Mrs. Love's Blog-0-Rama!

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Mrs. Love's Blog-0-Rama!

The Write Thing.

February 16, 2015 · No Comments · Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, book recommendations, Writing

We are having a grand conversation about the rigor of texts in our school, looking vertically both to the lower grades and the high school grades, to find appropriate, “rigorous” texts (as some define by high Lexile scores as the sole criteria).

As with many shifts, if I don’t do the reading and thinking on my own, I never can adapt or shift professionally. So, to the experts! Away!

Grant Wiggins defines rigor as being in the task (so therefore, not the teacher, and not the text).

So, what is rigor? Rigor is not established by the teaching. It’s not established by framing teaching against standards, therefore. Rigor is established by our expectations: how we evaluate and score student work. That means that rigor is established by the three different elements of assessment:

  1. The difficulty of the task or questions

  2. The difficulty of the criteria, as established by rubrics

  3. The level of achievement expected, as set by “anchors” or cut scores.

The blog post continues to discuss Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and rubrics for deeper thinking. This is so comfortable to me, and something I can wholly embrace. I feel that in my practice I have been doing this for years, but never had the clear light shining on the rest of the path.

And by now we are all familiar with this triangulation of text complexity:


But in the tug-of-war about rigorous texts, it is my mission to include writing. Deep, rich writing. I have been reading The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham: every so often we read an educational text that both validates and inspires. This is one of those. She masterfully balances the art of reading and writing, not an either/or.

How did I figure out that reading informs writing? Well, there’s a wealth of educational research to back up this thinking, which you’ll find in Chapter 2 . But mostly, experience has taught me that reading makes better writers. When I read poetry, I’m likely to try my hand at a poem or two. And while they may not be as memorable as those I’ve just enjoyed, writing my own provides me with a mental workout and a valuable learning experience. When I read a powerful nonfiction article, it makes me want to read more about that topic and find a way to weave that information into something I’m writing. When I see a campaign slogan, I think about how the candidate is saying a lot with a little. When I hear a song lyric that speaks to me, I find myself singing along, noticing the rhythm of the piece, and trying to replicate it in prose. I hear a powerful verb or phrase and steal it for my own writing. I’m a writing thief. It seems like every writer should be.

Culham, Ruth (2014-04-28). The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing (Kindle Locations 185-192). International Reading Association. Kindle Edition.

My question is, is there a triangle of complex writing tasks, and moreover, should there be? Culham blasts the standard, formulaic “five paragraph essay” model, along with other rigid modes of writing. The writing for standardized test she views as just one small mode of writing, not the end-all, be-all.

If you could create a writing model, what would yours include?

Off the top of my head, here are two charts I created that in no way do I feel are complete:

What if writing was shifted or turned depending on the engagement of the writer?

What if writing was shifted or turned depending on the engagement of the writer?

What if the reading complexity triangle were translated to a writing one? What would it look like? How could it be managed?

What if the reading complexity triangle were translated to a writing one? What would it look like? How could it be managed?

Sometimes the simplest means to have students engage in more complex ways is the minimalist approach. Don’t put numbers or word count on the task, but put voice and thinking above all. I have enjoyed adding to my collection on my writing blog Up From the Gutter (my writing blog for students/teachers) and think John Spencer and his team have done a phenomenal job with Write About.

And we need great mentor texts, and refreshing and singular voices to hear with new ears, and old friends to listen to. Here’s a list of high Lexile books I’ll be revisiting and researching. Some I’ve used for years, and others I need to take a look at:

But over-arching, consider the highest level of rigor, and that is evaluative, real-world issues:

So, how would you describe the rigorous integration of writing and reading? Ultimately, we all agree we are guiding our students to find their voices. What say you?


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Sit down. Shut up. Do what I say.

February 8, 2015 · No Comments · Being a better teacher, Big Questions

diane ravitch

Ah, what would the world be like if bullies were easily identifiable? What if, when a bully spoke, a brackish green cloud formed with every word, and their bodies glowed eggplant brown, a visible aura to show their words were angry and full of fear? That ugly beacon of fear would shine from me on occasion, and at checkpoints throughout the year, and my students would know I am Angry and Afraid, the twin spawns of dictatorship.

What am I afraid of?

I am afraid that when I am refining and honing my craft, the art/science of teaching, time will be stolen from my students so they won’t see the full benefit or be able to work on a continuum.

I am afraid of being misunderstood, under-appreciated, and patronized.

I am afraid of others taking credit, not collaborating or building.

I am afraid if I speak up. share an idea or insight, even build on another’s in a collaborative spirit,  I see the inner (and sometimes overt) eye-rolls from others who dismiss my ideas.

And I am angry that many educational cultures around the country foster this paranoia, insecurity, and fear. And the fears are real. We are afraid of losing funding. We are afraid our schools will be bought out and privatized, and someone will profit (but not students in the long run). We are afraid our children will not have access to the jobs and opportunities in our own nation.

Whew, that’s a mindful. I should say mind-full. Mindfulness is the jargon word of the moment. Not a bad one, but one.

We are given pathways and signals on how to be, how to think, how to move forward. And with any of these wonderful tropes what may be lacking is the how – how to overcome when our best practices grow carbuncular obstacles?

I reposted this image a few days ago, and it took off like wildfire. 

How do you measure the immeasurable?

These great ideas may not fall on a rubric.

The article asks, among other things:

Are you flexible? In inquiry, the journey matters as much as the destination. Constant reflection is a necessity to improving thinking and doing. Metacognition encourages wisdom, the ultimate goal of any worthy education system. Flexibility tells the brain and heart to keep working, keep going—you’re getting there.

Am I flexible? 

Well, depends on who you ask these days.

If you ask coordinators, coaches, supervisors, professional development trainers, co-workers, office staff, or my students you will get a very different review of my level of flexibility. (Which, isn’t that paradoxically the very essence of flexibility? Knowing your audience?)

I am still experiencing thought thieves, and worse, time bandits. And not cute Terry Gilliam ones.  Recently I asked my Facebook community if there is one thing they could change about teaching, what would it be, and their answers are thoughtful and wise:


 I realize this is a very small sampling, but do you see a theme? Time.

This past month, I tried something new. Though I have always taught to the highest standards, provided the highest expectations, and worked to craft scaffolding that was supportive and upward bound, I took a risk and thought I would try to jigsaw The Hobbit. It’s not a bad idea. (If you would like the full unit, email me. It’s yours.) It’s chock-full of Tolkien goodness (sounds like a brand of nougat), and most of the students were getting it: close reading, annotation, etc.

Where the wheels have come off the bus lies in one simple truth: I haven’t been there, and won’t be there. I have more professional development tomorrow, and have a personal issue on Wednesday, so whatever continuity of instruction I sought is dashed against the rocks of others agendas and poor timing once again. In order to get students engaged, I need compliance. And in order to get compliance, I need flexibility from them and from my supervisors. I’m in the middle, feeling pinned in. If I say “no,” as we adults are often advised to do, there may be retribution and passive-aggressive fall out. If I say “yes,” I am working nights and weekends to make it work for everyone else, because my students are the ones who are ultimately short-changed.

I make this plea: if those in power would really, sincerely like to see change, please do away with top-down management. Like trickle-down economics, those with the power/status are not as likely to share the spotlight. Do away with the spotlight altogether. 

And one more thing: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. With all the ‘how to reach introverts,’ (which I excel at because well, I know that world too) I am concerned about the extroverts. (I would wager most of us are ambiverts anyway.) They are often told to just be quiet. I tell them, too. One thing I’ve learned is constantly remind them of reciprocal needs: last week I held up my hand with three fingers up. I had three teaching points to make before they started working. As I made a point, I put down a finger. This way the extroverts had a visual cue to check and monitor their listening, and I kept my promise of not talking too much. We maintained a balance of power and mutual respect. (Students in a crowded sixth period class are done. I’m done.) Every year is different, every class community varies, and every student comes equipped with their own grooved brain. This tip might work for that class now, but not sure about next time.

That’s flexibility.

So back to the color-coding of emotions, an overt ‘mood ring’ of inner monologues: when we see someone is in the red-line, their amygdala is wigging out, and the lizard brain is in charge, maybe we could be more compassionate, slow down, and learn how to process and calm down. If we only had time.

Time Bandits Trailer

Read the script!



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Life boat.

January 2, 2015 · No Comments · Being a better teacher, Connections

Got a tiger in your boat?

Got a tiger in your boat?

When we first started teaching one of my best friends made a little ‘teacher emergency kit’ complete with ibuprofen, highlighters, emergency chocolate, etc. Its contents have long been depleted, and if I was to refill it now its metaphorical weight would sink a ship.

Now I am wondering: how do we educators truly support one another, and help us all get to safety? One thing that is beautiful about my life now is during holiday breaks my children are old enough to be independent, and we connect as a family when we choose. (Yes, I’m looking forward with hope to a day in the far, far future when I’m a grandmother, but today is not that day!) It’s wonderful to have the time to reflect on my craft, and organize my upcoming year as best I can.

Reasons I maintain social media connections are for the same fundamental reasons I always did: I get great ideas, and can share them, and share my (original) ideas, too. The days of the “one” may be outdated: by one I mean the ‘boss’ archetype in our worlds. The judge, the evaluator as jury, not as sage or wise curator. But that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose.

I wanted to share some inspirational media that I’ll take with me to the next half of the school year:

How to be heard

How to speak so that people want to listen

If he was giving this talk to teachers, it might include: stay out of the staff lounge. I do, but am questioning this. I am not sure I have the energy it takes to turn the culture around in our staff lounge.

Dr. Carol Dweck: Not Yet


Actively Learn

This is still glitchy on some of my students’ laptops, but other than that, it is phenomenal. If I were to design an interactive deeper reading format, this would be it, and that is high praise indeed.

Write About

This is almost a twin to Actively Learn in terms of its usability, accessibility, and easement into creativity.

On-going love affairs:

These are resources that continue to nourish:

New friends:

And always, celebrate my students:







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Got your back…

December 13, 2014 · No Comments · Being a better teacher, Big Questions, New News

I keep saying this in a Indigo Montoya voice from Princess Bride in my head: “You keep saying this word “support”…I do not think you know what it means…” I crack myself up. This time of year: no taking self seriously. Over my career(s), ‘support’ is an ubiquitous word that lost its meaning. When one is in a support position or role, they do not need to meet any rubric, metric, criteria or measurement, so we are all allowed to use this word in any way we choose. I believe anyone who wants to provide support though, while easy to say, is extremely difficult to master. I have looked long and hard, especially this past quarter, about what a flawed and fearful human I am: how the ravages of stress do not bolster or create a more robust and engaged creative me/teacher, but do much harm. Ultimately, I am using this post as a time to reflect upon moments when I have truly provided support for a colleague, and when I have received it with sincerity and accuracy.

Just how does one measure “support?”

Like its twin, “leadership,” there are many ways to approach the conversation and context of educational support; it’s a topic, a creed, which when carefully analyzed and understood, may have broad implications for moving forward with instructional and emotional lives for all educators. We all know when we have a strong/good leader. Strong does not mean hostile, just as good does not mean saintly. We know when an effective leader is nearby, our concerns will be acknowledged, triaged, and we are given autonomy to move forward safely. When we are offered support, we know that the person helping us is also being helped by us in return. No one likes to feel like they are a ‘charity case.’ No one responds positively to pity. No one gains support from mandates, top-down thumping, or thieves of thought.

Thieves of thought?

“Thieves of Thought” are those who listen to others ideas and make them their own. Your signature is off the canvas. Erased. Suddenly I want credit for something I shared openly, gave freely, and now resentment creeps in, and resentment is the death of collaboration.

First and foremost: if we have established a growth model for all educators and administrators, we agree on growth, but we disagree on how or what to make grow. We disagree on best practices, on manner and biases of style, student engagement (one might see a child doodling while reading, another might see the child having an inner dialogue about the text), and our human natures that establish bonds and trust with one another can be destroyed with ill-intentioned exchanges and the fragility of egos.

We want to shut our doors, be left alone, and focus on our students. And we should be allowed to do so, and called forward to lead when we will be treated as equals:

When you walk into this world of reality, the greater or cosmic world, you will find the way to rule your world—but, at the same time, you will also find a deep sense of aloneness. It is possible that this world could become a palace or a kingdom to you, but as its king or queen, you will be a monarch with a broken heart. It is not a bad thing to be, by any means. In fact, it is the way to be a decent human being—and beyond that a glorious human being who can help others.

This kind of aloneness is painful, but at the same time, it is beautiful and real. Out of such painful sadness, a longing and a willingness to work with others will come naturally. You realize that you are unique. You see that there is something good about being you as yourself. Because you care for yourself, you begin to care for others who have nurtured your existence or have made their own journey of warriorship, paving the way for you to travel this path. Therefore, you feel dedication and devotion to the lineage of warriors, brave people, whoever they have been, who have made this same journey. And at the same time, you begin to care for all those who have yet to take this path. Because you have seen that it is possible for you, you realize that you can help others to do the same. –From The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chögum Trungpa

NPR did a wonderful series recently about great teachers. I caught the one about Dudley P. Whitney, a woodshop teacher from New Hampshire:

As a student at Dartmouth, I spent oodles of time in his shop. It’s a place with no curriculum and no grades. The studio is open to anyone.

Students and professors can just swing by with an idea of something they want to make, and then they work one-on-one with Whitney or another instructor to learn how to make it.

This part stood out for me:

Mueller says you have to get rid of this stereotype that creativity is unleashed.

“There is this impression that: Give students freedom and they’ll be creative. And what we know is that they need some structure upfront,” says Mueller.

They need a well-defined problem — like building a piece of furniture — and they need to know the constraints and the range of possibilities.

Structure upfront and well-defined problem: So I tried that the other week. I changed my style, mixed things up: I told the students they had a problem to solve together, and that was how to get from Point A to Point B on writing a short answer response to the poem, “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakka. Overall, it worked, and overall it didn’t. But that’s the beauty of this: I have colleagues I trust to discuss the process, and go back to the drawing board. My students, all of them, whether or not they completed the task, learned a great deal about themselves, and I about them. I saw who needs more structure, and who thrived with the authentic problem (how does one find theme in a poem and dig deeper?).

Ultimately, I am grateful to my mentors: those enlightened beings, so few and far between, who truly know how to listen, share openly, and give: the more they give, the more they receive. I shall endeavor to be lighter of spirit, and more generous, than I have been. I am seeking grace and calmness of soul, so I too can help assuage new teachers’ fears. I may not be in a ‘leadership position’ but then again that means the temptation to be corrupted by power is negated.

A beloved band teacher is retiring after forty-four years. He is a man of God, faith, and love. He has always given me the time, the one word, the small moment that has bolstered me in times of fear and stress. He has never lectured me, nor pushed his ego or agenda. He is mindful, thoughtful, and insightful. I strive to be as good and kind. The next time you hear the word ‘support’ remember the bridge needs both sides of the river.


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Show me the money.

November 11, 2014 · No Comments · Being a better teacher, Big Questions

So much mind clutter, and literal clutter, taking up space right now. But it’s my own mudpie, and I’ll have to eat it. And I will. In the forefront of the clutter and mess is this overarching thought: “Why did I become a teacher?” I had a very dear friend tell me the other day she actually saw me working for a tech company instead of teaching. This actually disheartened me. I know she meant well, but it was unsettling. This came in the context of our conversation about career options for teachers, and how many good and grand dreams of mine slipped right passed me. Others are on career trajectories that seem mapped out and GPS pixel-perfect, and looking back, I realize when I ‘took my ball and went home*’ for a few years I must have fallen asleep behind the wheel.  Now it feels as if I’m at a dead-end.

Or am I?

So here are the burning questions, my fellow teachers: how do you feel about money, your ability to earn money, and your future earning potential? Consider, no one thinks it’s polite to discuss the trilogy of taboo: sex, politics, or religion. I would add a fourth to this:  money and salaries are also taboo subjects. But the fact is we educators work a lot of hours for no monetary reward. This is not news. And many of us begin our careers with somewhat a Franciscan devout archetype in our secret teacher hearts, and that we are ‘above all the sordid issues of coin.’ But we’re not. It used to terrify me to think that if something happened to my husband, my salary would not be enough to support two sons and a mortgage. We would go from moderate middle-class to close to the poverty line, though I had a Masters +90 level salary status. (Close is a relative term: if my salary is double the poverty line of $18,000, we wouldn’t need government assistance, but would have had to sell the house, belongings, and move. I know many, many families have it far worse off. I am not complaining: just observing.) But we persevered. One pragmatic reason I became a teacher in the first place, among many more noble ones, is that I wanted one of us to have a steady income and health insurance to off-set my husband’s more tumultuous technology career. (Just ask the thousands of Microsoft employees who felt they worked for the last bastion of solid employers.) Nothing is safe, sacred, or guaranteed. But at least I could be home during a few weeks with my small sons, right?

One significant contrast between when I started as a teacher and nine years later is that I have lost all patience with doing more than I have to ‘for free.’ When I first began, anything I could do, every committee, every roundtable discussion, after-school homework help, coming in at dawn and leaving twelve hours later was the norm. And I loved it.  Veteran teachers grumbled about working without pay, too many volunteer hours, too many ‘out of kindness of hearts’ demands that many principals and district personnel seem to excel at. The dividing line between the salaried and the contracts is as old as labor relations, when Bob the Neanderthal worked for Sam’s Rock Wheel Enterprises and demanded safer, saber-tooth tiger free working conditions. The average U.S. salary for teachers, if this website is to be believed, is the mid-$40,000 range.  When I left my ‘business’ career in the early 1990s I was making $42,000 a year. That was over twenty years ago. So when my friend imagines me in a career in tech, I am haunted by what I left a ‘high power’ job for, and my husband’s experience in the technology industry. And I feel grateful, and shut up about teaching salaries.

The thing is — though the avenues for growth and job satisfaction are limited in education –I still return to my own values. I am happiest when I am creating, sharing, and have a sense of autonomy. I am at the sweet-spot now in teaching: I love to learn new things, refine best practices, not just recycle “old” lessons but polish, enhance, and adjust. Sometimes that old jacket isn’t “old,” but “classic” or “vintage.” And there are many new and exciting ways to think and grow. The pay-off isn’t in material gain, however, or at least there are perhaps invisible financial gains we don’t consider. The fact that I can come home now before 6PM and feel confident I have the week planned, contingencies met, and instructional goals and fall-backs considered and accounted for, allows me more time to play dilettante with other hobbies, interests, and creative pursuits. (The fact is the only thing I’m really good at professionally is being a teacher –all else is just dress-up.)  I am so honored to know other educators who never stop creating: consider John Spencer and crew who created Write About. This summer (for free, but sure was fun) I created Up From the Gutter writing prompt blog. And I don’t know who the team is who’s responsible for this masterpiece, Actively Learn, but it is amazing, and it’s free. (I’m concerned it’ll be one more thing I’ll get addicted to, and then asked to pay a moderate yearly fee. No worries: it would be worth every penny.)

I told my husband I was going to bring the leftover Halloween candy to my classroom. He has these minor waves of frugality from time to time, and wished out loud that I wouldn’t spend so much money on my students. I have to admit, I have curtailed that quite a bit. We are fortunate to have our older son at the University of Washington, and every penny goes to a cash-and-carry tuition/room & board payment. The investment I made in my early years of teaching (thousands of dollars of books, school supplies, etc.) is something I do not do now, except for the occasional addition to my class library. There are thousands of things to read on-line, thousands of ways to write, interact, create, play, and think. Now my focus is to find those hearty and robust resources and keep them flowing. (Now if only net neutrality issues would just STOP. Seems like I get one demon down for a nap and another one rears its ugly minion head.)

With all things, there is tug and pull. I am trying to balance between the expenditures that make my hours in the classroom more fulfilling, and my hours outside better, too. One more book or one more pack of pencils is neither going to break my bank, but nor are they going to be the magic wand. I’m not sure where I’m going career-wise from here, and I’m not sure that it matters at this point. Focus on what’s in front of me, and clean out some more clutter. Maybe the path will become clearer.

PS The candy did make its way to the classroom. He said it was okay.



Write About

Puget Sound Writing Project

Up From The Gutter 

*I did not take my ball and went home. I had a mild meltdown. I had a son who was a junior/senior and preparing for high school. I have a husband with health issues. We lost a student to suicide at my school. We went through several administration changes. I was facing my own life milestones and health junk. On and on and on. No one would blame me for my time spent under a rock. But I’m out now, and the air feels wonderful.


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