Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Making Connections {SOL 6.20.17}

It's almost here....!!!

Tomorrow, I will pack up the car and head four hours east toward Warsaw, IN for the ALL WRITE conference.

This year is my 4th year attending and I couldn't be more excited!

When I went to my first All Write conference four years ago, I went completely alone. I did not know a single person. (And, I might add, I was pretty darn proud of myself for being so brave to go it alone!)

My bravery paid off. I was quickly swooped up by a group of amazing ladies -- Linda Baie, Mary Helen Gensch, Ruth Ayres, LeAnn Carpenter, Leigh Ann Eck, Christy Rush-Levine, Kim Barrett, and others that I'm sure I am unintentionally forgetting -- and welcomed into their group.

Looking back, I think my professional life really started to change when I went to my first All Write conference. I feel like I found my tribe. I connected with other educators who believe in the same things I do -- the power of writing and leading a literate life.

Tomorrow I will see many of these ladies again in real life (versus on blogs, Twitter chats, etc.). I am so looking forward to it.

But I wanted to tell you.....

If you are going to All Write, especially if you are going alone, let's connect! I'd love to meet you and welcome you into our tribe. Look for my "Teach Write" shirt. Send me a tweet (@laffinteach) or stop by my session on Friday and say "Hey!".  I'm presenting on "The Cartonera Project: Every Student an Author" during the final session on Friday.

Safe travels!


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Door {SOL 6.06.17}

This is the door to the classroom where I have taught for the past nine years.

Beyond this door is the classroom where I learned along with 208 fourth- and fifth-grade students.


We wrote magical stories in this room.

We learned how to divide fractions in this room.

We pursued passion projects in this room.

We went on adventures with Pax, Edward, Ally, Ada, Bud, Melody and Auggie in the books we read together in this room.

We held family meetings in this room.

We learned about explorers, space, Native Americans, the Revolutionary War, the human body systems, the Ice Age, energy and good nutrition in this room.

We learned how to solve problems, how to help each other, and the power of the word 'yet' in this room.

We made cards for sick friends and celebrated birthdays in this room.


Last week Friday, I walked through this door into this room for the final time.

I had made the decision to leave the classroom and teaching to start and grow my new business, Teach Write, last November. I had plenty of time to prepare for this day -- the last time I would walk through this door into the room that held so many good memories of the past nine years.

The last nine years have been simply amazing. I wouldn't have changed a thing.

At the end of the day, I walked back through that door and headed out, never to return.

I'm not sure what the future holds, but nine years ago when I first walked through that door into my new classroom, I didn't know either.

And it all turned out okay.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Squawky Momma Bird {SOL 5.23.17}

I heard her before I saw her.

The telltale "yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip" I have heard many, many times.

Up the road from where I was walking last night, I saw her -- long twiggy legs carrying her swiftly away from the shoulder of the road across to the other side. Once there, she sat down on in the gravel, fanned her tail, stuck her right wing out at an awkward angle and began to shake. As I approached, she got up, ran about 20 feet up the road and repeated her broken wing act.
video

The "her," in this case, is a bird called a Kildeer. Kildeer are known for protecting their nests (which they build on the ground in grass or gravel) by distracting a predator with a high pitched yip and pretending to be injured. Their goal in this act is to draw a predator away from the nest, thinking the adult bird is an easy target instead.


I had no intention of harming the nest, yet the momma bird insisted in yipping at me until I moved way past them and up the hill.

When my daughter was younger, she rightfully called this bird the Squawky Momma Bird. The sound the Kildeer makes is rather obnoxious and persistent. The name has stuck after all these years.

She is one determined momma. Very protective. Very smart. Very clever.

But then again, most of the moms I know are.





Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Running Out of Books {SOL 5.02.17}

I have a problem....

I am running out of books for my some of my students to read.

Not all of my students, just a few of the higher level girls.

(The boys seem to be happy with a constant diet of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate or Goosebumps.)

These girls have read everything I've got. Pax. Hour of the Bees. Fish in a Tree. The Red Pencil. Wish. The Last Fifth Grade. Raymie Nightengale. Land of the Forgotten Girls. The Seventh Wish. The War That Saved My Life. Almost Home. Mr. Lemoncello. Echo.

And more.

You see, we are nearing the end of our second year together. We looped together from fourth grade to fifth grade so they lost out on having access to a new teacher's library. They were high readers in fourth grade and even higher in fifth.

Now I'm finding that not only do I not have new book recommendations for them, many of the books that are available for them at their reading level are not "appropriate" for fifth-grade girls. (LOVE and other things like that.)

I've tried to encourage them to reread a few of their favorites and they have. But it is killing me not being able to put new books into their hands.

Suggestions?





Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Scents of Life {SOL 4.25.17}

I was walking through the health and beauty section when I saw it sitting on an end cap: A giant display of Coast Soap.

I picked up the package (16 bars!!) and deeply inhaled through the cellophane wrapping. That clean, crisp scent brought me instantly back to the days of my childhood when we showered off the remnants from spending the day playing outside or swimming in the lake with good ol' bright blue Coast Soap.  It was like I was 8 years old again. It made me happy so I bought the 16 pack.

A trip down memory also happens when I smell the smoke of blown out candles.

That scent transports me back to the days of my family birthday parties which my mom always held on the last Sunday of January. This day was always bittersweet because it marked the end of the monthlong feeling of celebration that ran from Christmas day until my birthday on January 27th. Once my birthday passed, it was back to boring old winter. The blowing out of those candles signified the end of this time. It made me feel a bit sad. Smelling the smoke of a blown out candle still makes me think of this, bringing along feelings of melancholy.

Things like the scent of certain shampoos I have used can transport me back in time. Just smelling the scent can trigger a memory of something that was going on when I last used the same shampoo.


Does this happen to anyone else?



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Focus on the Good {SOL 4.18.17}

I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about how I approach conferring with my student writers.

As a teacher, I think I am sometimes unconsciously hardwired to want to fix things, to make them better.

I see something that is "wrong" and instantly try to make it right by breaking out my red pen.

The result is often a piece of student writing that is full of red ink, circled words, and comments that are not as helpful as I would hope. The ownership of the writing has left the hands of the student writer.

       Does this ever happen to you too?

Sometimes, we get so focused on fixing that we overlook what is already going well.

Sometimes, our continued helpfulness even makes the student lose their enthusiasm for writing altogether. Because....who wants to be told what they are doing wrong all the time? (I don't!)

So as I sit with my student writers, I try to keep this in mind. I try to be more aware of the words I use to talk with them about what I see in their writing. I try to always, always, always lead our conferences out with what I see them doing well.

       "I noticed you used the Power of Three...."

       "This part is very easy to visualize..."

       "Your paragraphing makes your article easy to follow....."

       "The FANBOY you used gives you nice sentence variety...."

Sometimes, I will leave it at that -- a few minutes together, talking about all the goodness I see in their writing. I offer no unwarranted suggestions before I send them back to work. The result always leaves the student writer feeling good.

Some days, when I am feeling the desire to push them a little further or that "fixer mindset" washes over me,  I will I ask them..."How can I help you with this piece of writing today?"

I don't tell them what I want them to fix. I leave it up to them.

And the funny thing is, about eight times out of ten, they ask for help on the exact thing that I noticed needed help.

But then it was THEIR idea, not mine.

THEY remain in control.

THEY retain complete ownership of their writing.

     And best yet --

THEY still walk away from the conference feeling empowered to make their own writing choices.


So while we do spend time in class talking about the importance of correct spelling and conventions (those things that bring on the wrath of red ink), I try not to focus on it in our writing conferences.

I want my students to know that there is more to good writing than just proper comma placement and capital letters.

Compliment conferences focus on the good in writing and can help turn a disengaged writer into one that takes ownership and interest in writing again.

So as you go about your conferring with your student writers, I challenge you to spend a day just giving compliments (and only compliments!) on the goodness in their writing and see what happens. You might be surprised how this simple act changes the students -- and changes you!

Looking for more ideas for teaching writing? Visit my Teach Write site for lots of other ideas and to sign up for our newsletter.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Celebrating an Idea

If you are reading this, there's a pretty good chance that you are a teacher (of any capacity) who writes.

The internet has provided us with a wonderful opportunity to connect ourselves and our words with other teacher writers.  These connections inspire us, sustain us, and give us an audience (and sometimes a therapist) for our words and ideas.

Being a teacher who writes also helps us in the writing classroom. We can share our writing processes, writing struggles, and writing celebrations with our student writers. As fellow writers, we "get it."

We are better writing teachers because of the writing we do ourselves.

But there are lots and lots of writing teachers out there who do not know this.

For them, their writing instruction often comes out of a manual with scripts and directions for teaching writing. Conferring with and assessing their student writers is often dreaded because these teachers don't know what to say. The manual doesn't usually come with an "If you see this, then say this" section. (And if it did, who could memorize all of that anyways?)

          But there is a better way.

Write!



Earlier this week, I put out a call on social media and to a few of my email friends to take a survey about being a teacher who writes. The results will help shape a book I am writing.


The response has been overwhelming. In the first three days, almost 100 teachers responded to the survey, sharing their thoughts about the importance of writing teachers being writers themselves.

But it wasn't just the vast number of responses that struck me, it was also the comments:

"I never realized how important it was to write myself in order to better my teaching of writing. You gotta live it to teach it."

"To me, it is the most important qualification of a writing teacher."

"You have to write to know how it feels. You have to be willIng to be vulnerable with the students so can offer the help/guidance you would want to have."


I can tell I'm on to something here.

This is a story that needs to be told. Ideas that need to be shared.

I am still in the way, way early stages of this book, but the words of the teachers who have taken this survey have inspired me in more ways than I can say.

So this week, I celebrate this idea, the educators who are sharing their thoughts, and the power of being a teacher who writes.
If you would like to share your thoughts about being a teacher who writes, you can find my survey here.