Summertime, Writingtime!

I love summertime….this summer, I have time to write.

Yesterday, a teacher hosted another teacher and me. She had just returned from attending the Heinemann Boothbay Literacy Institute (on my bucketlist) and offered to simulate some of what she did with us.

First, we did 2 Quickwrites using Linda Rief’s book, The Quickwrite Handbook. Here is what I wrote in 2 minutes after listening to my friend read Getting It Right by Kevin Carey (You can hear Garrison Keiller hear it hear on Dec. 14, 2016’s The Writer’s Almanac).

I used the prompt, “Borrow any line, letting the line lead your thinking as you write.”

I was never the smartest kid in the room. I was more the B+ student, dutifully compliant but not a natural. Grace was a natural. She read aloud with such expression when it was her turn during Round-Robin Reading. David was a natural. His science fair projects were so smart. Both had smart parents, assisting. I had loving parents but parents who did school just as well as I did. Now I am paid to read-aloud to students. I am quite good at it. As a teacher, I notice the Graces and the Davids and mostly the Sallys.

I’ll admit, that I had Linda’s book and skimmed it but hadn’t tried any of the exercises. However, with my friend’s guidance, I now see the power of reading another’s writing and then letting my pencil quickly write off of it. 

Then my friend showed us the Watercolors she made at Boothbay. She had paint sets and cups of water and 4×6 watercolor paper and black thin sharpies and some shells. And for the next hour, we painted! First, shells. Then copied an image from my phone of flowers.

So lucky to have a friend who values turn-around PD!
So lucky to have time to write in the summer!

Have you ever tried Quickwrites? Do you ever watercolor?
I now recommend both!



Keep Cup

My Writing Club (two lovely writers who participate in the March Writing Challenge as PencilOnMyBackPorch and WordJourneys) met last Wednesday and one brought along Georgia Heard’s book Writing Toward Home.

We descided to all try this exercise: Pick one word. A noun. Something concrete. Write two pages with this word in mind. Afterwards, in the margin, write the links to this word.

I picked the object that I now carry with me – my Keep Cup . Here’s where the prompt took me….

For Mother’s day, my girls had my present delivered to me. They must have been conversing across the miles and I recall Anne sending me a text a week prior asking about my favorie color. I recall my reply was “green, blue and purple but I guess blue if I can only pick one.”

As I opened the small package, I found a glass cup the size of a Starbuck’s grande drink inside and a blue plastic removable lid. I immediaely sent the girls a thank you text. Anne’s reply was, “Use it at Starbucks and be sure to ask for the reuseable-cup discount.” This made me smile as I held this small but thoughtful present called a Keep Cup. The girls know me and my routine well.

Now, I routinely carry my Keep Cup with me when I head to Starbucks in the morning. “Grande black iced tea, no sweetener,” I announce and $2.95 appears on the register. Then the minuse ten cents (-.10) appears. I smile and think how the girls’ gift is the gift that keeps on saving!

Last week and over a month since Mother’s Day, I drove and parked at my neighborhood Starbucks and realized I forgot the Keep Cup. Not wanting to return to my old habit, I actually drove back home to retrieve my Keep Cup. Each Starbuck’s purchase is one less plastic cup and one less straw added to a landfill. One small, very small gesture to reduce by reusing.

(My writing began to wander to the girls’ gift to their dad for Father’s Day…a comparision but after a paragraph, it seemed off-topic so I stopped and wrote this next…)

Reduce. Recycle. Reuse. Gestures needed for my planet. My girls are conscious of the need for such gestures. I wonder if it is doing anything at all. I am reminded of the story of the hummingbird (which PencilOnMyBackPorch shared with me last Earth Day – view video here). The hummingbird, though so small, tries to put out the fire. Action. Thanks to my girls, I’ve made it a habit to routine;y use my Keep Cup. Action.

After 2 pages, I write these links in the margin: gift, new routine, gift is saving me $, different dad gift – off topic, being sustainable

NOTE: I enjoyed this exercise. I see now that this writing could be a seed for many more stories. I really enjoyed doing this exercise in the company of my writing club. While I wrote about my Keep Cup, one picked the noun, fireplace and the other picked the noun bra. So fun to listen to their ponderings related to their chosen noun!

Do you ever “prompt write”? Maybe something to try.
Now I’m heading to Starbucks with my Keep Cup!!


My Teaching by the numbers

It’s the last day of another school year.

I counted it up and I have taught…
…for a total of 28 years.
…Middle School for 2 years.
…Elementary School for 26 years.
…at 9 schools.
…in 4 districts.
…Pre-K for 1 year.
…Kindergarten for 6 years.
…3rd graders for 3 years.
…4th graders for 5 years.
…5th graders for 1 year.
…6th graders for 2 years.
As the classroom teacher for 18 years, I…
…guided about 600 students. (That first Kinder class would be 38 years old now!)
As Reading Specialist for 10 years, I…
…guided about 6,000 students.
…supported about 300 teachers.

Now I have packed up 26 boxes to be delivered to my 10th school.
I will use the enclosed (90% books) to teach next year,
…my 29th year.
…in my 19th classroom.
…with my 3rd year of 6th graders.

I am looking forward to the next 74 days.
Time to rest, relax, read, write and reflect before the 2019-2020 school year begin!


Kinders vs. 6th graders

I started my teaching career as a Kindergarten teacher in 1986. Now, 33 years later, I’ve promoted myself to 6th grade. This last week of school as I watch my 6th graders, age 11 and 12, they don’t seem so different than those 5 and 6 year tikes from years ago. I’m beginning to wonder what is age-appropriate.

I recall Kinders as being so joyful…until they aren’t and then they cry and/or hit. Somehow when a child’s height reaches 4 feet, tears aren’t acceptable and hands are to stay to themselves. Yet impulsive middle schoolers can forget this rule and forget their iPad and their tote bag and their library book and they never, ever seem to have a pencil.

I wonder if I enable middle schoolers’ behaviors. This year I constantly bought boxes of pencils at Staples. Why? I guess it is more important to me for my students to spend their time reading and writing and discussing and I never want the lack of supplies to get in the way of their participation and creativity. I never expected kinders to hold onto their supplies. The community table held the scissors and pencils and glue, all available when needed. Yet, just five years later, being responsible for your own tools somehow became a rule?

Last week as my last period students worked, the bell rang and all the students herded through the door. Then I looked around the empty room. Chairs not pushed in, lone markers and pencils scattered under desk. I recall when my own children were this age and so involved in their work, creating a 3-D model for science or cooking chocolate chip cookies on the weekend, they too would place so much effort into their work and leave a mess. I often acted as the street cleaner after the parade, cleaning up after them. I was proud of their product and the energy spent creating. Yet, maybe I enabled them. Not sure. Not sure what is age appropriate.

I do know I like being around Kinders and 6th graders and all creative people.

At Safeway

Last Monday I took part in a Corwin Webinar with my favorite TCRWP Staff Developer, Colleen Cruz. She was sharing info about her new books on reading and writing reciprocity. During the webinar, Colleen asked us to write for 1 minute, a small moment. I had just been at the grocery store so I wrote this:

     She takes another tiem out of her bag. The customer in front of me but behind her sighs and squeezes back past me to leave this line and move to another.
“What’s it now?” she asks.
“You need $4.06,” the cashier announces.
     “Let me help,”  I announce.

Looking back at this, I think not bad for 1 minute of writing. But today, I have a few minutes, so I return to it to try to elaborate. My goal is to include action and emotion.

I’m in line because yesterday while doing the weekly grocery shopping, I forgot to get the orange juice and the taco shells. I even had a list yesterday but I somehow I forgot these two items. One for tonights dinner and the other for breakfast all week long. And now I am third in line at Safeway.

As I place my 2 items on the conveyer belt, I begin to notice the customer at the front of the line. She takes another item out of her bag and hands it back to the cashier. He scans and punches buttons on the register. The customer in front of me but behind her lets out a loud sigh and apruptly squeezes back past me to leave this line and move to another.

“What’s it now?” she asks.

“You need $4.06,” the cashier announces.

I take a step fowards and announce, “Let me help. How much do you need?”

The cashier repeats, “$4.06.”

“What’s it with that item, too?” I ask motioning to the box of popsicles he had just deducted from her bill.

He scans the box and $10.42 appears on the electronic screen. I insert my credit card.

“Thank you,” she says to me. “How can I repay you?”

“Just help someone one day soon. We all need to help each other out,” I tell her.

** These 2 exercises were fun. I enjoyed seeing what I could write in a minute. Then enjoyed stretching it out. My goal was to add action and emotion. Do you think I reached this goal??


ABC Book of Starbucks – 1st draft!

We took our state test last week but still have 2 weeks of school….so final project time!

My middle schoolers brainstormed their passions by jotting down where they spend time, at home, in the neighborhood, on vacation, doing a hobbie, and with a pet.

My middle schoolers chose to either share their passion in one of these forms:
* an Ignite speech for a 6th grade audience
* an ABC book for a Pre-school / Kindergarten audience
* a graphic comic book for a 1st grade audience

My passion brainstorm list looks like this: reading, cooking, swimming, writing at Starbucks, snorkeling, France, quilting.

I realized as I brainstormed that I spend a lot of time at the Starbucks in my town. I go there mostly to write before school or on a Saturday morning. I decided to try to write my ABCs of Starbucks. Here’s my draft!

A I scan my smartphone starbuck’s app.
B I ask the barista for banana bread.
C Starbucks is my favorite coffeehouse.
D Chocolate milk is a drink I order.
E Starbucks is a good place to eat
F Starbucks is a good place to sit and talk to friends by the fireplace.
G I order a grande size.
H I order grande hot chocolate, no whip.
I I order grande ice tea, no sweetener.
J JUST the treat to sip in my reuseable Keep Cup.
K I take out my computer out of my keepsack.
L I type away as lively music plays softly.
M Some days I eat a muffin.
N nibble – nibble – reflect and type.
O Some days I eat oatmeal.
P or a cake pop.
Q Some day I sit quietly and think,
R by the roaring fire.
S Some days I order a strawberry frappuccino.
T Some days I order a turkey bacon egg white sandwich.
U Upstairs seating is my favorite.
V Some days I order venti size.
W Each visit I write.
X Then I eXit.
Y Sometime taking a yummy treat home with me.
Z At the end of the day, I dream of writng and eating and sipping at Starbucks….zzz….sleep tight!

Ok…this may seem like a silly ABC book but it is still a draft…I have until next Friday to revise, edit and published. An end of year project to highlight our passions as we end 6th grade.

Speech before Final Play Performance

I stood on my MS stage on Sunday afternoon before the matinee and made this speech:

My name is Sally Donnelly.
I teach Reading 6 here at Swanson MS.
Last year I was new here and volunteered to help Ms. Caldwell and she named me Production Manager.

Though last year I was new here, I was not new to the Swanson Drama Department because my 2 girls, now age 30 and 27, participated in the Swanson plays and as a parent back then I saw how much is learned by being invloved in theater.

My daughters learned skills I still see them using successfullly in their work and life.

  • They confidently communicate – sometimes loudly like an actor on stage or sometimes quietly like the stage crew.
  • They are able to be flexible, aware that things change quickly and things don’t always go as expected.
  • They are so creative, sometimes in their body movements, facial and vocal expressions and in their visual design of things learned by helping with the stage sets.
  • They can think quickly on their feet because they learned how to improvise.
  • MOST of all, they take pride in collaborating, doing their one part well so the whole project succeeds.

In the story you are about to watch, the main character, ELLE, is searching for LOVE. Lucky for her, she has 3 important communities offering support – the Delta Nu girls, the Harvard Law students and a suberb and wise hair stylist.

As you watch this amazing cast and crew under:

  • the direction of Ms. Caldwell
  • vocal direction of Josie Walker
  • movement direction of Mr. White
  • tech and set direction of Ms. India
  • and costume design by Ms. Judy

KNOW that the arts is a wonderful community, in my opinion, to attach yourself to and I am so thankful I joined this community.

I encourage all parents to nudge their child to take a drama, voice, or movement course in MS or HS. It is not a wasted elective. When my own youger daughter got into UVA and said she was majoring in Drama, I was so proud because I knew all the skills she’d learn in that community would serve her well for life and so far it has!

I’m so glad I volunteeered to help last year and this year because I have found just what Elle is serching for in the Swanson Drama community.

In closing, to all the parents with a child in the show, last night’s email from me was my last to you (I promise) but know you are still my community so please stay in touch! It has been a priviledge to work with you and your child.

Now back to Ms Caldwell to get this amazing show started!!

**NOTE: I awoke Sunday morning thinking how I had the opportunity to take the stage for a moment as a leader in the production. I jotted down this speech…it felt like it wrote itself. I am glad I decided to be an upstander and stand up for the arts! The arts, in my opinion, an important part of learning, yet never graded on a state test. By being on stage, I also got a huge appreciation for the actors….that spotlight is bright and that audience is large.




I received news yesterday that I was accepted.
I received it at 6:35pm on a Friday.
After a productive three-hour after-school work session.
After reading-aloud to each of my 5 classes on their last day of the 3rd quarter.
After only getting five hours of sleep Thursday night.
After watching my team just barely win the night before.
After sitting with muscles clenched until the W occured at 12:30am.
After teaching all week long.

I received news yesterday that I was accepted.
I received it at 6:35pm on a Friday.
I high-fived my study buddy.
I called three other colleagues and shrieked loudly when they answered.
I texted eight others, typing LOTS of exclamation marks.
I told my husband as I plated our carry-out Friday dinner.
I tweeted, between bites, my news.
I watched as hearts and criss-cross arrows lit up my notificitations.

I received news yesterday that I was accepted.
Screen Shot 2019-03-30 at 7.38.34 AM


Weekend of Learning

From March 13-16, I was busy learning at both VSRA and TCRWP Saturday Institute. Today I have a little extra time. I plan to review my notes and process them here in writing.

Things to remember from VSRA:

  1. Pernille Ripp – if you don’t know of her, start following her. She is an amazing teacher in Wisconsin and started the Global Read-AloudAnnual Event. She was the VSRA Opening Keynote Speaker. But she also spoke at 8am for 90 minutes about writing. BIG TAKE-AWAY – In Writing Workshop, provide CHOICE!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

She is concerned that we tell kids about the Writing Process and show the the stages – brainstorm, draft, revise, edit, publish. However, now that she is a published author, she realizes her writing process is messy. She suggests we let kids know this. She highlighted this in her classroom by skyping wih authors (suggested using this list created by Kate Messner). She asks the authors to talk about their process. After multiple skype sessions, her students felt liberated knowing that all writers have a different writing process.

Slide highlights from Pernille’s KEYNOTE SPEECH:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2. Highlights from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst Conference Talk

  • Increase student volume of reading
    • reading a series – studies show such readers become lifelong readers
    • providing classroom libraries with characters that match students.
      Check out: We Need Diverse Books Website
    • becoming comfortable with an author/character allows the reader to feel fluent.
  • Increase STUDENT TALK in the classroom –
    3 BIG Questions:

    • What surprised me?
    • What did the author think I already knew?
    • What changed/confirmed what I knew?

Things to remember from TCRWP:

1. Keynote by Jason Reynolds. He is the coolest! And he signed my Reading Notebook. I wrote about it here.

2. Workshop by Katy Wischow – Co-author of Investigating Characterization Unit of Study for MS I was excited to learn of this new unit. It arrived yesterday from Heinemann and I plan to try teaching it in April/May.

3. Closing KeynoteMarc BrackettEver since hearing Marc and about his Ruler, I’ve been assessing my color zones. Am I feeling yellow, green, blue, red? Why? Maybe it’s time to get more sleep, to eat, to breathe. Time to get back to yellow! Read more about it HERE

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thank you, Cindy for teaching me how to add a slideshow to my blog!!

Prep for School Board Meeting

I encouraged my students to be Upstanders this month as part of our Social Issue Book Club Unit. Today I will tell them how I plan to stand up for them by attending tonight’s School Board Meeting. The school budget is being discussed. There isn’t enough money to go around. Cuts are proposed. I made these two signs to hold up at the meeting.

My librarian friend pushed me to attend and speak. I’m orally rehearsing what I’ll say if allowed but thought these signs can show my oppositioin to two of the cuts. I’m feeling empowered. I’m feeling proud. I have the opportunity to stand up for what I know helps the whole child learn. I’m attending my first school board meeting tonight.