Poetry Friday: Coming by Philip Larkin

Poetry Friday is hosted by Kimberley @ Written Reflections


I was greeted by big buckets of forsythia branches as I waked into the grocery store this bitterly cold afternoon.  We are at that stage of winter where it is painful to be outdoors, even for a few minutes.  But, seeing that burst of sunshine on this bleak day allowed me a glimpse of early April, when forsythia will be in full bloom here, there, and everywhere.

Coming by Philip Larkin


On longer evenings,
Light, chill and yellow,
Bathes the serene
Foreheads of houses.
A thrush sings,
In the deep bare garden,
Its fresh-peeled voice
Astonishing the brickwork.
It will be spring soon,
It will be spring soon —
And I, whose childhood
Is a forgotten boredom,
Feel like a child
Who comes on a scene
Of adult reconciling,
And can understand nothing
But the unusual laughter,
And starts to be happy.

nonfiction book clubs

Finally – Nonfiction Book Clubs anchored by Notice and Note strategies

Today was an exciting day in Room 202 – our first nonfiction book club meetings.  We’ve been using the Notice & Note nonfiction signposts for the first time this year, and I was anxious to see how these meetings would go.  Would discussions be deeper? Would there be evidence of insightful reading and thinking? Would my kids make meaningful connections between what they had each read?  Would all the scaffolding work we had engaged in from September prove to be a purposeful use of the time we had invested? Most of all, through this work, had we succeeded in creating the mindset of reading nonfiction which Kylene Beers and Bob Probst had written about in their introduction to Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies:

…a stance that’s required for the attentive, productive reading of nonfiction.  It’s a mindset that’s open and receptive and receptive but not gullible.  It encourages questioning the text but also questioning one’s own assumptions, preconceptions, and possible misconceptions.  This mindset urges the reader both to draw upon what he does know and to acknowledge what he doesn’t know.  And it asks the reader to make a responsible decision about whether a text helped him confirm his prior beliefs and thoughts or had enabled him to modify and sharpen them, or perhaps to abandon them and change his mind entirely.

The foundation of our nonfiction work was built on “the questioning stance” – three Big Questions which help readers formulate a mindset for reading nonfiction – the critical stance through which they approach informational reading.


From the very first week of school, we have practiced developing this stance through our Wonder Wednesdays, using this template to tag our thinking:


and here is some of what that thinking looks like in our every day sixth grade life,where we have learned that reading nonfiction means a lot more than just gathering facts-we engage with the text continuously, asking questions, raising questions, and making new connections:

By the time January arrived, we were ready to begin to figure out the nonfiction signposts, work that we were familiar with from our work with the fiction signposts.  Bit by bit, with engaging pieces of text I managed to rustle up through Newsela, National Geographic Explorer and excerpts from trade books from our classroom library, we dove into the signposts, experimented with how they shaped and shifted our thinking, and worked in small groups as well as all together as a class.  I noticed these things in particular: that my students’ reading became more purposeful, that their their thinking work (i.e. their conversations) became more insightful, and they were curious to know more.

Next, we turned to book clubs: these are topic based, and every student reads a book of their choice about agreed upon topics of their choice – civil rights, food, life in war time, animals, space. We tagged our thinking  with signposts, and then reflected upon the 3 Big Questions in our reading journals.  I demonstrated this for my kids in my own reading journal with Larry Dane Brimner’s  Birmingham Sunday:

my nf notebook

Today we met to share our learning with our book club mates. It was noisy, but each group was deeply engaged in sharing their books and making connections within their topics.  The signposts gave our discussions specificity and focus, and the big questions allowed for broader conversations and extrapolations.  Everyone had something important to share and say about their books, and (this was most important to me) every student had found relevance in the texts they read.

It was messy and noisy work – each student had a LOT to say, so much so that we ran out of time to write a reflective piece about these discussions.  That will have to be saved for tomorrow.  Tonight, however, as I sit listening in to the recordings I had made of some of these discussions with Kylene and Bob’s Rigor and Talk Checklist for Nonfiction in hand, I couldn’t be more pleased with our first round of nonfiction book club meetings.  We are ready for round #2!



Slice of Life Tuesday:

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snow in window

Snow was falling gently, and in the quiet of a school morning first period, I took a moment to pause and watch.  The big window looked over our middle school parking lot, not a beautiful sight on any ordinary day, but today’s snowfall made it quite not ordinary. The rough edges of pathways and concrete were made smooth and gentle, even the bare and gaunt trees were softly draped in snow.

I leaned against the ancient radiator, and listened to its rattle and hiss – the perfect soundtrack to falling snow in the quiet of a school morning.

Soon, there were  footsteps shuffling and clipping up the stairs.  Then, a moment of silence when they reached the landing, the window, and me.  And then, as though this was the most natural thing to do on a quiet, snowy morning of school, two students took their places at the window.

We stood, listening and watching, drawing in all the peace and calm of the sight, before we turned and went on with our day.

Celebrate this week:Kids reading to kids – a new classroom tradition is born


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

This week’s celebration is about the moment pictured above.  I had book talked Through The Woods with my kids, and mentioned the magic word in describing it: terrifying.  Naturally, everyone wanted to read the book right then and there, but it was getting close to the end of the period and I made a vague promise about reading one of the stories the next day.

Two seconds later (with three minutes to go), I turned around and saw a gaggle of kids gathered around and one of my kids reading aloud.  The bell rang. No one moved, and the reading continued, the story was completed.

I could hear my kids talking about the experience all the way out of the classroom and down the hall way and stairs – they were terrified, for sure, but also HOOKED!  The next day, there was much pleading to continue.  I am not ashamed to say that I was having one of “those days” – a migraine pounding in my head, and the deadline for closing my grade books looming with journals still to read.

“Just one story,” I said, and before I could move to reach for the book, someone had grabbed it and 24 kids were racing to the reading rug.  Somewhere along the way, a decision had apparently been made as to who would sit in the reading rocker and read aloud, and then magic enfolded.  One student read (with all the right reading moves) and everyone else was enthralled.  Because it was a gruesome story with all to vivid illustrations, all eyes were glued to the book.  Every once in a while there was a collective groan, or drawing in of breath, but there was no other movement.

At the end, every one sighed, and then there was talk. “That was SO awesome,” one student said.  “Yeah, no offense, Mrs. Smith, but it’s so great when WE get to read aloud, too.”

I had never thought of that.  But now, with this scene in my mind, we will do more of it. My kids want to read aloud to each other. What could possibly be better for our classroom community than that?













Poetry Friday:Thinking of Flowers by Jane Kenyon

The Poetry Friday round up is at  Tricia’s blog, The Miss Rumphius Effect.


Bleak February is here, and everywhere is tapestry of brown and grey.  The snow from last week’s storm has just about melted away, but the forecast for tomorrow morning is…snow.  Ugh.  I believe the time has come to think Spring.

I’ve been looking through seed catalogues and gardening books, trying to plan a garden at our farm.  I’m thinking peonies and delphiniums, some lavender and definitely some hydrangeas.  Every seed catalogue promises and entices…and I’d much rather be thinking flowers, than thinking February.

February: Thinking of Flowers by Jane Kenyon

Now wind torments the field,
turning the white surface back
on itself, back and back on itself,
like an animal licking a wound.

Nothing but white–the air, the light;
only one brown milkweed pod
bobbing in the gully, smallest
brown boat on the immense tide.

A single green sprouting thing
would restore me. . . .

Then think of the tall delphinium,
swaying, or the bee when it comes
to the tongue of the burgundy lily.

Slice of Life Tuesday:The Halfway Point

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halfway there

Tuesday marks the halfway point of our school year.  I spent some time after school on Monday tidying up and clearing  out old charts and debris from projects long ago completed.  It didn’t quite feel like the late August straightening out, thank goodness, but there was a similar sense of a new chapter beginning.  Today, rubrics are turned in, bins and binders will be cleaned out, and we prepare for a whole set of “new stuff”.

The second semester. The second half of the school year. The home stretch.

This is the time when I tend to feel most vulnerable as a teacher.  By this time of the year, June suddenly does not feel so far away; I begin the think of Spring Break, the short February recess we get, and the field trips we have planned for April and June.  The calendar might say that we have five more months of school, but that time does not feel nearly enough for all that’s left to do.

I worry that we have not done enough. Read enough. Written enough. Spent time tussling over ideas and meaning enough.

I worry that I am beginning to feel the concerns of the school year (some petty and some not) pull me down, and make me feel discouraged by the way things often are: for all the change we see from year to year, some things just stay the same.

And I feel tired; teaching is  physically exhausting, and the grey January to end of February months do little to clear away the winter doldrums.

So, this is when I reach for my teacher-heroes, and re-read passages from their books, blog posts, and Tweets.  I need to be refilled with  September energy and resolve, with the freshness of September joy.

And so, I began today with Vicki Vinton.  Vicki is usually flying around the world helping teachers like me achieve their teaching visions; or, Vicki is writing another book to show us how to make those visions real.  Her posts are few and far between, but each one is such a gem.  Each one seems to say exactly what I need to hear, when I need to hear it!

This post, for example, got right to the heart of what was really worrying me: that I had failed my students, that I wasn’t a good enough teacher, that I had wasted time.  And Vicki’s wise words made me rethink where we were in our school year, and what was (in fact) the most important thing: teaching my kids in a way that sticks, and preserving my own love of teaching.  I read these lines over and over:

“And so… I ask you this: What are you doing to cultivate passion in the readers and writers in your rooms? And what passions are you cultivating and nurturing in yourself, knowing that they will fuel and sustain you far more than failure and grit?”

I thought about all the books my kids have been reading…

I thought about all the ways in which we’ve plunged into all sort of writing genres for so many varied purposes…

And I thought about the sound of purposeful chatter and downright silliness…

I thought about the books that are stacked by my desk at home, and by my bedside which fill me with  wisdom and delight…

I thought about my teaching friends all over this great good world who meet me online to chat about the work we do, applaud each others’ efforts, and urge each other on…

And I decide to forego thoughts of failure. Bring on the second half of the year…there is so much good work to be done!




It’s Monday and Here’s What I’m Reading #IMWAYR:February 1st., 2016

Visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to participate in the kidlit version of this weekly meme.

One of my New Years’ resolutions is to read more graphic novels, primarily because my students are really drawn to them.  Both strong and struggling  readers in my class seem equally drawn to this genre, and I see such a variety of topics and genres being encompassed within the realm of graphic novels.


a bag of marbles.jpg

bag of marbles 2

A Bag of Marbles is based on the true story of a family caught in Nazi-occupied Paris, and having to spend the war years in a desperate journey to safety.   For ten year old Joseph and his brother Maurice, danger begins the day their mother stitches yellow stars on their jackets.  Soon, their beloved Paris becomes too perilous for their family, and their father gives them 10,000 francs to travel all alone to the south of France, which is a free zone. They will find safety and their older brothers, their father assures them, until such time as it is possible to live freely and safely in Paris once again.  The two boys manage to make their way  to Menton, on the Italian border, but not without many a close call.

I was fascinated by the many twists and turns of this journey, where the boys encountered kind people as well as collaborators quite happy to turn them in.  And, even when safety was at last at hand, events suddenly changed and the situation would often be dire once again.  I thought Vincent Bailly’s artwork did so much to bring the settings and emotions to life.  This would be a wonderful book to share with students in my class, who would be so interested to know what it was like to be Jewish in Nazi occupied France, a time of great peril for these citizens.  The graphic novel format allows the reader to “see” so many perspectives all at once – which, I think, could lead to many seeds for discussion and written responses.

Emily Carroll’s Through The Woods was simply terrifying.  There were six stories in all, strange, mysterious and spine tingling, just as the jacket copy promises.  I was so glad that I chose to read these on a sunny afternoon with my dog Sophie lying near, alert to any danger, and I kept her close at hand for hours after.  Each story is beautifully crafted, and although you the reader just KNOW that nothing good is about to happen…you are compelled to keep reading.  The illustrations are even more terrifying, and I still have visions of these racing around in my head.  Not a good thing.

Some kids will LOVE this, and others will run screaming from the classroom.  You, the teacher, will definitely have to make the call as to which student to share this book with!