Category Archives: Laura’s Slices


IMG_0012I dimly listened to Vivaldi ~ was it yesterday morning’s cold, grey drive? “That must mean it’s spring,” I thought from my cocoon of projects and due dates.

Today the slanting California sun invited me to un-rumple and dry out.  Squatting to admire the succulents along the walkway and inhaling the late fragrance of daphne ~  just Being Out of Doors ~ noticing the white wisteria is beginning to open and the skinny kids across the street are taller.  Seeing the light dance lime green through everything in the front yard.

Well, time to put away those winter worries and take off some of the layers of insulation.  I feel almost myself again.

Screening and Progress Monitoring

I’m back filling data off RenLearn tracking six rounds of focus groups,

marshaling them into a tidy Excel format.  But this task is getting tedious.  Screening sounds more like screaming

and progress mumbling and my entire year keeps passing by my eyes.

And faces of kids

with each name appear and roll by my mind

wondering if I did enough

and who did I miss? fearing there’s a kid who dropped off the map.

Old barn

My brain is tired and my neck and shoulders beyond weary.

I think I’d better back off the report

for the sake of having a bit of style and smile for the full day tomorrow.

The data will make it to my principal for Friday’s review.


Role Model


Dr. Jonathan Lovell, director of the San Jose Area Writing Project, is an educational leader who believes in writing, in good teaching, and in the power of allowing teachers the respect and voice to present their expertise.  Certainly his clear, thoughtful perception of what’s really important in a situation is a mark of his leadership.  Jonathan manages his emotions and when he speaks it is from a rich, keen mind and a considerate soul.

Jonathan brings much more than educational expertise to the SJAWP.  Every summer institute I watch him patiently listen to what each person wants to talk about with him  — which might range from politics to comparing experiences of parent deaths and bereavement.  He listens to people, the way an artist or writer listens for an inner voice.  His recent health episodes (heart attack several years ago) and current A-fib have further honed Jonathan’s humor and dignity.   He seems to be dancing with life, acquainted with the pillings, counting measures under the breath, mindful of the figures as the music plays, casting up, reeling across with a genteel smile.  Yes, he’s a Scottish country dancer, too.

And once again, this summer I have the privilege of co-directing an intensive summer institute with Jonathan.

The Reading State


Late morning I met with my 5th grade focus group, gathering in the conference room around the round table, in swivel chairs to make it special.  I passed each student an envelope containing the first, introductory letter from their adult high school student.

Peggy (their teacher) and I had spread our letters around her dining room table Thursday night and matched each student, rather well, I thought.

I let my students know it would be okay to read their letter twice to take it all in.

Their faces.  The quiet.  Soft, open expressions and not one distraction or fidget.  They were reading deeply.  That magic place only some people know about.

I watched them read with the relish one might take in a lovely sunrise or landscape.  Then I asked them to share round the room.  ‘Were there any surprises?  Any likes?”

They all had things to share.  Then, they re-read to a partner over their shoulder so they could stop and talk about parts.  When we went back to the classroom, I gave them a quick write — time just to say the immediate.  “What would you say, if your buddy was here just after you read the letter?”

More engaged time, writing.  Nonstop.  Tomorrow, we’ll lift a line from the letter and write to that.  For the moment I will savor those at risk kids, reading deeply and being eager to write.



trusses for gutters
Trusses for roof rain gutters and soffets

When I bought my 1917 bungalow in historic downtown, the necessity for a new roof was apparent.  What was not so obvious, until I delved into the matter with my contractor, was that the new rain gutters could not be applied nor the rotten soffets repaired until the perimeter of the roof was trussed.  So we know when students are failing.

What does this have to do with writing?  Today I’ve been looking broadly and deeply at school data for ELA, monitoring those struggling students who arrived in the next grade level far below basic in performance.  What we don’t know is how to design our classroom for effective brain performance, instead of around textbooks and worksheet examples. The photo shows several of the 50 trusses made to finish the roof renewal.

A great deal of what I believe and try to do as an intervention teacher comes down to those trusses.  Kids need feedback.  Right away. We know from research that the best learning happens in one-on-one tutoring, even on a computer.  Giving the feedback for each response…item by item.  And student brains figure it out!  Additionally, sometimes writing is the best formative assessment, costing little to administer and yielding abundant information for the teacher, yet the least often trusted and selected.

Our students experience a windstorm of new information and the ELL’s a hailstorm of language demands with little attention to accurate, helpful feedback along the way.  Saying “You got a 65.” on a multiple choice test does not qualify as feedback.  Students take a district benchmark and either seldom hear how they did or merely see a score on a report card.  The state standards assessments are even less timely.  Sometime in the summer they get a cut score ranking in the mail.

Do we believe anymore that the human brain can learn from having its correct answers confirmed and its mistakes pointed out?

Some students are fortunate to be with teachers who are listening, assessing and giving the maximum immediate individual feedback humanly possible in a classroom full of young people. However, some are just going on, talking and introducing more and more, like a rainstorm without gutters. An obvious problem is that, as the grade levels progress, the sheer amount of content increases so much that it is difficult to give students specific feedback and teach.  Then that enemy of excellence creeps in, “Coverage.”

But those moments when teachers slow down and give real feedback are applying trusses.  Each will hold up the next bit of learning.  Feedback and feedback and feedback is like a row of trusses, fifty of them going all around the perimeter.  Then my roof could support rain gutters and soffets.  So I’m going into my next cycle of intervention with a contractor’s eye and doing some carpentry on my lesson delivery that will create trusses.




OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was sunny until late afternoon when the wind came up.  We moved our chairs off the patio to the driveway to catch the late rays.

The chef magic poured off the grill:  zucchini and yellow squash slices, shrimp, mushrooms, elk sausage, salmon….and the tables were loaded with salads, dips, olives…champagne or sangria?

Mostly the laughter.  The food and conversation was great, but the best was the laughter.

I love my family and close friends.


The next bend in the road

bendintheroadThere it is.  My future.

I’m officially in middle age.  I notice there are two ways I can proceed.

I can strain to look forward to a few things I think I should do.  However, when I look at retired people some of them seem bored and others are, well, ill or dead.

I can look back in regret for dumb turns I took and mistakes and try to walk this next segment with more wisdom.  Which sounds like carrying a load of guilt.

All I can see in the moment is the sunlit path before me.  I know there’s an ocean and wide beachfront ahead.  The lodge is behind me, out of sight.  I have my optimism and wits about me.  I have energy and passion.

I am questioning myself.  “What do you really want?”  That’s the question always deferred, never asked for so much of my journey.  It was always about how to do for someone else what they wanted.

What?  What do I really want?

Walk.   Ask.  Breathe.  Ask….listen….

What do I really want.

Buddy Letter Writing

Somehow by their lunch hour my eight grade 5 intervention students finished typing letters of introduction.  I had no idea how long typing letters would take!team

My neighbor, who teaches in an adult high school, and I have launched a Buddy Letter Writing project — modeled off one I did with a full 5th grade class partnering with a college freshman English professor, and similar buddy projects I’ve seen teachers do with SJAWP.

Tonight we spread the first letters out on her dining room table, reading and admiring phrases, style and tone.  Then we matched the students for interests, background, and role models.  Mostly the letters were terrific.  It’s exciting.

Tomorrow my 5th grade focus group will get the first in a series of letters from their high school buddy, only known by first name, and no contact information.  In May the high school students will come to our campus so everyone can meet.

I’ve experienced how motivating and marvelous this kind of writing can be.  So, I’m excited to be taking my folder of letters to share tomorrow.



Finding the Central Idea

These days of celebrating, out on school nights and looking forward to the family and friends coming over Saturday, have lifted my mind off dogged concern for the details of my work. Not that I am less productive, or teaching sloppily.  I am not carrying it around all the time in my head.

Laughing already at the crosswalk coming from the parking garage last night, K and I attempted to cross the broad lanes of Market on the 8 second warning light.  I sped forward in heels, not my usual footwear, and pitched a bit too far forward.  I was falling in slow motion trying to compensate.  I landed ruffled by embarrassment, but unhurt.  We arrived breathless at our “club.”

watercolor leafAt our favorite Italian place, my girlfriend and I, light weight drinkers, polished off a bottle of pinot noir with our conversation.  The staff and manager came by our table and laughed with us.

Today, opening the door to one group of students, eight first graders, I entertained myself by announcing it was my birthday and asking, “So, how old do you think I am?”  Several answers were, ninety-two, twenty-two and one hundred twenty.   Ha ha ha ha.

This evening, when I met a friend and her 94 year old dad at a local seafood cafe we started with fresh margaritas.  Mine was lime.  When our plates came, I reached for a catsup bottle which gassed as I took the lid off, splatting my arm and chest with several teaspoons of gooey red tomato paste.  My gal friend began diving for napkins, but I enacted a cowboy shootout dying scene.  The amount of blood spatter was impressive.  I mopped it off my black shirt amused.

The central idea seems obvious.  I have been loving myself and others by attending to having fun, using the occasion of a very big birthday year number as an excuse.

Finding a central idea in a discovery draft can be as awakening as falling in slow motion on the street, or spattering oneself with catsup.   Blogging daily is a great exercise in watching for central threads in recent experiences.

Since “real” writers compose discovery drafts and search for their themes among their words, might we do ourselves (and our students) a favor by making time to discover these central ideas?



IMG_5314Tuesday, tomorrow, is the eve of my birthday.  This year is a nasty number, although the numbers had never bothered me before.  It’s the year I got discount offers on cremation and cheerful bulk mail like that.

Today was a Monday squared to the max.  Tonight I posted my letter to a highly critical teacher who hijacked my precious 25 minute lunch time today.  Within 3 minutes of posting for today, the Slice for tomorrow dropped in my mailbox.

So, I’m writing for the Eve of My Birthday.  I want the day to have a few laughs.  I want to see my students besides walk through my school with The Suits from the district office.  I want one person to say “thank you” to me sincerely for some teensy, little thing.  I want my day to taste like the photo, “My first lunch in Paris.”

And the best part of tomorrow will that at night I will go out to Club with my very best girl friend.  We will have wine, fantastic Italian food, and — most important — we will laugh and talk about our true selves and Life.  (No, I won’t have my feet propped up blogging, so that’s done now, tonight.)

So, on my natal day at school Wednesday, if everything I’ve planned in order for teachers to enjoy teacher consultants coming into their classrooms; if it doesn’t all go perfectly or make everybody happy, never mind.  I’m going to go out again that night and fouggeddaboutit.  Another sweet friend and her dad are taking me to a great little fish market cafe.

There are times when a dedicated teacher needs to put her attention on what she likes and loves. They call it “balance.” I called it “my birthday.”  The very best part won’t be these weekdays workdays, although I’m pleased with my plan to break my no-going-out-on-school-nights rule.  This Saturday, my family ~ Mom, two daughters, two grandkids, two close friends, and two neighbors will come to my house for a Backyard Takeover.  I’m living for time with my peeps.

We will grill fun little bits of fancy food on the patio, have champagne and SPEND QUALITY TIME TOGETHER.  That is what I love most.

So, the Birthday Queen is taking up her scepter.  Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, critical people are not allowed to bother her, even if they bow first.  They must stand in the background of Her Highness’s birthday aura.

Friends, family and colleagues who care, may approach.  I count myself rich beyond measure for the people I love and for true friendships in my life.