Posts Tagged ‘gifted education’

Slice of Life: Love Those Writers

May 25, 2021

Yesterday.

Yesterday was a pretty good day.

It was the day my first article as a contributing author got published on my very favorite teacher site, Two Writing Teachers.

And it was also the day that I asked my students to reflect on their experiences in writing workshop this year. I told them of my respect and admiration for them as humans, as writers. I told them how amazing it was to enjoy the process of writing alongside them this year. I told them that we’re going to have the chance to continue this work together next year, and I want their experience next year to honor their strengths and needs.

Here are the questions I asked:

How did you grow as a writer this year?
What did you learn from reading one another’s writing?
Describe your ideal writing workshop.
Looking ahead to next year, how would YOU like to grow as a writer?

I first used breakout rooms on Zoom (sigh. Always ZOOM) to let the kids discuss answers to these questions, to gather ideas and perspectives. I then gave kids a solid 20 minutes to complete the questions on Google Forms. And by 20 minutes, I MEANT 20 minutes. I told students they were not allowed to submit their survey before I gave the OK. If they reached a stopping point, they could stop, or think, or daydream, but I wanted the survey open for other thoughts that “trickled in” over the course of that 20 minutes.

I’m glad I did.*

My students brought it. And why shouldn’t they have? They’ve been bringing it every day we’ve been together.

As I read through their responses, I saw so many common threads, so many take-aways. I’m sharing a couple of highlights because they make me so happy.

On what we want writing workshop to look like, kids envisioned:
-Calm. Quiet. Peace.
-Solitude when needed.
-Collaboration when needed.
-Pens and paper and clipboards and fuzzy pillows and seating options.
-Freedom.

Word cloud showing how we envision writing workshop. Thanks, edwordle, for the resource!

On what we learned from sharing our work:
-We never gave enough credit to the skills of other writers.
-Other people have very different writing styles.
-Reading other people’s work made us want to write better.
-We’re better at giving and receiving feedback

Word cloud showing what we’ve gotten out of the experience.

On how I can help them learn and grow, students envision that I’ll be:
-Teaching specific writing skills
-Offering feedback
-Giving them the “push” they want and need in zones of discomfort
-Showing them text that mirrors the aspects they want to use in writing

This is just the tip of the iceberg, friends. I asked my kids to stop, to imagine, to dream about what writing workshop could be. They’ve given me so much to think about over the summer. And while summer canNOT come fast enough, I’m already looking forward to next year.

*(If we’re being 100% real, YES. There were plenty of kids who probably filled out the survey in four minutes and pretended to work longer. This is a COVID year. And it’s June. And Zoom. I’ll take what I can get.)


Today’s post is part of the weekly Slice of Life Challenge. Check them out!

“I Feel Like a Real Writer” – Guest Post

May 24, 2021

Friends, I’m so excited to tell you that I am now a contributing author on the Two Writing Teachers website. This community has helped me grow so much as a writer, a teacher and as a person. Honestly, I could gush for quite a while about how transformative the experience has been. Suffice it to say, I’m humbled and honored to be a part of it.

So, here’s a teaser for my first article:

Teaching writing to gifted students isn’t the smooth, easy path some might suppose. Gifted kids often present a range of academic and affective needs. How can we encourage joyful and confident writing in this special population?

Want to read the rest? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers. Enjoy, and keep on visiting that site. There’s a lot to learn, and amazing folks to learn from!

Assigned Work: One (Big) Word

May 11, 2021

This May, I’m committing myself to writing student-assigned topics. Some of them might be cut-and-dried, some of them might be bears. And some of them will reveal themselves in the writing. Today is also the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life challenge. Check ’em out!

Today’s assignment: What is the most important word?


So wait. I’m a lover of words, a depender-onner of words, a clinger-with-a-white-knuckled-grasper of words, and I’m supposed to choose…ONE?

This strikes me as an assignment similar to choosing “One Little Word” for the Slice of Life challenge. I chose one word in January, and yet another in February. (I’m still living that second one, waiting patiently for a transition.)

But the most important word?

I guess I’d have to think about what’s important to me, and the first word that comes to mind is love. It’s my north star, my moral compass. I try and lead with love in everything I do. I fall short, and often. Still, I try.

And yet, I feel like “love” doesn’t always sum up what I’m getting at. It’s not just that feeling of love, it’s a desire to understand. So perhaps…compassion? That gets a little bit closer. Love is a start. Compassion requires us to meet people where they are, to show empathy, to say over and over to the people around us in ways big and small that they – that none of us – are alone.

So compassion brings me closer to that guiding principle of that most important word. Still, though, I can’t help but think it falls short. Because a “most important word” to me needs to be universal. Sure, compassion is at the heart of my relationships with other people.

But what about nature?
What about this earth?
What about our universe, and our place within it?

I need something bigger.

And where I think I’m landing is connection to the beauty and wonder and awe everywhere around me.

Compassion, I think, is built on connection. It’s an acknowledgement of beauty and awe within people. Connection is even bigger, even deeper. It extends beyond human relationships and roots me, grounds me.

Connection is spring grass on my bare feet.
It’s stroking the fur of a dog that’s finally plopped down to rest.
It’s a recipe passed down through generations.
It’s the wonder of looking into a starry sky.
It’s the feel of your father’s watch on your wrist.
It’s a text message that says nothing but a heart emoji.
It’s the power of a strong, solid hug.
It’s the smell of earth after a rain.

Will I think on this some more? Probably.

Might I further whittle this idea down to a sharper point? Stranger things have happened.

But for now, it’s where I’ve landed.

And you? What do YOU suppose is the most important word?

Assigned Work: Growing Up

May 10, 2021

This May, I’m committing myself to writing student-assigned topics. Some of them might be cut-and-dried, some of them might be bears. And some of them will reveal themselves in the writing.

Today’s assignment: What does it mean to grow up?


What does it mean to grow up? Of course, I could joke around about the answer to this question and simply remark, “I never have!”

But I have grown up. Despite wanting to stay child-like in my awe and idealism, I have officially become a grown-up. And I have a few things to say about being a grown-up: we can pinpoint moments of transition, there are things we lose in being a grown-up, and there are things we gain.

First, I can pinpoint moments when I had to transition into grown-up-ness. All of them, unfortunately, circle around times of grief and loss. There was the time I had to go with my mom to tell my grandmother that my grandpa had just passed away. That’s a moment kids are shielded from, ordinarily. Being a part of that moment was the first time I realized I was no longer a kid. I’ve also experienced the loss of my brother, my father, my niece, a friend. All of these losses gave me a different understanding and wisdom about this world that I can only describe as a growing-up.

Growing up also means that there are things from childhood that I lose. Being a kid means getting to jump full-on into play and creativity. As much as I love to create and play, there is now a certain part of me that doesn’t let it happen with reckless abandon. I have one foot planted in joy and fun, and one foot planted in the idea that I’m going to have to stop at some point because I’ve got stuff to do. I also miss the deep feelings and thoughts I had as a kid. Being a kid is really hard sometimes. As a kid, you take a lot of hurt and pain and you have to figure out what to do with it, and there isn’t always someone to tell you how. And I remember how hard that was, and I remember the memories of those feelings, but it isn’t the same as experiencing them in real time. I can empathize, but I no longer feel and experience things in the same way. I can’t completely identify or understand any more, even though I would love to.

Growing up doesn’t mean that you’re all of a sudden better at organizing things, at making friends, or paying attention, or managing difficult feelings, or cleaning your room, or eating better, or doing homework, or staying out of trouble, or that you like doing chores. But it does mean that you’re coming to things with a deeper perspective, a bit more patience, and a LOT more experience (often gotten the hard way). Growing up means giving up some things, but it’s possible to hold on to a strong moral compass, a love of creativity, a sense of awe and wonder. Growing up means forgetting some of the feelings of childhood, but having more wisdom, more compassion, more patience. I don’t think, at this point in my life, that I’d trade any of it back.

Poetry Month Day 14: What They Wrote

April 14, 2021

Want to write? i said
Want a space where you’re read? i said
Then come with me i said
You can blog like me i said
Here are some ideas i said
You can take them or do other things i said

And then they came
They blogged
They took some ideas
And they did other things like:

  1. A journaling of a day, gone by too fast.
  2. An ode to flowers
  3. A poem demanding us to look, just look, at the wonder around us
  4. A treatise on nostalgia
  5. A heart-wrenching poetic series that tells of our inner conflict between our positive and negative selves
  6. Stories about trampolines
  7. Deep dives into all those weird questions that keep us awake at night
  8. A poem that hangs heavy with the unfairness of life
  9. A COVID parody on “12 Days of Christmas”
  10. Soapboxes on humans and our treatment of animals
  11. Stories that they start the first installment of, then the stories that they switch to because why not take a chance and share some writing that isn’t quite your favorite but you’re still working on and want to just put out into the world and see what happens
  12. The latest installments on the Minecraft Saga, on Chokis and Fott’s new adventures, the New Life story, the tale of Test Subject 99,823, all somehow miraculously, magically written with correctly-punctuated dialogue and paragraphing and description and narration because miraculously, magically, they realize that other people are reading their work

This is good, i think
They’re figuring things out, i think
And they’re taking it, i think
And running, i think
And it’s hard to keep up, i think

And there are some problems
That are good problems to have.

All of this since the beginning of April. Whew!

Slice of Life 2021 Day 29: WHOOSH

March 29, 2021

Today marks Day 29 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and beyond!

Today. *

Today I blogged.

And before that I cobbled together my bananapants schedule for tomorrow: lesson to lesson, meeting to meeting.

And before that I thought through my lesson I’ll be sharing with kids on mentally preparing for standardized testing. While we’re on the subject, I’m not a fan at ALL of teaching kids to a test. If kids have skills, they have skills. But. Anything we can do to give our loveys a sense of control over their testing environment? Anything that will allow the kids to see how they can keep their wits about them in an anxiety-rich situation? I’m all in favor of THAT. This lesson is a follow-up to one I taught earlier about strategies for keeping cool in stressful times.

One more tool we have for keeping our wits about us!

And before that I checked in with a former student of mine, who’s brimming with rich fantasy worlds she wants to create through graphic novels.

And before that I got to work car line again for the first time in almost a month. I missed those faces!

And before that I shared Leo Lionn’s Frederick with my third graders. I opened up the Zoom chat to everyone in the group. Sometimes that goes haywire. Today it didn’t. They shared such insightful comments and ideas, like – “Frederick was misunderstood.” Yes, yes he WAS misunderstood. And now let’s talk about what it means to be UNDERESTIMATED. (We’ll be going places with that one, friends.)

And before that I assembled as many materials and activities for the self-guided learning my groups will do over the coming weeks. I. Am. Far. From. Done.

And before that I choked down my lunch standing at my kitchen counter with my puppy at my heels because SOMEONE had to let her out mid-day, and that somebody turned out to be me.

I think she likes me…

And before that I cranked my way through morning classes, eager to see students after a week, and trying my best to play whack-a-mole with student attendance, through patchy internet, through sound problems, and all those wonderful things we got to avoid in our week off.

And before that I recorded my weekly pep talk for my kids. I’ve been taking the kids through brief (2-minute) lessons about what it means to be smart, about what that means for the way we see ourselves and others. Today’s pep talk was about explanatory style, and how that feeds into our feelings.

Because we deserve to understand the way we think and feel and move about this world.

And before that I executed my morning routine with the customary military logistics a school day requires: waking, showering, letting dogs out, feeding dogs, making chai, smooching the spouse goodbye, praying the 17-year-old is up, grabbing my stuff and heading out to school.

And before that I felt my alarm buzzing on my wrist mid-dream, wondering why I was being woken at 5:45 when, in fact, it was 6:30…

*Special thanks to Vivian Chen and Fran McVeigh, who first gave me the inspiration to use this form. Visit them. Theirs, I assure you, are some amazing pieces of writing. =))

Slice of Life 2021 Day 8: Why the Soapbox?

March 8, 2021

Today marks Day 8 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and beyond!

My blog is called “Ed Soapbox” for a reason.

Soapboxes. Ideas we feel SO STRONGLY, we just need a box to stand on and shout it out to the world. And friends, I have a LOT of them. Especially when it comes to teaching and learning.

My position calls for me to do a lot of talking and meeting with my colleagues, and they know it is VERY easy for me to step up on my soapbox about any number of things. All it takes is just a little something to wind me up and set me in motion. I’m guessing it’s pretty entertaining to watch, just because I get so keyed up about things. I try to restrain myself, because I don’t want to be the one yammering on or get preachy. I can recognize an eye roll when I see it.

Still. Here is an incomplete list of all the things you don’t want to get me started on:

<< clears throat >>
<< takes a sip of water >>
<< steps on up >>
<< inhales deeply >>

Why emotional learning is 90% of what we do
Why gifted kids need each other
Why we need to talk about people who don’t look or live like us
Why expectations that leadership has of teachers creates classrooms where everyone’s afraid
Why teachers need the freedom to teach as they see fit
Why people are much better at math than they give themselves credit for
Why kids need to read what they want and write what they want
Why we need to consider poor behavior as a lack of skills rather than discipline
Why kids need to understand themselves better
Why we need to let go of control sometimes in our classroom
Why we need to listen more
Why we need to stop judging parents of kids who don’t behave
Why kids seem to show a lack of remorse for poor choices
Why kids need to understand place value so darn much
Why teachers need to open their doors more
Why teachers need to close their doors sometime
Why schools work just like giant classrooms

See? All I had to do was turn on the tap and get it flowing. You can’t see it, but I’m sitting up straight, my shoulders are tensed and my blood is PUMPING. And I’m just getting STARTED.

All because of this fierce belief I have in children, in my fellow teachers, in my families, in education itself.

So yes, I know that it’s fun to watch Lainie sometimes as she goes on a rip and tear. I’ll admit it’s kinda entertaining. I’d rather be the subject of an eye roll than lose the intensity of these beliefs.

<< steps back down >>

Slice of Life 2021 Day 4: Kid Wisdom

March 4, 2021

Today marks Day 4 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and maybe beyond!

As I alluded to in yesterday’s post, I used my own writing as a mentor text for my fourth graders. The goal is to use student writing as the literature from which we conduct reading discussions. The REAL goal is to farm out the strategy, if it works. Who knows? Maybe we can have whole classes – whole SCHOOLS worth of children who see themselves as writers, who delight in creating literature that’s just as worthy of analysis as something they’d pick up off the bookshelf.

But I get ahead of myself.

Today, I read my students’ written responses to my work. I set them up with a 4-quadrant response chart before our class discussion. Reading their work, and then hearing them TALK about my writing? Friends, if you haven’t listened to other people talking about your writing, YOU. ARE. MISSING. OUT. I’m highlighting a few questions and ideas from my perceptive kiddos:

Something I don’t understand…
“Why is Lainie’s friend so mean? Why can’t Story be nicer?”
“Why should Story give Lainie a smirk if she already said ‘suit yourself?’ “

A question I have…
“Why does Lainie hate writing narrative fiction?”
“Maybe she is talking to her writing and doesn’t like it but STORY wants her to try again?”

Oh! This seems important…
“Story is telling Lainie she can’t tell her students to do one thing and do something else herself.”
“The friend is encouraging her.”
“Story is named…STORY.”

It’s interesting that…
“A lot of people don’t like writing things they can’t get wrapped up in.”
“Lainie always tries to encourage others but doesn’t try to encourage herself.”
“Lainie tells her students to do things she doesn’t want to do herself.”
“She is standing up for what she likes and doesn’t like.”

I want to let this wisdom stand, so I won’t belabor the point with a lot of extra chatter. But I will share TWO things:

  1. My favorite moment came when the students realized that Story smirked because she had tricked me into writing fiction. That’s when the kids were REALLY able to infer the “tough love” relationship I have with her.
  2. I mean, LOOK at what these kids observed and wrote. They have my NUMBER.

Now. If you need me. I’ll be sitting here, heart aflutter, waiting for what’s next around the bend. I can’t wait – and neither can my loveys!

Slice of Life 2021 Day 3: Story Has Her Say

March 3, 2021

Today marks the third day of March, the third day of the Slice of Life blogging challenge. I’ve committed to write each and every day during the month of March and – who knows? – maybe even longer. Join me! This entry was inspired by the conversation I had with my students this week after sharing a snippet of fiction I wrote. That writing is linked at the bottom as Part 1 of this series.

“You know they called you mean, right?”

Story stopped scrolling through her Instagram long enough to look up. “What?”

“My students. They read about you and me in the coffee shop, and they thought you were being mean to me.” Lainie shrugged her shoulders. “I can’t help what they say about you.”

Story rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on. You can’t help what they think of me? You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“It’s true,” an indignant Lainie huffed. “I say it all the time. ‘You can always write what you want, but you can’t control what happens with your work once you release it out into the world.’ “

“Yeah, yeah,” her companion snapped. “All of that trusting in art and all that blah blah.” She paused a beat. “But aren’t you ALSO the one who says that ‘as authors, we have the power to do anything we want as long as we make it readable and believable?’

“So what’s your point, Story?”

You know the point.”

“Of course I do. I’m the author. I know EVERYTHING about my story.” Lainie added triumphantly, “I say THAT to my kids, too.”

“Then give the whole story. I bet you didn’t even let them read the second and third installments of our conversations, did you? I look much better in those. Instead I just end up looking like the bad guy.”

“I’m perfectly fine with that,” Lainie replied.

“Well, I’m not. And you can tell those kids I’m not mean. I’m honest. I’m the friend who tells you what you need to hear. If I’m rough around the edges, well, that’s just how you see me. So if you don’t start taking all the advice you keep doling out about this ‘power of a writer’ nonsense, I’m going straight to your students and telling on you.”

A silence settled between them. The barks of a neighborhood dog and the rumble of a passing truck outside filled the space. Lainie couldn’t speak. She had too much stuck in her craw. She’s got me again, Lainie thought. How does she always know how to get me?

“I suppose,” Lainie begrudged, “that I could tell the kids that sometimes I get stuck.”

“And?” Story asked expectantly.

“And that sometimes I know I just need a good talking-to to get me going.”

“And?”

“And maybe I should let kids read the rest of the story.”

And?

Heavens, Lainie sighed. She’s going to make me say it, isn’t she? “And I’m grateful for the way you come to remind me that I need to be less of a scaredy-pants about pushing myself in writing.” Lainie waited for Story’s response. “Happy now?”

Story held her gaze for an extra moment before returning to her newsfeed. “Guess the kids will be the judge of that.”

Now, if YOU want the rest of the story, you’re welcome to dig in to our “conversations:”
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Slice of Life 2021 Day 1: Looking

March 1, 2021

Today marks the first day of March, the first day of the Slice of Life blogging challenge. I’ve committed to write each and every day during the month of March and – who knows? – maybe even longer. Join me!

A commitment to writing each and every day. Am I looking forward to it? Down into the abyss of overcommitment? Up into my imagination, into my own world of wonder? In at my sense of resolve and discipline?

There’s no doubt about it. The comfortable side of my brain is dragging her feet, crossing her arms and shaking her head in disbelief that I have committed myself to one. More. Darn. Thing. Still, I know full well from my participation last year how incredibly valuable this challenge is for me as a writer, a teacher, and as a human.

I’ve become braver as a writer. I’m almost as brave as my students, and I still hope to write with the same fearlessness that they do. The more I write with and alongside my students, the more respect and admiration I have for what they do.

I’ve also realized that I have the power to take the writing community I’ve come to enjoy, and bring that to my students. Why shouldn’t they have the benefit of seeing and hearing others discuss their work? Why shouldn’t they see themselves as real writers, with real audiences, writing with genuine purpose?

That’s the work I’m taking on, both this month and in months to come. We’re setting up trusted reader circles: groups of students who read one another’s work, cheer each other on, and offer honest feedback and support.

Today we dipped our toes into the waters. We used a piece of writing I did last year during the Slice of Life challenge as a mentor text for how we might talk about one another’s work. Then, they’ll do the same thing for one another.

Where will it go? Well, I’m hoping this catches on, that students will feel their writing is good enough and strong enough to serve as mentor text any day of the week. I’m hoping kids will see themselves as true peers and collaborators. I’m also hoping I can take this model and farm it out to other teachers.

Look out. Here we come!