Jumbled Thoughts

One of the things that happens to over-thinkers thinkers like me is that there are often loads and loads of jumbled thoughts all up there in my head at the same time.  I find it a very rare occurrence that I am only thinking about or planning thing at a time (is this called multi-tasking or just crazy?!).  Today is one of those days when there are many things filling the space between my ears, and so as a means to think some of it through, I’m writing about it.

This weekend means that yes, I’m “off” because it’s not a school day, but when you’re a teacher you’re never really not not thinking about school or how to make your classroom a better place for the learners you spend every day with. Today this thinking was magnified as I was attending #edcampStl (Ed Camp St. Louis), learning and growing with other fabulous educators.

As with every EdCamp experience, I left with my head spinning because of all of the inspiring conversations.  Along with the general planning I’m thinking about for next week and the coming month, I’ve got some other things on my mind after today:

  1. Teaching Artistic Behaviors–100% Choice Learning:  Today I went to a really great EdCamp session with Kelly Lee (@yogagirly).  I wasn’t really sure what I was in for (but thought maybe it was how to add more art/design into regular subjects), and then I found out it was by an art teacher and I was really more unsure (I have a good record of picking badly by the title of the session…).  It ended up being something really inspirational, and now I’m trying ot figure out how to use her ideas in my own classroom with 2nd grade.  The basic premise is that in her art class, Ms. Lee has her room broken into “studios” based on mediums (collage, drawing, fiber, digital and painting).  Each day, artists listen to SHORT lesson or inspiration (based on a concept, artist, etc.) and then choose which studio in which to work for the day.  In their plan book, students make a goal and plan for the class time, and then spend time in that studio working to achieve their personal goal.  At the end of the class time, 5 minutes is provided for reflection on the day’s work.  As I sat and listened, I tried to imagine how I could tweak this idea to include all the subjects I teach, perhaps with just 5 studios (or decks since we’re working on being pirates!) that would work for everything we do.  Right now I’m trying to decide if something based around the multiple intelligences would work….
  2. Biography as Narrative Non-Fiction:  I am not sure if I’ve mentioned here before that my team does a really cool thing with planning, and each person (there are 5 of us) is responsible for creating the plan for everyone for one subject.  I’m in charge of writing, and so I’ve had the opportunity to share some exciting things with my teammates (and therefore their students!) this year, like blogging, a new way to think about Writer’s Notebooks, and a punctuation study.  Right now we’re about to start a new unit–biography per the curriculum calendar–and I’m having a hard time getting started.  I remember teaching that unit with 4th and 5th graders and it was BRUTAL!  I’m really not so excited about 1) trying to write that genre with little kids, and 2) planning a non-fiction unit right after we did one (we’re all working on creating picture books about the cultures we’re researching in Social Studies).  So…I’ve been on the search for some fresh ideas of how to teach biography to young writers and help them be able to successfully write about inspirational characters–most of whom are probably from long ago and hard to understand.  I know that I want to include lessons on important vs. interesting information, as well as investigations into the elements of a biography as well as the definition of a paragraph, but beyond that I am dreading the whole thing! I ran across a unit online the other day, though, that explains how to write biography as a form of narrative non-fiction, rather than expository or descriptive non-fiction (which is what we’ve been doing anyway).  I like the idea of trying something new, as well as thinking about how this could be a good transition between NF writing and the narrative fiction that we’re doing next.  This could be the bridge.  Most of the texts we share with students are written in this genre anyway, so it might not be as hard as maybe I first thought…..
  3. Valentine’s Day Questions (yep, I question a lot of things….): ‘Tis the season to celebrate.  Two weeks ago it was the 100th Day of School–which I think we ended up with a great plan for–and now this week has Valentines’ Day (ok, well, V Day is not until Sunday, but we will celebrate it on Thursday).  Again, I feel pulled to do a litany of “cute” things that kids will enjoy, full of glitter and glue and hearts and fun (here’s how we decided to spend the day last year).  I’m not at all opposed to having fun (we’ve talked before about how we have fun every day in Rm. 202!), but to put aside our learning to….wow–even as I just typed that I had an epiphany….(weird, right?)…

Let me show you a picture to explain the thought I just had:


This wrapper was funny to me because it came from a friend the day after my coach and friend, Amy, had reminded me of this question when we were talking about 100th Day Questions.  Just now as I was in the middle of saying how I didn’t think it was the right thing to do to just abandon our work and PLAY, I was reminded of what I say I’m about; play and fun and laughter are important parts of the learning we do together.  So….see why the thoughts are all jumbled?  Who knew teaching 2nd grade would be so hard!?  It’s the parties and fun parts that make me crazy, not the curriculum!  (Maybe it’s me who’s the crazy one…).

Have any suggestions?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of my jumbled thinking. 🙂  Remember, it takes a village!



Fiction, For Real!

We started a new writing unit today (no, I didn’t forget to finish telling you about the last one!–just haven’t yet).  The focus will be realistic fiction, and I wanted (as suggested by the Units of Study from Lucy Calkins) to see what they already know how to do, so we participated in an on-demand writing situation this morning.  Usually I make these very scripted and time-specific (generally they are supposed to be 45 minutes), but today the directions were a little looser: show me what you know about writing by creating a story.  Oh, and it has to be something that could really happen.

For some this was SUPER exciting, as they’ve been asking to write stories all year (and have even added many to their writing journals that we use in our room).  For others the idea of a REAL story was a bit daunting and even a little confusing–they weren’t sure yet (since we haven’t studied it) how this was different from their personal narrative (small moment) stories we wrote at the beginning of the year.  Oh, and to try to debate “real” topics with 6-7 YOs. Man!  Aliens, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, digging through the Earth to China–these all came up today in conversations about whether they could be included.  Tough questions being asked here!

I then gave them as long as they could (and would) write to finish their composition.  I’m happy to say that we lasted almost an hour, and some could probably have worked even longer!  Man–talk about some writing grit and stamina!  I was impressed!  Many great things were demonstrated already today, and we haven’t even started learning about this genre yet!

Ok, a couple of pics of our Monday morning amazingness! 🙂


We used pink paper booklets today for our pre-assessment. The unit will be writing on white, and then we’ll use purple for the post-assessment. Easy way to keep it all organized!


You’d think after this long they’d stop being surprised when I take their pictures! Say cheese, Amelia! 🙂


Well, I did tell them I saw the Easter bunny out my window yesterday. So that’s real, right? Yep, he was small and brown, just like Jacob says–and he jumped away when I opened the blinds so my kids wouldn’t see him. Who’s to say if that could or couldn’t happen? LOL

I’m excited to continue to share the journey of this unit.  And yes, I will finish our opinion writing posts someday soon. 🙂


Writing is a subject that is important to students–to everyone, really–and the teaching and assessing of it are ever-changing.  I LOVE the topic of writing (wait–you knew that already didn’t you?): I love doing it, reading about it, teaching about it, everything.  And above all, one of my favorite things about writing is helping kiddos get to love it, too.

So…this year our district is implementing a new writing curriculum, one that I have had the privilege of spending the last year rewriting to better match the Common Core State Standards and better help every student become college and career ready.

In some ways, writing in our school district was already aligned with CCSS, and we have always had really high standards for what students should be able to do.  But there are also some things that have (and will) changed in response to the new standards:

  • Students will now be required to learn about and then demonstrate their knowledge of argumentive writing.  This is much different than the opinion pieces we’ve done for years–the heart of the argument is staking a claim, anticipating counterarguments (and answering them) and using valid evidence to support the claim.
  • The ability to write in every content area, while included for years, is more highly expected now.  Writing is expected to be thought of as something you do every day, in many ways and in many places.  It is not just something you do at school for an hour a day.  Students should be writing in reading, writing in math, writing in science and writing in social studies.
  • New listening and speaking standards have been introduced, and are emphasized in all areas of student learning, not just in writing.
  • Students are expected to be writing for a larger audience and making global connections via the internet.  Thank you KidBlog for your help with this one!  Luckily I started this one years ago. 🙂
  • Students are expected to be able to produce an entire piece of writing in one sitting.  Yep, go all the way through the cycle in 45 minutes. 🙂

And so that’s why this post is called On-Demand (glad I finally got to that explanation, huh?).  We did our second on-demand writing piece today.  And boy is there a story to tell. 🙂

This year, as a part of our new curriculum, we have access to Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study.  The newest version of them is aligned with CCSS expectations, and gives teachers many ideas of how to help kiddos achieve these more rigorous standards.  Included in each unit is an on-demand writing assessment (well actually there are two–one as a pretest and one at the end of the unit).

We just finished up a narrative unit, and today was the day we sat to do our on-demand piece, in 45 minutes.  Here were the directions I gave:

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Now, we have done this before.  Only once, though, at the beginning of the year before we started this unit.  I wish I had pictures of their faces when I first told them what we were going to do and how long they had to do it.  I don’t.  Boo. 😦

But I do have pictures of what it looked like today.

Some friends sat with me at my table to work on their pieces.

Some friends sat with me at my table to work on their pieces.

Max needed to stretch out on the floor to get the juices flowing.  Totally how it rolls in our room!  Love how he looks like he's really thinking!

Max needed to stretch out on the floor to get the juices flowing. Totally how it rolls in our room! Love how he looks like he’s really thinking!

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There are definitely many friends with their heads in their hands for at least part of the session.  Again--lots of deep thinking happening here!

There are definitely many friends with their heads in their hands for at least part of the session. Again–lots of deep thinking happening here!

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I set a timer for friends who needed to monitor how much more time they had.  Although, not surprisingly, this really stressed some people out more than it helped them. :(

I set a timer for friends who needed to monitor how much more time they had. Although, not surprisingly, this really stressed some people out more than it helped them. 😦

For as hard as it was, though, I was so glad that in a very short time, everyone was busy and writing.  Everyone got a piece written and everyone turned something in!  It was very cool to see what they are now able to accomplish in such a short amount of time!  I think they’re amazed, too.  And the best part is that the more we do this, the easier it will get!

Narrative Writing Lessons

Happy Tuesday, friends!  It’s our first it’s-so-dark-and-rainy-we-had-to-turn-on-the-lights days of the fall.  Kind of gloomy, but also one of my favorite things about this time of year!  Weird, huh?

So..today we’re going to do some thinking together about writing RIGHT HERE ON THE BLOG!  I’m going to give you your job and then you will leave a comment on this post to share your thoughts with me and with the other writers in our room.  Ready?  Ok, here we go!

Below are two of the anchor charts we’ve been using during our study of narrative writing.  Reread them to yourself.

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Now I want you to think about something from these charts that you know you have tried during this unit, either in your Writer’s  Notebook or your story.  Tell me about how you have used it in your comment below.   You could start your sentence with something like: “During our study of narratives, I learned…and I tried it in my writing by…”  Your words might sound different than that, but use the starter if you need it!  I can’t wait to hear about your smart thinking!  The pieces you are writing are pretty great, Rm. 202, and I’m excited to see where we continue to go as writers this year!