Land of Snow

Happy Easter from Up North! When I first moved to Michigan from Ohio, I had no idea where "up north" was. I remember the kids at the school I worked at talked about going up north for the weekend. I had friends at work who had family cottages up north. Over the years I grew to understand what up north meant, at least I thought I did until we arrived in the land of snow, better known as Houghton, Michigan. There is still snow up to the first story windows of our motel. Supposedly, the Northern Lights can be seen most evenings. I've never been a fan of snow, mostly because I hate driving in it. But on our way here, drivers weren't in a hurry and didn't drive crazy like they do at home. Of course there isn't much traffic. I'm beginning to sense that the pace of life may be a bit different here than in suburban Detroit.

View from the first floor windows.

Spring Break Up North

Some people head south in search of warmth during spring break. The weather report for my vacation destination is 25 degrees, wind, and 50% chance of snow showers. My suitcase is packed with long underwear and wool sweaters. Since we haven't had many days over 40 degrees this spring, more wind and snow doesn't feel that much different. Seems like we don't even have much of spring any more. Temps hover around 40 and 50 degrees until May. Sometimes even Mother's Day is cold. Of course, I didn't grow up in Southeast Michigan. I grew up in Northwest Ohio. We had spring where I grew up. Little girls wore pastel dresses on Easter Sunday with just a sweater. We didn't have Easter egg hunts bundled up in parkas. In high school, I remember laying out in the sun during spring break. Maybe my spring break memories are simply selective.

Reflection Friday

First day of my spring break. Only a few more days left of the TWT 2013 SOL challenge. This is my third year participating and each year has been different. Every March brought different roadblocks. Most of the bumps were related to time. My writing process for posting has evolved in three years. I still have days when only paper and pencil will do to help me get going. Other times, I just lay down the words in a draft post in Blogger then let them alone for a while. I tend to keep numerous in-process posts. The one thing that hasn't change is my interest in adding images to posts. Images are important to me. I usually create my own. I still enjoy playing and editing my photos and if I use my own, I don't have to worry that I am violating copy write laws. My favorite editing tools are currently Picasa, Ribbet, PicMonkey, and BeFunky.

My Rotini Girl image was edited with BeFunky. 

Not Rejected

I found myself checking my email every time I heard it ding today. The message I was waiting for came at 1:18 this afternoon. I got accepted to attend the Eastern Michigan Writing Project Summer Institute and I couldn't be happier. After I applied, I only told one friend at school. I didn't want to feel like a dork, in case I got rejected.  I wonder if they have ever had a speech-language pathologist as a participant before. The more I think about it, the more excited I get. I really needed this.

Tech Tuesday: 200 Tweets

This year, after I post and link to the Two Writing Teachers blog, I tweet my post using the hashtag #slice2013. I've been slowly learning how to use Twitter since last year. For the first six months I had a Twitter account, I just understand it. I didn't know what to tweet or who to follow or why I should even want to follow anyone. Little by little I started following authors and other teachers and professional organizations I was interested in. I also found other teachers from the Two Writing Teachers community and started following them. Stacey wrote a while ago that she reached over 1000 tweets. I'm not even close to that. For me, 200 felt like a major milestone. I anticipate that I will be using Twitter more and more. My favorite thing to do is follow hashtags associated with conferences. For example, ASCD recently had a conference in Chicago. The hastag for tweets was #ascd13. I wasn't able to go to the conference but many of the teachers I follow attended and tweeted their new learning or inspiring quotes from sessions. Some presenters even tweeted their PowerPoints and presentation packets. One of the speakers at ASCD was Maya Angelou. Through Nicholas Provenzano @thenerdyteacher, I was able to get a taste of what it must have been like to hear her tell a story. I think that is pretty neat.

Picture Book Addiction

I wasn't going to do it but I couldn't resist. I told myself I didn't need more books but walking by the book fair at school numerous times a day was more than I could take. One of the books I purchased was, My Brave Year of Firsts by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell. I read the opening page and I was hooked.

The first time I rode a two-wheeler alone,
I crashed and my mom filmed it on her iPhone.
I crashed and I crashed. Dad ran out of steam.
He let go, I went straight.
Mom filmed as she screamed.

As I read, I laughed and memories of teaching my own kids to ride a bike flooded my head. As the title suggests, each page is a memory of a first time experience told from a child's point of view. I think this would be a great mentor text to spur writing from students of all grade levels. Below is my attempt at writing a "first" of my own using this book as a mentor text. Curtis and Cornell used rhyme throughout their book but I chose not to in my draft.
The first time I walked to school alone, I looked both ways before crossing at the corner. I stayed on the sidewalk, swinging my plaid Aladdin lunchbox the whole way. At the school entrance, I turned and waved to my mom as she crawled by in our station wagon.

Just Received My Spring Break Agenda

Can you tell that my husband is a
former Secret Service Agent? He still
gets a thrill out of planning logistics.
It is springtime in Michigan. The mornings are still frosty and the forecast for Monday includes three inches of snow. Normally a spring snow prediction would depress me but not this year. Snow or not, I just want a break. Even though we are not scheduled for vacation until the week following Easter, my husband has our time together all planned out. I received a typed copy of the itinerary yesterday. He gave me Good Friday off. Wasn't that nice of him? Then on Saturday we will begin our snowy trek to the Upper Peninsula to visit Michigan Tech, a college my son is considering attending. Church on Easter Sunday, followed by brunch. After our first college visit on Monday, we head to Ferris State. Our ETA (estimated time of arrival) back home will be late Tuesday. Wednesday is reserved for medical appointments. Thursday we travel to Indiana to visit Rose-Hulman then to Ohio Northern University on Friday. At each college visit, my husband has appointments arranged with football and track coaches. Normally I would recoil at the thought of spending days trapped in an SUV navigating the unpredictable spring weather in this area of the county. Not this time. I'm looking forward to spending this time with my son. The week after next will be a rare opportunity to stoke his excitement for the future and to quell fears about the unknown.

Song and Dance

Two hours and forty-five minutes of music, dance, drama, comedy, and costumes. I had never seen The Merry Widow before. I didn't expect to like it because it was an operetta. I was wrong. I am still humming the music and thinking about the powerful voices. Although my daughter did not perform, she choreographed the production. She began studying The Merry Widow in the fall, researching other productions and learning the story and the music. In January, rehearsals were in full swing. She used her young lifetime of training and experience to make everyone on stage look professional and natural. As I sat in my seat, taking in this wonderful experience, I could see evidence of my daughter's creative mark in scene after scene. She amazes me.

Reflection Friday

I used to think I looked pretty good in teal blue but evidently that is up for debate. I had three people yesterday ask me if I was feeling well. Was it my face, my eyes, or the way I was standing? Did I remember to put make-up on that morning? I thought I did. I'm long overdue for a dye job, that is for sure. I have gray threads popping up all over my part. I tried to get my teenage son to pluck some out the other day and after removing six silver springs, he handed me the tweezers and told me there were too many and he didn't have all day. I've tried to yank them myself but I couldn't see them to get a hold of them. It is time to look in the mirror, step back on the scale, and take a walk on the treadmill. Some new glasses wouldn't hurt either. Why is it so hard to make time to take care of myself?

Student Bloggers at Custer--Finally!

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of observing as a group of sixth graders, together with their teacher, problem-solved their way to creating their own blogs using Kidblog. The kids were entirely undaunted by initial challenges as they tried to get started. Although I have been blogging for a while, Kidblog was a new platform to me and has changed since I first experimented with it two years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed learning side-by-side with the students. At Family Reading Night at our school on Tuesday evening, the topic of blogging was buzzing among the kids. In less than two days, they mastered blogging tricks that took me weeks to figure out on my own. Their engagement during this process has been intense. The quality of their first posts was higher than I expected. As they continue to post and comment, it will be revealing to see how their writing and writing process changes. I'm itching to hear their reflections.

One Little Word Wednesday: Shoulders

It is Wednesday, right? Some weeks kick my butt and this is another one of them. When I have weeks like this--days full of evening school activities, parent-teacher conferences, and after school meetings, my family has to shoulder more of the load at home. As long as I communicate my needs, my husband pitches in without complaint.  Even during an easier week, I bring my job home with me every night. There is always a report to write, emails to respond to, and lessons to create. And on days when my school bag stays unopened on the chair, I'm still teaching and planning in my head. My husband has put up with it for 25 years. Being the spouse of an educator isn't easy, and I tend to forget that.

Family Reading Night

Tonight was Family Reading Night at our school. It was a relaxed well-attended event. For the last two years, I've provided a book-making table. It was a simple way to promote writing at school and at home. This year's theme was Super Heroes so in addition to two sizes of books, I added comic book paper. I also provided some sample sketches of cartoon facial features for eyes, noses, and mouths. Add pencils, crayons, markers, and the freedom to create a book about whatever the kids want to make. The best part is talking with the children about their books. I usually send home blank books with students if they want them. It is amazing how folding a piece of paper and calling it a book can spark young writers of all ages.

Custer Family Reading Night 2013

Almost Spring Snow

Almost spring snow doesn't stick around too long. More is expected today. Snow showers. Still, I'm tired of it. I'm tired of bundling up. More than anything, I hate driving in it. My car, although zippy in heavy traffic, is swervy in the rain and snow. Currently my drive to work is about as short as it gets. I won't be that lucky forever.

Learning About QR Codes

     "Look what I made for my interview tomorrow."

      I handed my creation to my husband. He scowled and handed it back. I got a similar response from my son but not because he thought it was silly. He is sixteen and not much interested in anything I hand him unless it is money or car keys. Learning about Quick Response or QR codes is something I've been wanting to do for a while. But like most tech stuff, I need a purpose to use it before I invest the time in learning a bit about it. I figured before I could actually make sense of how to use them with students, I needed to use them myself. As I researched about QR codes, I came across a great post by Monica Burns that helped me understand how teachers use the codes. If you read Monica's post, be sure to read the comments because there are additional instructional ideas shared by other teachers. I also read blog posts about how QR codes are used in marketing and business.

      Creating a QR code is easy and fun. There are many free services. I happened to use BeQRious because I could make colorful codes, it was easy, there was a forum to ask questions, and a blog with additional information. There are many other free services available. I wanted to create something I could hand to my interviewers that had quick links to my identifying information, my digital resume, blog, and Twitter page. Is anyone using QR codes? If so, how are you using them and what service do you recommend?

Codes are printed on both sides of a postcard. 

Working at Growing a Local Professional Network

I was about to make my pitch to a roomful of school speech-language pathologists to join Edmodo. I planned on keeping it short. I typed up a half-sheet with the link to Edmodo and a link to a Snapguide that explained the process. Just before I was to talk, another speech therapist shared about a program she was using in kindergarten classrooms to promote oral language development. One of the audience members asked if she could email her the data sheet she had created to the group. Perfect segue. When my turn came, I explained how Edmodo was an effective tool to share materials and ideas with each other. Rather than email the data sheet to everyone, it could be uploaded as part of post on Edmodo, and anyone belonging to the group could see the file, print it, and make any comments or suggestions. Links to the materials could also be posted.  I brought the Edmodo page up on the Smart Board and scrolled through some of the posts and showed the audience the folder I started that contained printable materials. As I looked out on the group, they didn't look skeptical or have scrunched up eyebrows. I actually saw some interest on their faces and a few head nods. Good signs.

Reflection Friday

Two weeks down and I'm trying not to drown. Push. Pull. Persevere. Writing isn't easy. I know that. I've often told young writers that when writing gets hard, you need to push yourself and that all writers feel the same struggle. My words are certainly slapping me in the face today. I have ideas but I don't want to write about them or feel like I can't or shouldn't write about them. I'm having a hard time getting the words down. Maybe I have nothing in my brain worth writing. I'm thinking that is how kids feel when they say stuff like, "I don't have anything to write about," or "I don't want to write," or "I hate writing." I want to rant but I can't. I hate it when I get like this.

Thankful Thursday

Ten Things I Am Grateful For

I haven't lost my job.
I haven't had pneumonia
I haven't recently had a flat tire
I haven't lost my phone
I haven't gained 20 pounds
(I only gained 15)
I haven't lost hope
I haven't given up on my writing
I haven't forgotten how to laugh
I haven't lost my marbles
I haven't forgotten who I am

One Little Word Wednesday: Shoulders

My son, had shoulder surgery in January this year. A torn labrum from football. His surgeon came well recommended. In fact, he only does shoulders. He even works on the Detroit Lions. My son goes to physical therapy two to three times a week and sees the surgeon every six weeks. In the last seven months, he has had three surgeries: pilonidal cyst excision, wisdom teeth pulled, and now his shoulder repair. Along with his PT, he continues to see a wound specialist every two weeks to monitor the healing of his cyst removal.  He still isn't completely healed from his surgery in July. Despite all the doctors, medications, hospitals, and the humiliation he continues to endure as I pack his wound daily, he keeps his sense of humor. It has been a difficult year. Today is his 16th birthday.

Using Edmodo

As soon as my principal sent an invitation to the teachers in our building to join Edmodo, I hopped right to it. Edmodo is a safe social networking site just for educators and students that feels a lot like Facebook and allows users to post files, links, clips, and images. One of the most powerful functions of Edmodo is that teachers can create Edmodo groups for their own classroom of students. Teachers can post assignments, links, and polls and kids can respond to the teacher and to each other. The teacher has the power to moderate all comments, content, and group membership. Parents can also be invited to join the Edmodo group. As a speech therapist, I don't have a class. But if the students I work with belong to a class that is using Edmodo, it could become a powerful tool to display student work, promote 21st century communication skills, and more fully integrate classroom curriculum into speech and language goals. Our district is in the process of implementing a limited 1:1 iPad initiative. There are a few classrooms in my buildings that already have iPads. I am hoping to convince a teacher or two to use Edmodo.

Another potential use for Edmodo is for professional development and to share ideas and materials with other teachers in a building or district. I created two groups, one for writing and one for speech-language pathologists in my county. I admit that the response to both groups thus far has been lukewarm at best. But, I'm not ready to give up just yet. I will be attending a meeting with all the speech-language therapists in the county on Friday and my supervisor granted me a few minutes to talk about Edmodo. I prepared a short Snapguide with directions and will hopefully be able to entice a few folks to join. If anyone has any insight or tips to help me tempt my colleagues to participate, I'm all ears.

Screenshot of an Edmodo homepage. 

Snapguide: One Night Stand or Long Term Relationship

Yesterday I posted about how I choose apps and web tools based on my particular professional needs. Tools need to enhance and facilitate learning because I teach kids, not apps. Some tools feel very intuitive and I can immediately see potential for student or educator use. Other tools require a full-blown relationship to understand. And even then, if the tool doesn't do what I need it to do, the relationship may end in a quickie divorce. A new tool that I am dating right now is Snapguide. Snapguide is an iPad app with web support. It is a little bit like Pinterest except that it is all how-to guides. The guides are created, edited, and shared on the iPad but can be viewed on the web.  It requires an individual account and is not appropriate for student use at this time. But I like the format and the ease of creating how-to guides that can be easily shared with other Snapguide users as well as by email, Twitter, and Facebook. The guides can also be embedded into a post in Blogger, which is nice. My purpose for even hooking up with this tool was because I wanted to create easy directions for my co-professionals to join Edmodo. Edmodo is sort of like Facebook for educators. I'm not sure how long my fling with Snapguide will last but if I dump it, it will be because Haiku Deck is totally hot.

Check out How to Join Edmodo by Diana Martin on Snapguide.

Tech Freak Out

Some of my favorite low tech tools. Old
fashioned? Maybe. But they still work--
without an internet connection.
I know technology can freak people out. Trying to learn about tools can be intimidating, frustrating, time consuming, and feel scary. Although I don't believe that being "techy" is necessary, I do think it benefits students significantly when teachers are willing to take risks to learn about tech tools and social networking. Like the writing process and reading process, I think sharing your technology process with students is useful. Web tools and apps are just tools. I recently surprised some colleagues when I submitted that I didn't like using the iPad to do running records because I could do it faster on paper. In addition, I could focus on the whole reader and their reading behaviors instead of gazing into the iPad screen. It doesn't mean that I won't use my iPad or an app to assist with record keeping, assessment, or instruction. In fact, if someone took my iPad away, I would probably go through withdrawal. I love an engaging app as much as the next person but technology needs to work for me and meet my instructional needs, not the other way around. But in order for teachers to know what tools are useful for them, they need to experiment. Smart pragmatic teacher voices are needed in the tech and app world.

I Hate Bus Duty

I work in one of the larger elementary schools in the state of Michigan. We have approximately 1200 students grades KG through 6th. Most of the students ride the bus. Bus duty at my school is one of the most dreaded parts of our day. It consumes between 20 to 30 minutes of our day, several times per month. I have the pleasure of morning bus duty. I stand outside and cross students as they are dropped off by parents, between buses that are also dropping off children, to the front entrance of the school. I greet parents and kids with smiles and "Good morning!" or "Have a good day!" It took a few weeks, but now all the parents and most of the kids smile back with some sort of greeting. I know which kids are reluctant to leave their parents in the morning and need extra attention. I know which kids are runners and tend to bolt if I'm not holding their hand. I know which parents want me to cross their kids and which parents prefer to walk their own kids into the school. I can tell what kind of morning students have had before they ever set foot into the building. As much as I hate bus duty, and I really hate it, I have to admit that it has given me a unique insight into the lives of many of my students.

My school is a two-building campus. I wish the picture showed what
 it looks like when all the buses and cars are lined up for arrival or dismissal.

Reflection Friday

I've been trying to think back about the first year I participated in the Two Writing Teachers Slice Of Life challenge in 2011.  My decision to participate was quick. I had no idea what I was doing and zero knowledge about blogging. Getting through the first week was exhilarating. I'd written, revised, and publicly shared my writing more than I had ever done in my life. By the 3rd week, some school colleagues thought I was nuts and some family members were down right unhappy that I was spending so much time on the computer. I ended up hiding and writing at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning to try to keep the peace. Things have changed considerably since then. I no longer hide when I write, my family accepts that writing is important to me, and blogging and tweeting feel much more comfortable. My colleagues know about my blogs and my writing and sometimes even ask me questions. I did manage to persuade my sister to join me in NaNoWriMo this year. She enjoyed the experience and it was delightful to share it with someone I love. Sadly, I've yet to convince anyone to start their own blog and join me in the TWT challenge. But I get it. Blogging and writing are personal decisions. I'll just keep planting the seeds.

Thankful Thursday

I haven't created a gratitude list in a long time. I used to make a list once a week but I let the habit get away from me. Mary Helen from Book Savors made a comment on my first slice of SOL 2013 about how any change can cause a bump in the road, and she is right. One of the many special things about the TWT community is that everyone "gets it". We all have stuff. We are all trying to balance and risk and create and work. And sometimes, life comes first. But writing is never too far behind.

Ten Things I Am Grateful For

Heat in the house
Cat on my lap

Gas in my car
Snow on the grass

Time on the clock
Coins in my wallet

Words that are said
and read
and written down

One Little Word Wednesday: Shoulders

I didn't pick my one little word for 2013 until February. I chose the word shoulders. I have no idea why other than the word kept coming back to me. When I think of shoulders, I think of my grandma. Her shoulders were not sloping or narrow. They were broad and square. She had a perfect figure, an hourglass, which I did not inherit. I remember seeing pictures of her in tailored suits with padded shoulders. I don't have narrow shoulders either but they are not square like my grandma's. I have one that is lower than the other. My spine is twisted like a rotini at the base. I never knew I had a screwed-up spine until I went to a chiropractor a few years ago for hip pain. He showed me the spiral in an x-ray of my lower back. Could that whorl be the reason one leg of my pants was always shorter or why when I was in labor, the epidural only worked on one side of my body? Physical therapists have assured me that I don't have a discrepancy in leg length, so I figure it must have something to do with that corkscrew.

List Maker

This post was inspired by a post written by Betsy at Teaching Young Writers.  I think Betsy's poem is a great format for students and perfect for using Haiku Deck as a way to publish. Haiku Deck is a free presentation app for the iPad.

These I Am

I am a
Book reader
Kid teacher
Friend listener
Sushi eater
Black coffee drinker
Light sleeper
Hot flasher
Tomato lover
Loud laugher
Heart fixer
And a
Word writer

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad

Dining Room Cups

Roxy likes her pillow. 
There is a bra on my dining room table. It isn't mine. There is also my lap top, my daughter's lap top, sticky notes, an iPad, a cold coffee mug, a 3-hole punch, a sleeping cat, and a lint remover along with the bra on the table. My daughter is home from college for spring break. When she visits, most of her stuff doesn't make it beyond the dining room, which is a few steps from the garage door. Her laundry bag, gym bag, and school bag line the perimeter of the room. I could complain but I'm not much better. Even though I moved my office upstairs to the spare bedroom over a year ago, I usually end up back in the dining room with my papers spread all over. I frequently use the dining room chairs as hangers for my jackets and bags. In fact, I figured out that if I pile my school bags and purse on the seat of the chair, it is less likely to tip over when I hang my coats and sweaters on the back.


You Never Know Until You Write

I applied to attend the Eastern Michigan Writing Project Summer Invitational Institute. The application was due March 1st. I submitted my paperwork on March 1st at 5:36 pm. One of my friends at school sent me the link for the session a few days ago. It wasn't until Thursday, when I opened the email attachments, that I realized the application was due on Friday. I didn't have time to make my usual list of excuses. I had to make a decision quickly then compose a page or two about why I was interested in participating in the EMWP Summer Institute, how my students engage in writing, my previous experiences that shaped me as a teacher, and my professional activities. I wrote in my head for a day then began barfing it out on the paper at 2:30 on Friday. I could have gotten home from school at 12:30 because we had a half-day, but I had a meeting and I was trying to get progress reports done which cut my time. At 1:30, I started to talk myself out of the whole thing. Maybe it was silly to try and I probably wouldn't get accepted anyway. When I flew in the door at home, I flopped my bags on the floor, whipped off my coat, and fired up the computer. It was go time. I had to bring it. Even if I don't get accepted, it was a sobering reminder of how it feels to write on demand.

The Nude Scene

clip art credit: Microsoft
"Wow, I wasn't expecting that."

"Neither was I. The scene was half-over before I realized they were actually nude. How long were they onstage, maybe 5 seconds?"

"One girl had a bodysuit on."

"Did you hear the audience? They gasped, but it was sort of a delayed gasp."

"I was going to say that this would be a great show for Sam, but . . . no way."

"Dad, it's theater. And I hate to remind you but I'm only a year from graduation.What was the point of the scene?"

"I don't know. What do you think?"

"I'm not sure. But I appreciated that they were real people with real bodies and not models or toothpicks or perfect, just people like everyone else--all different shapes, sizes, and shades. Let me go back in the program and check the song they were singing."

"Please don't ever do this show. I--I think I would have a heart attack."

"Did you see all the old people waving their hands and singing, Let the Sun Shine In at the end. It was kind of funny."

"Yes but some of us old people remember this music from when we were younger than you."

"The voices were incredible. The girl who played Dionne--her voice gave me goosebumps. She was just so good."

"So what did you think of HAIR?"

"It was an A--ma--ZING!"

Getting Back in the Swing

Wow, how embarrassing. 
This post took months to write. I had countless drafts on paper, on my laptop, on my iPad--none felt right. This November, I wrote over 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo, but still no blog post. How silly is that? My most prevalent excuse was my transition from literacy coach back to school speech-language pathologist which was accompanied by much wailing and gnashing of teeth. As part of this process, I busily searched for other speech therapist bloggers, tweeters, and Pinterest pinners. I also lurked on the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) member forums. While reading an ASHA forum focused on school speech therapy issues, I finally got the guts to post on a thread about reading comprehension. I had no idea how other speech and language professionals would react to my literacy-coach-mixed-with-speech-therapy thinking. Thankfully, Mary Cummings, an ASHA certified SLP, responded to what I wrote in a way that didn't make me feel like an idiot. So thank you, Mary Cummings, for reminding me that writing is a risk worth taking, spelling errors and all.

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