Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Day 12: The Story of Us

 Tuesdays with Morrie, Frankenstein, & The Wednesday Surprise

The day began like any other, 
a couple of shares from loved books.
And then an unexpected lesson 
to help you be as smart as paint
and reread 
or listen 
to gain a new outlook.

Then we delved into something much deeper,
the stories from our hearts began to bloom,
it was then that we realized
our time at this institute
was much bigger
and we did
what we thought we couldn't do.

We grew brave with Lauren and "pulled the trigger".
We dreaded and longed to watch the Cubs game with Iris' dad.
We twinkled as teachers with Tiffaney,
crying happy tears, not sad.

We bore our battle scars with Theresa, 
realizing they were only a smaller part of the bigger "us".
We tangled ourselves in prickly, thorny feelings with Erin
and learned that revising is a must!

We welcomed sleepy, flying dreams with Amy. 
We flirted with the idea of leaving with Kris. 
We recalled the warmth of a loved one with Amanda
and promised to always recognize our bliss.

We grew strong as mothers with Madeline.
We were stung by the snickers thrown at our Sandra-strong hearts
and were reminded that the false construct of peace
could come up, like a rerun,
and tear us apart.

We were reminded to live mindfully 
and always intentionally by Jan.
We were told by Alex
that the phonejack
was definitely
the best place to stick a crayon.

We danced down the isles with Katrina.
We heard our inner child's voice with Michelle.
We thought about our pasts with Marianna
and remembered to live in the present as well.

And now
We reflect on the strategies we gained,
we appreciate the times we writers struggled,
we take all that remains
and try to add to the greater puzzle.

But what we wouldn't forget was our time here
to grow, to love, to know one another
becoming mightier in our passion,
and woven as internal teachers to each other.

We thank you for your time,
We thank you for your commitment,
and we will leave this time


We responded with written applause.
Cheering loudly through our words.
Then we made our way to The Ogen
oh, so, re-luct-ant-ly,
not ready to disperse. 

We shared some drinks and memories,
We talked like camping buddies,
And then we knew it was time to go,
to meet again after the school year begins,
which will be
oh, so, LOVELY.

Until then, my fabulous writing friends!
Keep writing, keep smiling,
and keep being funny! :)


After all, aren't we all? :)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Day 11: The Empty Shelves

Twelve days ago I sat on my cozy brown leather couch watching a film telling myself I was going to stay awake as long as possible to lengthen my weekend and avoid having to wake up the next morning before I was ready. “What was I thinking signing up for this workshop,” I grumbled.

Fast forward to this morning.  While walking into the building, I mentioned to Lauren that I could not believe that the workshop was almost over. Agreeing, she replied that at the same time it feels as if we have been working together for the last six months. She was so right. Walking into the library and getting started for the day felt incredibly normal and comfortable as if I had been doing so all year. 

We began the day just like any other, sharing stories and sharing pieces of ourselves. Mariana read from her favorite books starting with a classroom favorite called De Colores and other Latin American Folk Songs by Jose-Luis Orozco which she regularly sings to her students despite her self-described lack of singing talent. By taking risks in front of her students, they feel more comfortable taking risks of their own, she explained.  She then shared a favorite of the whole group, Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. This book, Mariana explained warms her heart as it did for all of us listening to her read it. She loves it because it reminds her of her own children who are growing up too quickly. La Maravilla by Alfredo Via Jr. and El Conocimiento de Uno Mismo by J. Krishnamurti followed in order to demonstrate, as Mariana says, how “complicated” she is. As is the case with many of us, we find ourselves dwelling on the past or planning for the future rather than experiencing and enjoying the moments we have now. These books are helping Mariana to live in her "now."

The group then transitioned to a reflective activity. With posters labeled north, south, east, and west, we grouped ourselves based on which direction we felt best fit our individual personalities when working in groups such as department or committee meetings. A few of us fell into each category highlighting the importance of balance in any productive group. We reflected as a whole on the importance of understanding our individual work habits and that that understanding along with the knowledge of other personalities can help us work with and lead the myriad of individuals in our buildings.

Then came time to work where we chose to meet with our workshop groups, complete our writing pieces, or continue our inquiry projects. Some of us hurried to finish our Heinemann orders as representatives came to clear the lending library, the soon to be empty shelves a reminder that our time together was limited.

Since she will be unable to join us on our final day, Mariana “published” a piece she has been working on over the last two weeks we have been together. The piece she read highlighted the difficulties of finding the balance between work and home life- an experience we can all agree is a challenge.

Michelle followed by sharing her blog post from Friday reminding us of all the work we have accomplished and the importance of maintaining a sanitary work environment.

We finished the day with additional work time to continue our inquiry projects and personal writing pieces.

Before we left, we completed our exit slip answering the question How can the IWP and our group support you? “Um… Can you guys just follow me around for the entire school year and never leave?” I thought.  

As we have said over and over again during this session, we have become a community and as I watch the news and the current state of affairs, I continually think of the oasis of calm our little corner of Whitney Young High School has become. It is an oasis for which I am so glad I signed up.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Day 10: Cognitive Coaching and Interest Groups

Before I begin with my recap of today's events, I would like to first send some well wishes to everyone that has fallen prey to this stubborn summer bug: Jan, Maria (Mariana), Katrina, Lauren, and myself. If any of the aforementioned are still feeling under the weather next week please keep an arm lengths distance away from Madeline who has softball tournaments to attend. Cheer her on from a distance please. Get well soon.

On another note, we must also say farewell to Katrina. Her last day in the program was Thursday. Her light, joy, and presence will be missed. Have fun on vacation, never stop writing, and hope to see you again in October.

Our daily read alouds by fellow SLIs have been one of the many highlights for me at this workshop. Today I started the day with a very gripping read aloud of Sharon Draper's first historical fiction, Copper Sun. This novel tells the story of 15 year old Amari who witnesses the destruction of her village, slaughter of her family, and is then sold into slavery. This heart-wrenching story takes you on her journey of finding hope, inner peace, and freedom. 

Alex's read aloud lightened the mood as he read a total of four poems from two of Shel Silverstein's books. The messages are poignant and the versus are hilarious. Shel Silverstein's poems were a perfect way to wrap up a long week. Alex also brought an extra treat to share with us. An action chapter book he wrote in the eighth grade was sure to bring smiles and laughter to our group. Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of this book out of respect for the author, but this is one action story that Jan can definitely get in to. 
Alex reading aloud
After the read alouds we got into the business of the day. If you borrowed any books from Jan, Amy, or Heinemann please return them this Monday. We will also have a tentative location for our celebration lunch this Tuesday. We will be having lunch at The Ogden pending Lauren's work schedule. We will come to a final decision on Monday. We also picked a day for our final meet up. We will meet Thursday October 6, 2016 in the evening for three hours. If this day does not work out, we will meet up on October 20, 2016 for the IWP Day of Writing.

Amy then gave a presentation on Cognitive Coaching. Cognitive Coaching is a process where teachers think deeply about their practice. Through the use of questioning this non-valuative process can help educators improve their craft. For more information please visit the following site

Video 11-1 Planning Conversation

After concluding this presentation, we were then divided into groups to discuss topics that we still had questions about. The three groups included assessment and evaluation of writing, mentor texts, and ELL writers. Below you will find a brief list of takeaways from each group. Our day finally ended with self directed writing time.
Group Notes
Assessment Group
Mentor Texts
  • Use mentor texts as a model teach any form of the writing craft
  • Think about the text broadly
  • Take notice of sentence structure, word choice, and organization
  • Grade the writing process not the actual writing
  • Have students evaluate themselves
  • Have students evaluate each other
  • Take notes during one on one conferences
  • Create a rubric for assessing the process
ELL Writers
  • Find out the mindset about the home language and English language for both the student and the parents.
  • It takes 5-6 years to learn a new language when taught in the home language
  • Use graphic organizers
  • Utilize Total Physical Response (TPR): connecting words with actions/movements
  • Teach academic language
  • ELLs think in their home language when trying to write in the new language
  • Sentence Starters are helpful to ELL writers

Friday, July 22, 2016

Day 9: What Do We Do with a Problem?

I know these posts are meant to be more of a description of the day’s events, and I dutifully took notes for this purpose throughout Thursday’s session, but when I sat down to write an account of our day, I was struck by the need to say more.  My writing group partners should find this statement ironic.  If there is one thing I’m known for it’s that I’m a person of few words.  I sketched a quick outline of Thursday’s major events and began to summarize, but the right words wouldn’t come.  I had to set the work aside after a short while because it was time for our Local School Council to meet and approve next year’s budget.  I went to the meeting and listened to the preview of the difficult times ahead.  On Friday, there is an optional follow up meeting to share this same information with the faculty and to address questions we might have.  I decided that the best place for me to spend Friday would be with our workshop.  I find our time together too rewarding to pass up, even if it means sacrificing a chance to get some clarity on how next year is shaping up.

When I returned home again to work on my blog post, what I wanted to express about Thursday was becoming clear.  I wanted not only to describe the events of the day, but also to express their significance.

Amanda reads from What Do You Do with a Problem?
We welcomed Iris back today!  Her warmth and positivity are defining characteristics of this group. Amanda started Thursday's events with a read-aloud that featured excerpts from three texts: Kobi Yamada’s children’s book, What Do You Do with a Problem?, Markus Zusak’s YA novel, The Book Thief, and Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s novel, Fish in a Tree.  One common thread among the three choices was the characters’ struggles to overcome obstacles, a theme that resonates with us as we plan for the challenges that await us in the coming school year.  As we enter the final days of our workshop, I think it’s so important to reflect on the reasons that brought us together in the first place.  When Jan and Amy posed that question on the very first day, I wrote that I wanted to learn from other teachers, to improve my own practice, and to try something new outside of the usual PD offerings.  While this program has more than satisfied those three reasons, the most important piece that I will take away from our three weeks together is the feeling of empowerment that a strong community brings. 

What do you do with a problem?  The answer should never be “nothing.”

When we updated each other on the status of our inquiry projects, we had a dozen answers for what to do with a problem.  Trying to list them all in this post, I found, did not do justice to these ideas or to the hard work that we have invested in them.  Our ideas seek solutions in many different ways, and they shine with such great potential.  Despite these differences, they are all rooted in the strength of the community we have built this summer, and they will, in turn, strengthen the communities we return to this fall.    

After we reported on the status of the class, we shared resources with each other.

The discussions around our work spread throughout the library.

Madeline transitioned us into the afternoon with a phenomenal blog post that discussed, among many other things, the importance of equipping students with the skills to effect positive changes in the classroom and the community at large.  Katrina shared a text by Constance McGrath called The Inclusion Classroom Problem Solver, and Sandra shared a strategy that pairs snippets of student writing with images that is a fun way to bring students' work out of their notebooks and into the classroom.

Ben Kuhlman visited during the afternoon to share a wealth of technology resources with us.  He tailored his presentation to the questions and needs we expressed earlier in the workshop.  Ben discussed using Google Docs (make sure to keep your drive organized), blogs, a site that lets students compare drafts of a work in progress, and ways to raise money for technology at our schools.  Ben also has a presence on Twitter, where he communicates with teachers in schools all over the country.  He understandably gets excited when the teacher-researchers he admires join his online conversations.  I was amazed by just how many resources are out there, and we are fortunate that he shared a link to his presentation so we can explore it in the future.  Ben truly expanded the definition of a community for me.  He participated in SLI several years ago, so there was an immediate sense that he belonged in our group.  Ben showed us how teachers can use technology to create and participate in communities that they never may have accessed otherwise.  His notes on how to find funding for technology-driven projects or for devices showed us how to open the door for community members or organizations to have a more personal stake in our students' learning.

As we pursue our inquiry projects this coming year, I truly hope that we can all carve out some time to reconnect with one another.  What we have built in a few short weeks is so difficult to do during the school year, and that is why what we have done is so valuable.

Further Resources:

Art Institute Teacher Programs

Ben Kuhlman's Technology Resource Slideshow

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Day 8: Be the Change You Want to See

It was either a strange coincidence or exceptional planning-- while our daily agenda stated Social Emotional Learning as a focus for the afternoon, we also happened to spend much of the day checking in on our own social emotional well being. This could be one of the many examples of how our work at this institute is organic and meaningful--we have come to own what we discuss, integrating theories and pedagogy into the very fabric of our being.  

Perhaps we were subconsciously acknowledging that there is an inextricable connection between teaching social emotional learning and attending to our own social emotional needs. After all, this job we have been called upon to undertake can be all-encompassing, and as Sandra noted earlier this week, the importance of self-care is paramount to maintaining longevity and effectiveness in the classroom.

If those first two paragraphs make absolutely no sense to you, no need to worry. It could simply be yet another example of a teacher who is suffering from DTM syndrome. But please, bear with me! I am taking a risk in playing around with the structure of this blog piece. I am making an attempt at being clever and creative, something I am not in real life. And now I have you as my audience, you poor things. So here goes…

Michelle is back! We were greeted with her return, and although she probably wasn’t feeling one hundred percent healthy, she pushed through the day's work, making sure to keep her contact limited to the sanitary kind. Thanks for sanitary tips, Nancy S!

Another strange coincidence, or perhaps another example of clairvoyant planning, was the connection between the two writing pieces that were read aloud to start the day. I read three vignettes from Sandra Cisneros’s classic coming of age novel The House on Mango Street--which blends poetry and prose to touch on a variety of themes and issues, including femininity and gender identity as seen through the eyes of a Latina adolescent- and Theresa read Benazir Bhutto’s speech “Male Dominance of Women” which so elegantly expresses the urgency for gender equality, not only in Islam, but in institutions across the globe. Although different in genre and style, both pieces were excellent examples of phenomenal writing. Sandra noted how the speech showed the beauty of nonfiction--the way Bhutto used parallelism, repetition, imagery, and vivid language. It’s fascinating how Theresa’s love for her content area--social science-- and my love for literature that breaks the rules and redefines what powerful writing is somehow organically merged into a text set on feminism. 

The read-alouds led us into a conversation about the recent tragedies and challenges facing our country today. Many of us expressed a sense of feeling overwhelmed and somewhat helpless in the face of such seemingly insurmountable problems. We agreed that while we may not have the answers nor ability to cure the ills plaguing our country and world, there are ways we can be the change we want to see. Jan recommended using Steve’s book From Inquiry to Action to empower students with the skills and tools they need in order to become changemakers themselves.

At this point, Amy accurately sensed that we needed some time to write. Our teachers know us so well! We carried our materials to our favorite spaces and began the work of the day. The room buzzed softly with quiet conversations, while pens, pencils, and laptop keys recorded our efforts of putting thoughts on the page. Writing is hard! And we were hard at work today. But the comfort and support of our writing groups fueled our hearts and minds as we pushed through our writing time.  

Writing group time is a treasure. Truly. This is not an overstatement. To hear the evolution of a person’s work, to listen to their struggles and goals, to support them as they try to make sense out of a web of complexity and chaos--this experience nourishes the soul like nothing else. Our groups have become intimate circles of inspiration. I consider myself lucky!

Before we moved on to work on inquiry projects, Steve felt compelled to make a special announcement and used his teacher voice to get our attention. Like the Quakers say, the spirit moved him. Steve thanked us for filling him with hope. Positive energy, enthusiasm to work and learn, excitement to teach, and taking care of one another--all attributes Steve has seen in us. To this, I say thank you, to Steve, to Jan, to Amy, and to all of our guest speakers for providing us with what has so far been the most unique and fulfilling professional development experience I have ever participated in. (Sorry, I’m a touchy, feely ENFP). 

Inquiry work looked exactly like what you would hope it looks like in your classroom: busy, individualized, messy, and productive. Energy flowed freely throughout the library, as people perused books, sat in corners thinking and writing, huddled together in conferences, and refilled their plates with enough sustenance to keep the brains buzzing. The movement of people and ideas cannot be adequately captured by the words in this post. But what a sight to see! Just the movement alone was enough to put any teacher who loves to DTM and nerd-out in complete awe! Lunch? Who needs lunch? We don’t take a “lunch” at this workshop. We snack while we work. That’s how we roll. 

The second half of our day was spent exploring the topics of science and social emotional learning. We were led by Nancy, Becky, and Sandy (sorry, didn’t catch their last names). The presenters got us up and moving right away, and provided us with a cool science toy to play with. In groups of 3 and 4, we experimented with our “Energy Sticks” (Energy Stick) asking questions, posing hypotheses, playing around with making music, changing our hand placement, and studying the changes we observed. Luckily for me (the person who is scientifically challenged) Katrina was in my group. She clearly articulated how and why the energy travelled through our bodies and into the energy stick (you’ll have to ask her for a more detailed explanation :)

Our presenters also touched on the use of science journals as both a record of student learning as well as a means to inform future instruction. Science journals can function as study guides as well as a portfolio of student learning and growth. The presenters emphasized that science journals can and should house words and images, symbols, illustrations, and diagrams that students can create as visuals of their understanding (also known as sketchnoting). As always, it’s important to model HOW to write in the science notebook, as well as to look at exemplars, such as notebooks kept by Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. We had a chance to practice writing in a science journal by writing about our experience with the energy stick. A key takeaway was that the science notebook can function much like a writer’s notebook-- and that is, it is the place to store curiosities, questions, and ideas that help students develop their understanding of science concepts.

A strong component of any presentation for teachers includes great resources, and our presenters shared many, most relating to science and social emotional learning. Those resources were augmented by the SEL success stories shared by Katrina and Amanda--proud moments of students working together to solve their own problems. We were reminded of the importance of giving students time and space to solve their own problems. And if we’re consistent and intentional about this, students will eventually learn how to solve other problems as well. So, SEL leads to stronger social justice education and civic engagement.

The final part of the presentation was focused on the discussion of a few scenarios, or dilemmas, in which we had to figure out appropriate reparations based on the harm that was done. The questions we wrestled with included: what can you do if you hurt someone? What are the appropriate reparations? We read a few different scenarios, each increasing in complexity, and brainstormed ideas for how to repair the harm done. The presenters emphasized that there is no single right or wrong answer, and the approach greatly depends on the student.

RESOURCES shared by Presenters
    • How to get started with notebooks
      • Website containing current events, leveled texts by lexile, and text sets
      • Subscription is optional

Other Odds & Ends:
  • Reminder that on the last day we will share our writing piece with the whole group. It is up to each person whether or not they’d like to share their piece in the group Google folder.
  • Sandra- a reservoir of coolness and inspiration:
    • Idea Potluck: takes place in a home in Wicker Park on the 3rd Tuesday of every month. Pay for ticket to watch. Performers are by invitation only. Each performance includes 8-10 people. Each person has 6 minutes to share an idea using the medium of their choice (song, poem, storytelling, etc.). Organized by Mac & Cheese Productions (who also organize “The Fear Experiment”. But the last one of these is this fall...sadly :( Also, connected to LOY- Life of Yes, which are workshops based on using improv.
    • This past Tuesday’s Idea Potluck served Mary Schmich as a dish. She is also the author of the Tribune article Jan sent us. Cool connection!
    • Idea Potluck is also great networking opportunity. So go, watch, laugh, maybe cry, and get your network on!
  • Lauren- expert at fueling the body and soul
    • Grown Folk Stories: Storytelling opportunity. Takes place on the 3rd Thursday each month from 8-10pm at the Silver Room in Hyde Park. The purpose is to strengthen human connection. Your story can’t be scripted; you must share from the heart. Get there early, maybe bring a stool. And, BONUS, it’s BYOB :)
Our day wrapped up a little early, but there is no doubt that it was well-deserved. Not so fast, though. Because even though the exit slips were written and people were free to go, the library emptied very slowly, with many teachers continuing their conversations, plotting and planning, sharing ideas and resources, as is typical of this group that is anything but!