Feedback on Writing

Feedback on Writing

What kind of feedback do you offer your students on their writing?

Are you red pen crazy? Do you mark up the paragraph, page, or essay with slashes, carots, and circles every where there is an error? Do you do this with another color pen – trying to conceal your zeal for marking the page?

Or, are you a minimalist, just circling the area of the rubric which critiques the writing with a 4-3-2-1, offering nary a hint at what was right or wrong in the writing sample?

Are you correcting Greenbelt Writing? Ralph Fletcher says this is a no-no. Did you interrupt the flow of that student’s Slice of Life to point out a mis-spelled word? I hope not.

Luckily, I do not think I fit into any of these categories!

But, I do know that feedback to students on their writing is extremely important! Yes, I know, I know; it is also extremely time-consuming.

The reason the topic of feedback is part of my slice today is that I am awaiting my grades from a graduate course that ended on November 22nd! The course was Environmental History – I have talked about it on my blog before. There was a paper due each week from the 8th of October through November 12th.  The final project was due November 19th, and was worth 30% of our grade. But, here’s the thing – none of it has been graded! Yes! I said none! Five papers, requiring the synthesis of a great deal of reading material, complete with citations turned in on time, but sit ungraded in the course drop box. As a perfectionist, a hardworking student, and someone who looks for teacher feedback to use with which to improve myself, I find these ungraded assignments hard to understand.  Yet, I have not choice but to wait. So, wait I will….and hope for the best!

This week I also told the third grade teachers whose students I borrowed for the last six years that I will not be back to lead writer’s circle this year. This was a group I founded when my youngest was in third grade because he liked to write. As a parent who liked to write (and, teach) I asked his teacher if I could lead a writer’s circle for a small group of her students, including my son (who is in 10th grade now). It worked so well that the following year, I was given students from each of the three third grades in the building for a once a week writer’s circle meeting in which we wrote, shared, laughed, and learned together. It was a great experience for me, as well as the students, I think – at least that is what I was told.  Throughout our time together we explored narrative and expository writing, poetry (my favorite), newspaper writing – which we shared with their classes, travel brochures, pourquoi (another favorite – although difficult), and more. Over the years, almost all of my writer’s circle students were published in a national poetry compilation.  I am especially proud of that accomplishment. In terms of feedback, I tried to offer a mix of both verbal and written praise and suggestions, as well as guided constructive criticism. These were students who already liked to write – I was cogniscent of that and did not want to do anything to diminish it.  So, I carefully guarded what actually flowed from my pen onto their paper.  It was a difficult decision to let this group go, but one I feel whose time had come. I am looking for opportunities to build a similar group in more of a community setting.

Once my next semester of graduate school is underway, and I can gauge my own workload, I will look into some possibilities.  Hopefully, I will also know by that time how I did with my own writing assignments!

Inspired by my weekend reading of Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher and by the blog and Slice of Life Tuesdays! Thank you for the opportunity to share our stories.



Slice of Life Tuesday: My Last 24 Hours

Slice of Life Tuesday: My Last 24 Hours

List style posts are not really my thing but today, I thought I would share my last 24 hours in such a style. I have written more substantial posts in the last week and if you need more  “meat” for a slice of life post, you can check out my post on Nutcrackers from yesterday, 12/4/2017, and Favorite Christmas Music from November 29th. I wrote a lengthy post on why I cannot run for school board but have not posted that yet and it is too long for a Slice of Life Tuesday post at over 1,000 words. So, I am saving that for a future date.

Thus, I arrived at posting a true slice of life from yesterday’s events, in a list style recounting my last 24 hours.

Yesterday, 10 a.m. – Receive a call from the dentist office about the appointment request I submitted to their office on Friday morning. Who knew dentists keep “bankers hours” with Fridays off?  Was told I could be seen at 1:40pm for my chief complaint of pain under one of my back molars.  Take an Aleve.

11 a.m.- Working on finishing up some pre-holiday wrapping. Most of our family are out-of-town and gifts need to be purchased wrapped and sent early. I am progressing on this, but it is contributing to the many  “piles” I have around the house. Piles irritate me.

12 noon – Start making lunch. Still have tooth pain. Take some Tylenol, since the Aleve does not seem to be working.

1 p.m. – Get absorbed in some reading  – checking on how many of my digital survey’s have been returned and what they say about their memories of Evergreen Garden Club.

1:30 p.m. – Realize I have to be at the dentist in 10 minutes and leave the house in a rush. Luckily, it is just up the road.

2:00 p.m. – Dentist evaluates my tooth/teeth with tests that inflict more pain on an already painful area. One test involves sending a current through the roots of my teeth. Scary! And, yikes; it really hurt!  X-rays taken but dentist cannot determine which tooth is causing the problem. Refers me to an Endodontic Specialist for consultation.

2:30 p.m. – Specialist office calls my house just as I arrive home, cannot get me in until end of the month or early January. I do not answer the phone. My husband listens to what the dental plan is for my tooth pain. He offers to call an Oral Surgeon affiliated with the hospital in which he works.

3:00 p. m.Tooth pain unrelieved by Aleve and Tylenol. Driving to Oral Surgeon’s office for immediate consultation. (Thanks, honey!)  Evaluated by “new” oral surgeon who was incredibly nice. X-rays sent from earlier visit show “pocket” behind wisdom tooth – two teeth further back than the molar I thought was the problem. Appointment made for Friday morning to have wisdom tooth extracted.

4:00 p.m. – Getting prescriptions filled. Continue Advil/Tylenol for pain management. Hot Tea helps too.

5:00 p.m. – Arrive home. Have large glass of wine. Pain feels better. I feel better with a plan in place.

6:00 p.m. – Start working on reviewing my notes for my the Classroom Presentation I have scheduled on Poinsettias today.

7: 00 p.m. Pain is back.

8:00 – 10:00 p.m. Finish note review. Watch movie, Jack Reacher with family. Take Advil since enough time has expired since taking Aleve.

10:00 p.m.. Pain is worse than it has been. Heat up rice bag to hold on face. Go to bed. Text Sister in Law instead of oldest son (at college) by mistake. Oops…..Resend text to son.

11:00 p.m. – 3:00 a.m. – Slept fairly. Awake by 3 o’clock. Too early to take more Advil. Heat rice bag. Microwaves are loud in the middle of the night!

? time – 6:30 a.m. – Must have fallen back to sleep. Hear husband and boys in the kitchen getting ready for school. Get up.

7:00 a.m. – Have yogurt. Hot Tea. Take Advil. Snooze until 9 a.m. Write a few emails.

9:00 a.m. – Shower. General House pick up. Relatively pain free.

10:00 a.m. – rewrite notes on poinsettias for classroom presentations this afternoon

There you have it! My slice of life for this Tuesday, December 5th, 2017.   Thanks to who offer a wonderful writing community on Tuesdays to allow us to share a slice of our life with others.









A Lesson: Give Others the Same Break You Give Yourself

A Lesson: Give Others the Same Break You Give Yourself

It’s Tuesday again! Already!  Time for a Slice of Life Post sponsored by the Two Writing Teachers Blog.   Last Thursday, I found out the my proposed study, Garden Education and The Subsequent Development of Environmental Stewardship: Indicative Memorieswas approved by the IRB, or Institutional Review Board, at the university I attend for graduate school. My mentor was pleased that I was able to get through the committee’s review process with just two small revisions!  She said it was rare!

But, after I sent the revisions I heard nothing! The faculty member working with me on the study said she had sent the copies of the revisions to the appropriate person. I had sent the digital copies. Or, so I thought. But then, again, I had sent them just before leaving on a trip to see my parents.  So, when I got home and there was still no word and the commencement date of my study passed – without commencing, I began to worry. After searching my emails, I could not come up with proof that I had sent the documents digitally!  So, after searching and searching, more and more frantically, I became disgusted and disappointed with with myself!  I must have worked on the email, and been pulled away from the computer, not having sent it and the digital copies of the revisions. All I could find was a half written email – no proof it was ever finished or sent.

So, I put my proverbial tail between my legs and wrote an email of apology to the IRB committee chair, stating what I had found and reattaching the revised digital files. In the email, I admitted that maybe I had been too busy, too distracted by my trip, and too rushed to get the job done right. In other words, I had not been wise or careful with something that was important to me. I apologized – profusely.

But then, several hours later, a strange thing happened; the IRB committee chair wrote back and stated that she did, in fact, have my email from the previous week (November 15th) with the attached revisions. It was the hard copies the committee was waiting on! I was both relieved and frustrated! First, I was relieved that I had followed through and did what was required to get my study off the ground. Secondly, I was frustrated that the hard copies, presumably delivered by my professor/advisor, were not in the hands of the appropriate people. The IRB committee chair put it in perspective for me. She said she had followed up on the missing hard copies and if they had not been received by Wednesday the 22nd, they would track them down or we could resend. She also put my mind at ease and told me that the hold up was not due to any negligence on my part. After a brief period of irritation, I realized that my mentor deserved the same benefit of the doubt that I had given myself. She had told me she would deliver the files. I am sure she did, or at least intended to, deliver them.  Perhaps – they were sitting in a pile on the committee person’s desk, perhaps – they were still on my mentor’s desk with all those good intentions left afoul, perhaps – they got stuck in inner-campus mail. This was the case! The hard copies of my files had taken from the 16th to the 20th to be delivered from one building on campus to another and land on the appropriate person’s desk. After being CC’d on the email of apology by me and the “we will track it down” email from the IRB committee chair, the last person in the loop was able to go ahead and give me the permission to start my study! Believe me, my Thanksgiving gratitude included being able to proceed with this research.

So, this past Saturday I sent out about 120 postcards to former garden club students who are now young adults – aged 18-23 years. I am looking forward to learning what memories of garden club they can share with me and if they felt the club influenced their ability or desire to be our next generation of environmental stewards.  Yes, life is busy. But, life is good.

Slice of Life Tuesday 

Getting back to normal…

Getting back to normal…

Late last night I got back from a five-day trip to visit my parents in Western New York.  I have not blogged since last Thursday! Today’s Slice of Life Tuesday post is just that – a slice on what I have been up to since the end of last week and my last blog post.

It was a good trip. I got to visit with them without a lot of distractions except for the Canadian Geese that interrupted our lunch yesterday. My Dad drove me around to see my old high school, the house I grew up in, and new places, as well, like a new Wegman’s Supermarket and numerous restaurants in which we ate good food. I was able to drive to Buffalo to visit my sister and a great friend with whom I have kept in touch with for the twenty years in which I have been out of the area.

There was a few snowflakes and scrapping to do yesterday morning, but nothing had accumulated. I worked on school work – finishing a project on a local conservancy group, and getting the addresses entered in to my data base for my research study.

I did not sleep well during my trip. This is not exactly new for me but it was worse than normal. Over the first three nights away, I had a cumulative total of ten hours of sleep.  I guard my sleep carefully because I know I do not function well when I am short on it. My emotions are close to the surface; I am more irritable, and I do not always process well when tired.

And, now I find myself home. Thankfully, I slept well last night. I already met a friend for our weekly walk. Later today I will be making a grocery list for our Thanksgiving dinner, doing the laundry from my trip, and some light house cleaning. My husband really kept the house running while I was gone, and I arrived to not find any “piles” of things sitting around, other than those I left before my trip.

I am looking forward to having my son who is a graduate student come home for the holiday and my sister-in-law, who is our most frequent visitor, both arrive tomorrow (at different points). My high school boys will be off tomorrow and the house will take on yet a different air – one of talking, activity, and sometimes organized chaos (although, since there are so few of us, this rarely occurs).

So, even though I am home, I am not back to normal yet. Getting back to normal will have to wait until next Monday – when everyone and everything  (I hope to be unpacked from my trip by then), is going about their everyday routine. Then, I will be able to go about mine, as well!

I am thankful I was able to travel to see my parents. I am also thankful I was able to go back and see where I came from by visiting my old school, old house, old stores, old friends, and have it contrast with what I am thankful for now – my husband, my boys, my friends, my home. My “new” normal. Thankful.

Slice of Life Tuesday


Recommended Environmental Readings

Recommended Environmental Readings

If you just want my book recommendations, skip to the end of the blog. If you want to know why I am recommending the books, then I guess you need to read the post!

My graduate course on Environmental History is almost over. It has been a whirlwind tour of the last several centuries worth of changes in how we, as Americans, perceive the wilderness and how we have managed it.  There has been a great deal of reading, accompanied by a paper each week. Starting with Thoreau and the transcendentalists, up through Muir and the Westward Expansion, including the formation of our National Park System, and forward to Aldo Leopold, the birth of the science of ecology and influence science has on helping us monitor our environment, it has been a large volume of information to digest, assimilate, summarize, and ponder. We ended our course readings with William Cronon’s twenty page 1996 essay on “The Trouble with Wilderness“. Cronon is an environmental historian with a dossier as long as a cross-country trek, hailing from the esteemed institutions of Yale and University of Wisconsin, Madison. If you have a chance to read this, or any of his other prolific works, I would highly recommend it. He is a gifted writer.  But, be ready for your head to spin!

Most, if not all, of this literature and these authors were new to me. Of course, I knew who these historical figures were, but not what they stood for or what inspired them to write some of the classic literature they delivered. Through all of them, I was able to form some connections to the way I feel about nature and the our wilderness today.  Given their time in history, one could at least partially understand why they undertook certain actions. Thoreau, being Emerson’s protege, was adept at his prose and conveying the connection some of us feel with our earth home. However, few of us could. or would want to, live in the wild for an extended period of time such as Thoreau did on Walden Pond.  It left an odd impression as I am sure it did for some of his countrymen at the time.

We probably owe our National Park System to John Muir, to a great extent.  He definitely fought for the early parklands and developed political connections, such as Theodore Roosevelt, to help his cause.  Certainly, the few National Parks I have visited including Haleakala Volcano, Rocky Mountain National Park, The Everglades, and The Badlands inspire awe – even if it had been during their most travelled and civilized state.  I can only imagine what Yellowstone or Yosemite looked like a century or two ago.  I am thankful there was someone to fight for the wilderness in the past.

I found myself connecting to Leopold, as  I read an excerpt from his classic, A Sand County Almanac, through his love of science, ecology, and botany. He was an original citizen scientist – collecting phenology data on plants near his shack in  a rural Wisconsin county near Baraboo, over many years. Believe it or not, his data is even still being used today to help determine the effects of climate change and global warming on plant adaptations such as an earlier bloom time. It made me feel like documenting my own observations on Monarch migration and spring arrival since 2006 is a worthwhile thing to continue to do.

We had only a slight exposure to Rachel Carson, author of the famous, Silent Spring, in the 1960’s.  I think we owe a debt of awareness and citizen action to her, even before being I am really cogniscent of what she wrote.

The course highlighted the social injustices that have occurred in America during acts of wilderness conservation and preservation. While not much as included from the views of the indigenous peoples, it is obvious they were unjustly treated by many, including our government.

So, while the course is over, I am left with a whole list of books want to read. I thought I would share this list with you.

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949)

Gloryland by Shelton Johnson (2010)

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)

American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau (2008)  an anthology edited by Bill McKibben

Happy Reading! I hope one or more of these inspired writers inspires you to take care of our Wilderness – even if it is right in your own backyard! (Read Cronon’s essay, too!)

Thank you to for sponsoring Slice of Life Tuesdays!







A Garden I Know, and One I Will Learn

A Garden I Know, and One I Will Learn

The school down the road has a garden that I know well.  There, in the butterfly garden, are plants picked by former students and some selected by me, some were donated by parents or staff, and many were purchased.  In the center is a large,  overgrown, lilac bush. It serves as a shelter for butterflies that might need to get out of the rain or wind during the time they spend visiting our school and yards in the milder months of the year. There is common milkweed and whorled milkweed, planted some years ago, to fulfill the necessary criteria to be certified a Monarch Way Station.  The purple milkweed has disappeared, but was planted with the rest in 2006. There is a sign that tells students, visitors, and families that monarchs are welcomed in this garden. The sign, from Monarch Watch, tells a story of caring humans – students and adults – who lovingly provided this habitat for the Monarch Butterfly on these school grounds since 2008.

Currently, the garden contains mostly perennial plants including Yarrow, Black-eyed Susan’s, Purple Coneflowers, day lilies, hosta, and milkweed. Last May, just as the twelve years before, we planted petunias, marigolds, and Gaillardia for instant color, just before the school year ended.

There are worms in the soil that we used for our earthworm unit experiments and then, released in the bed to help nourish the soil.  Every spring there is a return some lily of the valley, so hard to remove. I know, I tried every year.

I remember some years we planted New England Asters in the fall for color, but they never survived the winter sidewalk plowing.  And, other varieties of butterfly favorites were planted in springs’ past such as zinnias and Shasta daisies. The lilac bush was pruned, if we remembered to do it at the right time of year.

Yes, I know this garden well. I have records of its growth through diagrams, grant and certification applications, and many, many photographs that span more than a decade of care.  There was even a newspaper article or two over the years, to preserve the time and tell the story of the garden at Evergreen.  I know the little things, the things about the garden and its history that only those involved would have knowledge of and be able to share. I remember the compliments, and the silence. So many are the memories!

Solemnly, I remember the boy whose memorial stone lies near a corner marking his enthusiasm and participation in garden club before he became ill and passed from this world into the next.  I remember yelling at a family who rode their bikes – all five of them – parents included, through the garden bed, just after we planted it. I remember the high school students and other parents who came to help us make all our projects a success.  I remember looking for worms, caterpillars, chrysali, and milkweed as early signs of the changing seasons. I recall making 25 bluebird houses, one with each club member, so many years ago!

But, today, I will be introduced to a new garden bed, at a new school. It is larger, more complex, and in truth, somewhat intimidating to think about. Yet, I expect to find some great similarities. I know the new garden is also a Monarch Way Station! I know the  garden, new to me, has been cared for by the same women for almost as long as I cared for the one at the school down the road.  I know how they feel about “their” garden, even before I meet them.  Believe me, I know.  I know I have to drive 9.5 additional miles to reach the garden now.  I know there is a shed full of garden equipment ready to be used. I know that the young school-aged children want to be in the garden. I know that the school wants the garden to be tended, and lovingly cared for by a dedicated advisor. I know, right now, I feel welcomed and wanted – just as I did in the early years in the garden at Evergreen.

However, I do not know the garden yet. Knowing the garden takes time. I will meet with the previous caretakers. I will learn the plants they selected. I will promise to care for them as seriously as if I selected the plants myself. I will let me knowledge of a garden I cared for and built, sustain me as I become a newbie, once again. I will plant this garden with the promise of hope, and seeds of stewardship, just as I did the garden I knew before. Today, I will learn a new garden.

This blog is part of the Slice of Life Tuesdays sponsored by Thank you for the opportunity to be part of a wonderfully supportive writing community!

Ten Things I (re)Learned in the Last Ten Days

Ten Things I (re)Learned in the Last Ten Days

Tuesdays are always a day I put a little more consideration into the topic on which I will write. It is because the piece will also be posted to the Slice Of Life Tuesdays blog forum from TwoWritingTeachers in which other educators also post their pieces. We share ideas, feelings, lesson plans, challenges, and rewards all in a slice of writing about a piece of our life.  I try to write something related to the world of education on Tuesdays for the feedback from other bloggers is useful and friendly.  This week, since I have not written a list style post in a while, and I was also thinking about little, but important things I have recently been reminded, I would post those. And, yes, some are cliche’ – I think they bear repeating.

10. Life is short. Do not sweat the small stuff. Appreciate each and every day.

9. Do not let your passion for a subject overtake your life.

8. Live in Balance. Stop to appreciate nature. Relaxation is as important as hard work.

7. Even when you are trying to do good, someone will think otherwise.

6. Hug your children. They need it. And, so do you. Hug them tight.

5. Negative posts need to be balanced with positive posts.  Hopefully, one does not garner more attention than the other.

4. Good friends rise to the surface when you need them, and this make me so grateful.

3. When one door closes, another opens – almost always.

2. If computer networks fail, we are all in trouble. Big Trouble.

1.  The written word is powerful, but maybe not as powerful as a good conversation.