Friday, October 28, 2011

Trying Twitter...

I'll admit --- I like to be 'in the know' but I'm not so much of a techno-junkie.  It doesn't come easily for me.   Now, I can do what I need to do. {Well, plus some extra, like installing fonts and building Tagxedos and formatting documents in a hyper-particular fashion.}  But, I always seem to be a few products, models, or apps behind.  I want to learn though.

So, lately at conferences and in conversation with respected peers, Twitter taunted me.  In NCTE correspondence, #NCTE11 taunted me. On the Two Writing Teachers' blog last week, Ruth taunted me about taking on Twitter.  I felt surrounded by my fears, my passion, and my desire to grow.  It became a three-on-one situation. 

Try it.
{I'll like it.}

Try it.
{I'll like it.}

Try it.
{I'll like it.}

Inspired, I'm trying it.  Find me @livewriteteach.  If you have any easy-to-follow Twitter advice, I'd love to know more.  Right now, I'm wading my way through Franki Sibberson's article referenced by Ruth.

TweetDeck?  Twitterstream?  Seesmic?
{All in good time...}

Tweet on,

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My sixteenth slice-of-life story...

Where do we go from here?

Anyone who knows me knows I'm always thinking ahead... So, it wasn't surprising that when I found this delightful little play rug (pictured above) at Ikea last summer, I snatched it up in preparation for my toddler's eventual 'big boy' room.  Ever since, it's been stashed underneath our guest bed poised for unveiling.

But, instead of being the highlight of Reid's new grown-up space like I had, it's the centerpiece of his makeshift room in our apartment. 

And, it's poetic... You see, last week we moved out of our first home.  In lieu of the excitement that could envelope the whole experience like a warm hug because a new, more family-friendly house awaited us, we still feel loss...confusion...stress. 

We miss our yard, our cozy cottage with personality plus, our routines there.
Where is that house we see in our minds' eye as the place we'll grow this family?
Will we find it before our short-term lease expires?

As I lovingly arranged Reid's new room before he discovered our apartment, my $14.99 rug splurge acted more like a resounding gong...calling me to reflect with each inch unrolled. 

Will we end up in a neighborhood near a school like this one drawn here?
Will we be close to major highways for a quick commute?
Which shops and restaurants will be in our new neighborhood?

I'm still waiting; I have no answers.  We've lived here one week.  But, I have vision.  I have faith.  And, I know when we finally arrive at the home that's perfect for us...the trip's rough spots will be glossy memories on my heart's tablet.

In the meantime, I guess we'll just enjoy racing matchbox cars around our rug that's a half-step closer to anchoring its intended space.  While we do, I'll be dreaming...

Write on,

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Just noise?

Yesterday, my dad and I had a date to do something we both love --- antiquing.  In the large pole barn smattered with an incredible assortment of timeless relics, tasteless trash, and unique furniture we were surrounded by a gaggle of auctioneers.  Each one babbling as only auctioneers can and hooked to microphones only 15 feet from the next bidding ring, I found myself reeling from the noise and thinking that I couldn't think...  That gave me pause.

Flags, candlesticks, wicker chairs, chests, tables, pie safes, bookshelves, highchairs, chalkboards, paintings, glassware, rugs.  Stained glass windows, chairs, sconces, gumball machines, wooden bowls, Pyrex, depression glass, mirrors.  The bids and auctioneers' calls all blended together in one cacophonous display.  After a while, it just became white noise to me; I heard nothing distinguishable.  I made the hubbub disappear.

An analogy began formulating in my spectator's mind --- are the minilessons we create and deliver just noise sometimes for our students?  Do they figure out how to make teachers' voices disappear?

Lately, I've been doing lots of thinking about what makes a minilesson sticky.  Work Ruth Ayres' shared with my district begins the mental parade, followed by Shanna Schwartz's A Quick Guide to Making Your Teaching Stick, K-5 (which, incidentally, is chock full of practical goodness)We know for our teaching to stick to our writers we must consider:
  • Student readiness --- Does my teaching point contain a big skill (something they would see if a published book) with a small tip (an easy way to approximate what they're seeing from adult writers)?  Is it the next thing on on their skill ladders?  Is my teaching point related to skills/strategies my writers are using but confusing (in other words, fits nicely into their zones of proximal development)?  To keep my students with me, I must give them exactly what they need when they need it.
  • Rich repetition --- Am I connecting this teaching point to the writing work students are already doing?  Am I continuing within a predictable minilesson structure?  Do I restate my teaching point six times over its course?  Do I use consistent language throughout our day?  If so, I'm creating stickiness in spades.
  • Visual representations --- Are my anchor charts created with my students for my students to reference?  Are they in close proximity to writing students?  Do I change them out once students use content with automaticity?  Do I pull visuals back into my teaching and/or individualize them for specific writers?
  • Enticing engagement --- Do I teach from writing produced by my students, by us as a class, by me as their mentor writer? Do we create gestures together that are meaningful nonverbals?  Do I incorporate role playing as a strategy to spur writing with heart and voice?  Do I pull in authentic resources that resonate with my writers?  
You know, at the auction I tuned out because of the perceived noise...but I also mentally vacated the premises because I initially didn't see much of interest.  Hours later, I found myself completely engrossed in the riveting items up for sale.  I figured out a way to make sense of the auctioneer (proximity helped); I hung on his every word and motion (by decoding lingo and watching gestures); I bid on a few pieces I needed and fell in love with; I tried a few times to become the winning bidder and learned small details along the way that brought eventual success.

The noises around me changed --- it wasn't just sound and fury anymore.  They became sticky and followed quite nearly each principle above.  As I engaged. my surroundings became rich.

You know, I'm not so different from my students. The auction will show up in my mind's eye each time I sit down to plan a minilesson.

Sticky memories.

Write on,

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My fifteenth slice-of-life story...

Grandma's car: A red light sandwich with white inside...

Taillight literacy...

You know, it's practically family folklore --- in my mother's voice the story begins, "One night when you were two years old we were driving through town and suddenly from your carseat you shouted, 'there's Grandma's car!'  Then it always ends something like, "and when I asked how you knew you said, 'those are Grandma's taillights.'"  Still befuddled, my mother recounts events from that traveling conversation as if piecing together clues.

Many makes, models, and college courses later, it came to me: I learned to read and write by first noticing and naming taillights.  Long and skinny for Grandma's sage green Olds.  Tall and skinny for Grandpa's cinnamon Cadillac.  Long and wider with two crossing lines for our tan Caprice.  I began crafting systems and terms that organized observations into information I could use to better understand the world around me.

This summer, the folklore evolved: my two-year-old jumped into the tale.  Warranted: a well placed phone call.

"Mom, we were following a Chevy Impala on the highway 
and Reid said, 'there's Luke's car.'"

"Oh, so Reid is taking a page from your book," her voice trailed off 
as if traveling back in time.

"Mom, the car wasn't even the same color as Luke's.  
How does he know it's like Luke's car?"

"Easy.  The taillights." 

A rounded red brake light anchored by a long, skinny white stripe for reverse.

I can already feel it; we'll be talking about this for years.

Post Script on Current Taillight Identification:
Grandma's Lincoln, Grandpa's Ford pick-up, Crystal's Envoy, our Jeeps

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My fourteenth slice-of-life story...

Shriveled, my husband's dear grandmother tottered before me clenching her walker...almost disappearing beneath the heavy wool cape draped over her saggy shoulders.  We were eye to glistening eye.  Just beyond, her husband of 71 years. 

My hand gently found hers, wrinkly and worn.  I fumbled for the right words.   
Audrey was former teacher, you know; even at 91, still sharp as a tack.

"My sympathies," I whispered.  Our darting eyes fused.

"You can't even understand," she stated.

Her tidy yet transparent response arrested me.  
"I know; I can't," served as my shallow summation which grew deeper
with each passing thought..

Her Beloved just two weeks shy of 99.
The homestead in the hills they still shared.
The two cars outside they still drove.
The magazine and book collection they still devoured.
The classical music they still loved.

With pleading eyes, she gazed at the gleaming casket which now served
to package her life's every happiness.

"I just don't know what I will do," her words crumbled one on top of the next.

I held her, my able hands on her bony back.  I cried with her, our tears slid down slowly then faster.  She pulled back and entered a soul-searching stare.  The funeral home closing, she took stock.

"I have to tell him good-bye," she said
sounding more like a teenage girl
 than her December counterpart.


P.S. This brief conversation still consumes my thoughts and opened the door for much consideration on the larger theme --- loss.  I've webbed, I've positioned myself as Audrey, I've been writing this piece in my mind for three days.  Loss is difficult to write well.  I've seen sad movies, I've read sad books, I've had sad conversations.  To write loss, we have to feel loss.  I've revised more in this piece than nearly any other because getting the details 'right' here seemed so incredibly important. 

I know there's still so much to do with a small moment like this, but I think I need to put it away for awhile. 

Write on,