Thursday, September 29, 2011

Endings Hold Mixed Emotions

Poetry Friday is at Read Write Believe this week.

I love poems of goodbye, and have collected them for many years.  Most of the time, I’ve searched for them so that I can have a way to say goodbye to students at the end of the school year.  I would laminate copies of my chosen poem to give to students on the last day of school.  I’ve written a post about those kinds of poems earlier this year, but there are other kinds of goodbyes or endings, too.  Now, we are enjoying a change of seasons and welcoming the chillier evenings, but sorrowing for the ending of summer, all the good times that that season holds for us.  I have posted my own goodbye to summer, especially to the gardening, but in the blogs I’ve read lately, there is one poem I printed and have posted at my desk.  It is a recent favorite titled Twilight of Summer, by a fellow blogger named Tam, and begins with

                        Mornings come later.
Shadows cast early.
Cicadas play songs.
Petunias lose flair.

You can find the rest of her poem here.  I hope you enjoy the poem as much as I do, and the change of seasons is a celebration for you.  

Alice In Wonderland - a lot to say about teaching

       I've been re-reading Alice In Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, which I do every couple of years.  It seems to me that it has something of value to learn for us teachers.  What Carroll says, in several ways, is that we have to be flexible, look for serendipitous moments to enjoy, and just quit worrying so much about doing things perfectly.  I refer today to one set of words from chapter five:    

       "Who are YOU?" said the caterpillar.
          This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation.  Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--hardly   
        know, sir, just at present--at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must  
        have been changed several times since then."

    When we enter the classroom each day we have spent time thinking and planning with great concern for our students.  We watch them as they enter, welcoming, but also, in our minds, questioning.  
   We ask: 
         How does he look? 
         Why does she frown? 
         Does she have the work she forgot yesterday? 
         What are the words I can use to support him since his dad is out of work?  
         How can I find time for him to do some computer work since he doesn't have one at home?  
         When can she do that needed interview since she takes care of her younger siblings all evening?  
         He looks so tired;  did he get to eat breakfast?  
         Why is she not walking in with her friends?
         Where did he go?  I thought he walked in, but now he's gone back into the hall.
         I saw her slam out of the car this morning;  I wonder what happened with her mom? 

     And then we teach.  Lewis Carroll seemed to understand kids so well.  As Alice did, I think our students change several times during the day, week, month.  It's up to us to notice, respond, and teach.  I wonder if Carroll knew how challenging that is?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Critical Thinking Happens When Students Get To Choose

There is much written about the importance of critical thinking lately, which includes learning about questioning, including all kinds of questions for students to identify and utilize.  The site Edutopia often shares information about schools who are emphasizing goals for critical thinking like this one.   And, the topic of inquiry has been discussed in several places in the reading that I do, like this blog, information also from Edutopia.  I want to argue the case for increased student choice as a support for improvement in critical thinking. 
Students at the school where I work choose individual units of study.  It is the core of our philosophy for individualized education.  Within the chosen topic, with student input, teachers write a curriculum for each student to follow that includes a variety of different curriculum areas, connected to the students’ needs as much as possible.   The learning within each unit also includes consideration of both process and product, along with what a student’s challenges in learning are, as well as his or her passions.  For example, if a student is enthusiastic about communicating the results of research in artistic ways, some of the expectations will give choices in art, music and drama.  And if a student wants to practice additional public speaking perhaps because it’s been something he or she is apprehensive about, several opportunities to communicate learning in a speech or a performance will be offered. 
 Students are encouraged in different ways age appropriately to begin the research for the unit, making notes of questions that arise as they learn more and more.  They write those questions, offer sub-topics and give this work to the teacher, who completes a beginning unit of study for the student.  The student begins.  The unit of study that has been written is considered a path for the student and a guide for the teacher to follow, yet within the study, side paths can and will be taken, new ideas pique student interest, and sometimes the student answers a critical question that is of high interest, and wants to move on to another topic. 
All of the meanderings and completion of research is overseen by the teacher, who can be viewed as the backseat passenger, along for a terrific ride, yet not the driver.  That person who chooses the car, to extend the analogy, and guides it down streets sometimes pre-determined but sometimes turning off down side streets to view something that catches the eye, to examine it more closely, is the student.  From the youngest to the oldest, students are asked to drive wisely, stop when necessary for deeper questioning and more research, and enjoy the ride along the way. 
The learning outcome in both content and in process because of student choice and empowerment is great.  Students consistently use critical thinking and questioning in order to proceed to areas they wish to go.  The teacher is the person who teaches what students need to know in order to keep going!  Both are empowered to reflect and act.  Critical thinking occurs within the learning because the student continues to analyze and evaluate situations in order to make the choice that seems right personally.   It’s a contented place to be ever growing as a learner for both students and teachers.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mondays-new adventures always - I'm a Versatile Blogger!


              Every Monday morning brings news from the newspaper, the blogs I follow and e-mails.  Sometimes there is news that I don't want to hear, but most of the time I'm excited for the week again, and enjoying the pleasure of anticipation of good things to come.  So, this morning did not disappoint because when I read the new postings of the blogs I follow, I found that Tara of A Teaching Life had named me as one of her list of Versatile Bloggers.  Blogging this year has been quite a wonderful adventure, and I am grateful to Tara for her recognition.  She and I both are middle school advocates and reading her blog has been inspired reading to see what others are doing in that special world of early adolescents.

       A wonderful part of this honor is that I get to share it with those who have inspired me in the blogging world by
  • Thanking the person who nominated me and providing a link
    back to their blog.
  • Sharing seven bits of information about myself
  • Passing this award along to 15 other blogs that I have discovered.

So, here goes....
Thank you again, Tara

Here are the seven bits of information:
  • I began blogging about my teaching life after I discovered the Slice of Life challenge in March that Stacey and Ruth do at Two Writing Teachers.  The community of writers they have formed, and inspired, has meant much to me in these past months.
  • I taught middle-school aged students for 20 years in an independent school for gifted students and now am on a different journey, exploring my role as literacy coach of the school.  It is a new beginning to my career, and although I miss the day-to-day immediateness of the students, I am loving my work with teachers.
  •  I love the idea of children becoming life-long learners and strive to find positive ways to aid their journey.
  • I have three grandchildren and am enjoying that more personal aspect of raising children, watching their exuberance for life.
  • I am now teaching a blogging class to some middle-school students with the focus on writing for new audiences, so I am writing in a new blog, Writing Works, along with my teaching blog.
  • I am becoming a technophile, and the prospect of its impact on education.
  • I have been married for almost 47 years and sometimes am surprised about how fast the time has gone.  I know everyone says that, but it really does!

And here are 15 blogs (in random order) that I'd like to recognize:

      Travis at 100 Scope Notes, who covers so many kinds of things in his Children's Lit blog, especially the day he does "Morning Notes".
       The Stenhouse Blog, who have given me new ideas to explore and new books to keep me learning.
        Tam at Clay Fragments, who keeps talking about teaching and life learning even in retirement.
         Deb, at Coffee With Chloe, who weaves her personal and teaching lives so beautifully together.
         Christy at Living, telling everyone about how her personal life affects her teaching life.
         Donna at Mainely Write whose poetry gives me a challenge every time she writes.
         Alan at Living Life Twice, often posing new questions about teaching writing, always makes me think.
         Storykeeper, at Windows To My Life: Writing To Remember who shows how to write beautiful setting descriptions.  I've learned so much about Montana from this blog, and loved every word and photo!
         Elizabeth at Word By Word, who has the talent of writing such detailed descriptions she brings you to the event every time.
         Mary Helen at Book Savors keeps me wondering how I'm going to buy all the books she writes about.
         Laura at LauraSalas  Writing the World for Kids offers many ideas for writing poetry, and sometimes other kinds of writing.
          Asuen at Picture Book of the Day who also adds to my collection of picture books.
          b at Live...Write...Teach, whom I lately discovered, has some interesting things to say about teaching.
          Elaine at Wild Rose Reader is one of the first blogs that started me reading more.  Her posts are ever enlightening about using books and learning.
          Finally, the ones who started me blogging, and have me sharing their posts again and again, Ruth and Stacey at Two Writing Teachers.

  There are others I enjoy, 15 is not enough.  Thanks to everyone who wants to share their ideas with the blogging world!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Driving

       Sunday drivers aren't what they used to be, out for leisurely drives to view the scenery or to have dinner at a friend's house.  Now they seem to be out as much as possible, racing about the city going to games, museums, restaurants or just doing the errands they didn't have time to do during the work week.
       I did a lot of driving today.  My son flew in for a few days' visit so first I drove to the airport.  He wanted to visit a local store that he has missed since his move, so we drove there and shopped.  Finally, we drove all the way across town to look for a particular coat for my grandson.  No luck there, and at last we went home.  I think I'm a good, calm driver, but I didn't always see so many other calm ones out there.  It was stressful to cross town on busy highways and streets, in traffic that seemed busier when I'm going to work during rush hour.  I might be wrong about how many, but it was so, so busy wherever we went.  I came home and wrote a poem about it.

Sunday Outing

Alas, I see them growling,
                      In formation and readying their attack!
                      My grip tightens
                      as I sense
the amber glow
each side—
allowing freedom.
My foot presses forward
and I dart across the plain,
eluding once more
the dreaded

Friday, September 23, 2011

Poems of the Night

For poetry Friday, which can be found today at
         I love the idea of Autumn, partly because there are chilly nights arriving earlier.  Yet I also know that in the past nights were not always so welcomed, nor were they safe.     
        Articles about cultural changes fascinate me for the events that cause new directions in people’s lives, like the earlier gas lamps, then electric ones.  When I read an article in the Smithsonian magazine a number of years ago about the rhythms of the night before the Industrial Revolution, a review of a book titled At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, by Roger Ekirch, I ordered the book.  From the interest it sparked, I began to collect stories, poems and anthologies about the night.  Other books and poems, of course, connect with the night with the topics of dreams and dreaming.
        I have used both topics to spark discussions and writing ideas with my students.  There is rarely someone who doesn’t have a story to share about the night, either scary or sweet, but always memorable.   Annie Dillard has written much about the night in her books, and I’ve shared her young memory from An American Childhood where she mistakes a shadow and a swerving car’s light for a monster.  I’d like to recommend two books that are marvelous anthologies filled with night poems.  Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen explores those creatures who thrive in the night, who don’t find it mysterious at all.   A Pocketful of Stars-Poems About the Night, edited by Nikki Siegen-Smith and illustrated by Emma Shaw-Smith includes poems by various well-known authors, but the illustrations offer a look of various classic poems’ interpretations through the eyes of different cultures.   
            A favorite night poem from my collection is by Robert Frost, I Have Been Acquainted With The Night. 
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rainand back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

      Here is the remainder of the poem.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Question of Coaching Responsibility

I love the idea of collegiality, of gathering with my co-workers to discuss all aspects of teaching.  We have many such discussions at school and they are both challenging and inspiring.  But when we teach, we are behind the classroom door with our students, and it can be a lonely place.

I’ve been wondering about something that caught my attention in these past weeks of beginning conversations with the staff members.  I wrote about the conversations earlier, how rich they were and how exciting to begin the year that way.  However, I’ve also thought about these kinds of talks in a different light, that they fill a void in teachers’ lives.  Despite the talks that occur in staff meetings, teacher workrooms, hallways, and playgrounds, teachers can still remain lonely.  It’s rare to have someone actually ask to watch students with them, to discuss instructional strategies or to offer resources they might find useful.  The few visits from the head of school each year have different goals of evaluation and feedback for the record.  It is sometimes not collegial, often something just to be completed.   With the rather recent advent of teacher coaches in schools, conversations with a colleague that focuses on one’s teaching and the improvement of student learning can help a teacher feel less alone.  Using a term that’s collegial, as a coach, I am certainly there for them!

And so, my wondering is how to continue to help the loneliness that lurks in the classroom for teachers.  They wonder if what they are doing is the right thing.  They wish perhaps to talk only about themselves and their questions about students and teaching, along with worries about having enough time, enough knowledge, and enough stamina to get through the week.  They are lonely. 

I’ve had conversations with my own students about loneliness and used poems to unearth feelings that hide underneath smiling faces.  Now, with teachers, my job is to do that same thing, to encourage feelings of loneliness to emerge, and then to swirl them away through observations and conversations, to let them know we’re all in this teaching work together, that they are not alone.  Naomi Shihab Nye wrote “The Rider” about a boy roller-skating his loneliness away.  I wonder if teachers keep so busy that they don’t take time to consider what good talks might mean to their professional lives and their teaching?  It might be time for all schools to consider that coaching can mean emotional support to a staff as well as professional development.

                 About Teachers

You can find me always behind that door.
I reach
out to each student more and more,
so I teach.
But sometimes on the harder days
I cry.
And I can’t figure out why I’m in a haze,
and lie
to myself that all will pass by in the morn.
If only
I can stop these feelings of loss I mourn.
I teach.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

September poem

September is the seesaw month, the ups and downs of season change
of burnished leaves and faded blooms, of chill of night and sunshine daze.

It’s when I layer clothing - sweaters, socks and shoes for hiking
and begin to view the harvest with more endings than beginnings.

I turn indoors for comfort, warm stews and candles bright.
The days not only shorten, but sometimes lessen in their light.

Summer’s oh so tired and fall’s becoming bold;
animals are hastening to ready for the cold.

I memorize in my mind’s eye each plot of stems and color,
taking note of plans for spring, bringing beauty like no other.

I linger outside when I can, to ride this month of days
which teeter-totter through the hours in captivating ways.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Poem for the Beginning of School - who we are

          I love using the following poem with my older students.  It can lift them another level in poetry, showing what is possible with some wonderful word work.  And it is marvelous for discussions about identity.  I have used it often at the beginning of the school year.

            Maybe Dats Your Pwoblem Too 
                                             by James Hall
           All my pwoblems
           who knows, maybe evwybody's pwoblems
            is due to da fact, due to da awful twuth

                 Read the rest of the poem here, and hear James Hall talk about the poem here.  And be sure to go to The Poem Farm to see the other poetry Friday posts.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Seeds and Promises

        The nights are chilly, the cicadas sing, and the moon is sharply bright in the crisper air.  Although autumn is my favorite season and I’ve even written about it here, there is a part of me that is mournful as I say goodbye to summer and the joys of easy days and gardening, being outside so many hours, eating and playing and working.  I was so excited this year because I finally had some stalks of hollyhocks mature enough to bloom.  It’s been challenging to get them going, yet they did grow tall this summer and bloomed in all kinds of colors, including the startling black.  I am sad to say goodbye to all those beautiful things, to see them droop and fade. 
However, while contemplating all this, I am looking forward too to the yellows and reds and oranges, that final blaze of autumn before the fire disappears into winter’s ashy colors.  Each season holds something good.  I see my flowers fading, but they also give promises for the spring, their seeds.  I move to the hollyhocks with a small paper bag and pull the tiny baskets of seeds left by each bloom.  Marigolds are next, then zinnias, each seeded bloom placed into the bags, put into the garden basket to store until spring. 
As I worked, I thought of these recent beginning days of school and the promises, as seeds hold, that teachers give students for the year to come.  Teachers work so hard to prepare just the right environment so that each student will be able to grow.  They water with kindness, provide knowledge like fertilizer, and tend the learning from the first day to the last.  Like seeds that flourish, teachers have started planting their classroom gardens with promises of a prolific blooming season.  Perhaps I’m not so mournful after all, because I see promise everywhere I look.

Monday, September 12, 2011


        After all last week, and then yesterday's 10th anniversary, I feel like recording this memory and response as a part of my posts.  I have talked with colleagues, read so many other blogs, like Stacey of Two Writing Teachers blog, and Deb of Coffee With Chloe, read the Caldecott winner of 2004, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein, and watched too much television about that day and the years since.   As are most everyone I hope, we are remembering… each in his or her own way according to the personal losses we experienced. I did not lose a loved one, but have in other wars, and I know I will never forget that day. I am sad for those who remember their loved ones who died this day, and send my prayers for them. 
       My personal loss is that of knowing what America was like before, and what it has become because of that day. My grandson was only a few weeks old & I grieved for his loss too. I still worry about those who feel that a little security is worth giving up some freedom.  As Benjamin Franklin said so many years ago in a time of anxiety, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." I don't like to take off my shoes in airports, and I don't like that others watch people whom they think are acting nervously.  Anne Frank said,  "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart," and I believe that too, and want my grandchildren to believe it.
           I taught that day, and remember that by afternoon most of my parents had come to stay with us in the classroom, or visited back & forth between one child and another in our school. We listened to the radio, tried to learn what was happening (remember these are middle school students), tried to talk about the terrorists and why, gave a lot of hugs, saw a lot of tears. Parents helped immensely & one was on the staff of one of the Denver papers, called us & told us what he knew. It was a very long day. Before we left each other, we made plans for the next day, tried to show students that we would have the next day. At lunch I managed to call my husband, my mother & my children to talk a little, to see how they were. I couldn’t wait to get home to watch television, to make sense if I could of what was happening. I just wanted to sit with my husband, to be quiet & still, try to take in the day.  I did, and nothing has been just the same since.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Book To Notice

        "Twice each day
          a crack opens
          between night and day.
          Twice twilight
          slips through that crack."

          I don't often write about books.  There are many that I love, so each day I could tell of one, and I'd really rather focus on writing in different ways.  Also, there are many blogs about books out there in the blogosphere doing a great job telling about good books that add to my list of books to read and/or buy.  
         BUT-I have a goal to read at least one or two picture books a day from our school library, and if I enjoy them or see a particular use for them, I add them to an annotated list I keep.  AND-today I read a book I found on the shelf by Ralph Fletcher, whose professional books I read and use and recommend over and over.  The book is a picture book, Twilight Comes Twice, illustrated by Kate Kiesler, and is a beautiful example of personification.  It's just delightful to see what dawn does to an empty baseball field or how dusk prepares a table carefully for the night.  I have reworded some of Fletcher's words so I might entice you into finding and reading the entire book and his words that are so beautifully crafted.   The moments Fletcher imagines about the day and the night make us look at them each more carefully, something writers do, and something we would hope our students are doing.  Take a look!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Writing With Parents On Parent Night

Tuesday Slice of Life

         Among all the other beginning-of-the-year events, September usually means parent nights.  The parent nights at my school are open ended in topic.  I often have students more than one year, so I vary some of the topics presented.  Sometimes I’ve talked about time management, sometimes about a coming class overnight trip, but the main point of my time with parents is to help them enjoy the time learning what their children are doing in the classroom, to ask questions for understanding, and to get to know each other.  Always students put out some work at their desks to show the latest accomplishments, and they write a letter to their parents that the parents reply to.  One successful idea I have used is when I held a mini writer’s workshop for the parents to show them what their children were experiencing. 
After the initial welcome and getting-to-know-you time, I gave a mini-lesson about grabbing memories, looking back in time to when they were their children’s ages.  I didn’t feel I had time to read a book for inspiration, but I did pinpoint certain areas that might help them remember.  I asked questions like:  Who was your best friend?  What was the most fun time you ever had together?  What was an embarrassing moment you remember when you were in middle school?  Do you remember arguing with your parents?  Over what did you have conflicts?  And so on.
Then, I asked the parents to write!  I gave out notebook paper, provided plenty of pencils and pens, and gave them this prompt.  Write about when you were the age of your child.  The title, or first line, could be “When I was twelve, or thirteen, or …” They could ask me questions quietly, just as the students do, and they did.  I gave them support through commenting when needed, sometimes even a pat on the arm!  They had 25-30 minutes, and those who wanted more time could take them home and send them in the next day, or type and e-mail to me.  Some were reluctant, taking a long time to start.  Some immediately began, and commented later about how much they’d written.  The behaviors were quite similar to their children’s.  Eventually, I received something from everyone, and typed the pieces to get ready for sharing.   I had told them that I would be using their writing in a book that we would create at school, along with their children’s writing. 
At school, students were given almost the same assignment, except theirs was a time travel one, and they had to imagine being their parents’ ages, but also reminiscing about their early adolescent years.  They too had to begin with “When I was twelve, or thirteen, or …”     
When all the pieces were typed and edited, a book was made for each family, and sent home as a gift and a thank you for the memories, the title of the book.  At school, we had a celebration of the writing, and first, each child read what his or her parents had written.
This was a long process, but it was such an important one to tell the students, along with their parents, that writing itself, along with everyone’s memories and the recording of them are important enough to be honored with time and commitment.

FOOTNOTE:  I realize that some of this might not fit the needs of others for a parent night.  Sometimes I’ve had students interview their parents at home with the same questions:  What was it like when you were my age?  And then students write about their parents, and contrast the  parent stories with their own stories.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New Blog - with a group of students

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I'll be writing with a group of students on the edublogs platform.  I thought it would be nice to begin a new blog with them to teach them how to manage a blog (many parts) and how to write a Slice of Life per the Two Writing Teachers blog that I've found so inspiring and supportive.  We had our first class Thursday, a whirlwind 60 minutes.  They looked at blogs, chose their titles and filled out information so I could create the blogs. We brainstormed ideas for the first post, which will be due next Tuesday, hard copy, so we can share and talk about comments first, then learn how to post.  They are so excited and I think a little bit disappointed that we all weren't up and publishing immediately.  If you have a class or even a few students that would like to interact and share with my group, I'd love it.  Let me know in the comments, or in the comments at my new blog, Writing Works.