#SOL18 Day 29 Numb Tongue

Daniel met us at the door when we drove in.

“How’d it go?” he called to his brother.

As I passed him in the doorway I teased, “es gohh nunnnm tuuuunm.”

“What?” his eyebrows quirked in confusion.

Qaiden came in carrying his milkshake. “asdfkj fjeio ;lksj ruei jiewj.” It was completely unintelligible. I shook my head and chuckled.

Daniel’s eyebrows arched higher.

“He’s got numb tongue, numb tongue!” I explained. “It was the Novocaine.”

Understanding dawned. The eyebrows settled into their normal places and the corner of his mouth quirked up.

We spent the next five minutes making Qaiden try to say things so we could laugh at how ridiculous it sounded. Q laughed right along with us.


To top it off, I got him a milkshake since he couldn’t chew for a couple hours. I got myself one, too. And Rich’s shakes are about a pint of ice cream in a cup with a straw! No need to cook. *wink*



#SOL18 Day 28 Down the Rabbit Hole

My eyes squeezed shut against the strain of reading the screen. When they opened again it was like emerging from a tunnel. I glanced around to get my bearings. Everyone else had left the dining room. I rolled my shoulders to counter act the keyboard hunch I’d been huddled in. Oof. Stiff. Absentmindedly I reached for my tea. My fingers grasped for the smooth sides of the mug. Curling it toward me, I paused, felt the bottom with my opposite hand and shrugged as I put it back down. It was cold.

Looking back at the screen I’d clearly been absorbed in for some time, there were ten different tabs open. The map of central London, the walking tour of the Dover cliffs, the Norman castle used in Age of Ultron, a theater schedule, and more.

Our trip is approaching quickly. While we have the bones of the vacation laid out, we’re still filling in the finer details. Like: If I’m in Dover for the day, can I see both the white cliffs and the Norman castle? And if I spend the whole day in Dover, what do I do with my luggage since I’m checking out of one lodging that morning and into another that night nearer to the airport? And depending on what I need to do with my luggage, how early can I catch an eastbound train in the morning? How late can I catch a return train? Then what will it take to collect my luggage and get to the hotel at the airport?

The lights in all the adjacent rooms are off. The house is quiet.

My brain isn’t.

I went down the rabbit hole and now my mind is buzzing with questions and connections. The train I’ll be taking from London is heading to Kent, just like Ada’s train in The War that Saved my Life. Also, the castle represents both a medieval  fortress and a modern military base of operations for both WWI and WWII. To top that off, it was featured both in the relatively recent Avengers movie, and one of the earliest Doctor Who episodes.

It is a microcosm of England. Old. And new.

#SOL18 Back to the Kids

I noticed recently that last year I had far more slices about school and kids. When I stopped to think why, it felt like I’ve been in a series of meetings and work sessions for more than a month now. After being immersed in one classroom throughout an entire unit following New Years, I’ve been away from classrooms and even my intervention students for a few weeks.

I missed them.

Today was like re-integration therapy.

Before school I greeted a small group of our Reading Ambassadors as they were dropped off for our workshop. Eight readers in grades three through five spent the better part of an hour creating stop motion videos to promote books. It is painstaking work to capture even a few seconds of video since each frame is only 1/10 of a second. These kiddos have innovated solutions for propping up iPads, for maneuvering the Stik Bots without their hands and arms being seem, crafting speech bubbles to convey meaning. It was like being out on a playground. The room was full of happy noise as small teams of students collaborated on their projects. There will be no grade. When they’re done we’ll find or create an audience for them. And we’ll invite them to become the experts who teach others how to use this new-to-us tool.

Immediately after waving the group off for the start of the school day, I welcomed back one of my intervention students after the interlude between sessions. It feels like I haven’t seen her in a month.

We welcomed author Sarah Albee today (on her book’s birthday, no less!). I sat in as she regaled our kinders and first graders with stories. We laughed together. She shared two interactive read alouds. One of them included a roaring, snorting, sniffling dragon played by a squirmy kindergarten friend. I particularly enjoyed her asides to the kids, “Is that right? Do you believe him? No way!” The other one included some impressive voice acting by Sarah, herself. Then for the grand finale she opened up the floor to questions. “Remember,” she coached, “questions start wit words like what, who, why…Does anyone have a question?” forty-five hands shot in the air. When she called on the first boy, the first words out of his mouth were, “That reminds me. One time I….” She smiled the same smile that I did, and we both shook our heads. Because in kindergarten, we’re still working on what a question is…or at least when they’re eager for a turn to share. We all know that in other situations five year olds are champion questioners.

I helped to shift the library furniture to accommodate our bigger fourth and fifth graders. Then sat in on most of Sarah’s session with them, as well. These bigger kids were treated to stories about the history of sewage and all that goes along with it, as well as the four bugs who’ve caused the most mayhem through history by spreading terrible diseases. Three “doctors” offered diagnoses and treatment advice to poor, unsuspecting, patients suffering from plague, cholera, and yellow fever. The white lab coats were fun. Cholera lead to a discussion of poison and eventually circled around to bizarre wardrobe choices through the ages. It sounds like pieces of completely different puzzles, but she wound it together seamlessly. I kept watching the clock, but was able to stay long enough to see a brave 4th grader dressed in 16th century style complete with the butt bump (I think that’s what Sarah called it…I need to read her book!), the full skirt, AND the ruff collar!

I was sorry to sneak out, but I got to read with my little Boo. Do you know the youngest girl in Despicable Me? That’s her. She bubbles over with joy and a little mischief and reading is really starting to click for her (most days)! Really, you can’t help but smile.

I rounded out the day by joining a fourth grade class for a grand conversation of their first few read aloud books in an informational reading unit focused on the Civil Rights era. I was technically there as support for a conversation that could broach sensitive topics. Not once did the group need to be re-directed. Although they’ve had only a few grand conversations this year, they treated each other with respect. My heart swelled when I heard one boy pipe up to say, “I think we should give some other people a chance to be in the conversation who haven’t said much yet.” He was advocating for those to his left and right who’d been patiently waiting. And as for the issues of race and segregation that arose, every single child took a position of empathy and compassion. It tugged at my heartstrings when they asked earnestly why anyone would want to treat other people the way that African Americans were treated “bac then.” And I was delighted when a few students made their own connections to some other groups who faced discrimination: women, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and even people of different sizes or economic circumstances. Is there more for these children to learn and understand about our society and our world…much. But from today’s conversation I am convinced that they have the hearts to engage openly and fairly with difficult truths.

After I’d complimented the group for being inclusive, for referring to specific parts of the read aloud texts, and even for bringing in other texts familiar to the whole group to make insightful connections, I sent them off to the next part of their afternoon. One boy stayed behind at the carpet and asked, “IS  there still slavery in America?” From a comment he’d made during the conversation, I knew he was aware that slavery still existed in some other parts of the world. I took a deep breath and answered, “yes.” He followed up with other questions about how it could still happen. I explained that it has been illegal since the Civil War, but that some terrible people still bring other people into the country and then force them to work in secret. “Is it like blackmail?” he asked. “I heard that in some places people get blackmailed and forced to do things that they wouldn’t do ever except for that.” He referenced vandalism and I was happy to leave it at that. Our conversation continued for another minute as his classmates returned to the carpet for read aloud. I’d heard his curiosity and his concern and met him only as far as he lead.

Today was so renewing.

During the next two weeks I will be away from my own students again, though I’ll be borrowing and meeting some others. For now, it was perfect to get back to my own students big and little.


#SOL18 The Labsite

A fellow slicer inquired about labsites as a coaching format. After butchering my initial response, I thought I’d try again to explain them in a clearer way.

Fifteen adults crowded into an already full classroom. They tried to cause as little disruption as possible, but let’s face it, they almost doubled the population of the room. They were hard to miss.

The students, seated on the carpet, looked with curiosity at the grown ups folding themselves into kid sized chairs around the carpet, or sitting criss-cross applesauce right alongside them.

“Readers, I’d like to introduce you to some of my friends. We’re all teachers. Your teacher has been telling us such wonderful things about your class that we all wanted to come and see for ourselves. Thank you for having us today.” The consultant settled herself into the teacher’s chair near the chart for the beginning of the mini lesson.

Teacher pens poised above clipboards ready to capture and make tracks of the magic that was about to happen. This person, who didn’t know these kids and possibly wasn’t from this school, was about to model an entire workshop! One group of teachers listened for teacher language- What sorts of prompts or questions might she use? How would she reframe student responses for the class? A second group listened for student talk during the active engagements. A third monitored how the consultant managed her time to keep the lesson moving and brief.

At one point just before she called on children to share in the active engagement she looked up over the children’s heads and voiced over her thinking to the adults in the room. “You’re going to notice how I don’t just ask who wants to share. That could go off the tracks. Instead I’m going to call on two partnerships that I overheard and I already know that what they talked about can help the group.” Then she simply cast her gaze back to the students, reeled them in, and continued on as if there had been no interruption.

A few teachers in the back whispered in amazement that the students were entirely nonplussed by the voice-over. Another was wowed by the simple way the consultant had kept this part of the active engagement both powerful and down to 30 seconds. That was the part of her lesson that sometimes dragged on into double digit minutes.

Following the mini lesson, teachers edged to the outside of the room, making space for students to transition to independent reading. The consultant released them with an “off you go!”

The teachers gathered again at the edges of the carpet and the consultant checked in. “Next I’ll be doing a conference.” Gesturing to one third of the teachers she said, “This group, listen for how I research.” To the next group she advised, “You will make a list of possible compliments I could give the student. And the rest of you, make a list of next steps for this student. What teaching points might I choose?”

With that the classroom teacher quietly tapped a student on the shoulder and motioned him over to the carpet. He sat down across from the consultant.

As she conferred with the boy, teachers leaned in to listen. From time to time they jotted parts of the conversation based on the lens they’d been given.

Five minutes later, the consultant thanked the boy and sent him back to his reading. She turned to the adults and named out what she’d done in the conference. “When we get back to the conference room, we’ll share out the observations you just made and answer any questions. For now, I’d like you to pair up. In each pair decide who will be the teacher, and who will observe and make the conference notes. Remember you’re trying to capture the compliment, the possible next steps, as well as the one teaching point you choose. Ready? Off you go!”

Teachers fanned around the room. Some watched students from afar before pulling up alongside them. Tentatively or with a bit more confidence, teachers of varying experience conferred with readers who were not their own. At their shoulders were trusty partners to capture the key points of the exchange. Meanwhile, the consultant moved from team to team, listening, nodding encouragement, occasionally whispering in to the teacher, then observing a moment longer and moving on.

Five minutes later she called for the partners to switch roles and confer with a different student.

“Readers, I’d like to call you back to the carpet for a share. Please bring…”

After thanking the students and their teacher for opening their classroom, the adults excused themselves and maneuvered back into the hall.


Just as I was writing this slice it dawned on me. A workshop is an oreo! The chocolate cookies are the teacher-led mini lesson and share at the beginning and end of the workshop. In between is the really good stuff, the independent practice! Oh, you thought I was going to say the filling.

If the workshop is an oreo, then a labsite is like a double decker oreo. The pre-meeting where the consultant sets teachers up for what they’ll observe and which parts of the teaching they may try out is a chocolate cookie bit. Then the group goes off to a classroom for the practice part. Yum! And finally they all meet back together after the lesson, to share observations and reflect on what they’ve learned (Hey it’s a teaching share!)–another chocolate cookie.

Labsites are a great, hands on, way to share teaching methods with teachers. Because the consultant (or coach) guides the group to notice certain things, they don’t go by unseen. Since there are so many teaching moves in a single workshop, every teacher, regardless of experience can take away a few things to add to their own basket of tricks. Trying out a new or refined teaching method (or coaching strategy) in a labsite is low risk. Even if your teaching doesn’t go according to plan, you’ve only borrowed these students. Their own teacher will pick things up the next day and carry on with their learning. Because multiple people are trying it out simultaneously, no one has to be on the spot (unless they volunteer for a fishbowl). And yet, you have access to instant feedback about how the attempt went, which means you can revise and improve your practice, on the spot. Labsites are highly engaging, high impact structures for professional learning.

Even better, labsites can be tailored to the current professional learning goals of the participating teachers. Their focus is on conferring? Run two or three rounds of conferences. Short on time? Skip the mini lesson. Confer in one or two different classrooms so each teacher can have multiple attempts. You could do the same if their focus was on small group instruction. Or, teacher volunteers could try out a small group as two or three other teachers observed (with a lens). Then the team could debrief quickly before switching roles.

The teachers’ focus is on building capacity for student talk? Link a workshop to a readaloud block and work on multiple formats of student talk. For the read aloud block focus on lifting the level of whole class conversation by holding a fishbowl grand conversation. Put half the class in the center circle to model a conversation. Put the other half in the outer circle, with a lens like you gave to the teachers in the labsite above. Then have pairs of teachers sit behind the outer ring to observe. The coach, or a couple of brave teacher-volunteers could practice whispering in to support the conversation in the center circle. At the end of the conversation give the outer circle (and teachers) a minute to finish their notes. Then invite the outer circle to name what worked well (a compliment), and propose strategies for improving the conversation. Celebrate both circles for their thoughtfulness and perhaps give them a moment to stretch while you set up for the workshop portion. In the workshop teachers could practice (or observe) coaching into turn and talk, partner conversations, or book clubs.

The labsite doesn’t take fancy equipment. You need a way to release teachers from their classes while they participate. It takes some planning on the part of whoever will be leading the labsite. But aside from open minds and a favorite notebook and pen, no other special resources are required.

Thanks to Tammy for reaching out to collaborate coach to coach! While we’re leading professional learning for our teachers, we also need advice and feedback to grow our practice. It’s great to grow a digital PLN here at Two Writing Teachers. Thank you to the TWT team for hosting the annual Slice of Life Challenge that gathers us together.


#SOL18 Day 25 Writing Self-Reflections

I’m drawing a blank tonight.

Sitting in a swiveling, rocking, club chair with my laptop, I find myself staring off into the corners of the room. I thought I’d finished cleaning it earlier today…but now the loose ends are showing. My fingers tap at the keys without pressing them. The repetitive noise that results sounds a little like typing, except it forms patterns. Hmmm…

Every other night of the challenge there have been a couple of ideas ripe for the picking. As I sit here trying to pin one down tonight, I find myself at a loss. That’s not to say that I don’t have a few ideas banked from earlier in the month, I do, but here’s the thing…

I’ve found that my pre-bedtime writing routine this month has been ideal for producing flash drafts of something that stood out from the day, something fresh and at the front of my mind. It’s a nice chance to reflect on and filter through the events of the day. I’m liking it, and I may continue with some kind of end of day journaling when the challenge is over.

But tackling bigger ideas, or (I hate to call them) leftover ideas, seems to work better earlier in he day. My logical, planning brain works best early in the morning. (Well my planning brain never turns off, though I wish it would.) I guess it’s a good thing that I’m recognizing this pattern.

But here’s the thing. I’ve been reading some of your slices lately about walking and about water, and about early mornings when the light is different than any other time of the day. And as the weather promises to tip toward spring (well, eventually), I’ve been thinking that I could adjust my routine to free up time in the mornings. There are 20 minutes between seeing my oldest off for the bus and wishing my youngest a good morning. That had been the time I got dressed and ready for work…but honestly it doesn’t take long to get dressed. If I choose what to wear the night before I could steal some precious alone time with the soft, diffuse light of the new day. Ahhhhh. That sounds good.

I’ve set my fiction project aside this month while I’m blogging for the challenge and writing (and re-rewriting) reading units for work. When I return to it–I should probably pick it up as soon as the challenge is over so I can capitalize on the momentum of writing something every day. But this is a project best suited to my stronger morning brainpower.



Well, I’m not sure I’ve come away with a decision. But this is the time of day suited to reflection. I’ll let that over-active planning brain roll around while I try to sleep. Then my stronger morning brain can solve the puzzle.

Good night.

#SOL18 Day 24 The Shot Heard Round the World


Dear Q,

Welcome to your first political experience. I’m sorry we’ve left this mess for your generation to deal with. You reminded me today that the last time you were at the statehouse, it was under better circumstances. Your team had a private Saturday tour with one of the state senators (a team dad) and the Lieutenant Governor. You got to try the Charter Oak Chair on for size and take seats in the senate chamber. Little did we expect that day five years ago  that tragedy would fall in our backyard.

About a month after your visit, gun violence erupted in Sandy Hook–the same district where you knew I started teaching years before, only about three miles from my current school. You came home from school that day, irate and betrayed. An adult in the cafeteria had told you, a second grader, about what happened. Maybe they didn’t know about our connections to Newtown. It hardly matters. You declared that night that if he came to your school you would stop him, you’d hit him and make him stop. I could barely hold back my tears as I tried to restore your childhood. No, you don’t hurt a man with a gun. You run. You get an adult. We’ll take care of it. We’ll protect you.


Well, we haven’t. I’m grateful every day that your determination hasn’t been put to the test. When I hear about the selfless students who have sacrificed themselves to shield their classmates I think back to your insistence that you would have stopped him. I feel both pride and terror at the thought. But though you’ve been spared direct contact with this senseless violence, it has seeped into the ‘normal’ of your world. You’ve been doing lockdown drills since you were seven. And now, in seventh grade, your drill was only days after another mass school shooting in Parkland. You sat in silence with the knowledge that the danger is just as real today.

But those students rose up. They found their voices and they are sure. Every bit as determined as you were that night five years ago, they have declared that they will stop the bad guys with the guns.


And so here we are. Standing outside the statehouse again.

As the rally progressed we inched further and further toward the front looking for a glimpse of the people whose voices were ringing out. You had the idea to interview some of the people who were there. “Look at her sign, I think she could be a teacher,” you pointed to a poster with the faces of twenty or so children. They are leaders, dreamers, friends…not targets, it read. “Do you think I could interview him?” you asked as Senator Blumenthal finished speaking.

And while we never did quite reach the front, you reached a tipping point. When the student organizers shared Instagram handles you checked them out. When Senator Murphy shared his online profiles you followed him. You see that the work does not end today at this event. This is the rallying cry, calling all of us–teachers, students, families, grandparents, community organizers, and elected officials– together. We stood side by side today for this call to action.

And now we must act.

Though you are still a child, technically, through these times you’re becoming an engaged citizen. Unlike what some may say, or believe, you’re a citizen of this country the day you’re born here. And you’ve taken steps toward acting like one. Another sign we saw today read: When the adults act like children and the children must be the grown ups, you know change is coming.

You are the change.

You are the hope.

You are the future.

You are America.

“I know that we can win, I know that greatness lies in you. But remember from here on in, history has its eyes on you.” —Washington, “History Has Its Eyes on You”



#SOL18 Last Minute

I sat restlesy in the car. The engine idled. I closed my book for the umpteenth time. I checked my cell phone again, tested the volume. It was on, but he hadn’t responded. I checked the time. If he isn’t done soon I’m going to miss posting my slice…also has he been abducted or something?


Thats it.


Im posting from my phone!

(he’s fine. I checked)

#SOL18 Day 22 Vicarious Writing Experiences

Today was glorious. It’s as if the Nor’easter brought spring in its wake. The sun was shining and I was smiling right along with it.

Until I realized that today was the day that author Lynda Mullaly Hunt was visiting one of the middle school’s in my district. I kicked myself. I had intended (since the fall when I learned of the visit) to schedule a meeting with someone at the school for today so I could be there for the event. I was fortunate enough to meet and visit with her last September at nErDCampNNE in Maine.

Alas. I didn’t pull it off.

I even looked at the clock and contemplated scooting out of school, spontaneously inviting myself to the cross-town event. The kicker was, the school is a stone’s throw from my house. I’d driven right past it on the way to work.

The day filled…as days do…and I didn’t think much about it until I saw live tweets popping up from the event. Thanks, Lanny for sharing some key take aways.

Arriving home, I asked my younger son how the author visit was. Normally his responses are nonplussed and monosyllabic. Do you know the kind? Mmmhmm.

Instead he replied, “It was good, actually. I got to be part of the writing workshop this afternoon.” I may have swooned. When pressed for more details he explained that he was one of two writers from his class to join the author. All in all he thought there may have been about 40 writers. “We had to write about cancer,” turned into an explanation of how they were challenged to write a scene that included both fear and longing. He explained the iterations of thought he and his writing partner had gone through before settling themselves on cancer as a key problem their character faced. Ultimately the longing was to fit in. He talked for a full five minutes. In addition to the writing he did this afternoon, he shared anecdotes about One for the Murphys and Fish in a Tree. That’s as much as I get about school from him in weeks.

It was interesting that Qaiden took away the idea of complex motivations like a push of fear and a pull of longing. When I’ve heard you speak, or spoken with you, the message was similar in that you make the writing live by drawing on strong emotions you’ve experienced, even if what caused them was different.

Needless to say, I was both very excited for him and disappointed that I missed the opportunity. The sun was still shining and my smile came out from behind its clouds.

Lynda, you are often thanking teachers. I’d like to thank you. Authors who write for kids and visit schools may not fully realize the impact they have. You make writing real and impactful for young people in a way that school sometimes doesn’t.

#SOL18 Day 21 If I’d Take My Own Advice

All day yesterday you could find little knots of teachers, aides, office staff, even parent volunteers, comparing the latest forecasts and speculating about the odds of a snow day today (The consensus? Based on patterns of close/no close decisions–High), and lobbying for an emergency early dismissal instead of missing the whole day. We practically begged the universe for only a delay. The alternative was cutting April break short.

At home I rallied my kids to follow their ordinary school night routine and get to bed on time, because “there’s no guarantee there will be a snow day. Probably you’ll get to sleep in; if you need to get up, I’ll come get you.” Happily, they followed my advice. Hence when my alarm went off this morning and I went to wake them up, there was no groaning or sluggishness.

For them, it was a bonus day–home before lunch time.

I was convinced, however much I hoped it would be an early dismissal, that school would be closed. Our superintendent is retiring at the end of the year. If there have been snow flakes, she’s closed school. If there’s been cold rain, she’s closed school. One day she even closed school when there turned out to be no precipitation at all. I’m convinced that she thinks she’s made it this far without someone getting hurt, she’s not going to risk it. If past experience was any predictor of future actions, I’d be able to quickly check for the closing announcement when my alarm went off and then straight back to sleep.

Did you hear it? The ominous background music?

So I stayed up late writing my pantser slice, reading and commenting on other blogs. It was indulgent and I enjoyed it. Then–because why not?–I turned out the lights and fired up Netflix on the laptop from bed. For some people being social refuels them, for others it’s active play like running or sports, for me it’s story. So when the episode ended with a cliff hanger and Netflix automatically started the next one, I was glued. And why not?

Two or three episodes later my eyelids were drooping. I closed the cover of the laptop and stashed it next to the bed. I was asleep almost before I peeled the headphones off.

Moments later–however many moments there are in about four hours–my alarm went off. I groped blindly for my cell phone to turn off the alarm. Then twisting it around so I could see the screen I saw a blurry red dot indicating a text message. Yes! I clicked to open it. Squinting through sleep bleary eyes I read: All R15 schools will be on an emergency early dismissal today.

I should have taken my own advice!

I got what I wanted…but also what I deserved.