The Parent Conference – SOLSC Day #28

Elementary school teachers are the best!  A few weeks ago, I read the best post by a teacher that was sharing the parent conference experience.  I appreciated every word of the post and every second that elementary school teachers have spent with my children.  Three of my four children are no longer in the elementary school, but my youngest, is a third grader in a second-fourth grade school building.  Every one of my children has had a wonderful experience in the elementary school grades.

Yesterday, I had the second parent conference of the year for Fiona, the third grader.  Being a teacher, I am always coming in hot to these after school meetings.  Yesterday was no different, but I was only a minute or two late (usually it’s more like 5 minutes late).  Her teacher was waiting casually at the kidney-shaped table in the back of the classroom and had a big smile on her face (she knows I’m a teacher in another district that gets out at 2:50).  The teacher assistant in the classroom also joined us for the conference.  It took no longer than just a few seconds of me being in the classroom that they shared a story about Fiona that was both funny and heartwarming.  They get Fiona.  They care about Fiona.  They are teaching Fiona.  The next fifteen to twenty minutes was terrific.

Four years ago, when I won the seat on the board of education in my home district, I worried about two things: 1. That my seat as a board member would make teachers nervous and that I wouldn’t be treated like a parent.  2. That the teachers would think that my child (children) deserves special/different treatment and that they would refrain from telling me anything negative.  In all of those years, neither of these things has happened.  In fact, the teachers have been comfortable, professional, up front and honest.  The meetings have been thorough, yet they have also been casual.  The teachers know my child and I can tell that they (really) know each and every child in their classroom.  All of my children have been quiet and well behaved in the classroom, and all of the teachers have wanted to see them come out of their shell a little (just like my wife and I do).  They definitely are not quite and well behaved at home.  The teachers appreciate that we work with the kids at home, and I am certain that they know that we fully support them.

As I walked back to the van, I realized how lucky I was that all four of my children have experienced memorable elementary school years.  These years that are so important, and their wonderful teachers made all of this possible.  These teachers inspired them, nurtured them, and most importantly, taught them everything they needed for middle school and high school.  For all of that, I am eternally grateful.  Elementary school teachers are the best!


No alarm needed on this Wednesday morning, writing woke me up – SOLSC Day #27

This morning, I woke up with an idea.  These days, I awake, look at the clock, and then turn over and go back to sleep until the alarm goes off, but not this morning.  This morning, I woke up, looked at the clock (4:05 AM), and headed to my journal and computer.  I had a story idea.  Sorry about the swearing (I left out the words on this blog post, but they will go into the manuscript).

Here’s an excerpt (I don’t want to bore you with too much, but here’s a little:):

Tonight, the excitement can’t be tamed, and the solitude that I treasure in the locker room an hour after a big game won’t come.  I turn off the shower, grab my towel, and head to my locker near the door.  Three of the seniors walk by and congratulate me on the game.  It’s beginning to quiet down.  The last few lockers slam shut as Bradley comes around the corner of the far row.

I scan the bench while attaching my sticks to the outside of my bag.  After zipping up the bag, I lift the corner end to find the game puck still sitting there.  I grab it as Bradley sits down.

“Great game tonight, Griff.” He says while extending his fist.

“Thanks. You too.  You played awesome.”  I give it a bump.

“That shot at the end was a classic.  A top ten highlight.”

“I would never had gotten off that shot if it wasn’t for your pass.  In fact, I want you to have the game puck.” I toss it to him as he stands up and he catches it in the shoulder.

“No way, Griff, the team gave it to you.” And he holds it up.

“They gave it to me for the winning goal.  I wouldn’t have gotten it if it wasn’t for that pass.”

“Dude, I can’t take it.  There’s no way I could have hit that slap shot like you did.  I’ll never be able to put that much velocity on it.” He starts to walk away.

“Again, I’d never gotten the chance if it wasn’t for the perfect pass.” And I drop it into the pocket on the side of his bag.

“Thanks, man!” He stops, reaches out his hand, shakes mine and says, “Now, let’s win a state championship.”

We step out into the bitter cold of the night.  Steam rises off the tops of her heads.  The once wet sidewalk is now iced over and slick.  Bradley’s dad is waiting in the still running parked car at the end of the sidewalk.  The trunk pops open.  When we approach, his dad jumps out of the car.

“Hey, Dad.  Great win tonight!” Bradley is still excited.  He throws his gear into the trunk.

“What are you talking to that jerk (I don’t intend to use “jerk” in the final manuscript) for?  He stole “your” winning goal.”  He’s not even looking at me when he says it.

“He didn’t steal it.  There’s no way I could’ve made that shot.”

“What is wrong with you?  Get in the car.” He grabs Bradley by the left shoulder and swings him into the car.  He kicks him in the right leg as he slams the door shut and yells, “You don’t need that jerk.  When are you going to turn into a man and take control out there on the ice?”

He comes around the front of the car glaring at me, “What are you looking at?  Trying to show up your dead brother.”

I bite my tongue as hard as I can, but the tears and anger is boiling inside of me. “Go to he*& (again, that’s not what’s going in the manuscript), Mr. Reynolds.”

I turn and wave at my dad, who’s just pulled into the parking lot, and start walking towards his car.  My heart is beating so fact that I’m dizzy and the tears that I’m willing not to come are blurring my vision.

Everything good about writing – SOLSC Day #26

My goal is to write about writing in the classroom every Tuesday, but last night while writing my reflection of my Monday, I came to the realization that I need to focus on the benefits of writing (as well as the skills) with my students.  After a Monday that included showing the “Growing Up” video to three science classes of boys (about 80 boys), getting my head shaved by sixth graders during their lunch period as the prize for raising three hundred dollars for St. Baldrick’s, squeezing in a four-mile run, and presenting a school budget (millions of dollars) at our board of education meeting, I decompressed by writing about it in my journal at 11:00 PM last night.  AND it felt great.  I wrote:

“As I pulled my winter running hat over my bald head and entered the dark cold of the March night, I felt a sense of relieve wash over my entire body.  The tightness that I carried all day since my morning shower at 5:30 AM completely disappeared.”

Honestly, I barely remember writing that part of the reflection.  The thing that I do remember is that when I closed my writing journal, I felt like I was on top of the world, and I was ready for a new day with as many obstacles as a middle school could throw at me.  Everything that I felt throughout my Monday was left on the pages of my journal and it felt awesome.  It is exactly the reason that I write, and it is exactly what I need to teach my students.  I will be reading them my entry today.:)

When teaching writing, I get caught up in making sure the students get their ideas on paper and that they do it while paying attention to the conventions of their writing.  All of those things are fine, but I never teach them about the wonderful way writing can make you feel.  It can help to release stress.  It can help to release anger.  It can help you to relive the happy time.  Plain and simple, writing can help.

Yesterday, I started class (after the read aloud) by sharing a poem that I had written over the weekend (this was actually on a suggesting by a fellow slicer – thank you:).  It took less than five minutes.  I was able to share with them the figurative language that I utilized in my poem, and most importantly, I reinforce the fact that I write outside of the classroom (for fun).  The kids asked all kinds of questions and still we kept it under five minutes.  The highlight was the girl who showed up at the door during the closing minutes of ninth period with a poem that she had written after ELA class (I’m guessing it was during someone else’s class, so I should have scolded her, but there was no way that I was going to do that – I just thought in my head that I was sorry to the teacher that was teaching during her poetry writing session – that has to be enough).

So, when I woke up this morning, I decided that I am going to share three pieces of my own writing with the kids (when it fits into a lesson or discussion) a week.  I will even show them paper receipts, napkins, and the back of church school flyers (that my kids get) that I write story ideas on when my writing notebook is not handy.  I won’t tell them that it is while I’m sitting at a traffic light.  I will show them my errors, my scratch outs, and my ideas that I am still struggling to make into a story.  I will show them the fun of writing. 

The goal will be to show them my love of (constant) writing in hopes to hook a kid (or many) to writing (example: girl writes a poem after seeing my poem).  This will be an ongoing goal, like my reading goal, of turning every student into a writer who enjoys writing.  The sky is the limit if I can make them love both reading and writing.  

Highs and Lows of the Week of March 18th – SOLSC Day #25

We start with a low.  This week was a four-day week due to a Superintendent’s Conference Day.  This is a low because we have had so many snow days and delays this winter that I cherish EACH and EVERY five-day week.  We have a five-day week ahead of us and the forecast looks good, so it is likely that we will have five full days of school this week.  I plan to utilize each and every minute of the time spent with the kids.

My highs:

  1. The final poems were AWESOME.  The kids have such a wonderful way with words, and they utilized everything that they learned during the poetry unit.  Their poems included metaphors, similes, repetition, personification, onomatopoeia, and vivid sensory details.  The coolest part is that the students wanted to share their final poems aloud to the class, so each student will have a chance to share this week.  I am really excited that they were so invested in their poems.  I was also very impressed.
  2. We had a great review lesson on story plot, theme, mood, and making inferences.  Whenever we read a story, we are locating the elements of story plot, identifying the theme, reading between the lines, and discussing the mood, but each review lesson that we engaged in this week was awesome.  The kids are turning into active readers, and more importantly, they are turning into students that enjoy reading (my goal from the very first day of school).  This week, we are going to read another short story (I love short stories because I can design a lesson that can be accomplished in one or two class periods around the story).
  3. The second Kate Messner literature circle meeting was fantastic.  The group that is reading Capture the Flag had to be reminded a number of times to quiet down (I didn’t want to, but all seven groups were meeting in the same room, so I had to control the volume).  The group created a sheet to try to find out who stole the flag.  The paper looked like the map that you would find in the game of Clue.  They had a list of suspects.  They had a list of motives.  They listed ways that the suspects could have done the crime.  They were out of their mind with excitement.:)  It was so exciting to watch (and listen to).  This week, we will have our third meeting on Wednesday.  I can’t wait to hear all of the discussions.

My lows:

  1. We ended the week with a conference day that focused on some interesting topics, but lacked the depth that I was hoping for.  During the morning sessions, I found myself thinking about all of the schoolwork (grading and lesson planning) that I could be doing if I wasn’t sitting in the conference session.  In the afternoon, I was thinking the same exact thing, but I was also thinking of all of the things that I could be organizing in my classroom.  Unfortunately, I truly felt like it was a lost day (the funniest part, if there was a funny part, is that before the day started, I predicted exactly what would happen – unfortunately, it all came true).
  2. Since ending the Matter unit in science, there has been no flow in the class.  We are focused on health, and tomorrow, I show the “Growing Up” video to the boys.  Last week, I was supposed to have the guidance counselor visit the classroom to talk about Internet safety, but she was sick with the flu.  I believe that we are rescheduled for this Wednesday, but I am not definite, which bothers me because I love to have a plan (for the week, for the month).  We will continue to work on the research of women scientists, but with the video and the Internet safety lesson, I feel like it is breaking up the flow of our research.  I am hoping that the kids can stay focused on the research project, because when we started it, I was imagining it being a highlight.  I am not losing hope for the highlight.

The students have had a three-day weekend, so I am hopeful that they are well rested and ready for a great week of learning.  We have so many things to look forward to in science and ELA – the literature circle meeting on Wednesday and the presentations of the women scientists on Friday.

Sunday Poem – Madness – SOLSC Day #24


The crowd gathers

around the television.

Excitement is building

in the air.

Ten point run to start,

cheers erupt from the couch.

The Rams begin

their comeback.

Tension is building

in the air.

Dribble, drive, basket,

cheers erupt from the couch.

Finger roll for two,

three pointer, three pointer, three pointer.

Our team is pulling


Break away for two and foul,

cheers erupt from the couch.

Thirty-two points to their twenty-two

in the second half.

More crossovers, two from the baseline,

their in complete control.

Buzzer sounds, onto round two,

cheers erupt from the couch.

Our favorite team is victorious.

Go Syracuse Orange women!

Our favorite men’s basketball team lost on Thursday, but our favorite women’s team advances to the second round of the tournament.  The girls and their friends (eight in all) were jumping off the couch, high-fiving, and fist bumping the whole four quarters.  This is one of my favorite parts of March.

Descriptive Writing – SCUBA Style – SOLSC Day #23

As I write on this sunny Saturday morning, I am torn because I have so many things to write about, but today is the day that I write about an ELA lesson, so I’m staying on task and writing about a descriptive writing lesson.  Descriptive writing is difficult for sixth grade writers because it requires providing more details to sentences, which is difficult for 11(12)-year-olds to do.  In fact, descriptive writing can be difficult for writers of all ages (I know that I struggle with being descriptive in my own writing).

My favorite descriptive writing lesson (lasts a few class periods):

I start by asking my students if they know the difference between snorkeling and scuba diving.  Some of the students know the differences, but others struggle, so I first show them pictures of the equipment, and then, I show a short video about each.  We discuss that the snorkeler sees the beauty of sea life from the surface.  I love when the kids compare this to writing in third person.  Then, we discuss that the scuba diver emerges to the depths of the sea and witnesses sea life as part of the setting (with the sea life).  Additionally, I love when the kids compare this writing to first person perspective.  Finally, I ask the students which writer (the writer that snorkels or the writer that scuba dives) will have an easier time showing their story.  We make the connection to the advice that many authors that we Skype with give us, “It is easier to write from experience, so get out and experience things.”

It is time to put the SCUBA Descriptive Writing poster on the whiteboard and on the other three walls that surround the classroom.  The poster states:

Show the reader the story

Conventions – be careful with spelling, punctuation, and capitalization

Use sensory details

Be organized – sentences and paragraphs should flow

Authentic voice – your own writing style

Now, the students are ready to practice, so I place two different examples on the monitor screen.  The first is the snorkeling example:

The kitchen smelled like turkey.  The dinner was enjoyable.  The relatives told stories about the past and it was funny.  We ate salads, turkey, and mashed potatoes.  Everything was good.

The second is the SCUBA example:

Laughter and the sleepy smell of turkey filled the air as twenty members of my family ate Thanksgiving dinner together.  Stories of past holidays and other memories were shared from table to table.  At the same time, mouth-watering salads, creamy-smooth mashed potatoes with hot gravy, and moist slices of delicious turkey were passed from plate to plate.

The kids need to identify the sensory details from the second (SCUBA) example, and then, they compare the two examples.  We discuss what makes the second example more descriptive and vivid.  We also discuss that the reader (of the second example) feels like she or he is part of the story.  Then, we create a list of other descriptive words that we could use to describe the dinner.  Finally, the kids are ready to practice by writing about their own Thanksgiving (or celebration) dinner.

Of course, I would love to read how others teach descriptive writing in their own classroom.  It is such an important skill for a writer (of any level).  Please respond and let me know.

Building a Relationship (between characters) – SOLSC Day #22

This morning, I’m trying to build a relationship between my main character and his soon-to-be-girlfriend.  Considering I was up VERY LATE watching my favorite college basketball team play, it’s been a great morning of writing.  I’m happy (for now) with this scene.

Here’s an excerpt: 

Buzz…Buzz…Buzz… The phone is scooting across the desk.  No one ever calls.  I grab the phone, look at the screen and it reads Sweet Samantha.  When did she put that in my phone?

“Hey, Sweet Samantha,” I say and hear laughter.

“What are ya’ doin’?”

“I’m heading to the library.  It’s way too quiet around here.”

“You did just hear what you said?  A library is the quietest place I’ve ever been.  You do know that you’re supposed to be quiet in the library.”  I can still hear her smile.

“It’s hard to explain, but I love the library.  I have a ton of homework, so I’m heading over with hopes of getting it done.”

“I still have to finish the research for the water turbine project.  Can I join you?”

“Absolutely, but do you promise that you won’t distract me?”

“I can’t make any promises.  I’ll meet you there in fifteen minutes.”


The walk over is so quiet.  The snow has been flying around the sky all day, but it doesn’t seem to be sticking to the ground.  Almost every house is lit up with Christmas lights.  When I get to the corner with the library, Patty drives out of the exit and is waving frantically at me with a big smile on her face.  What a smile!  No wonder why Casey liked her so much.

The parking lot is nearly empty.  As soon as I walk through the door, I see Samantha lounging in one of the sofa chairs to my right.  She’s holding up a flyer.  I know exactly what it says.

“Grif, there’s so much that I don’t know about you.  How long have you been the special guest reader during story hour?” She asks while pointing at my name on the flyer.

“I’ve been doing it for about a year.  I love it.  The kids are a bit squirrely, but they love when I change the voices of the characters and get all into the story.  You should come.  I could use some help controlling the kids.”

“Oh, don’t worry.  I’ll be there on Saturday.  In fact, I can’t wait.” And she gets up and hugs my arm.

We head towards the front desk and the stairs in the back of the library.  All of my librarian friends are behind the counter.

“We were hoping that our favorite hockey player was going to stop in.” Mrs. Dwyer turned to get Ms. Madigan’s attention.  “Who’s your study partner?”

“Mrs. Dwyer, this is Samantha.” She comes around the counter and gives Samantha a hug and tells her that she better not distract me.  Before I can even introduce Ms. Madigan, she too comes around the counter with a pamphlet in her hand.

“We got this in the mail today and thought of you.” She hands me the pamphlet acting as if Samantha isn’t standing right next to me.  “It’s a state poetry contest and we thought that you could submit some of your work in the high school division.”

Samantha’s mouth is wide open and she has a look of shock on her face.  “Thank you, Ms. Madigan, I’ll submit the poem that I wrote about the Harvest Moon.  This is Samantha.”

Ms. Madigan is not a hugger, so she shakes her hand and shoos us downstairs to the study room.  While we head to the stairs, I can hear them whispering to each other and giggling.

“I’m learning SO much about you tonight.  And here I thought that the only thing you did was play hockey.”  She grabs my arm and we head downstairs.