a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Monday, December 29, 2014


I want my students to be doing the work of readers and writers, not the work of school, as often as possible.  So, whenever I come across a text that interests me, I immediately wonder about the possibilities for application in the classroom.  For years, I have been using TED talks as non-print text for ‘reading,’ but recently I started to think about TED talks as a model for writing.

One of our power standards for our last unit was the 8th grade English Language Arts Common Core Standard 7 for Reading Informational Text.  This standard requires students to “evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.”

What better way to achieve this standard than by analyzing TED talks and ultimately creating TED talks of our own?

So, we got started. 

My students had already viewed Philippe Petit’s TED talk on creativity, 

Sarah Kay’s TED talks on spoken word and storytelling, 

and Angela Duckworth’s TED talk on grit.

So, to start, we revisited these TED talks and began to talk about what we remembered in regards to content and presentation.  I ended up creating this chart to organize our thinking.

Then, we watched a few more TED talks with blank charts in hand: Crystal Chang’s Before I die I want to, Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Why lunch lady’s are heroes.

At this point, I introduced the idea of our own TED talk event.  Using How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World’s Most Inspiring Presentations by Jeremy Donovan as a reference, I developed some expectations and guidelines for students to create their own TED talks.  I even used the example outline in Donovan’s book to create a template for the students to use to plan their talks. 

As students began to plan their own talks, they needed constant reassurance and modeling.  I wanted students to focus on TED talks that were short and delivered the sort of expertise my students possess.  So, I also shared Stacy Kramer’s The best gift I ever survived and Laura Trice’s Remember to say thank you.

When the frustration level had reached a record high and confidence had a reached a staggering low, we regrouped by spending almost an entire class period going through this list of actual TED talk titles and discussing who in the class might be able to give a TED talk with the same title or a similar structure.  My students always impress me at times like these by identifying strengths in each other that I wouldn’t even been able to name.  Our discussion led to most of the topics that students ultimately chose. 

I used this presentation to illustrate some key points about creating slides.  We talked about the fact that a noisy slide background takes away from the image that matters, that basic fonts communicate messages more clearly, that images are stronger than words, and that fewer slide transitions make it easier to concentrate on talking.  To my amazement, students really got the idea.  I think it helped to have seen so many successful models.

To make the actual day of our TED event special, I did a few things, too.  I made sure we had reserved a space in our building that is set up for special presentations like this.  I got white plastic tablecloths, juice, and granola bars, crackers, and cookies.  I brought in a giant red circle (an oversized tree skirt my mom had made me from red canvas) to serve as the standard red dot on which the presenters would stand.  My husband brought in his amp and microphone set-up to make things really official.  Students were given my remote to advance slides with the click of a button while remaining on the red dot.  Students had used Google Slides.  Once they had shared their presentations with me, it became fast and easy to transition from one presenter to another.  For students who chose not to use slides, I had a generic “TED voices” title slide to project behind them as they spoke. 

What really made the day a success, though, was that the students stepped up.  Not only did each student come prepared with an idea and a plan, but each student got quiet and listened during the presentations.  They cheered and encouraged one another.  Although they had whined, complained, and even tweeted about how hard it was to create a TED talk:
students actually talked about how much fun it was to experience the presentation day.  I had been worried about sitting through 22 TED talks in an hour and a half, but there was no way my students would’ve let me stop them.    

More than a week later, I am still glowing with pride. 

Here are the 22 Voices Strong TED talk topics my students presented:

1.    How NBA players inspire me

2.    My life with cars

3.    Live your life strong

4.    How to get along with people

5.    Before I die I want to live

6.    Do what you love

7.    Life in sports

8.    Benefits of being quiet

9.    A world of peace

10. People who are important to me

11. Why I ride horses

12. Pay attention to who inspires you

13. Benefits of having a pet

14. How to be lazy

15. How people make my life better

16. Body image

17. Roads guide us through life

18. Depression and why we should talk about it

19. How to avoid doing schoolwork

20. We need bikes in our lives

21. Forgive your siblings

22. How friends help each other

Sunday, November 2, 2014


October was a month of abundance in terms of inspiration: Anderson’s Young Adult Literature Conference, Illinois Reading Council Conference, and Digital Literacy k-8 Workshop; plus individual author events with Rick Yancey and R.J. Palacio. 

I walked away from each event with thoughts swirling in my mind.  I had so many ideas; it seemed nearly impossible to tether a single thought down long enough to write about it.  I didn’t have enough time to process one event before the next one popped up.

All of that busy, even though it was the kind that filled me up rather than sucked me dry, meant that I wasn’t writing, moving, or eating smart. 

All of that busy broke my routine.

So, instead of beating myself up over all the ways I failed—all the things I didn’t get to in October—I am going to look ahead.  I am going to open myself up to November and all the possibility it holds.  I am not going to make a to do list—I am going to make a menu of options. 

Hello, November!

This month I might…
re-finish a piece of old furniture

begin working on homemade Christmas gifts

get my footing in regards to unit planning

catch up on giving feedback

try cooking something new

really clean the house

spend more time on people I love

get started on homemade Christmas cards

find a new blogging routine

write for me

This month I am definitely going to:
co-host another Twitter chat with Ruth

Tonight is another Teach and Celebrate Writers Twitter chat (#TandCwriters) with Ruth and as many friends as can join us!  We will be talking about teachers who write. 

Hello, November!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

in which I CELEBRATE the planet of humans and dogs

one | dogs
These two buddies make me smile.  They keep me company every moment I am home.  Even if I am mowing the lawn, they are running from window to window to keep up with me as I walk the mower back and forth. 

two | books
I finished this book this weekend:

Andrew Smith is brilliant.  I have a huge crush on his words.

And this stack of books is waiting for me.  Every one of these books is by an author I admire.  I love when I have books to read that I already know are going to blow me away. 

three | inspiration
I made time to finish this painting and get it to my dad in time for him to bring it to Jane on her birthday:

There is something really renewing about taking time to paint on a school night.  I might have to do this more often. 

four | writing
I met with my writing group for the first time since school started.  Although none of us had any writing to share, it was good to get together.  We inspire one another, hold each other accountable, and celebrate!  I have a list of ideas and a sense of urgency to get my pen moving.

five | jeans
Sometimes wearing jeans to work is enough to make my day.  Of course, it helps if I have cute shoes and a fun necklace.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

in which I CELEBRATE friends, slaw, routines, art, and WRITERS

celebrate with Ruth Ayres and friends on Saturdays
one | Although I have been less active here at my blog lately, I have been connecting directly with some of my blogging friends.  These connections fuel me. I cannot thank Ruth enough for the community of people with whom she has connected me.   

two | I am beginning to build routines in my professional and personal life that have me feeling far less crazy at the start of this school year.  It feels good to not be suffering from Sunday-night Syndrome, but I am not used to the feeling of calm. 

three | One of my weekly routines has been born out of the idea of slaw.  I love watching cooking shows, but I am a pretty terrible cook.  I noticed that every time chefs on tv present a dish, it is some sort of protein accompanied by a crunchy mix of some sort of veggies.  They often call this a slaw.  It is the part of the dish that really makes it look appealing.  I started taking notice of what was in these slaws and thought about how I could make them at home.  So, on Sundays, I have been chopping veggies for a week’s worth of slaws.  This way, when we go to make dinner, we are simply choosing a starch, choosing a protein, and throwing together an already chopped slaw to go with it. 

four | I am sponsoring the Art Club at my school this year.  Due to a required reading and math intervention class, our building shares an art teacher with another building in our district.  Therefore, art is only offered every other year.  This is the year our art teacher is at the other building, leaving the art club position open.  I have big ideas, now I just have to recruit student artists!

five |  Tonight is our second monthly Teach & Celebrate Writers Twitter Chat!  I am looking forward to connecting with others about Believing in Writers.  It is exciting to see that a buzz of excitement is already brewing amongst like-minded Tweeps!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

in which I CELEBRATE unpredictability

celebrate with Ruth Ayres and friends on Saturdays
one | bulletin boards

My creative process, no matter the end product, always includes drafting in my head.  Sometimes my vision is manifested in the final creation.  Other times, there is a bit more problem solving needed along the way. 

Each of the display cases below began with a mental picture and some sketches (one of them began with a literal vision when I found this idea on Pinterest).  All of them required unexpected problem solving and ended up looking much different than my original plans. 

Nonetheless, I am choosing to celebrate how wonderful these look in comparison to the dusty displays that had been there for the past three years rather than dwell on how different they are from my initial vision.

two | weather

Mark and I intentionally planned a trip to see my dad and Jane one last time right before school starts.  In the days leading up to our trip, the weather forecast predicted four days of straight rain during our five-day visit.  Instead we had four days of beautiful lakeside-worthy weather. 

three |  a special delivery

The puppy in this picture has fleas.  She also has worms.  That might have been enough to make some people pass her by, but not my dad.  This week he rescued this pup from a local shelter (giving more than the required adoption fee). 

I was lucky enough to help out by driving the pup from here (a Chicago suburb where Dad works during the week, near my house) to Indiana where Jane was home to take care of her.  My friend Michelle joined me for the journey.  Her company was an added gift.

four | sale

Mark and I started our own Etsy store this summer.  We work at the same school (in fact my classroom is directly above his) and wanted to work together on something completely unrelated to school.  It has been a learning experience to work on our products and set up a mini-business.  Since we are really doing this more as a hobby than anything else, we were surprised to get our very first order already!

five | archiving

When Ruth invited me to co-host a Twitter chat with her, I didn’t even consider declining.  I really had no idea what it would mean and how much or how little work might be involved, but whenever Ruth opens a door of opportunity, I am willing to charge through with bright eyes. 

I did my homework ahead of time and learned everything I could about moderating a chat and archiving.  I felt prepared.  I felt confident.  Then the chat arrived. 

I tweeted without the hashtag.  Everything I knew about archiving backfired.  And yet, I am celebrating how much I learned—from everyone who participated (especially our experienced guest host Katherine Sokolowski) and about how these chats work behind the scenes.  I am celebrating all this experience has taught me about Twitter and taking risks. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

in which I limit my CELEBRATIONS to five

CELEBRATE on Saturdays with Ruth Ayres (and friends)
one | I am a WRITER!

I may not be keeping up with my blogs lately, but I have been writing.  I am celebrating the evidence that it’s true—my first article for Choice Literacy has been published in today’s Big Fresh!  What a kick it is to see my name in digital print as a paid writer! 

two | Writing begets writing.

I thought that perhaps since I was busy writing for other purposes, I might lost sight of other writing projects.  However, that hasn’t been the case.  It turns out the more I write, the more I am motivated to write more.  There is something to be said for this sort of momentum.  I want to think more about how to provide this for my student writers.

three | Ruth Ayres is awesome.

I just cannot say enough good about this woman.  Not only did she become my friend (and after years of friendship, I am no less starstruck), but this summer she has introduced me to Brenda Power of Choice Literacy AND invited me to co-host a monthly Twitter chat: Teach & Celebrate Writers.  I think so highly of Ruth that knowing she thinks enough of me to send these opportunities my way is humbling and confidence-boosting all at once.  Please join us for our first chat on Sunday, August 3rd.  The fabulous Katherine Sokolowski will be our guest host to chat about routines and procedures for writing workshop. 

four | I have been painting.

Today is the 4th birthday party for the daughter of a friend who I’ve known since second grade.  One of my first couple paintings as a result of the Kelly Rae Roberts e-course Hello Soul, Hello Mixed Media Mantras was for her.  It contains scraps of my mom’s old sewing patterns and lace from my grandma’s sewing kit.  I think there is something special about capturing the essence of powerful women in art.

This other painting is for a friend who has a tendency to want to control things.  This summer she took a giant leap of faith and it ended up working out in her favor (and mine too, since we will once again be working in the same building). 

five | Connections matter.

Did you know that Deb, elsie, Linda, and Kim are just a tweet away?  After having met these incredible women via blogging and now in person, I am tickled by the idea that we can continue our conversations by simply tapping on a keyboard.  I can even run into Terje in Estonia during Twitter chats!  What wisdom and support at my fingertips! 

I feel like I could go on and on with celebrations this week—no grit needed! 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

in which I CELEBRATE every day

celebrate with Ruth Ayres and friends on Saturdays (or Sundays)
Sunday | I got to spend a day at the lake with my husband, my dad, his partner Jane, and her mom Dulce.

Monday | I had the surreal experience of participating in a Choice Literacy writing retreat.  I was completely out of my comfort zone and felt like I was growing for the first time in years.

me, tucked away to get some writing done
Tuesday | Mark discovered a restaurant near the lake that we hadn’t tried.  We were able to convince Jane and Dulce to go out with us and indulge for a night of fun and great food.

Jane and Dulce
Wednesday | Mark and I agreed to stay at the lake and watch over the house, the dog, and Dulce while Jane visited her friends in the city.  I was a bit nervous about the responsibility, but I was confident Jane’s mom would not give us a hard time the way she does Jane.  I was wrong.  This is a day for gritty celebration.  Although Dulce was more than a handful because of her attitude and condition, I was able to spend some moments enjoying stories from her childhood in Cuba. 

Donii, Jane and Dad's adorable dog
Thursday | The trying experience of caring for Dulce allowed me to share some insight with Jane and my dad.  This is sparking improved conversations about the care she needs, and will ultimately lead to a better situation for all of them.

Friday | My friend Kate’s mom passed away.  She was suffering from COPD and her health suddenly declined.  My heart aches for Kate, who lost her dad within the last year as well.  This weekend I will join Kate in celebrating the life of her mom—a life for which I am deeply grateful.  Kate’s mom has made her who she is and made it possible for Kate to be such a positive force in my life.  Kate’s experience is also a reminder to celebrate the health and lives of all those I love.

Kate with our friend Kathie
Saturday | This morning I got to take my niece to see The Fault in Our Stars movie.  Usually, our nieces and their friends come to the lake with us each summer.  This summer, because of Dulce’s condition, it is not going to be possible.  Because I won’t be giving them swag bags containing books (and other goodies) to pass time at the lake, Kadie recently requested some summer reading suggestions.  As soon as she finished reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Kadie texted me.  We made plans to see the movie together when I got back from the lake if she hadn’t already gone with friends.  I was thrilled when she texted me to say she wanted me to take her.  Even better than the shared experience of the movie, was the conversation in the car.