Saturday, August 31, 2013

Close Reading Blog-A-Thon and A New Book

 So, if you have not heard about "close reading" and the CCSS, you probably have been under a rock; however, what it is and how you can make it part of your teaching has remained fuzzy for many of us.  But now, that will change, if you link up!
Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts have a new book coming out soon,  Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts–And Life.  So to celebrate, they are doing a "7-week blogger community conversation about close reading practices and our classrooms."  This is the "button" they are using to indicate a link. 

close reading button

I suggest that unless you want to stay under that rock, you join! 

Friday, August 30, 2013

An Important Part of the Equation

Embedded image permalinkI suspect that this is the image of not only a school bus but also the hood of someone I know who was pretty excited when a school bus named after me came into his path!  Yes, there are famous teachers who have schools named after them after they pass and teachers made famous by their teaching that inspires others; however, I may live in infamy as a school bus company has named themselves after me!  I sure hope they have seatbelts and magazines on that bus.  IF I REALLY OWNED A SCHOOL BUS COMPANY, there would be seatbelts to hold every pupil securing in place and magazines to entertain them on the ride , in every seat! 

Should All Kindergartners Know Their Letters by Halloween?

As children and teachers head back to school, this is a timely and interesting post by Peter DeWitt.  Should All Kindergartners Know Their Letters by Halloween?  Parents, teachers (especially literacy specialists) should read this.

DeWitt refers to Dr. Richard Allington (formerly at SUNY Albany, U of F) and now at the University of Tennessee, who says that  that all students, regardless of poverty level and past experience, should know their letters by Halloween of kindergarten.  Allington suggests Ann McGill-Frazen's book Kindergarten Literacy (Scholastic) holds the answers.

Allington also says that many students don't benefit from pull-out AIS sessions by someone else, but might benefit from different instruction in their classroom. Allington criticizes fragmented learning where students who are pulled out use a different reading program.

These are hard, fast guidelines to make.  If we truly differentiate and embrace learning diversity there will be differences in what students learn and what they need.  Sometimes, they will not know all their letters until March and sometimes, they are better off trying a new way of learning to read.  While I hope Allington is challenging us, rather than chastising us, with his guidelines, I know he is causing me to rethink what I do and challenging me to ask more of my students.  Sigh.  I really like Dick Allington and Peter DeWitt because even if I do not always agree with everything they say, they challenge me to think and reflect deeply on my own and my school's teaching and learning practices.   


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Improving That Commute: Self-Driving Cars

When this article appeared in my Twitter feed on this first full day back at work, I smiled because I have been dreaming of this!

From left, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, CEO Larry Page, and co-founder Sergey Brin in 2011. (Credit: Google)
From left, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, CEO Larry Page, and co-founder Sergey Brin in 2011. (Credit: Google)

To think that a self-driving car might exist in my working lifetime is my dream!  Then, I would be able to read while I commute!  (I realize those of you who take public transportation already do this!) Hey, you just never know! 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Inspired by Charles and Colby!

My SOL buddy Colby Sharp mentioned Charles Jones in his post.  Now Colby often inspires me in the morning, but this morning's quote was a keeper.  I can't say I knew who Charles was, at first, so I Googled his name.  Then, I remembered.  Boys of 67: The Story of a Few Good Men.  I read that.  It was not my usual kind of read, as I avoid war and soldier stories, normally.  It was suggested I read this, and so I did and it changed my reading life and who I am, today! 

Boys of '67: From Vietnam t...
“You are the same today that you are going to be five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate and the books you read.”
Charles Jones

This other quote (found in my search) is also pretty close to my heart.  I was having a bit of (an unnecessary) pity party yesterday.  A broken boiler and a clogged toilet had challenged my elder-care regime.  My back to school blues were building.  My house and my car were both filthy and my syllabi unfinished as I sat waiting for a boiler repairman!  I had tomatoes to can, or at least I thought at the time.  Now I am reminded to slow down and to try to enjoy the journey.

Things don't go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be.”
Charles Jones, Life is Tremendous    

Monday, August 26, 2013

My Summer Triathacation

One marvelous thing about our English language is that it keeps changing to describe new experiences - like my summer Triathacation traversing restored canal, rail and carriage trails! 
This year, school, elder-care, and virulent poison ivy disrupted  vacation, at least as defined as "an extended period of recreation spent away from home."  Without plans, even a staycation, "a vacation spent in one's home country rather than abroad," was not happening.  Yet, we managed to squeeze in one mighty fine, if not planned, triathacation
The name derives from the Greek words tri (three) and athlete (physical strength, speed, or endurance) packed into a short amount of time.  Here's how we did it - you can pick your own activities!
Part 1, a 2.5 hour drive, bikes on car, hummus and nuts (not just us), in car.  Thank goodness I did not drink much water as the trail was 28 miles and the one latrine was just that! Fortunately, it was mostly downhill, but still my longest ride!  The old canal, rail line, abandoned tunnels and restored trestle bridge were beautiful beyond words and I am pretty sure the cloud formations that afternoon were just for us.  We did not participate in the white water rafting (but we thought of someone who would love it), and we walked around Jim Thorpe before the shuttle ride back!  We ended our day tired, sweaty, and hungry as headed through the Promised Land (State Park) thanks to my smart-phone "short cut."  We crawled through the clouds where diners were very, very, few and very, very, far between. It was late thanks to night-paving and we were exhausted when we finally got home!
Part 2 started with adressing elder-care problems. We headed to the city and parked at 60th (to save money, thanks Fordham) and walked to 30th Street where the lovely High Line, an elevated restored walking rail trail, begins.  We were joined by about 100,000 others dropping kids at college, visiting the city or just enjoying the day, so when we reached 12th St., the end, we headed back, over cobble stone streets and through the wonder of NYC neighborhoods.  My feet were, by this time, burning!  We took full note of the Citibikes all over the place and wondered how they worked.  We talked about our next trip as we gobbled some overpriced, but delicious, mussels and calamari (not found in Stormville) and then caught a glimpse of opera-in-the open at the Met!  
Part 3 started with picking fresh fruits (nectarines) and veggies (wax beans) at a farm (for energy and dinner) and then took us into another magical land, where we biked through mountains on restored carriage trails. I must admit my legs were burning even as we began but I somehow was filled with hope and promise at the top.  We remembered traveling those same hills many years ago as a back to school ritual and thanked God for safe travels through the rough spots of our journey as we prayed for strength in the journey ahead. 
We ended our triathacation with hearts full of hope and minds full questions, so I posted some of the Googled answers!

Who was Jim Thorpe?

How do you rent a Citibike?

What happened to the grand hotels in Minnewaska?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

She Called Him Sweetheart

My mom and dad considered Let Me Call You Sweetheart their song.  Seriously.  As sappy as that sounded to me as a young-un, it seems like a song that we might all embrace this morning! 

You've likely heard about the almost tragedy in Atlanta this week. Yes, it was quieter because a teacher in Atlanta was able to talk to the individual threatening her school.  I am sure there were a couple (at least) of people in Connecticut who tried to do this same last December, and thus, I suspect we should all stop and think about these two life altering scenarios this morning.

In Atlanta, the teacher was successful in talking to the ammunition-loaded young man before he began shooting.  We'll never know why it worked, but we are reminded that "Heroic actions come from the heart" and that sometimes they work and sometimes they do not.  The tales of the scene remind us that we may not always succeed, but we always make a difference, by what we do. 

Take a minute to read this article over at Education Week;
She Called Him Sweetheart
It started my day and will be with me all year.

As we head back to school and onward in our lives, it is humbling to remember, we can and do make a difference by what we say and do every day, to everyone we meet. So even if you find the Let me Call You Sweetheart song a bit sappy, and no matter what your socio-political agenda, you can find a quote from someone, remarkably similar to the mindset of a teacher in Georgia who talked kindly to a boy with a gun, calling him Sweetheart.  The words, this time, worked.   
"What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Nelson Mandela 

“It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” Gandhi

"Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people - your family, friends, and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way." Barbara Bush   

“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.” R. Kennedy

"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but they echo endlessly." Mother Teresa

Friday, August 23, 2013

Yes, Mom, There Really Is Value to Social Media

File:Cape Cod Rail Trail, East Brewster MA.jpgShortly, I will head out for a few hours of some end-of-the-summer-fun spent in real time with real people breathing real, fresh air and really filling my lungs and soul with the fuel that will carry me through the busy months ahead.  My husband, on his new bike, will likely lead the way over some really neat, repurposed bike trails and my mind will likely be filled, once again, with the really strong images of men, women and children who long ago rode those trails towards unimagined, new lives (the subject of my someday book).

Yet, this morning, I am aware that I get fuel to carry me through the bulk of my busy teaching-working-living days via social media.  I was thinking about how grateful I was for texting, Twitter, and Facebook as I awoke this morning.  My birthday, yesterday, was filled with messages from kids, friends, relatives and colleagues that made me happy again and again. The Tweets started early and I smiled ear to ear as I stopped for coffee and glanced at that first one.   Later on, there were some more Twitter exchanges as well as some Facebook chatting and a video clip from Disney that I will treasure all year.  There were notes from people I see every day as well as those far-flung relatives and friends who I see very rarely, if at all.  I was so very grateful that each took a moment to wish me a happy day.  I think, in fact, that I had more wishes for a Happy Birthday this year than in any single year of my life ever before! 

Then, as I logged into my PLN, Twitter, I see this link  which lead me to this link
offering me a glimpse of John Brown's new book before I buy it! 

As I read on through my Twitter feed, I see that Ruth Ayers has a new book coming out soon
I stop to wonder how she has the time, but suspect that she too is fueled, to some extent, by the power of her PLN. 

I have to be selective as I continue scanning the feed, but take time to read about coaching ideas over at Ed Week

And then, over on Facebook, amid the images of happy people celebrating life and taking kids to colleges there are a few lingering birthday wishes from other time zones and this lead from the Nerdy Book Club that made me link up! 

Reluctance vs. Refusal by Ryan M. Hanna - Let’s talk about the famed reluctant reader. The reader that countless blogs, professional teaching books, and think tanks work overtime at figuring out. Reluctance can be caused by a wide variety (and sometimes combination) of reasons: the students may struggle with reading, literacy support may be lacking in their homes, there’s no one to help [] 

I still buy and send some paper cards each year.  I still love to open mail.  I still love real time birthday candles and connecting with people.  Yet, as I head onto a real time adventure this morning, I remain filled with gratitude for my ever-growing and wonderful virtual life that connects me with people and the world in ways I could never have imagined in years past.  Yes, Mom, there really is value in social media. 


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Questioning Reading Logs

Over the years, the subject of reading logs has been a topic of discussion at many a grade-level team meetings.  I've made more than a few myself, in fact, and sometimes, I have made them in response to parents' requests!  Yet, I've wondered about the time-honored practice of writing down the pages read.  Certainly, that does not evoke nor does it encourage real reading for meaning and comprehension of text.  Certainly, the process of writing down pages does not encourage more reading. 

Others, such as this fifth grade teacher in California, who writes over at  this blog
are also thinking about time honored and rarely questioned practices, such as reading logs

I suspect most reading logs are historical fiction.  Reading is (usually) a solitary activity, like writing and like exercising! It is easy to lie to ourselves about what we record in our reading, writing and even our exercise logs!  Thus, what we share is often what we think others want to see or what we think others expect us to have done!  At best, such "turned in logs" often represent an inflated representation of reality!  Plus, I cannot even imagine keeping track of time when I am lost in a good book!

So what can a teacher do to make reading the enjoyable, real, valuable experience we know it can be?

Book Clubs?
  • My gut and my experiences tell me that book clubs work.  I know I get a whole lot more reading done and adhere to a schedule when I am accountable to others.  Yes, there will be posers, but there are always posers!
Discussion Groups?
  • Perhaps loosely organized small groups where we share our reading lives might be better.  Of course there will be posers, but what else is new?
Combining reading and writing through blogs?
  • I really like and want to implement this idea this year.  Using Kidblog, I am going to encourage my students and their parents to talk to each other about their books and to write about their reading lives.  I am going to do it myself modeling what I believe is most important in our reading (as well as our writing and exercising) lives.  It's not the number of minutes logged but the intensity and focus that matter most.  It's most important that we want to read, understand what we read, and immerse ourselves in conversations with others who will spur our readerly (as well as writerly and exercise) lives.  


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Signs and Signs With Slogans

When I feel stressed, or overwhelmed by events of life, I find myself praying for "signs," but not a road sign!  Instead, I look to an event or an image that answers my prayer.  On Sunday, after I finished my prayer, my cell phone produced such an "sign."  Yesterday, a sign appeared on TV no less (you'd have to see it to believe it), leaving me with thoughts about the power of signs and slogans to shape our thinking, especially during the tougher days of our lives. 

#quotesI sometimes wonder how all this fits together in the universe, but this week I am also wondering if having the right "signs" (as in signs with powerful slogans) might help (inspire) our students to keep trying even when they are thwarted academically or socially in school settings.

I started thinking about the power of sayings such as. "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets her wings." (It's a Wonderful Life)  Then I thought of "Pink sky at night, sailors' delight; pink sky in the morning, sailors' take warning."  It still pops into my head as the sky turns vibrant colors.

So, I did some Pinterest searching......for sayings that might become signs for schools.

Ben Franklin's words might help teachers out in the faculty room or perhaps right over the mailboxes where we start and end our days.

Dr.SeussThe more that you read learn go Nursery Room Handmade Vinyl Wall Decal Art Mural for Children W0101
Dr. Seuss's words could fit in any classroom and I suspect that even HS seniors would find those words comforting as they explored the demands. 

The little engine that could
This is one of my favorites, inspired by the Little Engine That Could.  I think I just might use it this year!  I might even make my own poster in the days (hours) of summer that remain! 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

#SOL2013 NO one paints inside closets, or so I thought!

In all my years of teaching, I had NEVER had a classroom painted and, I NEVER want to again! 

I figured, back in June when I heard someone was painting our needed-to-be-painted rooms that we would put our "stuff" in closets or in the middle of the room so they could paint walls.  I did NOT figure on them painting inside closets.  Gee. nobody paints inside closets or bookshelves unless they are moving into a new house or so I thought!

I was wrong and ALL the earthly belongings of my teaching career are now scattered aimlessly all around a room I share with 2 others teachers who have faced similar fates! 

On the bright side, I get to "deep clean" my classroom, just like I did when I moved rooms last year!
On the bright side, I have a bright white room to greet me every morning, this year!
On the bright side, the dark green trim and painted metal bookcases look great!
On the bright side, my school sure looks better than I can remember!

Fingers crossed!
So, I smiled when my former-student-now-turned-super-teacher-cloth-diaper-loving- wonder- mother-blogger posted this picture this morning.  It sure is one of the things I was thinking as I was deep in the piles late yesterday afternoon!

My other thought was this :)


Monday, August 19, 2013

CCSS aligned writing prompts and samples

I have been waiting for lots of things this summer including this!  It's about time!  For all of you, and me, who will be trying, just a little harder, to consistently use assessment guided instruction, these Common Core writing prompts and samples of student writing may help us to finally have some more reliable and consistent frames for assessing student writing.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Memories To Last a Lifetime: Part III


If you did not yet read Part I start here.
If you missed Part II, go here.   

As he finished throwing yet another log onto our fire, one of our hosts, perhaps feeling the tension at the fire circle or perhaps noticing our strained faces, volunteered a simple explanation for the barking, "It was just the coons out looking for coons." 

"Coons don't bark, do they? one of us, somewhat less familiar with coon behavior but still pretty confident of the answer asked?

"No, the other host chuckled, it was the Coons, our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Coon, that's their last name.  Some nights, after dinner, they like to gather their hunting dogs, hop on their Gator, head into the woods to hunt for coons."  She made the statement as casually as if she was describing her neighbors out for an after dinner stroll.  "It's a bit of a hobby for them," she added.  "I think Mrs. Coon must be really into it as she was the one out there encouraging the dogs who had a coon up a tree."

While none of us, city-slickers so to speak, spoke up right away, we were quietly digesting that this painful barking had been an after dinner stroll with the dogs.  In fact, we each sat silently, many, many questions between us, wondering about the veracity of their explanation.

Perhaps to fill the silence, or perhaps to support their story, our hosts continued, as if they were reading our minds. "They don't really catch the coons, or eat them or anything," one host volunteered, "they just like to find them, exercise the dogs, and then drive away."

"I didn't know people really hunted raccoons, anymore," I finally mumbled, "but that sure was some story." 

The fire was aglow at this point, and to be quite honest, we all started to relax, again, and enjoy the waning moments of the evening. 

Then, we all stopped as the sounds of a Gator came blasting from the other side of the  dark lake, right past our campsite, and off into the woods.  I am sure I saw someone waving and I think our hosts may even have waved back!  And in the back of the Gator, as they drove quickly by, I am pretty sure I also saw 2 (two) striped, fluffy tails flapping in the moonlight.

Part of me wished they had stopped to visit. Part of me was very glad they were taking themselves, their no-longer-barking-but-still-scary-dogs and their fresh caught tails right back to their home.

I'm sure that at least one of us was thinking about the reaction of co-workers as the story was shared, in just a few hours, at a construction site.  There might be some laughter and there would likely be disbelief.

I'm sure that at least one of us was were thinking of the reaction of coworkers in the city, a few hours later.  There would certainly be some nervous laughter and there would definitely be disbelief.

I know that part of me wanted to block out the campfire stories that began again, as the tension seemed to lift, like morning fog lifts from the lake.  Part of me wanted to head to the lean-to, grab a pen, and begin writing this story down, before my own sense of disbelief distorted the memories.

Instead, I sat listening, once again, to the story of a camping trip, long ago, when I was dubbed the Goody Queen and made infamous by a trunk full of "snacks" that may or may not have included Hostess Twinkies and Ring-Dings!  I sat listening, but was also thinking, that we, at this very moment, were making new, happy memories, that will bring smiles to the faces of each of us as this story was retold.   

In time, the busy day caught up with me and I headed into the lean-to where I lay listening, for a few moments, to the sounds of fire-side chatter, assured that the happy memories of this evening were being sealed in each of our hearts and memory vaults. 
When I awoke,  the air was cold and frankly I was very glad the dog had settled in next to me.  The day was new but the memories were vivid.  Those of us who had to return to our city-slicker jobs quickly loaded our gear into our trunks or headed over to the lake to cast our line for one last fishless cast of the season. 
There was some kidding from one who will forevermore claim he was left with a rolled up sweatshirt and a tissue because I stayed and used his bedroll (I did use his pillow).  
There was some happy running around from the dog who wanted everyone to know that this was his favorite place on earth (sorry Disneyworld).
There was a teenager, who never gets up in the morning, who got up happily.

There was a teenager who had burned up all those consumed marshmallows while sleeping and needed to refuel.
Our hosts, effortlessly produced bags of homemade granola and fresh-from-the-farm-picked-blueberries from coolers to fuel our journeys.

After abundant hugs and abundant thank yous, we were on our way through the woods.

 After showers, to wash the garlicky, smoky remains from our hair, we, the guests, headed back to our work-a-day-lives, a little tired from the longer than usual commutes, but assured of the kinds of memories that money cannot buy.    
During the days that followed, I found myself drawn to lingering questions about whether or not people really do hunt raccoons (I'll save that for another day). 

During the days that followed, I returned to my end of the summer, preparations for school, but I thought about the events of the evening often.

During the days that followed, I thought often about how families grow and change, yet are fueled, forever, with stories and love. 

During the days that followed, I wondered about the veracity of my own memory, but I was assured there were memories made up at the lake to last a lifetime.  They may, just may, someday, rival the Goody Queen stories of long ago!   


Let the Barking Begin:Part II

If you missed part I, start here!
Part II
After dinner, most of us ventured, one by one, up the tree-bark-filled path to the outhouse, a distant cousin of a restroom.  There, after doing what we all need to do once in a while, we washed our hands by wiping them on the damp grass!  It all seems OK when you are in the woods for some reason, and as outhouses go, it was pretty nice, but I still made a mental note to restrict my fluids!  I suspect I was not alone in that mental note.

There were more than a few stars in the sky and the moon, clearly split in half, reflected its glory in the now still pond.  The promise of "banana boats" and the warm fire enticed me back to the fire. I was already thinking that the dark "path" out of the woods was beyond my grasp as our hosts added lots and lots of oak to the fire and the sparks landed all around us.  The warmth filled every inch of my body in spite of the cold late summer air around us and to be quite honest, whether planned or not, I was compelled to stay!  We filled bananas with tiny chocolate chips and placed them lovingly in the fire. They called the tiny wads covered with foil banana boats and shared tales of campfires, long ago. 

The pull of the evening was strong, so without voicing my decision, I decided to stay knowing that I did not have a bedroll, yet figuring, somehow, it was all going to be all right!  As a person who likes to be in "control" and as someone who "plans" regularly, all this was outside of my usual 'comfort zone' yet, somehow, I knew I needed to be "here" without know what was to happen next!  We devoured those chocolate ensconced bananas and topped them off with charred marshmallow smores, delicacies of the campfire that I was glad I had not missed. 
Then, our quiet banter by the fire suddenly stopped.  We all heard it.  Loud, anxious, incessant barking. Starting suddenly and seemingly not too far away.  It was both painful and determined barking, the kind that sent shivers down your spine.  It sounded like it was getting louder and louder and perhaps moving closer and closer.  It never slowed, not for a moment.  The barking took over the night and each of us began to wonder what it was and what we should do to make it stop.  Some of us, like me, we also wondering about our own safety.  We held just a little tighter to our own dog, glad that he was right next to us and leashed in the darkness of descending nightfall.

"Could it be a coyote?" someone wondered aloud while I was thinking of how I could make a mad dash to the car, if needed. 
"It could," a teenager among us volunteered quickly, "I've seen quite a few around here lately."  I suspected, living up there that she had seen more than one coyote in her lifetime; however, she seemed a little to eager to encourage our city-slicker-level thinking! 
"Sounds like more than one dog," our hosts observed, wiser and calmer than their own teenager.   I was confident they were right but also concerned they knew how we "city folk"  were feeling and were attempting to counteract their teenager!  "It's hard to tell, though," they noted,"as the barking is echoing off the hills right now."
I could feel my own heart beating a little faster and the tension at the fire circle was evident in all of us.  There was at least someone, I am not sure who, breathing very rapidly and more than a little anxiously. 

The dog, hard of hearing himself, sat straight up straining to listen to the sounds of the night.  He too did not know what to make of the noisy barking, but he never joined in, like dogs sometimes do.

Someone else in the group, trying to be brave, was breathing shallowly and the sudden silence among us was deafening in its own right.
Our hosts, however, soon got excited and set off around the dark pond on foot with a tiny flashlight ostensibly in hope that this might be a neighbor's dog, who had run off earlier that morning!  We heard their voices growing softer and softer as they headed around the pond hopefully asking, "Freckles?" again and again and yet again. 

We sat quietly for the most part, listening and hoping that the incessant barking would lead them to a scared, yet safe dog who was panicked by the descending nightfall.  Our talk, at least that engaged in by us city-folk, when it occurred, was mostly to reassure each other that things would be OK. 

Yet, there was at least one teenager among us who kept encouraging those random wild and crazy thoughts in our heads with "coyote" possibilities.  I probably should have discounted his wild and crazy thoughts as a way to consume, without anyone noticing, the rest of the campfire treats!  It was indeed a formidable plan, and while we worried, he effortlessly toasted and consumed more marshmallows than a non-teenager human should eat in a decade! 

Our hearts were heavy yet our minds were filled with hope for a happy outcome.  Frankly, I was not sure what to expect and not even sure what I wanted them to find in the woods!  Then, suddenly, just like when the painful barking had started, it stopped.  The quiet in the ensuing minutes, and it was probably just minutes, was as heavy as the air before a rainstorm. 
The shadows emerging on the other side of the pond were the first indications that our hosts had indeed survived whatever they had encountered in the woods!  While my own heart was beating incessantly, one of the hosts was already talking on her cell phone - it is after all the 21st Century even though we were in the woods!  She was sadly reporting that the noisy barking was not the missing dog after all.  Such as it is in the woods, I guess, neighbors call each other up late at night to share good and not so good news. 
As they settled back to the warm fire, we city-folk were still wondering why the noisy barking had suddenly stopped?  I'm sure you know that my heart and my mind, were both racing even though I did not, at that moment, think there was a story like they would soon share! 

Stay Tuned for Part III


Friday, August 16, 2013

A Picnic Supper To Remember: Part I

It started like a "normal" trip upstate for a picnic supper with family.  We hurriedly changed into long pants (to ward off bugs) and threw blankets, pillows and bedrolls into the trunk of the car (for the kids).  I grabbed the berry-filled fruit salad I had made hours earlier and as if we were headed to the "Magic Kingdom," we were off!
There was some fishing (although most of the fishers came up empty handed), wonderful kayaking,  much-needed visiting and lots of garlic peeling (keeps the bugs away).  
In retrospect, the first sign that this was not to be a "normal" picnic supper should have come as we toured the impeccable gardens of the old estate, smiled at the proud peacock, or laughed at the frog who jumped in the pool right in front of our eyes; however, it really wasn't until many hours later, as the morning sun kissed me in the lean-to, that I realized the strangeness of the happenings that summer evening on the banks of the pond in the woods.

Our hosts cooked the entire dinner, right in this fire pit, slowly tempting us, on nickel-sized slivers of oak that slowly turned into bright orange. fire-hot, embers.  It might have been all the garlic, or it might have been the power of home-grown veggies, but there was not a bug in site as day-turned quickly into night and we gobbled down cucumber salad down and garlic-infused pasta fagioli.

There was a part or me, who at moments, realized I should be heading home; however, it was almost as if the fire pit, alive with hot embers, and the family, so full of love and laughter, required me to stay and be part of what was to happen soon. 

Part II - Coming Soon :)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sharing Thoughts About GRAMMAR

My morning PD read was here:

It sure got me thinking!

I really like this sentence from Curzan's article:
"It is valuable to distinguish between: (a) writing that shows a student may not be aware of the expected conventions of standard written academic English and/or may not yet have developed a sophisticated academic style; and (b) writing that shows a student has not taken the time to proofread for typos and the like."

Curzan, suggests we circle or underline such issues in student writing rather then crossing them out and then write notes or questions in the margin asking students to go back and take a look at their own writing style and conventions. 

My own experience is that we can model and teach mini lessons on style (e.g. parallel construction in sentences, standard subject-verb agreement) just like we teach onomatopoeia!  Good writing is (as Charles Schulz noted, hard work and not just about exciting leads!   

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Reading, Writing, and Viewing: Old Photos and the CCSS

Moments after I hit "publish," I got a note from a reader who shares my family tree and who has shared more than a few summer-fall-winter-spring-happy and sad memories.  I smiled as I saved these images to my own digital notebook.

At first glance, you see a family all dressed in outfits that Jackie Kennedy (before she became Onassis) would have endorsed!  Stylish, straight sheaths on the ladies and freshly pressed shirts on the boys.  Those boys, as expected, had on jackets and ties (even the little one) even though the sun was beating down on their shoulders.  The girls, as expected, had crinolines under their dresses and matching cardigans around their shoulders.  Even if they were hot, they stayed neat for the photo! 

I'm confident those boys would have preferred to be playing catch, going fishing, or building a fort and dressed, under duress, at the very last minute possible!

I am certain those curls, on the girls, were not natural, but the result of a night (and the morning)spent in bristly rollers wrapped in a bandana.

I am sure that one (or more) of those perfectly dressed children above might have done at least one (or more) thing they shouldn't have done during the days before or after these photos!  It's possible that one (or more) of them got in trouble just before or after the photo shoot!  (I choose not to share those memories).

I know both of those smiling-for-the-camera women (like their style-mentor-Jackie) had big-worries, serious-concerns, anxiety-provoking problems and life-altering issues lurking even as they smiled assuredly into the camera, for posterity, that day. 

I suspect that the invisible camera-man was happy when the combinations of visiting cousins and sisters-in-law were finally all photographed! 

One central message that seems to be emerging from my own recursive "viewing" of  photos this summer is that you have to look closely at and think deeply about what was captured in each image and try to determine what those posing wanted others to see and know. 

There is always a story behind the image.
Gee whiz, that is just what you have to do when you read!   


SOL2013 Traveling Through Time

It seems to happen every summer around this time.  I realize that summer is almost over and I have yet to fulfill my summer "travel" dreams (no matter how unrealistic they are!)  I was starting to feel that end-of-the-summer-pang the other day, when I realized that I really have "traveled" quite a bit this summer  - through time!  

In a faded photo, I saw a glimpse of my dad's summer-vacations on the farm. There was never traveling, except for a day trip to the Orange County Fair!  Yet, I'm confident these boys felt the same pangs I feel as the middle of August rolled around and school loomed on the horizon!

Another summer, after the family farm was sold, I saw images of the mansions in Newport with my perfectly coifed Aunts and Grandmother.  I admired their pre-permanent-press-yet-wrinkleless shirtwaist dresses.  I wondered if they reminisced about the "lazy, hazy days of summer" harvesting, canning, cooking and preserving, maybe just a little, as the middle of August rolled around and fall loomed on the horizon!

I smiled as I remembered, vaguely, the tiny pool our mobile home park.  Our "trailer" was tiny and stifling hot; thus, we spent every afternoon jumping in and climbing out of that pool!  I remembered the sun in your eyes picture-taking and wondered how I swam in that vest and cap?  Oh my!  I remember the pangs as August rolled to a close and days at the pool were counted in single digits!

And, before the personal-pity-party-of-not-exploring-Europe-again-this-summer had a chance to become tangible, I was smiling about finding photos, remembering family and traveling through time to summers long ago!  It wasn't long before the middle-of-August-pangs were mixed with gratitude for the bright images of this busy summer, my happy family and the new memories we are enjoying, right here and now! 

Creating Books On IPad

Monday, August 12, 2013

Preparing For School: Without Getting Lost in the Forest

Adams-Elementary.JPGNot too long ago, an effective classroom was neat, organized and clean with books stacked up ready to go.  There was a chalk ledge ready with its tools.  Kids were excited to get back to school, even if they had butterflies buzzing in their stomachs.
Today there is a far greater emphasis on creating "theme-driven-stimulating-interesting" and "exciting" classrooms ones that "invite" students "in" and make them "want-to-learn."    In an era of close parent-community-state scrutiny over what is happening in classrooms, this was bound to happen.  There is also greater-than-ever competition from other teachers as we all try to be the "best-we-can-be" and perhaps, even the "best-of-all."
Yet, all of us (those of us preparing kids and those prepping classrooms) know in our hearts, learning and growing readers, writers, and thinkers is a noisy, messy, process that neither new clothes nor thematically perfect classrooms can assure.
Welcome to The Talented Teacher Cafe: Classroom DecorIt might be better for parents to spend an evening talking with, playing with, and connecting with their child than an evening at the mall buying new clothes.  A day at the park or a hike in the woods or a night spent camping with your child, sharing thoughts, hopes and dreams, might be the best investment possible in your child's learning.  While a new notebook might indeed signify the new adventure upon us (I still get giddy with those notebook aisles), it will not guarantee your child's deep thinking or even desire to learn more.    
Teachers, it might be best for teachers to clean up and renew their classrooms while focusing on teaching and learning.  Classrooms can invite learning, but having a full bag of tricks to engage learning, focus, and thinking will keep things going beyond that first 'honeymoon" week.  Perhaps the best "investment" we teachers can make is in the reading, writing, and thinking lives of our students.
While that forest classroom above sure looks pretty neat on the surface, there is no guarantee that deep thinking, passionate discussions about books and intense learning will happen in that environment.  In fact, it is possible that some children, with all that intense stimulation, will be "lost" in the forest! 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

CCSS: Video Clips and Central Ideas

I've spent a few moments this summer doing PD at home - growing in my understanding of CCSS.    The power of the www still amazes me and it amazes me even more when I access it from my office in my sweaty shorts and t-shirt!

Here are some interesting video clips on central ideas. Check out this link

CCSS Tiered Texts

Report: States Could Save Millions By Consolidating Small Districts

8 Tips and Tricks to Redesign Your Classroom | Edutopia

Friday, August 9, 2013

Home Again Home Again, Jiggidy Jig

As I finish writing this, I am reminded that writing is not defined by craft (in this case: dialogue); rather, writing is defined by central ideas (in this case: with hard work, all things are possible!)

"She's fallen and can't get up," was the message.
"I can't believe I fell," she said between sobs of pain.
"Let's take this one step at a time," I suggested as I dialed 911. 
"It's going to hurt a lot when we move you," noted the EMS workers. 
"I can't do this," she said.
"At her age, the odds of recovery are not in her favor," said the ER doctor.
"We'll have to wait a few days before we even operate," said another doctor. 
"It's going to hurt when we move you," noted the nurse.
"I can't do this," she said again.
"It's going to be a long, hard road back to a new normal," said the surgeon.
"I can't do this," she said again and again.
"It'll be a long time without putting weight on her leg," said the doctor.
"Do you think she can hop on one foot," the young nurse asked?
"Let's use the Hoyer lift," I responded!
"I'm not so sure the pins are holding," said the orthopedic surgeon.
"Let her try to walk, as she can tolerate the pain," said another doctor.
"I can't do this," she said again and again, and yet again.
"She can do so more than she think," said the occupational therapist.
"We're really pushing her," commented the physical therapist.
"She's amazing," said the therapy coordinator.
"She's ready to rehab at home," said the social worker.
"I guess I better get the place ready," I responded!  
"Build me a ramp, I commanded my husband.
"I can't believe I'm going home," between sobs of happiness. 

There is, indeed, a parallel to teaching and learning, here.
With differentiated teaching (differentiated rehab),
Research-based, best-practice methodology (great surgeons, therapists),
Lots of patience, persistence and caring (she can do this),
And, a never give up attitude,
All students can learn to read, write and achieve their goals,
(Just like 90+ year olds can achieve their goals!)


Solve It Your Way: Sharing Franki Sibberson's New Project for Kids

Over at, Franki Sibberson has created a question of the month the promote problem solving strategies for kids.  I love the idea of kids thinking through "big" problems that are solved over not just one table-sitting, but over days of debate and thinking.  It's a real life ( CCSS college and career ready!) approach to learning. 

Yet, with the interactive blog, you can have students post their responses and try out other's responses.  This makes the project not only a math-science-thinking activity but also a reading-writing-interacting one! 

This will certainly get the gears turning and the  balls rolling (pun intended)! 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Faded Photos: Back to School Edition

As I stared at this faded photo, my mind wandered to the story(ies) around the one room schoolhouse of which my grandfather (far left) was Trustee (think Principal, Curriculum Supervisor, Superintendent and Board of Education rolled into one) and my Aunt (top left - I think) was the Teacher (think K-12 differentiated teaching at its finest) .

While I will never know the whole story behind this photo....

I suspect surmise that my Grandmother (top right) might have been pretty happy (even though she doesn't appear to be smiling) because all of her 10 children were old enough to attend school!  I am guessing she went home after this photo and poured herself a well deserved cup of coffee and took a short break for the first time in 27+ years!

I am sure that some of my Aunts and Uncles had already flown the coop so to speak, but there were enough little ones in the area to fill up the schoolhouse on Kaisertown Road.   Did the teacher (my Aunt) go in early to arrange the desks and decorate the room so that it would be inviting?  Did she wonder if this might be her last year (at 21) of teaching and that she too might want to fly the coop! 

I wonder if the temperature soared on that first day and what they each did?  There was no need to talk about your summer vacation as everyone already knew everybody's business!  They had played and worked in the fields and each had a sun-tanned face to prove it.  There would certainly have been no writer's notebooks to decorate and no leveled bins to explore!   Did they get right to work copying in neat handwriting and memorizing stories? 

I sure would love to know what happened to that smiling girl dab smack in the middle of the photo.  Was she an avid reader and writer who could not wait to get back to school? Did she grow up to be a teacher of teachers or a writer of best sellers ?  What about that smiling eager face in the lower right hand corner of the photo?  Did he grow up to be a professor of history or a doctor of medicine?  What about that tall boy with the overalls?  Did he finish the year or drop out to work on the farm?  Why are there so many more girls than boys in the photo? 

One thing I am sure of is that my Grandmother (and perhaps even my Grandfather who had only a little bit of formal schooling) valued school and learning.  All of their children, boys and girls, graduated from high school and most attended college (or normal school - teacher college). 

Wouldn't if have been great if they had blogged about their lives? 

CCSS Choosing Texts for Close Reading from RWT

We're all talking about close reading this summer, the kind that gets students thinking about a complex text through rereading.  Yet, not all texts are worthy of or good candidates for the kind of close reading the CCSS talk about.

I suggest you read the whole article but I am summarizing in my own words for my own memory! 

  • Quantitative complexity:
    • Even if the overall readability is relatively low, a section (paragraph, page, chapter) of the text may be more complex and a good choice for close reading.  
    • Often, but certainly not always, texts will be above students' independent reading level.
    • Gail Gibbons or Patricia Polacco texts are examples of quantitative complexity for primary students.

  • Qualitative complexity:                          
    • Figurative language is often worthy of a second (or third) look.
    • Organization and text features can make a text easier or more challenging.  
    • Vocabulary and word choice
    • Consider the register (formal to informal) in the text
    • Consider background knowledge 

  • Reader characteristics/task considerations:
    • Experiences as a reader
    • Student motivation 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

#hashtag Now I Know!

Faded Photos: Cocktail Edition

I'd been deep in days of cleaning, clearing, de-cluttering, and closet organizing (that's why I am posting this SOL a day late) when I came upon some priceless, fading photos of ladies, who blazed trails and broke through glass ceilings long before women's liberation was conceived.  While I will never know the whole story behind this photo....

I can surmise that my Aunt and her friends are very pleased with themselves, sitting on purple velvet, sipping martinis, setting the stage, perhaps, for an evening in the city. 

I suspect that life circumstances, personal drive, and strong backbones helped each of them forge professional careers in worlds dominated by men. 

I wonder why are they drinking (and smoking) in what appears to be a library?

I am pretty confident that only one of my blog-readers will recognize only one of these ladies!

Wouldn't if have been great if they had blogged about the slices of their lives? 

PS This is a day-late-slice-of-my-life!