March 6, 2015


It’s Friday, an exhausting, yet exhilarating day. ComicFest!

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A day devoted to kicking-off our Graphic Novel unit.





We set up six stations in the library for our 64 sixth graders.

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We watched a video on the different screen shots, and then used the iPad to take photos using the different shot angles.

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We explored a website about different speech bubbles that are used in graphic novels.

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We created comics on the iPads with the Strip Designer app.

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We explored characters’ emotions and expressions with Corbett Harrisons’  Mr. Stick.

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We completed a comic about two kids in a dump.


But the most talked about station? Bubble Talk—the comics answer to Apples to Apples. You’ve just got to get this game.2015-03-06 10.04.09

My teaching partner, Heidi, and I stayed after school to clean up and look at the students’ work. We were exhausted, but delighted to discover that our students had a blast and actually learned a lot. ComicFest was worth all of the work that went into the planning and set-up.


March Five

Five is my lucky number, but you wouldn’t know it today. To spare you, my dear readers, from a bed to bed story, let’s just say that it didn’t start out from the get go. I’ll give you some highlights.

  1. While out at my morning duty, Dr. Lomas, my vice principal,  walked toward me with that look on her face. A kind of smile with a shrug. I knew it could only mean one thing—she needed me to sub during my first period prep this morning. Of course, I said yes knowing that I wouldn’t have any time to prepare for my own day. Sheesh.
  2. During Readers Workshop, I couldn’t find my copy of Wonder that I had meticulously marked with stickies with my brilliant teaching points. I had to depend on my meager memory. Yikes.
  3. While we were packing up today, my tech team reported that two of our classroom Chromebooks were missing—numbers 5 and 11. I’m hoping that someone finds it in a backpack tonight. For the love of Pete!
  4. It’s 6:21pm and I’m still at school because my extra duty is chaperoning our Spring Pops Concert from 7 to 8:30 pm. That means that I’ll have spent 13 and 1/2 hours here at school. Holy Toledo.
  5. When I get home, I must write a reference letter for a lovely young man who is applying to San Jose State for his teaching credential. I hope I have a few brain cells left to write something coherent. Wahhh!

I hope that tomorrow will be a better day. But now that I think about it, this is pretty much a typical day in the life of a middle school teacher. Sheesh.

March 4, 2015

We got a new student today. Javier came from a K-6 school across town, so transferring to a middle school is a huge change for him. He looked scared this morning when I met him. He could barely tell me his name and his hand felt like a limp fish when I shook it. Smiling at Javier, I assured him that he was going to love being on our Penguin team. In truth, all I could think about was how am I going to help this kid assimilate into our learning community? We are in the middle of a graphic novel unit, we have an ancient civilization artifact project for our Night at the Museum extravaganza due in a few weeks, and we are working on our presentations for our 20% Genius Penguin projects. To top it off, we had a crazy schedule today due to our Pops concert assembly, so his first day was going to be especially hectic.

I continued to worry about Javier until second period, when the girls took him under their wings. Juliana ushered him to the cafeteria to buy his lunch. Selena showed him how to use the Strip Design app on the iPad to create his graphic novel. Liliana made plans to show him how to sign up on our Edmodo class page. The girls were absolutely gaga over him. They were positively effervescent. Can you say swoon?

I forgot how exciting it is to have a new boy come to school. It’s like putting a fresh new coat of paint on an old fence. However, as scintillating as the advent of this new boy is, I wonder how long it will be before Javier loses his lustre and joins the ranks of the other ordinary Penguin boys.

March 3, 2015


I am fortunate enough to teach at an amazing middle school as a sixth grade language arts teacher. We teach in teams. My partner, Heidi and I share a cohort of 65 students—The Penguins. She teaches math and social studies. This year we have two interesting groups of kids, our Green Penguin group and our Blue Penguin group. We are absolutely besotted with them all.

Our Green Penguin are the docile ones —the Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfectof the bunch. They line up quietly outside before class. With hushed voices, they enter the classroom,  many with a book already in hand and begin reading, whispering when they come to a spot in the book that they want to share. We give book talks, listening intently and adding to our list of “books I want to read.” During writers workshop, we listen to inspiring music while the students write and I hold quiet conferences. Our discussions are rich and laden with academic language. It’s a beautiful thing. Nirvana, really.

And then there are the Blue Penguins. Unfortunately, I have them in my afternoon block, right after lunch when they are at their peak sweat. They pile up outside the door, kendamas in hand, completely oblivious to the bell that went off two minutes ago. They are like a giant litter of puppies, tumbling over one another, yipping and squealing.

They enter the classroom and it takes them almost five minutes to settle down. And it’s never ever quiet during readers or writers workshop. They have a lot to say, these Blue Penguins, and it is usually during a mini lesson. The plan is always that I will model a lesson, they will listen intently, I will answer questions, and then they will begin to write. Unfortunately, it never goes as planned. Their participation style is what you might expect from a Baptist church—call and response. By the end of the day, I am worn out. Can I hear a Hallelujah?

The thing is, I love these Blue Penguins and I know they love me. It’s true they are wild and wooly. They talk over me constantly. I confiscate kendamas daily. They are the “Tackys” of the Penguin world, marching and singing  to the beat of their own drums. All at once. At the top of their lungs. The cacophony is deafening. But they also are positive, kind, and generous young people. They blow up Edmodo every night helping each other with homework or offering advice on their 20% projects. They are quick to compliment each other and notice if someone might be having a tough day.

Just the other day, I found this recipe card on my table, left by an anonymous Blue Penguin. I couldn’t  help but smile to myself and shake my head as I read this recipe to be a good penguin. They’ve got the right ingredients—I’m just not sure about the proportions. One teaspoon of listening isn’t quite cutting it. But I’ll take the five cups of positive.


March 2, 2015



From my mother I acquired the veneration of song.

We sang our way through the day my sisters and I,

crooning the Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace

as we hung laundry on the clothesline

bedsheets snapping in the wind as if on cue.

My younger sister once belted out the entire version Hava Nagila

in church, breaking the silence just before the priest blessed the host,

knowing my mother, head bowed, secretly applauded her jubilant rendition.


From my father I take his need for rhythm.

Cal Tjader’s soul vibrations tapped out on the table.

Scattered syncopation.

Tumultuous timbre.

The louder the better.


From my Papa, blue-eyed man

whose whiskers scratched like sandpaper.

He hummed.

When he rocked me to sleep on the porch, he hummed

until it penetrated my dreams.

Like the om of a yogi,

or the sacred chant of a monk,

In tandem we hummed.

I learned to fill silence with a resonant wordless voice.


From my Uncle Richard I learned to play the guitar.

He said it is wise to hold the body just so.

To know the taut strings held against the wood.

Fingers sore and blistered

crawling like a spider up and down the neck.



Practicing the perfect scale.

My uncle showed me how to file my nails at precise angles,

to pluck Segovia’s Sonatina

Conjuring his wide palette of tone.


From my family I have learned

to follow the music in my soul.

March 1


Okay, so I just wrote my first blog and as I was saving it, Chrome suddenly quit. Just like that. When I clicked on the restore button, I stared at a blank blog page. I had been feeling so positive about participating in the Slice of Life for the first time. And now, I’m not so positive. That negative voice inside my head is starting to become a bit louder. What if this happens again? Should I try writing this in a word document and then copy and paste it into my blog? Should I just try posting my blogs on my teacher website? I’m much more familiar with Weebly, but I’m not really sure that I want my students to read all of my blogs. What if I want to blog about something that I don’t really want to share with my students? Or my parents? What if I’m too tired to edit and my posts are full of errors? Will I really be able to accomplish this writing thing for thirty-one consecutive days? What have I gotten myself into?

Now I know why my students have so many questions when I give them a writing task that seems daunting. They are feeling vulnerable and feeling vulnerable is not fun. We have a lot of questions when we feel vulnerable. And at the same time, we question ourselves. It is, however, when we let ourselves be vulnerable that we are able to grow. And so I will go forward, into that vulnerable space, ignoring that negative voice, and write.