What If We Give Choices?


During the 4th quarter in 6th grade, summer is calling. After a long school day, many students play sports, practice instruments, meet with clubs, get outside, create new things, and hang out with friends. What about homework?

In Language Arts, students are expected to read each night and do a short independent practice assignment. I never assign homework on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Assignments are often posted on Monday for the week so if someone needs some flexibility, they can request it.

What if you have a choice? For the past two weeks, we are choosing what we want to do for homework as long as it’s related to our studies. We brainstormed a list of possible choices and then document what we do each day. At first, some people felt like having a choice was a bit overwhelming. As the first week progressed, more people began to realize that they were getting more work completed, they were enjoying the freedom of selecting an activity, and they felt a bit more relaxed about balancing the workload throughout the week.

Here are some slices of some of our reflections:

“Choice homework was a very different experience for me though in a positive manner. Each day forced me to ask myself: What do I need to do? What do I want to do? What will benefit me?”

“I loved choice homework because we could pick what we felt like doing. At least for me, it unlocked many different learning tools. Being able to choose something motivates people to actually do it.”

“When I do choice homework, it is a different, more free experience. Choosing what to do was the hardest part for me. I had to consider what was going to happen after school, what I would benefit from, and if I wanted to do that. Even though this is hard to weigh out, it proved to be very fun, interesting, and beneficial.”

“This also helped me really start reading and I advanced in the book. I also feel like I am older and I have more freedom. I really liked the experience.”

“I could work at my own pace and be more productive. I like these assignments because I had more flexibility to either change the homework or do more than was written.”

“I wrote a chapter each day for a book I started on Monday. I really enjoyed the nonspecificness of being able to choose homework assignments. I liked how a chapter could be anything. It was MY book and MY homework assignment. Some nights I would write my chapter first thing when I got home. On other nights, I would write before I went to bed. This shows that choice homework wasn’t in any way a burden to me. I usually have an order to the completion of my homework assignments. The fact that I wrote whenever I could is why I like choice homework so much.”



It’s so much more than 6th grade. It’s so much more than Language Arts. One can consume all the knowledge in the universe but what good is that if one cannot create? Read more about what we value at Durham Academy Middle School ~


Our Heroes


Photos by Patti Donnelly

Each year we begin a journey of connection, reflection, and heartfelt moments. What I love most about teaching Language Arts to 6th graders is learning with them. A close second is how we can experience reading, writing, speaking, technology, and creativity every single day. Our Hero project is all of that and more.

We return from winter break and begin thinking about a hero. It has to be someone we know and value in our life. As we are brainstorming heroic traits and interview questions, the handmade book making process begins with local artist, Peg Gignoux. The first session is a collaborative effort to paint and pattern as much paper as possible.



Folding a big, white piece of paper is harder than it seems. There are several steps involving some technical spatial skills.


Piece by piece, we trust that the from layering random colors, a work of art will emerge. There is no prototype to copy or pencils to sketch. There are scissors, glue, and our memory of a meaningful moment with our hero.





Now we have to decide how to cut the portal to our heroic scene.



Peg giving her sage advice

The last step is attaching the front and back cover and gluing in the story.





Once the books were dry and pressed, Peg displayed them at FRANK Gallery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As if the experience wasn’t exciting enough at this point, last Wednesday we came together as a community to share our stories at the gallery. Many heroes walked in not knowing they were the one being honored. Emotions were high and smiles broad.



Sister honoring brother


Daughter honoring mother


Son honoring dad


Friends sharing a forever moment


Moments of pure joy!


Thank you Peg! You are our hero!

Thinking About A Run

running shoes

Running is a time to think and a time to calm my mind. Sometimes great ideas and stories come to me on my 8 mile journey, but I have a hard time recalling them later. In contrast, when I can relate a thought to a spatial segment of my run, my memory improves. On my last run, I thought a lot about studying and homework. I want to share some of those with you now.

When I asked you if you were a writer, some of you wondered what that meant. Does it mean I write effectively? Does it mean that I am published? My first thought while running, was am I a runner? My initial answer was no. I’ve played sports all of my life, but never considered myself a runner. In fact, I never ran for the sake of running until my early 30’s after taking a running class with my oldest daughter, Nicole. Shortly after that, we ran our first 5K at Myrtle Beach. We both felt like we accomplished our goal and we were both very proud of ourselves and each other. My next goal was the Virginia Beach half marathon in 2005. My husband and I followed a training plan and reached our goal.

In both cases, we had a goal that we worked towards. Was the goal to try something new? Enjoy running? Finish the race? This made me think about studying and homework. What is your goal? To learn something new? To enjoy learning? To finish your assignments on time? Do you even have a goal for homework?

I have been running seven to eight miles several times a week since last year. I remember when I couldn’t even run one mile! I have the things that make me happy and motivate me. They are my running shoes and my music. My initial goal was to finish. Now I have a new goal to improve my time and run longer segments. Running is mental. There are many times when the path is flat, I am breathing steadily, and my legs do not hurt, but I want to stop and walk. I have to talk myself through that moment and focus on my goal. My goal, competing against myself and not other runners, keeps me motivated.

I try to make running a priority for me. Running helps me pay attention to other things I need to do later. I am constantly thinking and processing when I run which helps me work out other challenges I face. I feel a sense of satisfaction when I set goals and meet them. I fail sometimes and that is good. Failing makes me try harder the next time. Change helps me stay on task like taking a new path, listening to different songs, or the delight of getting a new pair of running shoes. I feel like I have accomplished something, finished something, when I return from a run.

So, I ask you, what activity gives you time to think? What recharges you? When it comes to studying, what keeps you on task, keeps you motivated, helps you get to the next segment and push through? What helps you finish? And how do you feel when you succeed?

As I lace up my shoes and select my playlist, I look forward to hearing your ideas when I return. Am I a runner? What I do know is that I am running.

Are You A Writer?


What does it mean to be a writer? What kinds of writing do you like to write? How did you learn to write? How do you decide what to write about? These are some of the questions asked of 6th graders at the beginning of the school year. I was impressed by the responses and want to share some thoughts written by a student in my morning class.

Are you a writer? No one is born being a good writer, but you become one through practice.

Why do people write? People write because they love to and so they can tell people about themselves through another identity.

What does someone have to do or know in order to write well? To write, I think people should read more than they write and write about things around them.

What kind of feedback helps you most as a writer? Truthful feedback.

What does it mean to be a good writer? Are you a writer? Please comment.