Poetry Friday: For My Son, Reading Harry Potter by Michael Blumenthal

Poetry Friday is hosted by  the Poetry Friday Roundup  is hosted by  Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Our classroom library is a busy place, a messy place.  Books are checked out, book talked, and sometimes put back where they “belong”… and most often, not.  Keeping our library somewhat organized is a somewhat impossible task. But that is a good thing, I think, because it means that it is used…and its use leads to moments like this:


when Brooke was so deeply lost in her book, that she didn’t hear the bell ring and (truth to tell) couldn’t care less.  Her classmates took their seats, and then rose for the Pledge…but Brooke was far away in Maine, with Reena and Zora and grumpy old Mrs. Falala.

I think I love this part of teaching best – finding great books for kids, and then watching as they lose themselves in stories.

For My Son, Reading Harry Potter


How lovely, to be lost
as you are now
in someone else’s thoughts
an imagined world
of witchcraft, wizardry and clans
that takes you in so utterly
all the ceaseless background noise
of life’s insistent pull and drag soon fades
and you are left, a young boy
captured in attention’s undivided daze,
as I was once
when books defined a world
no trouble could yet penetrate
or others spoil, or regret stain,
when, between covers, under covers,
all is safe and sure
and each Odysseus makes it home again
and every transformation is to bird or bush
or to a star atwinkle in some firmament of light,
or to a club that lets you, and all others, in.
Oh, how I wish for you
that life may let you turn and turn
these pages, in whose spell
time is frozen, as is pain and fright and loss
before you’re destined to be lost again
in that disordered and distressing book
your life will write for you and cannot change.

Slice of Life Tuesday:The children are listening…

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

It’s election season, and I, like teachers in every classroom, am tip toeing around the circus that the 2016 Presidential election has become.  In years past, the Presidential Election was an exciting experience: a civics lesson in real time, when the machinations and compromises of the Constitutional Convention were lifted off the dry pages of our text books and visible in vivid color right there on our television screens, and in our news papers.

But not this year.

This year, I received emails from parents regarding their children’s homework assignment to watch the debate.  No, they said, thanks to the content of the most recent news about one of the candidates, they would rather not have their children watch the debate and listen to what they felt  sure their children would hear.  And I was with these parents.  I understood.

This year, our election season has become a minefield of words and events that we teachers are trying to navigate our way through.  On the one hand, an election is an opportunity to bring the real world into our classrooms so that our students can see democracy and governance in action.  On the other, there is a sinister darkness to this election, a vile hatefulness in bloom with  news story after news story.  One candidate has stopped talking about issues we can research and debate in our classrooms, and taken up things we cannot discuss at all.

But,  the children are listening.  They are listening closely.

Which is why I took such comfort in Michelle Obama’s electrifying speech in New Hampshire late last week.  She is listening, too.  And, unlike teachers like us in classrooms all over the country, she has the bully pulpit and the freedom to speak out.   Our schools may be “bully free zones” with “zero tolerance”policies for hate speech, but we teachers must tread carefully about who we name and what we say about this Presidential election. Not Michelle Obama, though.  And I am grateful for that, because our FLOTUS spoke about and for our kids:

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Because consider this: If all of this is painful to us as grown women, what do you think this is doing to our children? What message are our little girls hearing about who they should look like, how they should act? What lessons are they learning about their value as professionals, as human beings, about their dreams and aspirations? And how is this affecting men and boys in this country? Because I can tell you that the men in my life do not talk about women like this. And I know that my family is not unusual. And to dismiss this as everyday locker-room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere.

The men that you and I know don’t treat women this way. They are loving fathers who are sickened by the thought of their daughters being exposed to this kind of vicious language about women. They are husbands and brothers and sons who don’t tolerate women being treated and demeaned and disrespected. And like us, these men are worried about the impact this election is having on our boys who are looking for role models of what it means to be a man.

Our children are listening…I hope many had the chance to hear what Michelle Obama had to say.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Moo by Sharon Creech

imwayr-2015-1It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.

One of the great highlights of last summer was being able to attend the Washington County State Fair.  We had heard so much about it ever since we’d purchased our farm in upstate New York, for every where we went (or so it seemed) the whole point of summer work was to be able to “show” at the fair.  On the day we visited, we saw kids of all  ages proudly “showing” every variety of farm livestock to be found: chickens, goats, horses, ponies, hens, roosters and cows.  For a citified person like me, it was all rather grand and marvelous.  Farm kids who “show” were so impressive…I was hooked!

Reading Sharon Creech’s enchanting new book, Moo, took me back to the world of the fair and gave me a whole new perspective on the kids who work so hard to train and groom their animals, day in and day out, so that they can glisten and gleam and have all the right moves at state fairs everywhere.

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The story is set in Maine, rural and lovely, to which twelve year old Reena and her seven year old brother Luke suddenly move from their bustling city life.  Before they can adjust fully to this new way of life, their parents volunteer their services to the crusty old lady on the farm next door…the one who owns a rambunctious  pig, an ever present snake, a rowdy cat…and a stubborn cow by the name of Zora.

Can Reena take on the task of getting Zora ready for the fair?  Will this 800 pounds of ornery stubbornness get in the way of Reena’s new dream: to show at the county fair?

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There is just so much to love about this warm and funny story, not the least of which is the way Sharon Creech plays with words and white space in whimsical ways.  I shared Moo with my sixth graders last Friday, and was thrilled to see it begin its rounds among of long list of kiddos excited to read the latest treasure from one of their favorite authors.




#DigiLit Sunday & Celebrate this week!: Why I write…

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I’m combining two weekend memes today in celebration of writing:

I was a writer before I was a teacher, and it turns out that nothing has informed my teaching more deeply than this habit of having to write about what I’ve read, thought, and done over the course of a day, week, month, or school year.

I write to shape my thinking about experiences in my classroom: the way my kids learn, and the things I can do to extend and expand upon that learning.  Writing about our classroom life in an honest and open way in my notebooks an on my blog allows me to be a reflective teacher; for, in the process of  examining what went well and what did not, I find a better way to move forward.

I write to notice the world and the way I make my way in it.  A beautiful Fall day, the quiet of our classroom as we work to become better readers and writers, the noisy and spirited conversations that erupt when there are interesting things to talk about…all of these find a way into my writing life.  We can hold onto moments and prolong their joy when we give ourselves the chance to write about them – and so I write to treasure and preserve memories.

I write to become a better writer – to flex my creative muscles as I reach for this or that craft move.  In every blogpost or notebook entry, I find myself trying something new and seeing how it fits my own writing voice.

I write to become a better writing teacher.  Through the act of struggling to formulate cohesive thoughts and write about them in an engaging way, I learn how to teach with greater clarity.  My struggles are my kids’ struggles: what to write about? how should I collect my thoughts and organize them? in what ways can I make my writing interesting so that my readers will want to read my words…and remember them?  Wading through and finding a way through these struggles gives me insight into the writing process, which, in turn, become the seeds for mini lessons and student conferences.

And, most importantly, I write to be mentor to my students – to set an example of what it means to live a writing life.  When I write alongside them, or share something from my writer’s notebook, the implicit message is always this: yes, I know that writing is hard, and often frustrating work…but here’s why it is so worth it, and here’s how we can do this work together.

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Poetry Friday:The Story of Ferdinand the Bull by Matt Mason

Poetry Friday is hosted by Irene at Live Your Poem.

Tucked away in our attic, is a box full of picture books we used to read to our three kids, night after night, when they were of picture book age.  I haven’t read any of these books in a very long time, but I could recite them all – word for word. I have a feeling that my children would as well…which is what happens when you are read the same books night after night, because you just have to hear these stories.

These early books, these beloved books, are deeply woven into the fabric of our family’s memories of bedtime, and the habit of reading before drifting off into sleep.  These were stories of rhythm and rhyme, of a gentle world, and small moments: Goodnight Moon, Blueberries For SalMake Way For Ducklings, Madeline, The Snowy Day, and this:



Remember Ferdinand? My children loved Ferdinand…they loved his sweet spirit, and the way he refused to give up his vision of the world as he saw it – a world in which it was enough to pay attention to flowers, just flowers.  I never thought of the lessons my children took from these early books very much, but these days, when they are all grown up and far away, I do.On some days, I wish I could haul that box of books into my sixth grade classroom and read them aloud again.   I think they would find wisdom and comfort in these luminous stories…as I still do.

The Story of Ferdinand the Bull  by Matt Mason


Dad would come home after too long at work
and I’d sit on his lap to hear
the story of Ferdinand the Bull; every night,
me handing him the red book until I knew
every word, couldn’t read,
just recite along with drawings
of a gentle bull, frustrated matadors,
the all-important bee, and flowers—
flowers in meadows and flowers
thrown by the Spanish ladies.
Its lesson, really,
about not being what you’re born into
but what you’re born to be,
even if that means
not caring about the capes they wave in your face
or the spears they cut into your shoulders.
And Dad, wonderful Dad, came home
after too long at work
and read to me
the same story every night
until I knew every word, couldn’t read,
just recite.

“Writing to think” with StoryCorps

One of my goals this year is to work towards essay as envisioned by Katherine Bomer in her book, The Journey is Everything.  Week before last, we laid the groundwork by beginning the habit of  “writing to think”, which I wrote about here.  We had brainstormed a chart to launch this kind of writing:


and my students mostly used these ideas to wonder and write about.  It was a great start, but I wanted my kids to reach into the wider world, I wanted to challenge them to think deeper about issues, and to think about their own perspectives on these issues.  My sixth graders are conscious of the larger and more complicated world beyond their safe and lovely suburb, they are curious about what they see and hear about this world, and they want to know their place in it.  Writing to think is one way to engage their imagination, to shift their focus a bit from their world to the bigger world.

Last week, in an effort to present slices of the bigger world for my students to consider and write about, I reframed our “writing to think” objectives a bit:


I shared a StoryCorps podcast I had just heard and been moved by.  These were stories about belonging and trying to find one’s place, they were personal and yet they intersected with the bigger world of race, learning disabilities, and prejudice.  These were stories, certainly, to think and write about:

https://storycorps.org/embed//I paused after each story (there were three), so that we could think, write, and share.  I modeled my own writing thinking for the first one, so that my kids had a frame of reference for the kind of writing we were aiming for:

“I’m thinking about the courage it must have taken for a 17 year old to be a trail blazer for civil rights.  His parents fought for his right to attend LSU and I’m, wondering about the resistance they must have struggled through from the white community and from the people at LSU, and I want to research this case to understand it better. How did they prepare A.P. for the prejudice he would face? And how does a parent even do that? I’m wondering what A.P. must think about the America he lives in today, so much of the promise of what his parents hoped for has been realized…and so much has not.  What is L.S.U. like  today in terms of integration and race relations?”

I wanted my kids to extrapolate beyond the personal stories of each of these individuals to the bigger issues they faced, and to write to think through those issues.  Here’s what one student had to say about Eileen’s story:

“Eileen was not stupid, she had a learning problem.  I’m wondering how come none of her teachers ever figured that out and tried to help her. I mean, that’s what teachers and school is for.  I’m wondering what she could have done if they had figured out her problem, she could have maybe gone to college cause she seems really smart and hardworking actually.  I’m wondering if she went to  poor school, if that happens in poor schools that kids don’t get help. That’s just wrong.  School is supposed to help every kid.”

As we shared our writing, I could see my students reaching for ideas beyond the personal and of the bigger world: education, disease, medicine, race, prejudice, inequality.   They empathize, they want to know more, and they are beginning to see how writing allows a thoughtful exploration of ideas to begin.  Somewhere in these explorations, I have a feeling, are topics they will feel moved to write essays about.

At the end of the podcast, the editors play voicemails they have received for previous broadcasts.  We didn’t listen to these in class, but they made such a powerful impression on me that I intend to do so this Friday (our “writing to think” day), and to invite my students to leave messages for the podcast we will listen to.  Students who wish to do so will write them out on index cards first, and then record their messages on my iphone so that I can call them in.  It will be, I think, a powerful lesson in how to connect and be compassionate in the wider world.






Slice of Life Tuesday: Ready to be found!

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers


We came up the trail, a sea of golden ferns on either side.  So far, the path up the mountain had been fairly gentle, but we knew that soon it would curve sharply and then rise steeply.  The last time we’d hiked this part of Merck Forest in Vermont, it had been a perfect Indian Summer day; but Fall had definitely arrived, and there was a bite in the air with rain clouds threatening.  We quickened our pace in the hopes of making it to the top (and its glorious view of the mountains of New York and Vermont in all their Fall glory) and back before the storm.

My ancient L.L. Bean blucher moccasins, its soles worn smooth with years of use, slipped and slid this way and that once we began the trickier part of the trail, this sentimental choice in footwear was perhaps not the best one.  My hiking partners moved ahead while I scrambled between vines and roots, and then stumbled upon this sight:


There it sat, delicately wedged into a spot sure to catch the eye of some child making his or her way down the mountain and in search of a furry, blue friend.  This friend smiled patiently, its eyes fixed steadfastly on the path.  It looked content to wait, to be found.  It was just a matter of time before its rightful owner would come scampering down the path and spy it sitting there, in the crook of a tree, placed perfectly for a woodland reunion.

Fingers crossed.