A Risky List… Five Minute Friday

You can take a risk… Where will you go?

You can analyze a risk… What will you find?

You can play risk… What will you win?

You can reduce a risk… What will you save?

You can factor a risk… What will you lose?

You can risk your neck… What is worth that?

You can be at risk… What is chasing you?

You can be at the rick of…. Who will you offend?

You can risk yourself… For what?

You can run the risk… How far will you get?

You can risk everything… Who will you amaze?


Every Child Can


When my oldest was 4, he came home from preschool asking to play the violin. My husband and I smiled and suggested it was something we would do when he was older. He insisted we did not have to wait. The violin can be played by kids he explained. His teachers taught him about Mozart’s, “powerful music.” After weeks of asking, I gave in and started making phone calls.

Fast forward seven years. I have three violinist and a piano player all using the Suzuki method. If you are unfamilar, it’s a method of teaching that uses the triangle; child, teacher, parent to ensure success. As a suzuki parent I carry out the lesson plans set up by the instructor each week.

The entire Suzuki philosophy—and the reason children can start early—holds that all talents are taught, modeled, and practiced from birth. The 7 year old who has “musical talent” really has only had 7 years of music education. Every child begins learning at birth and never stops.

Dr. Suzuki’s idea was that any child could learn to play the violin well given enouh quality time and instruction. My suggestion is that when kids have the right supports in place, they can learn a lot more than the violin.

So what’s happening when students don’t learn?

How often do I size up a student who does not have the right supports in place and fail to recognize the cause?

This debate plays out in my mind frequently. When I work with my son on his reading, when I hear my girlfirend say, “oh my daughter can’t sing- it’s not her talent,” and when hear teachers talk about bright students who fail classes I try to remember Suzuki.

Consider this… If kids are only able to master what they have a natural knack for, than what does it matter what I do as a teacher?

Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy responds that even if the student has to work at something, even if he or she needs 1:1 support, even if it takes a lot of effort from everyone around… Every child can.

If they can, isn’t worth the effort to make sure they do?

What makes integrating technology worth it?

We are  two years into the 1:1 iPad program. At the start, and even more so today, I believe these are seven things that makes the integration of technology worth the effort:

Enable independence
This has been the biggest “teacher transition” for me. They don’t need me to lecture to them what I know. They have the tool(s) needed to find it out and “know it” for themselves. Instead of a sage I have become a “learning coach.”

Improve communication
Through email, blogs, social media etc. they can create conversations that go well beyond our four walls.

Problem solve
There are plenty of apps and tools that help them problem solve  and the intuitive nature of today’s technology encourages them to “push all the buttons” until they figured out how to get what they want.

The real excitement begins when you have four other students gathered around a desk saying “show me how you did that.” Followed by, “I wonder if we can get it to do…”

Provide storage
We are still looking for the perfect tool, but even with plain old email we can create a place to hold things. This becomes their portfolio of work and can be used to illustrate growth in a skill or subject area.  This is a tool used by lots of teachers, but when the product is digital; It’s not limited to paper, It’s not clutter that I we have to keep in storage, and we can each keep a copy. My need to be organized is fulfilled!

Assist with time management
Their calendar, planner, timer etc. are all on the iPad. It looks a lot like “real life” as we all put due dates on the calendar, set goals, and share events.

Inspires creativity
Students are constantly creating presentations, composing music, viewing art, reviewing literature, conducting research, editing for publication. They become photographers,
movie-makers, and authors instantly.

Makes learning fun
When they don’t know they are learning, when middle school students think they are “playing,” when they get excited to try something new – than learning and teaching are a whole lot of fun!

What am I missing? What makes technology worth integrating in your classroom? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you!


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 18 June 12

Happy Monday! I’ve been reading like mad – Here’s what I have to share from this week…

Teacher Type  Books:

Reading Rescue 1-2-3  By Peggy M. Wilber- My day job is in a Middle School, but the rest of the time I’m mom to four. #3 is a reluctant reader (RR). How we go into that situation, I’m not sure, but were here and one of my big goals for the summer is to help him improve his reading. Reading Rescue has been a big help. The book provides strategies for level 1, 2 and 3 readers. My RR is at the level 3,  so we were able to gloss over two-thirds of the book. Even so there are LOTS of great ideas and a blueprint for what we do everyday. The cartoon stories jive with his sense of humor so both mom and RR are happy customers. I’d recommend this book to anyone who want’s to help their child become a better reader and needs a blueprint to do it.

The Passion Driven Classroom By Angela Maiers and Amy Sandvold – This one will get you excited to for the fall. I am so not there yet, but as I read I found myself writing down all kids of ideas that I will be using when it’s time to get back to class. The authors set-up a plan for using Learning Clubs in the classroom. They advocate a style of teaching that I love; emphasizing group work, book reflection, independent leaning, and creativity. The resources and quotes are great, but I especially appreciated the framework for keeping what my looks like a crazy classroom running smoothly.

Books for my classroom:

I will be teaching US History and Geography this year using novels. I’d like to give the students a choice in what they are reading, so I am stocking up on choices for each unit. This week I got started on the Revolutionary War…

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen – The war is starting in the east, but Samuel and his family who live on the edge of the wilderness are directly affected. Each chapter has a “teaching moment” where Paulsen provides an explanation for what historically is going on. It’s a page turner that includes some really interesting characters and a meaningful adventure.

Johnny Tremain  by Esther Forbes – This is a bit longer, but I likes that there was time to really develop the main character and see him through the personal challenges that he faced. The book is set in Boston before the war starts. Johnny finds himself interacting with historical figures like Paul Revere and Sam Adams. It’s a coming of age story with a generous dose of history thrown in.

I just started Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson and looking for more – so if you ideas please send them my way!

Anecdotal evidence suggests kids love to choose their books!

Something crazy is going on at my house. It’s good crazy. Really good crazy actually.

This is my son Cole. He loves his video games, playing on my iPad, and riding his bike. I can think of other things he really likes to do, but I don’t know if reading would normally make the list. I love it when he reads and he knows how important it is to be a strong reader, but he’s never given me the impression that he loves doing it.

In contrast, my daughter Anna inhales books, talks about books, trades books and has even been known to keep a book journal all on her own. It’s easy to recognize her passion.

Therefore, it has not gone unnoticed that since school ended, Cole has had his nose in a book non-stop. It started with Middle School the Worst Years of my Life by James Patterson. The book was sitting on the center council in my car and he just picked it up and started reading. When I took his little sister and brother to tennis, he asked to ride along. Book in hand he found a shady bench and spent the hour reading. Last night he rode along to Anna’s softball game and again only looked up from the book to watch her bat.  When he finished the book last night I wondered if that would be the end. Instead, I found him up early reading.

It sounds like he decided to finish the Harry Potter series that he took a break from when I “made him read for battle of the books last winter.” As I served lunch to the kids today, he asked if we could go to the park this afternoon to do some reading. Wow! How could I deny a suggestion like that?

Unable to resist, I took a risk and decided to ask, “So what’s with this new passion for reading all of a sudden?”

“What do you mean?” he looked confused. “There are books all over this place and finally I get to read whatever I want. I’ve been waiting all year for this.”

I guess if there was any question in my mind about the importance of letting kids choose their books – it just vanished. I’m thrilled to have him reading for fun and excited to see what else he chooses to read this summer. It’s his choice, however, I can’t promise Anna and I won’t plant a few that we think he’d like on his seat in the car.

Keynotes, Classrooms, and Communication – Reflecting on What Works

Statistics show that over 41% of people have some level of fear or anxiety about speaking in front of an audience. I imagine that statistic might be generous. Who doesn’t get a little nervous right before any kind of speaking opportunity? It’s daunting. It’s uncomfortable. It’s a risk. Yes, it can be great. You might nail it and receive raving reviews, but then again – you might not. If you fail, if you fall flat on your face, if you become lip locked, start giggling, and forget everything… the entire audience is there to witness. This is scary stuff.

On the other hand, teachers must prepare students with the skills they will need to be successful in the changing global workplace. Being able to communicate effectively is one of those vital skills. As scary as public speaking can be, it must become commonplace in our classrooms.

The middle school where I teach is home to one of the first 1:1 iPad programs. As I began creating assignments that incorporated the use if the iPad, I realized that Keynote, Apple’s version of PowerPoint, was a great resource. The program is very intuitive. With very little help, the students could create presentations to highlight what they were learning. This has been a great way to pull together a unit of study together. For example, the students create and present a ‘Keynote’ at the end of a chapter or novel as a creative response to what they learned and discovered.

Individual students used presentations to report to the class what they were learning. In addition to a written report, for example, a short talk summarizing a book or primary document was a fun way to spark further interest and promote shared knowledge in the classroom. At the same time, having students who are working in groups collaborate on a presentation helped promote teamwork and problem solving.

We have a number of multidisciplinary project based learning events that we run each year. Often we invite experts from our community to come to the school to work with our students. The students gave short ‘Keynote’ presentations to update our visiting experts that included goal setting, data, and questions. As groups present, the other students in the room listened to provide feedback, take notes, and evaluate how they might be able to use the information. At the end of a project, more polished presentations were given, as a culminating reports, describing how their group answered the project’s driving question.

At the end of our seventh grade fuel cell project, a group of students was asked to present at a citywide meeting of leaders who wanted to know how technology was changing their everyday learning. This group’s goal was to explore ways to improve local education in order to draw new businesses into our community. The students listened to the invitation and immediately began working. I was hearing things like, “We have to remember our target audience,” and “Remember to make the slides easy to read. Put the details into the speaker’s notes.” It was fun to watch them work and even more fun to hear them present. In fact, they did so well that they were asked to speak two more times including an event with three hundred local CEOs, politicians, and business leaders.

They were a hit. I was proud. Best of all, I know that what that what we are doing in the classroom is meaningful preparation for their future and what can be better feedback than that?

monkey see, monkey do – great advice!

Sunday’s Teacherswrite! featured a reflection from Jenn at Fountain Reflection. She wrote about her three epiphanies related to teaching writing in the classroom. They stem from her experience writing at an institute where she realized how intimidating it is to share writing and just how difficult the writing process can be. Her third revelation really struck a chord for me.

I’ve been struggling to get my students to turn in solid writing. Sometimes completed work is so far from what I was looking for that I struggle to grade it. “Answer the following question in a well-developed paragraph…” especially coming from the social studies teacher, can baffle students.

“Does she know about capital letters?” I imagine them asking. They are always shocked and alarmed when it turns out I do.

“Wait, you’re not the English teacher. That’s English not geography. Why do we have to spell right in here?”

I actually feel apologetic when I tell them my original degree was in English. The group moan echoes down the hallway, but the writing still does not get better.

So it’s within this context that I am inspired by Jenn’s experience. She explained that teaching writing was her weakness because she wasn’t truly teaching writing; “I was telling students what to do, then correcting them when it wasn’t done correctly. I wasn’t modeling that writing is a difficult process. I wasn’t modeling what good writing should look like from beginning to end.”

Understanding how important it is for students to see the teacher doing and modeling the target task is clearly a better way to teach. Just telling them what to do inevitably leaves questions and anxiety in the minds of even the most intuitive students. Frequently, I’ve had them come in to show me work they are nervous to turn into another teacher, wondering, “Do you think this is good enough? I’m not really sure what she wants.” A clear model would give them the framework for success and cut down on the hours of correcting work that does not meet expectations.

My idea journal is filling with ideas… if you want to read more visit: Teach Mentor Texts

Charlie in the Library

  Quick-Write assignment is in:


We’re going to the library? She can’t be serious. It’s summer vacation. I have been free for a total of 18 minutes and she is already making me go to the library. Isn’t there some law that says they have to give you the weekend off from any kind of learning. I know she wants me to read this summer. It’s all she’s been talking about, but really this is too much.

I mean a kid needs a break. Especially because I’m not into books. I’ve got lots of other things to think about. Like the reminder on my iPod going off. Guess it’s time to feed my cyber dragons.

I wonder if that’s a good enough reason to stay in the car.  It’s probably not; especially if Jo and Amy are going in. This is just the sort of thing they love. Ugh! They bug me.

You have to understand, It’s so annoying enough to have older siblings, but it’s worse when they’re twins. Jo is the oldest. Mom always has time for him. She takes him running every morning to get ready for her half marathon. He’s going out for the middle school cross-country team in the fall. I don’t like running, but they could at least ask me. I might want to go. Well, no I wouldn’t, but it would be cool if she would do something like that with me.

Don’t even get me started with my big sister Amy. Everyone thinks she’s perfect. They’re always saying stuff like, “Thank you Amy, at least we can count on you to keep your room clean.” Seriously, what about taking laundry down a flight of stairs makes her so likable. I don’t get it and it’s just going to worse tonight when they open the report cards. “Oh look Amy straight A’s again! Good for you!”

I’m going to be sick.

This place is empty. Nobody else has a mother who makes they go straight to the library on the way home from the last day of school. I can prove it – look around – we could park anywhere.

“Okay, when we get into the Library I want you guys to be on best behavior; no running around, no swimming in the water fountain, nobody leaves the Kid’s section without me. Amy would you keep an eye on Gretta?”

“I’ll watch her,” I suggest, thinking that watching my little sister has to be better than what is about to happen.

“No way, Charlie,” mom answers, “you and I are on a mission. We have eighty-four days until school starts again and you have to get reading if you have any chance to survive the 3rd grade.”

“She’s right,” pipes in Jo, “That third grade teacher is a monster. She terrorizes little kids who don’t like to read.”

“That’s mean. I like her,” says Miss Perfect. “She makes you read a lot, but it’s great, she has such interesting books and there’s shelves of them all over her room. Third grade was so much fun. Don’t listen to Jo. You’re going to love it.”

No, really, I’m not I think and before I get a chance to say anything out loud Mom is agreeing with me. “He’s not going to love it unless he loves books and that’s what we are going to work on. There’s no harm in getting started right away – especially since Charlie is gifted and talented in his ability to get under my radar. Not this time, no Sir, this summer is going to be different…”

I stop listening. I think I’ve heard most of this speech before.  We walk into the main doors and Jo heads straight to the section called YA. Amy takes Gretta to the picture books.

“Okay, Charlie, let’s do it. Let’s find some books that you are going to love.”

Books I’m going to love? There’s a word for that – oxymoron or something. Yea moron, that’s what I feel like as I follow my mom past the librarian.


Assignment #4 from Teachers Write!

A student walks into the library/media center at lunchtime.  What is she/he thinking?  Worried about?  Dreading?  Hoping or wishing for? What are the risks/stakes for him/her? Show us in a paragraph or two.

Assignment 2 “My Morning Run”

      Homework is in:


I hesitate at the end of the driveway. My purple lined Asics weigh down into the cement, which has been dry for nine years. “No excuses,” says the tiny voice that nags in my head. I fumble with my phone as I loop the ear buds over my shoulders. Flipping through pages of apps in search of Pandora, I hear the long low who of the nocturnal owl that is settling in for the morning. I imagine the springtime chatter of the calling birds as they each flirt and hunt in their symphonic morning melodies keeps him awake. It’s only fair as he has done the same to me. I smile in the direction of the nearby woods and then wonder why the neighbors roses refuse to bloom. They are thin and leggy crowded around a young maple tree. Two robins hop around them hunting the dewy grass and I recognize that I have forgotten about the ear buds entirely. I turn my wrist to check the time and realize that I had not meant to wear the watch this morning. Will it loosely bump and bruise my wrist? Touching my hips, I know I have no pockets and will have to turn around if I want to take it off. The cool morning air on my legs is already a contrast to the brightening sun warming my shoulders. I refuse to give in. This chance will not come again today. I shake my legs sending the imaginary concrete to scatter like the water on a wet dog.  Deep breath in as I will the movement that takes me off the driveway toward the cresting sun into the direction of my morning run.


Assignment #2 from Teacher Write!

Tuesday Quick-Write:

Write for two minutes to describe a very specific place.

  • Everything you SEE – Pay attention to big things and tiny things. Search for concrete details.
  • Everything you HEAR – Be specific. Don’t just say “a scraping sound.” Say a “high-pitched, raspity-raspity-screeeeeaking noise.”  You can make up words if you want.If you aren’t in the place, try to find a video. Or guess what you might hear.
  • Everything you SMELL – Especially pay attention to the smells that surprise you. If you’re not in the place, pictures can help you smell. Look carefully…what would that dumpster smell like?
  • Everything you FEEL – Weather, wind, things that land on you or brush against you. Again – pictures help you imagine if you’re not there, and if it’s not a real place, try imagining images and then assigning sensations from a similar place that might be real (desert, tundra, etc.)

Now, go back and rewrite that descriptive paragraph. Include your best tiny, surprising details, and work on senses other than sight. Better?  More vivid?  This is a fun activity to do with kids, too. Have them write about the playground or gym or cafeteria; then go there and hunt for sensory details!


“How do you find time to write?”

This is the first writing assignment for my summer writing camp:

“Make a writing plan for your summer and for your school year.”

It sounds like the perfect first step. I’m in the mood to get organized, so it fit perfectly with how I want to spend my day.

Now that I’m done teaching,  I plan to get up at the same time I do during the school year so my early morning will look like this:

5am  – 6am – Exercise

6am – 7am – Write

That leaves 45 minutes to shower before I have to wake up the four kids so they can get violins and pianos played before swimming and tennis.

I am also going to take my iPad with me to the pool to read so I should be able to manage emails, twitters, and a little extra writing while the kids play.

They have one last week, so today I spent the morning finding my desk beneath a huge pile of papers. May has been crazy and it feel so good to finally turn over all those rocks, recycle most of them, and take care of the rest. Starting tomorrow, I plan to have my laptop sitting on a clean desk ready to begin my new writing habit.

I am telling my kids what the plan is. I will let them know what they may do when they wake up if I am still writing. My husband will be at the gym or off to work so I’ll enjoy his support, but know he won’t be a distraction. I am also determined to write and post to both blogs – teachingrace and 8busyfeet so I can accountable there as well.

I imagine that most of my writing will be reflections and ideas related to the books and posts I am reading, however, I am open to working on a little fiction too.

What happens after my wonderful summer slowdown? I don’t know yet.  Family is going to be challenging…  My oldest will be starting middle school and my youngest starting kindergarten. We have to make the decision to commit to club soccer teams for three of them or cut some of the sports stuff. Third grade is a challenging year and I want to be able to give the middle child all the attention he needs.  Oh, and did I mention I want to start Grad School? I guess I’ll just take this one step at a time and enjoy all the material this busy life provides.

Wish me luck!