The Importance of Writing

 

Whew, I made it!  

Thirty-one of this writing challenge, done.  Check the box!

As I reflect on the month long slice of life challenge, four areas of importances stand out.

The importance of writing to an authentic audience: Publishing puts the pressure on.  Writing publicly everyday helped build my confidence as a writer.  Knowing other writers may read my posts, made me work hard at sharing something original and meaningful.

The Importance of a deadline: At first I thought I would be an early morning writer, composing my slices before the outside world woke up.  Instead I worked on my daily blogs after papers were graded, teacher plans were prepared, and email correspondences were completed.  Writing happened after dinner was made and dishes were cleared. On average, I would write my slice somewhere between 9 and 10 pm. On many evenings, I met the midnight deadline with only a few minutes remaining.  Nonetheless, the daily deadline loomed and served as the catalyst to my eventual submissions.

The importance of a routine: Routine is important to me.  Without the daily writing requirement I would have never completed 31 writing submission.  I may have found time to write on half of the days. Knowing I had to write every day created a routine I followed strictly, without fail.

The importance of commenting:  Reading other slices provided me with the following:

  • Exposure to new formats
  • Mentor texts
  • Access to new teaching strategies
  • Beautiful connections to nature and the human spirit
  • Highly recommended YA books reviews.

Thank you Sally D. for encouraging me to give the 31 day slice of life challenge a try.  I am about to place the last sticker on my writing calendar.

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Nightmare #2

“Why do you always make us read!” asked my teary-eyed eighth grader.  

After arriving to my fifth period class, a room with desks in rows that I normally don’t teach in, I found 30 some students chatting, chasing each other around the room, and generally off task.  My warm up projected on the SmartBoard and stated: Take out your independent reading book and enjoy some reading time

But clearly no one was doing this.  No one cared.

My face reddened. I called the class to attention and asked who among them had brought their IR books to class. Not a single student raised his or her hand.  

“Please go to your lockers right now and return with your reading books.  This is not acceptable,” I demanded in a stern tone laced with spite. Students left the classroom with frowns and scowls. They hated reading.  Their expressions said it all.

Ready for the cliche:  Then I woke up.

The irony about my classroom nightmare is that this scenario couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Students become angry when I don’t offer enough classroom reading time for them. They will frown and scowl at me when the daily lesson doesn’t carry as much merit as reading a great book. I appreciate the pressure they place on me to find more in-class time to read for pleasure and to weigh the value of an assignment against the benefits of reading widely and often. 

There is an immediacy and a boldness when it comes to my students’ desire to read. They will sneak-read books tucked conspicuously inside their desk cubbies during mini lessons; they will negotiate and beg to read the moment they enter the classroom, “Please, can we just read today;” or they will blatantly ignore the daily lesson altogether, completely engrossed in their stories, willing to risk the consequences.  Reading engagement can be a rebellious act in our classroom, and I love it!

However, there are English classrooms out there operating in a real-life nightmare, where teachers are handcuffed to specific scripted programs, requiring students to read whole class nonfiction passages and answer multiple choice comprehension questions so that their responses can be easily converted to standards tracked data.

I refuse to live this nightmare.  I refuse to commit Readicide, as Kelly Gallagher so aptly coined.  I’ve seen what happens when a prescribed and rigid English curriculum ends choice and time to read in-class.  My own voracious teenage readers became disgruntled nonreaders in a matter of one high school year, reading only three assigned novels from September to June. 

While I believe in teaching to a common set of standards, I also know this to be true: If we want students to master main idea, key details, patterns of organizations, conventions, spelling, and so on, children need to live and breathe inside the books they read–really absorb the written word until they make it their own. 

Draped in Winter

The deep navy waves of my jeans

bunch up at the frayed tears near my knees

forming white caps before a storm.

 

I pull on a nubby, tree-bark sweater

weathered like the old maple oaks.

My thin foggy tee clings closely against my chest

and a scarf woven from dormant grasses

wraps loosely around my neck.

 

I drape my body in winter’s hues.

The dull gray undertones

soothe and center me.

 

While I admire the the radiance of

magnolia blooms,

laser rays of sun,

variegated greens,

and turquoise oceans,

they are colors best worn

by the peacocks of the world.

 

I choose to remain camouflaged

in the weave of naked branches

that fringe the rolling hills

around the lake.

Nightmare

I sit up in bed in a panic.  The digital clock reads 1:20 a.m, and when I open the bedroom blind, the porch light casts a bright light across the front lawn revealing an empty driveway. Ella, my 18 year-old daughter, has not returned home from a late night dinner with friends.  

An hour earlier, I had texted her, requesting that she check in and plan to come home.  The thing about my daughter is that she is never far from her phone and checks her social media continuously, so when I wake to find her not home from dinner, my concern turns to panic: My earlier text messages had gone unanswered.  

I wake my husband, but he does not express much concern about the absence of our daughter and instead insists that she is probably with her friends playing board games and not paying attention to her phone. According to him, Ella is safe. Then, he rolls back over and falls into a deep sleep.

I, however, rise from bed, walk into the kitchen and check my Find my Friends phone app which shows Ella near a large Baptist church about two miles from where she supposedly ate dinner with friends.  The orange circle places her on a street I don’t recognize as her friends’ home addresses. My fear meter rises to the irrational level.

My theory of the danger Ella faces goes something like this: Ella is abducted as she walks to her car after dinner; her kidnapper forces her into his car and then drives off in the direction of the Baptist church, stopping to toss her phone into the parking lot dumpster to eliminate any tracking possibilities.

Unreasonable, I know, but when cortisol starts coursing through my veins, unsettling scenarios like this play vividly in my mama bear mind. I send a new, more urgent text.

I’ll give you until 1:45 a.m. and then I’ll come looking for you.  I’m worried.

Salvation! A few minutes later, the text ellipses begins blinking.  Ella is typing her response. Relief washes over me.

I wasn’t with my phone.

Coming home now.

I was at Kevin’s house with Mollie, Brooke and Kristen.

I sigh, thankful my daughter is alive and well. I quietly creep back into the bedroom and slip into bed just as the front door opens.  Ella turns off the porch light, locks the door and walks up the stairs to find me.

“Mom, I’m sorry I made you worry.  We were busy playing a game and I wasn’t paying attention to my phone,” she explains softly.

After a quick hug, my heart calms. Ella leaves for her room, unaware of the dangerous perils she faced in my imagination just a few minutes earlier. For now, there is no need to explain my nightmares to her.  If and when she becomes a mother, she will experience her own worst case scenario thinking, a symptom of a mother’s love for her child.

I turn away from the clock, close my eyes, and whisper to my husband, “Ella is home. You were right. Everything is okay.”

A Subtle Beauty

cardinal

 

Her tangerine beak

and red-tipped mohawk, contrasts

tufts of golden brown.

 

 

 

One of my favorite birds is the female cardinal. While her male counterpart is bold and regal, she is subtle and complex, a real beauty.  Throughout the winter I can count on finding her perched on the bare dogwood branches outside my office window.

It’s Spring Break. “Get Out” of the To-Do List Mentality

The freedom from the frenetic pace of my teaching life, affords me the opportunity to truly appreciate the simple pleasures in life, like sharing dinner and a movie with family and friends.  On a whim, I invited my parents, sister, and her family over for Sunday dinner and a movie. Most Sunday nights find me cramming in last minute planning, grading and finishing household chores in preparation for the new work week, but spring break releases me from the rigidity of my schedule and offers me the flexibility to be spontaneous.  

pastaI kept dinner simple, pasta, bolognese sauce, garlic bread and citrus salad. No tablecloth or fussy serving dishes were offered.  Instead, my family grabbed pasta bowls from the shelf, served themselves at the stove, and took a seat at our long, wooden farm table.  Multiple lively conversations ensued. My daughter shared her latest college decision schedule, my dad retold stories about his former co-worker-friend turned successful Hollywood actor; and my sister and I reminisced about the nutty neighbors we grew up around, laughing about how different our own childhood experiences were compared to those of our kids.  

getout

After dinner we moved to our basement for the movie portion of the evening. As we nestled into our downstairs sectional, my husband queued up the psychological thriller, Get Out.  Fleece throw blankets were pulled up, cushions were adjusted and shoes were kicked off as three generations curled up together in the dark to watch the opening credits. Shouts of “Get out!” and “That’s so creepy,” and “Wait, what is happening?!?” interrupted the most tense and suspenseful scenes.  We laughed nervously, covered our eyes and offered analysis of characters’ motivations. Get Out’s action packed ending satisfied our need for redemption–a perfect conclusion to an evening well spent.  

Trailer for Get Out.

Disclaimer: No to-do list was used in the planning of the events described in this post.

Tracking Reading Volume

One of the challenges of increasing the volume of independent reading students complete is keeping them on track to meet their reading goals.  At the beginning of the year, I stress to my students that they are expected to read 250 pages or one book per week. Ninety percent of the time, my homework requirement is to read 30+ minutes a night, an expectation supported by the department of instruction.  That is it. Most weeks, I provide enough time in class to complete classwork and long term writing projects. In addition, I offer at least 45 minutes of weekly reading time, and I coach students on where to find another 10-15 minutes of independent reading time throughout their school day. Providing classroom time to read and assigning reading as homework are the easy aspects of an independent reading program.

Tracking pages and books finished, building in reading conferences, and providing book recommendations are the primary challenges of an independent reading program in my classroom, where the amount of pages read is one of the most important goals.  Recently, I’ve come up with an old school method of addressing the aforementioned challenges. Once every two weeks, I hand out a 3 x 3.5” slip of paper that asks for independent reading feedback. Types of questions include:

  • What book are you reading now?
  • How many books have you read to-date? Pages read to-date?  
  • Do you need a book suggestion?  If so, what genre?
  • How many books do you plan to read over break?  
  • What has been the best book you’ve read in the past 10 weeks?
  • How many minutes have you spent reading for homework over the past week?

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The form takes about two to three minutes to complete during warm up and gives me immediate feedback as to whom needs book recommendations or requires a conference. I place the students with the most pertinent needs on the top of the pile and keep the papers with me until all needs are met. Then, I file the papers in a class independent reading binder, comparing the previous feedback slips to the most current.  Students who are lagging receive conference time with me over the coming week or calls home to parents in an effort to more closely monitor their homework progress.

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One final assessment I conduct is a bi-quarterly independent reading grade.  Students maintain a reading log, recording books and pages read throughout the year.  I ask students to update their logs weekly in class and then during the bi-quarterly assessments, they self-evaluate their progress and determine their independent reading grade.  Here is an example of a bi-weekly self-assessment.

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Most of my eighth graders take three high school credit classes and carry a heavy homework load. Without these opportunities to both self-assess and teacher-assess their independent reading progress, the reading volume goal loses out to other school demands.  Therefore, I keep at it–tracking, conferencing, and recommending books on a daily basis, because if there is one thing that I know to be true, educational success is most closely linked to the amount of time a student reads. 

I’d love to hear how you monitor your student independent reading goals.