One door closes and another opens



I hope you will not mind this personal post. Our lives have been consumed for the last three months with selling our home, the place we have spent the last 20 years.

We bought this home in 1994. Built in 1931, its structure reminded both of us of our childhood; in fact I often referred to the architecture as “Leave It To Beaver” or Father Knows Best”. I realize that puts me in a certain age group :-).

Last spring, after shoveling what had to be a ton of snow, we decided to put our house on the market. It’s always enlightening to find out what matters to buyers. At times our house was described as well maintained, small, not worth the ask, old (no kidding!). One looker complained that we had more than one type of tile in the house. We learned to have a thick skin.

However, a buyer willing to wait for a new septic system and appreciative of an older gem of a house, is about to sign on. I feel a responsibility to our old house. It needs someone to love it as we have. I think our new buyers will do that.

Today is our last visit to the old place. In a few days we will no longer own property. Walking through an empty house and listening to the echoes of memories is bittersweet. There’s been sadness and grief and indescribable joyousness within these walls.

And while we turn the lock on our past 20 years, we remain hopeful that the next 20, the next adventures, will be as sweet.

Math, Flexible Thinking


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My fourth graders had a burning question all year long: How old are you?

I’m not so much embarrassed by my age, as I am shocked at how quickly I got to this ripe spot in my timeline.  However, having said that, I do not directly answer that question.

Instead, I always give the students an equation on the last day of school. It usually involves a cube root. “But you didn’t teach us that!” they complain. And my reply is, “When you learn what that means, you’ll have earned the answer to your question.”

This year one of my fourth graders told me she didn’t need to know a cube root to figure out my age. Curiosity engaged, I asked her how she proposed to find the answer to her question.

Easy. You told us you were in sixth grade when John F. Kennedy died, so I can figure it out without a cube root.” And off she went to find a JFK biography in our class library.

Which reminds me of two things. One, be careful what personal facts you reveal. And two, being flexible thinkers in math is just as important as working through an equation.




And so it goes…


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Yesterday, after 360 2013fielddayadays together, my students and I said good-bye. From here on, they are off to Middle School and, in all probability, we will not cross paths again. It was, for me, a bittersweet moment. And perhaps it was for some of them as well.

We’ve had our share of challenges and our share of triumphs. In our Morning Meetings over the last week, the kids and I sh2013fieldday3legsared what we are most proud of accomplishing and the times when we’ve been embarrassed. Sometimes I’m grateful Teacher does not see everything.

For me, I am proud that the kids have learned that I expect them to persevere. We don’t give up. I think that was embodied by their effort in our school-wide tug-o-war. The kids had a strategy for pulling together this year and, even though one class member might have wanted to be in the coveted anchor position, together they decided who, for the common good, would be the best in that position.

During the awards assembly, they clapped for each other, congratulated classmatphoto 1es from other homerooms. They made me proud to know them, even for just a little while. When I took a last snapshot with my phone yesterday, the kids insisted it wasn’t a “selfie”; it was an “us-ie”.

So, we go on about our lives. We take different pathways and maybe once in a while we will stop to remember each other and the special two years we spent in each others’ company.

Time to un-hibernate


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The weather in this corner of the northeast has been a real challenge. Since January 1 we’ve accumulated 4 school snow day cancellations; thank goodness this week was a school vacation week or we’d be adding at least one more snow day to the list.

Spending your vacation at home is not very exciting. Yes, we got some things accomplished, but there were no adventures for us this week. Unless you find shoveling heavy, wet snow up and over your head onto snowbanks the size of Mount Washington adventuresome. Or you think chipping 3 inches of ice off the driveway is fun.

It is hard to be spiritually uplifted when everything around you is the color of slate, crusted with sand and embedded with the roadside detritus torchidossed by commuters on the way to somewhere. The endless supply of grey, overcast sky seems to be a constant lately.

Yesterday, badly in need of a break from all this winter ambience, I took a detour from my to-do list of errands and ended up at a local garden greenhouse, miraculously open at this time of year. Oh, the beauty of the greens – ferns, prayer plants, coleus, African violets. There is something about the smell of the wet soil that is heavenly.

And so, I’ve declared this the end of my winter hibernation. We are moving toward spring, even if the spring is within the walls of a greenhouse.

And my soul is filled with promise and hope.


A Lesson in Discussion in Mathematics


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It wasn’t exactly where I had anticipated directing the discussion yesterday. And as it turns out, that was not only a moment of revelation, it was a glimpse into good things that can happen to mathematical discussions.

Have you seen a problem that is something like this one?

31 students are going on a field trip. They travel in cars holding 4 students and a driver. How many cars will they need?

With second language learners, I expected that we would have a discussion about what should be done with the remaining students.  We never actually got to that.

At the Summary point in our lesson, I asked volunteers to explain their thinking and computation for the problem. Three student volunteers stepped up to the document camera and explained their thinking: student one divided 31 by 3; student two divided by 4 and student three divided by 5.  Which one was correct?

The rest of the students kept turning around to me to see which of the three students had the right – as in which student had the one correct solution.  I’ve been working on this area of my teaching for a while now, and fortunately I did not take the bait.

Because had I stepped into the discussion as “teacher as the holder of all things correct” , I would have missed one of the all-time great moments of teaching — the time when the students follow all those discussion norms we’ve worked on and have a debate about which student had the most logical interpretation of this word problem.  I wish I had filmed it!

What did these fourth grade mathematicians decide? Although student one’s  interpretation made sense to him, there was general agreement “4 students and a driver”  did not mean divide by 3. Student two pointed out that bus drivers don’t go inside on field trips, so neither would car drivers; if the students were fourth graders, divide by 4. And student three? Student three is steadfastly holding the position that if the students were high school aged, one of them might be able to drive; therefore, divide by five.

And my question – what to do with the remaining students? Well, we’ll work on that one on another day.

Unintended consequences


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Most of the time when I see this phrase, it’s not a good thing. Today, however, there was an unintended consequence that fell into the plus side of the education balance sheet.

In anticipation of state testing, my students have been practicing writing to a prompt for a couple of weeks. This week, we practiced using this prompt from MCAS:

Think about a memory you have of a teacher. The memory could be something funny your teacher said or did, something your teacher taught you, a field trip you teacher took you on, or a time that your teacher made you feel proud.

Many children wrote about their Kindergarten teacher, or First or Second Grade. But one of my quietest students, unexpectedly wrote about me! Since the essay is about 6 pages long – dialog included – I won’t subject readers to the full writing. I certainly did hear my own voice projected through this student’s writing – some of the dialog describing a multiplication lesson seemed to come right out of my mouth with amazing accuracy! Hmmm, maybe I should be checking for recording devices?

But the words that this child wrote, the words that expressed this child’s feelings about me were that Mrs. Bisson “teaches in a funny way and gives you advice on how to remember important things”. What more could a teacher want than this?

After a difficult, stress-filled week at school, this child’s test prep (!) essay had the unintended consequence of lifting one bone-tired teacher’s spirits.

Beginning student led discussions


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“I can” statements are part of our lesson planning. I craft these statements for each segment of our day, direct student attention to them before, sometimes during, and after a lesson.

One of the mini lessons I planned this week was to introduce students to an FQR organizer (Facts-Questions-Response). Of course that included a link to the Common Core AND and “I can” statement.

After the mini lesson, students were directed to work in partnerships to read a nonfiction text found in our Reading Street books (not a fan of basals, but a great way to find multiple copies of a text) and with the partner jot on the FQR. Mindful of the role that academic language plays, I planned for students to collaborate in partnerships to complete the FQR and then use Turn and Talk to encourage discussion with another partnership.

I usually go into discussion-based activities expecting glitches and expecting that I may need to reteach and redirect students who enjoy social language a lot more than academic language :-)  This time, however, as I moved from group to group, I heard…. actual discussion of what facts were learned, wonderings, questions, and reactions to the text.

Mindful attention to the “I can” helped me to think about what my students would need to become successful. We not only worked on the process for an FQR, we reviewed our norms for discussion. And that allowed me to be an observer on the sidelines.206Books

I can turn and talk about facts, questions and responses to a nonfiction text. YES!

A New Voice for Education Reform


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A colleague and friend shared this article from the Washington Post this week.

James Meredith, a hero of the Civil Rights Movement, is proposing another kind of education reform – one that is based on equity, on the idea that everyone – not just those who can parse the vagaries of charter school or private school lotteries and applications or financial good-standing – is entitled to a quality education.

Notice that high-stakes, one shot tests aimed at further alienating the haves and the have-nots is not on the list of the America Child’s Bill of Education Rights.  Of the 12 points – and I agree with them all – Number 12 is, for me, the most critical:

12.  A 21st Century Education: A school and a nation where children and teachers are supported, cherished and challenged, and where teachers are left alone to the maximum extent possible by politicians and bureaucrats to do their jobs – – which is to prepare children for life, citizenship, and careers with true 21st century skills: not by drilling them for standardized tests or forcing a culture of stress, overwork and fear upon them, but by helping them fall in love with authentic learning for the rest of their lives, inspiring them with joy, fun, passion, diligence, critical thinking and collaboration, new discoveries and excitement, and having the highest academic expectations of them.

Are you listening Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan?

Inferring Vocabulary


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Kids can latch on to words in the most incredible ways. And second language learners really keep a teacher thinking.  As an English speaker, I give almost no thought to words and phrases we use every day that have multiple – and often unrelated connections – to meaning.  As a teacher of ELLs, however, that becomes part of the plan for each lesson. And as a teacher of a classroom made up of nearly three-quarters English Language Learners, it is a way of life.

This week, as we explored inferring unfamiliar words, that last point was brought to the fore with the following exchange:

Did China people eat off special plates on the Titanic?

This question did make me stop and wonder for several seconds – what in the world was this kid referring to? We had just finished looking for text clue to help infer the meaning of demitasse found in an article we were exploring from Harvey and GoudvisComprehension Toolkit Source Book entitled  “Titanic’s Legacy“. Where was this question coming from?

As it turns out, the question was not so out-of-left-field as I thought at first. One of the other illustrations found on the page we were studying was of a “China Serving Plate”. Which led us to a whole tangential discussion of the word “china”.

Never underestimate the power of words. Or the challenge of vocabulary.





I used to love the month of January. Not the weather, the concept of the month.

It was a month for new beginnings. For resetting classroom routines. For trying out something new.

Not any more.

Now January is a month of drudgery. Of test. After test. After test.

This week, I mapped out all of the assessments being required of my fourth grade students. It was shocking to write them down in one place: 2 days of ACCESS testing for my ELLs plus 15 minutes per student for the ACCESS Speaking subtests (about another day), Math pre- and post- module tests, Math Benchmark test, Scholastic Reading Inventory, Science District test, Scholastic Math Inventory, and a Writing On Demand test.

That’s 10 mandated tests in 20 days. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

January used to be fun for kids and for teacher. It used to be full of teachable moments. Of going outdoors on a cold day and exploring what happens to bubbles when you expose them to cold. Of celebrating the 100th day of school by pretending it was 100 degrees outdoors.  Not any more.

Now January is a month of tests. I dislike January. A lot.



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