Words into Art: Celebrating Dot Day

Dot Day Collage 2018

I’ve written about this project before, where my sixth graders write short Circle Stories (with a circular theme or featuring a circular object) and the “paint” on a digital canvas with their words, transforming stories into art. We had another successful Dot Day yesterday, and some of the stories made visual are evocative and creative.

This collage is just a few of the Dot Day Circle Stories that I found intriguing.

Peace (beyond dots),

What ‘Dot’ Will You Make? Come Collaborate!


Tomorrow is International Dot Day, a celebration of creativity and imagination, all connected to Peter Reynold’s picture book, The Dot. It’s all about putting your own creative mark on the world.

I have a writing and art and technology activity planned for my sixth graders today (since tomorrow is Saturday).

What will you do?

Want to do something with me? I have set up an editable Google Drawing with some dots. Claim one and do what every strikes your fancy (but be nice). Or add your own Dot.

Go to our Collaborative Dots (and view the work below)

Peace (always invitational),

Slice of Life: Surfing the Edge of the Data Flow

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I sat through a staff session yesterday at our school, where our school psychologist walked us through the use of new intervention assessment tool we will be piloting this year. All students will take the assessment and then we as teaching teams will analyze the data. It’s not quite Response to Intervention but we’re moving in that direction.

Good data, as we know, is valuable. Too much data, we know too, is overwhelming and worthless. I’m not making any insights into this new system. It looks fine and well-designed and likely will be useful for me as a classroom teacher. The sample reports bored down from grade overview, to class overview, to student overview, to skill overview. There’s a lot there.

I am, however, always worrying about losing students as people into the flow of data analysis. Schools are awash in data. We get reams of it from our state testing (a school year later after the assessment, which is not always too helpful) and from our trimester reading assessments (which take a lot of time to conduct but give me valuable insights). Add to that the regular classroom assessments, and soon it feels as if it is an avalanche we are surfing.

I remind myself to … breathe. And then to take each bit of data that is useful and, well, use it as best as I can. If not for intervention groups, then for classroom instruction and for writing workshop and for all the times I interact with individual students.

Otherwise, we are awash in noise.

Look What I Did – Fade to Daft flickr photo by hellocatfood shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I remind myself, also, to remember: students are not data point, not now nor ever. They are young people, with strengths and weaknesses, some of which might be uncovered by data and some of which might be discovered through human interactions. They are complicated people with lives outside of school.

Just like us.

Peace (01100001 01101110 01100100 0010000001101100 01101111 01110110 01100101),


PS — https://www.binarytranslator.com/

Seven Things Noticed After Seven School Days In

new school bike racks

We are now seven days into the school year (two weeks) and I thought I would take a breather to think about Seven Things I am already noticing with my new sixth grade classes.

Seven Things I Have Learned

  1. My students love stories. There was a real excitement in the air as I started a read-aloud of Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kiping. I stretched it over three days, stopping at cliffhangers. They feigned anger at me, and then asked eagerly each next day if we would be reading more. Next week, I will see how well they shift into writing about stories. We also started a short story prompt that is inspired by an adventure map of an imaginary world … and the quiet hum of young writers diving into a story was magical.
  2. My students are insightful. I stopped often in the Rikki Tikki story, asking probing questions about literary elements and plot design. This sets the stage for the year ahead. There were many rich discussions about story-writing that emerged from those informal talks.
  3. My students love to doodle. I introduced the concept of sketchnoting — or visual notetaking — and as I read the story, their task was to do “active listening” while doodling. We used the doodles to summarize the story each day. They chuckled when they saw my own doodles, which are worth chuckling at. But they know they don’t need to be “artists” to sketchnote. Just look at me.
  4. Many of my students are struggling learners. I know this from documentation, of course, but I am also starting to see it in the first days of school. This means I need to be sure to use the various teaching practices I have gathered and learned — multiple entries to new vocabulary, visualize information, use collaborative learning techniques, think through different tiers of words and concepts before teaching, etc. — and be sure that no students are getting lost.
  5. My students are social. There are groups of boys who are definitely still settling into the school year. I try to balance tough rules with patient compassion, and provide time for social interactions. Eleven-year-olds are social creatures.
  6. My students are kind. I am seeing this every day in different ways. From helping neighbors with initial technology log-in snafus to holding the door for others to lending highlighters to noticing others’ kindness, these kids are keepers with hearts.
  7. My students will push and challenge my teaching. I can’t be complacent. I’ll need new tools and new approaches and new ways of thinking, of reaching my students. And I will be learning along with them.

Welcome to the school year.

Peace (open doors wide),

Account Activation Day: Success is One Login Away

Solve the puzzle to see place flickr photo by Ellen5e shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

We’ve sort of settled into the first days of school, shifting into more content instruction in my ELA class.

The other day, I spent the full periods with my four classes of sixth graders, talking them through the steps to activate their school Google accounts, setting up new passwords (quick lesson on password protection), joining their Google Classroom space, and working on a vocabulary-themed slideshow connecting images to words.

Although I have the entire system down pretty well by now, these “login days” are always chaotic and hectic, particularly if it is just me and 20 kids. Each task has a few steps. Some finish early (I recruit them as helpers, which they take on readily). Some have trouble typing (particularly the passwords, where you can’t see the characters). Others click somewhere other than we need to be and stare at the screen, confused.

But .. but … by the end of each class period, we had 100 percent success with activating all accounts, joining Classroom and working on the slideshow. Phew. Add in the excitement they were all having about using technology (there is not much done in the grades below me other than research projects) and we were all starting off on the right footing for the new school year.

I kept my patience. I stayed calm as I moved through the rooms dealing with issues. They did, too. Small victories. We’ll take them.

(Side Note: this kind of day also gives me an informal view into the ability to process sequential steps and information by my students. I can quickly see who will have difficulty with some complex information and who is facile with technology and following directions. It’s a window into how the year might unfold.)

Peace (in tech),

Slice of Life: These Days of Discombobulation

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

It’s easy to forget what creatures of habit we are … until something disrupts our routines. For the past few years, my teaching schedule has been fairly stable. Most of my classes began on the hour, so I knew as the minute hand approached the 12 that we had better start getting ready to switch classes. The visual cue was my friend.

This year, all that has changed. We’ve added a new intervention block into our day, and our specials (art, music, etc.) got shifted later into the morning, and then our lunch got moved ten minutes later (our sixth graders don’t eat until 1:15 p.m.). This has meant that the flow of day is always in flux, and I am constantly relying on my paper schedule to figure out where we are in the block and how much time we have left.

discombobulation flickr photo by TheoJunior shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I’m discombobulated. (And a cool word to say out loud. Go ahead.)

Which I suppose is par for the course at the start of the year for students, too, and so my sixth graders and I are in this together. I’ve told them, be patient — we’ll all be where we need to be when we get there.

So far, so good.

Peace (starting),


What Clocks Do to Us: Only Time Will Tell

Martinskirchen: strange clock at the church tower. flickr photo by fchmksfkcb shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

My friend, Charlene, wrote an interesting piece yesterday about some “unintended consequences” of our digital lives. Her story has to do with helping young students in the first days of school, and her observation that some students struggle with alphabetization perhaps because they never spent time exploring the dictionary, and its sequential patterns.

She writes:

This disconcerting realization caused me to consider the ramifications of a generation(s) of students who haven’t learned and practiced alphabetization skills. The literature is rife with studies where memory system capacities, especially working memory, are measured and analyzed using span tasks which appraise the subjects’ ability to recall and sequence information.

Read Charlene’s piece here.

Her post connects to another activity a handful of us did last week, in which we were annotating an article from The Guardian about how digital reading was impacting the comprehension skills of young readers, and how brain scientists are studying the impact of screens on how we interpret text.

Check out the annotation activity for Skim Reading is the New Normal by Maryanne Wolf

And I was reminded about something else, too, along Charlene’s observational lines, in my first days with my new sixth graders when some students had to sign out to use the bathroom. Many stare at the huge analog clock on the wall, sometimes for extended moments (I guess the bathroom break is never all that critical), trying to figure out the time. Some even turn and ask me for help. Others give up, and either scan the projector screen for the digital time or ask someone else.

This is not a new observation. I’ve noticed it for years now. And wondered about it. We’ve talked about it as teachers, too. You should see students when I give them some “clock” math work to do, using the hands and face of clocks to calculate basic math skills. It’s like a foreign object.

Stereo clock flickr photo by cbcastro shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

It occurs to me that something might be lost with this shift of how we tell time. It’s true that a digital clock is quick and accurate. But being able to see the movement of the seconds hand, and then the movement of the minutes and hour hands … these things give you a “sense” of time’s movement in a given day. You “see” the rhythm of your experiences.

I’m not suggesting all clocks in our lives need be digital. But like Charlene, who wonders about what gets lost when we don’t use the physical dictionary, I sometimes wonder what gets lost when we don’t teach basic analog clock skills. What are the unintended consequences?

Ever step forward seems to leave something behind — for good and for ill.

Peace (in the new school year),

Perspectives On The Writing We Did

We ran out of time in the school year to do the kind of thorough reflection that my students really should do at the end of the year in my ELA class. Some got to the digital writing portfolio project and did a fine job, while others were finishing up another project, and the clock ran out on us. Sigh.

But this list that I created as guide is a nice overview of the entire school year, seen through the lens of writing and technology. The list itself gave my students some perspective on what we accomplished through the 2017-18 school year.

  • Dream Scene (Slides)
  • Time Travel Story (Docs)
  • Fake News Comic (Slides)
  • Peace Poster Artist Statement (Docs)
  • Booksnap (Draw)
  • Independent Book Report (Slides)
  • Video Game Review (Docs)
  • Parts of Speech Color-Coding (Docs)
  • Tall Tale Story (Docs)
  • Quidditch Play Design (Docs)
  • Invention Essay (Docs)
  • Eponym Invention (Draw)
  • Interactive Fiction (Slides)
  • Rikki Tikki Tavi Story Remix (Docs)
  • Three Haiku Poems (Slides)
  • Digital Poetry Book (Slides)
  • Argument Essay (Docs)
  • Stuck in a Game Story (Docs)
  • Digital Picture Book Project (Slides)

Looking at it this way, I can see (and my students could remember) the wide variety of projects and range of writing we accomplished in the school year.

Peace (writing it),

At Middleweb: The Last Working Draft Column

I’ve loved writing for Middleweb, a site dedicated to teaching the middle grades. After five years, I have decided to pull the plug on my monthly column (which began as a bimonthly column) called Working Draft. It’s been fun to write, and inspiring to think about topics, and reflective practice from teaching perspectives, and I have nothing but praise for editors John and Susan.

Read my farewell piece

I also linked in the final column to a handful of pieces that I think still resonate for me.

I am also pleased that my National Writing Project friend and collaborator over the years, Jeremy Hyler, will soon be launching his own ELA column at Middleweb, filling in the gap I leave behind. Jeremy starts writing sometime this month.

Peace (in the writing),

Chalk Talk: Learning Beyond the Curriculum

Chalk Talk June 2018

I wrote a piece that was published this past week in the local newspaper about some activities for our sixth graders at our school that seem to fall outside of our traditional curriculum, but which still have a huge impact on the learning for our students.

This column, which honors the work of colleagues at my school, is part of a regular feature our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has in partnership with our local regional newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Each month, WMWP teachers are featured as columnists.

Read Of Archers, Actors and Artists

and read the Chalk Talk archives for other pieces from WMWP teachers

Peace (is how we learn),