Poetry Friday: Luke by Mary Oliver

Poetry Friday is hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche

This Poetry Friday, I want to honor my erstwhile summer companion, Sophie.  Family and friends drop in to the farm every now and then, but Sophie is here with me all the time – from the last day in June when we arrive (school’s out!), to the last week of August when we leave (back to school!).


Every moment of every day is an adventure for Sophie.

A quick walk to take out the trash? Well, that’s just enough time to explore that interesting gap in a stone wall.  An hour weeding garden beds on a misty morning ? Well, that’s an opportunity to inspect flowers, chase butterflies, give pursuit to the family of wild turkeys taking their early morning stroll.  A hot afternoon painting old farmhouse doors? Well, that’s the perfect chance to offer quick wags and wet nosed nudges of encouragement, in between long and dream filled naps.

Where ever I go and whatever I do, Sophie is by my side, taking joy in every moment, noticing the wonder of small things, grateful to be alive, to love, and to be loved.  This Mary Oliver poem is for and about you, dear Sophie.

LUKE  by Mary Oliver

I had a dog
who loved flowers.
Briskly she went
through the fields,

yet paused
for the honeysuckle
or the rose,
her dark head

and her wet nose
the face
of every one

with its petals
of silk,
with its fragrance

into the air
where the bees,
their bodies
heavy with pollen,

and easily
she adored
every blossom,

not in the serious,
careful way
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom—

the way we praise or don’t praise—
the way we love
or don’t love—
but the way

we long to be—
that happy
in the heaven of earth—
that wild, that loving.

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#cyberpd: DIY Literacy – Week 3

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Chapters 5 and 6 were just what I needed to answer two questions that the first four chapters had posed: how to create and use teaching tools for individual student use, and how to make teaching tools that actually work for kids (i.e. tools my kids will want to reach for and use).

Chapter 5:

Teaching tools help us see the learning possibilities for all types of students.  They meet kids where they are, guiding them to greater heights.  Not only can tools give students something tangible to hold on to as they navigate their way through the curriculum, but they also give kids personalized learning footholds to find their next step along the way. (pg. 73)

I loved the way Kate and Maggie explained how to create these “personalized learning footholds” through the use of the demonstration notebooks, micro progressions, charts, and bookmarks.  As always, it is useful to hear and see what work like this looks like before attempting to it with students. I loved the way this kind of teaching honors the work our kids are doing, and nudges them forward to attempt deeper and more layered efforts.  I found the guide to “ways you can assess in real time whether or not your teaching tools are hitting the mark” on page 79 to be so helpful, too.  After all, I want to make sure that I am being both effective as well as responsive in suggesting specific teaching tools for the specific needs of my students.

The “Quick Tip for Going Digital” was a great feature.  We use Google Classroom in our school, and I have already begun planning for ways in which my kids can access their teaching tools through a digital system.

Chapter 6: 

I am so grateful that this nuts and bolts chapter was included!  Students need to find these teaching tools both informative as well as relatable, so it was helpful to learn about how to incorporate kid friendly language and pop culture references.  I loved this reminder:

To do this work yourself, take a step back from literacy and think a bit about what you are trying to teach your students.  Literacy skills are often life skills, after all.  (pg. 90)

And I loved this message to bring my students into the process of creating the learning tools they need:

Teaching tools that are created or co-created by students are almost always more accessible, engaging, and memorable than any you present fully formed.  As your students decide what to put on the teaching tool, they engage with the material on a much deeper level than if they were simply listening or watching. (pg. 93)

Each of the suggestions Kate and Maggie provided are elements that I need to figure out and practice a bit before launching this work in September.


As a prelude to this book, Kate and Maggie had created a video series demonstrating these teaching ideas in action.  I followed each of them, taking copious notes and doing my best to imagine what all of this would look like next year, after I’d spent the summer reading the book.  But, the tangled issue of figuring out the themes of our book club books forced my hand.  Here’s a link to Episode 8, and here’s what that learning looked like in my class:


Learning from Kate & Maggie before school begins.


Trying this work out in our mini lesson time.


Students working in their books groups.

Our work was a bit raw, and definitely needs fine tuning in the new school year.  Now that I’ve had the chance to read (and reread!) DIY Literacy, I can spend the next few weeks of summer practicing creating a few teaching tools, and  creating the first few I am sure to need when the year begins.


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers

September 11, 2001 seems like a very long time ago, now.  And yet, when someone mentions that day, memories come flooding back with such force of emotion and clarity that it does not seem like a very long time ago at all.  Living in Northern New Jersey, everyone I knew (myself included) was touched by the events of the day; family, friends, neighbors, students – everyone had  a loss that needed comfort.   In the years after, I had students who would need to leave the classroom when 9/11 was mentioned, the loss was so deep, and the memories were so raw.

But, the students I have taught over the past few years were born in the years much after 9/11.  Their experience of the event is less visceral and colored by years of story telling filtered through the media, and often in self serving ways by politicians and talking heads.  It is hard to convey to these kids how life changed forever in that one day which began as the most perfect September morning.  And how to weave the lessons of 9/11 into our classroom conversations? What did we learn? What should we remember, and why?

Nora Raleigh Baskin, in her new book Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story , gives us a powerful story through which to read about and think about 9/11 in a way that matters to how we live today.


The story begins a few days before 9/11, and revolves around the lives of four very different young people living very different lives in different parts of the country.  On the surface, at least, each of them is sorting through challenges that have very little in common.  Here’s the jacket copy:

Ask anyone: September 11, 2001, was serene and lovely, a perfect day—until a plane struck the World Trade Center.

But right now it is a few days earlier, and four kids in different parts of the country are going about their lives. Sergio, who lives in Brooklyn, is struggling to come to terms with the absentee father he hates and the grandmother he loves. Will’s father is gone, too, killed in a car accident that has left the family reeling. Naheed has never before felt uncomfortable about being Muslim, but at her new school she’s getting funny looks because of the head scarf she wears. Aimee is starting a new school in a new city and missing her mom, who has to fly to New York on business.

These four don’t know one another, but their lives are about to intersect in ways they never could have imagined.

Baskin does a wonderful job of creating distinct identities for each of these middle school aged kids. Even though we, the reader, know the horror of what is to come and are unsure about  how the events of the day will impact each kid, we are also thoroughly engaged in the issues and challenges they face in the days leading up to September 11th.

The events of September 11th., beginning at 8:46 when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, are written with powerful immediacy and relevance: tis is how my children and their friends reacted that day – shock, fear, confusion, and a turning towards the adults in their lives for explanation,comfort, and answers.

The final part of the book is brilliantly done.  Baskin finds a way to bring all the characters together at a very significant time to participate in a collective experience of hope and action.

I am so glad that I will be able to share this powerful and moving book with my sixth graders this Fall – its lessons of hope and healing are so important for us to share.


Celebrate this week: book love

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get!


Books I’ve read over the past two weeks.

When teachers get together, we talk about our students, the classrooms we invest our time and teaching energy creating, and BOOKS – the lifeblood of our teaching lives.  Teachers talk about books in a special way, though – it’s not just about the stories they tell, or how how the story is told.  Teachers talk about why these stories matter, especially to the children in our classrooms.

Last week, my beloved writing group convened at Old Bedlam Farm to write (of course!), share our craft, and inspire each other.  From the very first moment of arrival, it seemed, every table was covered with stacks of books we wanted to share with each other: books to swap, books to lend, books to gift.  There was such delight in books!

Every excursion involved some variation of book love – old books, new books, books for our family, books for our classrooms.   Our conversations spilled over displays and stacks and bins…there was so much to share and discover.

In a few weeks, I will be packing up my summer book collection and thinking about how I will introduce each new find to my brand new class of sixth graders.  I know that I will be hearing the echoes of  joyous summer conversations even as I decide which ones to read aloud, which ones to set aside for book clubs, and which ones to partner up with a student who needs to hear the message of that particular book.

This Celebrations Saturday, I celebrate teacher book talk…because it reminds us that book love begins with each one of us – we can teach to it because we know it.



Poetry Friday:

Poetry Friday is hosted by Chelanne at Books 4 Learning

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We met, the four of us, first as colleagues and collaborators, and then as friends. Teachers, writers, poets and wanna-be poets. What a joy it has been to share this week’s writing retreat at Old Bedlam Farm with Margaret Simon, Julieanne Harmatz, and Kimberley Moran.  Thank you, for deepening and refreshing my spirit.

Friendship IXX by Kahlil Gibran

And a youth said, “Speak to us of Friendship.”

Your friend is your needs answered.

He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.

And he is your board and your fireside.

For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”

And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;

For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.

When you part from your friend, you grieve not;

For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.

For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.

If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.

For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?

Seek him always with hours to live.

For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.

And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.

For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Sophie awaits your return.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Anticipation and community

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers


As the sun set on Sunday night, there was a spirit of anticipation at the farm…writing friends would be arriving the next day: Margaret Simon, Julieanne Harmatz, and Kimberley Moran.

Every week, for these past many years, we’ve met online here at Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays, at Ruth Ayers Writes on Saturdays, at Digilit on Sundays, and on Twitter and Voxer on those days and the on days in between.

We’ve shared stories about our classrooms and our lives, discussed books we’ve read and loved, and collectively thought through our teaching philosophies and practices.  We’ve shared the things that are going well in Louisiana (Margaret), Los Angeles (Julieanne), Maine (Kimberley), and New Jersey (me), and the things we are struggling through.  We’ve laughed about this and mourned that…no matter  the time zone,  no matter the miles between us.

In the week ahead, we will continue our fellowship  in person, sitting face to face in the same place: a community of teachers, friends, and colleagues.  How wonderful that what began in such an impersonal space (the vast web of disparate online collectives), has blossomed into such a personal one.

Poetry Friday: Summer Shower by Emily Dickinson

Poetry Friday is hosted by Mary Lee @ A Year of Reading

Storm clouds billowed ominously all over the valleys and mountains here, and when the rain came it was ferocious.  This old farmhouse has seen many storms in its time, but I am not ashamed to admit that I was genuinely scared…that thunder was awfully close, and that lightning was awfully bright.   Of course, we lost internet service for hours, too…but there was something rather atmospheric about seeing out a raging storm with nothing but books and my writer’s notebook for company.   The storm has passed, and I now leave it to Emily Dickinson to capture the mood of what remains…


Summer Shower

A drop fell on the apple tree,
Another on the roof;
A half a dozen kissed the eaves,
And made the gables laugh.

A few went out to help the brook,
That went to help the sea.
Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,
What necklaces could be!

The dust replaced in hoisted roads,
The birds jocoser sung;
The sunshine threw his hat away,
The orchards spangles hung.

The breezes brought dejected lutes,
And bathed them in the glee;
The East put out a single flag,
And signed the fete away.