She said, “I don’t like this book.” There was a catch in her voice, and I knew she didn’t mean those words. She knew her heart was going to be squeezed tight as I read The Hickory Chair by Lisa Rowe Fraustino to a group of fourth grade teachers.
What I didn’t realize was how difficult it was going to be for me to read this aloud. I’ve read it many times . . . to myself, but never to a group. As I read, I avoided eye contact with the teachers, steeling myself for the emotional journey that was unfolding through the text. I had to take a deep breath before I could complete the final line.
Hands quickly reached for the box of tissues in the center of the table. Eyes filled with tears, noses sniffled as the teachers savored the words of this story.
Another teacher posed the question, “Do you still hate this book?”
Now she says, “How could I hate a book that makes me cry?”
This is the story we will return to over and over as we discuss comprehension strategies.
If you don’t know this book, find it, read it, and savor the beautiful language.
Synopsis: “Lilacs with a whiff of bleach.” Gran’s smell. That “rich molasses voice.” Gran reading stories. By these things, Louis knows his grandmother. And he knows that she loves him. But when Gran passes away and leaves notes hidden in her things for each family member to find, Luis seems to be the only one forgotten. Could it be so?
Saturday rolls around and it is time to reflect on moments of celebrations from the past week. This week I have finished all my work in schools for this school year. (So I guess you could say, my summer vacation has started. :-) )
I have been working three years with this one school. As I walked into the school I noticed subtle changes from my last visit in the fall. The walls have the usual art projects and student work, but there was something more.
Papers popped up asking the question What is your favorite book? Why? Because . . . At the bottom there were three teachers’ names. Lift the flap to find out. Under the flap you will find a picture of the teacher holding the book.
You will find signs outside teacher’s doors stating the college they graduated from and the question Where will you go?
The fourth grade just completed a poetry unit, so they had tables displaying their poetry books.
How can you resist this book?
Hot reads were displayed outside the rooms and even in the window of the office.
Literacy is a priority in this school.
I celebrate the literacy journey that these teachers are taking their students on.
At the end of yesterday, I wondered, Am I getting too old for this job?
- I was beat, my energy level was flatter than a pancake rolled over by a steam roller.
- My feet informed me that the shoes that were comfy and fit in the morning, were pinching and squishing every square inch of my feet.
- My back said, “Don’t you dare drop anything, because I will not willing go down to pick it up.”
- My knees are wondering why I’m punishing them.
My spirit, from deep down in my heart told me not to listen to the complainers. They will get over it. Just keep on, you love what you do (most of the time).
I’m going to have to assess what I do and how I do it. Normally, I work with teachers, providing PD during their day. Usually I model a writing lesson or reading lesson with their class, but the bulk of my time is spent with the teachers. This is tiring, but it isn’t physically draining.
This week I am spending four days modeling writing lessons in classrooms and on the fifth day I will be meeting with teachers during their grade level meetings. I have an hour in six classes each day. The classrooms are on the first floor and the third floor. I go to first floor, then third floor, then back to first (you get the picture?) all day long. Now you know why my body parts are complaining.
So I am back to the question, Am I getting too old for this job? My spirit is stronger than all the rest of the complaining parts. She tells the others to just get over it, everything will feel better in the morning. And she’s right, after a night’s sleep, all parts are raring to go and face the world. I’m not too old! (yet :-) )
Three years ago, I began a journey with a staff of teachers in a K-2 building. We traveled the road of developing an understanding and implementation of balanced literacy.
Three years ago, they looked to a basal reading series to teach reading. Now they look for what their children need to learn next.
Two years ago they prompted their students for writing. Everyone wrote to the prompt. Now the students are creating books and telling the story that only they know.
This year was a year of fine tuning and developing deeper understandings.
It was sad to walk out of the building for a final time, but I know that the literacy coaches will support the teachers and continue to guide them. I celebrate the growth of the staff during our three years together.
The day was capped off by the mini rainbow high in the sky. A pleasant way to end the day. A sight to celebrate!
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This week I get to observe teachers and students in writer’s workshop. This is my second year of working with this group of K-2 teachers. Last year our focus was on developing balanced literacy in the reading block of their schedule. This year the focus has been implementing writer’s workshop. My week will be drawing to a close on Friday and I will travel back home where I will evaluate what I have seen, so that I may continue to guide them as these teachers work to deliver the best practices in literacy instructions.
I have watched mini-lessons that range from learning how to use commas in a series, adding details to enhance the writing, discovering the how-to writing genre, being aware of sentence fluency and how it affects the piece of writing, using transition words effectively, and narrowing the focus of their writing. Then I get to watch the students in action. The quiet ten of no walk, no talk is delightful to watch. As I sat in class yesterday I tried to put into words what I was noticing. My two word sentence poem was born. The soft classical music was just the right note to begin stirring my creative juices.
Writer’s workshop is a good place to be, no matter how old you are.
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Do you know this book?
The Best Part of Me by Wendy Ewald
A photographer asked children “What is the best part of you?” Each child wrote a short essay explaining their best part and it was compiled into a book.
I discovered this book several years ago and introduced it to teachers as a possible writing lesson. They oohed and ahhed as they looked at the book, but that’s as far as it has ever gone. I have never seen evidence that anyone tried it with their class.
This week I walked into a school, hustling down the hall to the room where I would meet with the teachers and stopped in my tracks. On the wall was a small display of black and white photos of body parts and writings below. I didn’t have time to stop at that moment, but knew I would revisit to study the pictures and read the writing. And take photos of their work.
I had not introduced the book to this school. I was curious if someone had this book. What I discovered was this writing was from a special education class. The teacher had no clue there was a book . She had seen something on Pinterest and that had prompted her project. She said the kids had loved doing this.
Here are two of them (original spelling retained):
The Best Part of Me
My hands are the best part of me. They hlp me turn pages in books so I can read. My hands hlp me lift wood for the fire. I use my hands to blld presnts for my sisters.
The Best Part of Me
My feet are the best prt of me. I can wok inewher with my feet. I can run at reses with my feet. I can stand up with my feet.
So now I must ponder, what is the best part of me?
For the last two days I’ve been back to the school that I wrote about at the first of the month. I’ve been back modeling writing lessons in each teacher’s class. It surprises me how quickly these students accept me. I walk past them in the hall and they greet me by name (I have a name tag on), they stop to give me a hug, they ask, “Are you coming back to our class today?” with a hint of wistfulness in their voice. When I tell them not today, there is a look of disappointment in their eyes. Sometimes there is a look of disappointment in the teacher’s eyes too.
Today I will meet with the teachers on their plan period. The time will go by too fast. I have too much to tell them, it overwhelms me. I was supposed to do a full day of PD on April 6. I would have the teachers for six hours. I had plans to develop an understanding of the structure of writer’s workshop. They would explore the language of six traits. And maybe we could touch on mentor texts. They need to understand these things and how it relates to teaching writing. They need to understand teaching writing is not a formula. They need to understand . . . but the day has been cancelled. The district has different plans for the teachers. The decision for the PD has been taken out of the building leader’s hands. I will be going back in May to work with the teachers on their plan period for one day. They will not be ready to teach writing in a workshop next year. I am disappointed.
They will try to get funds to bring me back next year. They want me to come back earlier. I want to go back. My work is not finished in this school. I want to make a difference.