Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Finding Neverland

For the past few years my students have participated in the Eye for Broadway at the Wharton Center in East Lansing, Mi.  One week out of the school year, I spend class time creating pieces for this event. It is a collaborative effort between all the fifth grade students. This year I teach 90 students writing, and so it seemed fitting for them to create artwork for Finding Neverland. All art pieces are for sale and the money goes into a scholarship fund at the Wharton Center so schools in the area who can't afford it can come and enjoy their ACT School Series. Finding Neverland will be at the Wharton Center from December 12-17th.

I showed my students the movie version a few weeks ago and had them focus on various aspects of it. What stood out to them? What caused J.M. Barrie to create Peter Pan? How do the characters change over time? Why is creativity and imagination important? We talked about his life as a writer and how even really great writers experience writer's block.

One thing I have been  trying to instill in my writing students this school year is that ideas are everywhere. Look. Notice. And just write. Not all writing has to be their best copy. There is a conversation in the movie that sums this up perfectly. It is between Peter and Barrie.

"I don't know what to write about."

"Write about anything. Write about your family or the whale."

"What whale?"

"The one that is trapped in your imagination."

It has taken me a few years to figure out the best way to have all the students in the 5th grade collaborate on a project like this. One class starts the project and when their class period is over, the next class comes in and takes over where the other class left off. We continue this throughout the week until all the pieces are done. We have created as few as 12 pieces to 42, which is what we are creating for Finding Neverland.

All pieces are done on canvases. The Bath Township Meijer graciously donated a $150 gift card, so I could purchase the supplies. Last week, my homeroom students painted all the canvases. They chose bright colors because they felt it represented imagination.

Today was officially day two of creating a representation for Finding Neverland. Things are going very well. Sixteen canvases, one for each letter of the title, are almost done.  I anticipate that tomorrow more will be completed.

We are doing these in a specific order because that is how I see it in my head.

I can't wait to see the finished pieces up in the lobby at the Wharton. And hopefully my favorite piece doesn't sell. I selfishly want it for my classroom.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Turning 44


A time when you wake up and know that something is a little different. You feel a pep in your step, a warmness in your heart. There is an indescribable feeling that goes with this day. Maybe not many people feel the same way I do. I blame it on my mother.

When I was younger, my mother spoiled my sisters and I on our birthdays. It was the only time of year that she went all out. Cake. Party. Friends. Presents. It was our day, and we felt special.  Many of my memories from my youth are about my birthdays. When I had my own children, I knew that I wanted them to experience birthdays like I had.

But special for me when I was younger has been different for them. I can count on one hand how many birthday parties with friends my three children have had. It's not something they ask for too often. Instead, they would rather the day be their day to do as they please. They plan the meals and activities. They make lists. But most importantly they have the attention of everyone else in the household. This has worked for us.

Equally exciting is the decoration of the dining room. The siblings decorate in whatever theme the birthday child wants. The chalkboard wall is covered with anything and everything birthday.

It's a nice tradition we have started and one that will continue for a long time.

Today I turned 44.

I woke up feeling special.

My kids decorated the room for me. They doused the table with presents, and they were excited.








My mom died at 54. Ten years from where I am right now.

So at 44 I can see it two ways:

Worry that each year is one year closer to when she got sick and passed away.


Take in the moments. Each day. Watch my kids grow, enjoy my profession, lead through kindness.

In the back of my mind I believe I will always worry. But that is in the back, trying to stay hidden.

For now, though, I will take in the moments.

Because today I turned 44, and I have a lot more moments to live.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Amelia's Little Library

This past weekend my girls spent four hours playing library upstairs in their rooms.  They not only organized all of their books, but they made library cards, bookmarks, a checkout station, holding area, and a late fee form. I not only had to visit their libraries (yes, they each had to have their own), but I had to deliver a package of "books" to each one. Their sheer delight at receiving a package  (that they packaged themselves) was priceless. Each girl visited the other's library and checked books out carrying library books back "home." They then spent a good amount of time reading their checked out books.

My girls are creative. One more so than the other. And as they sat upstairs playing library it really got me thinking about how we (teachers) go about helping students to find a love for reading in the elementary classroom. I have spent numerous hours filling out reading logs for my own kids while assuring them that it was okay that they skipped a day of reading when they were too tired to open a book or too sick to lift their head.

Like most parents, I have been reading to my own children since they were born. I have taken them to the library, bookstores, and used book sales. All my children have their own library card. I purchase books from my kids' book orders. My children know books are important.

And so do my students.

In my classroom books are equally important. All my books are organized by genre. Students are encouraged to read a variety of books throughout the year through the 30 book challenge. Our class goal is to read 660 books by the end of the school year. My students keep track of this through filling out book reviews that are kept in a binder in the reading corner. I give time and choice for reading, and  I have informal conversations with my students about what they are reading.

I also encourage creativity.

When Amelia entered my classroom at the beginning of the school year, she asked if she could bring in books from home to let the class borrow if they asked her. With that, Amelia's Little Library was born. Students ask to borrow her books all the time, and she is constantly switching books out. It was from her library that my students began checking out the What Was? and Who Was? books. Because of that, I made it a point to buy more for our classroom library. Although they are a quick read for fifth graders, my students can't get enough of them and I love how much the students learn from them.

All I want my students to do is find joy in reading. I want them to connect to the characters and learn that reading can take them places.



And more time.

Uninterrupted time to just read.

No reading logs.

No book reports.

No Lexile numbers.

No summaries.

Just informal conversations with students about what they are reading so they know you are listening.

And you can hear them loud and clear.

This is how reading is supposed to be.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Halloween Writing Marathon

I was first introduced to writing marathons during the summer of 2016 when I was going through the Red Cedar Writing Project Summer Institute at Michigan State University. I was invited to be a part of the summer institute homecoming, and I was so thrilled that I participated.  One of the things we did that day was participate in a writing marathon. For a few hours I found myself sitting on the banks of the Red Cedar writing a story that was a long time coming. The few other people who joined me wrote as well and after a period of time we spent time sharing. It was at that moment when I knew I would be including writing marathons into my classroom.

I dabbled with them last year a bit, but this school year I have made it a point to do one a month with my fifth grade writing students. In September we focused on sentence starters. We spent two to three minutes in various classrooms around the school noticing things. The students would write down sentences that could start a story. Our favorite were the kindergarten classrooms. What they had to say was so raw and frankly just funny.

In October the students were given photographs that dealt with Halloween. They could choose any photograph to write a story about. For two minutes they spent brainstorming ideas, wrote for four minutes, shared for six minutes, and wrote for four more. We then repeated this with another image.

Below are some thoughts about what my students felt about the October writing marathon:

  • We could write about whatever picture we wanted.
  • I liked that it was  Halloween themed.
  • I liked everything because it was just writing. 
  • I liked it because you could put your own thoughts into it. 
  • I liked that we could tell each other the stories and our partners would give us feedback on them. 
  • I liked everything about it because it was fun, quiet and calming.
  • Even the boys liked it surprisingly!

Now to come up with an idea for the one in November.