Process: Slice of Life

Yesterday was my first “summer” work day back in my classroom. Living so close to my school, I can go in and putter around for a few hours here and there or dedicate entire days to getting specific tasks done. I wandered around the room yesterday transforming it from its fairly tidy end of June state to a complete pulled apart mess.

This is always the beginning for me – making it look much worse before it gets much better. I watered and repotted plants, leaving some stranded on tables waiting for a larger pot or a perfect new spot or both. Some surfaces got wiped down. Unsorted papers were stuffed in a few places waiting for a dedicated day, an empty recycling bin and a very strong coffee. Some furniture was shifted. Needing a second or third look before finding a “new year, new spot”. Again waiting. I need to clear some surfaces and clear out completely for a few days when the building engineers do the summer deep clean. Then I can come back in and again pull things apart before putting them back together.

Every year. The same process. Pulling it apart. Settling on the new. Organization. Systems. Flow. This process needs to happen each year. Shake it up. Smooth it out. Wonder and shift.

It happens with my classroom library as well. Every summer the shake up happens. I take my carefully organized library, turn it on its head and put it back ready for a new group of learners. To honour that writing too is a process, today’s slice is all about these classroom library tasks. Not the details but the beginning of the details. I have been thinking about doing a blog series about the maintenance of the classroom library that needs to happen each year. Today my writing is the skeleton of that series. The very beginning. The just ideas stage. The lists and tasks are both my schedule to follow and the beginning of a series of posts. I think. Process: Slice of Life

How does a blog post or a blog series happen? Just like many pieces of writing. Shaking it out. Sorting and shifting. Making a mess. Lining it up. Flushing it out.

This slice is not a finished piece. It is the beginning of the process. Lists. Ideas. Thinking on the page.

Here we go.

Classroom Library: Summer tasks Maintenance

  1. Returning displaced (why is it where it is) materials: class collection, read aloud collection. What’s changing? Weed as go (not so much weed out but moving to new places) Talk about different collections and reasons for organization (bins, labels, stickers, areas)
  2. Weeding – What goes? (less this year because of major work done last year) What changes? More dramatic this year because of grade level change. Beginning the list of “holes”/what’s missing? How are other titles stored? Can I have a lending library? Where? How? (Are number 1 and 2 two posts or one?)
  3. What gets added? Books not yet labelled (deciding what part of collection they will go into) Reorganizing to make space. How do I store books that don’t immediately get put into the collection. Book talk bins. Bins not yet labelled.
  4. The big organization is full of the little tasks – genre labels, systems, switching out bins and baskets. What materials does this involve? (stickers, labels, etc.) Location, location, location. Big shelves. Little people. Literally accessing the books. Stools?
  5. What is missing? Wish lists. The beginning of the noticing.  Diversity? Who are my readers? Will the books provide windows and mirrors?
  6. Bookstore visits. What am I looking for? What am I purchasing? What remains on the wish list. Priorities (definite gaps, Mock Caldecott titles, expanding nonfiction collection)
  7. Seeking out help. What titles specific to this grade level are must have titles? Importance of reading community. Blogs. Goodreads. Direct questions on twitter. Continued thinking about future readers (this links to #5) #7 and #6 should be switched.
  8. The ongoing piece of things. Is this separate post? Woven within? The lists I keep as I complete all of these tasks. Ideas of books for specific themes? To complement units and inquiry. Possible directions. Art ideas. Read alouds?

My intent with this series is to talk about what’s involved in maintaining a classroom library that meets the needs of its readers. It is work! Fun work but work.

Feedback? If you are reading this post, I would love some feedback. Would this be an interesting series for classroom teachers to read? Should I write it? What would you be particularly interested in reading about? Questions? Ideas?

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Gentle: Slice of Life #31

Sometimes with all of the busy and all of the rushing and all of the stuff we have to do in schools, we can forget to be gentle. Sometimes gentle is the most important choice we make.

It’s the most necessary thing we can do.

It matters.

A morning can begin with loud and disruptive and off task and when all of our attention goes to those things, we might miss the one child who needed the room to be especially quiet. Who needed a little bit of time. Who needed a moment of special attention.

Yesterday, I found this child still in the cloakroom when everyone else was lining up for the library. He was sitting at the desk meant for quiet work hiding his head in his arms.

I could have shooed him off. Insisted he get in the line up. It was my prep time. I had lots to do.

But the room is his as much as mine. He needed it more than me right then. I told him I would be back and brought the class down to the library.


When I returned, he hadn’t moved. I gave him choices not questions. Did he want me to walk him to the library? Would he like to come and make coffee with me? Both choices involved him getting up and moving. He nodded at the coffee so we grabbed supplies —mini Bodum, a jar of coffee and yesterday’s cup — and headed out of the room.

In the staffroom kitchen, I talked as I completed simple tasks. Boiling the water. Filling the Bodum. Mindlessly reorganizing the spoons.

“Do you think the dishwasher is clean or dirty? I wonder if my favourite cup is hanging on the wall? I think I have some granola bars in the room. Are you hungry?”

He found me a cup I had used before. Peeked in the dishwasher and realizing it was empty, put my dirty cup inside. The wrong way up. I opened the dishwasher and showed him how it worked – where the water came from, how it swirled around. He ended his silence.

“How do you turn it on? What does this button do?”

We talked. Made a single cup of dark coffee. Side by side puttering by the sink.


“I have some things to do. Do you want to go to the library or stay with me?”

Little eyes peeked at me as we walked down the hall.


I set up some prep work and handed him some math materials,

“Why don’t you do some more math?”

We worked side by side.

I sipped coffee. His energy returned.

He began recording equations on the white board. I offered him an entire day’s worth of attention within twenty minutes. Praise. Smiles. Little corrections.

It poured rain outside. Our temperamental heater kicked itself on. The class across the hall was quiet.

Coffee. Math. Quiet.


Somedays, they need more. Somedays, they need us to acknowledge all of the little things they might do. Somedays, they need especially to matter. Somedays, they centre themselves on our smile. Calm. Safe. Welcoming.


I got everything done. This little guy reset his morning. He went downstairs at recess and played games in the basement avoiding the rain. Content. Secure.

Today, I opened the novel I am reading to the class and found a homemade paper bookmark with my name on it. “Books are loved,” it says.

I held it up to look more closely and noticed him at my elbow.

“I made that for you,” he grinned at me.

Be gentle.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

It’s that good: Slice of Life #30

It's that good: Slice of Life #30

Scene one: Reading Workshop. Conferences. Question this week is “How are you feeling about your progress with your Reading Challenge? What’s happening?”

Ms Gelson: Asks the question

Student: “It’s going really well. I have read so many books! Last year I just mostly read graphics. But since I’ve been in your class, I’ve read so many novels. I really like realistic fiction. And I LOVE historical!”

Ms. Gelson (outwardly) Smiles and takes furious notes. Checks student’s Reading Challenge chart. Smiles bigger.

(inwardly) Cartwheels. Like twelve of them!

Scene two: Thirty minutes later. Word Work. Students working independently. Resource Teacher arrives.

Ms. Gelson: Shares this quote from student. (Beaming)

Resource Teacher: (Expected big smile) “Amazing. That sounds like something you told her to say.”

Ms. Gelson: “I know! It’s that good.”

Various later scenes: Teacher engaged in various reflective moments recognizing the strength of the current reading community. The over stuffed book boxes. The long lists of names of students wanting to read titles just book talked. The student who is suddenly taking a book home every night. The hopeful requests, “Can you get the next one in the series?” The engagement during independent reading time. A reading community.

I know.

It’s that good.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Stand Up and Sing!

The older I get, the more I think picture book biographies are some of the most inspirational seeds that allow meaningful conversations in classrooms to happen. Maybe it’s because I clearly see that a life is a story and that anytime we hear a story told, we have the opportunity to learn. As we connect deeply to a person through their story, we reflect on ourselves and our communities. We have the chance to think about things in new ways. Kids get it too. A few years ago I asked some of my students why biographies needed to be shared. Their responses revealed a lot. Some highlights:

  • “I like those books that tell the story of someone who can’t but then they did.”
  • “It’s so we can know that one person can change things.”
  • “These books teach us about community and dreams. We should think about that.”
  • “They show me not to be scared.”

I have a new must read biography that I think is particularly timely for its messages about standing together for truth and justice:

Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Adam Gustavson Forward by Peter Yarrow (Bloomsbury 2017)

This detailed biography would make an incredible read aloud. It is a story to share over multiple read aloud sessions. There is much on every page for discussion and elaboration. The full page illustrations tell a beautiful story as well. Looking closely at these allows the reader to move through one life and decades of history.

I first read this book about three weeks ago. It was a humbling experience. I closed the book and felt a strange mix of fired up and sad and quiet. I began to do some of my own further reading about Pete Seeger, often realizing songs I have known all my life were songs he had written. This took me down further thinking paths.

The sadness came from a reaction to current day news and media coverage. There is so much in stories about people that is about self rather than other. Pete Seeger clearly lived a life where self and others were completely intertwined. His motivations were clear and strong. He respected the truth. He valued its importance. He valued social justice as our most important goal to attain. I think my sadness came from just acknowledging the loss of Pete Seeger who passed away in 2014. In many senses, my sadness has no place because Pete did his work through music and music has some of the most incredible lasting power of any medium. Power to wash over people. Become part of their motivation. Become part of their own story.

I picked up and reread this story a few times over the past few weeks. Over multiple readings, I have been inspired by Seeger’s commitment to use music as a vehicle to unite people over important issues. Pete Seeger was motivated early on in his life by folk music and the connection between audience and musician. He recognized that the content of songs could be transformative.

I was reminded of precious Thursday afternoons of recent years experiencing a room full of music. My class had the weekly opportunity to sing with the talented Jill Samycia from St. James Music Academy. Singing together brought a joy and a connection to our community. There is such power in singing together especially when the lyrics hold messages of hope.

Susanna Reich’s account of Seeger’s life brings particular questions to the surface numerous times:

What do we notice?

What speaks to us?

How do these things shape our work? Our actions? How do they form our truth?

Pete Seeger‘s life work was his music. Through music he conveyed his love of people, equity and justice. Reich explains that Pete “saw that music could fill a room with peace and harmony. . . ” A wish to make this happen is what motivated him to become a more accomplished musician.

Seeger‘s path was not an easy one. His end goal wasn’t fame and fortune. It was to lead people in song. He wanted to “sing for – and with – average working folks.”

His courage, his commitment to peace, the rights of everyone in a society and hope for our world live on in his music.

Such an incredible story of one man. Back matter includes an important author’s note, a list of quotes, detailed sources and a list of popular recordings.

Recommended for Grades 3 to 8.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2017. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

No surprises: Slice of Life #28

No surprises: Slice of Life #28

And we’re back.

Our two week break is over and things rolled out in first day after a break fashion.

There were new haircuts. New shoes. New glasses. New sweatshirts.

And all of us back together.

The smiles were big and sincere. The reality? Most of us were happy to be back into the routine. Despite early wake ups and late nights and tired all around, there was happy.

There was also testing. Pushing to the edge and then a little further. A specific word. A particular tone. Being where we shouldn’t when we shouldn’t. Doing things we aren’t supposed to do. The eyes always giving it away. “Yes, I know better but I’m going to try it and okay, yes, you noticed.” And then it stopped. Or it didn’t. Some of us need a few days to remember the way a classroom community needs to work.

There was magnetic pull. Visiting and reconnecting couldn’t be helped. We made room for it. Recess and lunch just weren’t enough. It’s hard to write when you have stories to tell in person. It’s hard to settle when you have too many wonders. “Did you see . . . ?” “Where did . . .?” “Did you know I . . . ?”

There were highs and lows in terms of emotions. Cranky. Distracted. Silly.

Some of us couldn’t stop smiling all day. School is about returning to a place of safety and belonging. Others were angry. The break wasn’t the best and now away from it, it was safe to express that. Some of us expressed it outwardly at others all day. Purging the angry. It was sad to watch. But our classroom is about all of us and this is what’s going on for some of us. We all experience pieces of what we each are going through.

We had to have one serious conversation about who we are to each other. Over and done in less than ten minutes. I recognized maturity, best intentions and contributions. Reminded that all of our actions are choices. Requested that we choose to give and not take away because we all learn best when we allow for space for all of us to be our best to each other.

There was more silence than usual from some. Contemplative thinking. Readjusting. Observing. Taking some time. Remembering how to be in our space.

There was ease with the familiar. We know reading. This is when the room is at its best. Most of us can get immediately lost in a book. Some went looking for new titles. I heard some children literally greeting books they hadn’t seen for two weeks.

We know listening to stories. If our learning community has tangible edges, this is when it began to take shape, to firm up, to smooth out. Our collective breath slowed. The calm was comforting and became deeper. Muscle memory. The connections were shared. The noticing happened. The building on each other’s ideas. Respect.

We know outside. Racing about. Skipping in time. Charging up rocks. Jumping over mud puddles.

We know each other. There was kindness and irritation as we all settled back in. Amusement. Contented socializing. Happy reunions. Laughter. Impatience.

To be expected adjusting.

No surprises.

We’re on route to recapturing our momentum, our rhythms, our way.

We need a few days.

Some patience.




Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

60% chance of rain: Slice of Life #27

Tomorrow we return to work after two weeks away. I have a rough plan for the day. I went in twice over the break to clean and organize so an extra strong coffee and an early arrival should ensure that the day will flow.

Mostly, I have been checking the weather. What is going to be going on mid afternoon? Because by mid afternoon, we will all need a break. Despite my plans to ease back and take it slow, by 2 p.m., we will need to move. The kind of moving that involves fresh air, the chance to yell and the chance to run.

This is the most important thing on my day plan tomorrow.

Math is on there. We will do some number puzzles. Some partner games. Remind ourselves that we can do some tricky equations and problem solve without picking up a pencil. Pages of unanswered questions are not going to stare us down.

There will be time to write. About a picture book we need to finish. About our break if we so choose. Or to the author of the novel we finished for book club. The beginning of a story? There will be some options. But here, we will put pencil to paper.

Of course, we will read. And of course, I will book talk. We need to rev up the book excitement once more. So Reading Workshop will be extra long. Time to record our spring break reading. Time to reacquaint ourselves with the contents of our book boxes. Time to shop the shelves. Lots of time to read!

I will read aloud. Little bits all throughout the day. Our novel of course because it’s been two weeks and I was begged not to stop the last time I read it. Two weeks! A picture book for #classroombookaday because it’s not a regular day without a picture book. The title we were reading about residential schools and didn’t quite finish. There is time for this.

We need time to visit. Time to smile at each other. Time to walk in circles. Time to notice. Just time.

This is not a day for starting new. Not a day to be overwhelmed. It’s a day to do some work and get outside and run off the back to routine energy that won’t quite feel right. The most important part of our day will be to get out of the building. As a group. To race about and laugh and whoop.

And there’s a 60% chance of rain.

Hoping everyone brings a rain jacket.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Missing primary: Slice of Life #26

Missing primary: Slice of Life #26

Confiscated lego. Paper hearts. Lineup drama. Finger spaces between words.

The land of primary. I miss it.

I miss the affected sneers and huge put on grumpy faces.

I miss the toothless smiles. Rosy cheeks. Shy grins

I miss sticky out pony tails and falling out braids.

I miss the giggles. The shushing. The tattling and the denial.

The wide eyes and the gasps at the smallest of things which often turn out to be the biggest of things.

Unabashed asking.

“Are you married?” “Who’s your husband?” “How much money do you have?”

I miss the repeating. The asking and telling again and again and again.

I miss sparkle dresses. Hairbands. Droopy tights. Polka dots.

I miss yellow rain jackets. Broken umbrellas. Muddy layers.

I miss new reader pride. Pages that take forever. Not breathing through one long stretched out sentence.

I miss little hands reaching for mine. Spontaneous singing. Silly little poems.

I miss stompy feet that seek out puddles. Dancing. Prancing. Spinning in circles.

I miss messy play. Toppled towers. Imagined lands. Race car lanes.

I miss the ease of imagination. The willingness to believe. The joy.

Paint splotches. Standing on chairs. Untied shoelaces.

I miss the love. The mush. The gush.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.