poetry friday

Poetry Friday:The visible and the in-by Marge Piercy

Thanks to Buffy Silverman of Buffy’s Blog for hosting the Poetry Friday round-up!

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I’ve been spending time recently talking to one of my children about relationships – what happens to memories and love when a relationship ends? when the tethers of friendship fray and then give way?   Not having any wise answers of my own, I turn to poetry – and this one, I think, says what I feel about people in our lives and all the variations of relationships we seem destined to have…The visible and the in-by Marge Piercy


Some people move through your life
like the perfume of peonies, heavy
and sensual and lingering.

Some people move through your life
like the sweet musky scent of cosmos
so delicate if you sniff twice, it’s gone.

Some people occupy your life
like moving men who cart off
couches, pianos and break dishes.

Some people touch you so lightly you
are not sure it happened. Others leave
you flat with footprints on your chest.

Some are like those fall warblers
you can’t tell from each other even
though you search Petersen’s.

Some come down hard on you like
a striking falcon and the scars remain
and you are forever wary of the sky.

We all are waiting rooms at bus
stations where hundreds have passed
through unnoticed and others

have almost burned us down
and others have left us clean and new
and others have just moved in.

Slice of Life Tuesday:Thinking about think of Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana…


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I finished reading Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale a couple of weeks ago, and my copy of the book is now making its rounds from one happy and entranced reader in my classroom to the next.  But Raymie and her friends Beverly and Louisiana have been very much with me.   They are unforgettable characters, really, and the why of that unforgettable-ness has been much on my mind, because when I think of Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana, I think of the children I teach…especially now, when our time together is drawing to an end, when I want to remember as much about them as I can.

Yesterday, I listened again to this interview with Kate DiCamillo:


Actually, I listened to it twice.  Because the first time, I got stuck at this quote, and needed time to think about it and chew on the substance of it:

Raymie, she’s very much like the child that I was. Very introverted, watching, worrying, wondering, but also hopeful.

I have Raymies and Kates like this…they are watching and worrying and wondering, too.  I see this in the way their eyes focus and unfocus throughout the day.  Now they are here, watching, and then they are not, because they are off in some sixth grade zone of worrying and wondering. Many of them have much to worry about, because, as Raymie discovered when her father went off with that dental hygienist, grown ups often do things  that the kids who love them, and trust and need them, cannot even imagine they would do.  This is why they hope, and why they have to believe in the power of hoping, as Raymie did with her plans to become Little Miss Central Florida Tire so that her father would have a means to live up to that hope.  I want my kids to know hope, too: hope in our classroom community, and hope in the great world beyond.  What am I doing to inspire and nurture hope?

The second bit of the interview that stopped me short was when Kate said this:

but it wasn’t until after I finished the book that I … [realized] that I was, as a kid, stronger than I thought I was. … Raymie does something that surprises herself and surprised me and made me realize … you’re stronger than you think you are.

And this is the part that gives me hope.  Because my kids always surprise themselves (often when they least expect it) by being stronger than they ever think they can be: they try new things, they push themselves to figure out new books and projects I dream up in the middle of the night, and they allow themselves to be kind when kindness is hard to summon up.  Because kindness is often hard to summon up in middle school, where simply surviving through the day is challenge number one.  What am I doing to inspire and nurture bravery?

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These are the questions rattling around in my teacher’s head and heart today, and, considering what had been weighing me down just a few days ago , these are just the sort of questions I need to be thinking about in these last weeks of school.

Celebrate This Week: Some perspective on being “average”


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

Today I celebrate being “average” – or, rather, I celebrate having some perspective on being “average”… which is what my students and I received for our PARCC scores last year.


When my principal shared this news with me, I went  through various stages of disbelief and grief: shock, confusion, mortification, embarrassment, shame…and sorrow.  What had happened? How could this be?  My principal was kind and supportive: here are some web sites and resources he said, you may want to think of some ways in which you can change up preparation he advised.

I walked back into my classroom in a daze, then sat at my desk and looked over our room…at the photograph of last year’s class:

I looked at each face, bright and happy, full of the joy and promise of being twelve and having so much growing and thriving ahead.  My kids were not (are not) average.  I thought of all the work we had done in our sixth grade year together: thinking, reading, writing, and questioning.  We had not thought in terms of below average, average or above average.  We had thought in terms of do your best,  push yourself, grow yourself, believe in yourself.

And then I thought about the test, and how the very structure of it ran counter to all the ways in which we had worked together to read, write and make meaning of text: experiencing the whole of a text in order to carefully decipher plot, character development and theme as opposed to excerpts of chapters (from texts that were developmentally inappropriate) and (even worse) poems.  I thought of the poorly worded questions, and the multiple choice answers which were calibrated to confuse rather than clarify.  I remembered how frustrated my students were when we had taken practice tests: what are they asking? what does this even mean? 

And then my shame gave way to anger.  I am all for assessments and accountability – I believe that both are vital to education, and to maintaining both rigor and relevance to what we teachers do in our classrooms every day of the school year.  But give us an assessment that aligns with what we teach, and how we teach.  Hold us accountable to meaningful teaching practices, the kind that we invest so much of our time and energy, the kind that we  commit ourselves to every single teaching day.

My kids have to know how to take tests, I know this.  There are many tests ahead of them, all of which will determine their entrance into high school classes, high school itself, and then college, graduate school and employment in the wider world.  I want them to be confident test takers, because so much of how I teach is geared towards making them confident learners: do your best,  push yourself, grow yourself, believe in yourself.   I want them not to see themselves in terms of calibrations of average but as being eminently capable of achieving anything.

In need of clarification ( and, yes, validation), I reached out to my Voxer group of teacher friends about tests, scores, and all that they have come to mean.  I loved these words from Julieanne Hartmatz:

I want them to be relaxed but I want them to be confident, because in life we have to do this, in life we have to take tests…we need to know how to do this world, but I don’t want to take away who they are and what it means to be human and know what really matters in the world…

Yes!  And so I think I am ready now to put the thought of “average” aside and move forward.  Learning my scores for last year at this stage, when we have just completed this year’s PARRC, did us no good.  Perhaps the scores for this year’s class will  be “average”, too.

But my kids are not average.  We are more than a single score – and that score  is but a single snapshot of our year long and life long learning lives, which are rich, meaningful, challenging and relevant.   We do work that matters.   And I celebrate that.

the art of knowing

Poetry Friday:Today by Billy Collins

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Poetry Friday is hosted by Jama at Jama’s Alphabet Soup

Today was the kind of Spring day that we wish for all winter long – perfect temperatures, breezes, light, and sky.  Even mundane chores like walking the dog, and cleaning off the front porch, became joyful – just because it afforded a chance to indulge in the joy of this perfect Spring Day.  So, in that same vein, I share this poem by Billy Collins:


Today by Billy Collins

 If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.
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Nonfiction Wednesday:- Prairie Dog Song:The Key to Saving North America’s Grasslands



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Prairie Dog Song is a stunning new non-fiction picture book that tells the story of the green and gold grasses that once were so abundant in North America, and then almost vanished entirely.  The jacket copy sums up this amazing rescue operation (which is still in progress):

For thousands of years, green and gold grasses covered North America from Canada to Mexico. The prairie and desert grasslands were home to a variety of animals, from small prairie dogs to huge bison. But in the nineteenth century, ranching and farming took hold in the grasslands, and over time many of the animals and plants vanished.

Then, in the late 1980s, scientists discovered a region in Mexico where green and gold grasses still waved and prairie dogs still barked. The scientists understood the importance of this grassland ecosystem and the prairie dogs’ key role in it. Could they now preserve the area and bring back its lost animals and plants?

Through a brilliant combination of song, text, and glorious illustrations:


the authors and illustrator have created a wonderful resource through which to learn more about the prairie that was and the prairie that is slowly but surely recovering.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Livy’s London


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My daughter Olivia and and I trudged around her London last week – exploring all the places she had made her own during her junior year studying abroad.  We stopped at place after place, noting  spots she had discovered for herself and made her own.  London is a city I have lived in and visited many times, but it was a joyful to re-experience its nooks and crannies through the eyes of Olivia.

She had arrived some months ago, trepidatious and ecstatic all at once…as the young so often are when a new adventure is about to begin. Each passing week brought some new adventure and discovery in her scholastic and personal lives.  We would hear of these in our (almost) nightly Facetime visits, and could see how they were beginning to change the way Livy thought about the world and her place in it:

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But, to see her in London, her home for the past long months, was to see that growth first hand: to hear it in the lit of her voice, the sparkle in her eyes, the way she guided me from place to place.  It had been her adventure, her time to spread her wings and fly. And she had.  We raise our children to find their own way and take their place in the world.  And when they do, we celebrate.

It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading #IMWAYR:Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

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Raymie Clarke has a few problems, the most pressing one being that her father has taken off with a dental hygienist  and has no apparent plans to ever return.

The thought of that-the fact of it-that she, Raymie Clarke was without a father, made a small, sharp pain shoot through Raymie’s heart every time she considered it.

Sometimes the pain in her heart made her feel too terrified to go on. Sometimes it made her want to drop to her knees.

But then she would remember that she had a plan.

That plan was to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition…so that her father would see her picture in the newspaper…so that he would remember that he belonged back home with Raymie and her mother…so that life would be the way it was supposed to be.

Four pages into Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie NightingaleI knew that I had fallen in love with Raymie and could not put her story down until I knew what became of her plan, the Three Rancheros (her immediate competitors for the Little Miss Central Florida Tire crown), and their  joint effort to heal the many worries of their world through friendship, sheer force of good will and faith in goodness.

Kate DiCamillo has a magical way with creating characters – they are quirky, full of soul, funny, and honest.  And Kate DiCamillo also has a magical way with building stories around things that matter, especially to children.  As we follow the Three Rancheros through their often improbable escapades, those things that matter are explored with humor and with truth.  The world is often an inexplicable place, and grown ups often behave inexplicable ways, but children need to know trust and love…they need to hold on to the gift of being able to believe.

Here is Kate DiCamillo sharing some thoughts about what led her to write Raymie Nightingale:

Just this morning, having had the chance to read Raymie twice already, I had the chance to pass it along to a student in need of a book to read after finishing the PARCC test with another 35 minutes of quiet time to go.  She still had her nose in it when it was time to leave…and that was my last sight of Lauren for the day, deep into Raymie Nightingale and utterly absorbed in its magic.