logs, but instead I take Status of the Class. Each day, I spend 3 minutes asking each child (orally) to tell me where they are with their reading. They might be starting a new book, in which case they will tell me the title, they might be continuing a book, in which case they tell me the page number they are currently on, they might abandon the book, in which case that will cue me to see what's happening via conference, they might be finishing a book, and asking for time to select another. I always know who is reading what, and I do that with Status of the Class.

4. We book talk. During the first quarter, I do the book talks. It's common that many students are not used to reading and completing a lot of books prior to my class. So during the first quarter, I talk about a lot of books with my students. I have them keep a "Books I Want to Read" list, so they can have a list of books going for when they finish. By second quarter, they are ready to start book talks, and so each student will do two book talks during the quarter. The point is that we are constantly talking about books. Check out Penny Kittle's Book Love for more on this.

5. Finally, when students are reading independently, I am conferring with my readers. I set up a schedule so that I make sure I see all my readers over the course of a week or two... my point is that my conferring is not random. When I confer with my readers, I ask them to briefly tell me about their book (summarize in 3 sentences) and then I have them read the page they were on to me. I then ask them to summarize that page, and while they are reading to me, I am on the lookout for a teaching point. This is not easy work and it takes time to master (I'm still not awesome at it, but I keep trying!) But the idea is that in my classroom, kids are reading, and I'm talking to them about their books in more ways than just one.

My students do independent reading in an ongoing way, but sometimes we do a novel together. In that case, they will set their Just Right books aside and we'll do the novel. I will lead the novel and do more in the beginning with them, but then once I've set purpose, I will require them to read more on their own, so we can then discuss when we are together.

We also do book clubs at the end of the year, after they have built their stamina with independent reading. You can read more about that here.

Writing and Blogging
In addition to reading, my kids are writing, lots. We are lucky to be a 1:1 district, so we blog. But, we also Quick Write, Journal, and publish papers. For this post, I'm going to focus on Quick Writing and Journaling, which leads me to blogging.

Quick Writing
In the beginning of the year, as we are getting to know one another and the routines of the classroom, we begin writing with Quick Writing (Penny Kittle, Write Beside Them). 

This is how I prompt kids to quick write:

1. Write for the entire three minutes, as fast as you can. I prompt them for quick writing, but I also tell them to follow the thoughts in their head. So if my prompt is, "Something I like about school...." and they start that and then go off on a tangent about shopping or a friend, that's totally fine. The goal is to write, and write fast.

2. I tell them to ignore the critic speaking in their head. Writing is hard! You totally judge yourself. You worry about punctuation and spelling and yet there are so many ideas you need to get out. When you quick write, the goal is to write a lot, and it can be messy, it can be unpunctuated, it can be disorganized. Just write.

3. Relax, have fun, and play! This is meant to be a playground for writers. To play around with ideas and words and meanings and anything else. No judgement, just write.

So with that, I then give them a prompt which I do as a sentence stem (with a sentence stem, EVERY kid can get started writing, because they copy the stem and then keep going. Using a question is a little trickier!) We practice Quick Writing for a few days and I observe behaviors, like looking around the room, kids playing with their pen or pencil, avoiding the writing, etc. Then I roll out success criteria:

Last year I notice I had a handful of kids that wouldn't just get to business, so this helped most of that group focus shoot for success. There were still a couple after this that had a hard time, but then it was time to confer :-)

I did not add this component in last year, but I will this year. My philosophy is is line with Reading and Writing Workshop, so I know kids must have choice. The prompting in quick writing isn't a lot in the choice field, so this year, I'm planning to add in journaling - eventually I'd like to quick write one day and then journal (you pick your topic) the next. It will take time to build to that but I'm hoping to create some choice writing "play" time for kids this year.

All of this leads to blogging! Kids have to have some experience with writing before you go to the tech - they have to know how writers find ideas (my kids are expected to publish two blogs a week, it's always at least two free choice blogs, but sometimes I assign something for one of them. Kids HAVE TO HAVE free choice. Writers are not prompted. Kids shouldn't always be prompted, either!) Then, my blogging mini-lessons teach them everything I do with blogs:
  • Dashboard vs. Blog
  • How to publish a post
  • How to use the tools in the blog post (add a link, a picture, a video, bullets, change font, etc)
  • How to publish a page (and the difference between the post and the page
  • How to write a Slice of Life (see Two Writing Teachers)
  • How to comment appropriately and in an engaging fashion
  • How to use labels to organize your posts
If you want to blog with kids, the first thing you have to do is write your own blog. As with anything else, you should be doing all the work you ask your students to do, which will give you so much insight into what you are asking them to do.

Not going to budge on these things. Of course there are other components to my ELA classroom - poetry, and reading and writing instruction, publishing papers, discussion, book clubs, etc, but these two components create readers and writers. They will *always* be at the heart of the work I do with teens.

What about your middle school ELA classroom? Please share what works for you in your classroom!

Happy Saturday!

Monday, July 17, 2017

look the other way

It's summer and I love it.

But every day I feel a little bit of guilt.

Because I have done ZERO work for this upcoming school year.
I think about it, briefly, then skip off to whatever fun summer thing I have to do.

And reading? I've hardly read anything this summer.
Even blogging every day in July - missed two days.

But I have been to Spain. (My fave trip abroad yet.)
And there is a new guy. (More details to come, he's pretty amazing!)
And my niece is here. (Auntie & Monkey's week of fun!)

The weather is perfect.
It's summer in Chicago with so much to do.

So why do I have to feel the guilt?

Anyone else out there feel the same? Tell me I'm not the only one.

Friday, July 14, 2017

public service announcement

I don't eat many hot dogs. But if I do, you have to do them right. Let me break it down for you so you know what is acceptable and what is not.


That's cheese wiz with ketchup and mustard under.

Let's try another.


Alright, well, better with tomatoes and pickels, but ketchup on a hot dog.....?

There shall be no ketchup on a hot dog.


Almost perfect, just missing the neon green relish!


This on is almost perfect, too, just missing the celery salt.

If you're going to eat a Chicago style hot dog, do it right:

Tell me how hot dogs go in your neck of the woods!

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