My Investment as a Writer

Recently, I was thinking about the word investment. Then I got to thinking Do I invest in myself as a writer? I think I do. These three things come to mind.

1. Financially, I pay $800 to attend a one week Summer Writing Institute at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. I attended my first Writing Institute in 2009. Then I returned in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, and in 2017. With Lucy Calkins and her staff developers at the Reading and Writing Project, I immerse myself in the writing process for a week. I work on my writing craft. I am inspired by writers who come to give keynote speeches. Having the chance to learn from great literacy minds pushes me as a better writer.  Though these nine years cost me a total of $7,200 (yikes, over time, it adds up but I’m worth it!), I’m hoping to return again this coming August. I’m currently waitlisted but my fingers are crossed that I’ll eventually be accepted and I have another $800 ready to pay for the privilege! (and then it will be an even $8,000 investment!)

2. I invest my time, one afternoon a month, writing with my writing club. First it started during the summer. Three teachers who had a writing club invited me to join and we met once a week through the summer at a Starbucks. We sat and wrote for about 45 minutes. Then each read their writing aloud and the listeners gave a compliment and offered feedback. After about two hours, I’d head home. As summer ended, we decided to try to met once a month through the school year, rotating at people’s houses. It is an investment in time to carve out two hours, especially on a school day. However, for me the time is worth it to be amongst others who write. We all are very different writers but can all offer the listening ears of the stranger to the piece and provide feedback. This investment in time is priceless in my opinion!

3. I invest in my writing by buying and reading books, lots of books. I bet I spend just as much time reading as I do writing. So often, when I attend an author book signing, they will say during their speech to the audience that the one thing that makes them a good writer is that they are a good reader. I’ve heard it so often that it starts to sound like a cliche. However, I find, for myself, it is true. Now, as I read, I notice the craft moves of the author. Using a writer’s lens, I read certain descriptions and think about how I might try out what they just did in my writing. I notice writing structures that I want to try. Buying books and spending time reading is another way I invest in myself as a writer!

How do YOU invest in yourself as a writer?

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Why Write?

I was asked, “Why write?” As I ponder my answer, a two things come to mind. I write to help my students and I write to help myself.

I started writing and learning how to write better so I could teach my students. I firmly  believe I have to do what I ask my students to do. So I write. I struggle through staring at a blank page or screen thinking What to write? It helps me to name what helps me personally to get words on the page. Then I can honestly share tips with my student writers. My go-to tips include: think of an emotion and a moment related to that emotion or think of a person, place, or object and then a related special or ordinary moment. Then just write the moment. Or just write “I do not know what to write and then pushing the pencil or keys and realize after 15 minutes that the page/screen is filled. When my students have a research project, I struggle through a research project, too. I jot notes and then feel mad when I forget to jot down my source so when I thought I was done, I still have to spend another hour retracing my steps and completing my bibliography. Now I have my true research writing story to tell instead of only announcing to my students, “Be sure to include a bibliography”.

I started writing as a way to teach my students. Now I find myself writing for me. I find it relaxing to sit in a coffee shop and write. I like reflecting back on the day or week and seeing where my writing will take me. Often it is good therapy for me. I’ll jot down what feels like venting and somehow, the words help my thoughts to process and my venting turns into a solution. I may have started writing in a certain mood but I usually end, close my notebook or computer screen, feeling peaceful. So of course, I write! #whyIwrite

My Writing Life

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My  writing life has some routines. I only buy purses that are big enough to hold a moleskin notebook. It also has to have room for a variety of pens and colorful felt-tipped markers. Most Saturday mornings I spend a few hours at a Starbucks, typing on one of my blogs and/or writing lists and reflections in my notebook. The month of March and the summer months are when I “work” on my writing. Daily on the TwoWritingTeachers blog, I share a small moment story in March as part of their Writing Challenge. In the summer, friends and I meet up regularly to write, share and offer feedback. Both allow me to strengthen my writing muscle.

I tend to write mostly about my life in the classroom. Often it reads like a how-to for another teacher to try.  Other topics include my daughters and traveling. I also write non-fiction pieces explaining highlights from conferences I attended because writing helps me process what I learned. Also my notes then can easily be shared with other colleagues. Sometimes I try writing poetry but only by following a specific poetry format.

Currently, I teach 6th grade Reading so most of the writing I share with students is writing about reading. I do miss being a writing teacher and guiding students to write in a variety of genres. I’m still proud of the adapted fairytale and my All About UVA book I wrote a few years ago as a 3rd grade teacher. But for now,  I tutor a few students after school with their writing and that satisfies the writing teacher in me.

 

March 14, 2018

“I need to leave at 10 of to help SCA,” a 6th grader announced.

“Can I go get my gloves and jacket from my locker?” another asked.

“It’s 10am. It’s time,” a 6th grader announced.

We headed out of our Mod 3 Reading 6 class, down the hall and outside to the back field. As we walked, the hallways were crowded but all were walking in the same direction as we were. So we walked four abreast, all heading outside as if it was a fire drill. Once at the field, student council members yelled through their meg-a-phones, “Form a circle. Make the circle bigger. Form a circle.” So I stood amongst 6th, 7th and 8th graders in a large circle, six deep. Some had signs. Some were in orange. Some were handing out orange ribbons to wear. IMG_0873

The air was cold and the wind whipped. I held this list I made this morning:

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As I explained the opportunity to join the Walk-out March with my MS during morning homeroom, I explained the opportunity the administration was offering today. We discussed why today (a month after the FL shooting) and why 17 minutes (the number of deaths) and when I showed them my pink paper, I found myself getting choked up as I said “14 students and 3 teachers”.

Around 10:10am, the SCA began telling everyone to kneel down and I was amazed that all followed these student-led directions. Then it got quiet. I looked down at my list and said each name in my head. Then after the moment of silence, a girl I only know as the stage manager for the play that I help with after school, took the mega-phone and began to speak. “We are the generation who has lived through…” and she first named Columbine and stated how 15 died and then went on and on and on, naming places and the number of deaths and more tears filled my eyes. Chants began – “What do we want? Gun laws. When do we want it? Now!”

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End of our Reading Celebration

At the end of our Reading Celebration today, I said something like this:

Readers, I want you to have this poem as a bookmark to use as a reminder of this unit. As I read it aloud, think about why I think this poem matches some of the things we discussed during the unit, things like:
* how when reading we stopped at the trouble in our stories and noticed the relationships between the characters involved in the trouble.
*how we noticed who has the power and its effect on the trouble,
*how we named the groups the characters belonged to and the social issues that sometimes come about because of these groups
*and how we identified moments when characters were victims, perpetrators, bystanders and upstanders.

Then I read aloud the poem, emphasizing the pronouns:

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What are you thinking, I asked. Their replies:

“I think she’s short.”

“I think he might be blind, like the grandfather in As Brave As You”

“Maybe she’s in a wheelchair so he didn’t see her.”

“I think he is the kind of man who is only seeing his world and doesn’t care about anyone else.”

“Yeh, he’s too important and is acting selfish.”

“I think if the man hadn’t said “Oh my God” then he would just be rude but since he said that, he isn’t so rude.”

“I think the cashier is an upstander.”

“I think if the poem was longer, he’d become an upstander, too and let the lady go before him in line.”

I ended by telling my wise students something like this:
WOW! When I read this poem by myself, I focused on a man not seeing a woman and thought about the women’s movement and the social issues related to gender bias. But now discussing it with you and listening to your comments, I realized this poem could be about so much more. And that’s why I hope all of us keep reading and discussing in clubs. We are better readers when we can do it as a book club! Promise me you won’t only form a club when a teacher tells you to. Read and encourage your friends to read the same stuff and then talk about it.

Finally, my hope is that as we go forward, we rewrite the last line of the poem, “I really didn’t see you” and instead resolve to really seeing all the yous we encounter each day. Let’s try to do all we can to see each other and to stand up for each other.

NOTE: If you’d like to read more about the Social Issues Reading Unit I taught, click HERE for more on ending,
HERE for prepping for celebration
and HERE for Book Tasting.

Just finished/Currently/Up next

Inspired by a fellow slicer who described her email signature today, I decided to steal her idea and do the same. You can read Cindy’s post here.


When I started teaching Middle School this year, I saw other ELA teachers posting in their signature three line that listed book titles related to their own personal reading. Their modeling pushed me to follow suit. At the moment, this is what is included below my signature when I send out emails:

Just finished: As Brave As You  by Jason Reynolds
Currently reading: The graphic novel of A Wrinkle in Time
Up Next: The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown
As Brave As You  by Jason Reynolds
I ordered this book as part of my Social Issue Book Club Unit. Then when a student book club were discussing the trouble in the story and couldn’t agree on parts of the book, I decided I needed to read it. The book is a page turner and I finished it in a day. Once back at school on Monday, I shared my notes with the group and had them reread a few parts with me to help clarify what was happening. Soon we were all finding evidence in the book related to the social issues of blindness, guns, and dealing with a death in the family. My 6th grader book clubers and I all recommend this book!
The graphic novel of A Wrinkle in Time
A few weeks ago, I was at the independent book store, Politics and Prose and saw this graphic novel. I had just heard about the movie coming out soon and thought I’d refresh the story in my mind by rereading this story from my young in graphic form. In the back of this book, the author’s acceptance speech given in 1963 when she won the Newbery Award for writing this novel was included. 1963 – that’s the year I was born!  Now this story felt more special to me. Then on the way to work last week, I heard this story on NPR all about the making of the movie (I recommend taking 7 minutes to hear the story). I loved learning that a 5th grader in the 1960s spent her life determined to make this book into a movie. This week I am going to finish reading the graphic novel version and then go see the movie, too. Fantasy and graphic novels aren’t usually my go-to but for this story, I am engaged!
The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown
TODAY this book is released!!!!!!!!!!
I read The Wild Robot to my 6th graders as part of the Global Read-aloud  in the fall. We LOVED meeting Roz. Now Roz is back!!! I ordered the sequel on my kindle so I’ll have it without taking time to visit a bookstore tomorrow. Thank you, Peter Brown for writing more about Roz! (If you haven’t met Roz yet, I recommend that you do soon!)

What are you reading?

My Top 10 Favorite Spaces

Yesterday a slicer named Adrienne posted right before me a slice entitled: 5 of Our Favorite Places. It got me thinking about what would be on my list. Being married to an architect, the places I go tend to involve architectural wonders. So today I’m going to reflect on and write about my top favorite built environments. Thanks, Adrienne for helping me write today.

My Top 10 Favorite Spaces

The Lawn, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
* Thomas Jefferson designed a space to be a functioning academic village and called it the University of Virginia in 1812. As you walk the lawn today, all ten Pavilions showcase examples of classical architecture. If you haven’t visited the Lawn yet, I recommend taking a walk down this UNESCO World Heritage Site. (My husband, myself and one of our daughters also our proud UVA alums!)

The Morgan Library, New York, New York
* JP Morgan’s home on Madison Avenue in New York was already pretty impressive before architect Rezio Piano designed an addition. During my last visit there, I ordered lunch and sat and read my book in this peaceful, sunlight open space.

The High Line, New York, New York
* What a gift this walkway/park is to the city of New York. As a pedestrian, it is fun to be three stories above the street level, taking a walk! Plus, it shows how with a little imagination, an old, abandoned raised railroad track can be transformed into a park!

Storm King Art Center, Hudson River Valley, New York
* One fall, we took a trip to the Hudson River Valley and fell upon Storm King. All the large modern art installations are magnificent. But my favorite is The Wall by Andy Goldsmith. There is something uplifting about being outdoors, walking along and then seeing modern art!

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
* Another large outdoor space is the impeccable gardens on the du Pont’s estate. Now open to the public, visitors can walk and enjoy the flowers and trees in all seasons and at times, enjoy a fountain show.

The Inn at Middleton Place, Charleston, South Carolina
* The inn is a modern-designed set of rooms on the grounds of the Middleton colonial farm along the Ashby River. I enjoyed staying at this hotel designed by one of my husband’s UVA architecture teacher, W.G.Clark. Especially the simple concrete, glass and wood design and the floor to ceiling windows .

Seaside, Florida
* A visit here occurred so my husband could see in-person this 1981 New Urban planned city he learned about in architecture school. Lots of great architects were involved in the design of the houses and buildings in the town. I enjoyed my stay in the cottage on the beach.

The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain
* What a building designed by Frank Gehry! I toured it with my family just after it opened. Recently, I enjoyed watching this light show video to celebrate its 20th Anniversary.

Venice, Italy
* ALL of Venice is utterly unique. ALL of it!! My husband spent his last semester studying in Venice while getting his Masters at UVA and I joined him for a week. Then we returned three years ago with our girls to share this magical city with them over Christmas and New Years. It is now a family favorite city!

My house, Arlington, Virginia
* My husband designed the house we live in now. He calls it White-Out House because we razed our old house or whited it out, and build this energy-efficient home. Looking back on the kinds of spaces we like to spend time in, I start to see more clearly why my husband designed our home the way he did. I love it!

WHAT SPACES ARE YOUR FAVORITES?

 

 

 

 

Positive Peer Pressure!

As I scrolled through my twitter feed this morning, I read this:

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I feel like a superstar after spending because teacher Tammy Stoker bravely presented with me at the VSRA conference on Thursday.

I feel like a superstar after listening to an inspiring Keynote and a second session presentation by Jen Serravallo. She helped me remember how reading is so many skills and how as teachers, we can assess and prioritize what skill to strengthen next, using a her hierarchy chart:

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Plus, at a later session in the day about using technology in the classroom, Jen sat down right next to me!! We supported each other as the presenter nudged us to share our thinking about a book using two technologies: chatterpix and flipgrid. I love how Jen spent time being a participant in the conference as well as a presenter! She models being a life-long learner well.

I feel like a superstar after the session presentation by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels . This was my first time hearing him speak and I loved his positivity and sense of humor. He also generously shares his presentations here. He got me to closely read Social Studies and Science images and participate in a discussion. He used simple guiding questions:
What do you notice?
What do you want to talk about?
If you could talk to person in image, what might you ask?
What might you hear or smell if you were in the image?
Describe….  Use an SAT word!
Can you suggest a title?
And he reminded us:  “When images are vividly attached, learning happens.”

I feel like a superstar after my Saturday morning Teacher Research Club meeting. Sitting from 7:30-9:30am on a Saturday at a Starbucks and sharing our research question and the data we are collecting, I left feeling energized. My colleagues care so much about learning that their inquiry is pushing me in a positive way to work even harder with my students. Love POSITIVE PEER PRESSURE!!

Who makes YOU feel like a superstar?
Where do YOU go to feel the power of positive peer pressure?

I believe in Proficient Reader Research

I heard Jen Serravallo speak yesterday at the 2018 VSRA conference and she shared a slide to show the conference audience what she believes in. I realized it is what I strongly believe in, too. So I sent out this tweet this morning:

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Back in 2002, I read Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Keene (Heinemann, 1997) for the first time and it changed me. It taught me to spy on myself as a reader and notice all that I do. For the first time through this lens, I realized I did lots of things well, then a 39-year old reader.

For the first time, I celebrated that I read words and visualize the images created by the words in my mind. I celebrated that at the end of a paragraph, I have wonderings. I celebrated that I could understand the words more clearly using all my own background knowledge.

And I stopped focusing on or being embarrassed for all I didn’t do well as a reader. Like seeing a new, multi-syllabic word and mispronouncing it at first. Like not sounding fluent on my first read-aloud of a text. I still fight anxiety when I read-aloud due to the forced participation and bad memories associated with round-robin reading in elementary school.  I still need to work hard to overcome my negative feelings related to poetry due to the many poems I didn’t “get” in 11th grade AP English class.

Attending the 2018 Virginia State Reading Association Conference helped me to realize that believing in Proficient Reader Research is a thing, as opposed to focusing on what isn’t being done as a reader, a deficient model.  Being a Proficient Reader is my mindset as a reading teacher. I notice ALL that my 6th grade readers do. And as Jen recommends, I start there, with what readers do and then coach them to do the next thing on the learning progression related to the skill.

Thank you, Ellin and Jen for helping me renew what I believe in at the 2018 VSRA Conference!

What do YOU believe in?

VSRA Presentation

Yesterday, instead of teaching my 6th graders, I went to Richmond, VA and made a presentation with my friend and colleague, Tammy. Because of all the support we got, the day was a success.

Thanks to Tammy driving us the two hours down 95, we easily arrived.

Thanks to the helpful Marriot staff, the car was parked, our bags were checked and we had a few hours to grab lunch and rehearse before our 4pm showtime.

Thanks to Evi, our one friend also attending the conference, whose serendipitous encounter just 10 minutes after arriving amongst the 100s of teachers scattered around the lobby, helped calm our nerves. (At least one person was planning to come hear us!)

Thanks to the conference volunteers who registered us and helped us find where we were presenting when confusingly the “Learning Lab” wasn’t listed on the conference map.

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Thanks to the tech supports. One man ensured we had the cords and dongle and a working mic and another shared the wifi password with us. (And for Tammy who tracked down these supports while we both envisioned the worst case scenario – our tech not working for a presentation called  Using Technology During Reading and Writing Workshop).

Thanks to Sarah, a conference attendee who volunteered to introduce us to our audience. She arrived early and helped pass out our handout and shared the wifi password and now is a new teacher friend. Afterwards we exchanged emails after we discovered she lives in the next town over from us back home.

Thanks to the 30 or so teachers who came to learn with us! They listened, asked questions and smiled as we both nervously shared examples of our students using padlet, google slides and kidblog in Reading and Writing Workshop all shared from    this padlet.

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Finally, thanks also to our school, system who supported us by covering the cost of the conference and are family and friends, who sent text messages of encouragement.

As I sent out a tweet after the presentation, I was reminded that it was International Women’s Day. I’m thankful, as a women, I had the opportunity today to empower more women in their teaching work.

Now today, I get to spend another day here. But this time, I’ll be sitting in the audience to learn from Jen Serravillo and Smokie Daniels! And I’m wearing jeans and my VA sweatshirt (because happily, my team, the UVA Mens Basketball team won their first game yesterday in the ACC tournament – Go Hoos!).