Posts Tagged ‘Two Writing Teachers’

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

Today is March 31st, and I have successfully written a blog post every day this month. Today, many of us in the Two Writing Teachers community are breathing a little easier knowing we made it. Earlier this year, I received an Emergency Encouragement Writing Kit from Irene Latham. When it came time to make a new journal cover, I cut out this quote and placed it front and center.

I don’t always (actually, rarely do I) believe it to be true. But just in case it is what the world needs from me, I keep at it. I have to thank you, my dear reader, for your dedication to listening. You honor me with your presence.

According to Kate DiCamillo, writing is a “sacred task”. And though I am not and never will be a writer like Kate, I believe that what I do here is sacred.

It matters. Story matters. What we do matters.

I attended a mental health seminar last night. I was pleasantly surprised that there was food and wine. The intention of the evening was to let teachers know their own self-worth. The speaker was a local counselor who talked about ways to take care of ourselves. She repeated a mantra: “I am worthy. I am enough. I am amazing.”

We all have times when we feel like imposters. Writing a blog post each day that friends and strangers can read makes you vulnerable. Often I feel like I don’t know what I am doing. Thank you for reading and appreciating and caring.

Tomorrow begins a new chapter: National Poetry Month. I am committing to writing a poem each day and leading my students to do the same. April is my favorite month of the year. Click here to read a post I wrote for Cardinal Rule Press about National Poetry Month. Happy writing. Happy reading.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

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See more posts at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life

I have been following the Two Writing Teachers blog for at least 6 years. At NCTE in 2014, I sat next to Melanie Meehan at the Slicer dinner. Melanie was not yet a member of the TWT team. We talked about writing, and she asked me to join her online critique group. At the time, she and I were both writing middle grade fiction.

Fast forward a few years and now Melanie has published a professional book. I won her book Every Child Can Write from a TWT blog giveaway. I’ve been reading and marking it up ever since it arrived. I am so impressed with the attention to detail and practical advice for our most challenged writers. Melanie calls them striving writers. In my opinion, all writers are striving writers.

I teach gifted kids, but that doesn’t mean they are all efficient writers. They struggle with many of the things Melanie covers in her book, idea generating, making transitions, adding details.

When reading a professional book or attending professional development, we look through the lens of our own experience. My students write a Slice of Life each week. I have been grading these posts using a rubric. Melanie made me look deeper at what I was asking my students to do. Were they authentically involved in the process?

Melanie asks her readers to consider designing writing checklists with kids. “Just as we need to understand the concepts, so do our students. Additionally, using their own language is powerful because students are then intrinsically involved in the self-assessment process…Student involvement in creating checklists leads to understanding on their part, and when they understand, the are better able to move along the ladder of mastery.”

I decided today to ask my students what they would include on a checklist for their SOLs. This is the list they compiled:

  • Details: Details help the reader imagine the scene
  • Your story: First person POV
  • Voice: Unique, humorous, new, emotional, have personality
  • Defining unknown words for others
  • Stay on topic
  • Imagery: Use the senses
  • Grammar
  • Paragraphs: Change with new topic or new speaker
  • Spelling

I found a few of their ideas interesting. They have really internalized the importance of using paragraph structure. They also see the value of using their own point of view as well as writing in their own voice. I appreciated that they added “stay on topic.” So often students will not know what to write about so their posts ramble. They do know that keeping to the topic is important to their readers. And their readers are each other.

This conversation inspired by Melanie helped me show my students they are writers and value their input into the whole process. And I’m only on Chapter Four!

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The end of the school year came too quickly this year. The Two Writing teachers blog series, however, helped prepare me for the inevitable- summer writing slide. Kidblog.org published this blog post of mine around summer writing.

The gifted program in my district has always recognized the need for summer reading.  We carefully choose a list of books and send home a required reading packet.  Last year we tweaked the requirements and the kids actually responded that they enjoyed doing the work.  The packet was designed around choice and activities that were interesting and motivating.

What about summer writing slide?  My students actively write every day of their time with me.  Will they keep writing over the summer?  Not likely.  So I took it upon myself to encourage summer writing.

I found a stack of summer postcards in my endless supplies of teacher stuff.  On each card, I placed a label with our kidblog site address, my home address, and my email address, three different ways my students could keep in touch over the summer.

Friday was our last official day together as these last two weeks are full of end of the year activities.  I brought out marbleized journals.  We start the school year decorating a journal for the year, so why not close the year with decorating a summer writing journal?

Have you started thinking about summer slide?  What are your plans?  Share your blog posts in the link below.


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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

I was just informed that March is SOL challenge month. It’s a cruel, cruel world. We have to make SOL every single day. I don’t know if I will survive this deadly month. Okay, that was a little ( lot ) over the top of the ice cream cone. Yeah, that was a metaphor.

That’s kind of like saying over the mountain but in your mind picture a mountain sized ice cream cone with a ton of chocolate going right on the top and turning it into a chocolate avalanche. Did you do that? Good for you. Now I will grant you as many wishes as you want. NOT!! I am not a genie. But if I had one wish it would be not doing any Slice of Life challenge posts ever again. That is how bad I don’t want to do the Slice of Life challenge.

by Andrew, Feb. 21, 2017

“Andrew, the Slice of Life Challenge is voluntary. Are you saying you don’t want to try it this year? Should I make you a sticker chart?”

“I’m not making any promises. Yeah, go ahead, make me a chart.”

I teach my gifted students year to year throughout their elementary schooling. This is a blessing and a curse. I am blessed to know my students really well. I don’t have to pretest to find their reading levels. I don’t have to do writing prompts to see how well they write. I know all this.  They also know that when March rolls around it’s torture time. Time to write a Slice of Life every day!

Every year I try something new to motivate my students. Last year it was these buttons designed by Stacey Shubitz of the Two Writing Teachers. My students proudly collected badges until about March 15th when the newness wore off.

I also use incentives. One day of the month I hold a commenting challenge. The reward, one Skittle a comment. I soon ran out of Skittles.  I buy a book for each child who completes the challenge.  I usually buy 3-5 books.

Another thing we’ve done is connected with other classes doing the challenge. I’d like to do that again this year.  If your class is using Kidblogs, please request to follow by signing in to Kidblog and posting my URL, http://kidblog.org/class/mrs-simons-sea/. Click on the Follow button. Once I approve, I can follow you back. It’s fun and motivating to connect kids across the globe.

After seeing Holly Mueller’s students’ long slices, I implemented a word count rule. This has been both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is found when my students elaborate and expand their thoughts like you see in Andrew’s post above. The curse happens when they ramble on and type things like, “I’m up to 198 words, just 2 more to go!”

This is the nature of the beast that is SOLC! Blessings and curses! We are going to jump in despite the deep waters. Tomorrow we return from a break. Our challenge will begin. I wonder where this journey will take us.

I wrote a blog post for Kidblogs about the Slice of Life Classroom Challenge here.
If you wrote a DigiLit post, please link up with this button.

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

I have been reading many posts lately about writing. As a teacher/writer, those are the posts that resonate with me. But I started wondering, I mean, really, how much more can be written about writing? At some point, don’t we all just have to do it?

I enjoyed Pernille Ripp’s recent post I am Not a Writer- On Developing Student Writer Identity. She writes about how her own writing process informed what she knows about students and writing. In her list of things to keep in mind about student writers, she points out that “All writers are writers.” At first this statement sounds like “well, duh!” as my kids would say, but when you really think about it, how often do I make this claim? When I make myself tell someone I am a writer, I feel awkward. I make excuses. I rarely say it with any kind of confidence. What does it take to claim the writer in me? How do I encourage my students to claim their writer selves?

I follow the Two Writing Teachers blog. There are now eight writing teachers, and each one has a unique writer’s voice. They are currently running a blog series on “Discovering the Writer’s Life.” Deb Frazier wrote a post this week “So, Why Do I Write? Discovering the Writer’s Life.” She wrote “As a teacher who writes, I know the power of an active writing community.” This has always been true for me. I have sought out other writers. I have had a number of different writing groups. Each has led me, fed me, and nurtured my writing life.

Most recently, I joined three other teacher-writers from different areas of the states in a Voxer chat. I have to admit, at first, I was skeptical. I thought, “We’re just going to talk about writing? No writing?” I was so wrong. We talk every day. I have more than a writing group. I have a support group. We do share writing, thoughts about writing, and ideas for later projects. But we are also becoming close friends. Today I celebrate this group. We call ourselves “Four Friends Writing,” and that is exactly who we are for each other–friends.

Through this life of blogging, I have connected with some wonderful people. Laura Shovan has invited me to participate in a daily writing challenge for February. I think this is my third year to do it. Nothing like a challenge to make me write. And this one is poetry. I love writing poetry. So each day I take a look at the found object image, open up the note pad on my computer, and compose something. Other writers are doing it, too. It’s never too late to join. This is another community of supportive writers. As I write this, I realize I haven’t written a poem for today yet. Guess I need to follow my own advice and do. it.

Join the TWT's Twitter chat on Feb. 8 at 8:30 EST. #TWTblog

Join the TWT’s Twitter chat on Feb. 8 at 8:30 EST. #TWTblog

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

My students are wild with wonder. They don’t really know it, but when I see their eyes light up and their attention focus, I know it’s there. Inspired by Tara Smith of Two Writing Teachers, this year I instituted a new tradition, Wonder Wednesdays. The process is really very simple.

  1. What do you wonder about?  Create a question.
  2. What do you already know about this question?
  3. Research your question.  (Use Wonderopolis.)
  4. Write a paragraph including at least 5 new facts and 2-3 wonder words.
  5. Burning question: What more do you want to know?

I give my students the option to turn a Wonder into a Wonder Presentation.  For me, this option works well because I don’t end up with every student in the class having to do a presentation.  Since we blog, presentations can be posted for others to see as well.  This week I had 3 students choose this option, so we had a presentation day.  Presentation requirements vary somewhat from the Wonder response.

  1. Main idea: Thesis statement
  2. Support with evidence.
  3. Graphics support the topic.
  4. Your opinion is included.

Emily was inspired by a popular song to research Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. 

Emily emaze Vesuvius

Having Wonder Wednesday as a regular occurrence each week inspires my students to question and wonder all the time.  On Two Writing Teachers today, Tara writes, “I am a true Wonderopolis believer, and I know that our Wednesdays lead my kids to think deeply about science, geography, and the way things work.” Encouraging students to wonder every week makes inquiry a natural ingredient in the ELA classroom.

One of my new students jumped right in to wondering and blogging.  He wondered about cells in the human body.  As Noah (4th grade) and Vannisa (6th grade) walked back to class on Wednesday, they discussed cells.  Really?  The wonder spills out of the classroom all the way down the hall.

Wonder kidblog post

If you are wondering and writing about Digital Literacy, please link up.

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Voxer is my current favorite app on my phone. It’s like having a Walkie-Talkie to all your friends in your PLN. Last week, Kathleen Sokolowski from the Two Writing Teachers site posted about her use of Voxer. She then invited us to participate in a Voxer book club around Lisa Eickholdt’s book Learning from Classmates: Using Students’ Writing as Mentor Texts. My copy arrived yesterday. Kathleen is currently collecting participants, so if you’d like to join a lively bunch of writing teachers talking about classroom practices, email Kathleen at mrs.sokolowski at gmail.

Another Voxer group that I love is my Writing about Reading group. This week I had a triumph and a fail, and this group was there for me. I had a place to celebrate and a place to vent.

On Voxer, you can leave text messages or voice messages. The voice is a powerful tool. I’d like to explore this tool with my students. I am participating in Global Read Aloud reading Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. My kids can’t wait to get started. I would like to connect with a class through Voxer. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around how it would work, but my thinking as of now is this. We could pick one student each day to speak for the class. The message could be a notice or a wonder about the book. What do you think? Please email me if you would like to connect our kids through Voxer.

If you are blogging about Digital Literacy, please link up your post.

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  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Here we go…first day of March. Time to begin a daily writing practice. The Slice of Life Challenge begins today!

This is my fourth year to join the challenge. When I first started, there were only two writing teachers at Two Writing Teachers, Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres. Now there are six, Stacey, Beth, Betsy, Tara, Dana, and Anna. They make a pretty awesome team. At NCTE in November, I had the pleasure of meeting most of them. They are real people! That is the beauty of this blogging community. Everyone is real. We all support one another. We challenge each other. We engage each other.

If this is your first time, I understand totally how you feel. I still wake up at night wondering if what I wrote was junk, and nobody will like it. I still carry my phone with me all day checking my alerts for comments. That never gets old.

I volunteered to be a concierge for the classroom SOLC along with Linda Baie. (Linda is one of those blog commenters who keeps us all connected. I don’t know how she does it, but she’s been my top commenter for years. One day we will meet face to face.) Together we are here to help answer any questions you have about blogging with your class.

In my own classroom, I have set up a Kidblog site. I like this format, much like WordPress, and it allows my students to all post in a common area. I do not have to do any linking to an outside site. Anything that cuts out a step helps when posting daily. I have stored the SOL logo in my photo file, so I can attach it to every SOL slice.

With my students, I made two anchor charts: What is a Slice? and How to make a slice tasty. We will continue to add to these charts. They help my students verbalize their practice. I have set up incentives for different levels of accomplishment. For 15-20 slices, the student gets a pencil. For 21-26, a journal. And the grand prize is a book for 31 slices. I have only 12 students, so I am able to afford the prizes. Some teachers set up a celebration with food at the end of the month.

On Friday, March 13th, the Alliance for Excellence in Education sponsors a Digital Learning Day. On this day, consider joining me in a comment challenge. My students will be reading blogs like crazy and competing for a Crazy Commenter prize.

Here are a few things I have learned over the years about the Slice of Life Challenge:

  1. Write a day or two ahead.  Have some drafts ready just in case.  I preach this better than I do it.
  2. Add photos whenever possible.  I try not to post anything without a visual. Something more than just the SOL logo.  This appeals to the reader and gives you an anchor if you post to Facebook.
  3. Don’t quit.  Even if you miss a day or two, jump back in.  The prizes are nice, but in the long run, the value is in the daily practice of writing.
  4. Comment.  This takes time, so you may want to set up a method.  I usually click on the person above and below my name in the list.  I also try to return comments to those who comment on my post.
  5. Use your comments to connect to the writer.  We make friends by making connections.  I changed my tune this year with my students.  I once told them to make a criticycle (a critique sandwiched with positive feedback.) Now I feel the connection is the most important thing.

I started this round-up for Digital Literacy.  Here every Sunday, you can link their digital literacy posts.  We learn from each other.  Join in anytime.  On Twitter, @MargaretGSimon, #k6digilit.  Please leave your link in the comments and I will add to the post.

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts


Cathy Mere writes about the growth of community through digital connections.  http://reflectandrefine.blogspot.com/2015/03/digilit-sunday-growing-communities-in.html 

Julianne slices about using podcasts to fuel writing.  https://jarhartz.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/sol15-day-1-listening-love/

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  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Georgia Heard and Ralph Fletcher congratulate me!

Georgia Heard and Ralph Fletcher congratulate me!

I am having a hard time coming down from the high of NCTE14 in Washington, DC. To begin the weekend, I was honored at the Elementary Get Together for the Donald H. Graves Award for teaching writing. My acceptance speech is here. I was surrounded by notable writers Lester Laminack, Ralph Fletcher, and Georgia Heard. All three of them were kind and easy to talk to.

Selfie with Lester Laminack and Ralph Fletcher.

Selfie with Lester Laminack and Ralph Fletcher.

On Friday, I presented with my colleagues from the National Writing Project Professional Writing Retreat (2004). This was our 10 year reunion, and we talked about what keeps us writing. We created an acronym, STAMP, for Social Media, Time, Audience, Mentors, and Peers. Here is a link to our Emaze presentation.

Another highlight of my weekend was meeting so many authors. I passed Augusta Scattergood standing alone in the lobby, so I stopped and talked to her. She used to attend these events as a librarian and now she is an author. Her second book, The Way to Stay in Destiny, was available as a galley copy. I stood in line and was the last one to receive one. The guards at Scholastic did not want me to get it signed, but when we started waving to each other like silly school girls, they let me through.

Augusta Scattergood

Augusta Scattergood

Meeting fellow bloggers as long lost friends was a joy. We connected immediately and sought each other out at different sessions. We had dinner together with the Two Writing Teachers team on Saturday night and had a difficult time saying good night. We all wanted to continue the time together. Being in the company of kind, thoughtful teachers who think like I think and struggle like I struggle and love their students like I love mine was inspiring and heart warming. I feel like we have begun a long friendship as well as a strong professional connection.

Professional Book Exchange organized by Chris Lehman.

Professional Book Exchange organized by Chris Lehman.

I made an Animoto video of all my pictures. I took along Jack, the lemur, for some of them. Jack is our class pet that Emily snuck into my school cart. He enjoyed NCTE as much as I did.

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Click here to read more #spiritualjourney posts.  Thanks Holly for hosting this roundup!

Click here to read more #spiritualjourney posts. Thanks Holly for hosting this roundup!

Every week Holly posts a theme on Twitter for our #spiritualjourney posts. Every week it seems to be the most appropriate theme. This week is gratitude. I am posting my acceptance speech for the Donald H. Graves Award. I will give this speech this afternoon at the NCTE Elementary Section Get Together. Reading it aloud makes me cry. I am praying I will be able to get through it without croaking up.

Emily snuck our class lemur, Jack, into my bag.  He is helping me write my speech.

Emily snuck our class lemur, Jack, into my bag. He is helping me write my speech.

Thank you, Detra Price-Dennis, and the Elementary Section Steering Committee for this honor. I am overwhelmed and humbled. Writing drives my work with students and my interactions with the world.

Kate DiCamillo, our National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and one of my favorite children’s authors, says that stories connect us. “When we learn someone else’s story, it shifts the fabric of our being. We are more open. And when we are open, we connect.”

My One Little Word for 2014 is Open, so when I saw the call for submissions to the Donald H. Graves Award, I thought, never in a million years, and why not?

I was encouraged when I saw that Julie Johnson was the 2010 winner. I know her! I read her blog! That is how I have connected to so many wonderful authors and educators. These connections, their stories, have given me courage to be open to new adventures. My fellow blogging teachers have also given me confidence in my own voice through their comments. My small world has grown.

These wider connections have not only enriched my life, but they have affected my students’ lives. Earlier this fall, my 4th grader Emily lost her mother. This should not happen to anyone, let alone to a nine-year-old girl. Of course, I wrote about this profound experience on my blog. Amy Ludwig Vanderwater read it and wrote a poem for Emily. She didn’t say that the poem was for Emily but I knew that she had read my blog.


Amy became that someone for Emily. When Emily wrote a poem about clouds, she made an Animoto video, so I said to her, “Would you like to dedicate this poem to someone?” Her eyes lowered. I know she thought I meant her mother. But when I said, “Amy Vanderwater,” her eyes danced. We tweeted the poem-movie to Amy. For Poetry Friday the next week, Amy posted it on her blog along with some writing tips from my 4th grader. These connections, these stories, strengthen us when we need it most. Emily feels like a real poet. She will always have that gift, and Amy recognized her and honored her.

I began this journey when I attended the summer institute of the National Writing Project of Acadiana. There, Ann Dobie, director at the time and an important mentor ever since, introduced me to the work of Donald Graves. His philosophy that a teacher of writing must be a writer has entered my heart and soul.

I am grateful to the National Writing Project for supporting my desire to be a writer. I am grateful to the works of mentors like Ralph Fletcher and Aimee Buckner. I am grateful to the Two Writing Teachers, all 6 of them, who support the Slice of Life challenge and hold each teacher/writer in their gentle and wise hands. My family and my colleagues back home in New Iberia give me love, confidence, and the freedom to write and teach in way I believe is right and true.

Our stories connect us and make us partners on this journey of life. I encourage you to be Open, open to the lives of your students and to the lives of others. Write your life and, as Amy Vanderwater reminds us, Be the someone.

My view of the National Harbor from my hotel room at NCTE.  What a beautiful day!

My view of the National Harbor from my hotel room at NCTE. What a beautiful day!

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