Passion Project #4

I pushed the 4 classroom tables to the four side walls and filled the middle with the chairs, arranged in a semi-circle facing the smartboard.. I opened the Passion Project #4 folder housing the 8 slideshows. On the whiteboard, I wrote the header “Passion Project #4” and then listed the numbers 1-8. As students arrived, the room showed them that today was a different kind of day.

“Be sure to sign-up for when you want to present,” I announced as 7th graders entered my room last Friday. I saw B immediately drab the red dry-erase marker and write his name next to the #1. Next L wrote his name next to #8. Others filled in the remaining spaces.

“Can we have a few minutes to get ready?” a student asked.

“Sure!” and I set an electronic timer for 5 minutes.

Following this and for the next hour, I sat as tech support, displaying each student’s prepared slideshow on a topic of their choice. We listened and jotted down one thing we learned and one question we have. Once the expeert shared their passion, questions were asked, comments were made, applaud was given to celebrate the brilliance shared.

The day before, the class learned about a passion of mine – author Nic Stone. (Yep….I do the same assignments and model it.) Then this Friday, I sat and learned! I learned about pandas. I traveled to the UK and El Salvador, I now know the temperature on all the planets and how long it takes for each to orbit the sun. I learned all about the singer, Whitney Huston and about symptoms and treatments of anxiety. And I kinda want to play minecraft after learning all about this electronic game.

What inspired you to choose this topic? was a question asked. I heard these responses:
* It’s my favorite animal.
* My parents traveled to the UK last year.
* My parents are from El Salvador.
* I like exploring the NASA website.
* She’s my grandma’s favorite singer.
* I personally experience anxiety and it is something we should talk about.
* I really like playing it and watching YouTubers share tips.

Have you every, as a teacher, had your students chose and present a passion?
I find it my favorite part of teaching this Reading 7 class!

Screenshots from Passion Project #4 slideshows by me and my Reading 7 students.

Hope at School

“Please come read with me, Y?” I announced and the 7th grade girl sauntered over and sat in the empty chair next to me.

I showed her a 2014 two-page newsela article entitled, “First lady says “Let’s Move” to the home kitchen”. I purposely chose this particular article because Y likes to cook and as person of color, I already knew that she was a fan of our former first lady.

“Please read it aloud so I can listen to you read.”

She folded her arms, sat back in her chair and read the first line in an angry voice.

I stopped her. “Look. You aren’t in trouble. I am going to read with everyone today. When you read, I can’t see how you are going it. By reading aloud to me, I can tell what you are doing. Then I can know how to help you get better. Please start again and read with expression as best as you can, instead of someone who is angry at the world.”

After a minute, she began again. By the 4th line, she even pulled in her chair, leaned forward and began tracking the words with her left index finger. At the 2nd paragraph, I noticed the story made her smile. At the 4th paragraph, she read “honorary chairwomen” and asked “What’s that?” I stopped my timer and explained the meaning of that term. When she finished, I asked her the four comprehension questions and she answered them all correctly.

“Can I tell you how you did?” I asked.


“You read this 7th grade passage with 99% accuracy and only stumbling on two mutli-syllablic words. Just know that when a word is longer, you need to work at it. You read with great expression. And I loved that you read and asked a question about a phrase. That is what profiecent readers do. They ask questions and are curious. Keep doing that!!”

I then reminded her how all her reading about cooking was helping her to grow her reading skills. And I gave her a pass to go to the library as I heard the librarian had a few new cookbooks.

The second quarter ends on Friday. Y never wanted to be in my reading elective class. A score on a test last year placed her in this elective. Because she could show me today that she could read on grade level, I’ve recommended that she switch to talking Art as her elective for the 2nd semester. I’m glad she could show me she could read. Maybe learning is happening, even during this pandemic school year.

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.


I’ve spent much time learning about Reading and Writing Workshop and I’m sold that this is the best learning structure to have in a classroom. I explicitly teach for about ten minutes. Then ALL work. Students read or write. I watch, listen and confer, confering more explicit teaching specific to each student based on what they are showing they can do during worktime. Currently, I’m in a district cohort studying Personalized Learning. My focus has been on giving my students choice and offering them authentic experiences.


I took these photos after worktime began yesterday. The girls on the right are passionate about saving the tiger. They are drafting a brochure. Then on March 12th, it will be on display to help raise awareness about this issue during our Social Issue Fair.

The photo on the top right shows a pair making images for their homeless display. Then asked if they could use origami and cut out images they draw to create what the homeless park in our county looks like. They help at the food bank near this park and want to teach others how to help this group in our town.

The photo on the bottom right shows another pair. They are researching asthma, a health issue they realized they both suffer from and could teach others about.

My favorite part of worktime is how it sounds. It starts with the room erupting. Voices chatting. Questions pondered fill the air. Opiinions shares. Chair legs scrape the floor as one moves to collect markers and scissors. Then the sounds change. Each settles into worktime and a quiet hush hangs over the room. All have entered the learning zone and are thinking so quietly.

I whisper to a pair of students, “How’s it going?” as I begin to confer with them. Softly one replies. We confer quietly among ourselves, not wanting to break the sound of worktime in the room.


“As you view this video, look for characters that are one of these four words: VICTIM .  PERPETRATOR . BYSTANDER . UPSTANDER,” I instructed my 6th grade readers.

All easily identified the deer/antelop/kangaroo/brown animal as the victim.
All called the wolf (due to the tail, all agreed he was a wolf) the perpetrator.
All agreed the boy was the bystander.
A few thought, they had to identify an upstander too but came to realize, without any evidence to support it, there wasn’t an upstander in this video. (A sign that they are growing in their thinking!) Some noticed the detail that the boy grew a tail as he walked away making his inaction evidence of becooming perpetrator, too (Another sign of gowing their thinking!)

Then I posed a few more questions:
Why didn’t the boy act as an upstander? What would you have done?

A discussion around fear and being only one person erupted at each table group of four.
“I’m just a kid. I’d run away.”
“I’d call the police.”
“I’d make a distracting noise and maybe throw something to distract the wolf and maybe the deer could run away.”

“Let’s use these same four words to discuss the stories we read during this unit.
Stray by Cynthia Rylant.
Doris was the upstander when she brought the puppy in out of the snow.

The dad was the perpetrator.
But not at the end. He was an upstander then.
ME: Who was the perpetrator?
The animal shelter.

Burrito Man by Lulu Delacre
Alex was the victim because she didn’t want to go to work with her dad.
The dad was the victim at the end.
ME: Who was the perpetrator?
The heart attack.

Inside-Out by Francisco Jimenez
Francisco is the victim.
Curtis was the perpetrator.
The teacher is a perpetrator too.
Maybe the school system is the perpetrator. It isn’t welcoming ELL learners.

I could see we were broadening our thinking. Upstanders stand up when the people in front of us are having a disagreement or fight. Upstanders also stand up by supporting issue that effect groups, like abusive animal shelters, heart attacks and outdated educational practices. I was ready to explain the end of unit project – a chance for each student to choose an issue and make an action plan to be an upstander.

I can’t wait to see these projects!


Author Visit

Friday, a mom of a student I taught last year visited my middle school classroom. Kristyn Kusek Lewis. She is also a writer for adults and a freelance magazine writer. I’ve read both her books and recommend them if you are looking for a fun beach read!

Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 6.44.34 AM

I enjoyed hearing about her work on her third novel which comes out in January. Just like Judy Bloom, she starts a new notebook for each new novel and jots ideas into it. If ever stuck, these ideas help. And she held up a flower covered notebook to show us hers.

She shared the cover that just got approved for her new book. A red door, ajar. A flower pot was added to the lower, right cover to make it appear more of a door of a house in the country, as this novel is set in central Virginia.

“This is my homework today” and she held up about 30 pages, each with the words formatted on the page like in a novel. “I need to reread to ensure it makes sense and no typos.” She explained how she recently fixed a scene where the couple was driving home. In an earlier draft, the husband was driving. Then she changed it be the wife driving. Yet, at the end of the scene, it still said “He pulled the key out of the ignition”. Oops. She caught the mistake and fixed the pronoun to make sense.

Along with doing the final edits for this 3rd novel, she just sent in a pitch to Washingtonian magazine. She explained that a pitch is a one page summary of a magazine idea. She hopes to get an affirmative reply and then will have a deadline to write so many words for the article. Fingers crossed!

She explained how she got the idea for this recent magazine pitch. She saw a photo on Instagram by the National Zoo. The zookeepers were making toys for the animals. She interviewed the zookeepers and has an interesting story now to share, hopefully in Washingtonian Magazine! She liked meeting the zookeeper so much that now she plans to have a character in her fourth novel be a zookeeper. All because she saw a photo on Instagram, proving writing ideas are everywhere!

She ended by giving the class these writing prompts and a writing assignment:

Writing Prompts – Pick one – then write, and be sure to describe using your 5 senses

  1. ONE INCH FRAME – think of something you could describe that fits into a 1-inch frame…write about it!
  2. Write a THANK YOU note to someone
  3. Write 3 questions you want to ask your Principal.
  4. Write about the things on your bedroom floor
  5. Write as many ch- words as you can think of. Pick one and write about it.

I set the timer for 10 minutes and we all WROTE!  I used my time to write a THANK YOU (#2) to Kristyn.

When the timer went off, I asked, “Who chose prompt #1? #2? #3? #4? #5?” I was amazed that in a class of 16, ALL 5 prompts got chosen. I always hated in school when the teacher assigned a prompt. But maybe because only 1 was offered. Having 5 to choose from got ALL in my classroom to write for 10 minutes!

Thanks for teaching my students and me, Kristyn!


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:


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!”