Saturday, November 30, 2013


Discover. Play. Build.
Thanks to Ruth for starting this Celebrate blog share.  It really does help me "stop and think" about my life.

One: I gathered around my well worn table the other day with my family to celebrate the the endless gifts we have been given.  My children brought significant others and my mom found strength to join us.  Our meal included old favorites like pumpkin pie and new harvest traditions like kale.  I felt the connection of families through the ages as we intermingled hope, love, new ideas and old traditions.

Two: As I prepared for Thanksgiving, I was grateful  that over the years, I have found ways to make holiday planning and execution not so stressful. It's never perfect and I am sure there are many who would not settle for my less than perfect table (table cloth pressed at the cleaners) or my less than perfect meal presentation (some of the kale chips were overdone); yet, I am sure that holidays are about celebrating family and reflection, not about reaching for perfection.  My husband and kids all pitch in these days with shopping, cooking and cleaning up.  It is indeed a cooperative effort of many in the true spirit of the holiday.  I really enjoyed every minute!  

Three: It's the beginning of month four of our school year and we have finished another round of assessments.  Now I have data to prove that even those students who really have struggled are moving along the reading-writing continuum.  I love the miracle of learning to read and know that with the right focused instruction, we can provide all children with that gift.  I get as excited as a kid on Christmas morning when one of my chicks starts to fly as a reader!

I have much to celebrate this week.

Friday, November 29, 2013


Embedded image permalink

In the early morning,
As the dawn breaks,
A dusting of snow,
Covers the parched earth,
The turkey and pumpkin smells linger,
The peace of this holiday endures,
At least for me.

As the dawn breaks,
There are merchants,
Finishing and starting the first
Of many 12+ hour shifts,
Wiping sleepiness from their eyes,
Listening to complaints,
Providing service to shoppers,
Stressing over the month ahead,
The peace of this holiday is elusive
At least for now.  

Leveled Books in a Common Core World

Many times, I've wondered about an overreliance on leveled texts.
I've pondered if we should sometimes let kids struggle because they want to read a book even if it is a major stretch.
I've wondered if the CCSS's admonishment of leveled texts is a bit of a "self correction" on a course we have taken that might contribute to a new controversy.
I'm aware of the research, albeit controversial, shared by Timothy Shanahan suggesting kids actually make better progress in the frustration level books!

I've leveled many a book for my own guiding of students towards material that is assessable but not frustrating, material that is at their "instructional level" so to speak in the balanced literacy vernacular.  I cannot imagine discontinuing this practice.
I've guided many a student towards more assessable and thus more enjoyable reading material that was "at" or even well "below" their assessed reading level for independent and home practice. I cannot imagine discontinuing this practice.
I've encouraged many a parent to accept rereading of familiar and easy texts for fluency and the end, texts that are matched to students’reading levels AND interests are important to build competent and fluent readers. I cannot imagine discontinuing this practice.

So from my perspective,
I'm taking the middle road, like Susan Ryan and referring to the fluency aspect of  Foundational Skills as I encourage self-selected texts matched, at least somewhat, to their level.
I'm looking at levels as a piece of the puzzle that supports fluency, phrasing, and enjoyment.
I'm encouraging self selection of texts at all levels.
I'm looking for high quality, classic texts that are engaging while not abandoning the wonderful world envisioned by 21st Century authors such as Mo Willems and Kate Messener!


Thursday, November 28, 2013


Holidays can be hectic, stressful. 
Weather, travel, shopping, cooking,
Eating, calories, family issues,
Missing loved ones, and colds
As much a part of the holidays
As turkey, cranberries, pies.

I have so, so much,
My heart swells with gratitude,
Hope, faith, fulfillment, love,
Warmth, health, children, friends,
Partners on this journey.
Every day I should be
I felt a bit stressed,
Until a friend told me about celebrating
Two major holidays and a first birthday!
I felt a bit concerned about food,
Until I thought of others,
Who could not pay.
I felt a bit empty,
Until I thought of those
Whose hearts are breaking. 
In a few hours,
I will serve up traditional fare,
(assuming I get cooking)
Plus kale chips and eggplant tapenade,
A pumpkin pie,
Plus cheesecake cups with apple chips,
We will gather like the Pilgrims and Native Americans,
In peace and gratitude,
And celebrate. 
Let us not forget what we have,
Hope, faith, fulfillment, love,
Warmth, health, friends,
Partners on this journey,
(none of which can be purchased)
Every day we should be

If you should be reading this,
My family, friends, colleagues,
Students, and fellow travelers on this journey,
I pray that you too
Celebrate what you have
(even if you forgot the cranberries)
Eat a little too much,
(You can exercise with me tomorrow)
Laugh a little too hard,
 Tell loved ones you care.
Remember we have much,
For which to be,

Monday, November 25, 2013

#SOL2013 Did you tell her what you told me?

When I arrive on a Saturday night, it is usually for a coveted "date night" for their Mom and Dad.  The girlies, have plans to craft, color, play games, and read books. It's always a special time when "Auntie" zooms in for a good-old-play-date.  Over the years, it's gotten easier as they no longer need bottles, rocking, diapers and dressing.  Yet, in another way, it is getting harder and harder! 

When I arrived, this last time, their dad asked, "Did you tell Auntie what you told me this morning?"
"Not yet," one of the girlies said sheepishly as if the words might spoil the surprise ahead. 
"Well," dad continued, "I heard that you, Auntie, tell the BEST stories."  As he wrapped his scarf around his neck and scurried out the door for a long-coveted date night filled with adult-conversation and food, he smiled, "No pressure or anything, just thought you should know!"

I've never really considered myself to be a storyteller and truth-be-told, while I read to them until they refused to sit through any more books, my own personal children did not have nightly storytelling.  For the girlies, my stories, coming at the heels of bedtime story reading, were originally a way to distract suddenly-sullen-small children who seriously-missed their parents.  Over the years, these stories have grown in length and improved in quality!  Now, they might even be considered the coveted! 

I usually craft some characters, roughly similar to the girlies and what they have done that day.  I usually craft a setting that we can all "see" and have some problem or conflict that we can unpack and solved in just a few minutes

The other night, the story was set in a castle with 101 books, 101 toys, 101 steps, a bathtub swimming pool and a master bedroom trampoline bed!  I spent an enormous amount of time elaborating on the moat filled not with alligators, but with goldfish, because they asked questions about the moat.  I elaborated on the castle's floors and bedrooms when they seemed to want to know every detail.  I must admit that the black-as-night bedroom with twinkling star lights I described sounded pretty cool and that shower complete with rainstorm sound effects sounded like it might be a best seller at Castle Depot! 

As I finally, wrapped up the story, there were two smiling customers and I knew I had secured my title for at least a few more months!   I could feel the influence of writing guru, Donald Graves, who long ago proposed we all find that voice inside us to be a little stronger when we have a purpose and an audience! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Two Score and Ten Years Ago

Solemn: Mrs Kennedy, holding the hands of her children, leads the funeral procession from the U.S. Capitol on November 24, 1963Two score and ten years ago, a school bus dropped some kids at St. Joseph's Church.  Back in those days, Friday afternoons were early release times.  Some kids went for religious education classes.  Others went home to prepare for Seders. While all this sounds strange today (even to me), it really did happen, back in those days!  As we got off the bus, red-eyed nuns hurriedly pinned tissues into our hair to assure no one went into church unless they had something in their hairWhile all this sounds strange today (even to me), it really did happen, back in those days! 
We were hushed and ushered into the church where women in long black veils were sobbing and lighting candles. The priest, his back to us, preformed, perhaps, a silent mass.  The church slowly filled with people who looked as if the world was about to end.  While all this sounds strange today (even to me), it really did happen, back in those days!   We were told to get on our knees and pray.  We did so without questioning.  Kids did not question a habit-clad nun who seemed to be holding the whole world on her shoulders.  While all this sounds strange today (even to me), it really did happen, back in those days!  Nothing was said to us about the horrific events of the afternoon as we were herded onto buses.  While all this sounds strange today (even to me), it really did happen, back in those days!
Later, the whole family huddled around our tiny black and white TV and watched as a first lady, covered in bloody clothes swore in a new president.   We ate quietly in front of the tiny TV from which we rarely moved all weekend.  It was as if time stood still for all of us.  While all this sounds strange today (even to me), it really did happen, back in those days!     
No one talked of his transgressions and no one questioned his illnesses or personal weaknesses.  Reporters did not do that in those days.  While all this sounds strange today (even to me), it really did happen, back in those days!  No one wanted our innocence (as a country, as a people) to be shattered and so we sat, in silence and hoped that somehow, through naming schools, airports and roads after our fallen hero (whose life was cut short and whose dreams were not fulfilled) we could remember the good and somehow, find the strength to go forward. While all this sounds strange, it really did happen!     

#Slice of Life 2013 A Trip to the Mall

"Do you want to go to Danbury this afternoon?" he asked with the tone of someone who would rather be riding bikes or out pulling weeds, but who wanted to do something on a dreary, drizzly Sunday afternoon.  "We could go to Home Goods and then Macy's for that make-up you've been talking about getting," he volunteered knowing we needed both coffee mugs and makeup desperately (think 2 weeks of mineral oil stretching)!

I felt a bit like Rip Van Winkle as explored stores filled to the brim, prepared for the onslaught of shoppers.  There were new-to-me-stores throughout the mall and I mused, "You get more choices here than you do shopping on Amazon" (the best invention for busy people since sliced bread)!

The crowd, at Home Goods, maneuvered carts, filled with blankets, pillows, toys, pots and trinkets. At Macy's, the AFLAC ducks greeted me, and I hadn't even been injured!  Santa was engaged in discussions with children dressed in holiday-photo-card-apparel.  Shopping bag carrying customers scurried about scoffing up sales that seemed to be everywhere (10 days before the mall would open at midnight for sales?)   

I came home with 4 white coffee mugs and some fresh make-up; however, I did get the wake-up call that the holiday season is bearing down on us at breakneck speed.  I guess that is why everyone was scurrying and the AFLAC duck is awaiting a busy season! 

CCSS Controversies: Cursive Writing

Washington Post

  1. In today's Poughkeepsie Journal, an article about cursive writing.  One of the NEW CCSS inspired controversies!   

Silent Sunday: No Words

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Story boards

Lots to Celebrate

Discover. Play. Build.
It was a three-day weekend,
Followed by a four-day-work-compressed week.
A zillion running records inter-mingled with
Word lists, phoneme assessments,
Writing assessments, IEP assessments,
The stress of report card time,
Mid-term grad-student papers,
And a relentless sinus infection.
Yet, I have much to celebrate including
A family birthday party
(with a rainbow cake that has gone viral)
Dinner with my son
(and his friend Jake)
Brunch with my daughter
(on her way to a friendship bracelet making party)
A financial planning meeting with my aunt
(who was cooperative)
Quality time with my mother
(who I am lucky to still have)

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Sweet Slice of Life

This is
Not a slice of cake
Laden with sugars, calories.
This is
A sweet slice of life,
Layers of love, luscious chocolate,
A one-of-a-kind cake,
Made by a one-of-a-kind mom,
 To celebrate a once-in-a-lifetime birthday,
Filled with laughter and love,
This is  
A reminder
 That life can be sweet,
For those who watch their heart
Multiply and divide.
This is
A promise from above,
Rainbows follow storms.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Silent Sunday: The Kale Chip Edition

(On Silent Sunday, No words are needed.
Yet there is a story
Behind these kale chips
Resting in a battered, brownie dish
Made by a career-changing, garlic-grower,
Who makes me cholesterol challenging,
Kale chips.)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Celebrate: The power of focused praise

Discover. Play. Build.
Over the years, trends in literacy ebb and flow.  We argue about contrived texts and real literature.  We argue about direct and imbedded phonics.  However, yesterday, late in the afternoon, on the eve of a 3-day weekend, as I completed my 11th (of the day) Fountas and Pinnell benchmark reading record, I was reminded of the need to celebrate all achievements and the value of focused praise.

"Wow," I said to him, "I loved the way you pointed to every word. I am so proud of you for looking at the word 'We' again.  I remember when you would have guessed and kept going.  Now you noticed it didn't make sense and went back to look at that word.  You wrestled it to the ground," I noted in an analogy I suspected he might understand! 

"Yeah, I learned that you look at that first letter and get your mouth ready to read in your Reading Club.  Thanks for showing me that great trick," he noted proudly as he leaned in for a hug. 

"I think you deserve a pencil for your hard work," I offered.

"Could I have a book, instead?" he asked.

"Absolutely," I responded as one of those happy tears of teachers, moms, and mentors edged its way to the corner of my eye. 

The back story is this 1st grade emerging reader grew from an "almost A" to an "Independent B" level based on the assessment.  He is not meeting the standard expected of him.  Lots of people might even refer to him as a struggling reader.  Yet, on Friday afternoon, we celebrated progress that was clear to both of us and he left my room an eager reader!  

Focused praise is a reason to celebrate this Saturday morning.  Thanks Ruth for this forum that encouraged me to write it down and save the memory. 


FROM EL: Close reading: Teach it when they need it

Sunday Cummins on how to teach close readingFound this article from EL and it certainly resonated with my thinking as I have been reading Close Reading (Lehman). 



Sunday Cummins begins with the question many of us have been pondering, "How often should I give a close reading lesson?”

She reminds us that it's not the, "be all and end all of instructional approaches to teaching reading."

She mentions an article, “Close Reading and Far-Reaching Classroom Discussion: Fostering a Vital Connection,” (Snow and O’Connor) that suggest too much close reading could lead to disengagement or thinking only about text-based evidence rather than our background knowledge or other texts.

In my opinion, and in Cummins summation, there are benefits to close reading of texts.  I can attest to this based on my own forays into that realm recently.   It's a powerful way to unpack a text and it leads to those wonderful teaching moments when students might say something like, "Did you notice...." and your heart melts!  

Friday, November 8, 2013

CCSS: Can the standards be met in a workshop classroom?

I've been thinking about how the CCSS fit into a workshop model of teaching for a while now.  I've been reading, research, reflecting and wondering, particularly as I sense many districts abandoning the hard-to-do-well workshop model for the perceived easier-to-implement-reading-writing-CC aligned-programs.   I know I am not the only one thinking about the "endangered" workshop model which has its roots in differentiated teaching and learning; thus, when I see an article like the one this morning on Edutopia, I smile and remember that the CCSS do not "require" a program. 

Over on Edutopia, Rebecca Alber shares a post from her blog:

In this piece, she writes about the CC focus of audience.  I too have clear memories of English teachers talking about their stacks of essays and I know the weight of a classroom teacher who lugs marble notebooks home for Sunday night.  I do know that many students think school writing's purpose is to make the teacher happy. 

Yet. the standard now is for to write for a task, a purpose, and an audience.  Honestly, that is not bad advice, and I am pretty sure that Donald Graves and Lucy Calkins (and others) have mentioned that more than one time! 

You should read Alber's whole article, but in a nutshell, her suggestions are simple, real sharing activities such as:

  • Pair up and read it out loud to another student.
  • Write a letter to a family member, penpal, other community.
  • Write to the principal, assistant principal, school counselor, or perhaps district superintendent
  • Write to local or national government leaders.
I know we can, and probably should, do this! 



Thursday, November 7, 2013

@Writing Project: Family Writing Night

On Twitter this morning, there were lots of good pictures of happy people enjoying life.  Among them was this image of a family, unknown to me, thoroughly enjoying Family Writing Night at a School somewhere.  Thank you @writing project for a gentle reminder that we must hold onto the power of writing for real meaningful purposes as we reach towards the CCSS.

  Writing Project @writingproject
Family that writes together...RT @SDAWP_Fellow: Family Writing Night at school! #ccss #inquiry #mentortext

Monday, November 4, 2013

Close Reading Book Club Infographics from Heinemann

#SOL 2013 That Old Pink Bird

"I can't be the pink bird," he protested, even though the pink bird was the first to talk!
"I'll be the pink bird," the sole girl in the small group eagerly volunteered.
"She has to be the pink bird," the last of the trio volunteered quickly.

For a moment, I "blamed" that old Houghton-Mifflin basal story, one that I have long used as a first readers' theater.  I wondered if I should have just stayed with the leveled readers, the ones where everyone reads every part to themselves.  Was I right in using this carefully chosen story with repeated sight words (will, you, we, I, go) from an aged preprimer? 

Then, for just a second, my mind wandered back to a little boy who took his clothing-challenged and many-times-repaired doll to "nursery" school.  She went into the bottom of the Yankees backpack, underneath the emergency clothes, under the lunch.  She was nearby, but she did not "come out" in school. 

Then, as they continued "discussing" who should be which bird, my mind drifted to the long journey littered with "shattered glass ceilings" and "diapering dads."  It's been a long time since parents began embracing female-children playing with cars and male-children carrying dolls.  It's been a long time since Babe was tucked into bed each night with that little boy.  It's been a long time since pink was the color of little girls and blue was for boys; yet, stereotypes of color and gender endure as Stacy, my TWT writing guru, also experienced this week.

I recovered quickly from my mental "bird" walk and created an explanation that seemed logical, and might even be true.  "Long ago," I said reflectively, "when these books were new, back when your parents were in first grade, the birds with red, blue and yellow.  Over time, the birds have faded and so now the red one looks pink."   

"Oh," the first boy said,  "I want to be the red bird, then." 

Our quick readers' theater ensued; however, I was left with the lingering feeling that I should have used that moment to teach a "lesson" on color and gender rather deliver glib lines and maintain a focus on sight words!  In my defense, I got home and drafted a story about color, gender, dolls, and trucks; however, it is more likely that this color-gender-bias scene will be replayed than that my story will be published!  

So, I hope that the next time this scene is replayed, I take the time to remind my students:
Colors do not define us,
They just describe us.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Silent Sunday :)

Shanahan on CCSS:Questions and His Answers

Shanahan attempts answers to some interesting questions in the Power Point linked below:
(my summary of his point of view) 
Can you still set purposes for reading? (yes, but this is not a purpose for reading) 
Do teachers still have to teach phonics, phoneme awareness...? (yes, as foundational skills)
Can we still teach literature? (yes, of course, just add informational texts to the mix)
Must we use texts that are frustrating to students? (no, but we may have overly focused on "reading levels" and kept students "back" from trying more challenging texts)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

TILE-SIG Feature: NEWSELA, a Resource Worth Reporting

While there are some parts of the CCSS that make us all want to scream, the need to (always) reflect deeply on practices that impact others is one positive piece of the CCSS project.  This article from the IRA is a must read about a great resource for short, fresh, newsworthy leveled texts,

TILE-SIG Feature: NEWSELA, a Resource Worth Reporting