Celebrate This Week: Learning, friendship, farm gifts


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

First, I have to celebrate the learning in 202, and my fabulous group of sixth graders.  This week, we brought all our research about the Constitutional Convention of 1787 together and created newspapers.  Project based learning always takes more time, but I know that it’s a worthy endeavor when I hear my kids discussing the events they reported upon with confidence and interest.


Next, I celebrate #5bookFriday, which has become a wonderful tradition in 202.  My kids sign up to book talk, and this becomes an event to both aspire to share as well as get excited about listening to.  It’s so much better when students hear about great books from each other – they are empowered readers!

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Neither Allison Jackson not I were able to make it to NCTE 15, but thanks to thoughtful friends (Fran McVeigh and Ryan Scala!), we felt included in this most kind and unexpected way:

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 4.34.43 PMFran and Ryan

So, I celebrate friends like these!

Twitter allowed me to stay connected to all the great learning that was going on in Minneapolis, however.  Again, I am so grateful to generous colleagues who share their notes and the wise words of those we trust to bring us new and inspiring ideas with which to teach. I celebrate my fellow educators, who “get” this essential idea:

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Finally, I celebrate the last of our town’s farmer’s market.  It’s been a wonderful Sunday tradition to spend some time admiring the fruits and vegetables stacked in a glorious array of jeweled, joyful plenty.  Today, we bid the farmer, bakers, and honey makers goodbye until next Spring:

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Poetry Friday:“Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda

People light candles during a vigil in Kathmandu November 15, 2015, following the deadly attacks in Paris. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar - RTS75NH

People light candles during a vigil in Kathmandu November 15, 2015, following the deadly attacks in Paris. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

Today’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect

This has been a long week of trying to make sense of the world we live in.  This week, Paris has been on the mind, as we listen to the horrific details of the events last Friday.  And this week, the right-wing hate rhetoric has also been its own horror show right here in America.  On NPR’s morning news,  I heard a verse of this poem recited in the context of this week…and I have have read it in full many time since.  The very idea of silence and stillness in the entire world sounds desperately needed right now:

“Keeping Quiet”

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,

if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.

Slice of Life Tuesday: On the other side of school doors.

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life community at Two Writing Teachers!

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life community at Two Writing Teachers!

When the last bell rings signaling the end of the school day, I am in the safety of my classroom grading, tidying up, or preparing to meet with a student.  The sixth grade hallway just outside our classroom door, is a  a loud blur of activity, with lockers smashing open and then shut, books being flung into backpacks, and kids racing for the exit doors.  Within ten minutes, peace and stillness descends upon the building…every ounce of energy seems to have flown out the doors with those kids.

Last Thursday, I found myself on the other side of the school doors at dismissal time.  I’d spent most of the day in a hospital waiting room, all hushed quiet and nothing but adult decorum.  On my way back home from the pharmacy, I found myself right in front of the middle school down the street from our house – at exactly 3:08…dismissal time.  Traffic was at a standstill when the doors burst open and hordes of exuberant middle schoolers exploded out of the stately brick building.


A group of boys tumbled down the steps, passing a lunchbox to and fro.  Soon, it was flying across the road and over the fence into the soccer field, much to their collective glee. Groups of kids zoomed this way and that, shouting and laughing at the top of their lungs. Some hauled enormous book bags, music equipment, and tattered looking projects.  Some cartwheeled on the lawn, and some collected around the benches; nothing was done without great energy…and noise.

As I waited for traffic to begin moving again, I had a few moments to reflect upon what it is that I do for a living, and spend so much of my time thinking about: plotting and planning and managing the learning lives of irrepressible, mercurial middle schoolers. All the activity going on to the left and right of me that cool Fall day was not so different from what needs to be directed and channeled in Room 202 on a daily, minute by minute basis.

I could see the driver ahead of me shaking her head in exasperation and impatience. But I have to confess deeply enjoying the scene.  Middle school kids have a special place in my heart, they are my tribe.  It was great fun, for once, to be on the other side of school doors at dismissal.



Our read aloud project: great thinking and some arts and crafts


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

Last Monday was Red Kayak project day, so my kids walked through our classroom door laden with bits and pieces of their projects – the parts each one was responsible for.  There was great excitement in the air as groups came together on the reading rug and in various spots around our room and put their projects together.  Some were elaborate, and some straightforward, but everyone was pleased.  It entailed a lot of work, and I loved listening in to the conversations which went into the production of this project – as I do every year, for this has been a cornerstone project for many, many years.


We fold so much into the read aloud that forms the basis for our project – thinking  aloud Notice and Note sign posts and what they mean, growing theories about character and plot, wrapping our heads around symbolism and theme, trying to figure out the arc of a story.  It takes time, and even though there is never enough time to get done what we want to get done, I’ve always felt that this project justified the time invested.

So often, we ask our kids to write about their reading without giving them meaningful ideas about what to write about.  Last summer, along with some amazing teachers, I read and kept notes on Lisa Graff’s Lost In The Sun.  It was such a revealing experience, for I came to understand just how much my own writing about reading depended upon my knowledge of the reading experience, through all the pedagogical material I had read as a teacher, and because I was a Comparative Literature major in college.  When I stepped back, and looked over my entries, and tried to see them through the eyes of my sixth graders, I began to see some of the challenges they would encounter when asked to write about their reading.  Front loading the “stuff” of literature gives them a whole structure and vocabulary with which to write.

In the lead up to project day, I loved listening to the way my kids took that “stuff” and challenged each other in discussing the novel, and the way the different components of story map and Notice and Note interacted and intersected.  Here’s the project template:



I think what I enjoyed most about these discussions was the fact that my kids felt so confident about their thinking, so invested in the idea that they had important things to say.  On project day, they were able to show just such thinking in their presentations, moving fluidly from one idea to the next, and making critical connections between (for example) why a Memory Moment figured at a certain point in the story and how it impacted the plot.

Even though there was a certain arts and craftsy element to some parts of these presentations (I am forever mindful of this post by Donalyn Miller about such projects), like this one for Notice and Note signposts:

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the thinking was strong, and meaningful:


Now, we move on to realistic fiction book clubs, and  I can’t wait to listen in to these discussions.  So, today, I celebrate the readers and thinkers in my classroom!



Poetry Friday: November Rain by Linda Pastan

Poetry Friday is hosted this Friday by Bridget at Wee Words for Wee Ones

A bleak and wet November day.  The big windows in the hospital waiting room, where I spent the first half of the day, looked onto a busy street.  Through the rain spattered windows, I could see umbrellas of all sizes and colors darting this way and that. The sight reminded me of my office window on Lexington Avenue many, many years ago.  I used to love to eat my lunch (usually bought from the food truck around the corner) sitting on the  sputtering old radiator, watching scenes just like this from 33 stories above.  It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed the wares of New York City food trucks, and even longer since I’ve worked in an office building, but looking out at umbrellas in today’s rain made those faraway memories very sweet indeed.

November Rain

How separate we are
under our black umbrellas—dark
planets in our own small orbits,

hiding from this wet assault
of weather as if water
would violate the skin,

as if these raised silk canopies
could protect us
from whatever is coming next—

December with its white
enamel surfaces; the numbing
silences of winter.

From above we must look
like a family of bats—
ribbed wings spread

against the rain,
swooping towards any
makeshift shelter.

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Finally! My own copy of Reading Nonfiction:Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies


I knew I had struck a teacher’s goldmine when I brought what I had learned from  Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s Notice & Note into my sixth grade classroom.  The signposts, together with “What we know/What we wonder” from Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton’s What Readers Really Dotransformed the way we approached reading fiction, as well as the way we talked and wrote about our reading.  So, I was thrilled to learn that a nonfiction Notice and Note was in the works, and waited (and waited…) until that day finally arrived and a copy of Reading Nonfiction:Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies was finally in my hands.

And not a moment too soon.

I would be the first to admit, that teaching my kids how to read nonfiction in a strategic way, especially in the content area of Social Studies, has always presented unique challenges.  Secretly, I have always harbored the distinct feeling that my nonfiction reading instruction was hit or miss, sometimes (judging from the faces of my sixth graders) more miss than hit.  Even my most fluent readers seemed to skim the surface of informational texts,

I love that Kylene and Bob begin by acknowledging the challenges teachers like me face in our instruction – not only do we have to teach our kids strategies to help think through and comprehend their informational texts, but we also have to create an instructional atmosphere that nurtures a mindset for reading nonfiction, described here by Kylene and Bob:

This book had to discuss 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.

That is a tall order for teaching!  Thankfully, Kylene and Bob guide us through this involved and complicated process with wisdom and humor. Reading Nonfiction is organized into four sections in such a smart way.  

I. Issues to Consider: Here, Kylene and Bob present ten issues that collectively helped formulate their ideas in writing this book.  These issues span ways in which we can define nonfiction, the developmental demands we need to take into consideration when choosing appropriate texts for our students, and the issue of rigor and relevance ( “rigor is about relevance and not about a Lexile score” –  let’s have a collective amen for that! (p.49).  I loved this thoughtful section, which addressed so many of the questions and concerns I have been mulling over for some time.

II. The Importance of Stance: In some ways, I consider this to be the heart of this book.  Kylene has been blogging about the thinking in this section since last Fall, and I took advantage of this by trying out some of the ideas in my own sixth grade classroom with amazing success.  Here’s how they introduce the importance of stance:

The reader needs to remember that a work of nonfiction will try to assert something about his world, and he needs to take those assertions with a grain of skepticism. They may be perfectly true, they may be somewhat slanted or biased, or they may be flat out lies. (p. 76)

This questioning stance is shaped by three “Big Questions”:

  • What surprised me?
  • What did the author think I already knew?
  • What changed, challenged, or confirmed what I already knew?

This questioning stance was a game changer in my classroom, it gave us a lens through which to view the text, a perspective with which to read more attentively and therefore more meaningfully.  The discussions that these questions opened up for us were amazing  for I could see real, purposeful engagement with the content of the text.  As Bob writes, these questions allowed my students to think “more deeply about what we’d read. Perhaps that’s because we weren’t just reading facts on a page.  We were thinking about how information fit with what we already knew.  That helped make the reading more relevant.”  This is exactly the kind of reading that sticks, because kids own the process.

III. The Power of Signposts: Having used the six signposts for fiction with such great success, I looked forward to learning what these nonfiction scaffolds may be.  There are five, and here’s the graphic which Kylene so helpfully Tweeted out in last night’s Twitter chat (here’s the link to the archive:https://t.co/AXxw7v0ni8):

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These signposts dovetail perfectly with the three Big Questions, “they help students think about the Big Questions with more specificity” (p. 118).  I am so looking forward to introducing them to my students, knowing that they will help us dig deeper into all the informational reading that we will be engaged in, especially when we begin our nonfiction unit of study.   As with the signposts for fiction, these will enrich not only our reading work, but also our writing work.

IV. The Role of Strategies: This was an eminently useful section – hands on ways in which we can “make the invisible thinking processes visible” (pg. 182). These seven strategies have common aims:

…these strategies have two things in common: they require students to do some rereading of a text, and they encourage students to talk about what they have read.  Both practices – rereading and talking – have been shown to be important in improving students’ comprehension” (pg. 184).

Some of the seven strategies were familiar to me, but I confess that I have not used them in as targeted a way as Kylene and Bob describe.  So, I look forward to giving them another go this year, with better success.

The appendices are filled with lists of resources, text samples, links to templates, and QR codes directing the reader to videos of classroom discussions – a wealth of useful information!

So, there it is, a guide to another Beers & Probst must read, must have in your library new book.  It was hard waiting for it…but so worth the wait!



Two Writing Teacher’s post: Using the writer’s notebook to grow ideas.

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Posting on Two Writing Teachers today: Using the Writer’s Notebook to grow ideas:


This is the last post in our series about information writing. Join us for our Twitter chat on Monday, November 9th. at 8:30 EST when we discuss information writing – search and tag #TWTBlog to participate!