Celebrating – Connections to Smart Educators

Saturday, I celebrated connecting to smart educators by posting to Ruth Ayer’s Celebration blog. (If you are looking for another place/day to post your writing, I recommend this!!) Today I am posting my expanded revision of this same post! 

Maggie Beatty was my small group staff developer at TCRWP in 2010. I learned so much from her that summer and I stayed connected to her brilliance through #TCRWP and then when Kate and her began their Indent blog.

When they posted asking for real problems writing teachers experience, I thought why not. I’ll send them one or two.

How fun that this week, they posted their first video sharing a practical way to solve a problem by making and using a DIY (do-it-yourself) Literacy toolkit page with a small group or during a conference.

Why so fun?

Take a minute and watch their brilliance HERE!!

Immediately after watching the video, I sent it to many of my literacy teacher friends who wrote back, just as excited as I was!!


And then of course, this video inspired me to use my Michael’s coupon  on Sunday to purchase MY TOOLS.

My first page is written!!

Next update – my reflection on using it with students!

I continue to celebrate connecting to smart educators!!!
I can’t wait for the DIY Literacy book to come out.
You can pre-order it HERE

#28 I believe writing is both words and pictures!

At the beginning of the month, I was wondering about emoji. ( HERE and HERE).
A colleague didn’t think kids should use them when writing their kidblog posts. I listened and wondered.

This post that I read yesterday which was typed in ONLY emoji solidified my thinking. I believe writing is both words and pictures! Therefore,  think writing with emoji IS writing.

As I type this, I’m recalling how years ago, some librarians didn’t want graphic novels in their libraries. Again, I wondered. I took time to read one, Smile. I noticed as I read that not only was I enjoying a good story, I actually had to work harder to comprehend this story told mostly through pictures.

Yesterday I cooked a special birthday breakfast for my husband – German Apple Pancakes. I saw this recipe on facebook. It was want I call a video recipe. I had to watch and pause a few times to ensure I was including the right amount of each ingredient. But I loved watching how to combine the ingredients and how to cook it in the cast iron skillet in the oven. It turned out yummy! And I was able to cook it because I could read both words and pictures.

Next month, I am attended TCRWP 2nd Annual Digital and Media Institute. I’m not surprised at all that this literacy think tank now offers an institute devoted to figuring out ways to help teach reading and writing specific to our digital and media world.

From emoji to graphic novels to video recipes, as a reader and writer, I will continue to honor both words and pictures!! Because I believe writing is both words and pictures!

#24 – TIp – Use Elaboration Prompts to Grow Your Big Idea…Take 2

Yesterday, I grew my thinking about being a teacher in a self-contained classroom. Today I plan to repeat this exercise by taking the stance of being a teacher who teaches many classes of students and not all subject, the departmentalization model.

I like the idea of being departmentalized as a classroom teacher. In other words, I like teaching reading and writing. I’m realizing that over the past 8 years, the majority of my time has been spent on getting better at teaching literacy. For example I’ve attended summer institutes and I earned my National Board in Literacy. This is giving me the idea that all that knowledge I have, shouldn’t be limited to helping just one classroom of students. For example by departmentalizing, I could reach more kids using what I know. To add on, I have a ways to go to be an OK math and science teacher. I’m not harming the kids but I’m realizing that I need so much more time spent learning how to teach these subject well. I’m realizing there is only so much time and a better use of it might be to use what I already know well and teach literacy. An example of this was last year. I taught 5th grade writing. I was able to focus just on writing. I planned with the 4th grade teacher and together we pushed each other to teach the writing process through many units of study ending each unit with publishing parties. My 5th graders wrote LOTS and I was proud of what I helped them accomplish. Looking back on this gives me the idea that when a teacher really knows a subject and feels comfortable with it, the teacher can help her students soar. On the other hand, this year I have tried to make math exciting and fun and rigorous. But it is very time consuming. What surprises me about this is that after 23 years as a teacher, I still have so much to learn. For example after all this time, as I look back, so much of my time has already been spent teaching literacy – 6 yr as a K teacher which is a big literacy year, 5 years teaching 4th all subjects, 12 years as a Reading Specialist (all literacy!) and one year as a 5th grade writing teacher… What surprises me as I list the years and my focus is that I shouldn’t be surprised that I still struggle to teach non-literacy subjects. This is giving me the idea that maybe I should push to ask my administration if there is a spot for me to use all I know about literacy and teach just those subjects. Many people think that elementary school is the time to teach the whole kid and those kids deserve one teacher devoted to them. But now I am wondering if the expertise of the teacher shouldn’t also be valued and utilized? To add on, I have loved the flexibility of my self-contained schedule and I have loved knowing one group of kids really well. Yet, I wonder if they would be stronger mathematicians with another and if more of the 3rd graders would be stronger readers and writers if I had the chance to guide more of them. Many people think that classrooms should be self-contained in Elementary school. But I think we should be open to many possibilities and not ignore the strengths of the teachers as we staff a school.

Again, I started this piece with a stance and the writing prompts I talked about in my #23post open on my computer. When my hands stopped typing, I glanced over, picked a prompt, typed it and kept typing. Once finished, I went back and highlighted the prompts used.

Now that I finished yesterday and today’s writing, I clearly see this is an issue with 2 sides!
I can’t wait to see what I’ll be teaching next year, in the next 10 years.

#23 – TIp – Use Elaboration Prompts to Grow Your Big Idea

At the Monday conference in my town, Lucy shares tips for teaching essay. After having us learn the STRUCTURE of essay using her bootcamp strategy to write I love ice cream because…because…and most of all, because …. , she reminded me that to revise essay, elaboration prompts help. I have used elaboration prompts with my writing students and it never fails!! I made this bookmark for my students to hold and use. Feel free to use and/or tweek. The prompts are from the Units of Study for teaching Writing. I vividly remember Kate Roberts teaching me this at a workshop where she bravely had someone in the audience name a big idea and then had the list of prompts projecting from the document camera. She started to write and when she got stuck, we called out a prompt to keep her going. Since seeing that, I have bravely repeated this in my classroom, handing cards with a prompt on it to a handful of kids. And I write in front of them as I jot down the prompts heard and fill in more ideas, elaborating! I can still see a 4th grader I taught 2 years ago smiling at me at the end of the workshop where this was the mini-lesson. “Mrs. Donnelly, I used every prompt on the bookmark,” she said as I looked at her notebook, two pages filled!

Here’s my attempt now to grow a big idea in draft form – Self-contained vs Departmentalized?
(Full disclosure – I am not sure what I’ll be typing here – as I’ve recently taught both and like both for different reasons…)

         As it becomes springtime in a school, teachers start to think about NEXT year. Right now I am teaching all the subjects all day to one group of kids. I call this self-contained. I’m realizing that I like the flexibility. If I want a math lesson to go longer, I can. If I want to squeeze in another read-aloud, I can steal time away from science and make it up tomorrow. An example of this was last Wednesday when we had an author visit. We attended his presentation first thing in the morning. I had math and social studies activities planned. But the author got us excited to read and write. So, I pushed those lessons to the next day and we spent more time reading and writing. I could do this because no one was expecting me to change classes like you do when you departmentalize.  I also only have 23 students and families to know well. I see this being helpful when the parents write me emails asking me questions. With just 23 families, I have easily been able to respond. This is giving me the idea that self-contained is where I should stay. What surprises me about this is that I took a job 2 years ago specifically to be the 5th grade writing teacher. I only had to plan writing and teach it to 4 classes a day. I used to think that only having one subject to worry about as a teacher would be the best. And I did like feeling very prepared in my one subject. But now, I realize some of the cons to being departmentalized. One is you have to teach LOTS of students that one subject and I found it hard to know them all well. To add on, I had to set the timer at the beginning of every class and no matter where we were, when the timer went off, we had to stop. Many people think that being departmentalized sounds easier – only one subject to know so well. But having done it and now also done self-contained, I prefer self-contained. It allows me flexibility with my schedule and time to really know my students. (And I am even getting better at teaching math!)

(Full disclosure – I did not expect to write this much. Proof that these elaboration prompts work!! Once done, I went back and bolded all the prompts I used.)

#22 – Tip – Include what the story is really about.

At the Monday conference I attended in my town on the Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Lucy taught us revision tips – after telling the story bit by bit and using storytelling techniques, she said to ask “What is happening internally with the character (often stated by finishing these sentences: I wonder….I notice…I remember…. )” and ask “What is this story really about?”

My story summary is about the time I spent two Saturdays ago chatting on the phone for three hours to help my oldest prepare for a job interview. Here is my attempt at writing it as a small moment that uses Lucy’s the revision tips:

I picked up my blue iPhone and texted Bridgit by typing “I’m free to chat today.” and I got this text right back, “How about in 20 minutes?” After sending a happy face reply, I grabbed my laptop, my phone and headed upstairs to my bedroom. Up there, I could talk and type on the computer easily. 

After a bit, the phone rang. “Hi mom, I sent you a google doc with the questions.” 

“Great, let me open up that file,” I said set the phone on speaker, freeing up my hands. The document was a list of questions she had received from her recruiter and also another document was her resume. 

“So tell me, why this company?” I asked using one of the questions. And she started to rattle off things that attracted her to this job. And I typed things she said into the document as she talked. When she started to ramble, I asked clarifying questions. Then told her to start over and answer it again and I typed the clearer answer. When she hesitated on an anecdote to use, we brainstormed together and then I asked her again and typed her chosen story. 

Finally, I looked at the phone and it showed a low battery and that we were approaching hour three of this conversation. “I think I better go soon. I hope this helped.” 

As I hung up, I wondered about Bridgit. I would hire her in a heart beat. She is very accomplished for her 27 years. She is smart and has a great work ethic. Any company would be lucky to get her. And one will. As her mom, I just want it to be a company that she is passionate to help and one that treats her well as a valued employee. And one that includes hours off to enjoy things, like visits from her mom on holidays!

#21 – "add the weather…"

I feel very spoiled. Today, just 2 days after being inspired by Lucy and the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at their 90th Saturday Reunion, I was invited to a conference 10 minutes from my house to spend the day with Lucy learning about the Units of Study for Teaching Writing. During her presentation, she had us writing. To make this point: Writers get better with explicit instruction, she told us to pick a moment that happened over the weekend and jot it down.

I quickly jotted:
I walked with Fran, Tara and Donna down Broadway to Deluxe. Once there, we sat at a booth and ate and shared all we learned during the day. 

Lucy stopped us and said: “Try this tip – add the weather to mirror the inner emotional state of the character.”

So now that I have a little more time, I wrote this, trying to use the tip to add the weather to mirror my emotional state:

              “Hi, Tara. Hi, Fran! It’s great to see you in person,” I said as I pushed through the crowded Riverside church. “This is my friend, Donna. Do you have time to grab a bite? We’re starving!”

            “That place you mentioned sounded good. Let’s head there,” Fran said and the four of us began to walk slowly down the main aisle of the church, slowly because he were following the herd of a thousand teachers also leaving a busy and tiring day of learning at TCRWP. As we exited, I pulled my coat closed and zipped it up as a cool breeze reminded us that snow was in the forecast. I was next to my friend Donna, while Fran and Tara followed a few steps behind us. Down Broadway we walked.

       As a cold wind kept blowing as we walked, I wondered about having lunch with these two teachers who I don’t really know that well. Would I, who tends to be shy around strangers, have stuff to talk to them about? Then I remembered that I had met Fran last summer twice – to chat at a coffee shop and then again while attending a week-long institute together. We even spent a whole afternoon together at a piano bar (The Carlyle where the walls were painted by Ludwig Bemelmans, the author/illustrator of Madeline) followed by dinner. “You have nothing to worry about,” I reminded myself . “Fran is very easy to talk to. I can ask her about her grandson and about books she has read recently and of course, about the writing challenge we are all doing.” 

     As the wind continued to blow, I thought how crazy it was that I get to eat with Tara today. She is one of the TwoWritingTeachers! She is one of the leaders of my favorite blog which sponsors the March Slice of Life Writing Challenge. I guess I am a bit starstruck by Tara. I love reading her blog posts. She always has strong school reflections and stories. And now I’d be sitting in a restaurant talking with her over a whole meal.

     As I wondered if this lunch idea was a good one, I realized it was too late to change our plan. We were  standing outside of Deluxe. I stepped inside and it felt so warm. I unzipped my coat and a friendly waiter led us to a booth. He even agreed to plug in Tara’s phone so it could charge while we ate. I sat down thinking how lucky I am to spend time with these two ladies. And for the next 45 minutes, we all chatted non-stop, as if we have been close friends for a very long time.

PS – Thanks Lucy for the writing tip!
I do think the explicit instruction made my writing better today!!

#17 – Jarrett!

It’s a great time to be a kid, with so many great children’s authors writing books.

In my classroom, we know some authors so well.
We watched Kate DiCamilla online celebrate Mercy Watson’s birthday.
We celebrated Dot Day by reading all of Peter Reynold’s books.
We laugh along with Elephant and Piggie and the Pigeon as we enjoy all books by Mo.
We cheered when watching the live announcement of the Newbery Honor award for Pam Munos Ryan’s book, Echo.

Then today an author visited my school – Jarrett Krosoczka.
You know his books – The Lunch Lady series – Punk FarmThe Playtpus Police Squad.
(If you don’t, take time to get his books, enjoy them and then share with kids!!)
So far, at age 38, he has written and illustrated 27 books, co-authored 2, illustrated 4 and he has one coming out on May 17th (yes, I’ll be at the bookstore buying it on the 17th – exactly in one month!!)

Favorite quotes from his presentation:
“I published a book in 3rd grade and all the lessons I learned to write that book, I still use today – I brainstorm, draft, revise and edit.”

“I love to use my imagination.”

“Even after LOTS of rejection letters from publishers, I did not give up. I did not quit.”

“It’s a wonderful thing to be bored. It is important to be bored.”

“What I hope you remember from meeting me today is that my career started in school and in my free time, I used it to do what I love – write and draw. I hope you use your free time to create.”

After hearing Jarrett’s story, seeing the process he follows to create books and even watching him effortlessly sketch a few of his characters on the easel, I returned to my classroom with my class. I told them to use their iPad and explore Jarrett’s website.  In minutes, kids were collaborating to create comics and sketching ideas for animal stories. Seeing how engaged they were, I thought about how I had lessons I had planned to teach for the rest for the day but all could be held and taught tomorrow. I decided instead, we needed to be like Jarrett today and have time to “be bored”!

By 3pm, we met in a Closing Circle and shared. One pair had drafted a dog and cat comic. Another a party favor comic. One group was creating an animal school. One was sketching a rock band. All enjoyed time to be “bored” so their imagination could work and they could create!


#15 – Reflecting at the half-way point!

Today in my 3rd grade classroom, I assigned this task for my students to complete using Google Classroom. I wanted them to reflect on their 15th of the March Writing Challenge.

Since they were reflecting, I thought I would, too, as my post today!

1. Go back and see what your writing goal was? How are you doing?
* My goal on Feb. 29 was to write ______. Today I have written _____ posts.

* My goal on Feb. 29 was to write 31 posts or one post each day in March. 
Today I have written 14 posts and as soon as I post this, 15. 
I feel confident I WILL reach my March Writing Goal!

2Is READING others’ post giving YOU ideas about what to write next?

* The post by _____ inspired me to write _____ because…
* The post by FRAN inspired me to write the poem called Since Last March because it was a poem format she modeled well and I could follow easily!
* The post by MICHELLE inspired me to to write Five Challenging Questions because she had honestly reflected on her struggles and achievements and it seemed an easy format to follow.
* The post by DEBORAH inspired me to write my MISSION STATEMENT because she shared her draft and it pushed me to try writing my own. 
3. Are COMMENTS encouraging you to write more?
* Comments by _______ keep me writing!
ALL my comments keep me writing!! It is truly amazing how getting a sentence or two about a story I have posted can lift my spirits, make me smile and keep me writing, day after day!! THANK YOU for leaving me comments!!
I am especially grateful for comments by FRAN, MARILYN, TARA, JULIEANNE, FRAN, and ANNE. These are all people I have met so when I read their comments, I see and hear their voice!
I was also SUPER excited that Kathleen linked MY post about my students using Kidblog to the Classroom SOLSC – A kind of comment that kept me writing!!
Maybe YOU might want to reflect, too!
I am super proud of my students 23 of them, who LOVE to blog and make comments.
Today, our dashboard (after only 15 days!) reads:

And these are their Google Classroom reflections:

Comments from “Peters ” comments because he always is the first one too comment.
I am inspired by Madeleines posts because they are very expanded.
My goal was 4 but I have 9.

My goal was to write 3 posts. Today I haven’t written any posts yet. Comments by Ellie kept me writing. Some of the posts by Elle kept me blogging so I wrote one about a roller coaster.

My goal was 2 I have 7 story’s . comments by Stella keep me writing. the post by Stella inspired me to write about dogs

My goal was 4 posts and i did 11😀. Mary Frances commented and it made me keep writing.The post by Caroline inspired me to right about roller coasters like she did.

My goal was 4 story’s I wrote 7. Comments from Caroline keep me writing. And a post from Caroline gave me Insperation.

My goal on February 29th was to write 3. Today I have written 8. Comments by Lauren keep me writing because she told me i described it really well. The post by Roland inspired me to write the big thunderstorm because Roland wrote a story on a thunderstorm.

Reading is giving my ideas.
Comments by Jackson keep me writing because there comments are very inspiring.
The post by Quinn inspired me to write Liberty skiing because he wrote a hockey story.

I’m doing good I have 2 posts which is what I wanted I love comments on my posts it inspires me to write more I was inspired to make a car wash story because I go in lot of them

My goal on February 29 was to write 4 post.Today I have written only 1 post but comments by Mary Frances keep me writing because she commented twice on my 1 story and on her second comment she wrote when I read it the second time I liked it better! That comment made me want to keep writing! And I had the idea on writing a sports story because everyone was writing one and I love sports so why not do one.

My goal on February 29 was to write 10 posts. Today I have written 4 posts. Comments by Jackson and Mary Frances keep me writing because the comments so make me want to write more.

My goal on February 29 was 4. Right now I have written 3 posts. Comments that say to keep writing really makes me want to keep on writing for my class. The post by Caroline of the mouse trap inspired me to write about a roller coaster because it had things that you can say like BOOM or DROP.

My goal on February 29 was to write 13 times. Today I have written 1post. Comments like jacksons keep me writing because they were positive and friendly. The posts by mr re inspired me to write because they are detailed.

Mary Frances:
Comments by Stella, Laney, and Ruby keep me writing because they make connections and compliment me on little things.The posts made by Ryan inspire me to write because he adds lots of things that I think that I could write about. My goal on Feb.29th was to write 3 posts. Today I have written 15 posts.

My goal on Feb. 29 was to write 25. Today I have written 9 posts.
Comments by Jackson keep me writing because he always says nice things about my writing!
My mom inspired me to write my Ireland story’s because she said that we would be going in a month so I thought why don’t I say what I will do there and so I did it on kidblog!

My goal on February 29 was to post 24 times, today I posted 4 posts. Comments by Roland,Owen and Lucas keep me writing because their comments make me feel special inside. The post by mr. Re going to wonder inspired me to write going to Hawaii.

My goal on February 29 was 11. Right now I have 13. Comments by William R and Jackson kept me writing. The post by Mrs. Donnelly inspired me to write poems because it was something fun to do if your bored.

My goal on Feb.29 was to write 19.Today I have written 8 posts.
Comments by William keep me writing because he tells me what is good about my story’s
The post by Owen inspire me to write more because it has good story’s and details

My goal on Feb.29 was to write 8. Today I have written 3 posts. Comments by Mary Frances keep me writing because in each comment she keeps a smile on my face. The post by Laney inspired me to write my “first Tournament of the season #1” because she wrote about sports.

My goal of March was to write a blog almost everyday! In March I have written 13 posts! Comments by tons of people like Mary Frances keep me writing! The poem post by Quinn gave me an idea to write my own poem because I really like that he used animals with words that sound alike!!

Comments by Destiny keep me writing because she says stuff like “can’t wait for more” and not just ” I like the details” but she says which details specifically. Destiny really inspires me. The post by Mr. Rey about “A Wacky Place to Read” inspired me to write because I really liked how he added a question at the end. And was also a very good story.

11 post
11 post this month
Quinn because it’s nice
Owen I was inspired to do parts because you can get more post

My goal was 3 story’s and I’ve written 1 post. Mary Frances keeps me writing because her comments are really good and nice.

William R:
My goal on Fed. 29 was to write 2 posts. Today I have written 8 posts. Comments that kept me going was Quinn because he does kind comments. The posts
by Peter and Quinn inspired me to write animal poems and from Peter a Christmas story.

#14 – My Mission Statement

Over the weekend I read THIS POST  that opened with:
Today at the annual American Montessori Conference, Mitchel Adler, the keynote speaker, challenged everyone in the audience to write a personal mission statement.

Inspired, I drafted my own Mission Statement:

I aspire to be the kind of person who never stops learning. Learning to me means I read lots to understand how best to live in the world. Learning to me means I write lots knowing that by writing, I come to understand my world and then by more writing, I can change my world. Learning to me means I reflect often by asking lots of questions about what is working and what could be better and then taking the steps toward the better.

These questions and stems helped me to get started:
* Who do I want to be?
*Why do I want to be that way?
* I aspire to be…
* I wish to cultivate…

#13 and DigiLit Sunday – Transitons and emojis


A few weeks ago, I was in the car and heard this NPR EMOJI STORY:

When I’m reporting from my base in Brazil, I have had entire wordless conversations on WhatsApp, the ubiquitous messaging app, which Brazilians also happen to love. For making a date with friends, I choose martini glass, question mark? The response I get — handclapping and then clock, question mark. And on and on it goes. Portuguese is a foreign language for me, so having all these emojis is really useful. I mean, everyone understands the emoji for getting a manicure.

Then days later, my 3rd grade team ( five classes) introduced the tool Kidblog to all the 3rd graders. For the month of March, we are asking the the students to electronically write small moment stories, post it for the others in their classroom to see and then add comments to their classmates. At a team meeting three days after the launch I asked, “How’s it going with Kidblog?” Another teacher commented, “Fine, but I told them they couldn’t use emojis.” Another said, “I told them only at the end of a comment and just one.” I sat and as typical with me, in the moment, I often can’t find the words fast enough to respond and so I said nothing. I get why they were saying no to emojis. As teachers, we expect to see letters strung together to form a story told across many sentences. Adding emojis seems to just be playing and not writing a story. But I kept thinking about writing and emojis. If we are to write and tell our stories and if an image can help with this, why not use emojis whenever and how often we want?

Then this happened the next day in my room (I wrote about it HERE as my SOL#11):

“Look friends. Dr. Russo (our Principal) just asked me a question about blogging and now she is sitting outside our room typing. I think she is going to add her second small moment story to our blog!” 
As we gathered for Morning Meeting, a friend said, “She’s gone.”
“Should we see if she posted?” I asked.
“YES!” was the unanimous reply. 
I touched airplay on my smartphone to show my phone display on the smart panel. Then after logging into Kidblog, we could see it! She HAD published her 2nd piece. I had no idea what she wrote and I started to read this aloud…

As I read the lines, “Trust me, you (referring to the students at Discovery ES) are teaching all of us adults so much” my voice started to crack. Her words are so true and I felt so touched by words.

Next I heard, “Are you OK?”

Another friend said very kindly, “She’s just happy. My mom does that all the time. You should see her.” I chuckled and was glad he gets adults that cry when they are happy!!

Another student said, “You should add a comment that says you really like her writing and add a happy emoji that is crying.” 
“Does that exist?” I asked.  ALL in the room nonchalantly replied in the affirmative. 
That same day, I got this comment to my SOL#11:
Then today the DigiLit Sunday focus is TRANSITIONS. So I began to think: Are writers in the 21st century transitioning to using more than just the 26 letters in the alphabet? Our iPad makes it so easy to add an image, a music link, a video, and even an emoji. I am now, as Anna mentions in her comment to me, wondering about my definition of writing and I see a transition occurring.
This March, I am participating for the 3rd time in The TwoWritingTeachers March Writing Challenge (where I happily interact with Margaret Simon and learned of this Sunday posting!) As I look back, it has been 3 years of transitions for me personally as a writer. First, I was just trying to write and put words on the page for 31 days. Then the next year, I felt more confident and started adding hyperlinks and pictures to make my daily post clearer and more interactive. Now this year I am bringing my students along for the ride and I find myself only halfway into the challenge, and am pondering what is writing? Can’t it be letters strung together AND also just the right visual?
For me, I am transitioning to be the kind of writing teacher who will encourage 3rd graders to use ALL the tools they have at their disposal to tell their story that only they can tell. And I will encourage them to use emojis if it helps to make their writing clearer.
(And now that I have written about it, I feel ready to speak up at my next team meeting, too!)