Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Slice of Life- Maybe Another Couple of Things...

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

I was in the middle of teaching a lesson to a fourth-grade class when my phone rang. I had told the teacher that might happen. That I was expecting a call. That I'd have to take it. But really...did that doctor's office have to call right in the middle of the minilesson? 

Fortunately, the students had a longer-than-usual active engagement, and their teacher took over with nudging and encouraging as they noticed and noted three examples of opinion introductions. 

"Your culture was negative," the young sounding voice that belonged to Sarah said. "You should stop taking the antibiotic."

"But it made me better," I said. "Right away. How do we explain that?"

"I don't know," she said, "but the direction is to stop taking it."

I asked her to hold on for just a moment, explaining where I was and what I was doing. Then I gave the class another direction and explained my confusion again with a few additional details about the situation. Sarah just repeated the directions. I didn't have much time left without needing to pull students back together, and I still had my questions, so I asked that the doctor call me later. Sarah agreed. Later, after the lesson, I thought of other ways I could have handled the situation, other questions I could have asked, other strategies I could have taken that would have given me more immediate answers as opposed to a day of waiting and wondering whether the doctor would call me back and if I should still plan on tests the next morning. (She did and I should.)

Because I slice and because I teach, and maybe because I had some awake time last night and extra time this morning, I am thinking about students and instruction. We use the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) in places in our curriculum, and that strategy was created to help people advocate for themselves at places like doctor's office. What questions should we ask? What answers are we looking for? What research do we need to do in order to ask better questions and be a more informed patient/client/consumer? And when or how do we teach students to question authority? As it turned out, going off the antibiotic was NOT the final decision, but if I hadn't been somewhat non-compliant, then I think I would have just thanked her and thrown away the remaining pills. 

I know, I know... we have so much to teach students, so much to fit into our curriculum, so many initiatives. But I'm wondering---

Happy Slicing,

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Slice of Life: What? Another snow day?

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

5:30 am. I reached for my phone.  

Please let it be a normal school day, I was thinking. There were far too many meetings that would have to be rescheduled for even a delay to make me happy. One to three inches of snow, stopping by 3 am, should be easy enough to dust off of school buses. 

We already had a snow day yesterday. I wrote. I went to yoga. I met my neighbors and we finished making our limoncello. (Yes, you read that right.) I might have even taken a few sampling sips. I shopped, caught up on school work, folded laundry, cooked, even did a little more decorating. I had NO need for another snow day. 

We have another snow day. 

How do we have a foot of snow when we were supposed to get 1-3 inches? By my calculations, that's an over 400% mistake. #justsaying

The good news is I have plenty of time to slice, comment, and do some other writing. I'll focus on the good. 

Happy Slicing,

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Slice of Life: Skipping the Coffee

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

It was late, I was tired, and as I walked through the school's hallway, I was focused on the cup of coffee I'd make on my way upstairs to put on sweats, but then...

"Is that Melanie?" a voice called out from a classroom. 

I stopped. 

"Can I ask a couple of quick questions?"

A quick debate went on in my head as to how late is too late for that coffee. I was already on the brink of too late...

"Of course," I said. "I have time." (Ruth Ayers wrote about the importance of that line years ago. I have time is a powerful word with just about everyone I work with. #especiallydaughters.)

We sat and looked at some student writing. C is new in our district, and he arrived as a fourth-grader with little or no writing experience or writing willingness--it was hard to know which. When this teacher talked about him at the beginning of the year, he refused to write, and when he did, he'd then cross off, erase, or delete most of what he created. 

"He still has so many spelling errors," she said. "What do I do about it?"

As I read his stories (and I did write stories, as in multiple ones), I was impressed with the volume. He filled pages without erasures, without tears, without so many cross-outs that I couldn't read, and with legibility and bravery. Were there spelling mistakes? Yes. But so, so much good. 

I know spelling matters, and I told the teacher that. I even gave her a few strategies for some spelling development. But mostly, I complimented her because she has him writing. And there's so much we can teach once a child is brave enough to write. 

Turns out there are other ways to energize in the late afternoon that don't involve caffeine. 

Happy slicing,

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Slice of Life: Reflections From an Escape Room

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

"Everyone pause for just a moment," I said. 

At that moment, if everyone didn't groan, pause, or contemplate ignoring my request, then I'd be surprised. It was Election Day, a day of professional development in our school system, and I was co-presenting an escape room simulation to about 25 teachers. There were puzzles, brain-teasers, and problems to solve, as well as keys to win and a treasure box with prizes. 

Teachers are generally compliant, and most of them went along with turning their papers over temporarily in order to "spy on themselves" as learners, reflecting on the types of thinking and work they were doing insofar as it relates to 21st century competencies. 

One group just couldn't bring themselves to hit the pause button. 

The reflections were great, and after a short conversation, they all got back to work. Frustration in the room rose as one group experienced success and collected a key. Then others. One of the group collected another key...

"Pause for a moment," I said. 

Groans, eye rolls, papers turned. Except for that one group. 

We talked about engagement and how hard it is to be interrupted when you're on a roll. How you have to regain your energy for a task once it's been paused. And yes, how we do that to students. 

That one group ignored the conversation, trying to continue their work under the radar. (I can't say I was cheering for them to solve any of the puzzles. I might have even been secretly happy when they came up with wrong answers.)

By the end of the session, two of the groups had solved all the problems and gathered keys. They decided to split the prizes, then shared with the rest of the group. They also shared the answers, at which time one of the participants from my not-compliant-at-all group became visibly angry. 

"That's not fair," she said. "..."
"You didn't tell everyone," she said. "..."
"We would have," she said. "..."

At later times, many people apologized for her, but at that moment in time, her reaction also led to important reflections for the room. Our students not only need to learn critical thinking skills, collaboration strategies, self-directedness, and citizenship, but they also have to handle injustices and unfairness with dignity and resilience. 

And...our students aren't the only ones!

Happy Slicing,

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Slice of Life: A Walking Field Trip

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

Last week, 62 second-graders followed their teachers and chaperones along the trail that led from their school to the town center. Equipped with iPads and clipboards for documentation, they were on a quest to learn about people in the town who make a positive difference, as well as ways people are acknowledged and celebrated for their accomplishments and contributions. Their new social studies unit centers on people who make a difference and they'd been researching people right in and from their own community. 

In the town hall, the town clerk greeted them and invited them to sit around the giant-sized table, as well as in the swivel chairs where the town's Board of Selectmen sit and deliberate. She pointed out the framed pictures of past politicians and volunteers, as well as the town seal and its meaning. As they filed out, she handed out goody bags with copies of the seal and small notebooks for more recording. "Wow," one child said. "This is as good as Halloween." High praise from an eight year-old. 

We headed to a small park that borders the Town Hall, one that none of us except for the leader had ever been into, and the adults on the field trip, including me, kept shaking our heads. 

"Who knew this was back here?" we kept asking. 

Right along the main street is this park with a gazebo and hundreds of named trees, shrubs, and perennials, as well as a map of where to find them painted on the ceiling of the gazebo. Benches line the pathways, and the students photographed the dedication plaques that acknowledged the work people had done and continue to do on the park. 

Our tour continued with stops at the firehouse where there's a memorial and bricks with names on them, at the cemetery where there are war memorials and special tributes to individuals who fought and died. 

All along the short strip between their school and town library, adults and children were surprised and proud of the history, contributions, and acknowledgments that exist in town. The students' clipboards were full of noticings and questions, and they had many meaningful pictures in their iPad albums. 

"I had no idea how this was going to be," one parent said, "but it was a really great field trip."

Sometimes we don't notice the great things to appreciate right in our own walking distance. 

Happy Slicing,

Monday, October 28, 2019

Slice of Life: Lots of Ways To Make Decisions

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

"Mom," Cecily said. She peeked into my office where I was on the phone. 

I could tell from the way she said my name she had something big to ask or tell me, but I was on a conference call. She'd have to wait. 

As soon as I hung up, I found her. I was curious about her news. You never know what's a big deal for Cecily. It could be that she won the lottery, and it could be she found an earring backing in her coat pocket. Truth: I love that little things really do matter to her. 

"I think I want to cut my hair," she said.

(You all need to know that Cecily's hair is pretty spectacular.)

"Okay," I said. "Like donate it? Like how much are you thinking?"

I might have breathed a sigh of relief when she indicated less than ten inches. I'm sorry for my lack of generosity, but I can't picture her with a bob. 

"Have you talked to the sisters?" I asked. 

Cecily is the youngest of my four daughters, and it cracks me up how they all consult with each other on all aspects of life. 

Cecily described her sisters' reactions, and I had to laugh. Larkin, true to her impulsive form, said absolutely, go for it. Julia, who weighs all options and frequently still doesn't decide, wasn't sure how to advise, and Clare, the keeper of the common sense, talked pros and cons, as well as logistics. 

I've been trying to challenge myself to relate these slice of life family moments to my teaching life whenever I can, and I have to say that there are decision-making prototypes in writing classrooms. Just this morning, I coached Dalton (aka the Julia prototype) through deciding on which story he would write. The commitment to a story literally froze him in his writing tracks until I let him know that he could change his mind or finish one story and write the other one he wasn't choosing. Then there's Gaby (aka the Larkin prototype) who opens up her notebook, looks at her list of possible story ideas, and is off and planning before I have to say a word. Cecily is the type who want to talk through her ideas before she gets going-- yep, those writers exist in elementary classrooms as well. And then there are the Clares who systematically weigh their options and then go with the idea that seems like it will be the strongest and easiest to write. 

My daughters' personalities and decision-making processes have been consistent throughout their lives, in school, in work, and in their personal existences. It's fun to think about the different ways to approach students who are like them as I teach. 

Happy Slicing,

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Slice of Life: Shared Writing For the Win

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

“We’re going to think of a character for the three of you,” I said, gathering three fifth-grade writers around me. “Real quick-- let’s come up with a name.”

“Kayla,” one of the girls said. 

I wondered for a second if G. the only boy in the group would balk at the character being a girl, but he didn’t.

“Excellent,” I said. “Where does Kayla tend to hang out?”

Within a minute, the three students listed a few places where Kayla could spend time: the local amusement park, a playground, the beach, and a hiking trail all students could envision. 

“And some troubles she could get into in those places?” I said. 

I wrote and they started listing all sorts of stories that could involve Kayla. I had planned to offer them the idea of times when Kayla got bumps, bruises, or bled-- I call that the 3B strategy for thinking of a story--, but I didn’t need it. There were plenty of ideas. 

“Decide on your top three,” I said, “but do it in your head. Just put your thumb up when you have them.”

And just like that, within five minutes, my striving fifth-grade writers who had been spending multiple days thinking of an idea and planning a story, had a character and a solid idea for a story. 

“Now,” I said. “We’re going to share this story. One of you is writing the beginning, one of you the middle, and one of you the end. I pointed to each of the three students. Beginning, middle, end. Practice telling it. Go.”

After another five minutes, they’d done enough verbal rehearsal that they were ready to write. Before the end of the writing period, the three of them had a collaboratively written story, and they were so proud that they asked to write another one. 

Was it perfect? No. But did they internalize the process that had eluded them for the last few weeks? Possibly. Time will tell, and I will continue to watch, but they were collaborative, independent, and engaged. #winfortheday

Happy Slicing!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Slice of Life: Wise Words For Many Situations

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

Sitting at our kitchen table enjoying breakfast and conversation with our overnight guests, Markus and Alice, we covered a lot of conversational territory. They currently live in Vienna, so some of their favorite destinations was a topic for a while, but we also moved on to ideas around leadership and management. I wish I could remember exactly the pathway into the discussion we had around problem-solving, but I do remember exactly Markus's words. 

"Is it a problem that needs to be solved is what I like to ask," Markus said. 

We agreed that there are problems that come up in all domains of life that either don't need to be solved or can't be solved. That being said, Markus had a follow up question:

Is it a problem that needs to be solved now? 

Trust me: the next time there's a problem in my world--personal or professional--, I'm asking these questions! Sometimes sitting around the breakfast table on a Sunday morning with friends who are wise is a perfect thing to do, and sometimes, you even get snippets of their wisdom to share.

Happy Slicing!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Slice of Life: The Connections Between Axe-throwing and Writing

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I went axe throwing for a THIRD time on Friday night. Please know that the first time was a surprise visit and this third time was to celebrate a very good friend's last day of taking blood-thinners which was what HE wanted to do (it was NOT my idea!). I tried to explain to him that there was NO chance that an axe was going to lodge in his foot or any other part of his body and require clot-making platelets, but he still held fast to the axe-throwing concept. 

When we got there, I had a short conversation with Grizz, the gentleman who would be our axe-throwing facilitator. 

"I'm not good at this," I said, fully aware that I could add a YET to that sentence, but also intentional about leaving that growth-mindset attitude out of my self-presentation. It was easier to just own my ineptitude rather than suggest that I had hope of becoming better at lodging a blade in a square of splintering pine. 

"What do you mean?" Grizz asked. 

"I've done this twice," I said. "I've had it stick once, total. It's not my sport."

"I'll get you up and running," he said. 

I wasn't sure what to say. I appreciated his optimism, but I also didn't want to disappoint him. The other facilitators had said similar things. I might have been a tougher project than they thought I'd be. 

Just as I predicted, I showed no axe throwing prowess. My first attempt lofted high over the target, and Grizz told me to follow through. My second try ricocheted down toward the ground, and we all laughed as it spun and slid back toward me. (Maybe you shouldn't be on blood-thinners when you're throwing axes.) My daughter Julia and I talked about the overall axe-throwing experience on Sunday, and she pointed out that one of the problems for her was that she was never given enough time to practice and figure it out. Two throws and then a long wait while others took their turn just didn't lead to any sort of mastery. She was trying to make me feel better, and I appreciated that, and she also had a point...

If you are expecting a happy ending to this story, you're going to get one, but not because I started throwing bulls' eyes. I was with my best friends, we had great food, a lot of beer, and the night was paid for long in advance. 

And, if you're expecting me to make some connections to students and writing, you're going to get that to. Collective efficacy has one of the strongest correlations with growth and achievement according to John Hattie's studies about visible learning and what leads to learning. Last Friday evening, at Montana Nights, we all believed that I could not throw an axe effectively. Fortunately for me, I didn't really care and it didn't really matter. But that's not true for writing. When we believe and the writing community believes and the writer believes that they're not so good at writing, then guess what? They're not. 

We don't get many opportunities to experience these situations and make these sorts of connections, but when we do, it's worth reflecting on and wondering about. As Julia said, we need time to practice, approximate, adjust, and figure out what works for ourselves. And we also need people, including ourselves, to believe that we can do it. Otherwise, it's simply more fun to do other things. 

Happy Slicing.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Slice of Life-- There goes that plan!

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

I had great plans for writing a great post today. For telling about an experience and relating it to teaching. For doing a glorious job, like some of the other slicers I admire so much, of writing about a small moment, a seemingly non-consequential interaction, a slice of life that could go forgotten and uncelebrated, and then incorporating some beautiful connection and reflection that inspires readers to pause, wonder, and maybe even change their thinking... 

I really did have great plans for today's post. 

But, one daughter is working on a cover letter. It's well over a page and it needs some serious trimming. Could I help? Of course. Another daughter is working on her application for her semester abroad. Could I look at what she's written so far? Of course. And still another daughter wants to bring cheesecake brownies to her after school meeting tomorrow. Could I make a batch of brownies to use for the crust? OF COURSE. 

And now it's about the time my brain shuts off and mandates sleep. 

So many, many times I have great plans in so many, many aspects of my life-- and they just don't go as I envisioned.

But-- please know-- I really did have great plans for a great post today.

Happy slicing,

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Slice of Life: "I'm SO writing about this!"

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

"Oh my gosh!" Emma exclaimed, pointing in my direction. "It's Mrs. Meehan."

I think all teachers have had the experience of seeing students outside of school and having them be shocked that we have an existence beyond the classroom walls. On Saturday night, I went to a professional soccer game in Hartford. When we sat down in our seats, I couldn't miss the familiar faces all dressed up in their uniforms and as excited as they could be. 

For a while, I tried to catch someone's eye, but they were focused on their selfies, their popcorn, and every now and then, on the game. My friend and I laughed at their antics when there was an injury on the field or a break in the action. 

At half time, they all headed to the field, set up a smaller field, and scrimmaged. I'd read many soccer-related writing pieces from my experiences of working in their classrooms. When they came back to the bleachers, that's when Emma spotted me. She pointed me out to the others, then to her parents, and then she headed my way. 

"Mrs. Meehan," she said, her face flushed and her voice still high with excitement. "I am SO going to write about this on Monday."

I high-fived her and told her I'd be sure to stop by her classroom and check that out. 

"That's awesome," my friend said. 

Yeah. It was. 

Happy slicing,

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Slice of Life: Today I'll do better...

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

"So what's the name of your character?" I asked D., a fourth-grade student. His class was in the second week of their realistic fiction unit, and I was in the room for the first time, trying to orient myself and learn names. That being said, I expected everyone to have at least a character. D. was not one of the students his teacher had expressed concerns about. 

"Sirius Black," he answered after a few seconds of hesitation. 

Uh oh, I was thinking. "Let's hear about him," I said. 

"He's a wizard," D. said. "He does all kinds of magic things."

In my head, I was thinking about how I was going to get D. back on the track of realistic fiction. Out of my mouth came the words that we'd talk in a few minutes-- I was going to hear from some other students about their characters. 

When I circled back to D., I had another couple of students in tow with different but related issues. Characters who were in college or high school, one girl with a character whose name was another child in class. 

"Here's the deal," I said, proud that I had a quick lesson to show to a new teacher. "We need to have a few constraints about characters in our realistic fiction lesson." I explained the importance and meaning of the word realistic, the need for characters to be within a couple of years of our own ages, and the potential for hurt when there' s character whose name is that of a classmate's. 

The students were compliant, and yes, they did move on. 

But I wish I'd handled that situation differently. 

What if, instead of telling D. he couldn't have Sirius Black be his character, I'd talked to him about how much he loves magic and the Harry Potter books. What if the conversation had spun into his reading life and some shared interested we had? What if I'd even let him contemplate some fan-fiction oriented stories that revolved around D's own version of Sirius? What if...

D. is NOT a student who writes a lot-- I got that quickly. This morning I'm beating myself up for stomping on his potential engagement. Later, when I'm in his class again, I'll make sure I honor him and that my interest in  and respect for students comes before my obsession with getting them to write. Relationships matter. I can teach them a lot of things when they know I care about them and respect them. 

Happy Slicing,

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Slice of Life: Banana bread for fresh tuna

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

When my nephew Jack walked in with fresh tuna on Monday afternoon, I had just taken banana bread out of the oven. Outside in the driveway, I talked to his mom, Amy. I tried to give her money for the fish, but she waved me off. 

"How about I give you banana bread, then," I said. 

"I don't know that Jack will take it," she said. "He's on a fitness kick. He might just take it to be polite."

In the house, I asked Jack if he'd like hot banana bread to take home. 

He didn't hesitate. "Sure," he said. 

"You're not just being polite," I said. "You won't hurt my feelings if you turn it down."

"Actually," he said, "I was worrying about not being polite by accepting because I'd think you'd want it."

(I love that kid.) 

I wrapped it loosely and handed it to him on a potholder. 

"I got a good deal," I said. "I'll trade warm banana bread for fresh tuna any day."

Later, I got a text and picture from Amy. 

I guess we both got a good deal!

Happy slicing!