Living Life in Slow Motion


Living life in slow motion….. or NOT.  This week got away from me.  The pace in the classroom was too rushed.  I felt like my directions and lessons were more fragmented.  And because it was a short week, the students made me question if there was a full moon.

So how do I get my classroom Zen back?  Good question.  I have been thinking about it for the last two days. One book I have been reading is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.  When the train appears to be leaving the train station without me, I often realize it, right after the train has left.  My goal is to begin recognizing the signs as they occur and not after my students walk out the door. One sign that should trigger the bell in my head is when I start getting frustrated that my students are not moving quickly enough, or transitioning easily,  from one task to another, – so I can “get through” my lesson.  My annoyance increases as the moments tic tock away, while students retrieve forgotten books from lockers, find lost papers, copy a definition………. tic tock, tick tock, tic tock.  As a counter rhythm, my foot is tap, tap, tapping.  Before long, I have a whole musical hoedown going on in my head…. and the tempo is increasing.

Some things I know will help keep the calm, peaceful classroom I strive for, are very simple. I have to remember to use them or all they become are tools in a toolbox.  Super simple tools – Plan less and recognize that everything takes longer than you think; especially at the beginning of the year as students become accustomed to the routines.  Keep extra copies of books in the classroom so students don’t have to hike to Bolivia to get their novel from their locker.  Make supplies easily available for the same reason – pencils, erasers, glue sticks. Whenever possible, have notes already printed out so students don’t have to spend so much valuable time copying notes.  Strategically place “dawdling” students in between those who appear to have pep in their step and are less prone to chatter. Use Promethean flipcharts to drive the direction of the lesson so students can see what they should be doing and not depending on the fact that they heard me…….the first three times (obviously not).

Finally, I need to repeatedly remind myself that not everything I do in the classroom is essential.  It is critical to keep asking myself, “What do I value?”  If I value Free Choice reading and it addresses the standards, then that should be what I consider to be most important.  If the focus is vocabulary then……. do that, but don’t be so zealous to bring in similes because it is a teachable moment.  It is important to keep referring back to the objective or key point of the lesson, both for the students and teacher.  Knowing what is essential helps to slow things down and keeps me focused on how I am utilizing those 42 very short minutes of class.

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Keeping it Real!

heart of books

Today was day 2 in my Grade 6 Literacy classes.  We’re all getting the “lay of the land”.  I’m struggling to learn their names and they are struggling to remember which books need to go to which classes.  I call us “even”.  Patience is a virtue required by both sides of the desk as we begin the process of getting acquainted.  After getting the students settled, I introduced them to the books in my classroom. It has never occurred to me before to observe the student’s reactions to the shelves and bins of books. Their responses and reactions were helpful to understand how they view reading.

After showing a video book trailer and giving a brief book talk, I toured my classroom library.  We talked about how readers choose books and how to recognize when a book is a “Just Right” choice.  After I modeled how to sign out a book, a boy who has struggled with many of the routines in middle school, came up to me….”Do you mean we can just sign any book we want and take it home?”  Smile and nod!

Shortly afterwards, two girls who were obviously friends, came to me, each with 2 books.  “Can we ever sign out more than one book, you know… if we can’t decide?”  (Now, come on, can you not smile at that?)

Another boy who overheard the girls, “And what if we are just about done with our book that we have at home, – are we allowed to take another book, just in case we want to start a new one?”  (Can you sense me grinning?)

Finally, at the very end of the day, I’m dismissing my last class.  Kids are scooting out the door.  Several children are moseying…. packing up books, picking up wayward pencils, and I hear one quiet boy, say to himself (had to be because there was no one near him), “I can’t believe she has all these books.  I’m really going to like it in here.”

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why I LOVE MY JOB!




Got Any Bites?


Fishing is revered by many for producing a meditative state.  The repetitive action, coupled with outdoor elements, the act of fishing, creates an environment that is rejuvenating.  Inhale deeply.  It smells like ocean, seaweed and maybe, just a hint of Coppertone suntan lotion.  The reflection of the sun on the water creates a hypnotic effect as your boat bounces with the waves.  Conversation becomes muted as the fisher becomes one with their pole – an extension of their being.  Hope hangs in the air.  The desire to land some dinner increases as the hours pass.  Perseverance is a key trait that binds the fisher to their pole.  The little nibbles on the bait encourage the avid fisherman to keep at it.  Growing up, I went fishing on my parent’s boat in the Great South Bay.  Even at a young age I learned a lot of life lessons about stick-to-itiveness by going fishing with my mom, dad and brother.

As the school year begins, I constantly think about my reluctant readers.  Like fishing, I recognize that these students need just the right bait as well as a tremendous amount of perseverance on my part.  Recently, I read a published paper that discussed middle school reluctant readers.   (Book Clubs: Supporting Reluctant Readers at Asheville Middle School by Melissa Hedt, Literacy Coach, Asheville Middle School and Jessy Kronenberg, Graduate Student, Western Carolina University).  I began creating a list of strategies to use with my reluctant readers this coming year. The paper helped to remind me about what I already know about readers who just can’t get “hooked” by a book.  Sometimes it becomes necessary to change the bait, move from your favorite fishing spot (ours was always the Sore Thumb by the Fire Island Inlet), or go find where all the other fishing boats were putting down lines. But more than any of those strategies to find the fish, the most important component was just keep bouncing the pole lightly, periodically checking to see if the bait was still attached to the hook and become sensitive to the current, as you felt the sinker gently tap the bottom of the bay. In other words, it was important to just stay with it.

Reluctant readers are unique in that they all don’t come to their resistance of reading by the same path.  It will be important for me to touch base often, to form a strong relationship with each of them, so I can determine why they are so hesitant to read books that are of high personal interest and at their level.  My strategy list includes all the things that would make Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller, proud.  But the list also includes some new strategies that I have never tried, one being Book Clubs, which I culled from the paper mentioned earlier.  I am eager to establish a club or two of students who will meet regularly to discuss their books.  One of things authors, Hedt and Kronenberg discuss is that, in meeting regularly, students need to be recognized and praised often.  It is the small successful steps that propel these readers on.  Over the course of weeks and months, Book Club readers will become more enthusiastic as they listen to book talks, try different genres, discuss their main characters, and accomplish small (maybe even — tiny) but significant goals.  The most important element of Book Clubs is to persevere in finding “just right books” for these resistant readers.

The school year is starting and I’m going fishing!  🙂

leaving the lighthouse

A special thank you to Meghan Finnerty for the great pictures.




New Beginnings

new notebook


And so it begins……. the new school year.  Growing up, I always loved the beginning of school.  There were shiny black shoes, Keds sneakers for gym, red tartan plaid skirts teamed with white Peter Pan collared blouses, school bags with shoulder straps, textbooks covered in brown, grocery bags, and a favorite – new notebooks.  So many years later, I continue to love the feel of new notebooks.  There is something very enticing about the smooth, lustrous feel of paper gathered in an unmarred notebook .  The whole idea of clean, stark white paper, bound in a bundle, elicits a sense of hope.  When I receive a notebook, there are no crumpled pages, no tear-outs and no erasures.  For me, the unblemished book represents new ideas not yet discovered or learned. I always felt that as long as I didn’t write in it, all the possibilities of future ideas were still there.

Setting up my classroom for the school year holds the same appeal as a new notebook.  At the end of every school year, I spend a good amount of time thinking about what went well and what still needs to be tweaked.  In the waning days of summer, I see my bare classroom as a fresh clean notebook.  The walls are purposely left blank.  They are waiting to be filled with anchor charts, writing models, student work, and vocabulary word walls.  Each August, the ritual begins. My classroom books are removed from their myriad of cardboard cartons, wiped down, and strategically placed in labeled bins.  Even though it is a huge job that takes a long time, I enjoy it.  I clean.  I wipe.  I listen to music.  I rearrange book bins.  I revisit books I had forgotten.  I put together a small stack of books to reread.  More recently, I even remember names and faces of students who read and loved One for the Murphys or Swindle. The “favorites” list is long.

Next week I will begin again.  I will meet eager and perhaps, nervous students. There are so many wonderful books that need to be matched with readers.  Some may not be excited about reading. It could be that they struggle and may never have found that “just right” book.  Sadly, I may not be able to create a love affair for the student who is a reluctant reader, but I continue to be optimistic that I will find the perfect book for them.

Engaged readers make for a calm, peaceful classroom.  In my search for calm, I’m eagerly anticipating that first cool, breezy day in October, when students have established the routine of entering class, grabbing their prized, “can’t wait to read the next chapter” book and finding their reading Zen.  I will not be surprised when I experience a feeling similar to opening a brand new notebook.

The Calm Before the Storm


Every school year begins the same way.  The last lazy days of summer are the beginning of a great tidal surge of energy. One minute you are intermittently snoozing / reading a book, sleeping a bit later, attending end of summer BBQ’s, and suddenly you are propelled into the current of preparing for the school year.  So…. much…. to…… do!  It is so easy to get sucked into the whirling vortex of THE CLASSROOM.

This blog is to help me focus on the calm.  Just like fresh air helps us to think with a clear head, a calm classroom helps students (and teachers) to breathe and focus.  I envision my classroom as a Literacy Sanctuary.  It is my goal to create a refreshing and rejuvenating space where my learners will be able to breathe in fresh new words, exciting ideas, and all the possibilities of the future.

In the last vestiges of summer, like a squirrel collecting acorns for the long winter ahead, I am trying to “store” up my energy.  Sticking my toes in the sand and watching the waves break on the beach, I feel the calm, the anticipation, the building crescendo… of the new school year…… the calm before the storm.