Friday, March 31, 2017


Today, after an amazing assembly at school, I had my students write their last slice for the challenge. I wanted everyone, even those who only wrote a handful of times, to write. I had them all write about the assembly.

After they wrote their slices, I asked for a SOL reflection.

No rules.

Just reflect.




Here they are:

Seth S.: What I think about SOL is it was challenging, hard but fun. SOL really helped me put more detail in my writing. I also like SOL because I get to practice on my handwriting. Sometimes it is hard to do because I have practice and homework so I don't have enough time to do it.

Aubrie: I am really sad that Slice of Life ended. I loved participating in it. I loved how Mrs. Waugh would show us the different types of writing, and how she challenged us to go home and write in that style. I wish we could do SOL for the rest of the year.

Bradley: I had a lot of fun doing the Slice of Life challenge. It was awesome. You should do this again with the other 5th graders. I had a great time.

Haley: I liked doing it everyday. I did it but on March 15th I forgot to do it and ever since then, I kept forgetting to do it. But now I want to do it over spring break. I really do hope that I do not forget to do it because my family might go to Legoland during spring break. And my mom and dad have the whole week off of work to go. The challenge was fun to do but I kept forgetting.

Josh: I really did not like the SOL because it stressed me out and at night I get so tired. My favorite part was where we got to share. I shared when I went to Zapzone. Mrs. Waugh really encouraged us to do our best. My second favorite part is that we are rewriting one SOL and putting it in a book.

Sklyar: My slice of life reflection is something I was hoping to do. I wrote for every single day in March, that is 31 days. I am happy that I managed to write EVERY day for that long. I remember almost falling asleep without writing. I can't believe I will get a pizza party and some prizes. It's hard, not really, to know that I guess I'm "free." I don't think that is the right word but, still. Last night, I just wasn't going to write, but then I thought of Hanna; she really wants to do the pizza party, so I got up and wrote. This month I accomplished my goal, and learned that I CAN accomplish a goal that I have.

Drew: I enjoyed doing SOL because it made me not skp any days, and I wanted to do all 31 days of it. I completed 31 days of Slice of Life or the whole month of March. SOL made me think more and it made my handwriting better. Now I put more detail in my writing. I think you should do this next year Mrs. Waugh.

Seth B.: The slice of life I didn't really like it because it was kind of boring to me. I think other people liked it though.

Hailee M.: I like writing in my slice of life because we get to write about our day. I like to write and write about our day at school or anything. I like the slice of life challenge. I think that you should do slice of life challenge every year. I think the kids will like it as much as I did.

Ceili: I loved the SOL challenge. I missed just one day. That seems very impressive, but it was nothing. It was a little hard, though. Going through 31 days of writing, at least eight sentences everyday was hard, especially because I'm not a very responsible person! The SOL challenge was super fun, and I would do it again.

Savannah: The challenge was ok but sometimes I was so tired I did not want to do it. It got annoying sometimes when I had no homework but that. Sometimes I just couldn't wait for it to be over. But sometimes it was fun. I got to express myself on bad days or good days. I got to express my feelings so I did not have to hold them in. Sometimes I was really excited. Sometimes I just didn't want to do it but it helped me a lot for writing for 31 days. Because I know it helped me to be a better writer.

Avree: I really liked doing the Slice of Life. It was like I had somebody there to talk to. I loved when I got to tell you about my day. It makes me feel like somebody cares. My parents are there for me too and I love how they pay attention to me and ready my stuff. And how they help me when I need help. Thank you.

Hanna: What I liked about this Slice of Life challenge is that it helped me write a little better and helped me express myself because I don't really talk about what I do and about my life. But right now I am really excited about the prizes and the pizza party!

Kaylee S.: I didn't really like Slice of Life after the twenty-first. I don't like talking about what I think or do after or during school. But when we first started, I loved it.

Chrissy: Slice of Life made me feel good! Some things I didn't want to talk about. Those days I wouldn't write. But some days I just couldn't get enough out. I just wanted to write and write to tell how I was feeling. Slice of Life was good for me because I could express my feelings and not hold it in. Also, my teacher could know what is going on!

Abbi: I really enjoyed doing the Slice of Life challenge. I like that Mrs. Waugh did it with us. I liked sitting down and writing my favorite part of my day. Sometimes I couldn't think what to write. Those times I wrote poems and did crazy things. I wish we did Slice of Life every month.

Chesney: I didn't do much for the Slice of Life challenge. I wanted to, but I kept forgetting! After missing too many days to reach my goal, I kind of gave up. Not only that, but nothing interesting happens to me at home. I usually just write stories, draw and watch anime all day (after homework). I didn't enjoy the Slice of Life challenge only because I never remembered to write! I had fun the days I did get to write though.

Kaylee F.: My reflection of Slice of Life is that I really liked it but I only participated six times only because I forgot to write in it. I thought it was really fun to do it because we got to test out different styles of writing. I loved being able to share what happened to me at home or at school. I loved being able to share my slices that happened during the day.

Ashley: Slice of Life was sort of fun, but sometimes exhausting. That was because I had NO clue of what to write about. Once Mrs. Waugh said we could do poems, it was so much easier. When I had not homework, that's what I did. I am kind of glad it is over because it took a lot of thought and time. I want to do another challenge sometime. I think I am going to write for a few more days when I have time.

Duncan: I like the SOL challenge even thought I did not reach my goal. It was fun and hard, but I pushed through  it. Do you you know why it was nice? Because you can write every day and if you like it you should do it every day. But me, I would not because that's just me. But be yourself and if you want to keep doing that. Do it!!!

And for the seven kids who were absent, I will get their reflections after spring break.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


This morning as I was checking in my slicers it dawned on me that we only have two days left of this challenge. As I was thinking it, I must of said it out loud because one girl said, "Thank goodness."

I said, "What?! You aren't going to continue writing?"

She replied with a quick, "No."

I said, "I think I am going to continue. Although it is work. I like it. I feel like I am telling my story."

Another girl chimed in and said, "I think I am going to continue too."

At the start of the challenge all 27 students participated but by the end of the week, they started dropping off. I currently have about 15 who have written every day or close to that.

And here is what I have noticed.

They get what a slice is and when a student didn't understand what the word anecdote meant, I was able to explain that it was fancy word for a slice of life.

Some students who have done no homework for me all year, have written in their SOL notebooks every single day.

Their voice. Their voice is coming out in everything they write, even their science research papers.

They love to write. A week or so ago during practice for student led conferences I overheard one student telling another, "When I started the year, I hated to write. Now it is my favorite thing to do. I love it."

They love telling me what they wrote about, and I enjoy listening to them.  I am able to make a quick connection with them, which is important.

They are experimenting. I have been sharing my blog and those that I make comments on to give them ideas.

They feel successful. And there is no grade tied to it.

As I reflect over this past month, I just swell with pride. For them and me. This is what I needed to get myself back on track with my writing. Not only have I developed a style, I feel as though I have found my voice. I am going to publish my month long slices on, an online publishing site.

And my students are going to publish their favorite slice as well. I can't wait for them to see the finished product. If they don't feel like authors yet, they will when they see their book.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Operation 1,000 Days

For the past two years, in honor of 9/11, my social studies students have brainstormed ideas for what they could do for a service learning project. I then take five of the project ideas that I believe to be doable and open up the project to volunteers. I hold a meeting to give more information about how the project works. Any interested student stays on and the ones that don't feel it is for them, leave. Once I have my group, I put up the five ideas and we vote.

Meetings happen once a week during their lunch and recess time. This year I have 32 students involved; this is one third of the fifth grade.  They voted to help with the Flint Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan. If you are not familiar with it, the Detroit Free Press put out a powerful visual essay on December 17, 2016. You can watch it here.

My students wanted to help another elementary school in Flint. I knew of a high school teacher in Flint who was doing student work with the crisis and reached out to her.  She connected me to her brother who works in the after-school program at one of the elementary schools. He gave me the contact information for the principal at Neithercut Elementary. I called the principal and talked with her. I explained what my fifth grade service learning team wanted to do and asked her what she needed.  She explained that the students in Flint still cannot drink the water. The Flint Coalition provides bottled water to the students every other day and another organization provides fresh fruits and vegetables. All the students receive breakfast and lunch daily. What they needed, she said, was healthy snacks and books to help reverse the damage the lead has already done.

These students have lead in their blood due to the water supply. The lead has caused a lot of problems including headaches, stomach aches, rashes, anemia, and behavior problems. It also can affect brain development. Can you imagine not realizing that something you need for survival is actually causing you pain?

When I told my students what the principal had said, we created a plan. The students created flyers to send out to the families at our school asking for donations, wrote business letters to community businesses requesting donations, and called companies that make healthy snacks asking for food donations.

And yesterday I was made aware of an award that encourages students to pay it forward. It is called ePIFanyNOw. The deadline is April 10th, the day we get back from spring break. Since this is something that I think they could be win, I called an emergency meeting during lunch. I explained the award and told them what was involved. Today they answered the two essay questions and tomorrow they will create the video. If they win, they could receive between $500-$1,000 towards the purchase of healthy snacks for the cause.

The first essay question was easy for them to answer. It was an informative one about the project. The second, however, was a little more difficult. When I asked them "Why should your project win the Y-PIF Award?" They all looked at me.

Nobody raised their hands.

I then said, "This service learning project was open to every fifth grader, and you all showed up. Each week you give up your recess and eating in the lunch room to be a part of this. Why?"


Then a stream of hands went up.

This was their response: " Our project should be picked because it has been over 1,000 days since the residents of Flint have been able to drink water from their taps. We feel fortunate that we can drink fresh water and bathe without thinking about it. We want to help these kids because we want to make a difference. We can't imagine what it would be like to not have clean water and the water we did have, poison  our bodies. Sometimes we take what we have for granted and others aren't as fortunate as us."

They get it. 

They deserve the award.

But we will let the board of directors decide that. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Modeling is a No-Brainer

This is the first year that I have taken part in the Slice of Life month long challenge, and I invited my students to join me. They are familiar with SOL because every Tuesday they participate in the weekly SOL on our class wiki. It has been hard to help them understand that a slice is just a sliver of their day. They want to write about more than one little piece because they have so much to say. This challenge has been wonderful for them because they are finally understanding they can write a lot about one specific piece of their day.

I have been sharing my online slices with my students and offering them challenges. A few weeks back it was to try to write a slice in poem form. They then had to try, if they were up for it, a found poem. A few days back I shared a number poem and that became a challenge. Yesterday I  shared with them a post that I had commented on. It was called a book poem. I had never seen it before and thought it was neat. We talked about how to do it and although it looked simple, thought it would be very difficult.

This group of students have frequently told me they really like when I "show" them how to do things. It helps them understand the task at hand better. For me, modeling is a no brainer. I incorporate it into every lesson I teach. If I didn't model various types of writing, I wouldn't be seeing and hearing all that I have this month in their SOL notebooks.

For this month long challenge, my students are using a pencil/paper format.  Each morning they talk to me about what they wrote about the day before. This morning, as I was checking in my slicers, one student took on the book poem challenge. She told me that as she was riding her bike, she noticed a lot of things outside and decided she was going to create her book poem about that.

You can find it below.

I thought she did an incredible job.

Now. Time to find another challenge for them!

Monday, March 27, 2017

From the Inside Looking Out

We have an after school routine in our house. We get home, put our things away, do homework if we have it, get snacks for school the next day, and make lunches. After that is done, then I make dinner while the kids play. This school year the kids (5th, 3rd, and 1st) have started making their own lunches, which is great because I HATE making lunches.

But it was mild today in Michigan. A, you don't really need a coat kind of mild. After we came into the house and the kids put their things away, they asked, "Can we go outside and play?"

"Sure. I will call you when dinner is ready."

No, they didn't do homework.
No, they didn't get their snacks for the next day.
No, they didn't make their own lunches.

They were outside. Playing. Something I did on a daily basis when I was young and which seems to be disappearing from today's youth.

I, on the other hand, watched them from the kitchen window.

I watched them playing tag together.
I watched the giggles and heard the squeals as one of them found the other.
I watched them enjoy the fresh air.
I watched them play. Like kids are supposed to.

And for today, I got their snacks and made their lunches.
Their homework, however, is on them.
But it can wait.
Until they are done playing. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

By the Numbers

I have read a few of these by the number posts recently and thought I would try it out.

1. The amount of times my daughter came down to tell me she couldn't sleep.

2. The amount of girl scout cookies I just ate.

3. The number of children I tucked into bed tonight.

4. The loads of laundry I have done today.

5. The number of stacks of papers that I corrected before noon.

6. The number of things I will wear running tomorrow morning if the weather stays mild.

7. The hours I will get to sleep tonight if I go to bed and fall asleep in 14 minutes.

8. The age of my middle child.

9. The time I was supposed to be in bed.

10. The amount of things that I still need to do tonight but would rather accomplish number seven.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Key

This morning as I was scrolling through the news online, I came across a story about Detroit, a place that I spent the first ten years of my life. The article went on to talk about a house from Detroit that is going to be on the show "This Old House." What I found fascinating were the before pictures.  Although the house was in shambles on the inside, you could see the history.  You could see that one time it belonged to a family and was loved. It reminded me of the house I grew up in on Three Mile Drive and brought back a flood of memories.

I remember the small pond my father built in the backyard that was home to a lot of goldfish.

I remember watering my sister in her playpen, so she would grow like the flowers and could play with me.

I remember building an eight foot tall snowman with a yellow hat in the backyard on a rare snow day.

I remember the birthday parties my mother used to throw, making me feel extremely special.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my sisters trading our Halloween candy.

I remember opening presents on Christmas morning while a fire burned in the fireplace.

I remember the stain glass windows in the living room that would flood the floor with an array of colors.

I remember the bedrooms upstairs with the long walk in closets where my sisters and I would play.

I remember my mother studying for the bar exam while I was in second grade showing me what hard work looked like.

I remember the character of the house with original glass windows, wood molding, and natural wood floors.

And I remember the key. The one I took after the house was long abandon like so many of them in Detroit.

This key is the connection to my childhood and all those memories from long ago.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sharing the Journey

I selfishly decided to try the Slice of Life challenge for the first time because I needed a push to get back into writing. I was pretty excited and challenged my students to join me too. Instead of blogging they are doing it the old fashion way: with paper and pencil. For them, there are incentives, just like for me. I have a steady amount of kids who have written every single day so far! And that makes my heart smile.

Each morning we do a slice check in where the students come see me, tell me what they wrote about the day before, then I keep track of their writing on a chart that is up in the classroom. They always check to make sure that I wrote and more times than not, I share my writing with them. I have been trying to step out of my comfort zone and try various writing techniques that I have noticed on the bloggers that I comment on.

By sharing my writing, I have introduced all different forms of poetry. And my once we don't get poetry kids, are writing poetry all the time. Today I shared my post from yesterday about student-led conferences. It had repetition, showed what I observed during this, and introduced found poems.

My students are familiar with black-out poetry but this was different. I shared the process I went through to produce the blog post. I talked about my struggles with what I wanted to stand out, how I had to rearrange my sentences to create the found poem, and I had to really think. I did a lot of staring at my screen, typing, deleting, and retyping.  I know they appreciated what I had to say about them, and they thought the found poem was really neat.

My students are writers. They write because they like to. They write because I don't grade or judge any writing in their writer's notebook. Their notebook is their safe place. They can write however they want. Follow rules. Not follow rules. They experiment and have voice. I wonder how many of them will step out of their comfort zone this weekend and try a found poem.

If I had to gather, I would say a lot because they are risk takers. And they LOVE to write.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Taking Ownership

Spring conferences. I wasn't sure what to expect as this year they were student led. I have never done these before but went in with an open mind. I LOVED them.

I loved the relaxed atmosphere around the room because there wasn't a set time the students needed to be there.

I loved watching the students take ownership of their learning as they explained their strengths and weaknesses.

I loved listening to the conversations between parent and student as parents asked thoughtful questions, making their child think.

I loved the explanations the students gave in response to those questions.

I loved when the students helped their parents understand the areas they are struggling with.

I loved the plans they started to create to turn those struggles into strengths.

I loved  all the hard work we did with our data binders as it gave their work meaning.

I loved being able to be there for the students if they needed my guidance.

I loved how poised and versed the students were with their learning.

I loved when the students went off the agenda and just shared everything they were proud of.

I loved everything about them.

But most importantly, I loved just sitting back and witnessing the interaction between parent and child.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Curious Incident

I love art. I always have. Even when I thought I was going to fail school because I didn't get it, art saved me. Today I had the opportunity to preview the artwork that my fifth grade social studies students created for the Broadway show, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Wharton Center in East Lansing, Michigan. The program, Eye for Broadway, encourages schools to create art pieces for various Broadway shows throughout the year. This is our fifth year of participating. I try to pick shows where I can incorporate social studies into the curriculum. But this year, I chose Curious Incident because I wanted my students to be exposed to the autism spectrum. Our special education teacher came and talked to all 82 fifth graders and educated them on the autism spectrum. Then after a brief summary of the book at a fifth grade level, these students created 29 amazing pieces of art. Today, I will let my slice be a visual representation.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

At the Moment...

It's 8:45 and here is what I can tell you at this moment:

  1.  I am tired. 
  2.  I almost  forgot to write my slice today.
  3.  I am tired.
  4.  I have snapshot writing to comment on.
  5.  I am tired.
  6.  I have 82 social studies recipe projects to correct by the morning. 
  7.  I am tired.
  8.  Conferences are on Thursday.
  9. I am tired. 
  10. I worked my other job tonight.
  11. I am tired. 
  12. The kids are asleep.
  13. They were tired. 
  14. I am wondering where I might find my motivation to stay awake for a few more hours. 
  15. I am tired. 
  16. Five in the morning comes early.
  17. I am tired. 
  18. I just don't want to do anything.
Because, you know, I am tired. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Blood on the River

I teach ELA to my homeroom and social studies to all three sections of fifth grade. One of my favorite things to do during social studies is read to my students. I always read some type of historical fiction novel that pertains to what I am teaching them at the time. Last week we started learning about the 13 colonies, and I started reading my absolute favorite historical fiction book of all time Blood on the River. If you aren't familiar with the book, it is about the founding of Jamestown. Elisa Carbone is so incredibly accurate that you would think it was non-fiction.

Today I read chapter six. It is getting so good, that at this point, the kids are hooked. And as I finished reading "When I see what it is, my mouth goes dry: a wooden frame, a rope hanging from the highest beam, a noose tied in the rope. Master Wingfield has not forgotten his promise to hang Captain Smith" (46), I heard one student tell another, "I love this book."


This is why I teach.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Collaboration

Once a month I have the opportunity to meet with an amazing group of educators. We meet either in person or in a google hangout. We usually flip flop months and tonight, we met in person. Most of us teach in different districts and at different levels, so it is wonderful to hear what everyone is doing.  We share the things we are doing in our classrooms, generate ideas and welcome feedback. Based on a conversation tonight, I came home and tweaked my reading and writing plans for the week. I appreciate being able to be a part of this community because although we are all teachers, we are also students.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


I tend to wait until the last minute to correct my papers over the weekend but due to an unexpected one child needed to miss gymnastics today, I found myself at home with her all afternoon. After cuddling and watching a movie, I figured I would be proactive and get something done. I usually like to relax on Saturdays and save my school work for Sundays, but tomorrow is a busy day and there are a lot of papers.

I felt determined. I was able to get through all the late work that was turned in. I then sat back and started correcting my students' magazines they did for our informational writing. I got the idea from the blogger Teaching With a Mountain View. If you have never visited her blog, I strongly suggest it. This was the first year my students did these magazines, and I LOVED how they turned out. When I am able to see how far the students have come through a project like this, it makes the correcting less tedious. I thoroughly enjoyed looking at them all.

And tomorrow, I might be able to relax a little bit.

After I stop in at school.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Just Past Twelve Fifteen in the Morning

I went to bed around 11:15 last night because I was bound and determined to correct every paper I had. At 11:45 p.m., my youngest came into my room to tell me her eye hurt. I was so tired I told her to get into bed with me. At 12:15 a.m. she told me her eye hurt again and she couldn't close it. I was quickly awake and turned on the light. To say I wasn't freaked out by what I saw would be an understatement. I texted a picture to my husband who was out with friends after work (second shift). He was home within 15 minutes getting her ready to take her to the ER.

What was most concerning was the side of her head that had ballooned up was in the exact same spot where she fell and hit her head last weekend while roller skating. So off those two went while I want back to my room to "try" to sleep.

I closed my eyes. Nothing.
I tried to relax. Nothing.
I sat up to check my phone. Nothing.

Waiting is the worst. Especially when it looks worse than it is.

Eventually they came back and everything was fine.

And she slept in between us, so I could keep an eye on her. Well, she slept. I mostly watched her.

That is, until my alarm went off two hours later.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

That One Story

My students have been writing in their writer's notebooks all year during Sacred Writing Time. I have utilized what they have written to teach grammar and other writing skills they are lacking. This week we have been using our stories to create poems through a remix. I have taught rhyme, repetition, and rhyme scheme. My once "I don't get poetry," students are turning into quite creative poets. They are enjoying it so much that many are writing poems for their nightly Slice of Life entries.

Today, I introduced the idea that for our Young Author's Day celebration in May (this is school wide) we are going to publish our favorite slice. We will do this on, an online publishing site. I have used them before, and I like how the books turn out. I told my students to start thinking about a slice they might want to revise. I then mentioned to them that I would be writing one too.

I have already decided what that is going to be.

It  is the one story I keep going back to.

The one about the orange juice.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Yes, You Actually Do Get It

As I swam in the pool this morning, I thought my slice for today was going to be about that. I had started  gathering thoughts about how I wanted to write it as I went back and forth. But then Sacred Writing Time happened and the pool slice was far from my mind.

Earlier this week I talked about my accidental plunge into poetry with my fifth graders. We have continued our journey through this unfamiliar genre. I have been doing remixes with them turning once stories into poems. I haven't really taught them a lot about poetry because I want them to experience it without rules.

Today we learned about repetition. I showed them a poem with a lot of repetition in it. They quickly were able to create a definition. But they were also able to make a lot of inferences and pick out the figurative language, which made me happy.

I then had them flip through their writer's notebooks and find a phrase that stood out. They boxed it, and their goal was to do a quick write, three minutes, using that phrase as their repetition. I set the timer to go and we were all off, moving our pencils as quickly as our hands would move.

After three minutes was up, we shared. I shared my poem which repeated the phrase
"when i was little." My students immediately recognized that I was writing in all lower case because little kids don't understand capitalization. They then realized that I keep going back to a story that I wrote at the beginning of the year. I told them that I believed this was a sign that I needed to do something with this story.

I then called on a boy that I knew would not share. He said, "I just don't get poetry.  I don't think I did it right."

"Well, let's see," I said.

As he was reading I felt as though his words were an expression about how he viewed himself. It wasn't a long poem, but it was powerful. I had goosebumps when he was done. "You definitely get poetry, " I said. "That. That was amazing."

And yes, I am kicking myself for not taking a picture and being able to post it here tonight.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Other Side of the Fence

In honor of being a parent at parent teacher conferences today and not a teacher, I have stepped out of my comfort zone, once again, and have written a poem.

The Other Side of the Fence

Today I sat on the other side
Listening to all the things
About my son
And daughters

I found myself wanting to hear
How they saw
Each one of them

I then observed
The teachers
Their body language
Their preparation
What they said

And I wondered
Is that how my students' parents
See me

Monday, March 13, 2017

3676 Three Mile Drive

Every day at 9:30 in the morning my students and I partake in sacred writing time. This is a time where we just write. There is no judgement, no grading. Just thoughts on paper. Many times sacred writing time is two-fold. There are mini-lessons, mentor texts, conversations. I might be teaching a skill needed later or trying to fine tune one that is rusty. My students know the rules when it is time to write. You write the whole time. That's it. No asking if you can do this or that. Just write.

I decided to give my students the same challenge I was given. Try to experiment. Write a poem, make a list. Because I have fifth graders, I went the poem route. We used a few poems as our mentor text, and I quickly realized this was an unfamiliar genre to my students. I had a sudden change of plans. I pulled out all the poetry books I had, and we immersed. We read and wrote down what we noticed. We then created an anchor chart about what stood out to us.

After that, we did something called a remix. The students found a piece of writing from their notebooks they liked and using the sandbox section of their book, they needed to turn that piece of writing into a poem. Anyway they wanted. This was difficult for many because they so badly wanted rules. I just wanted to see what they could do. And of course, as they wrote, I wrote. Here is my poem:

3676 Three Mile Drive

I was young. 
Two or three. 
And it was there.
Calling my name.
Large and round.
On the counter. 
Close to the edge. 

I was young. 
Two or three.
My little hands.
Were curious.
So I reached.
Using my tippy toes.
And grasped the handle.

I was young.
Two or three.
It came falling.
In slow motion.
Down on me.
From head to toe.
Covered, in sticky orange juice. 

And here is one from one of my students that gave all of us goose bumps:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Power of Grandparents

There are certain things about my grandparents that I vividly remember:

My Grandmother Iannarelli's homemade Italian pizza, her chain smoking at the kitchen table, and the time she washed my mouth out with soap.

My Grandfather Iannarelli's garden with large, red tomatoes, his old car, and his stories.

My Grandmother Luberto's Detroit neighborhood, her Italian meatballs, and the arguments we used to have about who had worse feet; her or me.

I don't remember my Grandfather Luberto because he had passed away when I was very young. I know that that he immigrated to Canada and then America for a better life. He worked hard and eventually brought his family over.

When I was in high school, I had to interview one of my grandparents, and I chose my Grandfather Iannarelli. I must have spent two or so hours just talking to him, asking questions, learning about a man that I thought I knew. He passed away my sophomore year of college. He was 91. And to this day, I savor the conversation we had in his back sun room so many years ago. When he passed away, I knew that I wanted my own children to have strong relationships with their grandparents.

My children are fortunate to live within an hour and a half from all of their grandparents. They have wonderful relationships with all three sets of them.

Grandpa Waugh and Grandma Sue came for a visit today to celebrate my son's 11th birthday. We went out to lunch and enjoyed each other's company.  The kids adore talking, sharing their latest news, and just spending time with them.

I am thankful for these relationships. When they are here, they are number one. And that is all that matters.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Joy of Being a Coach

One of my favorite things to do is help people realize they have a  love of running. I like to take the nonbelievers and show them the sport. Anyone can run. Even the ones who think they can't.

Non-runners tend to get caught up on time. They believe because they can't run in a certain amount of time, they can't run at all.

Non-runners tend to look at the end picture instead of looking at the steps it takes to get there. They believe that runners have a natural ability and don't see that we were once like they are now.

It takes someone special to help the nonbelievers see themselves as runners. And that person is a coach.

It takes patience. A coach must help those runners to set reasonable goals and guide them there; every step of the way.

It takes modeling. A coach must support and run with them to show them how it is done.

It takes celebrations. A coach must be there to lend support, answer questions, offer advice, and celebrate the victories.

One of my friends, who last summer listened and believed me when I told her she could run a half-marathon, had a personal victory. She set a personal record at the 5K she ran today. And she did it without me at her side.

Since last July, my friend has put her trust in me and her doubts aside and trained and ran her first half marathon, first ten mile race, experienced her first season of winter running, and has been exposed to speed work. Each workout that I challenge her with, she fully accepts. She asks for advice from running gear to what to wear. And today, when the windchill in Michigan read five degrees, I knew she was up for a challenge. This was by far the coldest weather she had ever run in. I quickly texted her and went through what she should wear for this race. I was not surprised to see a quick response  and questions that followed. I answered those and offered a little bit more advice. I know that in a year or so, when she has more experience under her belt, the questions will decrease but until then I am going to be there.

She set a goal but didn't share it with me.

After the race, I received another text. She finished the race under her goal time of 30 minutes, and she struggled to keep pace for a shorter run. But that will come in time. With experience. Today I celebrate with her because she accomplished what she set out to do. And she did it without me by her side.

I never asked to be a coach. It just happened. I don't coach for money. But I do it for the feeling of joy when once nonbelievers now see themselves as a runners.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Slice of Life Museum

Many years ago I read an article about the journal museum in the classroom. I was so intrigued by what I read that I tried it almost immediately and have been using it ever since. The idea behind the journal museum is to allow all students to share a piece of writing at the same time. Students open up their notebooks to any entry they want. Then, they travel around the room with sticky notes and pencil in hand and read the entries of their classmates. After reading, they leave a comment on a sticky note and place it next to the entry.

The best part of this whole process is the engagement. All students are actively engaged reading their classmates' work.  It is also unbelievably quiet as students move from entry to entry. I always participate and love the mood in the room. We usually spend about 30 minutes in a museum and every student makes sure to visit everyone else's entry.

This year, my students are participating in the Slice of Life Classroom Challenge but in pencil/paper format. They have set a goal for themselves: 31, 25, or 21 days of writing, and it is all done at home. Every day they write a little slice about what happened during their day and check in with me first thing in the morning. I chat with each student about what they wrote  and then put a sticker on our tracker chart. My students LOVE this, and I have 100% participation.

This past week I introduced sharing SOL with the students, and it didn't take off like I expected. My students do Sacred Writing Time four days a week and always share, so sharing is not new.

So today, I did a Slice of Life Museum. First, we went over to the Slice of Life Classroom Challenge and read a few posts that caught the students' eyes. They were intrigued by students writing from other countries so those were the ones we wrote and commented on. We talked about what type of comments someone might like to hear.  I then had the students choose one entry from their notebook they wanted to share and arm themselves with a pencil and sticky notes. Since I am doing Slice of Life online, I put up a post that I was comfortable with my students reading. And away we went.

My favorite part of the whole museum is watching the students read the comments from others and, of course,  reading the comments left for me.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Middle Child

I was the middle child growing up squeezed between two sisters. One four years older than me and the other 20 months younger. Many of the characteristics I had as a young child I see in my middle child: quiet around others, creative, determined, caring and kind.

When her younger sister was born and she became a middle child, I worried. I worried about her because she became the middle one, and not by choice. There are certain things that I hoped she would not come into contact with: the feelings of never being good enough, not getting enough attention, and the difficulty of communicating with the ones you love.

So I was determined to help my middle child not feel like one. As a toddler, I made sure I was allocating attention equally. I encouraged her creativity and provided her with the materials she needed to be creative. I told her many times a day that I loved her and really talked with her as often as I could.

And one day, when she was about five, I knew.

I knew that out of all three of my kids, she is the one that I don't need to worry about. She is self starting, motivating, street smart, and can create anything out of nothing.

Currently, she is building a rocket ship out of cardboard and tape and adding various accessories to make it more useful. Every once in a while she asks for my help. And, of course, I oblige.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Being Eleven

When I asked my son what he wanted for his 11th birthday, he said he wanted to stay home from school and spend the day with me. My son enjoys school and has only missed a day or two this year from being sick.

At first I thought, no way. You are a teacher's kid, and the only way you are going to miss school is if you are sick. I had to sit on this one for a few days and in that time I came across Sandra Cisneros's "Eleven." It is a powerful read and one I use with my fifth graders. After reading it again, I found myself really thinking.

Because when it comes down to it, ten years from now, my son is not going to remember what he did in school on his 11th birthday but he will remember spending the day with his mom.

Today is his birthday. And I let him skip school.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Curious Incident

I feel incredibly fortunate that my social studies students are able to be a part of a program at the Wharton Center in East Lansing, Michigan called Eye for Broadway. Eye for Broadway allows local schools to produce art work to be displayed in the foyer of the center during the run of various Broadway shows. In the past my students have created art work for The Blue Man Group, Porgy and Bess, Annie, and The Sound of Music. This year we are creating pieces for Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

Because this book isn't appropriate for fifth grade, I did not read it to them. What I did do, however, is explain the story to the students in a way they could understand. The focus of the pieces will be on the main character's disability: autism. Working with the special education teacher, the students will gain insight into his disability and fully understand why they are creating the type of pieces they are.

Normally one class starts the project and the next comes in and takes over and we do this until we are done. I can usually get through all the pieces in a few days this way, and it is a collaborative effort. It is very fun to watch the pieces take shape. But this year, I am doing things a bit differently. We are creating 31 pieces (the main character loves prime numbers) and each piece is numbered. All students have numbers so the number one in each class will work on the number one piece; the number twos will work on the second piece, etc. It is challenging because the students have different styles and each will never work on the same piece at the same time, but it is also exciting because each will never work on the same piece at the same time, yet they will create. And they will turn out amazing.

All 31 pieces relate to some aspect of the book. The two largest pieces will be part of a collage that two of the classes worked on. Today, I taught those students how to do blackout poetry. We practiced on one page of the story then went to town on our finals. I had five different final pieces that I handed out. And oh my. Goosebumps. The students got it, and I can't wait to see the final product.

And that third group. They painted the white canvases.  But not yellow or brown. Because the main character HATES yellow and brown.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Accidental Findings

I don't give tests in social studies. Instead, I do exit slips as a form of assessment.  This year I am focusing on a variety of genres, and today my students finished up recipes. They typed up a favorite family recipe and had to determine if the ingredient originated in the Old or New World. After that, they had to explain whether or not the Columbian Exchange was the most important event since the death of the dinosaurs. I expected a thorough explanation using the information we talked about in class.

A student in my second social studies class came up and asked for help finding where Cool Whip originated. We did a little research and found it came from the New World. I was intrigued by the site we were looking at, so as this student went back to work I kept reading. I was appalled by what I found.

I quickly asked the kids in class how many of them liked and ate Cool Whip. I was surprised but not surprised by the amount of hands that went up. One girl even said, "I put Cool Whip on everything."

"Well, you might change your mind after you hear this."  As I looked around, I noticed I had the attention of a lot of students. "Of the 12 or so ingredients in Cool Whip, there are only two that aren't toxic to humans-and water is one of those" (

I am not sure how many of them will be eating Cool Whip anymore.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Running is My Therapy

At 17, I started running. I ran to stay in shape after lacrosse season ended.  I quickly realized that this was going to be my new sport.

At 19, I ran to be a part of a team. I ran cross country at Albion College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan.  I wasn't the best runner but worked very hard and learned the sport.

At 24, I ran to deal with the death of my mother. I would replay conversations in my head in hopes that I could hold onto the memory of her voice.

At 25, I had foot surgery and couldn't run. I wouldn't run again for seven years.

At 32, I ran to lose the baby weight. I decided to not listen to the orthopedic surgeon and give it a try. I am glad I made that decision.

At 36, I ran because it was a pregnancy craving. Two miles each day of the week. I ran until I was so large I couldn't run. I was 7.5 months pregnant when I had to slow down to a walk. .

At 38, I ran because my neighbor moved away. We were such great friends that as she drove out of sight,  I found myself devastated. I laced up my shoes and ran the pain and hurt feelings out of my body.

At 40, I ran for time. I was so determined to hit a sub two hour half-marathon that I threw my back out trying.

At 41, I ran because I could. My perspective had changed, and I was just thankful that I could run.

Today, at 43, I ran for therapy. I ran to clear my mind and put things into perspective. I ran to listen and offer advice. I ran, because at that moment, it was the only thing that made sense to me.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Connection

Before I came to the district that I am currently at, I was the only teacher in my grade so it was inevitable I would have every student.  After 13 years in that district, I left and moved to a district closer to home. In this district, I am one of three fifth grade teachers. Although I see every student for social studies, there is one class that is "my class." These are my homeroom students. These kids I teach ELA and social studies to. I communicate with their parents on a regular basis. I spend more time with this group, and I am connected to these students.  And each year before these students become "my class," they are fourth graders.

The fourth grade classes are in the same hall as the fifth grade. I pass them multiple times a day. I see how they behave in the hallway, treat one another, and interact with their teachers. These kids don't see my observations. They are only fourth graders. To them, I am miles away.

But every so often, I feel a connection to one of those kids. I can't explain it. I might see them in the hall being  talked to by their teacher or I may have a brief conversation with them, but in that short moment, there is a connection. It has only happened with three students. And all three times, those students have been placed in my classroom. And one of those three, is in my current class.

This student and I had an instant connection from day one because this student LOVES to write, and I LOVE to teach writing. But I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me. You see I have three main goals as a teacher. The first is always give 150%. I don't care what your test scores are or your grades are. As long as you give me the effort, I am happy. The second be responsible. Do what you are supposed to do because that is your job. If you have homework, do it. If you know there is no gum chewing in class, don't chew it. My third is do what you know is right. This includes sticking up for your friends and just being downright nice. There is no excuse for mean people. I don't like them. And this student struggled with two out of the three of those.

So this morning as I was going through all of my school papers, I stumbled across my students' monthly reflections. And this student, the one I felt a connection with as they were a fourth grader and who now is  in my class, is really hearing me.

Friday, March 3, 2017

My 16 Year Old Self

  Yesterday I had a conversation with a good friend about finding one's passion. We talked about things we loved to do when we were younger but as adults those things kind of disappeared for various reasons. And this morning, as I swam laps in the pool, I thought about my 16 year old self.

At 16, I was a natural athlete. I loved sports. I played volleyball and lacrosse. I loved to run. And I was fast. I took advantage of this speed on the lacrosse field. I played center and won every draw I took. I could play offense and defense with ease and knew what play was going to happen before it did. I read the field very well.

At 16, I wrote. I wrote for hours in my journals. I collected the larger ones with colorful, hard covers. I wrote about everything; my day, dreams, the weather. I took every creative writing class I could.

At 16, I did art. A lot of it.  I had an artist's table in my bedroom and would just create. I loved specialty pencils and pens. I could see things and make them come alive.

Then, life happened.

I started teaching. My mother died. I got married. Had kids.  And that 16 year old self drifted farther and farther away.

It wasn't one thing. It was a combination. That caused those passions to be placed on the back burner.

I am 43. I run. I swim. I bike. I lift weights. To sweat. To clear my mind. For my children. For me.

I am 43. I started writing again. To express myself. For the challenge. For my students. For me.

I am 43. I can see the colors. The projects. The joy. I am going to start again. Something creative. A painting. With paints. I can see my 16 year old self, and I want to do this for me.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Tell the Teacher

Last summer I came across the book I Wish My Teacher Knew. After reading it, I knew this was something that I wanted to implement in my classroom that fall. School started and within a week I showed my students a short video of the author, Kyle Schwartz, being interviewed on NBC news about her book. It was a two minute clip that helped my students understand the concept behind what would become a weekly ritual in the classroom.

I had my students write in their writer's notebook a list of five things they wanted to tell me. It could be about anything but had to start with the words I wish my teacher knew...I then had them choose one of those things and write it out on an index card with or without their name.  The index card has been our routine ever since.

I have not missed a week yet but mostly because my students remind me if we haven't done it by Friday. At first, many students would tell me facts such as what their favorite color was or what sport they liked to play. But as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, they began to really open up. Many times, for fifth graders, it is easier to write something than talk about it.

Each week I categorize the cards as green, yellow and red. Green being random bits of information that don't have an effect on the student. Usually these are what students had for breakfast, whether they like someone or not, or about a sport outing over the weekend. The yellow ones are the ones that I hold onto at my desk. I keep an eye on the student and usually ask questions regarding what was written.  These are the students who are reaching out to me for help but don't know how to ask for it. These are ones where a conversation needs to happen. Then, there are the red ones. These ones are serious. Usually with the red ones, I need to contact the school social worker and home to let the parent know what is happening. Sometimes a series of yellows in a row will turn into a red because each week they follow the same pattern. I have only had a few reds this whole year and a handful of yellows.

But today.

Today I received a green that used to be a red and before that a yellow. I call these...a breakthrough.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

I Want to be Their Ms. Teles

I have a big sign in my school bag that says SLICE OF LIFE. It is a reminder for me to remember to write on my blog which has been inactive since 2013. I go through phases with my writing. This will be the longest stretch that I attempt to write since I was in high school 25 years ago. All day long I kept looking at situations thinking about what small snippet I could write about. Nothing seemed to really stand out until I went on Facebook while waiting for dinner to arrive. It was there that I read the following from my favorite teacher that I had the opportunity of having in 4th and 6th grade:  My health has deteriorated greatly in the past month and I have entered Hospice Care. Texting is difficult for me but I enjoy reading about your thoughts and successes. My students' have been a great joy in my life. Be kind and be a blessing to others.

It took everything I had to keep the tears flowing from my eyes. I was stunned. I knew she was sick from her Facebook posts but I also thought she was getting better. I haven't seen Ms. Teles since I was in high school, but I had kept in touch with her. I talked with her as I was doing my masters thesis on consumer math and we chatted about cemrel, a math program that I never understood and she was completely against teaching. Our conversation, at that time, confirmed everything I believed to be true about my struggles in math, the teaching of cemrel was to blame.

I had the opportunity to have Ms. Teles for two years in elementary school. She was the first teacher that recognized I didn't get school. She was a strong supporter of my being held back in sixth grade. I remember being so angry with her at the time, but it was the best decision my parents could have made regarding my education.

Ms. Teles was a liberal teacher who taught from the heart. She made us correct every mistake we made in our classwork to make sure we understood what it is that we got wrong. She took her class of sixth graders on the AATA bus to go see Walter Mondale's rally in downtown Ann Arbor in October of 1984. Who does that?!

It is because of her that I teach. She was the first teacher who saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. She made me feel like I mattered. She is the type of teacher I strive to be.

As I sat there stunned by the news, I started reading the comments. So many from former students who had the same connection and admiration that I had for her. Ms. Teles made all of us feel special. Good teachers do that. I only hope that one day, I can be my students' Ms. Teles.

And now, I will let the tears flow.

And so it begins....

March 1st. The beginning of reading month. Although I feel that reading should be a focus year round in schools, I am glad it has its own special month where students are challenged to read a little more than they normally would and ones school may offer special activities to highlight the joy of reading. I have created two challenges for this month. One involves reading and the other, writing.

The reading challenge is also a challenge for me. I have challenged myself to not give students review worksheets as seat work and in return my students are to do at least one reading passage a day on read theory. If you are not familiar with the site, you need to check it out. Needless to say, day one and my students and I are hooked. Less work for me to correct and more knowledge they are gaining while being exposed to various types of texts and test like questions at their grade level. 

The second challenge is our Slice of Life challenge. We have been doing Slice of Life every Tuesday on our class wiki as a mentoring project with the fourth graders we mentor in writing. The students are very familiar with the process. Since not all of my students have access to the internet at home, I am challenging my students to write in special Slice of Life notebooks. Each student has set a goal, and I am excited to follow their process. On top of that, I have set a goal for myself...31 consecutive days of writing on this blog.