Poetry Friday:Marching Through a Novel by John Updike

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

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We’ve just begun our last round of book clubs in our sixth grade year.  Usually, our book club rounds follow genre studies, with a read aloud to analyze the structure and characteristics of that particular genre.  But this year, my students asked if they could close the year with  whatever genre they wanted, which sounded like an excellent idea to me.  Book groups and partnerships soon formed around every genre in our classroom library, from historical fiction to dystopian to realistic fiction.

When we gathered on our reading rug to plan our meeting dates, one student remarked at this range of books, which prompted another to ask, “how do they do this? The authors, how do they keep coming up with so many different types of stories and characters?”  This , of course, led to a high spirited discussion about imagination and craft and topics, and how writers pick and choose what they want to write about and how they write it.   Authors, it was decided, were “imagination magicians”…a term I instantly loved, and intend to use in my teaching life.

Here’s one of those imagination magicians, telling us something about his process:

Marching Through a Novel by  John Updike

Each morning my characters
greet me with misty faces
willing, though chilled, to muster
for another day’s progress
through dazzling quicksand,
the march of blank paper.
With instant obedience
they change clothes and mannerisms,
drop a speech impediment,
develop a motive backwards
to suit the deed’s done.
They extend skeletal arms
for the handcuffs of contrivance,
slog through docilely
maneuvers of coincidence,
look toward me hopefully,
their general and quartermaster,
for a clearer face, a bigger heart.
I do what l can for them,
but it is not enough.
Forward is my order,
though their bandages unravel
and some have no backbones
and some turn traitor
like heads with two faces
and some fall forgotten
in the trench work of loose threads,
poor puffs of cartoon flak.
Forward. Believe me, I love them
though I march them to finish them off.

#IMWAYR: Not reading…but making #cyberPD plans to!


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

During these last weeks of school, I simply stop reading anything but student work – there is just so much of it to process!  But, I can look ahead and make plans for summer reading and that is what I am up to today.

Each summer, the #cyberPD community gathers to read a book together, and share what we’ve learned and how we plan to apply this new learning. You can learn more about #cyberPD at Cathy Mere’s blog, where she describes the process better than I can.

Our first task is to share our book stacks – here’s what I have packed up in my “summer to-reads” box already:


#Celebratelu: Celebrating projects!

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

We are closing in on Memorial Day weekend, a big one for us as we “get back” two unused snow days in addition to the usual three day weekend. When we return, it will be June, and my kiddos will be living and breathing summer dreams of swimming, lazing about, and freedom from school…even though we will STIL have three more weeks of school.

Last week, I turned our classroom over to my sixth graders.   They are working on their multi genre writing projects – choosing a topic and writing about it in four of the twelve different genres we have learned to write, starting book partnerships to dig deep and read through two books in the time we have left, and diving into various history projects that will put what they are learning in social studies to the test.

From Monday through Thursday, I stepped back and watched as my kiddos took my simple instructions: create a game of courage and chance that plots out the dangers and sacrifices made along the Underground Railroad this week, honor the brave men and women who were part of this civil rights movement.

Using their class notes and a few additional research tools, my students got to work (some right away, some eventually, and some reluctantly).  It took all of the following to get to our goal – game day:

patience and perseverance: even the best initial ideas need tweaking and refining, nothing ever is as easy as you first think it’s going to be.

communication: no one is allowed to be a show boat or a slacker, but everyone needs to participate and be heard.  Sometimes, may want to scream at your team mates, but that’s the best way to ensure that no one listens to you.  

trade offs: “you can’t always get what you want” is a fact of life not just words to sing, you’ve got to learn to give a little to get a little (that might be a song, too!)…and that’s hard to do.

staying focused on the purpose: it’s all too easy for a group project to run off the tracks if you lose sight of the purpose of the project in the first place.  You may need to take turns reining each other in, but that’s just part of group work.

sometimes the people you really wanted to work with are just the people you’d best NOT work with: this was a tricky lesson to learn, and one that brought no small degree of frustration and tears.  

Game day was great fun.  We took turns rotating around the classroom to play each game, and then having a “say back” at the end.  And, even in this, there was something to learn:

Your ideas may be clear to you but not to others – directions are hard to write. It was interesting to hear how directions could be revised and refined, there is a reason why I stress working towards clarity in our writing workshop!

So, this weekend I celebrate projects: they are messy, noisy, and often frustrating – but we learn so much about ourselves and others when we work together to create something new. Project based learning is so worth the effort (and the occasional headache!).

Poetry Friday: Heat by H.D.

Poetry Friday is hosted by  Kiesha at Whispers from the Ridge

summer haze

It was above 90 degrees today.My kids came in from recess sweaty, stinky, and s-l-o-w…as in “I’m fried from the sun and can’t be expected to think” s-l-o-w.

By the time I left school for home, the temperatures had soared to 96. Yikes!  My minivan, normally a lovely cocoon of quiet after a day of nothing but noise, was hot enough to roast a Thanksgiving turkey (or so it felt).  By the time the air conditioning made its presence known, I was already pulling into my driveway.

Every blade of grass seemed to be wilting, every flower drooping, every leaf curling into its own cool, green self.

It’s May, but it felt like August.  Late this evening, it still feels like August.  And I am not ready for August heat, quite yet.

Heat by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle )

O wind, rend open the heat,

cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air—
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut through the heat—
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

Slice of Life Tuesday: It’s time to do…and be watchful

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

We are in that interesting, end of the school year place in our classroom life: on the one hand we are ready to:
Image result for getting it doneWith six weeks to go,  I’ve turned over our writing workshop entirely to my kiddos.  They have just begun their multi genre unit , which they will navigate mostly on their own, with some guidance from me if and when needed.  In history, I story tell as they  work to incorporate what we’ve learned into various interactive projects (games, skits, narrative stories, learning tools).  And in reading, we read alone and together, talking when we can, writing our thoughts out when we feel like, and sharing the joy of one last read aloud.  My kids have learned to do and get things done; in that way, my work with them is largely done.  Now, it’s their chance to show what they know, what they can do…what their sixth grade year of learning has yielded.

On the other hand, when it comes to other aspects of our sixth grade life, it is also the time to be extra vigilant, for my kids to know:

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They are too-comfortable with their sixth grade lives – all the nervousness of entering middle school is long past, and they are edging into seventh grade wise aleck-dom.  Their old (and very sweet) enthusiasm has given way to a practiced appearance of boredom, a sense of  entitlement and a disregard for authority.  They are entering a dangerous part of adolescence, pushing away and pushing back just when they are most confused and need our guidance.  It’s an easy time to step back, throw up one’s hands, and complain. It’s an easy time, often,  NOT to like them.  And sometimes it’s easy just to look away from what they do, to pretend to not hear what they say and not see what they do…it’s the end of the school year, and we are all tired.  BUT, this is when I find I need to be extra watchful, to let them know that my eyes are trained on them and that I am hoping to see the fruits of all the work we have done together to practice every kindness, to build a compassionate and responsible community.  I want them to know that I still have expectations, and that I will hold them accountable.

So there you have it, the story of my last weeks of school: stepping back in one way, and stepping up in another.

Poetry Friday: Time with You by Gary Soto

Welcome to Poetry Friday, the round up is right here!!!

Cherry blossoms and dogwoods are blooming these days, and so (apparently) is love in our middle school.  So many whisperings of who likes who are floating through the air, and so many rumors of who likes who are swirling back (it is middle school, after all).  I see furtive looks, sweet smiles, and gossipy clusters of kids with hearts aflutter.

It is Spring, and love is blooming…

tree heart

Time with You by Gary Soto


We’re thirteen, almost fourteen,
And so much in love

We want the years to pass—
Clouds roll at super speed, rains fall,

Flowers unfold and die at the snap
Of our fingers. I want to stuff sand

Through a fat hourglass,
And rip the pages from the calendar.

Let me blow candles from my cake.
Let my puppy stretch to full size.

When we turn eighteen,
Time will become a canoe on a still lake.


Slice of Life Tuesday: Prepping our kids for life

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

We are halfway through reading workshop, period two in our sixth grade day.  Period one was writing workshop, but its work spilled over into the next period and we just kept going.

Kids are spread out all over every work space – desk tops, reading rug, floor and even out into the hallway.  The place, quite frankly, looks a mess.  Since all our laptops are busy being used elsewhere in our school, we are working on photo essays the old fashioned way – big sheets of easel note paper, magazines for pictures, markers, and scissors.  In between stretches of purposeful work (gathering pictures, framing a story, reading for information to add to the story, sequencing the narrative, and putting it all together) there are short bursts of tomfoolery (wise cracks, someone practicing using someone else’s crutches).  There is a steady hum of conversation punctuated by the occasional snort or laugh.  We are working hard.

Earlier in the year, first and second marking period for instance, the scenario would have been very different. Group projects then were often agonizing efforts, and some of them were entirely fruitless.  Turn and talks needed much prodding, and book club conversations needed careful supervisions.  It was exhausting.

Watching my kids at work this morning, I thought about this Tweet from last week’s Good to Great chat:

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In my Voxer conversations with teacher friends, we talk about this transfer all the time. The reading and writing part goes hand in hand with the thinking and living part. But, teaching the reading and writing and thinking, we always agree, is easier than the living. Teaching the living is messy, makes-you-want-to-pull-out-your-hair-work, because it is so unpredictable and progress is often unpredictable, with fits and starts and stops along the way.

And yet, the richness of our classroom lives depends upon this work. How carefully do our kids listen to each other? How deeply do they care about valuing each others’ ideas and making room in their thinking for their classmates’ thinking?  How often do they give each other wait time?  With what frequency and depth do they dip into their toolkits of strategies to help themselves, and each other, move through the difficult work of every day learning?

Cornelius’ Tweet led me to the work of Grant Wiggins, and a quote from an article he’d written many years ago, which I’d copied into my curriculum plan book:

Independent and self-regulated behavior is practiced all the time, not postponed until many discrete “sideline” activities are done over many lessons. You have to practice transfer to master it!

Have learners practice judgment, not just skill. Transfer is about judging which skill and knowledge to use when. Transfer is thus not about plugging in a “skill” but “judgment” – smart strategy – in the use of a repertoire of skills.

Grant Wiggins: What Is Transfer?

Practice and judgement.  Perhaps this is what Cornelius was referring to in his Tweet. We must make every day opportunities for practice and judgement, even when it doesn’t go as planned, even when we think we’re wasting time…

…because, as I look out at my kids working together, I know it was all so worth it.  Cornelius is right – our work is also about prepping our kids for life, and it is such important, worthwhile work.