Saturday, February 27, 2016

Writing Advice from the Experts {Celebrate This Week 2-27-16}

This past Wednesday was World Read Aloud Day.  Classrooms across the  country celebrated the importance and joy of reading aloud.  My school celebrated #WRAD16 all week by visiting with authors via Skype.  During their virtual classroom visit, 14 authors read their favorite picture book (of their own pen or another's) and answered questions (which ranged from "What's your favorite color?" to "Where did you get the idea for your book?") from our young audience.
Josh Funk
 Jess Keating
 Julie Falatako
 Derek Taylor Kent 
Kara LaReau
When I scheduled these authors back in January, whom I found thanks to the amazing list on Kate Messner's website,  I was truly expecting these Skype sessions to only be about reading.

Silly me.

After sitting in on our Skype visit with Michael Shoulders on Monday morning, it quickly became clear that these Skype visits were going to be a celebration of writing, not just reading.  Throughout the week, our authors offered some wonderful tips and ideas, along with words of encouragement, to our students.
Here's a taste of some of the lessons our students learned about writing this week, straight from the mouths of the experts:

* Writing doesn't have to be perfect the first time, it just needs to be done.
* Ideas for stories can come from anywhere, but especially what you see going on around you.
* Revision makes writing much, much better
* We are all writers
* It's never to late -- or too early -- to start your 'career' in writing
* Never give up
* Why all picture books are 32 pages
* What a "slush pile" is
* Practice, practice, practice makes your writing better.  No one is born a writer.
* Authors do not choose their illustrators.  Some never meet or even talk before the illustrations are drawn. (I didn't know this one!)

Many of these words my students have heard come right out of my own mouth, some many times.  But when they come from an author himself, students start to listen.

There was a definite buzz around school this week as a result of our author Skypes.  Kids (and some teachers!) have a renewed excitement for writing.  They want to try out some of the tips the authors shared.

So this week, I celebrate the authors who share their time and talents with classrooms and teachers.  They did more good than they know.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Could it Be? {SOL 2-23-16}

I was walking out of school yesterday when I heard their distinctive ricocheting call, ga-waa-waa-waa-waa, ga-waa-waa-waa-waa, ga-waa-waa-waa-waa.

Could it be?

I stopped and turned to look toward the sky.

Sure enough,  I saw about two dozen of them flying high -- and north! -- the moody gray clouds as their backdrop.  The Sandhill cranes were migrating back from wintering in the warm south.

I stood and watched them fly for a minute, hopeful that spring was flying right behind them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Lost {SOL 2-16-16}

I sometimes take for granted the modern conveniences of life.

Saturday was one of those days.

My husband and I set out around 10:30 am from our home in Kenosha, which is in southeast Wisconsin.  We were headed to watch our daughter in her show band performance in Fort Atkinson, which is about 75 minutes west of us.

I have a new car which has a navigation system so I plugged our destination into it and it began shouting directions at us.  It wasn't long before my husband cancelled the directions.  "I know where I'm going," he said.

And he did.

We arrived in Fort Atkinson, watched Kara's performance, then took her with us as we travelled to the far southwestern side of the state to Platteville to watch our exchange student, Hannah, and Kara's boyfriend, Zach, perform in the Tri-State Honors Band at the university there.

Again, my husband knew the way.  I napped as we made the two hour trip.

Once we arrived in Platteville, we used the navigation system to find the university, but something didn't seem right.  We were heading OUT of town instead of IN.  I pulled out my phone and looked up directions.  The service was sketchy but the directions eventually loaded. Yep, we were headed the wrong way.  Siri (finally) got us where we needed to go.

We watched the performance, loaded everyone into the car, and set out for home.  It was dark now.  Very dark.

My husband wasn't quite sure of the best way to get home.  We didn't want to go back through Fort Atkinson because that would take us farther north than we needed to go.

He began driving in what he felt was the general direction of home.  (There were no interstate highways nearby.)

Before long, we both realized that we might be lost.  I plugged our home address back into the navigation system.  It wanted us to go back north towards Fort Atkinson.  Nope.  That would take us an hour out of our way.

I pulled out my phone.  "No Service," it said.  We were literally in the middle of nowhere -- farm fields galore.  Of course there wasn't any service.

"Get out the map," my husband said.

"Map?" I asked. "I don't have a map in here.  Why would I?  I have a navigation system AND an iPhone."

We both looked at each other.  We continued driving on dark, empty, farm-lined roads, hopefully heading east towards home.  We passed only a few cars on the quiet two lane road and any towns we went through passed in a blink.  Oh my....

We made it back home at 10:30 pm, exhausted from our long day of travels.

As we pulled back into the garage, my husband said, "We should have gone back through Fort Atkinson.  We would have been home an hour ago."

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sacred Mornings {Celebrate This Week 2-13-16}

I love to get up early.  I am up by 4:30, even on the weekends. (A younger me would never have thought this possible.)

The time between 4:30 and 5:30 (when I need to start getting ready for work) is my favorite time of the day.  This is when I read, write, pin, post and plan.  

It is "me" time.  

It is sacred.

It is coffee, computer and comfy blanket time.

It is time to sit and think, sit and write, sit and read, or just sit time.

It is silence, except for the sound of the furnace kicking on, the clock ticking or the dog gently snoring at my feet.

This time stretches a bit longer on the weekends. (Oh, how I love those days!)  

When it is time to return to school after a break, it is not the days that I miss.  It is my morning time.
Early mornings, I celebrate you!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Like Christmas! {SOL 2-9-16}

It was like Christmas morning.

I called my fourth graders over to our reading rug.  Beside my rocking chair were three overstuffed bags.  I began telling my kids about my two days away last week at the Wisconsin State Reading Association's conference.  Some of them were listening, nodding politely to my story.

But most of them were looking at the bags.

Finally, I came to the part in my story about the vendor at WSRA who was selling all of their books for $2 each.  I went in to their booth and looked around.  I hadn't planned on spending money at WSRA, but for $2, I could pick out a few books.

I bought 19 books.

The next day as I was waiting for lunch, I went back into the vendor hall.  I found myself over by the $2 vendor and thought, "What the heck, he doesn't have many books left.  I won't buy any.  I'm just looking today" and I went in.

While I was standing there perusing the shelves (feeling very proud of myself for not putting any books in a shopping basket), the vendor announced that he didn't want to have to pack up the books so all books were now $1 for the next 20 minutes.

$1????  There went my plan of not spending more money.

I spent $58.

The students who were still listening to my story gasped.  $58 was a lot of money, they said.

It IS a lot of money except look what I got, I told them, and I began to empty the bags.

I showed them Big Nate.

I showed them Goosebumps.

I showed them Humphrey the Hamster.

I showed them Magic School Bus.

I showed them stories of pirates, gladiators, D-Day, skateboarding, and volcanoes.

Then I sat back and watched.

The conversation and energy was electric.  The oohs and aahhhhs as they examined the contents of the books were music to my ears.  Some students took a book and went off to get started reading.  Others made plans to read  books together.  Some couldn't decide.

It WAS like Christmas morning, only better.

Pure book love.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Celebrating My Nerdiness {Celebrate This Week 2-6-16}

You know those things that really light a fire inside of you, that inspire you in ways that others can't quite understand, things that you can't explain to other people without getting strange looks in return?  That's called nerdiness, and I had a lot of that this week.  Time to celebrate!
WSRA:  I attended the Wisconsin State Reading Association's annual conference in Milwaukee on Thursday and Friday.  I finally got to see Pernille Ripp and Chris Lehman present, the highlight of my two days.  Pernille talked about ways to build passionate readers in our classrooms and Chris shared some ways that we can get through the awfulness of writing. Both presentations were AMAZING!

Books, Books, Books!:  Going to a conference where there are vendors is dangerous for me.  I should leave my credit card at home.  However, one cannot resist the draw of new books for the classroom and let me tell you -- I found some amazing deals!  If you have never heard of the company Books4Schools, you must check them out.  They sell the overstock of many bookstores and most of their books are $2 or under.  I bought about 20 books on Thursday, but when I went back on Friday, all of their books were $1!!  Needless to say, when I go back to the classroom on Monday, I will need to get a cart to wheel in the 60+ books I bought to add to our classroom library.
Most of these books came from Books4Schools, but some were also from the Scholastic store.

Voxer:  I did it.  I took the leap.  At the encouragement of two very supportive friends, I put my hesitation aside and am now on Voxer.  Let me tell you....I love it!  I love hearing the voices behind the friends that I have connected with through Twitter and blogging -- their words of encouragement, a daily greeting, a funny story.  If you are on Voxer or try it yourself, let me know so we can connect!

There are so many more things to celebrate this week, but I have a pile of books to get to. I hope your week was full of many celebrations too!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Stressing Me Out {SOL 2-02-16}

This past week, I have found myself reflecting on language -- those wonderful, magical strings of letters that we use to communicate our feelings, ideas, and thoughts -- and how it takes on different meanings for different people.

Mostly, I was led to this reflection because of my teenage kids.

Don't tell anyone, butI think they have a skewed understanding of language, and for this English major, teacher and writer, I find this troubling.

When you and I hear the words I'm stressed, we usually think of being worried or majorly overloaded.  They are words that we use for those rare occasions when we are filled up to the top and can't take one more thing. We reserve them for the most severe of times.

But for my teenagers, these words have a much broader meaning. They get thrown around a lot.  For instance, the words I'm stressed get used to mean anything from "I'm so tired" to "I have so much homework that I have to finish" to "My favorite band hasn't posted their summer concert schedule yet" to "I have nothing to wear because I haven't done laundry in a week."

Everything stresses them out.

And quite honestly, hearing that word so much is starting to stress me out.

My daughter and I had a discussion the other day about this word stressed.  I actually asked her not to use it anymore.  We talked about when she didn't sleep well, she could say she was exhausted.  Or when she had so much homework, she could feel overwhelmed.  No concert schedule?  Use irritated.  Not sure where you left your homework?  Try flummoxed.  (That one got a laugh.)

Another greatly overused word is yell.  If an adult disagrees with a teenager, there's a good chance they will think you are yelling at them.  If you tell them to do something they don't want to do?  You're yelling.  Try to correct a bad choice or mistake?  Yep, yelling again.  Please note -- at no time do you even need to raise your voice to be yelling either.

I wonder where the shades of meaning from our language got lost on my kids (and probably even others of this generation.)  Why they can't use precise language to express their feelings, ideas and desires.  How their inability to see shades of meaning affects others and their reactions to their statements.

Maybe I need to give them a thesaurus for their next birthday....

I find their skewed sense of language stressing, which is also causing me to feel exhausted, overwhelmed, irritated and flummoxed.  

And yes, I really do mean it.