Just about time

IMG_0008For me, spring break means some days at home with my cat, Mickey. Some days at home.

I live alone with this cow kitty who thinks he owns the hood.  He has just come in from the yard in time for blogging, a late night habit of mine.  He is making biscuits on the black and white blanket beside me.  He says “yeow” when I pet him.

I know people get silly about their pets sometimes, but I do love my cat.  He has attitude and dignity, and he is bonded with me.  Mickey is good company, as long as I keep the crunchies in the bowl that says “feed me” at the bottom.

Here’s to cats and pets.  And a break during spring.

Letter of Intent

CookieIn the ed world it’s that time of year, when talented new teachers are getting “pink slips” and tenured and veteran teachers are asked to state their intent.  Will you retire or return?  If not to the same assignment, what is your second choice?

My choice is to continue this crazy game of interventionist, a position which is “under review” by the admin.  My second choice was to support new teachers working as a teacher on special assignment (TOSA).  My principal nixed that and asked me to fill out a new letter of intent.

This is hard, because returning to one of the regular, self-contained classrooms is not my intent.  Maybe it is time to update the resume.  Or wait, wondering what my next year’s future will be.

Hard to give so much and stay engaged if someone in admin is toying with taking it away.  So a more focused, immediate future:  Try to stay focused on what the students need and how I am delivering it.  Find some humor.

And don’t look to fortune cookies for your answers.  🙂

Sun Day

NasturtiumMy day began with a swoosh of laundering, tossing pillows out in the sun on patio chairs to air, hosing the wool blanket on the driveway fence.  And all bedding and bath towels chunka-chunking in the washing machine with soapsuds.

Just marvelous to air out the house, and fluff everything up in sunshine.

The orchids went out to be fed turquoise solution and drenched in soft hose spray.  Everything else got watered and several succulents moved to sunnier domains.

On a day like today house cleaning did not feel like a chore.  It was a joy.


Letter to new participants

IMG_0009Today at our follow up session for the Intensive Summer Institute 2012, teachers wrote letters to the incoming 2013 participants.  Since I have been co-directing for 8 years, my letter wouldn’t work as a participant, but I wrote anyway.

Dear ISI 13 fellow,

It is a pleasure to welcome you to this summer’s intensive institute, which continues the “unwavering commitment to respectful professional development for teachers” that began with Jim Gray in 1974 at Berkeley’s Bay Area Writing Project.  For whatever reason you applied, whether arm-twisted by the Director himself, or badgered by an overly enthusiastic colleague, you are in for the treat of being respected for your expertise and being listening to for your insight.

I suspect that you were moved by much more than the 6 units of credit or the puny stipend to put half your summer on hold to commit to be with us.  You deserve time to write.  Time to talk.  Time to reflect.

When you are in the middle of the intensity; let’s say the day before you give your demo and the week before the portfolio and anthology writing is due, you may well question why you applied to ISI 13.  However, in retrospect, when you go back to, or on to your next teaching or coaching assignment, you will be more of the teacher you want to be.  It will be a systemic effect that will continue.  You will respect the other side of the writing desk your students occupy.  You will likely listen to them more deeply.  And, no matter what reforms or administrative things come down the pike, you will be confident that you are indeed a professional.

Your voice for what matters most in teaching and especially the teaching of writing will be heard.  You will grow as a leader.

I’m suspecting that none of these are reasons you applied.  Maybe you just want to see some new strategies and get a sense of refreshment in your teaching.  I’m just saying, I’ve seen how it works.  It happened to me…and many teachers I’ve known.

You belong.  Welcome to a community of people who care about education, who value teacher expertise and who will challenge you to be your very best self.

Breathe.  Get comfy.  Enjoy the ride.





Prove You’re Not a Robot

I dare you.

Blogging late at night and having to type in two distorted words or numerals to post a comment, does that really prove I’m not a robot?

The burgeoning brain research from imaging indicating our intelligence is fluid and demonstrating surprising neural plasticity — awakens possibilities. However, it also pushes me up against
difficulties. The robotic part of me that is nowise creative.  What does the average mind do to change? While my intelligence may not be fixed, I certainly don’t seem free to choose who I’m going to be tomorrow or how I’m going to react to the events around me.

My brain has body maps for each movement (not Brain Mapping, U.S. government quest) which Ramachandran and William Hirstein (Center for Brain and Cognition) dramatically proved through their work for patients with phantom limb pain.  Muscle memory as we dancers call it.  And then there are mirror neurons, the science term for what literary people call empathy.  I have a stock of them.

I want to know how, at any given moment, I can step out of the galaxy web of maps and mazes of electrical current and actually write two original words?  It isn’t the typing of two words for site security.  It brings up the difficulty of saying anything genuinely original, that’s worth reading.

Squint harder at the four numerals and the blotchy stretched lettering…prove you’re not a robot.


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.



Laura & Lorena: Inspiring Teachers to Write