SDAWP Spring Conference 2014

It was a cloudy March morning.  A threat of rain was imminent, but about 150 participants attended the San Diego Area Writing Project’s Spring Conference at the University of California, San Diego.  The conference opened up with a discussion about fear and courage.  Christine Kane, co-director of SDAWP, shared information about how the brain is affected when confronted with fearful situations.  She shared evidence based on scientific studies that the way you can come to terms with fear is to put yourself in those situations that trigger it.

At this point, I was thinking how apropos it was that fear was the focus of Christine’s talk.  That is what I was feeling at that moment-FEAR!  The main reason for this was because I was presenting in the first session of the conference.  I knew right after Christine’s opening, it would be my turn to address the room.  So, I can’t say I was fully engaged with her at this time.  I was thinking about my presentation and hoped it would go smoothly.

The other reason I was experiencing fear was because I was trying to get my iPhone to connect to the wifi in that particular room.  My presentation was going to be in this room and I needed to be connected to the wifi.  My iPhone was a remote control for my iPad.  Both of my devices had to be on the same wifi in order to communicate.  Secretly, I was panicking in the back of the room.  The wifi would connect and then disconnect, connect and then disconnect, connect and then disconnect. I was getting frustrated.  Kim Douillard, director of SDAWP, recommended I go outside the room to connect and then go back inside.  I did that and then, when I walked back into the room, the wifi would disconnect.  Ahhhhh!  My presentation was in 5 minutes.  I had a backup plan, but you always hate when Plan A doesn’t pan out.

Fortunately, I was able to connect and stay connected for the duration of my presentation which was entitled Using Mentor Text to Lead our Primary Writers.   I talked about the writing process in my classroom and the journey I took using mentor text with my kids to craft leads for informative pieces.  As I continue with this journey, I realize that the particular leads I shared with my students can be used across text types, not just with informative writing.

I think the presentation went well.  At least, that is what people told me after the fact.  One thing did go wrong, however.  I did not have enough handouts for the people who went to my session.  I felt bad about that, but I just have no way of knowing ahead of time how many people will show up.  Oh well, I will be more prepared next time.  If there is a next time!  🙂  Here is a picture my friend, Margaret, took during the session.


I was pretty happy with my presentation.  Just like Christine said earlier, I put myself in a fearful situation this morning.  Hopefully, the more I do this, the less fear I will have.

For the second session, I attended Stacey Goldblatt’s presentation entitled Supporting Student Writers:  One Paragraph at a Time.  Here is a picture of Stacey proclaiming to be a rebel.  She is so cool!


Stacey shared a formula on how to get students to write strong paragraphs.  This formula was called AXES (assertion, eXample, explanation, significance).  In conjunction with mentor texts, she uses this formula to get her students to expand on their writing.  Even though the formula acts as a frame for students, their final pieces do not come out sounding exactly the same as one another.  Using the AXES process, students have choices and can use their voice when they write.  Stacey had many great ideas on how to teach the 4 parts of an effective paragraph.  She starts out with students writing about their personal truths rather than opinions.  Then, she shared a great way to use transition words in writing.  Oh, and it involved Popsicle sticks!


All in all, it was a fantastic day.  I learned so many practical things I can use in my classroom starting on Monday.  My brain is on overload.  I also learned something about myself.  I can do anything I set my mind to.  I need to have more confidence in my abilities.  Thanks SDAWP for continuing to push me out of my box.


I’m Still Here

I realize I haven’t posted anything to my blog this weekend.  I basically wanted to just pull the covers over my head this morning and stay in bed all day.  Of course, this is not what I did.  However, I did take the opportunity to sleep in this morning.  I even started reading my book club book.  I wanted to go for a run, but my strained hamstring is still bugging me.  My hamstring is feeling better, but it is still sore.  Running is out of the question for a while.

I know why I am feeling tired today.  Yesterday I had class for my administrative credential.  After class, I had a meeting to discuss my presentation on March 1st for the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) Spring Conference.  When I got home, I had some homework to complete and then, the rest of the evening was devoted to organizing my notes and my Power Point presentation for the conference.  At one point during the evening, I decided I just needed to save my work and turn off the computer.  I decided to pour myself a glass of wine and enjoy the coverage of the Winter Olympics.

I needed to take a break.  I needed a moment to shut my brain off.  Unfortunately, that meant taking a break from writing on my blog.  I did write, but it was for other reasons.  I am glad it is Sunday.  It’s the start of a new week.  Time to start all over.  Time for new ideas.  Time to get moving again.

Fantastic Friday

This was a fantastic day.  We started the day out with our annual “Otter Trot”, a jogathon to raise money for our school’s PTA.  The money raised from this event will help pay for our P.E. aide.  I actually managed to run a few laps even with my strained hamstring.  I probably should have taken it easy, but I didn’t want this to be the first year where I didn’t get to run.  My hamstring was screaming at me the whole time, but hey.  No pain, no gain.

The next fantastic thing that happened was Genius Hour.  I was really nervous about how this whole thing was going to work.  I think the hardest part about it was getting all the students who brought devices connected to the school’s wifi.  Thank goodness I had parent helpers in the room who could help troubleshoot.  Once the students got connected, it was amazing how engaged they were.  I had students come up with questions about their topic ahead of time so that they could use our Genius Hour time wisely.  I am very impressed by some of the ideas my students came up with.  One student is researching the guitar.  Another student wants to know about crash test dummies.  Still another student wants to learn how to make her own video.  And, a different student wants to start her own on-line business.  I don’t know what is going to happen, but I am excited nonetheless.  I can’t wait to see what the final projects are going to look like.

Finally, the winter edition of the SDAWP Dialogue is out.  My fellow SDAWP fellows were highlighted in this issue.  My friend Ana Martinez Reyes wrote a piece about how English learners need authentic writing experiences.  She mentioned me in her article and printed some of my students’ work.  I am so proud of all my friends who wrote for this publication.  I am going to print the Dialogue up and post it in my staff lounge.  Of course, I am going to highlight where I am mentioned.  🙂

This was an amazing day.

Brain Overload

My brain is officially fried.  Today was a school day for me.  I went to a class for my administrative credential.  The course is about instructional leadership.  We have been practicing scripting classroom observations.  Today we watched two videos and practiced scripting.  Then we had to analyze our notes using the 5-Dimensions of Teaching and Learning.  From those notes, we took more notes.  We practiced using our observational notes to develop a coaching plan.  For homework, I had to practice these same skills again watching a different video, of a different teacher, teaching a different lesson.  Needless to say, I am pooped.

For a before bedtime treat, I also spent time looking over my presentation for the SDAWP Spring Conference.  It is mostly the same as my demonstration lesson from the summer with a few tweaks here and there.  I need to refresh my memory.  I used the Keynote app on my iPad to present over the summer.  My iPhone was used as a remote control so I could turn the slides and read my notes all from my iPhone.  I have since updated my devices to the new operating system.  As I was practicing my presentation.  A message popped up on my screen that said the version of Keynote Remote I had been using was going to be discontinued.  I thought, “Oh man, now what am I going to do?”  I had to update the remote so it would be compatible with the new operating system.  I just now figured it out.  I should be good to go for my presentation in March.  That’s only if the wifi at the venue is working.  It is not very reliable, so I better have a backup.  Someone suggested I print up all my slides so that I would at least have them to show on the document camera in case of technical difficulties.  It’s an awesome idea, but right now, I am too tired to think about that.

It’s time I went to bed.  Tomorrow I am looking forward to a morning of sleeping in.  I was going to get up early and run, but my hamstring is still sore.  I am bummed about that.  I am pretty sure I am not going to be able to go to the gym and workout next week, too.  I hate it when I can’t exercise.  I don’t even want to attempt going for a walk.  I think the best thing for me to do is rest.  I may make my injury worse if I try to do too much.  I just wish I knew how long I will be out of commission.  Having an injury, such as this, is bringing me down.  I will feel better when I can get back to my regular exercise schedule.

The Child-Driven Education

Yesterday, after my SDAWP follow-up, I was talking to my friend Linda about Genius Hour.  Linda is an amazing K-1 teacher who has done a lot of work in her classroom on student-centered learning.  She suggested I watch a TedTalk video by Sugata Mitra called The Child-Driven Education.

Wow!  The video was inspiring.  However, it made me realize that, in the future, my job as a teacher may become obsolete.  Perhaps I can be a “granny in the cloud” and just be there to support.  It would be amazing if I could get my students to be problem-solvers, thinkers, creators, and innovators instead of just receptacles of information.  This is what I hope will be an outcome of Genius Hour in my classroom.  I don’t know what will happen.  This could fail miserably, or this experience will be so wonderful that I will have to do it again!  I hope it is the latter.

The Cowardly Lion

I was thinking about this character from the Wizard of Oz today.  He wanted to see the Wizard to ask him for some courage.  I don’t need courage as much as I need confidence.  This is because I have known for a few weeks that I would be presenting at this year’s San Diego Area Writing Project Spring Conference.  At first I was honored and excited that I was selected.  Then, I felt nervous and anxious about the whole thing.  However, it didn’t really hit home until this morning.

This morning I attended a follow-up meeting with my summer cohort.  We did some writing work in the morning.  Each of us participated in an activity where we shared resources, ideas, and experiences with everyone in the room.  We did this by writing on a piece of chart paper that was divided into 4 quadrants.  Every person in the room had a page that we passed around the room.  In the first quadrant was the issue we wanted help with.  Mine was on how to get my students to write opinion pieces with more substance.  As the pages were passed around, each person wrote something down in one or more of the sections.  We kept passing until we eventually got our chart paper back.  I really enjoyed that activity.  I believe it is something I could do with my 2nd graders.  When it was all over, I received some wonderful ideas on my chart that I could try in my classroom next week.

Next, I met with the four other teachers who will also be presenting on March 1st.  We received coaching from Christine Kane, co-director of SDAWP.  I looked around at everyone in my group and marveled at their confidence.  Why am I so nervous?  Why can’t I just be cool and relaxed like the other four?  Maybe my brain is not wired for that.  Perhaps I am missing some chemical in my brain that can help relieve my anxiety.  I suppose I am nervous because I don’t want to let anybody down.  My cohort believed I could do this, and I don’t want to disappoint anyone.  Public speaking is not my forte.  I was not expecting to be selected as a presenter.  I am more of the set up the chairs and tables kind of person.  I like working behind the scenes, but I also know this experience will be good for me.  It is something I have always wanted to do.  I have attended many workshops and presentations and wondered if I could do that.  Now, I have a chance to find out if I can.  I think it’s just like with everything I attempt for the first time.  I become more comfortable after I get the first one under my belt.  This is the same feeling I get when I am participating in a triathlon.  The swim portion always makes me nervous even though I have done it many times before.

I know I can do it.  I just need to remember to breathe.  There is no wizard to give me the courage/confidence for this.  I will need to find it in myself, just like the lion had all along.  Maybe I will have to take a shot of liquid courage (Tequila?) before the presentation to help me through.  No, that would not be good.  I guess I will just wait until after my presentation is over to take that shot.  🙂

SDAWP Reunion

This morning, my SDAWP (San Diego Area Writing Project) cohort had a reunion since finishing up our Summer Institute back in July.  It was great to see everyone again and to catch up with each other’s lives.  Then, the real work began.  Our opening writing prompt asked us to tell how the Summer Institute impacted our pedagogy and/or us personally.  I realized that going through SI has connected me to other educators, authors, etc. through social media.  I mentioned in my writing that I would have never ventured into the world of Twitter or the blogosphere if it weren’t for my involvement with the SI.  I realized that I do not need to be isolated within the confines of my classroom walls.  I can learn about what other people are doing in theirs, and I can share what I am doing in mine.  Kim Douillard, director of SDAWP, helped me realize that my tweets and blogs are not only read by the few followers I have, but they go beyond.  People who like what they read can retweet to their followers and so on and so on.  One of the reasons why I did not want to even participate in social media is because I thought I had nothing valuable to say or offer.  I always felt no one else would want to know about my learnings or observations, but that is not true.  I have learned that something I do can inspire someone else.

The second way that SI has affected me is that I realize I have leadership potential.  I have a new-found confidence.  As a result of my learnings, I decided to go for my administrative credential.  The SI challenged me to think about how I can affect change.  What can I do to change the world?  That to me is exciting.

Interestingly enough, the last part of our morning was spent on talking about leadership.  What does it mean to be a leader?  Can anyone be one?  How important is good leadership?  We had awesome discussions in small groups and whole group.

I really enjoyed the morning.  It was just what I needed to focus me on my goals.  It has allowed me to rethink what I am doing in the classroom.  It has reminded me that it is okay to take risks.  Be fearless and not fearful.  It was just the kick in the pants that I needed to get me going again.  I feel motivated and energized.  Thanks SDAWP!