Close Reading: Screenshots

We tell our students of the importance of maintaining a safe, long-view oriented presence online, but what would happen if our phones were taken or observed by someone who didn’t know us? What would give them clues?

I wanted to find out, so I’ve uploaded a few screenshots from my phone yesterday. I’ll post them as a gallery so if you want to use them without my commentary, you can. (Thanks to Morten Hendrickson for introducing me to galleries at WCNYC’14)

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Let’s start with my lock screen.


I’m pretty much perpetually running in low battery mode, because I go to plug in my phone and get away from it for a while, but then I think of something I want to look up or get others’ perspectives on, and then I head back into the bedroom to unplug it.

((Irene I am Sherlocked pic))

Depending on your schema, you might also recognize the art as the Blessing of Worlds emblem from the video game Destiny. It’s been my lock screen for as long as I can remember, which supports the idea that I’m not much invested in the visual aesthetics of my phone. I couldn’t get a shot of my phone case to deduce from that (because I’m too wimpy-fingered to prise it off), but I’m definitely not one of those people who have a dozen or more cases (tho I wish I were).


From my home screen, you can see I’ve kept the default Apple background, which perhaps is an indicator that I’m not deeply invested in the aesthetics of my iphone in the same way that, say, I was obsessed in the late 90s/early aughts with crafting the perfect AIM combination of text font, size, and color (Times New Roman bold in a deep green color, in case you were curious).


From this second of two homescreen pages, I’m VERY interested in what you think of my app downloading habits.


(Irene adler in white dress and phone smiling))


Selfieeeeee. It’s taken on the porch, which if you know me, means I’m writing in my journal and probably sipping some tea. (I’ve had to cut out all but decaf coffee because of med interactions)

Clothing is a costume for me.

((Image of Sherlock in firefighter costume in bedroom)


This is the screenshot that made me really start getting excited about this post. You want to talk about elevator pitches? I feel like people can get a pretty clear picture of who I am and what I value just from this one image.

Marie Curie? Bucky Fuller? Splitting my time between Seattle and Michigan (no one’s emerald city)? It’s all there in one portrait-rotated image. “No matter the costume, it’s always a self-portrait.”

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Twitter is amazing.


This is my about page on Facebook. I feel like it speaks for itself, which is kind of the point. The fact that I didn’t “write about myself” there speaks to my reticence toward being too self-promoting in my work and my life.

((John Watson “nothing ever happens to me”))

You may notice that there’s only one quote that isn’t attributed. The person who said it was Dr. Stephens, who for many, many years was both my mom’s and my OB/GYN. He’s the man who managed my parents’ care while they tried for a decade to conceive yours truly. I was hesitant to post his name because I didn’t want people to think that I was  bragging about a PhD fellow thinking I can have and do whatever I want, because that sounded grandiose to the extreme.

The funny thing is that now, in 2016 (he passed in 2005), rereading this quote makes me think immediately of Teachers Who Game. “The world is yours to play with.” Isn’t that lovely? Life is our most important game.

Here’s hoping this has been an enjoyable endeavor!


NBPTS Reflections

I didn’t pass my National Boards.

So there’s that.

Welp, I think I’m finally ready to start reflecting on not passing. I’ve also registered to resubmit my portfolio, so I guess I’m also ready to GET BACK ON THAT HAWS.

Not to complain, but I wish people had told me “this is a three-year process” earlier in the game. It seemed like people started saying that around February or March, but by then I had already worked myself into a lather of my own view of what the certification process was. And my view did not involve my 2012-2013 school year looking like this:


There are, of course, a few positives to be found in this situation. Number one: the lovely, talented, and charming Liz Willard is now a NBCT.

Congrats, Liz! She’s in the middle, in black. Kimmie Choi, second from the right, is also a NBCT.

She joins the ranks of several other respectable colleagues who are also certified. When people found out I didn’t pass, I received many (well-meaning) comments to the effect of “You’re a badass teacher; if you didn’t pass, the process is broken.”

I disagree. I had no freaking clue what I was doing through most of the past year, despite fearless cohort leadership by straight-shooting, no-holds-barred NBCT Diane McSweeney. I’m bummed, but I’m TOTALLY FINE with the fact that I didn’t play the game the way it was meant to be played. In many ways, I respect the process MORE because I don’t feel like I just got a free pass. Besides, I got a perfect 4.0 on my documented accomplishments entry, so I must’ve done SOMETHING right, no?

Many people also said, “Wow. If YOU couldn’t pass, I don’t even think I’m going to TRY.” or “I don’t know how you’re managing to redo everything all over again.” Come now. I know you think you’re complimenting me, but you’re notttttttt.

I’ll tell you what WAS a big motivating factor when I was feeling terrible after learning my results. The response of NBCTs. I wasn’t entirely convinced before, but now I know this is a community I very much want to be a part of. Every single person I know who is National Board certified has offered to help me redo my portfolio. EVERY SINGLE ONE, even if I haven’t talked to them in two years. Well, Rob hasn’t offered yet, but he was busy getting engaged, so I’ll forgive him.

NBCT Rob Stearns, marrying us the day after he submitted his portfolio in 2011.

The National Board folks themselves could have been a squeak more helpful, I suppose. This is what I saw when I accessed my scores last week (actually, it’s not EXACTLY what I saw because when I logged in today to get a screenshot I couldn’t see what I saw before, so this is the closest I could get):

Wat. I couldn’t remember the cut score for passing, and nowhere on the main page did it say “YOU TOTALLY PASSED” or “YOU TOTALLY BOMBED,” which was probably intentional, but it made me panic for a minute. Until I realized my fate. My crappy, crappy fate.

The feedback I received on the entries I didn’t pass was taken directly off the NBPTS four-point rubric. So it was directly aligned to the scoring, which was helpful, but it wasn’t terribly specific, which was not helpful. It also did not help my soul to read that my entries indicated I wasn’t reflective and wasn’t knowledgable about my content areas, the two areas I thought I was strongest.

So here I go. But it’s not just me this time through. Garrett, who was in my cohort last year, is trying again as well. So is one of my favorite Seattle U cohort members, Adrienne. And a few other folks are trying their luck at National Boards the first time around, including a few other Seattle U MITFEEs, like Melinda and Julia.

Me and Julia at graduation, June 2007.

I’ll be in good company if I pass next time, but it’s nice to know I’m in good company even though I didn’t pass this time. Thank you all for your continued support.

Letters to Ms. Houghton

Background Image by Suzanne Lyons

A good portion of my usual weekly writing is done in Letters to Ms. Houghton, which students take home as homework on Tuesdays.

Lately, my routine has been to settle in with a cup of coffee and my favorite pen to write to my students. This is now my 5th year of writing weekly letters to my kids. My kids (and many teachers) ask how I manage to write so much to every student every week, and here’s what some of my core beliefs are as to why it’s a huge priority in our classroom.

  • We talk ALL THE TIME about how relationships are essential, and we talk about how we wish kids wrote more. My kids BEG for their Letters to Ms. Houghton. I’m able to do informal assessment on their writing while building a meaningful relationship with them. That’s a hugely worthwhile time investment to me.
  • I got the idea from Mrs. Chan. Mrs. Chan is one of the most highly efficient and highly effective educators I know. If she considers Letters to Mrs. Chan a productive use of her time, I do too.
  • I don’t let myself get overwhelmed by letters. If I’m not able to finish them all, I send home an IOU post-it note so students’ families don’t think their child is lying about not having homework.
  • After I started Letter to Ms. Houghton, I’ve ALWAYS had a ready response during writer’s workshop when a kid says they’re done writing. “Tell me more about XYZ that you wrote to me about a few weeks ago.” BAM.
  • 2nd graders don’t usually write a lot. Half my kids are 2nd graders. Their letters take three minutes to write, tops.

I have yet to launch my reading response journals, and it’s something that even after six years I don’t feel like I have a good handle on… I’ve shared my guiding principles about Letters to Ms. Houghton, now can you help me out with managing RRJs?

Pathways to the Common Core: Writing PD Documents

Tonight is the second book study Twitter meeting for Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement.

As a member of the FWPS CC Transition Team, I have a few documents that I think might be useful to districts trying to disseminate information about the standards.

For the three types of writing (K-5), here’s a concept sort I made using definitions, book covers, and writing exemplars from CCSS Appendix C.

Download it as a Word document here: ConceptSort Modes of Writing.

Additionally, we’re going to give teachers time to explore writing resources by doing a jigsaw WebQuest.

Download it as a Word document here: WebQuest Modes of Writing.

I’m posting these because I assume some of my book study peepz might want to see them. If you use them, please acknowledge somewhere that they were designed by MOI!!! Shannon Houghton!!! for Federal Way Public Schools.

Another cool thing our district did was put together an “Intro to CCSS” video. Check it out here:

Send a note my way in the comments if you found any of this useful! Godspeed!

The Power of Wordle!

I wasn’t going to do Thursday’s quick-write because I just produced what I’m calling a “half-draft…” it’s not even a full rough draft, so I didn’t think it would turn out well and I’m super-embarrassed about it.

But I couldn’t resist the siren song of Wordle. Wordle can be used for about a billion things, but I love using it to run my report card comments through after I’m done with my whole class. Here are some comments from the last few years:


Pretty rad, right? So curiosity got the better of me and I ran my half-draft through.


I’m pretty pleased with how things panned out, actually. “____Person’s Name____Understood” was a repeated sentence through the text, so it makes sense that that’s big. Bucky and Dymaxion make sense too. It seems like the next most common words are

  • structure
  • design
  • ideas
  • used

That’s where the work is for me today, methinks. “ideas” and “used” are kind of wimpy, especially when I really want to show that Bucky’s thought process wasn’t coming up with a set of discrete inventions or plans, but they’re all crazy-connected with each other and with the world and even the universe.

So. Hm. I will rewrite my half draft, perhaps play with a different direction entirely.

Oh! I also need to say that the book that’s been blowing my mind this week is Uri Shulevitz’s Writing with Pictures. So far “Chapter 3: A Complete Action” has been most helpful.

Today’s my writing day, so I’ll keep you posted later on how things go!

Day by Day: Assessment Cycle 3, Day 10

To see a complete list of the reflection activities and for an explanation of the program, visit my Day By Day Main Page.

Conferring Cycle 3: Standardized Tests

Day 10: Give kids a boost of spirit

Challenge: Talk with your grade-level colleagues or your principal to determine how you will celebrate with your students before and after the testing window.

If you chose to throw a pep rally, take some time to write down what made it successful. Did students leave knowing they would be able to do well on the test?

How did you get positive messages across to your students?

How did the after-party in your classroom allow you to show your appreciation for your students’ hard work on the test?

Day by Day: Assessment Cycle 3, Day 9

To see a complete list of the reflection activities and for an explanation of the program, visit my Day By Day Main Page.

Conferring Cycle 3: Standardized Tests

Day 9: Proofreading

Challenge: Show your students a few pieces of writing, with various commands of Standard English, and have them discuss how they can be edited and improved so they’re easier to read. Then teach your students how to proofread their own written responses.

Is it easier for your students to find their mistakes or someone else’s?

Why do you think this is?

How will you help your students remember to proofread their writing before they close their test booklets?

Day by Day: Assessment Cycle 3, Day 8

To see a complete list of the reflection activities and for an explanation of the program, visit my Day By Day Main Page.

Conferring Cycle 3: Standardized Tests

Day 8: Keep writing!

Challenge: Generate a list with your students of ways to keep writing during a writing prompt. Prod them to consider ways to elaborate when writing narrative as well as nonnarrative genres.

What is the primary reason your students seem to run out of steam when writing a practice prompt?

How will you empower students to write their best first draft?

Day by Day: Assessment Cycle 3, Day 7

To see a complete list of the reflection activities and for an explanation of the program, visit my Day By Day Main Page.

Conferring Cycle 3: Standardized Tests

Day 7: Think, organize, and respond

Challenge: Schedule time to teach your students a variety of ways to organize their thinking before they attempt a writing task. Be sure to talk with each student to ensure the student has an organizational process that works before test day arrives.

Which type of organizational device seemed to work best for the majority of your class?

Which type of organizational device do you gravitate toward?

Do your students have similar preferences?

Day by Day: Assessment Cycle 3, Day 6

To see a complete list of the reflection activities and for an explanation of the program, visit my Day By Day Main Page.

Conferring Cycle 3: Standardized Tests

Day 6: Two Audiences

Challenge: Plan to help students visualize the person who will read their writing prompt. Ask them to conjure up an image, complete with speech or thought bubbles, and then to share the image with others.

How does audience influence your own writing?

How will you help your students understand they are writing for two audiences during a standardized test?