January 30th, 2015

Building A Classroom Writing Community Through Blogs

I’ve been blogging personally for almost 6 years now. It has become a part of who I am and led to personal growth and opportunity that I wouldn’t trade.

Blogging has made me feel like a real writer.

Blogging has introduced me to a community of writers and thinkers and friends.

Blogging has made me look at the world to find moments of significance. It’s made me tune into my own thinking in a really rewarding way. It’s made me set goals for myself and strive to meet them.

As an English teacher, these really are the goals I have for my students as well. I invite them to bring pen to paper or fingers to keyboards and hope by the end of the year with me they will consider themselves not just students, but writers who have important ideas to spread and share. I hope that I am not the sole audience for what they have to say, but that instead they read each other’s work and think of ways to bring readers in to what they write. I hope, most of all, that when they leave room 265 that what I’ve taught them sticks – that they leave my class and go off into the world to think for themselves, to speak up when they see injustice, to know how to argue their point.

So I started to wonder, if blogging did all of this for me, would it work the same way with my students?

This year I set off to find out.

Building-A-Classroom (1)

Every one of my 11th grade students set up a blog at the start of the year.  I sought permission from their parents to have them write for an open and public audience and all but one parent thought it was a great idea.  And as teenagers who have grown up with social media, my students were comfortable and pretty enthusiastic about the idea as well. I have some laptops in my classroom for my students to use, but most of them blog from their phones. They use them all the time anyway, so why not ask them to use them to document their writing life beyond what they already did? Maybe then it will become habit and not assignment – that is the goal anyway.

Since September, my students have written their ideas, responses, drafts on their blogs. They’ve written their responses to books that they are reading on their own. They’ve shared slices of their life with their audience – writing sometimes without any set rules or guidelines.

I won’t lie and say that this has been easy for me or for them.

I won’t lie and say that every single one of them loves blogging.

But I will be honest and say that as my students and I learn together about what blogging in a classroom can look like, we’ve all benefitted.

At the end of last semester, instead of  a traditional pen and paper midterm exam, I had my students host a learning forum. The students each set up a computer with their blog open and ready for readers and we set up the room much like you would a science fair. Other adults from around campus and 9th grade students in a study skills class came in and interviewed my students to see what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown as readers and writers over the course of the fall semester.  Our guests asked my students questions such as:

  • Has your approach to writing changed during this course? If yes how? If no, why not?
  • Have your attitudes about writing changed this semester? If yes how? If no, why not?
  • What piece of writing are you most proud of? Why?
  • What are your goals for next semester?

After our guests left and my students had already started to think about and verbalize their learning, they sat down to write their reflections.

Reading their responses,  it became immediately clear that blogging had started to do for many of them what it has done for me.

Many of my students said they have slowly started to see themselves as writers of words and ideas and not just writers of essays assigned for a class. They said things like:

 “’I’ve learned to love writing, because now I’m actually writing about things that I like, instead of set prompts that only appeal to a small group of people.”

” I never thought I’d be a writer, but look at me now I’m a writer.”

“And writing isn’t just a thing that old people did a hundred years ago. It’s a way to express yourself just like any other art for there is.”

Many of my students said that they felt the community of writers growing and it was evident that it made a difference that I as the teacher was no longer their sole audience. They said things like:

“I’ve learned about so many people through there writing. I’ve learned that people’s personality shine through their writing, it’s beautiful the way you can get to know a person without even meeting them.”

“Then letting someone read it and they like your writing, it’s a good feeling.”

“My writing also changed when we started our word press blogging project. This project changed my writing due to the fact that we were writing in a social media website and we were constantly interacting with different people. This project was a great experience for me and improved my skills.”

“I have always liked writing because I am so opinionated and love it when my voice is heard, so blogging was a hit for me.”

There have been challenges: technology access, getting the students to take writing online as seriously as they do a formal essay assignment, keeping track of what they are writing and when.

But these challenges are far outweighed by the positives. My students now want to publish all of their writing online. They can see from scrolling through their posts just how they’ve grown as writers, they know that online writing isn’t only for informal fun, but for serious spreading of ideas as well.

I’m not sure I would have jumped into student blogging with such eagerness had I not had the experience of being a blogger myself. The blogging conferences I’ve attended, not directly related to education at all, have turned out to be some of the best professional development I’ve done over the last five years. And while my students still do plenty of work with real pen and paper, I know that blogging is fast becoming not only a key to who I am as an individual, but who I am as a teacher as well.

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January 28th, 2015

Six Word Wednesday

In 2013  I wrote a six word memoir every week and then published them into a book for myself. It is one of my favorite things to look back at and it was a challenge that helped me to focus in on the small and beautiful stories I could tell with a photo and just six words. I’m going to start blogging six word stories again this year. Here is the first one.



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January 26th, 2015

Old Friends, New Words

Nora had a friend over yesterday and they played quietly, writing books, drawing pictures, inventing stories they played out with their dolls. Miles was tired, curled up on the couch next to a line of his new cars, trying to rest his eyes in the middle of the day as the sun streamed down on him.

I picked up a book.

I read this book for the first time over ten years ago. My maiden name is written in pink pen on the inside cover – I was a different person then. I was the same person then.

The me of then met the me of now as I pored back through the pages and the markings I had made when I sat in a room in a yellow inn at the top of a mountain, when the me of now was still all just a possibility. I underlined in pencil and placed neon tabs on the pages I knew I’d need to return to when I wrote papers and sat in classes discussing the story with my brilliant classmates.

I read Mrs. Dalloway and then I read The Hours and the words stick with me and the cadence lulls me and the writer in me is awakened as the reader in me is made happy. These sentences and phrases and characters are old friends that work to evoke new words.

I read and then I want to write.

Last year it was Mrs. Dalloway that guided me towards the words and truth I wanted to share. I wrote of the places that make me who I am, the choices I make as a parent, the labels I wear uncomfortably, the ordinary beauty that I wouldn’t see or remember if I didn’t write it down.  Virginia Woolf’s words guided me to my own in a year where the words didn’t always come easily.

This year it will be Michael Cunningham’s novel, a work that blew me away when I read it the first time and that called me yesterday in the quiet moments I stole on the couch.

I sat quietly reading and could feel the words stirring inside, working their way out, ideas and stories and a new way of seeing the same old same old. This was what I had been looking for.

“Here is the world, and you live in it, and are grateful. You try to be grateful,” Clarissa thinks early on in the book.

Stringing words together in sentences, images, ideas is how I force myself to see the world. And for words, I am grateful.

The Hours

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January 25th, 2015

A Day In The Life of A Toddler With New Cars

Step 1: Spend your $5 from Christmas on a set of 5 race cars.




Step 2: Take them home and test them on the loop-de-loop. cars

Step 3: Introduce them to the rest of their new friends – including the friendly dragons.

cars 2


Step 4: Take a rest with your cars all lined up next to you.

cars 3

Step 5: Follow up that rest with a snack. Share with the cars since they haven’t left your side all day.

cars 4

Step 6: Take the cars with you to your grandparents’ house. Show them around.

cars 5




And if you want to watch a cute video of Miles talking about his favorite things, click here: Miles’ Favorite Things


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January 24th, 2015

Great Books For Kids Who Love Dinosaurs

I haven’t written a book post in a while.  I’m not sure why, exactly, except for they take a long time to write – with all the linking and all. But they are also the ones that get read and shared the most, so…

Lately Miles has been obsessed with all books dinosaur. He doesn’t play with dinosaurs very much, but he loves to read about them. So here are his favorites – some lower level, some higher, some serious dino facts, others silly stories starring dinosaurs.


Dinosaur A-Z: For kids who really love dinosaurs! is his most favorite of favorites. It’s pretty much exactly what the title says, introducing you to a dinosaur for every letter of the alphabet. Each page includes a cute rhyming story told in first person narrative and a cool graphic showing how big the dinosaur is compared to a man. We read this almost daily.

The most sophisticated of all these books is Scholastic Discover More: Dinosaurs. We only read this one in small chunks since it is a bit more dense than the other books here. It has lots of information about many many dinosaurs. It is nicely organized and has good graphics to keep even a young kid interested.


DINOSAUR DAYS  is a simple book that Miles loves because it teaches him not so much about the dinosaurs themselves, but about the time period. What other animals lived then? How were baby dinosaurs born? What happened to the dinosaurs? His favorite page is one featuring mice eating dinosaur eggs and the other creatures that came after dinosaurs.

Creature Count: A Prehistoric Rhyme combines dinosaurs, their habitat, and counting. It is written in a fun rhyming style that mimics the “Over in the Meadow” rhyme that you may be familiar with. It covers dinosaurs along with other interesting pre-historic animals like Woolly Mammoths and Saber Tooth Tigers.


Dino-Wrestling is just one of a series of fun books about dinosaurs doing sports. The books teach about the dinosaurs a bit while also focusing on teaching you about the different aspects of the sport. The wrestling book features dinosaurs in wrestling matches of all types. You can also read about dinosaurs playing hockey, football, baseball, basketball and soccer. They also take on skateboarding.

Dinosaurs in the Supermarket! is a silly book about a kid who seees dinosaurs hiding all over the grocery store. These dinosaurs keep making a mess and the kid keeps getting blamed. Miles laughs at the story and kept this book by his side all day a few days this week. This isn’t a book to help you learn about dinosaurs, but it will certainly give your kid a laugh.

And last, but not least, is a book I think I’ve written about before. Ken said it was a book that combines everything a boy could love – dinosaurs, trucks, digging and swimming. Dinosaur Dig! is a counting book that takes you through a strange journey of dinosaurs digging. Throughout the story you don’t really have any idea why they are digging – until finally they jump into a brand new pool at the end!

There are so many awesome dinosaur books! Which ones do your kids love? I’d love to hear in the comments!


**All links are amazon affiliate links**

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January 20th, 2015


Somehow a few weeks ago I realized that my hotmail account that I refuse to give up is older than my oldest students. How could that happen, we all wondered? How am I that old? They insisted I look young, that there’s no way my first email account was established before they were born.

I still feel like I’m the 18 year old college student setting up email for the first time.

I have a 21 year old student teacher with me this semester. I realized suddenly last week that I am 15 years older than she is. That it’s somehow in this weird expanse of time been 15 years since I was in her shoes. I remember it so vividly still – the students I first taught, the amazing mentor I had, the way the desks were arranged in the classroom in the corner of the hallway.

I still feel like I am her – a young teacher still learning.

I have zits.

And I also have wrinkles.

I look in the mirror and I see both.

I’m having more trouble liking what I see lately. Age and youth, exhaustion and exhilaration all mixed together in a body still shifting almost four years after giving birth. I look in the mirror and I see clothes that don’t fit the same way and red splotches and bright eyes and deepening lines and polished fingernails and gray hairs and full lips and hips that aren’t the shape I’m used to.

I got a haircut yesterday, chopped six inches off my hair for a drastic change. I’d kept a secret pinterest board of short haircuts for almost a year now, thinking about shedding my long hair, making a change so I can begin to see myself again. This is my cycle – grow it long only to then cut it short.

I cut my hair and confronted my reflection, texted my friend that I wasn’t sure if I liked it. That I had a big forehead and a now clearer view of the blemishes adorning it.

We are our own worst critics, she reminded me.

“I want my hair to be wavy like yours,” Nora said, tonight. “You look so beautiful.”

I’m going to look in the mirror and try to let it be her voice I listen to and not mine.


Linking up with Heather for Just Write.


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January 19th, 2015

The Way To My Heart Is Through A Bookshelf

She picked out just the shade of blue she likes best. It’s her favorite color – turquoise – after having left the pinks and purples behind her for now. She’s drawn signs – “Nora’s Nook “(with an apostrophe perfectly placed) and “Kids Only”.

blue closet

A few weeks ago she was pleading with us to just leave her room alone.

In one weekend we (mostly Ken, with help from his dad and some help from me) tore out gross carpet, painted, put in new windows. We assembled new Ikea beds, moved furniture in and out.

new bed

This past weekend we painted the closet and door her chosen blue. Ken built shelves into the side of the closet for us to start making sense of the kid stuff that seems to live everywhere and no where all at once. We installed a new light where a gaudy and dangerous ceiling fan used to live. Nora organized her many many doll clothes and accessories into new bins I bought, carefully planning just the right place for each item.


And Ken built a bookshelf. It’s the most perfect part of that room, really. I organized their books onto their new shelf, the most therapeutic of all organizing for me. I looked at that bookshelf sitting perfectly under the window and I thought that building a place to hold books is really the best gift. I love bookshelves.


I asked Nora tonight if she liked her new room. “Yes. It’s so nice,” she said.

And Miles, not a man of big opinions, has suddenly started sleeping well (which will now surely end since I wrote that…), which I take as the biggest vote for the success of the remodel.

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January 12th, 2015

Moments of Truth

The good topics my students and I investigate together get stuck in my head. I leave my classroom and I still think about life through the lens of our inquiry. Right now we are reading and researching and discussing a question that I’ve discussed with students for at least the last five years – maybe more: To what extent does photography limit or enhance our understanding of the world?

We read about cases where photos cause the audience to jump to conclusions, to make unfair assumptions. We read about cases where difficult photos of difficult truths light a fire for change – lead to an understanding of hatred and evil that perhaps only a photo could communicate. We read about photography as art and photography as journalism and where the line between the two exist. We don’t read much about social media and photo sharing but we talk about where online photos lead us to truth and where they lie to us, where they lead us in a better direction and where they lead us astray. We talk about emotional truth  and whether a narrated story or a still photo elicit more emotional truth from us personally.

We talk about other people’s photos – about what we can learn from looking at photos of events and places, ideas and spaces, that we ourselves have not experienced. But today, when I got home and flipped through my photos, I started thinking about what truth our own photos show about ourselves. I sometimes wonder what compels me to document so much of my life. Why do I want to photograph it and not just live it? Why does having that moment captured in a still frame matter to me? Am I seeking truth when I look for my camera at a moment unfolding in front of me? Or am I just capturing the moments that will tell the story as I hope it unfolds? What am I sacrificing by taking so many photos and not just appreciating the moments as they pass?

There’s a photo of my mother and I when I was probably just a bit older than Nora. We are in my bed, both with our hair pinned back, reading. I remember the exact book I was reading, actually – a choose your own adventure book about a mystery at a ballet studio. There are many moments I remember from my childhood – many big and many small. Many of these were captured on film, developed and placed into the plastic sleeves of the photo albums my parents kept. I can recall many photos in those albums, but for some reason this one simple picture stands out.Who knows why exactly my dad felt compelled to snap the picture, but to me, this photo represents a truth of what it means to be a mother: you read side by side with your child.

Moments of Truth

A few weeks ago, on one of the nice days where it felt so much better to be outside than in, we played outside in the back yard for hours. I grabbed my book at some point and sat on the swing, reading and listening to the sounds of the narrated stories my children were living out on the slide and in the play house and running around the yard. At one point, Nora ran inside, grabbed her own book and sat next to me on the swing, reading. Here we were, suddenly living out the truth of motherhood I had waited for. I let it happen, reading and swinging and every so often checking to see if she was still there next to me. I didn’t want to spoil it.

She eventually got up to move onto something new.

But I couldn’t let it pass. I couldn’t let the moment go without a photo.

I asked her to come back, to hold her book and read for a moment while I sat next to her and did the same. To recreate the truth we had just lived for 15 minutes.

I set my phone up on a chair, set the timer and snapped photos of us because I had to capture it in more than just my memory.

I wanted photographic proof.

I wanted the two photos  – me as the daughter and me as the mother – side by side.

I know I’m not the only one who records so much of my life – who seeks the small moments of the truth I am living. I know that others of you are also documenters, photographers of the magic and the mundane.

But I also know that there are many of us who live without the camera constantly at our side. Who don’t need the photographic evidence that the moment existed. Who would be absolutely fine with the memory absent from the camera roll.

What does it mean that I seek to document my truth? Or at least the truth as I see it?

I don’t know. But, just like I’m asking my students, I’m thinking about it.


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January 2nd, 2015


She’s sleeping in the living room tonight and tomorrow she turns seven. He’s sleeping in the living room too, though truth be told neither of them are sleeping yet. And maybe they won’t be for a while since sleeping in the living room isn’t at all our routine.

Ken and his dad spent the day today tearing out what must be 50+ year old carpet from their bedroom. I helped. My parents watched and spoiled Nora and Miles while we were here busy trying to make their room so much nicer. No gross carpet, no horrible heavy blinds on shiny gold rods, new beds, fresh paint, new windows, a new desk for Nora. Book shelves.

We spent the day working and excited about a project we’ve been wanting to do.

She came home and cried into my sweatshirt.

“It doesn’t look like my room anymore,” she said as we stood in the living room surrounded by their bedroom furniture.

“I just want to wake up in my room when I turn 7,” she added.

I tried to explain all the reasons that we are doing this. That her parents who are itching to make the rest of the house look as nice as the remodeled living spaces have been dying to do this for themselves. For her. For him.

They’ve been sleeping for almost a year on the mattresses on the floor, on nasty old carpet with crevasses so deep you can permanently lose small treasures. It was a mess, always, toys and books strewn everywhere, clothes spilling out of drawers. It drove me crazy every time I’d go in there.

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This isn’t how I’d pictured my kids living and sleeping.

I love that they share a room.

I love that they have their things constantly at their reach.

I hated that they had no beds and that there was nothing about the room that I found aesthetically pleasing.

Seven years ago, as I prepared to mother my first baby, I designed her space. I picked out beautiful flower knobs for the drawers lovingly built by her father. I had curtains made to match the sheets I had spent hours picking out. I ordered the glider that would fit perfectly in the corner and match just so. We framed the Dick and Jane posters my father had rescued from an elementary school garbage long long ago and hung them around the room to signify the start of a story we knew would be much more complex than the words on the pages. The room had a little pink (it was a girl!) and a lot of green and white (what if the next one was a boy?) and when I sat in there it felt perfect.

But this room? It didn’t feel right to me.

To her, though? It was her room.

Her space. Her gross carpet and her comfortable mattress on the floor. It was her books with no shelf to live on and her clothes spilling out every day as she chose the look that felt just right. Her old heavy curtains on a gold rod that worked just perfectly to block out the rising sun.

I forgot that.

I forgot that she is old enough now that the space is almost as much hers as it is mine, ours. She is attached to places and spaces and things the way that I am and seeing an empty room with a concrete floor wasn’t the gift I felt I was giving her.

“I wanted to give you a nicer room for your birthday,” I told her. “You’ll love it when it’s all done.”

“I liked my room just how it was,” she reminded me.

I’m trying to remind myself now, as she struggles to sleep, the night before her birthday, in a new bed set up in the living room, that she will love it when it’s done. That a new clean space, a blank slate for her to make even more hers, is indeed a gift – albeit one she doesn’t really appreciate tonight. That in all of this, as she turns seven tomorrow, she will start to learn that change is good sometimes, even when it wasn’t all your idea. I’m still teaching myself that lesson too.

Good thing I have more gifts for her tomorrow.

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December 22nd, 2014

Public Display of Three

We went bowling today.

“Lane 5,” the cashier said and pointed to the far end of the alley.

We headed towards the lane, away from the other families with young children assigned lanes 20 or 30 or 35. I walked with Miles tugging on me, Nora asking so many questions and hands full of rental shoes and a bright orange six pound ball.

I smiled at the four or five groups of senior citizen bowlers in lanes 7, 8, 9 and 10, wondering for a moment why we had been put at this end of the building, hoping that we wouldn’t be a distraction or disturbance to these very serious white haired bowlers who clearly came equipped with their own shoes and fancy colorful bowling balls.

It will be fine, I told myself. It will be fun.

I typed our names in, checked the box so both kids would bowl with bumpers, changed everyone into shoes, made a return trip to the counter to get a different size, situated snacks and explained the order to Miles.

He was first.

He picked up that big orange ball, walked with me down toward the lane and together we gave it a push. It moved slowly but steadily and he knocked over 6 pins. I smiled at him, extended my hand for a high five, but he was in no mood to celebrate.

He wanted to remind me that he is three.

“I’m done bowling!” he declared. ” I don’t like to bowl!”

Never mind that in the car on the way there he had declared his pure love for bowling, his uncontainable excitement to be going to play a game with the big kids.

Never mind that two minutes ago he had smiled at Nora and declared, “This will be so fun!”

No. Now he was done.

He was so done that he started loudly crying. Started demanding that I pick him up. Started flailing and hitting and throwing me into the depths of embarrassment as the senior bowlers in the next lanes watched it unfold.

I tried to keep my calm. I tried to distract him. Nora tried to talk him into a better attitude. But he was just being three and we were stuck in public while it happened. We had to ride it out and smile nicely at the people who couldn’t help but watch that cute kid lose it on lane 5.

I think we managed to have fun despite the tantrum at the start. Nora got extra turns. I still got to play with her. He eventually sat and played on my phone while Nora and I tried to salvage our big outing.

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But I’m tired of three.

I’m tired of him throwing fits every day when I leave him at daycare, the teacher who he loves having to peel him off of me.

I’m tired of him crying like the world is ending because I pushed him 3 times on the swing instead of just 2.

I’m tired of his shoes not being right every single time I put them on.

I’m tired of him refusing to go to sleep.

I’m tired of him eating one bite of his dinner.

I’m tired of him switching without a moment’s notice from the sweetest, cuddliest guy to the kid who just won’t. stop. whining.

I’m tired of him needing me and only me to do X Y and Z for him.

I’m tired.

I love him to death, don’t get me wrong. I love the sound of his laugh and the feel of his small hand in mine, the way he carries his blanket around and the way he lines his cars up to play with all of them at once. I love his quiet conversations with imaginary companions and the way he says certain words just perfectly wrong. I love the way he tells me he loves me so many times a day it would be impossible to count, the way he sings to himself as he plays, the questions he asks that let me know he’s just trying to figure this whole big world out.

I know it’s all a phase and I know that I should relish the  sweet moments, but it’s hard on days that begin with a public display of three.

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