Avoidance of I #SOL20

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Every week on Llama Tuesday I write a blog post and share it on the Two Writing Teachers blog. Then I comment on at least 3 other posts.

Here are the rules:

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog.
SHARE a link to your post in the comments section.
GIVE comments to at least three other SOLSC bloggers.

There are 31 days left in 2020 which means I have 31 more writing prompts to publish. Do you have plans for the last 31 days?

I sit in my living room getting prepared to go to the building to work by the light of the Christmas tree.

Yesterday I had a writing conversation with a friend and we were talking about craft. I read a piece yesterday that started too many sentences that began with “I”. It was distracting and took me out of the piece.

All the years I have taught, I have loved to teach writing. I am sure it had something to do with the fact that deep down I want to be a full time writer but that was not an acceptable career choice in my family. I figured that teaching writing was the next best thing.

Teaching kindergarteners to write is a amazing because they have little prior experience.

One of the things I do is avoid having my K student write sentences that begin with “I”. What ends up happening is that later when they are writing more you get pages of “I” statements.

I like dogs.

I like to swim.

I love my mom.

It sounds all the same.

Sentence fluency is something I start with so that is the skill that becomes the habit and not the list of I statements that I would have to try to break later. As often as we can, our shared writing sentences begin with any other word.

Yesterday we learned the sight word GO so the sentences we wrote were:

We go camping. and

We go outside.

Details now are in the illustrations where lots of academic feedback is given. I have also taught them how to give feedback to each other. They discuss what they are writing outloud and then cues are picked up by other students.

In my live class you will often hear: “W. said he is adding a sun. I think that is a good idea and am adding one too.”

or

“I like the way A. added details to his butterfly. I am adding some to mine. He reminded me.”

Of course, one of my favorite questions is: Is it time for writing YET?

What have you noticed about teaching writing this year? I would love to hear in the comments.

High/Low/Learn #SOL20

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Every week on Llama Tuesday I write a blog post and share it on the Two Writing Teachers blog. Then I comment on at least 3 other posts.

Here are the rules:

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog.
SHARE a link to your post in the comments section.
GIVE comments to at least three other SOLSC bloggers.

There are 38 days left in 2020 which means I have 38 more writing prompts to publish. Do you have plans for the last 38 days?

One of my obsessions lately has been journaling prompts. I even found a couple of podcasts dedicated to journaling. On an episode of Writing Your Best Self I heard a writer talk about logging the high of the day, the low and what you have learned.

I follow this method similarly with my energy challenge that comes from the author of The Third Door. I log what fueled my energy, what drained it and what I learned from those observations.

I was reminded of a protocol I learned at the EL Education conference last year in October called HIGH/LOW/BUFFALO. In this version, you share a high and a low and something completely out of left field! Some people need some prodding in order to be silly sometimes. It helps to get to know people in a hurry.

My day of working from home has just started but here is mine so far (Subject to change by the evening)

High: Wellness of my family and it snowed!

Low: I was woken up early by loud vehicles driving by

Buffalo: I learned today that pickled carrots are a thing and I am writing about them!

What are yours?

I would love to hear in the comments!

Anchors #SOL

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Over the weekend I took a writing class. The pandemic has yielded many classes and programs since so many were isolated. Some people went through bread baking phases, but many of my friends collected all the classes.

The class was a two part guided writing exercise to create more knowledge around a world a writer creates. One of the points Nina made was to have a list of 5 anchors to keep the heart of your story in the forefront of your mind. A list to keep you centered. A list to bring you back to the story you want to tell.

When I was writing in my notebook about the experience I thought about life anchors.

What are the 5 things that anchor you to the heart of your life?

What are the 5 things that anchor you to your teaching life?

Are they the same?

This is what I am thinking and writing about today.

Writing Prompt and an Announcement

Starting on September 23rd if you join my Patreon community you will receive a daily prompt for 100 days like the one above. We have a Slack community as well so you can join other writers.

September 23rd starts a special time period – the last 100 days of 2020! Can you believe it???

The last 100 days is the perfect time to give yourself a challenge. You can join mine or create your own. I would love to hear what you plan to do.

Last year I vowed to do one yoga pose a day for the remaining 100 days of 2019. A friend wrote 100 word essays. The possibilities are endless. You could answer the same morning and evening questions. I follow Karissa Kouchis who is a national trainer for Tony Robbins. She has challenged herself to answer the same morning and evening questions for the next 30+ days for a training. I have been answering them in my journal as well.

What questions would propel you into a new reality if you committed to them for 100 days? One of the exercises in Tony Robbins Personal Power class is to construct questions you ask yourself every day. I have a list in my Google Keep Notes.

Here are the questions I am using right now from KK:

Morning:

  1. What are you most happy about in your life right now? How does that make you feel?
  2. What am I most proud of right now? How does that make me feel?
  3. What am I most committed to right now? How does that make me feel?

Do you see a pattern here?

Evening:

  1. What have I been given today?
  2. What have I given to others?
  3. What have I learned today?
  4. How has today added to the quality of the overall investment in my life?

Happy writing! Happy reflecting!

I would love to hear your ideas for the last 100 days. It is a perfect time for a self imposed challenge!

Choices – Path to the Future or the Past?

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This school year feels like it is everyone’s first year teaching no matter what year you are on.

A friend recommended a book by Debbie Ford called The Right Questions. There is power to questions. The first one in the book is: Will this choice propel me toward an inspiring future or will it keep me stuck in the past?

As I was making notes on these first two weeks of the new school year this question was floating around in my head.

After 7 years as a coach, I went back to the classroom. As I have written before, there is a list of reasons for this movement. It is a step of learning and experience. I believe it is an important step for me necessary for an inspired future and what I want to do next.

How does this change serve me? One of the ways is to experience teaching again in a day to day way. Kindergarten is the year where the I am required to think about the simplest explanations for the most complex ideas. In kindergarten there is potential for stories in everything. Five year olds make connections and say things that are unusual and is one of my favorite parts of the job.

When I teach, I make micro-movements in instruction based on the students actions. I am taking this year to analyze how I do this in real time. This year I have the advantage of recording my meetings with students so I can go back again if there are important breakthroughs that happen in class.

There has been two weeks of this school year so far and all prep. Breaking down what I have done with my time is important for my own learning.

-There has been lots of professional development and meetings (all virtual). Some meetings have been done well, and others not so much. I am always analyzing how people conduct their trainings so I can learn what to do and what not to do in my own.

-Everything is new for everyone. The overwhelm hit us all at different times. There were moments that people felt like there were too many changes. This happened for first year teachers and the 30 year veterans. We all feel like we learn and then stumble around in the dark and find our way again. My team is wonderful and we help each other. The strengths we have become everyone’s because of the sharing. We teach each other. I have not had a true team in a long time.

-Contact with parents is always a tricky area for me but a requirement. We are must use Class DOJO and SEESAW here at the beginning. Parents are familiar with DOJO we were told. I have issue with starting with too many things and then changing.

In the Spring, I had success with text messages for contact with parents so I did the same this fall.

I sent this message to my parents this week:

Hello! This is Mrs. Breitweiser (child)’s Kindergarten teacher. I just wanted to reach out and say hello.

Material pick up starts tomorrow.

We will have a combination of live and recorded teaching in 2 sessions. 8-11 and 12-3. Please let me know which (child) prefers.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Follow up texts required answered questions. I also sent this message:

What is something you would like me to know about (child)? Something that is her/his favorite? Or a special story?

I use the child’s name as much as possible. I send audio messages talking to the student and short video messages as well.

-Virtual open house was successful. We had two 30 minute Zoom meetings and I had over half my students show up. There were smiling faces and cats on the screen. The virtual tour of the classroom and my live explanation of the learning kits were a hit. I introduced myself with a list of favorites that I told the students they would answer starting next week. I showed pictures of my family. Whatever we show our students is what they think we value so those first impressions are important.

It was important to me to tell the parents my past teaching experience. I want to assure them I am qualified to teach their child so they feel as secure as possible.

In the virtual tour I showed all the places where I have the student’s names. I want them to know that it is their classroom even when we are far away.

-Having to be in the building has helped with focus for the start of school. I had some frustration with this requirement especially on the days I spent most of the time in a chair in a meeting in front of my computer. Another focus that is a positive is that it is easier to fast while at school. There is no food there and it requires effort to get in the car and leave if I am stressed.

Do I feel prepped enough? I think so. If something goes wrong then I will pivot and we will use it as a learning experience.

I will make a list of things to remember before Tuesday at 8am.

There is a list of things I want to make sure to remember. If I don’t? I will write it down for the next meeting. This is the same practice whether I am in real life teaching or virtual.

We will see how it goes! I know for certain my choice propels me to the future I create.

What I Have Learned about Virtual Learning…so far #SOL20

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Over the past 7 days I have been working in my classroom, reseraching and attending virutal PD.

Some of the PD has been great…other sessions not so much.

I always attend workshops with the idea of examining how the presenter choses to deliver the content. I have done this since college. I write down the way people start meetings, how they show content, how they have participants interact…or not. I steal what I like for my own presentations.

Here are some things I have learned, or were reminded of, from the content and being a student over the last week about virtual learning:

  1. One of the biggest pet peeves I have about PD is presenters who conduct a training in the opposite way of how they would want you to teach kids. The workshop you are presenting is a model to the people you are teaching. I went to more than one workshop where they talked at us for over an hour. Please. Don’t.
  2. I learned about this video that brings some things into perspective. I wrote about this idea in my newsletter last week.
  3. Kids are vessels that are already full of experiences and knowledge . We need to remember they are not empty just waiting to be filled.
  4. Relationships are the center of everything.
  5. Think about your own school life. Who was an influence on you and what did they do? Connect these ideas to your own teaching.
  6. One presenter used breakout rooms with the adults expertly. We were given a task independently and then asked to talk in the Zoom breakout room. Then we were asked to make a sticky note on the class Jamboard to show accountability. Brilliant! This one I will use for my own workshops with adults. Kindergarten will take a lot of scaffolding for it to happen.
  7. Grade level work needs to be taught to students. This is an equity issue.
  8. I can keep track of what to keep doing, start doing and set aside for now. I like this structure for unpacking what I already know.
  9. To build relationships virtually I need to schedule more one on one time with my students.
  10. I also need to provide virtual social time for my students.

What have you learned in this new time we are in about teaching?

Official Back to School #SOL20

Two Writing Teachers run the Slice of Life tag ever Tuesday, where readers and writers are encouraged to write and share something about their life or day. You can check out the tag here.

Yesterday, was the first day back to school officially. The label was work day.

Delights of the Day

  • I coached a client through text
  • I connected with writer and educator friends
  • I found a word wall feature in a Bitmoji classroom I was perusing
  • I listened to some great podcasts while I went through files and books.
  • I connected with my kindergarten team who are amazing women!
  • I ordered bulletin board sets and remembered there was a time I couldn’t afford to buy much for my classroom. I spent hours cutting out items early in my career to decorate. During student teaching when I had no money I folded over packing tape 3/4ths and adhered it to a large sheet of cardboard to make a pocket chart. I remembered I have come a long way in knowledge and experience.
  • I got my SMART board to work
  • During my lunch time I revised my novel and gave myself a sticker
  • My classroom is a few steps closer to being acceptable for teaching and learning

What were the delights in your day?

Weekend Coffee Share

A Cup of Coffee and a Conversation

Welcome back to the weekend. This week has flown by as the hint of normal schedules looms in the balance. I feel that rush of trying to get errands done and checklists checked before the start of the new school year. My children have gone back to school all virtually. I will be virtual as well (at least for the first 9 weeks) but have to report to the building every day for my normal hours.

I am having black coffee today as usual. What would you like? The temperature is cooler today but I will get the pitcher of ice water anyway. The weather app lies. The humidity plays with the feeling of the air for sure.

If we were having coffee I would tell you the first round of boat repairs were completed and we launched the boat on Friday. We were doing a test run really. There are still some adjustments that need to be made on the motor as it wasn’t throttling properly. It was the first time I had launched the boat as we usually rent and it is already in the water. It was a beautiful day on the lake anyway and I was glad we were able to take it out no matter how short the trip was. It was logged as a delight in the notebook this morning!

If we were having coffee I would tell you I loaded up my copy of Story Genius which is a writing craft book by Lisa Cron. She has several books and a Ted Talk. This book is unusual as Cron says what we have learned about writing stories is essentially all wrong. People don’t worry about the change of characters which is what a lot of stories are missing. She believes we fall into the trap of writing stories “where a bunch of stuff happens.” I was encouraged by my friend Nicole Rivera of Stop Writing Alone to break out my copy. The second section is full of specific questions to ask yourself about your own story and I am examining my novel I am revising. So far, it has been helpful!

If we were having coffee I would tell you I am excited about my Patreon page! I did a soft launch with my newsletter peeps and everything will roll out by the end of the month. I have 4 tiers and the platform works well for all my projects. Check it out here. I have been hosting workshops and now I can contain all the content in one area. September’s workshop is all about Conversation Experiments and I am super excited to share this class with people! My content is for Teachers and Friends of Teachers. Educators and writers make good friends. This was definitely the next right step for me.

If we were having coffee I would tell you Jami Attenberg hosted #1000words of summer this week. Her emails were brilliant and sparked an idea for an essay that is in my notebook now!

If we were having coffee I would tell you I made a 6 hour round trip to pick up some items I left behind this week. I was anxious about going but did it anyway. On the way there I was able to listen to several great podcasts and I collected many notes for writing projects. I thought of it as a story nugget gathering trip and enjoyed it so much more. I was able to have lunch with a great friend and have some amazing flatbread pizza. I also visited my Grandmother who will turn 90 on October. She still lives on her own and is a kick ass independent woman.

Do you need a refill on your coffee?

If we were having coffee I would tell you I have been writing everyday in my notebooks with my fountain pen. I had avoided using it all pandemic but broke it out last week and even ordered new ink refills. I also started the letter writing again and have been using it for that as well. There is something enjoyable about using it to craft words. It is a delight for me!

If we were having coffee I would tell you I went to the eye doctor this week. It has been a minute. Luckily, my prescription hasn’t changed much but I was able to get new glasses. My old glasses had been repaired with a paper clip but since I only use them to drive it wasn’t an issue. I do use them if I go to a conference and have to see speakers or screens but I don’t think I will have to worry about the scenario for a while. For added excitement, the tornado sirens went off and I was trapped there for awhile. The doctor and I had a nice conversation about moving, nature, and Ben Shapiro!

If we were having coffee I would tell you I am slowly transitioning back to school mode. There was so much uncertainty about the beginning of the school year (there still is) but at least I know I will be teaching from my classroom. I was a bit surprised I have to be in the building for the contractual hours, but it makes sense. Once I get back into the new schedule it will be fine.

How was your week? Was is inspiring you right now? What was one of your daily delights?

I would love to hear!

Create An AWESOME Ritual

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Every August there is the feeling like air is slowly leaking out of a balloon. As each day ticks by on the calendar we get closer to the first day of school.

How do you get ready?

This year the world is not the same which is the perfect opportunity for you to create a new kick ass ritual. You need a series of actions that lead to going back to the school year.

I use EL education materials and one aspect of this curriculum is CREW. Crew is the term EL uses which I used to call Family Meeting. It is time about learning and relationships. A book was released and I ordered it right away. It should be here by Monday!

Back to school shopping: In order to be a happy writer and teacher I need supplies. I have many friends that do not even have kids who are thrilled all the supplies are displayed in the middle of all the stores.

I am going to buy some new school shoes. It goes back to going shopping with my grandparents. A new outfit too.

I will also search the names of my new students (when they are available!) I keep checking.

I will plan the first week of school and start making my massive pile of read alouds.

Another thing I am doing this year to connect my personal passions with my professional ones is starting a Patreon. I kept trying to figure out how to serve my readers and people in my professional circle in a streamlined way. I have been saying lately that my offerings are for “Teachers and Friends of Teachers”. It makes for the most interesting group and mix of life giving conversations.

There are 142 days left in 2020. I have going to do a #100writingpromptproject for the last 100 days. My supporters will get access to a daily prompt, an exclusive community, and write in times to get together with others.

I also am expanding my coaching services and workshops. Now all the information for my events will be in one place. I am super excited!

Check it out for yourself and see if anything resonates with you!

My questions for you today:

What are you currently excited about?

What steps can you take to make a new ritual?

Can We Talk?

How Verbalization Can Help Us All Be Better Writers

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Last summer I was honored to attend a literacy conference where Cornelious Minor spoke. I took copious notes and was able to have many conversations with colleagues in the evening. That is the advantage of being at a multiple day conference – you can chat with your tribe about what you learned that day and move forward with plans for the schools.

Over the last 25 years as an educator and attendee of conferences, I have learned to synthesize my notes at the end of the day. I read back through them and fill in the gaps of half written sentences and ideas. I fill out more of the story that was shared I want to remember as an example for teaching later. I also make checklists of action items, things to further research, and people I need to talk to.

I learned Minor also takes notes in a real notebook and carries it around with him all the time when he does workshops. He is full of stories of living in New York and of students and teachers he has worked with. He had to scan all his old notebooks recently because the paper journals were taking too much room in their small NY apartment.

This conference was full of personal connections for me as well. Not only did I have the advantage of having great friends with me to confer with but also a consultant we had worked with for years. I also was able to meet someone in person from Twitter and a connection from a reading board we both had served on at different times. Overall it was three days of connection and learning.

I reflect on this experience this morning and wonder when this will happen again – if ever.

Another way I synthesize info is to skeleton plan a workshop before I even leave. I think about if I were teaching this material to others when I return to where ever I am going what would my spin on this look like. Since the beginning of my career I have paid attention to the nuts and bolts of how presentations are deployed. How did the presenter get everyone engaged? What questions did they ask? Did they do an ice breaker? How did they get people to talk? How did they build relationships? I compare these ideas to my own style and make notes about how it would look for me.

If I am taking a plane I always write and make action plans in my notebooks on the way home. There is something about being away that has a magic spell quality to it. When the wheels touch down at the home airport you have to return to the normal schedule. You fall back into natural tendencies and routine and don’t always use the new learning.

When I started teaching I also made a pact with myself that if I took time to be out of the classroom, I would make sure to use one thing the day I returned.

I do love to give presentations. I have had to move to a virtual world which bring its own complications, but I know how to pivot!

Writing matters.

It gives us tools to deal with struggle. Everyone has experiences and something to say. We have all been broken in some way or another. This applies to us (teachers, or friends of teachers) as writers and our students.

Writing gives us power over our struggle. A way to deal with it and reframe. To try out ways to tell it to other people. It is a powerful device of possibility.

As teachers we create what I call the “greenhouse effect”. We set up all the circumstances for students to have learning experiences with the most amount of obstacles out of the way. This is why we have huge classroom libraries, and over plan. Sometimes we do this too well. The goal is for students to have productive struggle in a balance as to not create frustration and shut down. A certain amount of struggle is needed for learning and retention.

Exercise:

Take out a notebook and a pen or your laptop. Set the timer for 7 minutes. Write whatever comes to mind on the topic of:

Possibility and Power – What do these words conjure up for you?

Do not censor yourself. Just write what comes. Keep your pen moving no matter what comes out.

Ok, the timer went off! You can stop. What did you notice about your thoughts are centered around these two ideas? How does that translate to your classroom?

Verbalization

When we are teaching, one of the most powerful questions we can ask is, “What do you think?” and then wait for the answer. When I have asked this question to students I get the blank stare and many times this statement: “No one has ever asked me that before.”

“What do you think?” is a question we need to be posing more often in order to give them writing practice. We ask students to write a genre after giving only one or two models many times. This is simply not fair. Verbalization can allow practice 9-10 times before writing which gives them a much better opportunity to write a higher quality piece with more confidence.

Talking before writing helps students know what they want to write down. It takes practice to figure out what we want to say. (How many drafts of that email to your principal did you write?)

The person who is doing the talking is the one that is doing the learning. Think about the last time you were in your real life classroom. (I know…go WAY back…) who was doing the talking? In my coaching experience, I would venture to guess you will say the teacher unless you teach a curriculum like EL education where student talk is built in. This is a by product of feeling like there is never enough time. Teachers need to “cover” material for students to be exposed. The worst feeling in the world is to not get to a concept which we know is tested on the high stakes exam and feeling like we didn’t even give our students an opportunity to answer even in a minimal way.

A strategy to get them talking is to use what interests them. This can range from Pokemon to zombie ants. Get them excited and engaged and use that talk to your advantage.

Exercise:

Look at your phone and find a picture that is meaningful to you. If you were to share with someone why it was meaningful, what is the story you would tell?

Storyboards

What is a Storyboard? | Storyboard Template | Storyboard Maker

Another way I have encouraged talk before writing in my classroom is to use an idea I learned from Linda Rief. A simple storyboard of 3-6 boxes is a powerful tool for talk. I have students think of an exciting or an embarrassing story to tell their classmates. I set the timer for 5 minutes and have them sketch and stick figure out the story within the 3-6 boxes. Minimal words are used here. There is a limit of 2 words per box.

Then the student tells the story, using their storyboard to a classmate. The listener gives feedback to what they enjoyed about the story and asks questions about where they are confused.

After three rounds of this practice with different partners the students write their story. The amount of detail and flow to the stories after this exercise works wonders.

How could you provide more opportunities for talk before writing in your classroom? I would love to hear about them in the comments!