Monday, December 29, 2008

Inaugural Poet

I returned recently from a conference in Washington, D.C. and while at the time the inaugural was well over a month away - you could sense the excitement in the air. People were upbeat and optimistic, inaugural specials were being adverstised, change was in the air. Colleagues and I debated whether we would want to be present at the inaugural - standing in the cold with crowds of people around us, not really able to see or hear much but being able to say that we were there. I put in for the "lottery" that our local senator held for inaugural tickets - and alas I have not won. Like many, I will be watching from afar.

As the inaugural program has been announced, much conversation has arisen about the selection of various personalities who will be there. As a social studies teacher, a writer and someone who appreciates words I am most excited to read that Elizabeth Alexander has been selected as the inaugural poet.

Many times over the course of the primary and the election, I have used Wordle and clouds to focus on the word choice that our presidential candidates used. Alexander has captured the beauty of those words and the words of the president-elect in the website announcement of her selection:

"Words matter. Language matters. We live in and express ourselves with language, and that is how we communicate and move through the world in community.

President-elect Obama has shown us at all turns his respect for the power of language. The care with which he has always used language along with his evident understanding that language and words bear power and tell us who we are across differences, have been hallmarks of his political career. My joy at being selected to compose and deliver a poem on the occasion of Obama’s Presidential inaugural emanates from my deep respect for him as a person of meaningful, powerful words that move us forward...

This is a powerful moment in our history. The joy I feel is sober and profound because so much struggle and sacrifice have brought us to this day. And there is so much work to be done ahead of us. Poetry is not meant to cheer; rather, poetry challenges, and moves us towards transformation. Language distilled and artfully arranged shifts our experience of the words – and the worldviews – we live in..."

Alexander's poems are thought provoking and powerful. They create images and make the reader think. Among my favorites are the ones written about the Amistad uprising - the various perspectives and her voice in the Southern Atlantic Quarterly article in which she describes the process through which she came to write the poems. Other poems are here - digest them slowly and one at a time, they are best taken in that way to capture the full flavor of her language.

And once you have done that - share them with your students. Encourage them to find the words that describe how they felt on election day - whether they supported the president-elect or not. Help them see how concise and vivid language can pack a punch. And most importantly - after the speeches and swearing in - listen to the poem that Elizabeth Alexander is writing. I am pretty sure it will be amazing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Make a Difference!

Times are tough - the economy is a bit scary and everyone just seems a bit down. I know how incredibly fortunate I am in many, many ways and so it is only right to share that good fortune.

Last night, I read about the work of two incredible bloggers and what they are doing this holiday to "pay it forward." Over at the Fischbowl, Karl Fisch talks about a great way to support Kiva, which provides loans to entrepreneurs in impoverished communities. He is making his contribution but also purchasing two gift certificates for people to contribute as well. His hope is that the people he gives it to will "pay it forward" and do the same. But more importanty, since so many people read his blog and have seen his "Shift Happens" video - he has a chance through his PLN to make a real impact here. I am joining Team Shift Happens!

Laura started her "25 Days to Make A Difference" campaign again this year and little sister Nina is joining in!! Laura and Nina aren't going to be donating money on behalf of the winner this year - instead they will be doing service work and fundraising. This is a powerful statement about our students - and one that I hope many teachers will join her in promoting. Please consider having your classrooms join her here and spread the word!!

Laura and Nina aren't going to be making monetary donations this year - but I am going to on their behalf. Around this time of the year, it takes a little bit to motivate me to exercise as much as I should so for each day between December 1 and December 25 that I exercise at least 20 minutes a day, I will put $5 in a jar. On December 25th, Laura and Nina can tell me where they want that money to go on their behalf for inspiring me. I'll keep you posted weekly on how I do!! (And I promise I won't let you down!)

So what do you say readers - ready to pay it forward?

Cross-posted on Grand Rounds!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Memories

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays - no worries about the right present or forgetting someone on your list. Just family, friends, food and football!! Does it get better than this?

As I sit on my couch this morning catching up on my feeds with a birthday cake in the oven and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on the television as background, I am thinking about our family traditions with this holiday. Coming from a large extended family where every event was a party, as the years have passed and families grown larger the festivities seem to have scaled back a bit. But we have preserved pieces for the next generation that I hope will continue.

As children, while my mother was busy prepping the turkey and getting things ready for dinner, we would sit glued to the parade on television. I remember the balloons of my day - Underdog, Snoopy, Superman - and watching the amazing musical numbers that would play. Of course, we made sure my parents were always in the room when Santa arrived to remind them that Christmas was not that far away.

My mom is a firm believer in naps and has passed that along to her children. After "cleaning for company" we would have to head upstairs to "relax" - we were always allowed to read, it just needed to be quiet time but she always seemed to know we would close our eyes for one minute that stretched to at least sixty. We would almost always be woken up with the entry of my grandparents - my grandfather and his ever-present whistling sneaking up the stairs to "check on us" but really nudging us awake if we hadn't already gotten up to hide and scare him when he entered the room.

My grandparents came early to be the first of the extended family to be there - but also so my grandfather could be sure to have their car be the first trapped in the driveway and therefore the last to leave despite my grandmother's not-to-subtle yawns and stony looks. My grandfather loved nothing better than having family around him. Slowly- family members would arrive, usually bearing some baked good or another. We would fall into playing with our cousins, looking through Sears and JCPenny catalogs to make our Christmas lists and daring each other to do something we knew the adults would get annoyed at. Sometimes - we would put together a play or musical number to the latest music to entertain the masses.

After dinner, which was a jumble of following thirty different conversations and misinterpreting at least ten of them, thereby causing at least one minor argument - tea would be brought out (we didn't drink coffee in my family) and the desserts would be cut. Not long after that - the doorbell would ring and more relatives would arrive. Cousins of my parents who were off at college or who had moved away with their families, friends who were friends so long they just were considered family, and always there was someone new who was braving meeting the family for the first time (no mean feat I must add!). Sooner or later - the card game would start and we could hear the pennies jingling as the adults separated to play cards or move into another room to continue gossiping and catching up.

Thanksgiving was a magical day that kicked off an entire season of family and feasting and storytelling while we were growing up. It is a bit different now - the dinner table is a bit smaller as time needs to be split with in-laws and relatives are much more far flung. My grandfather has passed and while my grandmother is with us physically and now lives with my parents, Alzheimer's has robbed her of memories and leaves her confused if too many people come to visit. My sibilings and I plan the Black Friday shopping schedule and make sure that cell phones are charged so we can text from different stores to be sure we cover the list. Instead of the card games, the Wii will be out and we'll be boxing or skiing or bowling. What has not changed is that our family is together - as quirky and as dysfunctional as the next one. And for that I am, and will always be, eternally grateful.

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving with your traditions and hoping that you all find the peace and happiness that I find on this day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

On Scoring Writing

Last week, teachers in our region joined me to score the NYS Assessment in Elementary Social Studies. This test includes, along with multiple choice questions and open-ended responses called "constructed response questions" (CRQs), one of my favorite writing tasks: the Document Based Question (DBQ). Truly - this is one of my favorite writing tasks. In addition to having students write (one of my favorite past-times), it also asks students to think like historians. Well - at least when the task is well written.

Scoring this assessment can at times be very subjective. Who am I kidding - it is incredibly subjective!! While leading the teachers through the rubric, anchor papers and the use of holistic (vs. analytic) scoring - I ask teachers to put their "pet peeves" in writing on a piece of paper to remind them that we are looking for different elements of writing in scoring this assessment. We can't let our pet peeves distract us or get caught up in what the students did not do. Instead, for purposes of this assessment, we need to look for what they were able to do in this one moment in time.

Despite my best efforts, there are always some complaints about how the essays are scored. Claims of bias because the papers came from a small/large/poor/affluent school district or because the student had an IEP/poor handwriting/no clue how to answer the question but tried really hard are often heard when teachers discover how other teachers scored THEIR kids. I try to be sure that we all have the same understanding of the rubrics and anchor papers but I can't score them all myself. I go for the greatest amount of consistency and hope for the best each and every year.

It seemed serendipitous to read 'Standardized You Say? "Confessions of a Scorer" in my latest issue of EdWeek on the heels of this scoring adventure. This article surfaced my deepest fears about scoring - particularly when I read want-ads in the paper asking for certified teachers to score NYS assessments or hear a state ed official tout the benefits of "electronic distributive scoring." No matter what measures we put into place - scoring student writing will always be subjective.

Interestingly, while looking for new blogs to add to my reader (because 104 simply is not enough) I came across this post about a third grade teacher using automated essay grading with her class. What struck me most about this post was not that the automated scoring was such a hit but that what the teacher described in terms of the process was a perfect example of what several colleagues and I have been discussing for weeks now: formative assessment.

The tool may have made the record keeping easier but it didn't change the practice - that much is evident from the description of her class.That teacher likely did all of the things she describes and attributes to the scoring program before using the program - just in a different way. For her students to give scores that were very similar to the program shows that they understood not only the rubric, but their own strengths and weaknesses in writing. Not an easy feat!

Which made me think about what we are assessing to begin with. If we truly want students to do well on the DBQ - we need to teach them how to read and interpret documents, make connections and develop a thesis statement using the documents to support that thesis. And we might have to do that without actually writing for a bit! In my classroom, I scaffolded the student writing of DBQs. After years of reading poorly written essays and getting frustrated at the smallest of writing issues, I realized that I couldn't solve the problem by throwing more DBQs at them. Instead, I needed to pick apart what they needed to do and start S-L-O-W-L-Y teaching them how to do those things, step by step. I spent less time grading poor work, they spent less time creating it. Instead - we grew together as their skills and confidence grew.

I've been working to translate my hard won lessons with others to avoid them having to walk the same path, but I realized that the power of my learning came from those mounting frustrations and failures as a writing teacher. It was then that I realized I needed to be a better writer to understand how to help them become better. My scoring will always be different than yours - my pet peeves are not your pet peeves, my expectations are not yours. But if they are aligned to a larger goal given to us by the state and if we communicate it to the students, we can expect more in our classroom and get proficient results on a once a year assessment - no matter who scores it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Glimpse Inside Two ELA Classrooms

There are days that I love my job and there are days that I LOVE my job. Today is the latter. I spent some time with newer ELA teachers today in my district and got to talk about and think about some very powerful stuff!! Thought I would give you all a glimpse.

First - I was able to meet with the 7th/8th grade ELA teacher. We are lucky to have a visionary principal here who knows the value of middle level education and was able to carve a 7/8 team out of a 7-12 building. The team works well together and the kids are thriving! The NYS Assessment is looming and the teacher wanted to talk about preparing the 7th graders for the assessment. She was a little concerned about the comprehension skills of her students and we talked about the upcoming unit she has with the students reading My Brother Sam is Dead to go along with social studies. After reviewing the start of her unit with me, I asked her why we couldn't incorporate some of the test preparation strategies in with the reading of the book. I randomly flipped to a page and pointed out that we could take a paragraph from that page, insert some grammar/mechanics errors and use it as an editing passage practice. We could rewrite some of her writing questions as multiple choice following the state test format and insert them as smaller quizzes to review both content and test-taking skills. I created a sample quiz for her to use and she is going to work on some additional questions. It was very exciting to talk about a book that my students loved with someone again!! More importantly, I am excited to see how this works with the students!

Two periods later, I got to touch base with a grades 9/10 ELA teacher who wanted to go over some recent assessment results. This is an amazing teacher who has amazing rapport with his students. I have never been in an ELA classroom where I have seen boys as engaged as I see in his class!! But I digress! This teacher shared some sample papers with me and we talked about how he felt about the results. He then showed me what he did with the students after the test to help them understand their grades and what they needed to do differently. First - for each section of the writing test, he culled an example of "exemplary" writing from his classes and attributed that writing to the individual students. He then listed in 2-3 bullet points his thought about why that excerpt was exemplary. In each class, he read those pieces aloud and discussed with the students the finer points of the writing.

The students then had a "mistake manager" form in which they reflected on their individual writing and what they could do to improve it or in some instances, they were asked to actually revise it. At the end of the class, the students shared with a partner one lesson on writing they were going to take away from the activity and the partner shared that lesson aloud. Having this conversation with him really reinforced my belief that when done correctly, assessments can be used in BOTH a summative and formative manner. I can't wait to see how the students take these writing lessons and translate them into practice.

I give these teachers a great deal of credit - they shared openly and honestly about their practice. They asked questions and reflect a great deal about the choices they make and the students that sit before them. Instinctively, they are doing things that are great for kids and when they aren't sure, they ask questions and collaborate which is great for the profession. I know that not all teachers are comfortable in being this transparent (and if they don't read this blog they probably don't even realize how transparent they are!) but I think we need to share more when we see this kind of work to help break down the silos of education. And more than just share - we need to celebrate it!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Scaredy Squirrel and More

Last night was the school Book Fair for first and third grade niece. It is one of our favorite outings of the year - and who can resist buying books to help the school? We always start with a "One Book for Everyone" rule (including me!) but I never hold to it. I thought I would share some of our finds this year - the girls made some great selections!

Third grade niece loves, loves, loves to read books in a series (wonder where she got that from?) and so picked up Eve of the Emperor Penguin, a Magic Treehouse book. What was really great was that we also picked up a non-fiction companion book about penguins! I am pretty excited that she was really into the non-fiction piece and she noticed right away that the text structure and words were just like the other Magic Schoolhouse books. "You know," she said, "you call that voice all the time!" (Any wonder that I love her to bits?)

First grade niece is a huge fan of Fancy Nancy and loves, loves, loves to use the fabulous words she learns from her books (huh, another one of those odd coincidences!). So of course, we picked up Fancy Nancy's Favorite Fancy Words: From Accessories to Zany. After we left and started to go through it, I was bummed that I didn't get a copy for me!! I have always loved Fancy Nancy books for their word choice, but the idea of creating individual word choice dictionaries like this one put me over the top. Hoping she'll let me borrow it for a workshop!

Aunt Theresa just loves, loves, loves books of all kinds and so it was a little hard to find one that I didn't already have (I love book order time!) but I found a little gem! Scaredy Squirrel never leaves his nut tree because the world is a pretty scary place - and he is highly organized about how to deal with emergencies. One day, as a result of something very unplanned, he leaves the tree and learns to love venturing into the unknown (in a highly scheduled way.) Story aside - this book has so many great features. It begins with a summary of the story (how cool is that for teaching summary?) and has loads of different organizational strategies inside - bullets, lists, four-square, you name it!! I have shared it with two principals and three teachers today - and all want my copy!! I can't wait to use this in a workshop!

For the record, we also bought this and this because, well it's still reading right?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

It's the end of the world as we know it......

History was made yesterday.

As we left the polling place yesterday evening, my five-year-old niece commented on quickly the voting took. Her seven-year-old and worldly-wise sister stated back, "We've been thinking and talking about it FOREVER!"

Last night was a night of conclusions in many ways - the end to a long season of campaigning, the mark of the end of a term of presidency. But in many ways, last night was also about beginnings. Beginning and endings go together in so many ways.

When I ask teachers their pet peeves in writing, conclusions always seem to come up. Much like Amelia's view of the campaign season, student essays seem to go on and on and on and on - lasting seemingly forever. When there is an end to the writing, the conclusions don't match the thesis or the content of the essay and instead, often take what I lovingly refer to as a "beach trip" or end with a simple "Thanks for reading my essay. This is everything I know about ______."

I've tried to teach my students many ways to help them understand that the endings of their essays should in many ways mirror or match the beginnings. That we are tying up their writing in a big, fat bow. We have folded paper, color coded sentences, played with sentence strips. And of course, revised, revised, revised. In the moment those strategies have seemed to have an impact - in the next writing moment, they have not.

A fifth grade teacher I work with recently invited me into her classroom to help her students with conclusions for the DBQ essays. After discussing things a bit - we decided to have the students go on a scavenger hunt for "good conclusions" using the newspapers that are delivered to her room. (Truth be told, the idea came out of the fact that the newspapers are soon to take over her room and we needed to use them!!)

After sharing three endings of stories that she thought were really good and brainstorming a list of characteristics for great story endings, I took over and talked about expository writing. We had hoped that when talking about the two kinds of writing, the students would identify us with each and it would make it that much easier for the lesson to be brought back while writing. The students went on their scavenger hunt and we again brainstormed the list of characteristics for a "good" conclusion in expository writing. The students then took out a conclusion they had written and then revised it using the characteristics we talked about.

It was a good lesson and most of the kids seemed to get it. I haven't seen the before/after conclusions yet but I am hoping they will tell us a lot about what stuck and what didn't. So in the interest of helping teachers everywhere - I am wondering how others are tackling the idea of conclusions with students.

History was made yesterday. As a nation, we were able to close some chapters and begin others. And that is everything I know about that. Thanks for reading my blog post.

;-) Sorry - I couldn't resist!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

They Said What? A Look at Election-Speak

I am fascinated by how technology allows us to analyze text. Besides some of the snappy tricks I have learned in using Word (where was auto-summarize when I was in graduate school?), tools like Wordle allow us to create visual representations of text in order to analyze word choice. One of the most fascinating things I have done with Wordle is to take the text of a presidential candidates speech during the primaries and put it into Wordle while working with social studies teachers.

I have officially been "one upped" by the creators at this site who have done a full scale lexical analysis of the presidential and vice-presidential debates this year. In addition to a sometimes mind-numbing analysis of the words that are used by each candidate, the following image was also shared:

I am not a huge fan of Venn diagrams in writing but I thought this was a very interesting image to share with students (please visit the site- there are many, many more!) and to have them think about what this analysis might mean in the context of persuasive speech.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dangerous Extremes

Last week, I was given a little momento from my summer writing experience. A nice purse/pocket sized copy of The Writer's Life: Insights from the Right to Write by Julia Cameron. I've decided to randomly open to a page and read when I am feeling like a little inspiration. And today, I opened to this:

"Writing is communication, yes, but that communication begins internally. The Self communicates to the writer and the writer communicates to the Self. The gist of that communication is what the writer communicates to the world. When the world is allowed to interrupt too early, the Self withdraws. Showing our writing to hostile or undiscerning readers is like lending money to people with terrible fiscal pasts. We will not be repaid as we wish. Our work will not be valued. They will respond in dangerous extremes, "brilliant" or "awful." (Long experience teaches that extremes of any kind, high or low, are dangerous to the writing process because they create self-consciousness.)"

This really hit home after a discussion this afternoon in our regional ELA forum around editing and revision strategies. The teachers were great to share ideas and questions but it made me think a great deal about when in the process we start asking students to edit or revise their work. Are we sometimes in a rush to get a "finished product" that we don't allow ideas to linger, the words to ferment and really come of age? Do we ask students to do peer editing without really having them understand what they are looking for in someone's piece of writing? Do we focus on too much when we review student writing - rather than narrowing in on one or two elements that their skills and egos can handle?

I also started thinking about how often we share our own writing with students. Not just the finished, polished piece but the evidence of our own struggle with the writing process. The notebook full of crossed-out words, arrows, and frustrated scratch-outs so deep they wear a hole in the paper. Do we share on a regular basis that writing is hard? Do we let them edit our work or suggest revisions?

I wish that I could say I was better at this - at showing that I struggle with it just as much as they do. But somehow, when I am invited into classrooms or work with teachers I am considered the expert. I need to be better at sharing my writer's notebooks and rough drafts - at saving the drafts and modeling the reflection that went into each revision. And most importantly, I need to show how we can avoid the dangerous extremes of "awful" and "brilliant" in order to really value writing.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

25 Words of Wisdom - Slideshare

Thanks to all who contributed some words of wisdom for writers! As promised here is the compilation of advice!

Monday, October 13, 2008

25 Words of Wisdom

It seems lately that brevity is the soul of wit in my life. Whether it is six word novels, 140 characters on Twitter or capturing the essence of my status on Facebook, the fewer words the better. (A very poor excuse for lack of regular blogging however!!)

I've been thinking a great deal lately about how the technology tools I use change not just my relationships with people, but also how I write. I no longer feel the need to write the great American novel, or any other novel for that matter. Instead, I think about who I am writing for and which tool is the best place to capture that writing.

I am always looking for ways to have students think about their writing and I come across some pretty powerful stuff in my feeds. This is one of the most recent ones to catch my eye:

That 25 word challenge had a focus on things we see too much/too little of. I am thinking of a different 25 word challenge here: What words of wisdom do you have for writing?

Post your words in the comments section and I'll create a similar slideshare for everyone!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Picture Books to Start the Year!

I love to give picture books as gifts - to adults as well as to children. With so many of them, it seems that they were written as a reminder to the adult world. And when you look carefully - they can help show students the power of writing. I thought I would share some of my favs and one that I am hoping to own soon!

The first day of student attendance in our district was also the high school principal's birthday, as well as the day she had to face the school community and tell them about the death of a student the previous day. I had already purchased her present, a copy of The Three Questions, but I quickly saw how much she embodied the essence of this book. It is one of my favorites and I often share it with the leaders in our region because it pulls things together for me.

We worked this week with regional colleagues on trying to define 21st Century Skills and begin to work on embedding them in what we do with school districts. The topic of the NYS Assessments came up (doesn't it always?) and the conversation was rich and robust around it. Much of it centered around the fact that we can teach for more than what those tests require and our students will fare well. That was refreshing to hear as readers of this blog know well that I personally adhere to what I call the "Diffendoofer Philosophy" inspired by Hooray for Diffendoofer Day. I can never plug this book enough!!

Talking about those skills reminded me that one of my goals has been to stretch the right side of my brain a bit more and the search for inspiring creativity and play for students. One of my favorites to use with writing (and the trait of ideas) has been "Not a Box" and I am now the proud owner of "Not a Stick." These books are amazingly creative and can spark the imagination of just about anyone!!

And just this morning, courtesy of A Year of Reading, I found one to add to my list: Butterflies in My Stomach and Other School Hazards. The timing is perfect (back to school) but so is the "word play" - our students are sometimes so literal that dealing with idioms can be difficult. It looks like this book will help with some of that and I can't wait to get my hands on it and start creating writing lessons!!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

New Beginnings

Driving to work this morning and forgetting about the extra 10 minutes that school buses can add to my commute - I passed the many students waiting outside for the bus. Some in new clothes, most with an incredible air of despondency (for the end of summer) and anticipation (for a new school year) and all preparing for a new beginning.

Depending upon where you work - the first day of school for students can have a very different feel from the first day of school for the teachers and staff. The students some how add an extra level of excitement and anticipation for the school year - it somehow isn't real until they arrive. Each year for me was a time to set new goals for myself and my work, to make it that much better for this group of students than it was in previous years. It was about building relationships with my colleagues and trying new things to engage and inspire our students.

Now that I work with teachers more than students - it still has the same feel for me. I can support and encourage their work and be much more objective about the impact they have on their students than they are. Teachers can and do change the world.

This year is an especially difficult year for a district in which I am honored to work two days per week as curriculum coordinator. We lost a student yesterday - an incoming freshman - in a tragic ATV accident. To begin the school year in such a way is difficult. But the teachers and staff and community have pulled together to help students (and each other) through this difficult time. Neighboring districts have also reached out a hand to lend support and a shoulder to lean on. They are not immune to loss - one district ended their school year the same way that we are beginning.

In times of loss, we often wish that we could have one more moment to say a final "I love you" or "I am sorry" or "You mean the world to me." We don't get those moments back but can learn instead to make sure that we say them to others on a regular basis. As schools in our region come to session this week and we all have new beginnings - I think this student from Dallas has said it to those that matter to him. Will you say it to those that matter to you?

Cross posted on Grand Rounds.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Saying Good-Bye to Summer

As we all head back to our classrooms and meeting with students, a give from the big, beautiful world wide web:

Just launched a few weeks ago, The Picnic Basket is already home to 40+ reviews by librarians and teachers. Be sure to see what your colleagues have to say about the featured books (you can access reviews by the "comments" link under each title or title/genre headings in the left sidebar). Remember, there are more reviews due to come in (I know it's a hectic time of year with the start of school and those novels take a bit longer to read and review... we'll wait!), so be sure to check back as you consider what books to bring into your classroom or library.

My first book to review is on its way to me - and I can't wait!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Two Great Tastes that Taste Great Together

One of my favorite commercials growing up (odd - I know) was the one for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups with Robby Benson and Ralph Malph:

I am a huge fan of peanut butter and chocolate and can't think of a better pairing until I got this: the presidential elections and Google Docs!!!

Google and the National Writing Project have teamed up to create Letters to the Next President: Writing Our Future—an online writing and publishing project that invites young people to write about the issues and concerns they want the next president to address.

With Google Docs, a free online writing tool, teachers guide students through the process of writing a persuasive letter or essay to the presidential candidates and publish their work on the Letters to the Next President: Writing Our Future website.

You can get more information on the project here As a social studies lovin'-writing-technology geek this project is a dream come true!! Please share it far and wide!!

Oh! And remember - there is no right way to eat a Reese's cup!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Again with the commas!!

After having spent a powerful and moving week focusing on finding my voice and writing, writing, writing it was back to the old grind today. I have plenty more to share about the voyage of writing that I am on but first, a comma commercial.

Regular readers of this blog know the fixation I have with commas. (OK - well, there are just three of you that I can claim as regular readers but I am grateful to each and every one of you!) I post about them here and here and here. Bottom line - I have an obsession with commas.

So I just plain laughed out loud reading this post over at Poynter Online and his fight to retain the serial comma. My favorite line of the entire piece happens when Poynter reads his editor's writing and finds that she leaves in the serial commas she is constantly deleting from his work:

"So the editor who takes out my serial commas fights for her own. It's like being a Yankee fan married to a Red Sox fan. You can't win."

I am not sure where you stand on the issue of commas - but this piece sure does make you think about style!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I am cherishing our writing block this week. It just long enough to write without having your brain shut down. It comes in the morning while I am still somewhat fresh (albeit a bit sore from Boot Camp!). And while writing, I am surrounded by quiet, despite having at least ten Fellows around me.

I shared my "portrait" for the third time today in a peer review. Two of the times I shared my purpose for writing and my intended audience. The third time - I did not. I wanted to see if the piece could stand on its own legs.

It did and so it is soon to be something that is "publishable." Where? I have absolutely no idea but since it was written within my community, for my community it will probably be here.

The revision process has not been easy. I've had to not only look at the words but how I put them on paper. Is the tense correct? Spelling? Did I really mean to say that there - or is it more powerful three paragraphs down? But because I care about the piece - I soldier on each day giving it fresh eyes.

It makes me think about our students and the revision process. Do we give them the chance to write about something they care about, are invested enough in to want to revise? Or - as I suspect may be the case - do they revise because we tell them to?

Janet said it powerfully in our debrief session today. I am sure that I am not capturing her thoughts exactly but the heart of it was as follows:

"I need to let go. I can teach kids how to revise their work but I can't make myself go it."

Have we become so detached as teachers of writing that we have forgotten what the process feels like?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Finding Your Voice

“Genre is our choice of the kind, the shape, the parts our writing, speaking or communication might take. Voice is our choice of words, rhythms, gestures, tones—the particulars, the individualities our writing, speaking, or communication might take.”
Richard Strong

This week, I am immersed in learning while at our annual retreat for Communities for Learning. In addition to the great food and great minds that are here, it is a chance for me to explore my own work and refine it. This year, we also have the option of participating in a daily writing block.

I was inspired to find my voice through my blogs during our summer retreat 3 years ago. At the time, I was frustrated in my job and struggling to find a purpose for what I do. After having spent a week with Richard Strong and Harvey Silver around engaging students, I came to our summer retreat ready to focus on literacy in social studies and to integrate what I had learned from Silver and Strong. Much to my surprise (and sheer joy!) Richard Strong was spending time with us as well!

I worked diligently on my protocol that week, being sure to sound like an expert and ready to impress people with my work and knowledge. And then I got to meet with Richard and share my work. He was very, very thoughtful and after reading through it and marking some pieces with a red felt tip marker, he put my work down and just looked a me. And looked at me.

I could tell he was searching for the right words and panic struck my heart - would I be rejected by someone I just felt invigorated by? How would I handle this devastating blow?

He leaned back in the chair and said something to the effect of "I have watched you these past two weeks learning and interacting with your peers. I know the content you are writing about and know that you know it as well. But what I read on this paper is not done in your voice. I don't know who is writing this or who they are writing to - but this is not you."

And so began my search for voice.

Our writing block today began with a discussion about the genre that we write in as Fellows, as well as how we share our work. And we discussed digging deep to find our voice and then crafting the mold in which can reside for others to read. I chose to participate in the writer's block because I want to stretch myself, to take some risks in my writing. Writing for a blog post is easy - but can I write a script or a portrait? Have I really uncovered my voice - or I am just putting one out there that sounds like me?

And so continues my search for voice.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Little Women Revisited

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead. - Louisa May Alcott

When asked to name my favorite book - I never hesitate. It is, without a doubt, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I can remember still the day that I received my personal copy of the book - red, hard-covered and inscribed with a message from my aunt who had given it to me for my birthday.

I devoured the book for many, many reasons. It was set during the American Civil War, one of my favorite time periods in history (I am also a closet Gone with the Wind fan!). It was about women and in particular, one very strong woman named Jo. I come from a long line of strong women (my mother is coincidentally one of four sisters) so any connection along those lines hooks me immediately! It had romance- which is tame compared to what we find in literature today. Most importantly - as I read the book, the characters jumped off the page at me and I could imagine being there in that house with the March sisters.

So - I was intrigued by a recent NPR piece that focused on a mother-daughter book club that read Little Women and the reflections of women who as a child found Jo to be their favorite character and with the passage of time are not so sure about that choice. Was Jo someone to look up to or an unrealistic ideal? Was the message of the book not as rebellious as I remembered but rather another voice shouting the merits of marriage and home and hearth?

I plan to re-read the book again soon - perhaps with my Second Grade niece as we work on her summer reading or maybe all by myself. And I wonder if the next time I am asked to name my favorite book if my answer will be the same....stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

One more year down....

Two weeks ago, we held our last regional ELA forum for the year. These forums are a way for the teachers of our region to gather, share their best practices, ask each other lots of questions and hopefully build a network (community?) of fellow teachers. We have had some amazing teachers share what they do throughout the entire year - from reading and writing strategies to school-wide collaboration with artists in residence to differentiated reading instruction. Almost every one contributed to the conversations and the ideas - I know that I walk away each time having learned something new.

The group really drives the agenda and I am excited about the possibilities for next year. We'll continue our talks on summer reading lists and whether or not the students really read, we'll share strategies and speakers we have seen, and maybe, just maybe, we can move the community online to continue to share between face to face meetings (one of my ultimate goals!)

One really interesting example that was shared by one of our high school teachers extraordinaire was how she is plans to use Shelfari with her students. This teacher is one of the all too rare "I let them read what they want to read so that they learn to love reading" types of teachers. She engages her students regularly with different reading strategies, is reflective of her work and is always looking for new ways to engage her students. Since she wants to share what she reads and to track what her students read, she is thinking of using Shelfari to help them create these lists. Then, as the students move from one grade to the next, the teachers can see those and build upon the lists. In my ideal world - the librarian would hook in next and be able to make purchases for the school library that are relevant to the kids, based upon their recommendations!!

I use GoodReads myself - same type of concept but visually, Shelfari seems a bit more appealing. (You can see my bookshelf on the left - if you join, add me as a friend!)Whichever you choose - I think it is a great way to share reading in the classroom and one I am thinking about implementing with several groups this summer and next fall.

All teachers seem to be in continual planning phase and as we wrap up one school year and ready for the next - what are your plans for the fall and what are you reading/doing to prepare? Are you remembering to take some time for yourself and take a trip or visit local sites of interest? Share in the comments section and give me some good ideas!

Monday, May 19, 2008

What really matters?

I've been having some interesting conversations lately with teachers around the issue of editing and revising student work, often lumped in with conversations around grammar. The conversations usually start with strategies for working with students on editing or revising their work (harmless) to when and how to teach grammar (much less harmless).

Inevitably - we end up discussing cliff-hangers such as diagramming sentences ("they are really powerful for visual learners" I am told) to dangling participles (I kid you not - this one happened today!!) My personal opinion is that these lessons in the abstract (i.e. without reference to a specific piece of writing) do absolutely nothing to impact how I write. Unless there is something in MY writing that I can connect the lesson to and then use that lesson to revise, I lose the meaning/importance of lesson. Thus, I believe that grammar is best taught not in isolation but in mini-lessons and as they appear in student writing.

I think that this comes from the writer in me that values ideas over the correctness of the piece - at least initially. As someone who drafts and re-drafts their writing, at first blush I am more concerned with the ideas and how I have put them together than I am about the finer points of grammar, punctuation, and often word choice. I need to put the piece away or seek feedback on the ideas (revision) before I can turn my focus to the editing.

And this - I know - comes from those teachers in my past who, with the power of their red pen and marginalia, reduced my writing to a series of mistakes that I had made, rather than seeing the power of the words within. Feedback - both the focus and how it is delivered - can make or break any writer.

And so I ask you to please read this blog post about how feedback can extinguish a writer's flame and then decide what is really important when we read student writing.

Source Note: The diagram of the Pledge of Allegience at the top of the page comes from the Capital Community College Guide to Grammar and Writing.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Are there alternatives to a 5 paragraph essay?

I was fortunate enough to spend two days last week with Heidi Hayes Jacobs and some of our regional teachers investigating and thinking about "active literacy." One of the comments that Heidi made, among several, that really pushed some buttons in the group is to stop teaching the 5 paragraph essay.

She is right, I think - but that didn't make it any easier to hear. I am preparing for a workshop this week on Step Up to Writing and that structure is one that many teachers apply the color coding scheme to. In working in our region, I hear "5 paragraph essay" stated as if it were a genre. I suppose in many ways, and for many different reasons, it really has become one.

But one of the things that Heidi pushed people to think about with literacy is that people are not just literate in writing and reading. That listening and speaking are critical elements of literacy. And that new technologies open up yet another form of literacy that we need to address.

So it must have been fate that as I have been sitting on everything we discussed last week, my favorite Scottish blogger and someone who really pushes my thinking about literacy posted this on his blog:

How do you measure creativity. How can we work out the struggle of the 'exchange rate' of assessment. What is "the equivalent" of a 1500 word essay?

- an animation?
- running an online discussion for a week?
- scripting and posting a 3 minute podcast?
- authoring an explanation in Flash?
- annotating a week's worth of delicious links?

What are your suggestions of 'equivalence' in an ingenius, creative school system?

I am not going to answer with my thoughts in the hopes of prompting some thoughts around this. Tell me - what do you think?

Monday, April 28, 2008


I tend to get lost in book stores. Not literally - but time tends to slip away from me once I cross the doorframe. And I never seem to leave without having left a hefty chunk of my paycheck behind.

I buy all kinds of books. Ones my friends recommend on Good Reads, one that I read about on blogs or other places, ones I just happen to randomly pull from the shelves and read.

I spend hours in the kid lit section as well. As my nieces and nephews learn to read and find out what they enjoy - I try to find other books for them to try out. Kindergarten niece read Fancy Nancy at the Museum on our vacation to Aruba. This book was great for teaching vocabulary a la Lemony Snicket but in a much more pleasant setting!!

So it was my great delight to find a reference to Lookybooks waiting for me in my RSS feeds!! This new site is still in beta but allows you to read the entire book online, not just the cover and selected pages. There are not a lot of books available yet - but it seems that more get added each day. And did I mention that it is free?

Here is one that I stumbled upon that I really like as a mentor text for kids writing about their trips. Having just come back from spring break in WNY - it seemed appropriate!! Great details with interesting pictures - this book is also a strong example of voice. Check out Zoe Sophia's Scrapbook:An Adventure in Venice:

What Lookybook do you recommend?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Random Thoughts on Words

This isn't the blog post that has been stewing for quite some time on connective writing (I promise to post it soon!) but my Bloglines account has been chock full of thought provoking pieces on words that I thought I would share!

First, over at PaperCuts a hilarious post on "crapulence" and other examples of lexicon excess!! Seriously - I am finding a way to work these words into conversation tomorrow!

Then, PaperCuts goes on about the words NOT to use when reviewing a book because they are so overused!! Love it!

Then, a fellow professional developer from the area reflects upon a deep curriculum alignment project they have done and most interestingly on their findings regarding teaching vocabulary. A very powerful series of posts - with more to come!

Finally, in this time of political rhetoric and the ever-lasting election season, comes this cartoon. (I post it here only because of the connection to words and not because of any political leanings that I might have!!)

What is your final word?

Cartoon credit here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Think Pink!

I recently finished reading Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future. The premise is relatively simple: the "left brain" jobs that people aspired to in the past (lawyer, accountant, software engineer) will fall by the wayside as a new kind of mind (the right brain thinkers) will emerge as a force for the future. The good news is - teachers are considered right brainers!!

More than laying out a different type of plan for future, the book actually contains a very nice "portfolio" piece after each of the six essential R-Directed aptitudes. This book had a high Post-It note quotient, which makes it a really good read. But as I began to digest some of what I was reading, I realized that writers are really right-brained as well and if we develop some of these six aptitudes, well - writers will rule the future!!

Design: Described as a whole minded aptitude, the focus is on an combination of utility and significance. Granted, most elements of design have to do with the aesthetic and the visual. Being useful without words. But with writing, it also has to do with how the work is presented. What type face is used. Cursive or print. The break of lines in a poem. There can be design in writing, to enhance writing, thereby increasing the significance of the words.

Story: This one is obvious - I thought. But what really struck home is the following passage; "When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact." What more powerful reason to create rather than cut-and-paste?

Symphony: The ability to put together all the pieces - to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields - to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair. Metaphors are a piece of symphony, as is every great novel that kept you reading because of the unexpected.

Empathy: The ability to imagine yourself in someone else's shoes and to intuit what that person is feeling. Good writers are able to capture that in their writing - great writers help others to feel it tool.

Play: There is great research in this section about the power of joy and laughter and play. The connection to writing for me was that writing has not become something of joy and laughter and play. It has become something that we make kids "do." Think of how many times a student has been punished by having to write something multiple times (including test corrections.) How can we add more play into writing?

Meaning: According to Pink, it is the search for meaning that drives us all. What better way to do that than thru writing? I think about all the problems I have solved by getting them out on paper, how journaling has helped me to think through what I am feeling, how creating a story has helped me to see the path that I must take. This is the power of writing.

My apologies to Mr. Pink if this is not how he intended his book to be used but I have not been able to stop thinking about the connections to writing and what we can do to inspire and grow these six aptitudes in our students through writing. Any thoughts??

Cross-posted on Grand Rounds.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reading is Dead!!

For most of my lifetime, I’ve heard that reading is dead. In that time, disco has died, drive-in movies have nearly died, and something called The Clapper has come and gone through bedrooms across the nation.

I thought that might grab your attention! The above quote from an Op-Ed article in the NY Times in response to Steve Jobs' attitude about the Kindle. It seems that Mr. Jobs doesn't believe that this gadget that I covet will change much about reading - that "people don't read anymore."

As someone who spends a great deal of time and money in her local bookstore, who gives books as presents and can't seem to read enough - that statement made me sad. My family has always modeled and encouraged reading and we continue to do so with our next generation. My kindergarten niece, Gracie, is at the stage where she sounds out her words as she reads - opening the eyes of everyone to how we make sense of the written word. My nephew, aged 3, is at the stage where he memorizes the stories that have been told to him time and time again. Unlike his dad, whose favorite was Hop on Pop, Brody has No, David! down pat. Reading isn't dead in our family.

And I don't believe that is is dead elsewhere. I do, however, believe that it is changing. I don't think of "text" as purely a novel or short story or anything with a binding. I believe that it is anything that is written - including this blog. It is the exposure to words and ideas that is important, not the format. So I was thrilled this morning to read that Scotland has released it's new outcomes for literacy. Included in it's definition of texts (which is intended to be broad and future proof!) are the following examples of text:

novels, short stories, plays, poems, reference texts, the spoken word, charts, maps, graphs and timetables, advertisements, promotional leaflets, comics, newspapers and magazines, CVs, letters and e-mails, films, games and TV programmes, labels, signs and posters, recipes, manuals and instructions, reports and reviews, text messages, blogs and social networking sites, web pages, catalogues and directories. (emphasis added)

Now - I did not stumble upon this information by accident. It appeared in my Bloglines feed from someone else's blog and I followed the links to read the documents. That is the nature of reading today - not simply curling up with a book (I do that too!) but curling up with your laptop and challenging your thinking by reading what folks in other places are doing. In the past year, I have learned more about literacy from people in New Zealand and Scotland than I have here in the United States. Some ideas I have agreed with, some I have questioned. But all have helped me to form my understanding of literacy.

Reading isn't dead - but it is changing. Are you?

(Photo of PreK niece and 2nd Grade niece during "reading time.")

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Semicolon Rides the Transit

No - this is not the title of my upcoming best seller but a continuation of what some have called my comma obsession!! I was amused when Jenn told me in response to my comma overload that she would be seeking misplaced commas while in NYC - perhaps I was a bit over the top on that post. However, she can now spot appropriate uses of the semicolon while taking the subway!!

It appears that the long lost semicolon has been used "impeccably" on a NYC transit advertisement asking riders to take their newspapers with them when they get off the train. More importantly - it appears that while many of us have relegated the semicolon to the text world, many others in history have been severely impacted by their use or abuse of semicolons.

While this is an interesting read and one to share with all - perhaps the best part for me was the correction. Of course, it involved the use of those damn optional commas!! ;-)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Summer Reading

"The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas."- Linus Pauling

I often use this quote with teachers to talk about the brainstorming process or keeping a Writer's Notebook. I know that I froze at times when asked to write and it is far easier to draw upon ideas that I had when the pressure was not on. In fact, I keep a WN for that purpose to this day.

However, I use this quote today to ponder aloud in the global network of blogging about a question posed to me today around summer reading. Many districts, including my own, are integrating summer reading lists for students. After much negotiating, these districts are offering students choice, collaborating with their local public libraries and working hard to select pieces that have literary merit yet also engage their students (is this necessarily an oxymoron?). I give these teachers and districts a tremendous amount of credit because they have reflected on what works and why they want kids to read to create some great choices.

But what do we do with the reading the kids do over the summer? Should we assess it formally? Should it count as a grade? Should we use it in discussion circles? If we don't have an accountability measure in place - will the students read?

These are great questions - hard questions!! What is everyone doing out there on this? Got any research about what works and what doesn't?

Image by donjuanna at Flickr.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Commas, commas, and more commas

We've been scoring the Grades 3-8 ELA assessments for the past two weeks and are finally down to the final two days - if the weather doesn't jinx us for the third time this year!! Seeing the continuum of student writing across these grade levels has been very eye opening and has me thinking quite a bit about the recent conversations around handwriting as well.

Some random writing thoughts from scoring:

(1)The students seem to be writing more than in previous years - which I think is a very good thing!! While they are not always on the right track - they are making great attempts at all grade levels to include more details, provide topic sentences (even for the shorter answers), and connect their thoughts to the reading/listening passages.

(2)Our districts have done a great job in mixing up the teachers at scoring this year. They are not just sending teachers from the grade level that we are scoring, but teachers from the grade before and/or the grade after. This has really opened some eyes and started conversations about the idea of "curricular years" we have been talking about for a while in our region.

(3)Our students are still practicing rampant homophone abuse. Whether they are changing the correct word to the wrong one in the editing passage or experimenting using every possible spelling of "their" the wrong way in an extended response, the just are using the words correctly.

(4)The ability to begin sentences with "And" or "But" still does not sit well with teachers. NYSED does not count this as a grammatical error so students cannot be penalized - but it still panics teachers. I wonder why when it seems to be present in almost everything I read - more as an element of voice than anything else.

(5)I will never, ever understand why so many commas have become optional. My issues with commas are well documented in this blog and I share them openly. I know that I abuse them, I know that I don't always use them correctly, but I do remember the rules from my high school English teacher about when they were required. Apparently, those rules are not iron-clad. Serial commas, commas before conjunctions, and commas following introductory phrases of five words or less are now optional. Huh! That must be why I put them all of the other places they shouldn't be - they are homeless!!

On that note - I'd love to hear what others are noticing as they score. And because I am feeling edgy (can you tell by how I started this sentence?) I share with you this link to a song on the Oxford comma (which according to Wikipedia is another name for the serial comma.) WARNING!! The song does contains a certain shocking curse word which may be offensive!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Happy National Handwriting Day!!

Please don't rush out to find the Hallmark Card for this holiday - I checked and there isn't one! So instead - share this post with a friend!!

A few weeks ago, our family would have celebrated this day with a cake and festivities. My second grade niece had been counting down the days until Christmas break ended because her teacher told her they would be learning cursive in January. She loved the loops and how "adult" it made her writing look - she would practice her version of cursive every chance she got. Of course - when she got back to school, they never wrote in cursive- they just practiced strokes and swoops and swirls. And instead of her very neat, very legible cursive style being used, she now obsesses over the angle of the slant.

It seems that almost every meeting I attend lately around student writing comes back to the lament that we can't read their writing, that they are too lazy to write when they can text, that we need to revive cursive handwriting instruction. In fact - it made the front page of our Sunday paper!!

What about wanting our students to love writing? Does it matter if it is typed, written in crayon or using perfect Zaner-Bloser cursive? Or does it matter if it is full of ideas and voice, with wonderful, wonderful words that paint a picture and that are spelled correctly?

I love to write. I don't always do it well or effectively - but it helps me wrap my head around what I do or learn and it certainly helps me communicate with others. I think it is a powerful tool for everyone to have - particularly our students. But the how we write is less important to me than the writing.

Our students are growing up in a different world than we did - in a world that changes every day. In our ever flattening world, we have no idea what to prepare them for in terms of jobs. But I firmly believe that if we teach them to read, to write and to think - they will be prepared for just about anything.

So today - I will celebrate writing of all kinds no matter what tools they are written with!

Monday, January 21, 2008

To Cite or Not to Cite....

OK. I've been taking a bit of a breather and trying to beat a nasty cold. After a marathon sleeping weekend - I think I kicked it and the weather is perfect for catching up on my on-line life. Lucky for me - my friend Jenn has not kept her head too low and has sent me many, many happy links today.

The one most appropriate to this blog is on plagiarism. I'm a bit sensitive to this topic, having just finished teaching a graduate course in which two individuals took some liberties with the syllabus and turned in work that was suspiciously familiar. And because it is the number one complaint of teachers when it comes to research projects - that students are just "cutting and pasting" the information into an essay format and turning it in.

Now - we all know that we should cite sources. This world has become a bit more gray lately as there is so much more that is published on the Internet - pictures, blogs, wikis: how do we cite all of those?

And we all know that we should use quotation marks if we lift something directly and at least paraphrase the information without them. Basic writing 101, right?

Strangely - no!

It seems that a pretty well known romance novelist has stolen some key dialogue from a science article. That's right - re-read that last sentence carefully!! The story really is best read from the science writer's perspective (aka "the victim") which is also one of the best examples of voice in writing I have read in a long time.

While the science writer has forgiven the romance novelist ( that a plot in the making?) it is sad that plagiarism has sunk to this level. Reading the passages that are in issue - it is hard to imagine the language being that of post-coital bliss. Didn't the editors notice that? Teachers can tell when writing is not that of their students - can't editors? Why did no one check that?

Even more depressing - apparently the romance novelist stated in an interview that she didn't know she had to cite sources. Really?

I mourn for writing today - for original ideas, for playing by the rules, for the spirit of a good story. But on the other hand - I sure did giggle. I just wish I could share this example with students.....

Saturday, January 05, 2008

It's like a tattoo....

There is a crop of "word of the year" blogs out there - people selecting words to focus on for the new year rather than making resolutions. I've always been a big fan of Jim Burke's well words so I had my word selected back in July. (FYI - it is "toss")

In teaching writing, we often work with kids on putting to bed their "tired" words. We bury them, we ban them, we circle them in bright red pen as a reminder to select a more appropriate word for their writing.

But what is funny is that we abuse words ourselves. I know, because I hear my nieces inadvertently mimicking their teachers in how they talk. I feel as if I know these individuals long before I meet them because I hear their voices at the dinner table and during play. In second grade, Amelia's teacher must LOVE the phrase "not necessarily" because that is all we hear. In kindergarten, Sydney's teacher is a big fan of "absolutely!" We knew this, of course, because we heard it two years ago when Amelia had her!!

So I found it amusing that Lake Superior State University created a list of Banished Words for 2008. I have found that wordsmithing is the one word on the list that has long been a pet peeve for me and I inwardly cringe whenever I hear myself saying it. "It is what it is" makes the list and has my vote as well: I hate resignation and much prefer pushing the envelope a bit so this phrase is a bit like nails on a chalkboard for me.

Any other words/phrases out there that should be banished?