#Celebratelu: Joyful writing

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 6.24.15 PM.png

Phase one of our nonfiction writing unit concluded with a lovely writing celebration.  My kiddos cleaned out their writing folders, which were jam packed with drafts and notes and research, and happily stuffed everything into their writing portfolios.

What next? they asked.

Freewriting! I answered.

Instant pandemonium. Instant celebration and delight.

Although my students know that their writer’s notebooks are theirs to fill with any kind of writing, they also know that our workshop year moves from unit to unit, and our workshop week follows the predictable routine: mini lessons followed by writing and conferring time.  Free writing time is something else.  Free writing follows every writing unit; it’s a time without mini lessons or mentor texts or any of the other “stuff” we fill our regular writing weeks with.  Free writing is 100% freedom to create whatever my kids want to write about in whichever fashion they choose and about anything they have an itch to scratch.

They love it.

Here’s what they created this week:

*joke books complete with illustrations


*new chapters for  epic adventures in worlds of fantasy and in a certain dystopian middle school out in a galaxy far away (whose plot line I have given up understanding)

*short stories that only middle schoolers can invent

*an advice book

*a book of excuses for “lost” homework

*super secret writing projects folded into four and placed in a writing folder marked: PRIVATE! BUTTTT OUTTTTT!

All week, all around me, there was joyful writing.  I celebrate that!






Poetry Friday: South by Natasha Tretheway

PoetryFriday is hosted by Donna @ Mainely Write

Related image

The invitation has been sitting on my desk for some weeks now, opened and unanswered. The due date for a response has come and gone,  as well.  So, I suppose I was not surprised when the email arrived on Monday: Are you coming to the wedding? We’d be so disappointed if you couldn’t! 

I haven’t responded to that one, either.

The bride-to-be is the daughter of good friends; her wedding is a happy occasion.  I am joyful at the thought that this accomplished young woman has such a blessed reason to gather friends and family together to celebrate.  It’s the wedding’s venue that gives me pause, and it’s the venue that will be the reason for my unwillingness to attend: both the vows and the reception will take place at a plantation.  And though the grounds and rooms look breathtakingly beautiful, the perfect spot for an elegant wedding in fact…it’s a plantation!  How can a place that has seen such  human suffering and brutality  have even been considered worthy of a wedding? This is what I’ve been struggling with…this is why I know I cannot go.

South by Natasha Tretheway

Homo sapiens is the only species
to suffer psychological exile.
—E. O. Wilson
I returned to a stand of pines,
                            bone-thin phalanx
flanking the roadside, tangle
                            of understory—a dialectic of dark
and light—and magnolias blossoming
                            like afterthought: each flower
a surrender, white flags draped
                            among the branches. I returned
to land’s end, the swath of coast
                            clear cut and buried in sand:
mangrove, live oak, gulfweed
                            razed and replaced by thin palms—
palmettos—symbols of victory
                            or defiance, over and over
marking this vanquished land. I returned
                            to a field of cotton, hallowed ground—
as slave legend goes—each boll
                            holding the ghosts of generations:
those who measured their days
                            by the heft of sacks and lengths
of rows, whose sweat flecked the cotton plants
                            still sewn into our clothes.
I returned to a country battlefield
                            where colored troops fought and died—
Port Hudson where their bodies swelled
                            and blackened beneath the sun—unburied
until earth’s green sheet pulled over them,
                            unmarked by any headstones.
Where the roads, buildings, and monuments
                            are named to honor the Confederacy,
where that old flag still hangs, I return
                            to Mississippi, state that made a crime
of me—mulatto, half-breed—native
                            in my native land, this place they’ll bury me.



Slice of Life Tuesday: What I teach and what they learn

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

It’s been a long day, I am teacher tired, and there are lessons for tomorrow which still need tweaking.  In other words, I am just about resigned to the idea that yet another Tuesday would pass without a slice of life entry.  But a moment from today is still much on my mind, and in my heart; it’s a moment that has prompted this line of thinking for me today: what do I really teach, and what do they really learn?

Sometime this morning, somewhere between writing workshop and social studies, a student left this note on my desk:


I’m not sure what prompted this, because our morning was pretty run of the mill: we talked, we read, and we wrote: the basics.  It was not a great teaching morning, I did not catch myself reflecting upon any one moment as being a particularly brilliant or transformational.  It was just another learning day in our classroom.

But, the longer I’ve been pondering K’s note, the more I’ve come back to this question: what do I  teach, and what do they  learn?

As teachers, our plan books are filled with lessons culled from the very best PD we can find; we try to fill each learning day with as much good teaching as possible, always on the lookout for our kids’ learning needs and how we are going to meet them (clearly, K. still needs to work on her spelling).   And, yes, they are tuning in to as much of those carefully crafted lessons as they can on any given day…depending on what else is going on in their lives.

K.’s sweet note had such an impact on me.  Her words reminded me that the true power of our teaching lives can most often be found between the lines of our lesson plan books: the side conversations, the quiet moments, the way we choose to bring “real life” into our classroom life. It’s the basics, true, but also the answers to these questions: what do I teach, and what do they learn?



On Turning Ten by Billy Collins


Carol Varsalona is hosting the Roundup at Beyond Literacy Link.

Image result for silhouette of a  boy looking out

We are one week away from the end of the second quarter of the school year – the halfway point.  Watching my kids in our classroom, overhearing  their conversations, and reading what they write about, I can see them making that unmistakable shift from  the children they were when they first walked into the room in September to the adolescents who will walk out in June.

Already, their once open  and easy to read faces have turned guarded and sometimes closed.

Already the easy way in which they shared their worries and thoughts  in the artless way of the very young has shifted into  a more careful and private mode.

Give them another month or so, especially as we drift into our early April Spring Break,  and they will cross that invisible line from kidhood into teenager – they will become  somewhat blasé, studiedly so, about so many of things they had previously delighted in.  No longer will they rush to the window to catch the first flakes of a new snowfall.  No longer will they spin an exuberant cartwheel just because their mood suddenly called for just this.  No longer will they wonder aloud about “stuff” in the free and easy way they once did, a way that paid less attention to their classmates than the wonder itself.

They are turning a corner,  trying not to look back, growing into their other selves…my sixth graders and on the verge of moving their inner selves to seventh grade.  I will miss them…

On Turning Ten by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: Caleb and Kit, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus


My students have been immersed in the world of nonfiction these last many weeks, but I’ve had a chance to branch out into some great fiction for when they surface from this particular unit.

Aven Green is a character who just made me want to smile.  She’s plucky, funny, good-natured and kind.  One would think that the disability she was born with (being armless) would have made her a shy and fearful sort of kid, but Aven’s parents made sure that would not be the case:

I think I can do all these things because my parents have always encouraged me to figure things out on my own-well, more like made me figure things out on my own.   I suppose if they had always done everything for me, I would be helpless without them.  But they didn’t and I’m not.  And now that I’m thirteen years old, I don’t need much help with anything.  True story.

But, when Aven’s parents up and move from Kansas (where she’s always lived and where she knows every single kid in her entire school), to a rundown western theme park in Arizona (which she knows not a soul), even she experiences challenges for which she needs all the help she can get.  Meeting Connor and Zion, one who has Tourette’s and the other who is shy and struggling with being overweight, is the first step Aven takes in making a new life in her new town.  The three friends stumble upon a mystery at the ranch, and Aven has a sneaking suspicion that solving it will also answer some important questions about her own life.

This was a charming book, and I already have a long list of students who want to read our classroom copy.  I love that the disabilities of these young characters are written about with honesty and humor, and I love that Aven is the strong and capable young lady that she is.  She’s funny, too, with a wise dry wit that is so endearing.

                             CALEB AND KIT by Beth Vrabel

Twelve-year-old Caleb has dealt with his cystic fibrosis as best as he can – he has good days and bad days, days when he can do as he pleases and days when he can only watch his perfect older brother Patrick do everything and do it well.  In fact, Caleb’s own father had had such a hard time dealing with all of Caleb’s medical issues that he wound up leaving their home for good.  Caleb’s life changes when he meets the mysterious Kit in the woods behind his house.  Kit loves adventure, believes in magic, and seems absolutely fearless.  Caleb is soon swept up in her adventures, some poorly thought out and dangerous.  But, he soon begins to wonder about his new friend: where is her mother and why does she so often look bedraggled and bruised? is she living so deeply in her world of magic that she is putting herself (and Caleb) in terrible danger?

This is a poignantly written story that sweeps the reader along.  I don’t often find that the issues written about in this story find their way into middle grade fiction, and I welcome the chance to share this book with my sixth graders.








Poetry Friday:“Crossing Jordan” by Langston Hughes

Poetry Friday is hosted by  Jan at Bookseedstudio

Every new day reveals what many of us, the majority of us, knew all along. The man elected to the highest office in our land is a racist.  Thursday’s news about his views regarding the people of Haiti and Africa, as far as I am concerned, was just more proof…if more proof were indeed necessary.

As a citizen of this great country, I am embarrassed and ashamed.  As an educator, I am simply sad.  I teach American history, I cover the founding of America from the early days of revolutionary talk to the seeds of Civil War.  Every day, we examine these founding ideals: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And every day we discuss the events in our history, from its earliest days through national crisis after national crisis, and the way in which we have had to struggle to find “the better angels of our nature”.

It is so very sad for my students, who have grown up with President Obama in the Oval Office, to be living through a time in which racism, sexism, and every other type of vile -ism, lives openly in the White House.

On the eve of celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work, on the eve of Black History month, I have to return to the voice of Langston Hughes.  Thanks to the vile man in the Oval Office, these are lonely days for many, folks…


“Crossing Jordan” by Langston Hughes

It was that lonely day, folks,
When I walked by myself.
My friends was all around me
But it was just as if they’d left
I went up on a mountain
In a high cold wind
And the coat that I was wearing
Was mosquito-net thin.
Then I went down in the valley
And I crossed an icy stream
And the water I was crossing,
Was no water in a dream,
And the shoes that I was wearing
No protection for that stream.
Then I stood out on a prairie
And as far as I could see
Wasn’t nobody on that prairie
That looked like me—
Cause it was that lonely day, folks,
When I walked all by myself
And my friends was right there with me
But was just as if they’d left.
Crossing Jordan! Crossing Jordan!
Alone and by myself.

– Langston Hughes, 1941

#Celebratelu: #justanotherordinarymiracle

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.


I’ve been thinking about my OLW from last year and trying to remember what it was. Not a good sign.  So, in trying to make a wiser choice for this year’s OLW, I have been trepidatious… and also (I’ll be honest) indecisive.  I love reading about what other people have chosen, especially how they made their journies to their OLWs, but, that only seemed to make me even more indecisive.  Then, Franki Sibberson tweeted that she was opting for a #hashtag rather than an OLW (I wish I could remember where I saw this Tweet, for I would love to share…but I can’t seem to!), and I knew immediately that that was the direction for me.

But… what hashtag??? I was back at square one again.

I went for long walks, read many blog posts, but inspiration only struck while I was scrolling through Tammy White’s fabulous Instagram pictures.  Tammy runs an idyllic farm in Vermont which I aspire to emulate some day, she can be found here:

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.01.26 PM

She had shared a moving post about having to say goodbye to their beloved family dog, Jackie.  As is her way, Tammy found the gift of grace even in this grief – quoting from a Sarah McLachlan song she found “especially and perfectly meaningful”, she asked her readers to keep these words in mind in the new year ahead:

‘When you wake up everyday
Please don’t throw your dreams away
Hold them close to your heart
Cause we are all a part of the ordinary miracle.’

Since this song was unfamiliar to me, I went first in search of the song:

and then its lovely lyrics:

Ordinary Miracle
It’s not that unusual
When everything is beautiful
It’s just another ordinary miracle today
The sky knows when it’s time to snow
Don’t need to teach a seed to grow
It’s just another ordinary miracle today
Life is like a gift they say
Wrapped up for you every day
Open up and find a way
To give some of your own love
Isn’t it remarkable?
Like every time a raindrop falls
It’s just another ordinary miracle today
Birds in winter have their fling
They always make it home in spring
It’s just another ordinary miracle today
When you wake up everyday
Please don’t throw your dreams away
Hold them close to your heart
Cause we are all a part of the ordinary miracle
Ordinary miracle
Do you want to see a miracle?
It seems so exceptional
The things just work out after all
It’s just another ordinary miracle today
The sun comes up and shines so bright
And disappears again at night
It’s just another ordinary miracle today
It’s just another ordinary miracle today
(Songwriters: Glen Ballard / David Stewart / David Allan)
There they were, the words I knew were mine for the year: #justanotherordinarymiracle.  Not an OLW, exactly, more a #littlewords, but the right ones for me at this particular time in my life.  For, inspite of whatever does not go right on any given day, there are so many more ordinary miracle to take note of and find joy and comfort in:
*the way a student hands back a book to say it’s the best thing she’s ever read, and can she still keep it to read again?
*the excitement of another when the connecting threads of a history dicsussion come together for an ah-ha moment
*the way my dog greets me at the end of every work day, as though she’s missed me so much that it felt like forever
*the spiderweb I see glistening between two tall blades of grass
*that cup of tea my son made for me just because…