Tuesday, May 29, 2018


Friday morning.
School science fair.
The three and four-year-olds have been studying the life cycle of a butterfly.
They invite the seventh graders to visit their butterfly museum.
By the time I arrive, the presentation is over.
The seventh graders are seated with the little ones at centers around the room.
Mostly, they are coloring and reading and building puzzles.
There are lots of smiles, lots of hugs, lots of laughter.
I love watching the older kids with the little ones.

My eye is drawn to the construction center.
There are four or five older kids, all boys, building.
I don't see any little kids.
The boys are some of my most wiggly guys,
the ones I have to stand close to,
the ones I catch watching me read most often
during silent reading time
the ones who most depend on me for book suggestions,
the ones I regularly have to redirect.
They have come a long way this year,
and they are still hard work pretty much every day.

I stand for almost twenty minutes watching the builders.
They create, break, re-create.
Completely unaware of their surroundings.
Completely lost in the building zone.

Now, four days later, I can't stop thinking
about those moving hands and minds.
I think about a typical reading or writing workshop
and I wonder
how I can make it more like the block center
so these guys can learn better.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


For years, I have talked to teachers about how teaching children to read involves three key components:
        1) Developing a positive attitude toward reading
        2) Acquiring the skills and strategies you need to be a strong and successful reader
       3) Developing fluency
Of course all of this occurs within a strong, supportive, and caring community.

I'm only talking about this because now I am actually living it myself.
I'm talking Spanish every Tuesday night.
I'm not exactly a beginner.
But I'm not all that terrific either.
Right now our class is working on preterite (past tense) verbs.
And it's really hard for me.
There are five of us.
And I'm pretty much the worst one.
My teacher is great.
Warm and supportive and caring.
We have wine and homemade tapas every night.
The people in my class are really nice.

And every week, when I go to Spanish class, all I can think about is, "I'm not very good at this. "
I make way more mistakes than anyone else.
My pronunciation is awful.
I'm the oldest person here.
I'm the worst one in the class."

And because I keep talking to myself that way
I think I am making Spanish a lot harder.
I know I could learn Spanish a lot easier
If I would just relax and stop talking to myself like that.
It really is all about the attitude.

I need to remember that when I'm talking to kids who struggle with reading
because they live that every day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


She is eleven now.
Her face, once jet black, gets whiter every month.
She spends most of her day napping in the sunniest places she can find,
one ear slightly cocked,
listening for the sound of the refrigerator opening.
She can no longer jump onto the bed by herself.
Instead she leans against the bed,
front paws on the boxsprings
(which I have placed slightly askew especially for this purpose)
waiting for me to get up and hoist her rear end onto the bed.
Sometimes her back legs give way on the stairs and she slides backwards on her belly.
She is no longer a young pup.

Except for one brief thirty-minute segment of every day.
Walk time.
How well she knows our routine.
I come in the door.
Change my clothes.
Eat something.
Call my mom.
And then I grab her leash and a couple of plastic bags out of the bag in the pantry,  and we head out the door.
And she becomes a pup again.

Dragging me down the walk.
Every night, at least one person asks me who is walking who.
Panting so loudly that people regularly comment that maybe she is thirsty.
She usually isn't, because she stops to drink out of every sprinkler that we pass.
Snorting like a piglet every time she senses that there might be a snack nearby.
Eighty percent of the time she is right.

We used to go three, four, five miles every night.
Now we usually don't go more than two.
But we go almost every night,
because for that hour
she is a pup again.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


The email came early this morning. The middle school science teacher is doing a science fair. Several groups need to go outside to perform their experiment. The science teacher really doesn't want to take the whole class outside and he wonders if I have any time open today that I could help. It just so happens that three of my intervention groups are on field trips today. I have about 90 minutes open. I was going to use it for several other projects but…

One of the groups that needs to go outside is four kids from my reading class. Three boys- C, J, E, and one girl- M. C is a really talented soccer player, but not so excited about reading. He will read soccer books (nonfiction only) and occasionally a graphic or illustrated novel. And that's all. Most days, I have to ask him, as he comes in the door, if he has his book. Often, probably three days out of every five,  he has to go back to get it. Then he tromps back in the door, usually a few minutes late, usually bashing into two or three desks along the way, charming a girl or two or three, and finally settling, but always antsy, and rarely focused on his reading.

Today is different. The group is performing an experiment about density. C seems to be in charge. He has taken four soccer balls and filled them with varying amounts of water, which, he informs the group, took him two hours the night before.  The object of the experiment is to see which one will travel the farthest when they kick it. I watch as C withdraws a needle kit from his bag, expertly inserts the needle into the ball, and adds a little air, then the group heads for the field, but not before C sends J back to the room for a measuring tape.

C carries his backpack and two of the balls. E has the other two balls, and M carries the Chromebook for data entry. We arrive at the field and C is all business. He opens his backpack, and withdraws his soccer cleats. He sets the balls up on a starting line, then informs the group that he  is going to be the first kicker. No one objects. The first ball travels 133 feet. I know because J and I have run down the field with the measuring tape. E is responsible for retrieving the ball, so that the other group members can have a kick. No one else kicks it farther than 35 feet. The other three balls, each containing more water, yield similar results. Each time, C's kick travels two or three times as far as everyone else's. M refuses to even try kicking, she says she will be the group photographer and data recorder.

The group's original plan is to take the longest kick from each ball and use that as their data. J points out, however, that C always kicks the farthest and that maybe they should just use him as the kicker. C is more than happy to oblige and kicks balls down the field again and again, until they have enough trials.

Almost an hour later, C takes off his cleats and we head back into the building. He once again takes charge- making sure that we have four balls (all his, I think), and the Chromebook, and the backpack, and the measuring tape. On the way inside, he consults his phone, and tells me that they are late to their next class, and I will need to tell the language arts teacher where they have been.

And as always, kids have taught me today. C can't remember to bring his book to reading class to save his life, but today he remembered four balls, and his cleats, and the measuring tape, and the Chromebook. In class, it takes pretty much every skill I have (and some days ones that I don't) to get him to sit down and focus. His body (and often his mouth) are in constant motion. And yet outside, he's totally focused, able to direct a group, eager to display his prowess, willing to cooperate.

And I wonder, as always, what's wrong with this picture? Why don't these skills transfer to the classroom? Why, oh why, can't we make schools that fit kids better?

Friday, May 4, 2018


Do you ever think you have happened upon something brand new and exciting, that you can't wait to introduce to the world? That's what happened to me this week. About ten days ago, I came across Jeanne Lohmann's work on Parker J. Palmer's Facebook page. I thought perhaps she was a new poet, but discovered that no, that was not the case at all. Instead, I found out that Jeanne Lohmann was a Quaker poet who has published over ten volumes of poetry and has been featured in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. A poetry trail named for her is a dedicated part of Hypatia-in-the-Woods Center for Women in the Arts in Shelton, WA. She passed away in 2016, at the age of 93. 

I love Jeanne Lohmann's writing, it reminds me of several other favorite poets, most notably Mary Oliver and Marge Piercy. Here's a sample:

"Praise what comes"

surprising as days and kisses, all you haven't deserved
of days and solitude, your body's immoderate good health
that lets you work in many kinds of weather. Praise

talk with just about anyone. And quiet intervals, books
that are your food and your hunger; nightfall and walks
before sleep. Praising these for practice, perhaps

you will come at last to praise grief and the wrongs
you never intended. At the end there may be no answers
and only a few simple questions: did I love,

finish my task in the world? Did I learn at least one
of the many names of God? At the intersections,
the boundaries where at least one life began, and another

ended, the jumping-off places between fear and
possibility, the ragged edges of pain,
did I catch the smallest glimpse of the holy?

Jeanne Lohmann

Read a few more of Jeanne's poems here.

Brenda is hosting Poetry Friday at Friendly Fairy Tales.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


Today is my 62nd consecutive day of posting. Thirty-one days of slicing in March, and thirty more days of poetry in April. Phew! I am tired!

As I wrap up these two months of nonstop writing, I'm thinking about several different things:

The importance of audience and feedback- It's really, really nice to get feedback on your writing. I loved getting comments from other writers. This year, I didn't get nearly as many comments when I sliced. I thought maybe it was just me-- that I was old and boring, and didn't have much to contribute to the community, but then several other people wrote about the lack of comments too. I found the same thing to be true with poetry, but it was mostly my fault. I really prefer to post in the morning, but I had a hard time getting ahead, and ended up, most of the time, posting at about 9:00 at night. That meant not many people read what I wrote. It's harder to want to keep writing when you think no one is reading it.

And then I think about our students. How many of our kids write for days and days and days, with only their teachers as authentic readers? No wonder they don't want to keep writing!

The importance of community. The first several years I wrote poetry, I wrote alongside a group, at Year of Reading. I loved the little community that formed each year. I loved having a focused (not sure that is the right word for it) and I loved seeing what other people did with that topic. Last year, I didn't write at all, and this year, I came back, I found that I really missed the community and connections and conversations around the shared topic. I did have a few faithful readers- Mary Lee Hahn, Cathy Mere, Glenda Funk, Elisabeth Ellington, Jean LaTourette. Those people kept me writing. And again, I think about the importance of community in our classrooms.

The importance of mentors and exemplars and possibility. I loved reading other people's poems. Amy Ludwig VanderWater gave readers a new tool to try every day. Mary Lee wrote a month's worth of fabulous golden shovel poems. Elisabeth Ellington and Glenda Funk, who both said they weren't poets, tried a whole bunch of fabulous and different structures. It was really fun to have all of those possibilities to wallow in. I think about the importance of immersing kids in poetry.

The role of choice. This feels a little like heresy, but I have been thinking a lot about choice. I totally believe in kids having choice as writers. At the same time, I really appreciated the structure provided the years that I wrote with MaryLee. I didn't mind having the topic chosen for me. And I actually think I wrote better than I did this year. I'm really not sure what that means, but I'm thinking about it.  

Playfulness. Writers need lots of time to just plain out play. And I don't think I give them enough of that.

So, those are just a few random thoughts, at the end of two straight months of writing. And now I'm going to go read a book. I haven't done nearly enough of that in the last couple of months!