Thursday, November 21, 2013


During the winter months I don't like to run! I think wearing all those heavy clothes is just too much for me. It takes the joy out of the experience. The ice and snow also makes running so much harder and even dangerous. However, since I want to be ready for the spring races, I have to train all winter. So, this is what I'm doing this year.

I am still using the elliptical every morning for 45 minutes and we walk two miles every day at 5:30 a.m.  I do the same weight training three times a week and also ab work for five days a week. All that is the same as I do in the summer. In the summer I can walk several times during the day with Dave, my golden retriever, but we don't do that as much in the bad weather. Instead, I have been using the treadmill to add to my mileage. That along with the daily walks I take in the evening before or after supper have been giving me the workouts I need to stay in shape.
I have been checking out races in the area as well as some large races around the country. If I have a race in the future, that helps me to stay focused and have a purpose for those long training sessions. Running is one of the most enjoyable things I have added to my activities since retiring. So blessed to have the ability and health to do it.  Not to mention how fortunate I am to have a husband that is not only my coach but also my running partner!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Writers Work Toward Ba-Da-Bing Sentences

Since I have been traveling again, it had been awhile since I visited this fourth grade classroom.  After being gone, it is amazing to see how much the students had grown as writers.  Today they were working on various genres and adding sentences that Barry Lane calls: ba-da-bing sentences.

Here's how it went.
The teacher talked to them about writing three parts to a sentence: Where feet travel; What eyes see; and What the mind thinks. By doing those three things, the sentence becomes longer and gives the reader more details.

Look at this sample:
Where your feet went:
"I tiptoed across the freshly waxed tile floor."
What you saw:
"half of the players were bear-hugging the volleyball, as they returned to the rack"
What you thought:
"Mrs. Gilbert is a master teacher, coach and organizer"
The new sentence:
"As I tiptoed on freshly waxed tile, I saw children bear-hugging their volleyballs and thought, Mrs. G. is amazing!"

The students were instructed to try this in their work today. 

After writing/conferencing time was over, several children shared their work.  Here is a sample of one girl's ba-da-bing sentence:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Writers Consider the Drama of Their Short Story


The fourth grade classroom I was visiting today was working on the unit of study, Short Stories. Each of the students had finished at least one scene in the story. Today was the deadline for that to be done. During the lesson time, the teacher talked about creating scenes and thinking about how the character influences the drama of the scene.

The class discussed ways they could do this:
  1. Speaking--character
  2. Small Actions
  3. Thinking--character
  4. Character description: What is the character doing with his hands, his face, his body?
The students were to think about how their characters influenced the drama of their story.  They were to slow down the scene and make it seem real to their readers...make a movie in their minds.

During the writing/conferencing time, I was able to talk to four students. Each of them were at a different place in their scene. The theme that I saw for each of them was: needing to slow down the moment to make it more alive for the reader. They had the tools they needed to do this from the focus lesson, but they were not applying it. Tomorrow the teacher will again take this same focus and try in another way to model for them how to slow down a moment. Some things take teaching over and over for it to become a tool students can easily use in their writing.

Sharing time was allowing students to show how they revised their scenes by adding to the story. Many of them did the "spider leg" strategy and some used a ^ where a small thing could be added. This unit of study will continue with more small scenes in the story.

Monday, October 21, 2013

New Book: Notice & Note

Last week I got a text from a teacher asking for some help with Close Reading. The request got  me excited. I explained to that teacher, that I really hadn't done much work in that area. I had an idea of what I thought it meant, but since I've been retired and just working in classes focusing on writing, I would need to read up on it. Yes, I knew that it was a focus in the CCSS. Yes, I had done some reading on the subject. Still, I didn't feel comfortable working at the expert level! So, I checked out Heinemann and found a new book. Yes, I know I'm retired and do NOT need more professional books. Still, I bought it!
After receiving the book today on my doorstep, I spent the rest of the afternoon reading! I am now about 1/3 into it. I am fascinated and can't put it down. The authors start out introducing Signposts to look for as reading is taking place. This is in order to find things that call out for close reading.
The three parts of the book are: The Questions We Pondered, The Signposts We Found, and The Lessons We Teach. So far, my favorite chapter is: What Do We Mean by Intellectual Communities? For so long, I have believed that students need to have discussions that are deep and ask the questions in discussion time, instead of teachers asking the questions. (When they already knew the answer they were looking for!)

"The purpose of schools ought to be to create intellectual communities where students are encouraged to be risk takers, to be curious, to be willing to try and fail, and to be more interested in asking questions than providing answers." pg. 24

I know teachers are going to love the part that is full of actual lessons for each of the signposts, including charts that they can lift out of the book and use in the classroom. To add to that, in the Appendix are the actual texts for teaching the signpost lessons!
I can't wait to meet with those teachers who are ready to take the next step and dive into close reading to help their kiddos have the tools they need to be productive readers. Did I mention that the authors understand that it is more important to have intellectual communities than to teach to the test?

"What might make a difference would be schools becoming the intellectual communities that they ought to be but can't be when the penalty for not teaching to the test is so high." pg 25

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Writers Use Theme to Plan the Plot of a Short Story

Leaves blew across the street as I made my way to the front door of the school. I pushed the button and gave the secretary my name and destination. The season of autumn is in the air, but the children in the fourth grade classroom had only the story they were writing in their heads today. They had been working on their fiction pieces for several days and were ready to think about how the theme of a story helped them to plan the plot.
In the past they had worked on an overview of the story, so they knew where they were going. They were also working on a story as a class. They knew they had to be true to the theme of the story and let it lead them as they planned. They knew they could not just throw in a theme at the end.
As I conferenced with them today, I noticed that they either didn't know how to plan or they just wanted to get right to the story.  I think this is common at any grade level. Everyone was working on some type of story. There was fantasy, realistic fiction and historical fiction. They had worked on sketching out the scenes, but still were struggling with the overall plan.
As teachers, it is hard for us to remember that these young authors are just approximating the skills they will eventually master. It is hard for us to remember that planning is a difficult thing to master. These nine and ten year olds just want to get to the good parts...fighting or loving, they want ACTION. What's to plan with that?
So, as teachers, we have to model, model, model for them. We think we taught the skill well. We think they have already heard it over and over and over. But, actually, we have to keep on going over it again and again. They will get it and it will come naturally, but for now, we have to praise their approximations!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

I'm A Runner!

One of the passions I have discovered since retirement is that of running. So far this year we have run in three races. We started with the Peachtree 10K Road Race in Atlanta on the 4th of July. We have run that for many years, but this year was different. I found myself running and not stopping to walk. I walked through the water stops due to the hot weather, but I did not feel the exhaustion as I have before.

When Darrell heard about a small race in a nearby city to be held in September, we decided to try it. It was just a 5K, but still a challenge for us. We usually quit running in the summer after the Peachtree. This year we kept up our training.  Usually that meant running on the weekends and doing elliptical work during the week.  We did the Hog Jog 5K and I ended up getting second in my age group of women and 4th in the 40+ group.

Next came the Fort 4 Fitness Health Fair in Fort Wayne. It is a group of three different distances.  We decided to do the 4-miler. It was a great race and I found out I placed 4th out of 71 women in my age group.
This week we decided to try for another local race, another 5K.  It is to be held on a Saturday in November and I am already adding miles to my training during the week. This last Saturday we were ready for a 4-mile training run in the neighborhoods around us. We warmed up with a walk and then took off for the run. When we got just a few yards from our house, it began to sprinkle. It looked like it might start raining, so we came home. We watched the weather forecast. We paced around the house. Finally, we thought we had a window big enough to get the run in and we took off.  We were fine for about two miles and then it hit.  It rained harder than I ever remember. We were soaked, but we kept running. Cars went by with people looking at us like we were crazy.  We made it home and felt good to know we did it!

Yes, we are runners!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Writers Use Character Traits to Write Interpretive Essays

This week I was able to finally get to another school where I do classroom visits.  This school is part of Fort Wayne Community Schools and is a magnet school. The 5th grade classroom has 26 students. They are currently working on finishing up the unit of study on interpretive essays.

It was interesting for my first visit to have the teacher do a review of what they were doing in writer's workshop. They had been studying this genre for several weeks, but now they were working in groups of two or three to do a character study of one of the characters from the class Read Aloud they had recently finished.

After the mini lesson, I settled in with three boys who were intently discussing their essay. Max, Sam and Corey had the introduction to the piece done. They were using Sabrina, but had chosen the character trait of being bossy.  They felt this was the character's main trait. They could tell me several places where the character showed bossiness, but their work was proceeding slowly because there was more talking than writing happening. My teaching point for them was to show them how writers sometimes divide up the work and work independently. They were willing to do this. They had a plan of writing their part, coming together to revise and then add it to the essay.  They went off to work with new energy.

Next, I worked with Jenna and Airion. They had finished their draft and even had some revision done. Since I had never read the read-aloud book, I offered to listen to what they had written and let them know what wasn't clear for me.  My teaching point ended up being to show them how writers ask questions as they revise.  The questions we came up with were: What was Sabrina thinking? and When did she change? These girls will be finishing their essay very soon!

It was great to meet these wonderful writers.  I am looking forward to watching and working with these students as they grow as authors this year!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Author Visit: Tess Gerritsen

On Tuesday night my friend, Sandie, and I traveled to Angola to their library. The purpose of our trip was to see an author that we had come to love.  We had read one of her books for our Book Club and decided we needed to hear her in person.

This was not a normal publishers way of getting more of her books sold. This was a "love-of-libraries" book tour that she just does. She says that libraries are not getting the funding they need. They are getting to be not as popular as they once were due to the online reading. So, she decided if she could get a few libraries to go together and host her, she would visit.  Thus, the trip to northern Indiana.  She picked a great time because Indiana in the fall is the best!

My favorite book of hers and the one we read for our book club, was The Bone Garden. It is a historical fiction. Actually, she said it was one of her favorite, too, even though it is not one of the better sellers.  It takes place in Boston both in present day and in 1930. Oliver Wendell Holmes is a main character. Due to the fact that Tess is also a doctor, this book showed her interest in that part of her life.
Many people know her as the author of the Rizzoli and Isles books. They are now a series on TNT and very popular. She told us how she came to develop these characters and how actually, Rizzoli was not supposed to live past her first appearance. But, Tess just couldn't kill her off! She also told us how she reads newspapers to get ideas for her books.

Sandie and I were so excited to get her to sign our books and have our pictures taken with her, too.  We are big Tess Gerritsen fans now!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Fort 4 Fitness Challenge

One of the things I have wanted to do for many years is to run the Fort 4 Fitness race held in September every year.  This is a way that Fort Wayne is showing how it stays fit. There are three main races on Saturday, each starting at a different time. The 4-mile run/walk was first at 7:30 a.m.  Then came the mini marathon of 13.1 miles and last was the 10K run.

This year I felt that our 10K race in Atlanta for the Peachtree was one of our best ever, so why not try the Fort 4 Fitness?  Since we had never done this race and had no idea what the route would be like, we decided to do the 4-mile run.  We kept up our running all summer with long Saturday runs. We felt we were ready!
One of the tough things about this race was that it started so early in the morning. We needed to leave home at 6:00 to be sure and be at the starting line on time. It was DARK and cold. We parked the car and walked to the corral area.  We were in starting corral G. The race had over 3,000 runner/walkers in it. There was music playing as the runners gathered in the correct area to begin the run. After a prayer and the national anthem, they shot off a cannon and we were on our way.
With that many runners, I never felt alone. The people were great. So many neighborhoods made signs and wrote on the pavement to encourage the runners. I even saw a couple of my FWCS friends standing at the side. It was wonderful to hear someone yell your name and cheer you on.
We started on Baker Street and turned for a long south run on Calhoun Street. The miles clipped off at amazing speed. I think running in neighborhoods made the time go by faster.
For the end of all three races the runners turned into Parkview Field and finished on Home Plate. There were people there to place a metal around your neck for finishing and then a line to gather up some goodies the sponsors had donated. We walked over to the area where pictures were being taken and stood in line for that, too.
The weather was perfect. The race was very organized. It was a wonderful day in the fort! Can't wait to do it again next year!  Oh, and by the way, I ended up taking 4th place out of 71 women in my age group!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Focus Lesson: Publishing

It is cool and sunny as I walk up the sidewalk to visit Amy's fourth grade classroom. The smell of fair food is lingering in the air, but I am more excited about seeing what these kiddos are doing than I am in visiting the fair, which I will do when I get done! 

Today's focus lesson is: Writer's publish to get a piece ready for an audience to read.
When all the children are gathered on the floor in front of the large screen, Amy tells them to begin with a clean page in their notebook and put the title: FAIR on top.  She reminds them that this Quick Write is to warm up the brain...just like sports people warm up their muscles before an event.  The brain is a muscle. They will then be able to use the quick writes as 'seed ideas' later.

She then gives them some guidelines about publishing: You can write with a pen. You can use pretty paper. You don't have to type it.  She showed them samples of published pieces her former students had done so they could have an idea of what was possible.
Next, they went over a list of questions to see if they were indeed ready to publish. With that done, they were off to various spots in the room to work on publishing. They also had a deadline to work toward. They had to get busy!  (Just like professional writers).

I was able to conference with five students during their writing time. Braeden was writing a play about a video game: MineCraft. It was interesting to see how he was using side bars for directions on how the actors should be reading their lines. Joey was publishing his four chapter book: Snake Attack. He was working on the back cover and how to add some things to interest the reader there. David was doing a book on information for how to better play the game: MineCraft. Today he was working on the cover. Kaydence was writing a personal narrative about a trip she took to Chicago.

Grace was publishing a darling book called: Beautiful Morning. It was a picture book. She said she just loves to make words come alive. She had used repeated lines and colorful fonts in her own handwriting.
As the children went to the sharing time and gathered back on the floor, I thought about how each of these students sees themselves as writers. They are working in a workshop where anything is possible. I can see the value of taking LOTS of time at the beginning of the year to set up procedures. Allowing the children to have choice in what they are writing helps them to see the power of words. They have guidelines, but they also have freedom. The most important part of writing is to feel the ability to write for the "world" not just do what the teacher wants. Yes, there comes a time when genres must be taught. However, learning to love writing and have confidence in what you write, is powerful!

Okay, I'm now ready to head to the fair and those wonderful Fair Doughnuts!!!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Why I Teach

A few weeks ago, I saw a post on Facebook. It seems that one of my former second graders just got a job coaching a JV Volleyball team. I was very proud of her. AND I told her. Right away I messaged her, telling how proud I was of the adult she was becoming!  

From that post, she invited me to come watch her coach a game and I accepted the invitation. She gave me dates of her games. We looked over our busy schedule. We finally settled on going to a game. 

Last night we traveled to Butler, to a gym full of fans and players. We saw them  practicing and doing drills when we got there. We found seats in the center of the bleachers.  We watched as the coach tossed balls to her team and then got them settled into being ready to play.  She was focused on her team. She didn't sit on the bench much the whole night.  She paced. She tossed out comments. She gathered her girls around her. Yes, she was focused. 

Her team won, which was exciting. But more than that, I loved seeing her become the responsible young lady I always knew she would become. And, for this retired teacher, it makes me proud to know I had a little part in making her who she is today!!  Love you, Paige!  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Writing Lesson: Revision

"Will you talk to me today?"
That was what a fourth grade boy asked me as I was sitting in his classroom waiting for the transition between Math time and Writing time.

"Sure," I said, being secretly thrilled because this was only my second time in the classroom and he was already comfortable enough with me to ask for my help!

"What are you working on?"
"I have written three books, all in my notebook. I now want to combine them into one book," he told me as he leafed through the notebook.
"So, you're going to make each of those books a chapter?" I asked.
"Yes, I think so."
"Okay, after the lesson I will be over to see what your doing. Can't wait to see those books!"

Such was the beginning of my day in the fourth grade. The writing lesson for the day was: Writers notice spots where more needs to be added. 
Amy started the focus lesson with the children doing a Quick Write in their notebook. They were to write Cool Mornings at the top of their page and then make a list.  It only took about two minutes and then a couple kids shared one thing on their list.

She then turned to a page in the book: A Writer's Notebook by Ralph Fletcher and read Radical Surgery. This was about how to add things to the draft. They talked about not writing on both sides of the draft paper, cutting the draft apart and rearranging it. They talked about skipping lines and then adding things in those lines...maybe in different colored ink. They talked about using * to show where you added a longer piece. Then she shared the ever popular "spider legs" and post its.  Now it was time to go write.

I sat down beside Madeline and asked what she was working on today. She was writing a memoir about her and her best friend. We talked briefly about the difference between a personal narrative and a memoir. She knew she needed to go deeper with the writing. As she told me her story, I kept asking: "So what?"  I think she got tired of me saying that. Finally, I said, "What do you want your readers to know? What should they take away when they have read this piece?"  After making a brief outline/plan for her piece she decided to end it with a moral. Something the reader could take and apply to his life. My teaching point with her was: Your writing needs to have a purpose---meaning.

Next I sat beside Anna who was writing a poem about a friend. I asked her to tell me things about her friend. This was not to be a short moment in time, it was to be more of an "all about" her friend. When she had listed orally the things that made her friend special, I asked her, "How do you feel about Ally?"  My teaching point with her was: Ending with a feeling gives closure to a poem. 

I talked to a few more students,. I listened to the sharing time where young authors told how they added things to their pieces using the strategies from the focus lesson. After debriefing with Amy, I headed out. Before I left the room, I stopped to talk to Joey, the boy with the three books. He had been working on the computer all period, so I never got to conference with him. I promised I would be back next week and we would look at those stories.

Another successful workshop. Another time of busy writers working on their own projects. Another chance for me to see how smart these children are!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Nonfiction Notebooks by Aimee Buckner

When the doorbell rang a few days ago, I rushed to see who it was.  Visitors coming to my door just doesn't happen that often.  I was so excited to see that it was a box from Stenhouse Publishers.  That meant a book that I had ordered was here.  Yes, I know I am retired and should NOT be ordering professional books any more.  But this one was different.

This one was by a personal favorite author.  I just love how Aimee Buckner writes. She makes things so easy to understand. It is like she is sitting there just talking to you. It doesn't hurt that I have had the chance to meet Aimee and that we have a friend in common. Her former principal is Mary Baldwin. I met Mary many years ago in NYC. We connected immediately.  She is from Atlanta, Georgia and runs in the Peachtree race like I do.  She even allowed me to visit her school one summer when I was in Atlanta to run. That was the year Aimee was coming to teach fourth grade. The next year, Aimee came to our All Write Institute and spoke and I had the privilege of introducing her.

Many classrooms start out the year launching their writer's workshop with the notebook. Using the writer's notebook for narrative writing seems to be an easy way to start. However, many times the notebook then gets left behind as various genres are introduced. That is where this book comes in. Nonfiction Notebooks Strategies for Informational Writing is just what teachers need to continue to work with notebooks.

Aimee's book helps teachers  see how they can use the notebook to help with those genres that the CCSS address: opinion/argument; informational; and narrative. Aimee shows how the prewriting work a student does is particularly important when writing informational pieces.  This book takes teachers step-by-step through the process of how best to use notebooks for informational writing.

Even though I am now retired and not really connected to any certain grade, school or district, I am still excited about what I am reading in this book.  Like a friend of mine says, "You will never really stop being a teacher!"  I guess that's true. So, hop on the Stenhouse website and check out this book. I think it is just what you have been looking for!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering 9/11/2001

Today is a day of remembering.  As I was out for my morning walk, a neighbor came out into her yard carrying a flag.  She said, "We don't have a flag pole." She had just recently moved here and she just realized a flag pole was not part of the house. We talked about how emotional this day was even if it was twelve years ago.

This year, in my travels, I had the chance to not only visit the Trade Center memorial again, but also for the first time see the crash site in Pennsylvania. Both of those areas were emotional visits.

View of church that stood through it all, across from the Trade Center.

I was in New York in March and the weather was awful. It was snowing that sloppy wet mess. I felt like I was freezing since I didn't expect the weather to be like that and had not dressed for it. Still, the memorial was full of people. It was quiet and peaceful. Everyone remembering.

In May, we stopped on our way to Philadelphia to see the site of Flight 93. We traveled off our regular path and drove through roads and roads until we found it. We saw the place where the plane went down. We sat and looked out at what must of been the last thing these heroes saw. We read all the material. It was quiet and peaceful. Everyone remembering.
May we never forget how we felt on that day. May we always be thankful for the freedom we have. May we always remember God is Good, All the Time!