Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My Writing Journey

I was recently working on a blog post that had me stumped. I knew what I wanted to say, but for once I had a deadline and began to stress about getting it done. My husband even noticed the shift, commenting on how I appeared to be wired for the past few days. The problem was not writing the words. The problem was having the stamina to sit and write for longer periods of time. Writing is still a newer pastime of mine, and working on this post made me realize how little writing stamina I had. I seemed only able to work on it for 15-20 minute spurts. Then I would come back and completely change sometime, decided I hated another part, and get barely any new writing done. One post was taking me days!

I began to think about the implications this experience has for me as a teacher. How many times did a student tell me they couldn't keep writing, they had nothing to write about, they didn't want to go back and look over their writing?

I recently attended #nErDcampMI and sat in Jen Vicent’s session. She put a quote on the board to start the discussion about teaching writing. “Only writers have any business teaching writing.” Of course, such a statement was met with a variety of reactions, but I feel that this experience has further solidified my belief in such a statement. A year ago, I did not consider myself a writer. I taught writing and told my students what I thought they should do, but I brought no experience to the table. I didn't fully understand the struggles they had, the way they learn, or what it was like to write when you truly felt like you would rather be doing anything in the world but.

I still have days where I hate my writing. I’m not sure I will ever feel satisfied with my writing, but I am becoming more comfortable every time. I’m glad I finally can appreciate the struggles my students go through. The next time I watch them go through another “avoidance strategy” to get out of writing, I will be able to sit down and sympathize, understanding and appreciative of the unique path we each take as writers. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Celebrate: Indie Book Stores

Ever have just an awesome book week? A week where you get your hands on books you have been long awaiting, read some true works of art, or just have time to sit down and read at leisure. I have had the most wonderful book week! Today, I am celebrating Cover to Cover Bookstore for making this possible. 

I have a confession... I tend to buy a lot of books online. I am not proud of the fact, but I do. Recently, some friends and I got together and made life lists- lists where you come up with as many goals to accomplish in a year as your age. One of my goals was to be more purposeful about buying my books from independent books stores. So, this week, I headed into my local Indie, Cover to Cover to pick up a book I ordered. A Book... lol. 

Upon picking up the book I ordered, I of course spotted another I had to have. Sally, the owner of this fine establishment, and I had a fantastic discussion about Ann M. Martin's new middle grade novel, Rain Reign, and she handed this to me to pass to other teachers to read. She then let me peruse her stack of arcs in the back. I squealed when I came across Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath. I have been dying to read this book for months. I also found Spirit's Key by Edith Cohn, another that I was less than anxiously awaiting. As I was heading out with my bag of goodies, Beth grabbed a pack of bookmarks she had set aside for me. She happens to know my love of sloth books! I left the store with my  heart so full and happy. 

This experience made me realize how very important it is that I support a small business like this. For us book groupies, these stores give us a place with knowledgable staff who have the same goals we do- to get books in kids hands. They are not doing what they do to become rich no more than any teacher gets into the field hoping to make millions. 

This experience has resonated with me all week and every time I glance at my small pile of books I grin. Thanks for taking such great care of us, Indie stores!

This celebration post made possible by Ruth Ayres and her Celebrate This Week link up. Head over to her blog to check out other celebrations!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Sometimes, I HATE writing blog posts! It seems to me, the more passionate I feel about a book, the harder it seems to say anything worthy about it. I have this fantastic, sometimes even MAGNIFICENT, idea in my head that I struggle to convey on a mere computer screen. 

This is why I just LOVE Ashley Spires new book. The little girl in the book seems to go through the same steps I do as I desperately try to find the words to share my thoughts and feelings about a book. She has a MAGNIFICENT idea, a trusty sidekick (maybe thats where I'm going wrong ;) ), and access to some pretty cool supplies. She sits down to get her ideas to come to life and finds that sometimes the MAGNIFICENT thing is the process. The product seems easier to attain when you make peace with the process. 

I have started this blog post 4 times already. I did not use a single line from my previous 4 attempts, but those attempts helped me realize what I did want to say and, what I didn't. I find parallels in The Most Magnificent Thing to my life as a writer because that is what I struggle to refine. The beauty of this book is that, I feel, anyone could relate. We all have times where we have an idea of what the end product looks like and we learn along the way that it is the learning experience that matters. (a excellent example of why I hate cooking!) This book has a fantastic message for every reader!

Ashley Spires' book is truly a magnificent thing! 

*If by chance you are unfamiliar with any of Ashley Spires previous works, I recommend you hunt them down immediately! #BinkyforPresident

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Soccer Fence

Like many Americans, this summer I have become a bandwagon soccer fan.  I'm not sure why, but there is something about the World Cup and all these countries setting aside their differences to join together over a common sport that ignites a flame of patriotism in my heart. I have been shamelessly watching and cheering alongside the rest of the country for many weeks. This is one of the many reasons Phil Bildner's new book The Soccer Fence nestled in and found a place in my heart (right next to that flame of patriotism ;) ). 

The Soccer Fence tells the story of Johannesburg in 1990 as the "apartheid began to crumble". As Americans, we can relate all to well to a story of laws changing at a different rate of speed than people hearts. Though South Africa saw glimmers of hope on the horizon in the crumbling of the apartheid and freedom of Nelson Mandela, the stories main character, Hector, finds out there are things that are not changing. He is still not welcome to play soccer with white boys his age. The story marches on and covers many important events in the history of South Africa. Each time Hector approaches the soccer pitch the white boys play on, he is snubbed. In the background of this story, we learn that South Africa is hosting the 1996 African Cup of Nations. 

In the end, the game of soccer unites more than just a two boys of different backgrounds. It tells the story of the power of sports to unite a nation, even in darker times. 

This uplifting story is taken to a whole other level with its gorgeous illustrations done by Jesse Joshua Watson.  The pictures are so magnificent, that this book entered my top 5 Caldecott hopefuls for the year. I recommend you find a way to get your hands on this book. You will be happy you did!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Using Frozen in the Classroom

One thing you rapidly learn about me in my classroom is my love of ANYTHING Disney, which is why I was all to excited when their newest animated work of genius came out this year. As more and more students in my class went and saw the movie, the discussions about it abounded during our morning meeting. Taking advantage of the enthusiasm, I began to encourage the research of information about the movie. Early on, students were bringing in books from the library about Hans Christian Andersen and reading adapted versions of The Snow Queen. By the time January rolled around, I still had about half of my class who had not seen the movie yet. I decided to use this to my advantage. One of our third grade writing standards is conducting short research projects. I came up with a list of topics students could choose to research. They were invited to work individually or together and could present their information in any way they like.

Some students chose to quickly research everything on the list. Others spent more time researching one of the topics. 

My only regret was sending home finished products with the students after they presented. These were some of the few I had left after room clean up at the end of the year. They all did an amazing job! I told my students after they researched and learned from this list, we could watch the movie. One of the best parts of this project was listening to the kids watching the movie and commenting on everything they had learned. The scene where the choir was singing from the church, someone yelled out that they were singing Joik. Another one asked if the fjord in the background was the Sogenefjord. 

Our learning did not stop here. Frozen inspired us to read this book:

And students loved working on sequels until the end of the year. 

Frozen was a great learning opportunity for our class this year. I hope you also take more time to learn all the amazing aspects of the movie that can be so easily overlooked. Have you ever used a movie as instructional material in your classroom?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"In Summerrrrr"

This year has been quite a wild ride! As a new blogger, I have infinite amounts of admiration for all those out there who relentlessly keep up their blog post throughout the school year. It's definitely something I will have to work on more next school year. Now that school is out for the summer, I am finally beginning the decompression process as well as reflecting on the year. As I complete my fourth year of teaching, here are just of few of the things that I will take with me into future years of teaching. These are things that would never have been possible without the inspiration and support of those awesome educators who I have been privileged enough to add to my professional learning network.

1. Taking the plunge to become digital in record keeping- I was inspired after listening to Cathy Mere and Karen Terlecky present with a group of brilliant women at NCTE in November. I started using Evernote to record anecdotal notes of student conferences. I loved the ease of use and being able to access my notes anywhere. It helped me keep track of student goals and growth throughout the year. I look forward to using it from the get go next school year.

2. Exploring ways to embed digital literacy in my classroom- With the educational field ever changing, it can be overwhelming to keep up with the changes.  I jumped in to using quite a few different ways for students to share their learning using technology this year.  I only brushed the surface of digital literacy this year, but I feel that that has given me enough of a background to make me feel more comfortable with the idea of embedding in my future classrooms.

3. Becoming more comfortable on Twitter- For the longest time, I was a Twitter stalker. I loved to follow educators I admired from afar, but did not feel comfortable putting my own thoughts out into the "twittersphere" or connecting with others I did not personally know. This year, I have made a point of being more active on Twitter (May excluded ;) ). This in turn helped me to find a voice to start a blog, one which I hope to update more frequently "innnn summmeerrrrr"! :)

So, what new learning will you take with you into future years of teaching? Please share!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

If Not for Franki


Everyone remembers their first year teaching. At least the bits and pieces time has been kind enough to let hover in our memory. My first year was probably no different than many others. I felt completely overwhelmed and unprepared for what I had gotten myself in for. I was hired in a new state, in a district that had so many accolades, feeling grossly out of place. As I arrived at my first "new teacher orientation" event, I was greeted by a rather spunky individual with an infectious laugh. Little did I know, this would only be the beginning of a journey in my professional career that Franki Sibberson would continue to touch. 

As I stumbled through my first year of teaching, I remember asking a team member what professional books I should read. I was feeling the same as many others, that college had left me unprepared for the real world. I realized I needed some help. My team mate directed me to the books in the library written by Franki. All the sudden, light bulbs started to go off. Franki Sibberson? The person who will always remain one of my first memories of a district I was falling in love with? She was an author?

If you have had the opportunity to meet Franki, you know that she is one of the most humble people out there. I sat through a week of new teacher orientation watching Choice Literacy videos of other amazing teachers in our district and having her talk about other professionals to learn and grow from and not once did she mention her achievements. That's just who she is. 

I learned and grew as a literacy teacher my first year alongside Beyond Leveled Books: Supporting Early and Transitional Readers in Grades K-5 and Still Learning to Read: Teaching Students in Grades 3-6, both written by Franki and Karen Szymusiak. 

At the end of my first year teaching, I ended up being RIFed. I was heartbroken. Then I got a phone call. I was being picked back up at Riverside Elementary, which just so happened to be the elementary school Franki was working at at the time. 

I was totally starstruck when I was introduced to her. I even asked my teammate, Kami, if she thought I could ask for Franki to sign my books. Kami advised me against this, because that was just not Franki. I was lucky enough to learn and grow so much more that year. I was introduced to books and authors that changed my world. I transitioned from an adult reader to a children's book reader. My classroom instruction changed. Franki made me question thing I did and look more critically at everything. 

Since then, I found a community of professionals to learn and grow from on Twitter because of Franki's encouragement. I have met amazing people at conferences because Franki has introduced me. I have started a blog, because she knew how much I wanted to, even though I struggled and kept on me about it. I have become more purposeful in my professional reading because Franki saw what I needed to continue to grow. There are more thing than I can even count that she has helped me with. 

Thank you so much, Franki! I hope you have the most amazing birthday ever. I hope you feel the love today from all those around you that you have touched!