Wednesday, August 17, 2016


It it weren't for my friend Marsha, over at Sincerely Reluctant Writer, I would not have posted tonight. Isn't that wonderful, though? It's been two weeks since my last post and I've been doing a great job unwinding and taking care of myself before chaos of school sets in. Simply by updating her blog and telling me about it, Marsha kick-started me back in the right direction of posting. That's awesome!

So, I've been busy relaxing--but, I have not stepped away from different forms of writing and feedback. I have been writing notes to my husband on the mirror, in notebooks, and on lists. I have a special project about this that I will reveal later in the year. My husband is a creative writer, so I recently read his short story progress about a dwarf named Rahn and gave him my feedback. He amazes me in how dedicated he is to setting aside writing time every day--he even sets an alarm and timer!

I've also been busy reading! I'm reading A Night Divided every night before bed. This has caused many restless mornings, as I have stayed up late finishing chapters. I am reading this book because the author, Jennifer Nielsen, will be visiting our school this year! What I like about this book so far is the headstrong protagonist, a girl named Gerta. She reminds me of myself, and my mother, in her tenacious attitude and perception. Although unconventional, I am also reading a video game. Yes, you heard me--a video game! I am currently playing No Man's Sky and there are many interactions with aliens that utilize dialogue and decision-making that move the story forward.

I'm excited to post again next week!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

My HONY Moment

Want to see a creeper-style picture of a stranger?

That's Terry and we knew each other for approximately six seconds before I snapped the picture...just long enough for this conversation:

Me: Hey, sorry for interrupting...are you writing?
Terry: Uh...yeah?
Me: Do you mind if I take your picture? I'm a teacher and I'm always trying to show my students that writers exist in the real world. I know that's super awkward, but...
Terry: Oh, cool! Go ahead!
Me: ::Snaps Picture:: Thank you so much! What are you writing, by the way?
Terry: I'm writing a list of the technology I sell as a side business.  I use this journal as a record.
Me: That's really awesome. Thanks for letting me take your picture and sharing your writing.
Terry: Yeah, no problem. My name is Terry, by the way.
Me: Mel! ::shakes hand::

So concludes my HONY moment (you know, Humans of New York...). At this point, I refocus back on the conversation with my friend and continue to walk to the coffee shop. I'm sure she is utterly confused that I disrupted a complete stranger to asked for their picture, but teachers gotta do what teachers gotta do!

 It's extremely important that my students know that writing exists everywhere and is created everywhere. I can't wait to share that picture and conversation with them. I really like that, in this particular case, writing serves a utilitarian purpose for Terry. He owns a business and needs to keep track of sales using lists and notes. In A Writer's Notebook, Ralph Fletcher stresses that writing can take many forms: memories, rambling notes, snippets of dialogue, lists...even thinking!

While I was out and about, I saw more people stretched on on the grass reading, writing, doing Yoga (weird), and experiencing the world around them. I noticed real-world reading in the wild (coined by Donalyn Miller in her book sharing the same phrase). Inspiration is everywhere!

Do you have a pic of someone (or you) reading and writing in the wild?! Share it in the comments, below.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Writing Process: A Graphic

I've spent my summer reading. And thinking. And reading.

Most of the time, the books I've read are professional development books with for-pleasure books peppered in. Honestly, I know I should be reading more books off my #tbr list, but reading PD books during the summer is really the only time I have a fresh eye and perspective on strategies (definitely not as patient and open-minded during the school year).

This week, I finished Writing Workshop by Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi. My biggest takeaway from this book has been about the writing process and what it CAN look like. They state on p. 61, "The best way to get exemplary writing from our students is by helping each of them find an effective writing process".

Notice, they said AN...not THE. When it comes down to it, each writer approaches their craft differently. Sometimes, they need an organizer. Sometimes, they're ready to draft. We shouldn't be prescribing organizer after organizer to our students and hoping the formulas will teach them to write. What they need are options and flexibility.

I tried to boil down chapter six of Writing Workshop into one graphic my learners can glue on the inside cover of their writer's notebook. It truly was an eye-opener for me.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

ISTE #YEN Podcast Take-Aways

Neebe:  and @dneebe

Podcasts have been frequenting my iPhone this summer as I paint, sew, and read. The latest podcast I listened to was ISTE's Young Educator Network (#yenchat or @ISTE_YEN on the Twitters). The episode I listened to was from 2014, entitled "Meet Diana Neebe: ISTE's 2014 Outstanding Young Educator". Even though it's a bit outdated now (they spoke briefly of the "up-and-coming" Google Classroom) it was still a very valuable time investment. Neebe (pronounced neebee) discussed her thoughts on invisible technology. Here are my takeaways and a few ideas they shared!

  • Neebe's first interactions with technology:
    • Her students made children's books on Blurb and shared them with the elementary students next door. "That early moment with tech was one that really resonated with me," she said. "If I was the only person to see the whole lifecycle of a student's work, that wasn't good enough for them. They needed to have a more authentic audience for them to write to and read to for it to really matter for them."
  • Digital Portfolio Use:
    • Digital portfolios allowed students to reflect on their experiences with reading, writing, listening and speaking. They made podcasts tackling one of the core questions asked during their course, interviewed others, weaved in literature, and uploaded them to SoundCloud. Her students housed these materials in Weebly or Wix
    • Students who are usually quiet or have "closet skills" come out and shine when given these opportunities to share themselves with others
  • Invisible Technology:
    • Neebe feels she is doing her job right when the technology in her class feels invisible. It's more meaningful to have students say, "Today, we collaborated to write scripts on Great Gatsby" instead of, "Today, I joined a Google Hangout with my classmates."
    • When the tool becomes invisible and the learning becomes center-stage, she's doing her job right. Students should be collaborating, working to their highest potential, and using tech as a tool to get there.
  • Goals for technology integration
    • She tries to be very deliberate about her use of technology. For example, she wanted her students to ask any questions they had about immigration in a class of students with different backgrounds. So, she set up a Padlet wall wherein her students could pose their questions anonymously--demonstrating that all voices mattered. 
    • Deliberate decisions that serve the needs of her students are paramount. She also wants her students to see reading and writing as something that happens in the real world. She tries to give as many authentic opportunities as possible:
      • GoodReads: Students review books, then create QR codes to their reviews to stick on the inside covers of novels in her classroom library. This helps other students decide between books to read and allows them to connect with their peers. This word-of-mouth conversation is the most like how people choose books in the real-world (through recommendation of a friend).
  • Feedback is Crucial-- so is audience
    • Collaboration and community should be staples in the classroom. This can be achieved as simply as using Google Docs to have students peer-edit, revise, and make suggestions for each other's writing. It's not enough for students to write for the teacher--they have to have real audiences to practice for.
  • Beginning & Planning New Units
    • Ask yourself what you want students to get out of it. "There's this idea that school is this weird place where we make up all the rules, with deadlines and tests. We want them to realize what this looks like in the real world". Look for authentic examples of the skills being used in the real world.
    • Ask questions and get as much information as possible. Post questions to PLNs on Twitter --> "Any ideas on portfolios?". You may not get exactly what you're looking for you will be building background.
    • Don't throw new things at them for the sake of it. Try considering what tools they have used thus far in the year, the skills they bring to the table independently, and utilizing them.
    • In creating day-to-day plans, cut out anything that isn't needed. Don't overwhelm students with a laundry list of things to DO. Don't try to cram everything in.
    • Check in frequently to determine what needs to be scrapped, and what should be added. Don't be afraid to throw out plans you've made, if learners are needing their experiences to be tweaked.
  • EdTech Tools they mentioned
    • Infinite Thinking Machine: "a high-energy Internet TV show directly targeted at K-12
      educators, parents and students. Our goal is to inspire creativity and innovation in education." I want to check out Hacks for a Paperless Classroom.
    • GoAnimate: A whiteboard animation tool to make videos--Diana Neebe warns you may get sucked in and want to recreate ALL of your flipped lessons to include whiteboard animation. Check out her award video for ISTE's Outstanding Young Educator.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Most Embarrassing Moment

I was listening to a podcast today with Lindy West on Nerdette-- an interesting show that only seems to be getting funnier. In the podcast, the hosts discuss West's new memoir Shrill. West speaks a lot toward her transformation as an adult, her life trajectory. She emphasized that a critical point in her life was when she stopped caring so much what other people think and became unafraid to embarrass herself. In celebration of that realization, she devotes an entire chapter to her most embarrassing moments. For her, it was freeing to write about. Let's see if it's as liberating for me!

Here's one of my earliest embarrassing moments. I will post more throughout my blogging experience.

    When I was first grade, I was so pumped to be in school. I had dominated my kiddy peers in the games of pre-K and Kindergarten. I could out-spell any of those fools and read faster than Christopher Colomberger (the "best reader" in the class...sure). I was so ready to be numero uno--a first grader. 
    Even though I knew I was a top dog, I still had to prove it to my older sister. Every day she would walk me home from the bus--a phrase I use lightly because she would just walk ahead of me with her friends. I used to get so mad when she ignored me--I was a big girl, after all! I was in first grade. Why couldn't they let me walk with them? As if it wasn't bad enough, she had told all her friends that I was adopted from China. And they believed her. Not fair.
    Well, one day, I let her have it. I don't know what I said or did, but she left me to walk home alone. Alone. With a bladder full a pink sloshy mix containing cafeteria milk and red Kool-Aid. Frantically, I started speed-walking home, knees bent together to avoid catastrophe. Every bump in the sidewalk flipped my tiny bladder over and over. I finally made it to the front doorstep and reached for the knob, only to find she had locked me out! "Sarah!" I cried. No answer. "Sarah, let me in!" Nothing. "I'm going to tell mom!" My infinitesimal voice pitched itself up toward our bedroom window. She still wouldn't let me in. 
    So, I stood there in my denim overalls, pink paisley "germ" shirt, and yellow worker boots and cried. I cried because my little legs were worn out. I cried because I dressed myself that morning and those overalls were stifling. I cried because my big sister didn't want me around. I cried so much I started to pee. All. Over. Our doorstep. What made it worse was that my neighborhood friends, who were playing dodgeball in the parking lot, overheard my whole crying fit and came to check it out. What they saw was a tiny girl with puffy cheeks and pee-pee-pants. 
   That moment was one of MANY embarrassing times for me as a kid--other pivotal moments include  my long-time crush Christopher Colomberger (I couldn't resist a good reader) and some diary mishaps. 
  Oh, my sister? Totally grounded. So, maybe it wasn't all that bad. 

Here's some pictures of my little(er) self:

Watching the fireworks in Dalton, Massachusetts with Heather, my Mom, Kathy, and Jessie.

Camping with my best neighborhood friends: Jared, Heather, and Dylan. My sister is standing right behind me.

All the neighborhood kids together the day we moved to Virginia when I was ten. I miss them incredibly.

Swimming in the pool with my mom, baby cousin, Trina, and Little John.

Me and my cat, Cow. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

100 Instagram Pictures to Inspire 21st Century Writers

I was looking through my Google Drive today and found a folder called "writing journals". Inside, I found few long-forgotten resources collected from different websites. I opened a file named "picture prompts" and saw a slideshow with a ton of pictures writers can use for inspiration!

I decided to update the presentation with Instagram pictures, making it a little friendlier for my 21st Century learners. Though it took several hours, it was a lot of fun hunting through Instagram. I used these hashtags to weed through the billions of results:


I've posted the presentation to Teachers Pay Teachers, but as a "thanks for dropping by", click this Google Drive link to see the presentation. Enjoy!

If you would like to purchase the presentation (and support the many hours of work that went into collecting these pics), please visit my Store on TPT

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Teacher's Write #5: Virtue

Teacher's Write #5 is all about character development:

For this write, I didn't follow the prompt precisely. In keeping with my previous Teacher's Write post, I decided to make it more personal. I'm practicing opening up a bit more with my writing. Today, I'm focusing on Shannon, my sister-in-law who died in October. Thinking about her, brainstorming about her characteristics, it felt good in a raw sort of way---like ripping a bandaid off a cut and feeling air hit it for the first time.

My handwriting can be illegible, and I also revise better when typing, so here is what I wrote about one of Shannon's virtues turned flaw.

Shannon knew what people were really like before I did. Her judge-of-character was a well-honed skill, an armor she donned when meeting new people. At times when friendships broke down, or people showed their true nature, she became hurt and angry. These feelings must have stemmed from her disappointment because she knew it was coming all along. She knew she would be let down. She was accustomed to it. She was a talented musician whose crowds were always lacking. She was an adept singer whose videos went unwatched. She was a funny, wild, caring woman whose jokes and raucous laughter were met with judgement. I remember the screams of my family during her funeral arrangements, their frustration in the fact that we couldn't get over ourselves long enough to plan something meaningful for her. She was let down in life and in death. The fact that she opened herself up to pain, that she took risks on people, was her virtue and her flaw.