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Category archive for: Slice of Life

A Need to Belong

Posted in Slice of Life, and Uncategorized


An essential element of the personalized learning classroom is CHOICE. The definition I use for CHOICE is cobbled together from a variety of sources; take a look:

“Learners must have ownership and invest in their learning. Learning should appeal to individual interests, strengths, and needs as well as enable one to develop and manage self. Students are provided options in all aspects of the learning; this may include co-owning decisions about content, process, product and/or assessment.”

If you spend any time in our room, you will see CHOICE all around. From self-chosen novels to seating, learners are empowered to make good decisions about their learning. Case in point, this trimester I introduced “The Old Geezer Club”. Wanting to encourage students to read “older” books, this club requires members to read a minimum of 2 books written prior to 2000. (Ouch…I feel so old!) Imagine my surprise when the majority of my homeroom said “yes!” to joining the club. Mind you…there are no huge rewards for joining this group; the reward is the feeling of belonging…being part of something.

Time travel with me to the beginning of March:

Sitting down to plan for the third trimester, I considered requiring all of my students to read two books published before 2000; I couldn’t bear the thought that they might graduate from high school never having met Maniac Magee, Matilda or Sam from “My Side of the Mountain.” But that small voice inside me whispered…”remember…experience…create an experience” and “The Old Geezers Club” was born. What will we do in this club? I dunno. I’m just a passenger on this journey…same as my students. Excitement. Joy. Passion. Glee. That’s what I heard today when I asked who was joining the club. No, I cannot guarantee my students will become better readers because of this one experience; but wanting to do something versus being told to do something is a powerful way to cultivate a love for learning.

The Missing Muse

Posted in Slice of Life


I have a blog post just ready to be shared…but I can’t. I just can’t. I know what words to share but I need to find the article responsible for my inspiration behind “Spill the Ink.” I saw it the other day but I. Cannot. Find. It. Now.


I will keep searching until I find it. Because this post needs that article. Think of it as the muse. Stay tuned…


The Art of Hearing

Posted in Slice of Life

One of my greatest joys is to share what is happening in our classroom. There’s this blog, of course. We’ve also had visitors from several neighboring school districts over the past several months. Then a couple of weeks ago, I spoke with Christine McCormick, Director of Technology for our district. She was interested in learning more about the Meraki’s, a group of teachers who spend time exploring the idea of personalized learning. We recorded our conversation; you can listen to it HERE.

But as much as I love talking about our learning space and could yap all day, the truth is, no one tells the story of our classroom better than the kids themselves. So I suggested Christine jump to the heart of the matter and interview my students; below you’ll find the finished product. It is chock full of goodness. Listen carefully and you’ll hear wisdom way beyond these kids’ 10 or 11 years.

But do me a favor. Don’t just listen…instead, hear…really hear, what they’re saying. And then, after you’ve heard what they’ve said and thought deeply about your own students, ask yourself this one simple question:

“Who owns the learning in my classroom?”

Tracks of Thinking

Posted in Slice of Life

Yesterday I shared some beginning thoughts about making learning and thinking visible. The power of being able to get pictures of our students’ thinking in powerful. It provides us with valuable insight into their understandings and misconceptions.

As we study Mildred Taylor’s brilliant novel, “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry”, I’ve invited the kids to keep tracks of their thinking. Some use post-it notes or their reader/writer notebook. Others choose to follow along in their own copy of the book.

The two images above were created by Macey, a fifth grader in my class and an extraordinarily gifted artist. She decided to document her thinking using a new tool in our classroom; it is called a “Rocket Wave Notebook” and it allows the user to create analog notes or pictures, convert them into digital images and send them to a variety of digital spaces. These “tracks of thinking” can now be uploaded to Macey’s digital portfolio as evidence of her relationship with the written word.

Relationship with the written word.

The ultimate goal, wouldn’t you say?


Turn the Invisible Visible

Posted in Slice of Life


Creating learning spaces that cultivate learning takes time and thought; particularly as I strive to imagine new ways of thinking about learning. Last spring, I was given the enormous gift of being able to start from scratch when designing my new space. I had spent a great deal of time learning everything I could about flexible learning spaces, so I had some ideas of what I wanted. A non-negotiable was that whatever I placed in my space would promote the idea of making thinking and learning visible. Digital technologies and whiteboard space would help support that goal. I took it one step further when I asked for (and received) three dry erase tables. As the lead learner of reading and writing, I wanted the students’ thoughts, ideas and imaginations to be on full display throughout the day.

The images above tell the story of our classroom. We use our writable spaces all. the. time. We draw pictures, make lists, brainstorm ideas and create mind maps on those spaces. We utilize them to start conversations, debate ideas and share stories. It is a glorious thing to meander around my classroom and peek into my students’ minds. It allows me to know them on a deeper level, redirect misunderstandings and create bonds that will last a lifetime. As I move forward, I’ll continue to search for ways to turn the invisible, visible.

The Importance of Bridges – Part One

Posted in Slice of Life

Today I was reminded about the importance of bridges. Not the steel kind but the relational kind; the kind that can lead to “yes” or “no”. Deep or surface. Success or failure. The kind of bridge that says, “you are wanted…you are needed.” Each word we speak can build an impenetrable connection or create a vast crevasse. Sometimes the weight of our humanness brings on temporary amnesia but ultimately, we are drawn back to the reason why we became a teacher in the first place.

The bridges. Always the bridges.



Posted in Slice of Life

Writing. Tough, frustrating and often painful. It reminds me of this quote:

But the magic that happens when will beats out retreat is otherworldly. That point when the words somehow find their way to each other like long lost friends. That, my friends, is pure inspiration and those brilliant moments occur only so often…and often when we least expect it.

Today…the unexpected happened…twice.

Avery’s Moment 

Avery has been blogging everyday as part of the “Slice of Life Blogging Challenge.” This challenge is not for the faint of heart, by the way. It is grueling to post each and every day for 31 days. So it’s no wonder I have a deep sense of awe for the students who have signed on to participate in the challenge. Midway through the day, Avery approached me tentatively and asked if I would listen to her post…so far. As she read it to me, I felt that familiar flutter. It was beautiful; her voice was shining through bright and strong. She excitedly told me she didn’t know what was happening but the “ideas were just rolling out of her.”

She sauntered away to continue working on the post but returned soon after to read her finished product. Take a look at Avery’s moment:

Gorgeous. Sublime. Stunning.

Noah’s Moment

The second moment came towards the end of the day. Designing our new digital learning portfolios using Google Sites, the kids are required to include a “welcome” on the front page. As the day was winding to a close, Noah excitedly ran up to me and asked if I would read his “welcome.” Here’s his moment:

I don’t think Noah would mind me mentioning that he entered 5th grade telling me he hated reading and writing…and now…now Noah IS a reader and writer.

Moments. Glistening Mica Moments. Not once, but twice. In one day.

The Life of a Teacher

Posted in Slice of Life

This is not a pity party, I promise…but I just spent the entire day designing learning experiences for this upcoming week and I’m e-x-h-a-u-s-t-e-d. I want to write…want to work on a spectacular blog post but I just can’t. I’m smart enough to know when I’ve hit a brick wall…and I’ve hit a brick wall. This is my post for today; totally devoid of effort, creativity, deep thinking. So, I’ll head off to bed now, hopefully waking up renewed and ready to “grow” another incredible day with my students. Oh…and I’ll see you right back here tomorrow night!

Beautiful Dwelling

Posted in Slice of Life

My son, Liam, is home this weekend. He’s a Junior at Ohio State University. We’re thankful he actually made it to college. Not because he was incapable; he did well in school, graduating a year early and entering college as a sophomore. No, we were unsure if he would go to college because early in his life, the fire that he had for education was all but extinguished by the time he graduated. The cause of the fire being put out? Simple. He was a square peg being ground into a round hole.

It began when he was only 7 years old and I distinctly remember the sadness that took root inside me; as a teacher, I desperately wanted him to love learning. It wasn’t until he was in high school, however, that the sadness turned to anger. How, in the 21st Century, could we still be herding kids into a one-size-fits-all corral? It was excruciating to hear him talk about sitting behind a desk, eight hours a day, five days a week, a prisoner of an archaic educational system. His only joy was coming home, getting on the computer and feeding himself huge doses of information he WAS interested in…the military, how to succeed in life and what it takes to be an entrepreneur. A small ember, still burning but just barely.

This is not an indictment of teachers; we’re handed a script and we do the best we can with what we have but because Liam occupies a huge part of my heart, you can imagine how this fueled my desire to change how we “do” school. It’s why, after 30 years of teaching, I am still passionate about fostering change and why I made the decision to return to the classroom after being out for 10 years.  On Monday, when I go to school, I will know that my son dwells in every beautiful corner of that space.


On Being a Builder of Castles

Posted in Slice of Life

I am working on more fully developing my reading program. In the spirit of Yaris and Burkin, authors of “Who’s Doing the Work: How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More“, there are four main components to our program:

Read Aloud

Shared Reading

Guided Reading

Independent Reading

A deep belief of mine is that the foundation of a reading life is enjoyment; students must first enjoy reading. So we’ve worked really hard to create a space where reading permeates every moment of our day. Look around our room and it is quickly evident that we lead readerly lives. People like Donalyn Miller and Pernille Ripp have hugely shaped what I believe about reading and I value their experienced voices.

Although I’m proud of the work we’ve done to lift the enjoyment of reading, there is still much to do. Once students are voracious readers, they must learn how to navigate their way through a myriad of texts…to read deeply. As always, though, I’m interested in discovering new ways of thinking about reading. Enter…who else, Yaris and Burkin…again. They offer new lenses for looking at reading. They call it “next generation reading“, where they have taken traditional frameworks and put a new spin to reflect our changing world.

Some of the other books sitting on my nightstand:

Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst

Reading Nonfiction by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst

No More Independent Reading without Support by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss

No More Reading for Junk by Barbara A. Marinak and Linda B. Gambrell

Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts

Obviously, the program will be rooted in my beliefs about personalized learning, students owning the learning and authenticity.  I’ll continue to blog about my journey as I build this castle. Please feel free to offer advice, ask questions and dream with me.


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