Month: February 2015

Ready… Set… Slice…

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Back in January, when we returned from Christmas break I had some important decisions to make about how to best have my students participate in the Slice of Life Classroom Challenge in March.  I agonized over whether or not to make slicing homework or not.

My students are solid with home reading as it is a routine that is established in kindergarten. But, a regular home writing practice? Not at all.  In the past, I have tried having home writing be a regular expectation but it quickly became more about compliance and less about writing so I abandoned it.

Given our ambitious flow of writing units for the year, I knew that I had to carefully consider the amount of time I dedicated to the Slice of Life Challenge in writing workshop.  I eventually came to the decision that I needed to have students work on this writing at home.  I knew Slice of Life writing would help my students better see the stories in their every day lives but worried I would find myself focusing on homework compliance.

I carefully planned our kick off.  I had many examples to share: slices from my own blog, slices from previous 5th graders, and Facebook posts from Cynthia Lord and Patricia Polacco that are really slices about their writing/everyday lives. As we looked at the posts, we could see the comments left by readers. This was the hook. When I explained that they will be part of a far-reaching writing community the writers seemed surprised and intrigued.  While I can’t say they embraced the idea of writing homework, they were motivated by the idea that students and teachers from around the world might read their writing.  I think this cut down on the moaning that might have normally accompanied the introduction of regular home writing expectations.

Prior to February vacation we had quite a few snow days and disruptions to our writing routine.  I felt caught between finishing up our prior unit, beginning a new unit and fitting slicing in around the edges of time.  Most students were figuring out how to fit slicing intro their home routines.  Some students were dragging their heels and causing me worry.

Just before vacation we had some time with the lap tops and the chance for students to kick off their blogs.  Students who had drafts of slices were well prepared and ready to go.  They excitedly started their first posts.  Of course, we ran out of time.  I sent the writers off on vacation with open-ended expectations for writing.  Many students don’t have computer or internet access at home so I couldn’t assign anything. But, I encouraged writers to try typing some slices over the vacation if they have time.

I was thrilled as a few students bravely submitted their first posts during vacation.  I got a kick out of reading their encouraging comments to each other and was touched by the fact that they did this without any coaching from me.

When I arrived at school this morning a few students who are in the before school child care program, bounded up to me and asked if they could come into my classroom to work on their posts.  Hmm… I thought that is surprising and exciting.  They set themselves up and settled right into typing needing few reminders to be independent and stay on task.

Later in the morning I had all 30 of my fifth grade slicers gathered together for a pre tech time pep talk.  I reviewed the expectations and reminders of blogging and the slicers were quickly ready to go.  As I circulated around the room, engagement was high.  Students were busy tapping away anxious to get their slices posted.

I realized that by enabling students to see they are part of a wider community of writers, they become intrinsically motivated to write their stories and share them.

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Book Launching Party

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On the Thursday before vacation, the secretarial assistant in our school delivered a box of books which she had labeled and laminated the covers for me to get them ready for the classroom library.  I will be honest, sometimes I am guilty of letting the books sit on the sidelines waiting for when I have a moment to move them into the library or do a book buzz for my class.  But, as I looked at that box of books I thought I REALLY need to get these into the kids’ hands before vacation.

In my class we typically buzz a book a day which is followed by the negotiations or drawings to determine the next reader and develop a waiting list.  This often leaves readers disappointed but we do our best to make sure books are traveling around the room and not living in book bins.  I decided that this day would be different.  I covered the box in purple cloth and left it in the meeting area with a note that said: No Peeking! 

As the kids came in I could see them whispering to each other and overheard them say, “It’s probably books!”  I guess I am a bit predictable.  During the share part  of our morning meeting, I power buzzed all the books in the box and laid them out on the floor.  The readerly excitement was building!  But, they had to go to PE class before we could finish.

When the fifth graders returned to class, they stood around the treasures on the floor pointing at the books they wanted to have.  A few desperate readers started begging me for the chance to be the first reader of the book they desired.  I settled them down and explained I would draw from their name cards.  As a I drew a card each student had 10 seconds to choose a book. No complaining if “their” book was taken and they could pass if they didn’t see a book that interested them.

As I randomly drew cards students swooped in and chose their books.  One for the Murphy’s, Zane and the Hurricane, Snicker of Magic, The Secret of Ferrell Savage and many others each made their way into the hands of readers.  The kids had huge smiles and every reader found a book they were excited to read.  It was like a book launching party!  Of course, they still went around negotiating, swapping and developing waiting lists for next readers of their books. I think a book launching party is the start of a new tradition in my class.

I am thinking of my readers now and hoping they are enjoying some time outside and then snuggling in with their beautiful new books!

The Joy of Skiing

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Through college and into my twenties I was an avid skier. Nothing stopped me… ever. The colder the better because fewer people would be in the lift lines. Fast forward into my forties and well it doesn’t take much to derail ski plans.

Too cold…
Too snowy…
Too far…
Too busy…

This past Sunday my 17-year-old son and I had plans to ski. We checked the weather for the mountain we were planning to visit and discovered wind chill warnings of -15 to -30 below… Yikes! Even he was reluctant. We checked around and found another mountain with a slightly better forecast only -10. Still chilly.

We woke up early to a temperature reading of -3. The sun was barely up and the trees were cracking and popping with the extreme cold. I think… Do I really want to do this?  The old reluctance creeping back to me. I pushed on… With my son heading to college next year ski days together will be even harder to come by.

We arrive at the mountain and get out of the car. The cold takes our breath away. We lumber across the parking lot with our equipment and pile it outside the lodge. Peering at the ticket window there is a sign that says t-bar only because the winds are gusting so high that the main chair lift is on wind hold. Ugh… t-bar means no rest for weary legs.

My son asks, “Should we bother?”

“We’re here. Let’s just go for it.” I reply.

I snap my skis on for the first time in two years and scuttle over to the t-bar line. As the t-bar tows us up the mountain we realize we are ready for the cold, we are dressed for it and the t-bar keep us behind the trees and out of the wind.

We scoot off at the top, I turn around and I remember why I ski.  The sun shines brilliantly in the shimmering blue sky.  My breath is taken away once again, not from the cold, but from the stunning view of the landscape.  Frozen lakes, wide open fields of white and snow-capped mountains stretch out in the distance.

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The snow is freshly groomed corduroy which has barely been touched as we are among the first skiers on the mountain.  We take our first turns and I quickly develop a rhythm.  I’m thrilled my body hasn’t forgotten what to do as I glide down the mountain.

The cold is forgotten… My to do list is forgotten… Because I finally remember the joy I get from skiing.