Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Slice of Life- Ringing in 2015

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers.

It is hard to believe that 15 years ago, I was ringing in the New Year  at Maggie McFly's in Middlebury, CT as a junior at the University of Connecticut. I remember driving to the Danbury Fair Mall, earlier in the day, with my friend Laura to find the perfect outfit to wear that night.  And if memory serves me correctly, I came home with a sparkly purple sweater from Express. It was a night filled with laughs, drinks, dancing and creating memories! 

Now 15 years later, I am at home with my family. We just spent the evening with our family friends and their two boys. We watched our boys fight with light-sabers, build train tracks, wrestle, and scarf down ice cream sundaes. It is a far cry from the crazy night 15 years ago where I may have been trying my hardest to flirt with the boy across the room in hopes of receiving a New Years kiss. Tonight I sit on the couch with my husband, two boys and our dog watching Despicable Me for the 100th time. I wouldn't have it any other way. 

I am looking forward to the year 2015. I have read several other  posts where authors are choosing one little word for the year 2015.  For me that one little word is acceptance. Throughout my life I have always strived for perfection in everything I do. Since becoming a working mom, I have tried harder than ever to keep a sense of control and perfection in my professional and personal life. And in turn, definitely  caused  unneeded stress and anxiety. Over the course of 2014, I took more risks and chances than I ever have.  As a result, I learned to accept the fact I can be messy, I can make mistakes, and not everyone is going to like me or agree with me. It is ok to have disagreements with friends and colleagues just like it is ok to leave the dishes in the sink and laundry piled up. By focusing on the one little word acceptance, I hope to find balance in my life. 

There is so much I want to do in 2015. I want teach my youngest how to swim. I want to continue to watch my oldest son improve his skating and karate skills. I want to plan date nights with my husband, as we sometimes forget to plan time for us. I also want to make time for friends and family that often get lost in the shuffle of everyday life. Lastly, I want to continue to grow my PLN and learn from so many other educators in my school community as well as educators I have connected with on Twitter and conferences. Throughout all I want to do in 2015, I plan to stay grounded in the acceptance I cannot do everything all at once and accept the fact not everything can be done perfectly. I feel like if I focus too much on perfection, life will pass me by and it is already going at a lightening fast speed as I watch my boys grow up. 

Life brings about many twists, turns and changes when you least expect it. The end of 2014 certainly presented me with many forks in the road and depending on which way I chose to go, the bends in the road brought about positive and negatives into my life. I need to accept those changes and move forward into 2015 with a positive and open mind. I hope you will all do the same as well! 

Cheers to 2015- a year of growing, changing, and most importantly, acceptance. 

"Be nice to each other. It is really all the matters." - Dawn Hochsprung

Saturday, December 6, 2014

NCTE14 Reflection

Story as the Landscape of Knowing

"What will make you an outstanding teacher, is being kind." Seymour Simon#ncte14

Seymour Simon could not have said it better.  Acts of kindness surrounded me during my stay in Washington D.C. And for that, I am incredibly thankful. You see, I found out upon my arrival at NCTE that a dear friend and colleague of mine had unexpectedly passed away hours earlier. My friend was the epitome of kindness- not just because she ran the "Be Kind" program at our school as part of Ben's Bells, but because she truly lived by that mantra everyday of her life. I had never known anyone more passionate about students, teaching and books. She was an avid follower of the Nerdy Book Club and was a self proclaimed #1 fan of Donalyn Miller. I am a better person for having known her. 

Shaken and shocked by the news, I thought, "How can I get through my presentation and the weekend?" My husband, who was with me said, " Kara, pull it together. Do this for her. What would she want you to do?" And that is exactly what I did. I threw my heart and soul into my presentation and soaked up the energy of exceptional teaching and learning that surround me during the convention. And it seems, wherever I went, my friend was with me. I opened a fortune cookie and
lunch and read this:

I met @CherylTeaches  and she overheard me saying I missed getting a copy of Lynda Mullaly Hunt's new book and she said, I am going to pay it forward. Someone sent me an extra copy of a book I wanted last year and I am going to do the same for you. I will send you a copy of Fish in a Tree. And lastly, Seymour Simon's quote. She was with me. 

NCTE14 changed my life and my story as an educator. I owe a huge thank you to @justinstygles, ;@guerrette79@LynMullalyHunt,  and @LieslShurtliff. Our presentation, Revising the Story: Reluctant Readers Overcoming Shame, is a milestone in my career. Justin indicated, as the convention got closer, that we should expect a big turn out. However, I did not expect a standing room only crowd! I watched in awe as the members of the audience laughed, cried,  and nodded in agreement
 to what each of us had to say.

The topic of helping reluctant readers overcoming shame is rarely spoken about. As teachers we try our hardest to help our readers make strides and gains in reading every single day. But the crux of our presentation was that as teachers we may indirectly cause our most struggling readers feel ashamed of their reading abilities. We have to mindful of the language we use, the texts we choose, and the inventions we choose in order to help out students feel success and pride. It was absolutely fantastic to be able to share with the audience how I have been able to support the teachers in my district. I just told me story. And at the end, other
literacy coaches, and teachers came up to me and asked for my advice when working with teachers and struggling students. They wanted to know what texts I used, how I worked my schedule to meet with teachers, and finally, told me I inspired them! To say I was in awe of people's reactions to the presentation is an understatement. I kept repeating to my team and my husband, " This is INSANE!" And not only that, but there is talk of us repeating this presentation at #NCTE15, IRA and possibly . I am utterly thankful to @justinstygles for convincing me to join his team. It has opened up a world of opportunities that I am so excited to explore! 
Now after our presentation, I thought what could be better than that? How could this experience get any better? Well, it did! I was able to sit at roundtable discussions with current authors and their editors to hear about their writing process and how to bring the
writing process back into the classroom. I listened to @iChrisLehman and @teachkate , along with their editor,  explain how they researched and wrote their book Falling in Love with Close Reading.  Their teamwork and passion about reading is so incredibly inspiring! I was also fortunate enough to attend their session on close reading for the little ones. I copiously took notes and tweeted out practically everything they said. I wanted to capture as much as I could to bring back to th K-3 teachers I work with. Excitingly enough, a second grade teacher and I are already in the midst of coplanning a lesson using strategies Chris, Kate and Kristine outlined.

I attended a session with @EllinKeene@seymoursimon, and Linda Hoyt. They shared their expertise and knowledge on student engagement and motivation. Just before their presentation started I 
realized I was sitting a row over from @LRobbTeacher and @JSerravallo. Seeing authors and 
teachers support each others work created such a sense of collegiality and support throughout the 

My list of life changing moments from this conference could go on and on, from attending the Wonderopolis breakfast, taking part in Heinnemann Tweetups, planning collaborative writing with @Suz_Gibbs, talking with Donalynn at the Nerdy Book Club event and lastly, attending the Scholastic Brunch on my last day. When I left NCTE I left with a renewed sense of pride for the teaching profession. Everyone who attended this conference were there for one goal- to make learning excited, dynamic and fascinating for all of our students. In a society where the teaching profession is currently under attack, we have to remember why we became teachers. It is about our students and helping them be successful and proud of their learning- no matter their abilities, strengths and weaknesses. 

And above all it is about being kind and working together as one united front to do right by our kids each and everyday. 

Thank you NCTE! 💚

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ninjas Don't Have Mommies

I sat down at my computer tonight, bound and determined to write a post on my blog. It has been something I have been avoiding since the beginning of the school year. I have had the urge to write a new post for quite awhile, but just could not figure out what to write. My husband, Dave, frequently asks, "Why don't you write a book?" My response is always the same, " Why? I have nothing new to add to the education world. Anything I would write about has already been written. Who would want to read my book?" Dave's response, after he sighs and rolls his eyes in amusement, " Write a kids book. Drew has already given you the title, Ninja's Don't Have Mommies!" I can't help but laugh every time I hear that title.

My 4 1/2 year old has a crazy imagination. He is able to create stories at the drop of a hat. I love to sit at the dining room table and just listen as he crafts stories using his Lego minifigures. Dave and Drew produce and direct Lego movies using the Lego Movie App on Dave's phone. Drew comes up with these amazing titles and story lines. He develops intricate Lego sets with zip lines, towers, Star Wars characters, and an occasional dinosaur. Drew makes all the typical sound effects, "CRASH! BOOM! RAHHHH! WOAH!!!" Drew will have his minifigures take death defying leaps from Lego brick towers, duke it out with light sabers, or swing from the top of the Arkham Asylum as the Joker tries to catch Batman. His creativity is overflowing as he tells me story after story after story. 

Today at school, I was researching picture books in preparation for planning with a third grade teacher. I was going through all my CCSS resources and wracking my brain for the perfect picture book to teach character development and determine central message. I was hunched over my computer talking out loud, when my co-worker heard me mumble something about Miss Rumphius. And she said," Really? You are going to use Miss Rumphius? As a mom of boys, I am surprised." I looked at her and said," Huh?" It's not for my boys, it's for a class." She said, " Exactly, do you really think boys are going to want to hear about a woman planting flowers everywhere?" I paused for a moment and thought. In a way she was right. If we really want students to understand character development and how it directly ties with central message, we need to choose books that are engaging. The books and texts we choose should make the students want to dive into the story line, not put the book down and tear it apart to find out what is going to happen next. The text needs to be the center of the lesson. Just because a CCSS resource recommends a book, it doesn't mean it is the absolute best resource to use when crafting lessons. The students could and should drive a teacher's choice in books and texts. 

As I pondered my co-workers question, I realized that this conversation directly links to the panel presentation I am part of at #NCTE14 in November. I will be presenting  along side +Lynda Mullaly Hunt , @LieslShurtliff, @justinstygles, and Melissa about a tough topic, shame. Shame is the feeling kids begin to acquire overtime as they experience failure after failure in their reading life. My part of the presentation is about developing lessons, utilizing strategies and choosing texts that are going to make these students successful and love reading. Being in a Literacy leadership role in my district, I need to practice what I preach. The planning session with this teacher tomorrow is the perfect time to do this! (Needless to say, I did not choose Miss Rumphius.)

So, how does that conversation connect with Drew? I realized that after talking with my co-worker and watching one of Drew's many Lego movies, I don't want Drew's creativity to be stifled in school. When he starts Kindergarten next year, I want him to be able to draw pictures of Star Wars, Ninjago, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and know its ok for him to do that. I want him to be able to write about his Lego minifigures adventures, even if his stories have bombs, light sabers, and fights in them. Our job as teachers is to keep our students engaged and motivated. This is especially important for boys! My co-worker and I continued our conversation about writing in the classroom. She said, "Do you really think boys are going to want to write about a warm spring day? Can you see Drew writing about that?" My response, "Yes, if it involved a sword fight, a speeding race car, or Darth Vadar battling Luke Skywalker." 

While reading over Slice of Life blog posts, I came across +Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) post. It was titled "Why I teach." His post was my inspiration for tonight. I teach for kids like Drew who are creative and want to share their stories through words, pictures and actions. I teach to support teachers in letting go of some control and letting students write about a topic of their choice as well as read a book of their choice. I teach to spark a love of reading and writing in students and teachers across all grade levels. I teach for the students who are struggling, and just want opportunities to feel success. 

I sincerely hope that Drew and I will be able to draft our story, Ninjas Don't Have Mommies in the near future. I want to make that happen and I will. 

I teach for Drew. 

So think about it....
Why do you teach?  

Monday, July 7, 2014

Hockey Mom

Today I brought Drew to his first day of hockey camp. I thought I was TOTALLY prepared to drop Drew off and then spend the morning with my other son, Nolan. Well, I was TOTALLY wrong. 

The director of the camp was greeting families as they walked in. I brought Drew over to the sign in table, and handed over his paperwork. The director handed Drew a summer camp hockey jersey and asked, "Does he have all his equipment?" I smiled and said, " Of course!" He said, "Okay, you are in locker room #2." With my tantruming 2 year old in tow, we made our way over to the locker room. 
Instead of an inspirational quote on the door of locker room #2, it should have said," Welcome to your crash course in being a hockey mom!" 

Opening the door, I fully expected to see a group of kids about Drew's age (4 years old) getting ready with camp counselors. Oh no, what I see instead is a group of boys probably ranging in ages 6-9 dressed in full hockey gear. And I mean fully hockey gear! My stomach dropped to the floor and I could feel my eyes grow big with panic. Drew did not have the hockey equipment nor was he prepared to play with these big kids. Just at this moment of an epic mom fail, Nolan proceeds to start screaming "Ee I Ee I O, Momma! Now!" I quickly pull out my Iphone, hit youtube and in lightening fast speed search for Old McDonald and practically throw my phone at Nolan. He happily sits on the bench singing along, while Drew and I try to figure out our next move. Watching the other kids pull on their equipment, I help Drew get dressed in his skating clothes which consist of lined wind pants, a Sabers shirt, and fleece jacket. I look around for the coach that was supposedly going to help me lace up Drew's skates, because of course I have no idea how to do that! I watch as other moms and dads expertly put on shin guards, helmets, shoulder pads and elbow pads onto their kids. Thankfully, Drew seems unphased and wants to get onto the ice. Since it seems like no one in the room is going to offer help and there isn't a coach in sight, I drag the boys back out to the lobby to find the director. 

I find him and say, " I must have missed something when I signed Drew up because it was not made clear to me what you meant by equipment. He doesn't have any of the gear the other boys are wearing." The director must have seen the panic in my eyes, because he says, "No worries, you can borrow gear from the arena. Head over to the main counter." However, instead of coming over to help, he walks away. A very cranky woman greets me and says, "Dropping lunch? I was supposed to leave 5 minutes ago!" I hand over Drew's lunch and explain to her that I need to borrow equipment. She roles her eyes, sighs, walks over to the rental counter, and proceeds to slam down buckets of gloves, shin guards and elbow pads. I stand there looking at the buckets, having no clue what to do! Again, epic mom fail. I repeat to myself several times, " Kara, you are a very smart person. You can figure this out." But somehow the buckets of equipment seem more daunting than interviewing for a new job! I see the director walk by and I snag him (AGAIN!) to ask for help. Thankfully, he pulls out everything Drew needs and hands them over. 

So back to the locker room we go. As we enter the locker room again, there are even more kids in there getting ready and still no coach. It is getting close to ice time and I am praying someone comes in to help. I open the door and stick my head out and I see a coach coming down the hall. As he enters the locker room, he looks at Drew and says, " Hey bud! You ready! Let's go!" Drew stands up and gets ready to go, but I stop him and say, "Wait, his skates aren't tied, and his helmet is not on." This poor college kid must think I am nuts, but has the patience of a saint. He quickly ties Drew's skates, readjusts his helmet and shin guards, and helps him put on his jersey. At this point, I am a bundle of nerves, Nolan is singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and Drew is slowly walking to the ice. On the way, another coach greets us. I bombard her with another round of questions, " Are you sure this is appropriate for him? He is not a really strong skater. All the other kids seem so experienced. Are you sure he's going to be ok?" Coach Ann calms my nerves by saying," Oh yeah! He is fine! We are going to have so much fun! He'll be with the big kids in the beginning but then we'll break into stations and he'll be with me. I have taught Learn to Skate so I can help him with his basic skills." She goes on to make jokes with Drew and before I know it, she's leading Drew away from me. 

Nolan and I are following Drew and his coach into the hockey rink and players' bench. I watch as Coach Ann takes Drew's hand and helps him onto the ice. Drew slightly struggles with holding his hockey stick and moving forward on the ice. Coach Ann skates away. I think," Oh god. Here it comes. Drew is going to cry. He is going to fall." I feel myself cringing. But Drew doesn't! He slowly makes his way to the center circle and very slowly joins the big kids in the warm up stretching and exercises. 

Again, I stand there thinking, "Oh god. He's going to be looking for me. He is going to get lost. He is going to cry." But Drew doesn't! Nolan and I inch our way out of the arena. We stop, turn around and watch Drew. I see Drew lay down on his back, lift one leg in the air, and follow along with the directions from the coach. Drew keeps trying. We stay about five more minutes. My heart is thumping in my chest and I feel tears spring to my eyes. 

My baby is doing it! He is hanging with the big boys! I am absolutely floored. I realize that as Drew walked onto the ice, he didn't even turn around to say  good- bye to me. He just joined the others. I called my husband and told him the program is so not appropriate for Drew and I fully expect a phone call from Coach Ann saying Drew needs me. My husband asks, " Was Drew trying? Was he smiling? Was he skating?" I answered yes to all of his questions, but still not completely convince Drew was going to make it the whole 4 hours at camp.

Well, I never got that phone call. 

When Nolan and I went back to get Drew, he was eating lunch with his friends and was so happy! Coach Ann said he did fantastic and really did a great job. Drew gushed about playing the cone and car game, about stretching, and about making a goal. He even went on to say, "I didn't miss Nolan at all! I didn't miss you!  I didn't miss Daddy! I was brave and didn't even cry! And I didn't fall in the ice!" Drew was over the moon with his camp experience and could not stop smiling. 

I have never been more proud of Drew than this very moment. My heart was literally bursting with pride! All the panic and apprehension I had felt before dissipated as we walked to the car. Together, Drew and I conquered another milestone in his growing up. I fought every fiber in me to not go back into the hockey rink and bring Drew home, while Drew overcame his worry about falling through the ice. My little boy is growing up! 

When Drew, Nolan and I go back to camp tomorrow, you can be assured that Drew will be equipped with all the needed hockey gear. (I went right to the hockey store and bought him everything he needed.) I had the owner show me how to put the equipment on and off of Drew and in what correct order. Yes, a little neurotic, but I want to be totally prepared for tomorrow. 

Drew showed me he could handle a new situation on his own, and gave me the first taste of what it means to have your child "leave the nest." So here's to joining a league of Hockey Mom's where I plan to burst with pride and cheer on  every pass, every goal, and every play that Drew either does or does not make. That would not be an epic mom fail! 


Saturday, April 19, 2014


It's time to CELEBRATE This Week with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.  Every week Ruth invites us to share our celebrations from the week and link up at her blog. What a fun way to reflect on everything there is to be thankful for. 

There are so many things for me to celebrate this week, so here goes! 

1. I survived spring break with my two crazy boys! I have found that as Drew and Nolan get older, it gets a little easier to take them places, play, and really enjoy each others company. I think I need a vacation from our vacation! I positively loved every second I got to spend with Drew and Nolan. 

2. My Nolan is turning two tomorrow!! My baby boy has quite the comical and stubborn personality!  This week, I was blessed to listen to him sing, "Let it Go" and the theme songs to "Caillou" and "Thomas the Train." 

3. Dave, Drew, Nolan and I were finally able to spend the day together today! We trekked all the way down to Essex, CT to "A Day out with Thomas." We all had so much fun. I truly value this family time together. It is a reminder to me that we all need to slow down sometimes and just stop and enjoy each others company. 

4. We get to spend the day tomorrow celebrating Nolan's birthday and Easter at my mom's house. I love our family gatherings! I hope that some day Dave and I will have a house big enough to have everyone over. The big family gatherings are a favorite memory of mine growing up and I want Drew and Nolan to have similar memories! 

5. THERE IS LEFT OVER EASTER CANDY STASHED AWAY! I went a little crazy on the boys Easter Baskets and couldn't fit all the candy in the baskets. 

I hope everyone enjoys their Easter Sunday with family and friends!

 The count down to Summer vacation is on! 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Momma watch me!"

For the first time, I am joining in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a story.

My husband and I have high athletic hopes for our oldest son, Drew. From the minute Drew was born, we envisioned him hitting grand slams on the baseball field, swimming laps in amazing speed, and shooting goal after goal into the hockey net. So imagine our surprise when we put Drew in the pool for his first swim lesson and he didn't love it. In fact, he clung to us and cried. Combine that with our over excitement about signing Drew up for T-ball and realizing he was bored out of his mind completing a drill of throwing a T-ball over and over again into a hula hoop. Drew could have cared less about throwing the ball the correct way- all he wanted to do was hit the ball off the tee and run like a wild man with his lovey, Bud, in hand! Then finally, the straw that broke the camel's back and brought us back to reality, was putting Drew on the ice for the first time for his very first skating lesson.  What were we thinking, actually I do know what we were thinking- Drew was just going to take off! He was going to step onto the ice and just glide his way around the ice without any help! Reality hit us like a ton of bricks watching Drew on the ice. The poor kid couldn't even stand in his brand new hockey skates and adorable hockey helmet that he decorated with Star Wars decals. My gut told me to rescue him. Take Drew off the ice and not bring him back. I saw my husbands face as he watched Drew. It was pure heartbreak and I saw our dreams of the great hockey player slowly fade away. We heard other parents commenting on Drew's inability to stand and how he shouldn't be in hockey skates. It was just TOO HARD for him and he should be in figure skating skates with the toe pick. However, Drew proved us and those meddling parents, wrong! He stayed on that ice. He tried his hardest to learn to stand and get back up when he fell. And the first time he stood alone- Drew turned to us and gave us the thumbs up! He had the smile of a boy who just won a life time supply of Legos! At that point, I knew Drew was going to be ok and I could breath again. 

Now flash forward to today. Drew has successfully graduated from Tot 1 into Tot 2. He is currently signed up for Tot 2 again for the spring session and boy, is he excited! While the other kids in his Tot 2 class may have graduated to Tot 3, we are perfectly happy with Drew repeat Tot 2. He hasn't got the gliding down to graduate to Tot 3 because he is too cautious and likes to take things at his own pace. I have no doubt in my mind Drew will get there and when he is ready, he will go on to Tot 3. What my husband and I have learned over the past few months is that, Drew doesn't doesn't have to meet our overzealous expectations to make us proud. For a 4 year old, Drew really knows his boundaries and his capabilities. And if Drew really did not like skating, he wouldn't talk about it constantly. He wouldn't request that we take him to the hockey store to get new skates because his hurt his feet and " mess him up" on the ice. Drew wouldn't politely tell the employee, "Excuse me. Can you help? My helmet hurts here and here. Can you fix it?"  And when the very patient employee finished lacing and typing Drew's new skates, and said,  "OK! Let's see what you can do!"  I had a proud hockey mom moment. Drew didn't just walk around the store, he galloped, he jumped and he pranced around in his new hockey skates. I stood there and smiled as if Drew had won a gold medal. It was pure elation on my part! My heart swelled with pride and love as he said, " Momma watch me!" Such a change from a few months back. 

These are the moments that make being a parent the best,most amazing thing in the world!  My husband and I will be sure to make all of Drew's hopes and dreams come true- no matter what they are! Let's hope we live up to Drew's expectations! 

  “Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” ― Elizabeth Stone

“There is more to a boy than what his mother sees. There is more to a boy then what his father dreams. Inside every boy lies a heart that beats. And sometimes it screams, refusing to take defeat. And sometimes his father's dreams aren't big enough, and sometimes his mother's vision isn't long enough. And sometimes the boy has to dream his own dreams and break through the clouds with his own sunbeams.” 
― Ben BehuninRemembering Isaac: The Wise and Joyful Potter of Niederbipp

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Celebrations

It's always good to end the week on a positive note.  Sometimes we concentrate on the negatives.  We have a choice.  Choose positive.  Choose to celebrate.  I will be joining Ruth Ayres and her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week.  Check out all the other celebrations HERE !

I haven't written in awhile, and I think after this first week of SBAC testing there is a lot to celebrate! Perfect time to write! 

Celebration #1 We made it through our first week of SBAC testing. I am incredibly proud of ALL the students persevering through this test. The students never gave up and rolled with the punches of technology, test formatting, and software glitches. Everyone put in their best effort! They didn't want time to be called and were so worried their work would be lost. I think this speaks volumes to our students desire to be academically successful! Of course, it made me even more excited to see how the students would sneak in every free minute they had during the testing block to independently read! They all wanted to talk to me about their books. How cool is that?!

Celebration #2- I nominated a friend and colleague for Teacher of the Year at my school and she won! Ironically, Jen actually gave me flowers, a kindness coin and a thank you card for nominating her! While to some it might seem like a popularity contest, I do believe that every teacher should be acknowledged for their hard work and dedication they give to students and staff everyday. A simple thank you or "Hey! Great job!" goes a long way in a profession that is under fire a lot these days.

Celebration #3 My son Nolan has begun to use more words! He's added to his vocabulary the following: "Oh lord!" "Dave!" "Batman!" and " I want me!" My other son Drew is taking another risk and convinced me to sign him up for Karate Classes. He starts Monday and is thrilled!

Celebration #4 My friend Theresa and I signed up for a workshop with Ellin Keene! My friend Christine and I are going to see Chris Lehman speak on Tuesday! 

Celebration #5 My friend and colleague, Greg, told me that for the longest time he questioned the need for a Literaxy Coach. He felt a Lit Coach should work with students and not teachers. However, after the two of us worked through teaching the ritual of closely reading with a text structure lens, he sees my role in a whole new light. Because of our work together, he sees how I am not there to judge teaching but rather to support and encourage. Greg said, " I now see how your work with teachers not just impacts struggling readers, but all readers and teachers. I have a better understanding of the CCSS and text structure because of you. I see how it makes my kids think deeper, have better conversations and written responses." 

Celebration #6 My husband,Dave, fully supports my career as a Literacy Coach. When I need to work late, attend a meeting or workshop, he's right there to take care of our boys when I can't be. I married a saint!

Thank you Dave, Greg, Jenn, Nolan, and Drew! You gave me so much to celebrate this week and next!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Did you REALLY just say poop??

One of my roles as a Reading Specialist in my school, is to provide direct instruction to small groups of students in our Reading WIN program. The students who are part of the Reading WIN program are most likely the most struggling readers in our school. While I know it is not ideal to pull these students from class, we have to follow the SRBI model put forward by our state and district to make sure all appropriate interventions are put into place before any further evaluation can be done.

Our WIN block happens at the very end of the day. Again- not ideal- but it was the only time in our hectic schedule that students would not be missing any new material in any of the content areas. During this time, I work with a group of four boys who have made it known that they HATE reading. But I want more than anything to change that mindset of these boys. 
Yesterday, one of the boys clearly did not want to be at Reading WIN. His body language was speaking loudly to me. He was rolling his eyes, shrugging his shoulders, and twisting in his chair. And even from time to time, answer questions in a borderline rude tone. 

I asked him to stay after group and talk to me about what was going on. I said, "Bud, what's going on? I really don't think you meant to be rude to me or roll your eyes, but I can tell you are not happy. What's wrong?" And with tears in his eyes and shaking, he exclaims, " All we do is read here! READ READ READ!! WHY? And there are no kids here! It is so much easier to work when there are more kids here! I don't want to read this poem and practice fluency!" At that moment, my heart broke. Here I had been trying everything I could to engage him and the other boys. I thought I had been picking engaging texts- poems about friends sticking tongues out at each other, articles about blizzards, and articles about spiders. 

But I had missed the mark. I needed to change something in my instruction and in the materials I was using. Even though I was incorporating strategies from Falling in Love with Close Reading, videos I had watched on the TCRWP, and connecting it all to fluency work, it still wasn't grabbing the boys. I could be standing on my head, and I still don't think I could help this student, or any of the other boys in my group, to love reading if I wasn't incorporating their interests. 

So, I simply asked him, " Well, what would make you LOVE coming here? What do YOU want to read about?" And he said," Action! I want action. I also want cows. I want to read about cows." 

"Ok, " I said, "When you come here tomorrow I promise I will have stories, or poems about action and cows. Now I can't guarantee that I will be able to find action and cows in the same story, but I will try my hardest. But can you be more specific about what kind of action?"

"Yes! Sports Action!," he stated. I noticed that at this point, the tears had subsided and his body was much more relaxed. He was leaning in and talking to me. His eyes were wide with excitement and almost seemed to be challenging me to find cows and sports action! 

"Alright, bud! You got it- sports action and cows. I am on it!" I declared. On that note, I sent him back to class, but not without a few hershey kisses! 

I had quite the task ahead of me. I searched my bookshelves looking for sport action books and came across Football Genius by Tim Green. I read the first chapter and thought perfect! Action, adventure and football! I then jumped on my computer and googled Cow poems, and pulled a few that I thought were funny, but still gave the boys some interesting facts about cows. I was really going to have to sell the idea of reading about cows to the other boys! Then I thought, what about nonfiction? I love the website Newsela. I logged on and searched cows. As I scrolled through the articles, I kept asking, "What would the boys like? Think like a boy!" And then as if a light was shining down on my computer, up pops an article about turning cow poop into electricity. The first few lines read," Dairy farmer Ron Koetsier's 1,200 cows drop 90 tons of manure every day. That's more than 65 million pounds of poop per year!" BINGO! I had found my article! What boy doesn't like to talk about poop! That's all my 4 year old son talks about! 

As the boys got settled for our reading group today, I turned on my actress skills and said, " Boys, I am so sorry I put you through the torture of reading poems about friends, and articles about blizzards. I can tell you hated them and weren't interested in them." The boys began to feverishly nod their heads. One even said, " Thank god! I did not like that poem!" Being super dramatic I took their poems, the T-chart we made and said, " Well, then we are done with them!" and proceeded to rip them all in half. The boys cheered and said, " So what are we reading?" 

"Well, you have a choice. We have a chapter from Football Genius, poems about cows, article about....Cow POOP!!"

"No way, Mrs. DiBartolo! Did you just say COW POOP! Please let's read that- PUH LEASE!"

And right there, I had them hooked. From there, we easily transitioned into the reading ritual of reading with a word choice lens. My objective is for the boys to recognize the words the author uses to create a tone and then show that tone through their reading. I found this was a great way to incorporate repeated readings and still touch upon strategies that help improve the students comprehension. If students cannot comprehend what they are reading, how can they be expected to read fluently and expressively? 

The boys got right to work. Without much prodding, or redirecting from me (as I sometimes need to do to keep them engaged) the boys actively read and were able to write a basic main idea for the first part of the article. What was even more cool, was the fact that along the way while I was reading out loud, they started highlighting words that created images, clear ideas, and evoked emotions for them. They were ready to share even before I was! 

This lesson speaks volumes to what I firmly believe! You give the students the right materials, the right resources, and a purposeful instructional plan and they will take off! These boys were thrilled to be sharing their thoughts, and wanted to take the article home to read over the weekend. 

That right there is the magic of teaching reading. That is the power and magic in showing the students how much you value them and listen to them. I showed the students how much I loved reading about cow poop and they fed off of that throughout the lesson. 

I am hoping that today my 4 boys fell a little bit more in love with reading. If I need to continue to find articles about poop, slime, guts- I will! I don't care as long as they are reading! 

And there is no harm in saying poop in the classroom! 

Friday, February 21, 2014

What's in a Score?

March 18, 2014- That is the day our district begins the field test of the SBAC assessment. 

Meetings have been held to understand the accommodations allowed to the students on the test. Meetings have been held to review the testing protocols and the script teachers must use when proctoring. 
Meetings have been held to now assign those accommodations to the students to level the playing field for students who are taking the test. 

The teacher talk has been consumed with, " Have you SEEN the practice test?" " Have you seen how hard the practice test is?" " Thank god it's only a field test year and not tied to teacher evaluation." 

Students are currently being trained to take the test. Administrators are working to create an extensive schedule for the weeks we are giving the test. PLCS are working together to understand the tasks that will be asked of the students. 

Worries are arising about how the Special Education and ELL students will access the test. What about the typical struggling student? How will they ever demonstrate understanding on the SBAC?

IEP testing accommodation sheets need to be uploaded. ELL testing accommodation sheets need to be uploaded. One person in the school must be assigned the task of uploading all other students and accommodations into the SBAC computer system. 

It seems that all of this needed to be done yesterday! 

While I do think that the Common Core has brought a lot of good to the classroom, I do worry what more testing could do to the students. Sometimes I hear students being described as a score- as a level 38 on the DRA, or a RIT score of 199. And I think- yeah but.... tell me more! What is the student's strengths as a reader? What is the student's strengths as a writer? Focus on what the student can do and not what the student can't do!

But I get it- we are in an era in education when test scores will make or break you as a teacher. Tying teachers performance to testing data undermines the teaching profession. As teachers we are in this job to help our students love math, love reading, love writing, and just love learning! It is our charge to embrace students as they are and guide them towards independent learning. No two students are going to get to the same expectations the same way- And that is okay! Students bring their own set of knowledge, experiences and understanding to each and every lesson we teach. As teachers our job is to bring out the best in our students- to capitalize on what they know. 

Today, I watched a student thump his chest and ROAR like the Incredible Hulk when he finally came to an understanding of conflict and how that might impact a character. He worked so hard by examining posters we had made, listening to other classmates as well as his teacher- and finally he shouted, "She'll have to go against her brother!! That is awful!!" 

Today, I had a pizza dance party for the students I worked with for two weeks. It was a way to celebrate all their hard work and dedication to their  learning. We worked insanely hard at reading for word choice, and text evidence through the reading rituals described in Falling in Love with Close Reading. As I watched them dance around the room and sing along to  "Story of my Life" and " Radioactive", I had an amazing sense of pride for them.  Their connection to music is unimaginable and was the vehicle used to connect their love of music to the love of reading. It is something so simple, yet so powerful. 

These are the moments we need to hold onto as teachers! These are the moments that keep us grounded in our teaching and remind us each and every day why we went into teaching in the first place.  It shouldn't be about SBAC scores, DRA levels, or NWEA scores. Those are merely jumping points for us as teachers. Take those scores and ask, " What more do I need to know about my students? Where can I go next? What more do they need?" Constantly questioning, persevering, and reflecting are all marks of a great teacher. 

Luckily, where I work I am surrounded with these great teachers. I have complete faith in the teachers I work with that we have all prepared the students and helped them grow as learners and people. I have no doubt that we will all survive the SBAC. We will get it done as a team, staff and faculty. And while it might be painful at times, and no doubt stressful- 

We got this! 

"Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave (wave) is stringing us along
Just know you're not alone
Cause I'm gonna make this place your home".... Home by Phillip Phillips


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

It's official- I'm in LOVE!

Today, as I looked over my  school calendar that is FILLED to the brim with meetings and to do lists, I sighed and thought, "How am I ever going to get this stuff done? When I am going to make it back into the classrooms?" I find that so much of my time this past month has been spent taking care of "admin stuff" and taking me away from the classrooms and teachers. It is so hard to find a balance. I told myself, "No more negativity! Be positive!" Being a Literacy Coach, it's hard to gauge whether or not you are really making an impact on instruction and student learning. But today I got my answer! Today, I am officially in love!

I opened my email and saw that I had been mentioned in a tweet. (To me, being mentioned in a tweet is like signing onto AOL and hearing "You got mail!" It's so exciting!) My friend, Theresa had posted about the word choice lesson from Falling in Love with Close Reading that we co-taught today. I had been agonizing for part of the day that I had taken over the lesson, and hadn't really given Theresa a chance to add to the lesson. I felt like I had let her down as a coach, friend and colleague. To me, being a coach means supporting colleagues to take risks, and encouraging reflection on their practices. Being a coach does not mean I simply give information and tell teachers what is right and what is wrong about their teaching. If I just disseminated information and critiqued teaching, then I am not doing my job! Coaching conversations with teachers are so important when supporting in classrooms and schools!  However, even before I could text Theresa about the lesson and my thoughts (because talking on the phone with two toddlers at home is next to impossible) I read this on her blog:

I am so thankful for a supportive coach, Kara, without her forcing me (hahaha) to take this risk, I wouldn't have had this experience. Thanks Kara! :) 

This is what my job is about. By encouraging Theresa, or forcing as she says, to take a risk and implement a lesson she wasn't entirely comfortable with, she changed her students today. And I am not sure Theresa realizes this or not, but she changed as an educator today. 

As we were talking through the lesson, Theresa showed me the graphic organizers she had created, the T-charts, and the labels she wanted to use on her easel chart paper. While I validated her work, I said, " Theresa its going to be messy learning today! The kids are going to lead the structure of the lesson. We are going to have chart paper stapled up, things crossed off, and webs of words everywhere!" I saw Theresa struggling with this and she said, " Oh my! This is going to kill me! I need structure!" I have to give her credit though, she put the need of teacher control aside and went with it. And in Theresa's own words, she was "BLOWN AWAY!" at the level of student conversation, motivation, and learning. 

After our lesson, Theresa and I "debriefed" after our lesson and were amazed to realize that we only read through 5 lines of the " I Have a Dream Speech." Those four lines were jam packed with rich word choice that evoked images, feelings and ideas from the students. The level of discussion, and analyzing was astounding!! I think Theresa sums up our experience quite well: 

"... ALTHOUGH we only read four sentences up to this point my students learned SO much. We turned and talked, had class discussions, and piggy backed off of each other's ideas. We tried the answer frames as a class and these are some of the responses we heard... 

"Some words fit together like injustice and not free and made me feel guilty because African-Americans suffered in history from being enslaved to being forced to attend different schools, they were never looked at as equal."
 "Seared, flames, captivity, slaves, and withering are all depressing words because it symbolizes how we had treated African-Americans for hundreds of years and it is wrong." 

And my favorite... "The author could have used 100 years repeatedly, but used "5 score years" because he wanted to connect his speech to Abraham Lincoln's speech about the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of slavery. He wanted to continue Abraham's revolution and finally free African-Americans. MLK appreciated the work Abraham Lincoln did and by "symbolic shadow we stand today" it means that MLK was giving his speech in front of the Lincoln memorial for a historical and meaningful reason." 

So, this is why I am in love. I am in love with Falling in Love with Close Reading, not just because of the higher level learning that the students experience through the lessons, but also because the book as taken teaching to a whole new level. This book has become my anchor in conversations with teachers. I didn't realize until today, the impact our discussions about this book have made on the teachers I work with. As teachers, we all have the common purpose of motivating students to become life long readers and learners. Just like we want  students to persevere through their learning and feel success, we want the same as teachers. We craft these amazing lessons everyday and want nothing more than for our students to deepen their understanding. Falling in Love with Close Reading encourages us to take a closer look at the world around us- to closely read people, music, movies, commercials, and video games. It is authentic learning and teaching that happens through these lessons. 

And as the students rushed our of the classroom to special, a student Carl came up to us and said, "Thank you! Thank you for today!" Several other students followed suit. That is the magic of student led learning. That is the magic of believing in your students and yourself as a teacher. 

Boy- it feels good to be in love! 

Monday, February 3, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading?

These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm
 very excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books
 I read the previous week and books I am currently reading.

It's a snowy day in Connecticut, so I thought today would be a perfect day 
to join in on, "It's Monday! What are you reading!"

Here is what I read this week:

Picture Books

This picture book is astoundingly beautiful with its rich text and gorgeous artwork. Perfect for students of all ages to learn about this great leader! 

I was trying to organize my book case in my classroom when I came across this book. I completely forgot I had it! I think I bought it at a Scholastic Warehouse Sale! Those sales are the best! You Forgot your Skirt Amelia Bloomer, tells the story of Amelia Bloomer, who does not behave the way 19th-century society says a proper lady should. She introduces pantaloons to American women. The illustrations are vibrant! The humorous writing style really grabs the readers attention! Amelia Bloomer would be a great companion to Who Says Women Can't be Doctors.

Middle Grades 
I just finished reading Rump last night. It is a delightful story that intertwined so many different fairy tales. Rumpelstiltskin was one of my favorite tales growing up and it was so neat to have so many "OH YEAH! I remember that from the original fairy tale!" moments. Young readers will love this modern day adaptation! 

Planning to read this week:

And a little professional reading! 

Better Learning Through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility, 2nd Edition... by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey 

I love reading with my boys too!

My husband and I are planning a special movie and dinner night with our son, Drew, on Friday night! We cannot wait to take him to the opening night of the Lego Movie! And to make things even better, we are taking him to Barnes and Nobles and Toys R' Us to build Emmett and his car! 

Happy reading this week!