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Thursday, November 24, 2016

gratitude lately

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! Hope you are set for an awesome day with family and friends. Before I get to the turkey, a little bit of gratitude on this November day.



Thankful for a five day Thanksgiving holiday, to see friends and family, to rest, to catch up, to spend time doing the things I enjoy.


Thankful for the kids I teach. I think they're so smart and talented and kind, and also, like all kids at this age, don't always get the consequences of their actions, which makes this life's work demanding and complicated, but so rewarding.


Thankful for these thankful notes our PBIS team put on, and messages from students.



The longer note reads, "Thank you Ms. Brezek for being a good teacher! I know most students do not like you, but I do. You're just really strict, but I like that about you because it keeps me on time in class and helps me do my work faster. Ok, I didn't mean "really strict." I meant you're a little bit strict. To other students you're "super strict" though. Thanks for being there to help me succeed and be a good reader and writer!"


Thankful that I continue to put myself out there in an authentic way, even if it doesn't always work out in my favor.... both in my personal and professional life. Thanks to Jennifer at Cult of Pedagogy for this, I can totally relate.





Thankful for family who is always there at a moment's notice when something goes wrong. Thankful that even though my car is smashed, I am not.


Thankful for Landmark Forum and it's personal/professional development sessions. It has has really shown me how to live my best life - to live more powerfully in all aspects of my life, with freedom and self-expression, and has created a greater sense of peace of mind. It's by far the best personal and professional development session I've ever participated in. Do not believe what the blogs out there say. Landmark will change your life.


Thankful for my niece, who will be my Goddaughter in April. And thankful for text messages and a shared love of Young Adult Lit.





Speaking of books - currently reading On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life. Once again I am reminded that gratitude turns what we have into enough.


Thankful for a growing family of Arbonne sisters.




Thankful for Old St. Pat's. Every time I'm there, I laugh, learn something new, and leave feeling so perfectly peaceful, which is exactly what I need on Sunday evenings.





Happy Thanksgiving, friends and family!
What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

slice of life

It's Tuesday. My students created their blogs today and I had them publish their first post. (EEEKkkk! So exciting! I've already left them all a comment!) So, I should probably do the same and be a great model!

My slice comes from a small moment from Monday. It was passing period and I was standing in the hallway, supervising, high-fiving some students, joking with others, directing traffic to keep moving so the hallway didn't get congested. As the hallway started to clear out, one of the sixth graders came and gave me a hug. I half way hugged her back and then stopped and looked in her eyes.

"Is this hug for me or is it for you?" I asked her.

"It's for me," she replied softly. At that moment, I gave the kiddo a good hug. We had known each other since she was in third grade, just beginning writing in a fab writer's workshop, and over the years, we've learned more and more about each other.

She went on, "I just want to go back to Emerson. I miss it."

"There's a lot going on here in middle school, isn't there?"

She nodded and I continued, "Yeah, it's busy. Lots of teachers, lots more kids. Maybe some drama with friends, but today is just one bad day. Today is just one hectic day. Pretty soon you'll go home and rest, and then you'll have a fresh start tomorrow."

She nodded, and I sent her on her way to lunch.

Life is tough. There's so many demands on our kiddos - school, and friends, and family, and hobbies, and sports, and chores. Plus a million more. It's so nice when kids ask for what they need, like this case when this kiddo came for a hug because she knew it would make her feel better. But what about the kiddos who don't? 

Let's all check in with our students and children tonight and tomorrow. If they are not asking, let it be us who do so!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

bigtime reflections

We just finished up a short week and I wanted to share and reflect on it with you!

Pineapple Chart
This has been a long time coming, but it finally launched this Wednesday!



The Pineapple Chart concept is from Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez who wrote Hacking Education. It's a way to invite teachers to your classroom in a space (our lounge) that everyone hangs out. Then, teachers can check out classes that are on the chart.

We just launched it on Wednesday, and there were four teachers to put up an invitation - to a band class (trumpets!), Math Class, to see a cool app called Class Kick, a Social Studies Class to see a learning platform called Summit, and my ELA class to see Quick Writing.

What's awesome about the Pineapple Chart is that there's no subs involved, no paperwork, no formal reflections - just teachers visiting one another's classrooms to learn and collaborate together.


I visited the math class to see Class Kick and the app was super cool, but it's also cool to just be in another teacher's room to see how the students interact, to see how they organize and structure their class, to talk to kids, and 100 more reasons!


I highly suggest this form of on-demand, personalized PD - check out Hacking Education for this great Hack, and so many others! (My next project is Teacher Quiet Zone!)


Quick Writing
I've been doing Quick Writing for about 6 weeks now and it's making such a difference in the kids stamina for writing. (Check out the details here.) We are about to launch our first writing unit, and I know the Quick Writing will lend itself to the writing they will do for me coming up! I'm just so proud to see kids really getting to business with their writing, this example was just about 7 minutes worth of writing! This strategy helps kids get out of their head, stop the writer's block, and just let thoughts flow on to paper, because we know that the real writing lies in revision.



Progress Reports
One area I've been struggling is communicating grades with parents. Like, I have grades in my book, but I am not super sure how to use our online management system and so until yesterday, I hadn't done much of that. I tell you this not so you'll be judgy, but because what I'm learning as a teacher and coach is that it's so hard to do everything. The last few years when I was just a coach, I would attend meetings, and to me, it seemed simple the plans that we would make for instruction. But then there's assemblies, and shortened schedules for PBIS kickoffs, and days off, and then there's a day or two when none of your students do their homework, so the plan that you've created, it doesn't go as you had envisioned.

But then something amazing happens anyways, and I'm so mad I didn't snap a picture of this - my kids doing self-reflection on their progress reports.

We have moved to Standards Based Grading. I like it. So I created progress reports for kids, where I had it broken down into seven categories, listing the scores I had recorded for kids. Then, I asked them to reflect on scores, share something they're doing well in each area, and also something they need to improve. And I had them spend about 20 minutes on self-reflection, using my notes and grading themselves. And it was amazing.

Kids made comments like,

  • "I need to study my vocabulary more."
  • "I need my handwriting to be neater."
  • "I should share my ideas with people I sit with more."
  • "I wasn't taking this seriously, but now I will."
  • "I need to be kinder to others in my class."
  • "I have a lot of tardies, I need to come on time." (Side note: yesterday this student *was on time!)
I have always been a reflective teacher (like, here on the blog) but I am going to make this self-reflection for students an ongoing process. Oh, and then my principal (who initiated this whole idea for me) shared how I could take it to the next level - have parents rate themselves for things at home like,
  • My child gets 8 hours of sleep a night.
  • My child eats a good breakfast each morning.
  • My child reads 20 pages of their book each night at home.
  • My child has routines and a quiet space to work on homework.
  • Electronic devices are turned off at 9pm each night.
  • Electronic devices are kept out of my child's bedroom, especially after 9pm.
This kind of rating and reflection on behalf of the family seems like a great reminder for all involved, and really creates that space for teachers, students, and families to do the work together!

Award Nomination
Finally, pretty cool that someone nominated me for a Golden Apple Award:



I got this last Friday and at first thought it was junk mail, but upon further examination and research, it is legit. This is an award for teachers in Illinois, in a few of the counties around where I live. This year, it's for 4th-8th grade teachers. Winners receive

  • A paid spring quarter sabbatical to study tuition-free at Northwestern University
  • Induction into the Golden Apple Academy of Educators
  • A cash award of $5,000
  • Recognition on an hour long Awards ceremony program on WTTW/Channel 11 in May 2017
I have no idea who nominated me - I asked some people at work and a friend who is a Golden Apple Scholar, but have not figured that out, but I am super thankful and honored someone thought of me!

That's about all for this week! I really enjoy sitting down to write and am so thankful blogging and writing is a consistent part of my life! Have a fab weekend, I'm off to the Apple Orchard and then will be watching the Sun Devils and Cubbies tonight!

Any thoughts on the Pineapple Chart, Quick Writing, Student Self-Assessment or your weekend? Keep the conversation going in the comments below!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tree Thoughts

I don't know why I am so drawn to trees, but I am.




One summer day I sat on my couch and could hear the leaves rustling behind me and I loved it so much I took an Instagram video of it.

When I wake up in the morning (when I don't have to leave early for work) the light that is cast through my kitchen and living room windows is so pretty - the light comes through the leaves outside my windows and dances around my apartment.


I love fall. (I know, so basic.) But seriously, look:



This book, of course.



And is it a coincidence that Arbonne, a product line and health and wellness philosophy I have come to love so much, means beautiful tree?



I'm drawn to art that includes trees, too. About 5 years ago at the Frankfort Fall Fest, there was this artisan who created these beautiful mosaics, and my favorite one was a tree. If only I had $300 at the time, that piece would be here on my wall at home.

And then just this week, on Twitter, I saw a tree that was part of a writing workshop, and etched into the trunk was "Writers grow together," and I am in love:



Speaking of etchings, I've always wanted to etch initials into a tree trunk with some special someone, you know, like this:



The past few days I've been racking my brain trying to figure out what it is about trees that draws me so much to them...?

Is it because living without trees in Arizona all those years has me really appreciating them?

Or maybe it's because of their roots that has them grounded firmly. The best people I know know who they are - when you go out into this crazy world, if you don't at least know yourself, you can be easily manipulated...

Which brings up another quality of trees, flexibility and bendiness. While you do have to stand for something, it's also important to be flexible enough to compromise.

Is it because the leaves change colors and fall away? Last time I had a breakup, this quote spoke to me pretty profoundly:




Or is it because the courageous few, who sometimes, step out onto that limb? Like having that hard conversation with friend or family member. Or walking up to someone you'd like to know to say hello. Or sharing Arbonne, even when people are so judgy. Putting yourself out there isn't easy, but it can definitely yield some pretty amazing results.

So this fall, as you go about your busy days, slow down to notice the trees around you. And, in a few weeks, stop by my classroom to see my Writer's Workshop Tree. It's going to be a daily reminder of all that trees bring into our lives!



Am I missing any other awesome tree references?
Leave me a comment to share them!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Creating Relevance

Last week I was at the Illinois Reading Council Conference and I had so much fun. One thing that is still new to me are the Notice and Note books by Beers and Probst. These books are built around strategies for Close Reading.



The big theme of their sessions was relevance. Obviously we want to take into account student interests when we teaching, and ideally we would give all students readings that were directly related to their interests. But, we also have to instruct classic texts, books and articles that students read at various grade levels as a whole class. The Outsiders. Romeo and Juliet. The Scarlet Letter.

I get differentiation, but I also see power in one class, one book. This year, I'm only going to have one book that the whole class reads, and it's The Giver, which we are immersed in now. I've read The Giver with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, and I say it's best interpreted by eight graders, but I digress.

Back to relevance, though - since we can't give kids readings on their interests all the time, we have to build relevance into our teaching. The strategies that Beers and Probst modeled to us last week are called Possible Sentences and Notice and Wonder. (Well, I'm naming the second one Notice and Wonder!) I used these strategies yesterday with my ELA class and they worked so flawlessly to engage kids to the text. Here's how to do it.

Possible Sentences
Create a group of words and phrases that are about the coming chapters of your book. There should be a bunch of choices. What I did is wrote sentences about the book - things that were actually going to happen, and then I broke them down into a set of names, a set of actions, and a set of descriptors (I'm sure there's a better grammar way to explain that third column!) Here's what I came up with:

Then I modeled to students how to write sentences, using words and phrases from the chart. I showed them a few I created, and then asked them to write two. Then they did a pair share. Then the pair wrote a third. Then silently they wrote two more.

After each kid had five sentences, I had them share out to me and I recorded them on the board:




Notice and Wonder
Now the cool part, I ask students to notice sentences, consider them, and then wonder about them. Here's a lot of questions we had about Jonas and his medication:



As you can see, they were concerned about the pill that Jonas takes and were wondering many things. As the class began sharing, it stemmed more questions. We were rolling!

Prior to that one, we wondered about the other Possible Sentences:



Genius Strategy
These Possible Sentences were created by kids but used the language from the teacher who has already read the book. When you use this strategy, you create an easy way for students to predict using language you give them (so great for ELs) and then you invest them into the story by wondering together.

The engagement yesterday was awesome after this strategy. I highly recommend it!

Other Applications
Think of all the other readings we do in other content areas! When Beers and Probst modeled this strategy, they did so with a NF article about child labor laws in an African (African? Can't exactly remember where...) country. They didn't read the article with us, just did this pre-reading work, and it really stimulated our interest in the topic. I can see this being HIGHLY successful in any content area!

Have you tried these strategies? Have you taught with Notice and Note? Keep the conversation going in the comments below!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

illinois reading council review

Just came home from the Illinois Reading Council Conference. It was awesome. If I had to sum it up in three words, I'd go with volume, relevance, and giggles. Here's the story...

Reading and writing volume matters
I read Readicide years and years ago, but this was the first time hearing Kelly Gallagher speak. He talked about how we need to repurpose our middle and high school classrooms away from 4 big novels and 4 big papers to something different so that kids are reading and writing in crazy quantities.

His schedule looks like this:
2 min     Book talks
10 min   Reading and Conferring
10 min   Daily writing to launch units
8 min     Mentor Text Study
20 min   Writing Workshop and Conferring
3 min     Debrief and sharing of beautiful words

This was so reaffirming to me. I try and emulate the experts - Gallagher and Penny Kittle (they are co-authoring a book together due out next November!) and so now I have some ideas to tweak my schedule further. If he can do this with 53 minutes, I can definitely get down to biz in 88!

Our district is awesome and sends so many people to IRC, so we had to get a picture with the Selfie Stick:



And then I had him sign my book and I got to sit down and talk to him a bit.



He is seriously such a great teacher, I feel so blessed to have met him!

Authors Speak: Jordan Sonneblick & Laurie Halse Anderson
I had never heard of Jordan and am now super excited to read one of his books. His session was so great - about how your kids who drive you bananas need you to be there for them, and you might even turn them into writers! Jordan spoke these beautiful words, "Your writing feedback needs to be anointing and appointing - writing is a person's soul on paper." So so true, we can't rip our kids to shreds when we look at their writing or go nuts with a red pen. Read for ideas first, hear your writers!

And Laurie Halse Anderson has amazing books, my favorites to date are Speak and Twisted, but I saw a new side of her this time with her historical Thriller Series, Chains, Forge, and Ashes. I had always wondered how she writes books so different - realistic fiction with Speak and Twisted in Young Adult about sexual violence and then historical thrillers centered around slavery, so it was great to hear her stories. What really stuck out to me was when she said something along the lines of "keep pushing to learn about white privilege" if you have been thinking about that lately. (I have.) The current state of our country goes way back, back even further than slavery, back to when people took land from Native Americans. We have a long road ahead to fix the difficulties we face here in 2016, but it can start with books and conversations.



Enchanted, yet again, by Ralph Fletcher
Ralph Fletcher has easily been one of the most impactful researcher-teachers on my career. I would not be who I am as far as a workshop stance without him. So to have him reaffirm what I already know as a writer - that children need to play with writing to develop not only a love for it but also to be effective at it was so wonderful to hear.

We have to make time in our writing workshops for students to have choice and voice, and when our writing workhops work, we are like a hot air balloon flying away with energy. Our students' writer's notebooks should be a playground and hot house for ideas!


So with all the mandates we have from outside our buildings and our state departments, let's remember to keep writing joyful for our students!

Kyleen Beers and Bob Probst
These two are quite comical and super smart, sharing about their books Notice and Note. These books focus on close reading strategies in both fiction and nonfiction. What I am walking away with her is relevance. We have to make the work we do with kids relevant, and one way to do that is through an awesome strategy called Possible Sentences and then using Notice and Wonder.



Next time you're going to read an article with your students, pick out 15 - 20 words and phrases from the article and list them. Have kids, in pairs, write possible sentences that could be in the text. Then, kids share their sentences and teacher scribes them on the board. Next, teacher asks kids to look at one sentence and wonder about it - what questions do you have? what do you wonder? Kids turn and talk and then share out.



These wonderings create relevance for our readers, big time. When we did this exercise, we all wanted to read the article afterward! This pre-reading strategy is so powerful for our readers, highly recommend.

More learning experiences
I heard a lot of other great sessions, too: about dyslexia, about content-area writing tips, CRAFTS, the hot new lit for Young Adult, and an awesome presentation from a great friend and colleague about blogging with kids. I can't wait to get my students going on blogs!

Hilarity
In addition to learning so much wonderful information that can be brought back to my classroom on Monday, it's just so fun to be around amazing friends from work. We laughed and had so much fun and geeked out taking selfies with our literacy celebrities. On the way home, we sang songs from Lion King and The Little Mermaid. Who does that? Which brings me to...

Gratitude
So many things to be thankful for:

  • A district who gets that ongoing professional development is such a must for our teachers and kids; thank you for sending me to IRC and allowing me to continue my training so my students can continue theirs:



  • Friendships built around selfie sticks and reading and writing workshop!

  • Cute bags from the conference! (You guys: chevron!)
  • "ELA Squad" t-shirts, that were the brainchild of a #D100chat one Tuesday evening. Thanks Cap!
  • for teachers who teach with a firm, loving insistence so that our students become readers and writers who can powerfully interpret and interact in such world where news, advertisements, informatoin is usually skewed one way or another.

  • for Twitter that allows us to stay connected and continue to learn from one another. Check out the #IRC2016 feed and my twitter feed for more! Let's grow our PLN!
Did you attend IRC? What did you take away?

Friday, September 16, 2016

week 4 in review

Four weeks of school have flown by already, it's crazy how fast it goes! Here are some of the things I was thinking this week as time continued to keep movin' on by...

I'm so thankful for my new area rug for the kids to read. It takes a lot of feedback to get them to read without disturbing others, but how cool is this view from my conferring table at the present moment? :-)


Our school is putting forward 9 focus areas across the building. One of them is note-taking, so this was one of my demos of Cornell Notes. I had a video playing and was taking notes as students watched me. Then, I had them share out about what they noticed I did. Then they tried on their own. It's working so well! They are finally getting that copying notes from a teacher involves no thinking. They have to do their own notes!


We also worked on getting vulnerable in one of my classes. I asked students to share their notes to fill in things they may have missed, but they wouldn't even move close to one another. So then I said, "Slide your notebooks together, look at one another's work. Talk about it. Trust me, I know it's hard, especially when you're unsure that you even did it right in the first place. I know I'm asking you to do hard things, but just trust me, and go with it." And for the kiddos who still wouldn't move their notebooks together, I did it for them :-)


These girls at the basketball game, I love it. This was after a crazy rant by me to my ELA class a few hours earlier. I super love teaching, but when you are teaching kids what behaviors are okay and what are not, you usually come off to them like you're yelling all the time. I'm not actually yelling, just talking in a stern voice about what is and what is not acceptable. So, after that tough class, it was nice to unwind with these kiddos at the game...until the fire alarm got bumped!


I'm super strict about assignment notebooks with my 6th grade homeroom. I am training them to be organized and create to do lists to make sure they get their work done and stay out of the Working Lunch classroom. And it's working. All by stickers, and these puffy emoji stickers for a week of writing all their homework down! Who doesn't love stickers?!


My classroom is coming along much slower this year because I'm waiting on all the work of the kids to decorate it! I finally finished up the Nerdy Birdies - It's a great book that I read to my homeroom on the first day. Then I had a few kids do blackline masters of a few different birds, copied them, had the kids color them, put them up, labeled them, along with the quote driving my school year:

A bird is safe in it's nest but that is not what wings are made for.  
-Amit Ray


Here are a few close ups:



One more thing on this - A week ago I got some super cute buletin board birds in the mail, except I didn't remember ordering them. I was thinking that I was getting a little irresponsible with my online shopping, so I went looking for the online orders. Couldn't find it. So I posed on facebook and found out my bff sent them :-)


And last, ASU once again named most innovative, and I totally feel it's true in education, with the amazing instruction I got with Reading and Writing Workshop and a social constructivist philosophy with heavy influences from Paulo Freire. So thankful I'm the teacher I am today because of Arizona State. Now we just need to win some football!


How was your week?
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