Tag Archives: Laura’s Slices


Hello Blog,

I haven’t seen you in awhile.  How’ve you been?  I know I haven’t called or written, but I do think of you often.  When I’m driving to work I think of you, or after I’ve decided I’m too tired to read and turn off the lights, sometimes you cross my mind.

So, it’s nice to be back.  But, really, I’ve checked  across my day, flitting from one memory to the next, and there isn’t a slice today.  A slice, you know, is a clean cut and makes something clear and outstanding.  I think more of looking at the blur of occurrences today with a dull butter knife poised, ready to pull up a slab to spread out onto the page.

But the busyness is mushier than butter.  More like curdled cream I need to pick one thing to drop onto the blog.  A dollop.  The moment while I proctored make up science tests and I drew a quadrant on my legal pad, labeled it with LLI (reading intervention), ISI 15 (intensive summer institute), Fam Lit (Kelloggs grant work) and CWC/WW (creative writing camp/writers workshop).  I stuck GATE in the middle.  Then, without my head hurting once, I made bulleted lists of things to do in each area.  Some big and some small. Some urgent, some not so much.  I tucked the pad back in my carrying case and I felt better.  Odd.

Now the cazillion things that need to get done between right now and the end of May don’t have to take up short term processing space in my poor little brain.  I already did one item on my drive home from school.

Plop.  I just pulled out the quadratic list to see what might be the next priority.

Oh there were stories today, too.  Struggling readers.  Students in GATE who are spatial, not gifted.  But this will have to do.  One quadrant is calling to me.  I could get ‘er done this evening.



IMG_1975Spaces.  Transitions.

I notice there are tremendous distances

between some of the kinds of life events

of mine.

I feel the shifting into summer with writing project work

and my mom

flew up to Ashland for the season so it is quiet

Calm.  Rest.  I napped today

the hard sleep of fighting off a cold and change.

My personal time is mine again

except for projects

due dates presentations

and the like.

The house is still.

The evening light is lovely.

This is a time to play the artist card.


Today I interviewed struggling fifth grade readers and they said things like, “I’m not afraid of big words any more.”  And, “I know strategies now, like commas.”  But the one I like best was this:  “Books were boring for me, because I couldn’t read them.  I’d just stop.  I couldn’t figure out words.  But now that I can read, they’re interesting.”

Part of my teacher story today included giving a final benchmark to a second grade reader, which went okay.  Then the first grade group trouped in and I listened to one reader’s take on the text he read aloud last night.  Obviously read to his parents who do not understand English, so he laid down the gist of the book and didn’t bother so much with decoding troublesome words.  At least he was enjoying the story.

Next up, the new kinder buddy in the re-formed groups was a star of enthusiasm.  This was his second day and he fairly beamed coming into the room, getting his writing book.  He told me how proud of his reading Grandma was last night.  This is a special kid, who is highly verbal and emotive, and who has changed the chemistry of the small group entirely.  The reluctant reader girl is now wanting to show him the ropes and has forgotten to say “I can’t.” The quiet Spanish speaking boy is so concerned that it all goes well for their new comrade.  I like this waked-up-ness.

After I sorted emails and prepped at lunch, the other kinder buddies came in, reading in B/C level texts now.  My friend with the behavior chart decided to “get stuck” on the picture of a boy drawing, and the word drawing with the cue, “drrrr….” and hadn’t practiced it last night. so he figured I should do it.  Surprisingly, I quietly gave him a countdown on “You try it,” then sent him back to class.  No drama, no coaxing, just peace and calm for the kids who were enjoying reading.  He was quietly floored, so I expect he’ll be better next class.  I plan to start with a video of him I have on my phone, doing crisp pointing and fluently re-reading a text.  Just to remind him who he really is.

The G.A.T.E. students, those who were not in PE/Art/Music for their teachers’ collaboration time, came in for session two of distinguishing between an object and a project.  We reviewed a TedTalk and viewed one and began drafting sections of their presentations.  They are finally getting that Personal Learning Time (PLT) is a journey, not making up an artifact or sticking stuff on a presentation board.  God, I hope so.

The best part, I think,  was when they told each other mini stories — bits from their learning journey.  Narrative works so well.  it’s the Mother.

And then I reviewed my portfolio project, final conference with my principal in which I showed her how my goal to get kindergartners to move beyond “motoring through the text” to discussing titles, background knowledge, making predictions, appreciating the shape of texts, and recalling sequences as they read.  This goal was a good leg up on what I’d like to do more effectively next year.

So my calico quilt of a day went into get home and do errands with/for Mom, who is flying to Ashland tomorrow for the summer.  Did okay on FedEx-ing the box with her Boze radio and a zillion bottles of drugs.  However, the refill process at Walgreen’s melted down.  Laundry is done.  We had pot stickers and a bit of bubbly for dinner.

I think that the thread I can pull out of this day is the listening I’ve done.  Listening to fifth grade self-reflection.  Listening to readers.  Listening to book talks.  Listening to ideas about learning.  Listening to my evaluator.  Listening to my Mom.

I think I am ready for something mindless, like an episode of Gilmore Girls.

I Miss My Desk

I’m scooched over to the side of the little vanity that serves as my writing desk.  A folder full of applications to the Summer Intensive Institute has collected where I usually write.  And there’s a bag to order custom liners for the compost bin…Ugh.

For the month of March, I’d just walk into my room as soon as it was polite after greeting my mom, and already have a free flow of what to write about.

I miss my daily routine.  It has been filled with more talk with mom on the front porch swing because it is warmer — and my garden looks great.

Today I was handing out notes to go home to parents whose children are Honor Authors, representing our school at the county young author’s fair, when, in C Pod, my Dance Fairy was sitting in the pod hallway.  She handed me a flyer saying, “You’ve got to come to this,” in her lovely Australian accent.  We exchanged little bits for a moment.

Then I leaned in.  “Do you know, Ria, what it’s like when you’re doing a choreographed salsa rueda and the music is really fast?  She nodded.  “The music is going and there is so much happening in that little space of time.  That’s what coordinating three programs at once feels like.”

She laughed.  I felt better.

It’s almost midnight in New York.

Hello, desk.  Cute little place I like.  Even Mickey has chosen to join me here, gracing the corner of the desk with his immense black and white cat body.  All dignified, sitting listening to the the clickety click of my keyboard.  The night getting quiet.

Thinking night thoughts.

I’ll be back desk.  I promise.

I Have to Write

I write out of my anger and into my passion.

It is Tuesday on the eastern seaboard, so I can end my gruelling long Monday in PST with a reminder of why I write.  I found old notes from an Asilomar conference session on Creative Nonfiction.  The mentor text was Terry Tempest Williams, Why I Write.  I lifted her line to start.

I’m culling lines from my 9/29/12 draft that seem true today.

I write to see what’s at my core.  I write into molten memories and frozen silences.

I write to cope, to reclaim myself from loss. 

I write because I mean it.  I’m overly serious — too much thinking. 

I write as a protection plan. 

I write because I teach.  I write to walk a mile in somebody’s mocassins. 

I write to heal the anger all the way.  I write to shut up my ancestors. 

I write just because.  To chase images around my psyche.

I write to say I’m here.  That I matter.

2014-07-22 10.56.56

Small Details, Big Questions

In a Saturday Seminar with Elena Melendez -- we're doing introductions and then we're going to rock narrative writing.

Elena.  Ms. Energy trying to slow herself down and not talk a mile a minute.

Sharing her noticing from conferences with students that it comes down to how to manipulate small details AND we have to look at the big picture.  Why teach narrative.  (A favorite subject of mine.)  From an article Ten Top Reasons Why Students Need Literature.

Ten top reasons:
1. Imagination
2. Communication
3. Analysis
4. Empathy
5. Understanding
6. Agility
7. Meaningfulness
8. Travel
9. Inspiration
10. Fun

We got to talk up our top three that stood out for us.  Exciting!  (cited caffeinatedthoughts.com)

Comments included seeing this list like a Maslow’s heirarchy, from 10 to 1.   The teacher’s going to make a pyramid poster of it.  Another commented on how not diverse her private school students are — desperately need to see the rest of humanity.  Peek into each other’s worlds.

Now we get to do some writing!  (based on the article)

Prompt:  Format – write a dialogue.  The Purpose:  think more deeply about this topic – narrative

Audience: can be a teacher/friend.  I’m going to Crema.  I’m there.  Sharing my thoughts.

(review skills for writing dialogue)

Here goes, for 5 minutes.

It is mid Sunday morning and Lorena and I are perched on the high stools at the window counter at Crema.  Laptops open, tea and snack bars.

“So, I got soooo excited in Elena’s workshop yesterday!”  Lorena smiles.  “One of my fave subjects was up for talk to open — why teach narrative,” I pressed.

“Wow, why not teach narrative? Gimme one good reason why not!” was her comeback.

“The article on the list included # 10 —  FUN, Lorena!  Our favorite subject connected to literacy!”

Lorena lit up.

“And then there was a tiny line, number 6 I think – in the reasons.  Teach narrative for agility.   To think in complex ways…to hold contradictory thoughts…to deal with conflicting point of view.  Well, I got so buzzed.   Reading, writing.”  I took a big gulp of my cooling Earl Grey.  I haven’t thought of agility with students though I realize it is a quality of writing. “This is the kind of thinking we want our young writers to pursue!”

“Story does that, ” Lorena agreed…


Back to workshop.

I went out to take photos of other workshops and check in with our YA guest, graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang.  Packed house in the auditorium.

Back to Elena.  FUNdamentals of teaching narrative.  BME = Set Up, Mix Up, End Up.

Goal, Obstacle


Story Arc – paragraphing

Figurative Language Grab-Bag

Expression – Found Poems

I love the teachers in this room.  Elena is doing book talk for Social Skills for Academic Interaction.

Jonathan just walked in to give a commercial for our summer programs.  We’ll be heading over to the author talk with Gene Luen Yang, but first I need to talk to parents of young writers and pass out summer writing camp flyers.


Ewww! Another acronym?  Not an educational one, pleeze!

No, it’s just short for “what I really want” which is a writing exercise a girl friend and I re-invented last week.  I send a calendar notice early Wednesday morning to us, saying “Welcome to our six-week WIRW.  Today, write for 10 minutes to the prompt, “What I really want.”  Save your response.

This is week two.  We email or text each other.  K. wrote, “I am so new at our writing.  I don’t have a pattern yet.  I just know that I am surprised that I really like it.”

“I started out with very simple statements and by the end I was doing paragraphs and the last one gave me clarity on an issue that had been bugging me.”

Our plan is to get together after the 6 weeks and share what we discovered.

I do my free write on keyboard, with my phone timer, then save and close the doc, without re-reading it.  Interesting to notice that I really get to the point at about the 9.5 minute mark, then scramble to write that.  But now, just thinking about this little practice, I am growing curious to know what I wrote so far.

This writing exercise came out of a conversation we were having about how, in our point on the great number line of human life, people often start asking themselves, “What do I have to look forward to?”  Not a good question, really.  A better question, especially for someone who has spent a lifetime pleasing others, is to ask, “What do I really want?”


Which Way is Easier to Teach? Composing or Formula?

Thomas Newkirk said it

In his recent book, Minds Made for Stories:  How We Really Read and Write Informational and Persuasive Texts, Thomas Newkirk articulates clearly what has been maddening about the Common Core Standards for Writing.  The authors of the CCS ignored the accepted common literary terms, such as genre (for text types) and did not pare it down to the basic two modes in which we write:  narrative or essay.

But a deeper problem is pictured here in my slides:  a category error.  All credit to Thomas Newkirk.  Writing presentations in slides is my mode of exploring how to teach teachers.

By the bye, Newkirk’s book does much, much more than address this problem with CCS.  If you want inspiration for your creative nonfiction, or if you are tired of the “hamburger” essay, it’s a great read.

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.



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.