Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Inspiration and a Home of Memories

Today's SOL Tuesday writing was inspired by Kathleen Sokolowski's  post "Waving Goodbye" that appeard today. http://couragedoesnotroar.blogspot.com/2016/05/sol16-waving-goodbye.html?m=1 

Her words touched me with such emotion. I recalled a piece I had written many years ago and decided to revisit it and do some revising. Thanks to Kathleen for the inspiration.

Check out more Slice of Life writing at www.twowritingteachers.org 

Together ... And For Always ... We Will Remember

I stood in my Grandma's dining room in silence surrounded by the memories. Her china cabinet stood in the corner, and it held within its fine wood and glass the bits of days gone by - a cup and saucer from a trip to Washington D.C., crystal wedding goblets, pieces of milk glass, a tea set, salt and pepper shakers and other delicate pieces of fine china.

In the center of the room, stood a big wooden table which had been the center of birthday celebrations and family gatherings. As I reached to touch the lace tablecloth, I glanced at the empty chairs and thought about the times we gathered around that big table. When I really listened, I could still hear the singing and laughing that filled this room.

I turned to see the antique phonograph and placed an old 78 record on the turn table, wondering why in all the years before I had never heard it play, Why now?

I walked to the living room and settled myself in the old rocker, its familiar creaking much louder now that she was no longer here. I rocked to try and ease the silence, glancing across the room to the huge stone fireplace with its collection of photographs on the mantle.

Grandma's favorite chair was empty. Now she rests at my mother's home in a not-so-familiar chair looking out the window, day after day, struggling to remember. I wanted her there with me surrounded by the shadows of her past. Then ... maybe then...together we could remember.

As I left the living room, I cold hear the last few creaks of the rocker but now my footsteps echoes on the kitchen floor. In my mind, I could smell raspberry pie in the oven, the spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove top, and I could remember making that wonderful homemade pizza. The smell of yeast would fill the kitchen as Grandma kneaded the dough. My own small fingers would help her pat the dough into the pan. The smell of her pizza sauce made our mouths tingle with anticipation. As we topped the pizza with freshly grated parmesan cheese there would always be a nibble for me.

Through the doorway across the room was the pantry hung with huge canning pots and baskets for picking cherries from the tree in the yard. On the window sill, lined up in a parade of green, were her aloe plants and through the window I could see the spot where there was once a hand water pump. I can remember pumping up and down until the water emerged and playing in the fresh coolness under the apple tree with my brother and sisters. We would giggle and dance in the puddles, splashing each other until we screamed with joy.

In the barn sat the big red tractor, quiet now but once a giant of a machine with the sound of thunder. The ground would shake and and the tractor would rumble as it crept slowly out of the barn with my grandfather in his wide-brimmed hat sitting proudly on top. We would jump with excitement hoping for a ride on his lap, the smell of the earth surrounding us in the arms of his flannel shirt.  We would wave to Grandma as we rumbled away, our squeals and laughter drowned by the noise of the monstrous machine. But now, so many years later, the big red tractor sits quietly in the barn.

As I grabbed my jacket and turned to leave, I stopped in the doorway to look back and discovered this. Grandma was there with me that day mingled among the memories. I had found her in the smells of the kitchen, the creak of the rocker, and in the sunshine that danced on the glass doors of her china cabinet.

Together ... and for always ... we would remember.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Talking About the Intangibles and the NFL Draft

Last weekend I spent hours watching the NFL draft with my husband who was a little obsessed about the players his favorite team would draft. He waited anxiously as each pick was announced and anticipated who would be his team's next choice. He studied potential players and predicted who might be the best choice for his team.

As I watched all three days of the draft, I began to notice just how much data was collected on players. There were videos to watch. There were statistics on the skills of each player. Speed. Accuracy. Performance.

Big hands...
Long arms...
Powerful upper body... 
High volume ball carrier...
Powerful runner... 
Fine technique... 
High level production...

And there were stories. Each potential candidate had a profile that went well beyond the measurable data that was amassed. The announcers began to talk about the intangibles. There were stories about losses and hardships, injuries, challenges and accomplishments.

Coming off an injury...
Lost his mother but able to overcome it...
Hard working...
Off the field issues...
Lunch pail, blue collar guy...
Most valuable player...
Somewhat worrisome... 
Kid will work hard... 
Invest in the draftee's future...
Accept the player with all of his strengths and weaknesses...

We don't draft the kids into our classrooms (thank goodness!). Each year we welcome a new set of students and begin to understand who they are as learners. It takes time but we slowly and deliberately observe and listen. We review previous data on the student. We assess some skills to discover where our teaching should begin. 

While this data collected on students is important and can tell us about the child as a learner, there is so much more to know. These are the things that are difficult to measure. We come by them in our natural interactions with each child. We come to understand as we watch each child interact with others. We take note of what is difficult and what comes easy for them. We listen to their stories that unfold each day in our classrooms. These are the stories that lead the way to a deep understanding that informs the decisions we make in our teaching. 

As we come to the end of the school year, we are asked to collect all the data we have on a child so it can be preserved for next year's teacher to consider. I wish there was a way to archive all the intangibles we have learned about each child. There is richness and truth in what we have come to know about the children with whom we have spent our days in the classroom. Let's talk about those intangibles and value what we have come to know.

Check out more Slice of Life writing at www.twowritingteachers.org !

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Close Questioning

I recently finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It had been in my next-read stack for some time, and I have no idea why it took me so long to pick it up. As I read, I made friends with the characters in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and will hold them close to my heart for some time. 

About midway through the book I came across this line.

     "So many questions arise when you are spending your days with a child."

It was a lighthearted reference to the central character spending time with a young child.

As I continued to read, the line kept jumping to the front of my thinking. I grabbed my notebook and wrote the line down so I wouldn't forget it. Somehow, I knew that the words would cause me to think more about the questions we have when we spend time in our classrooms with children.

When I talk with teachers, I want to know what questions they have about their students. I want to know that they regularly set aside time for considering each student as a learner. I want to know that teachers think about their students and reflect on their teaching ... and ask questions.

     What is happening in this child's life outside of school? What is helping? What is not?
     Why does it seem that .... is stalled in her growth as a reader?
     What prevents .... from writing about his reading?
     Why is it difficult for ... to pause to think about the story as she reads?
     What tools could help.... comprehend the deeper meaning of the story?
     How can I help ... develop his identity as a reader? What does he know about himself already?
     What strategies does .... use in her reading? What new strategies can I show her?
     What scaffolds does .... need to become more independent?

So much emphasis has been placed on close reading for students. Mountains have been written on how to promote close reading in our classrooms. Students are becoming more independent because we are focusing on improving our instruction. 

Today, I am wondering how we can promote "close questioning" in our teaching. Are we looking closely at what our students are doing as they read? Are we thinking hard about what we see and hear in the classroom? Are we asking the right questions that will uncover the most about our students as learners? My hopes are that "close questioning" will lead us to more questions, and that we will get better at understanding our readers and supporting them on their journey toward independence.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


I decided to try out some poetry today. Feeling sadness at the loss of someone in our family.
I have tried to express the emptiness I feel. It's so hard to craft the words. But the act of writing is consoling....

The emptiness whispers
Of your presence
And for a moment I wonder
Where have you gone?

The emptiness shouts
Your name.
And I expect to see you
Step softly around the corner.

The emptiness roars
Of sadness.
And I realize the emptiness
Will not bring you back to me.

The emptiness 
Isn't speaking to me.
It's the break in my heart
That cries for you.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Month of Slicing

What a Slice of Life it has been! 
I was worried when I started that I wouldn't be able to post every day.... and I did!
I am proud of that!

I learned so much from the other Slicers this month. Each day, I looked forward to reading posts that inspired me and taught me about writing. I continue to grow as a writer and this Slice of Life challenge was just what I needed.

I appreciated the comments I received from other Slicers. They helped me develop a stronger sense of being a writer. I eagerly waited for comments to post each day and met so many wonderful people.

Thanks to the #sol16 community. Your willingness to share has been inspiring. I felt connected to so many people this month. My hope is that we stay connected.

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for making this happen!

I am participating in the 
March Slice of Life Challenge.
Each day we post our thoughts.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Day 31 - A Month of Slicing

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I Expected Books to Find Me

When I really need inspiration, I go back and reread my notebooks. They are sprinkled with my favorite quotes, notes I took at conferences, family stories, memories, quickly-jotted poems, and so much more. It doesn't take me long to find the seed of an idea and start writing. We used to talk to young writers in our workshops about using our notebooks to reach for volume and variety. We hoped they would write every day. We wanted them, over time, to collect entries that could become the seeds of future writing. We encouraged them to change the structure of their writing to include lists, poems, sketches, memories, descriptions, and more. It wasn't long before they discovered the treasure of ideas they had to expand upon.

So today when I began looking through my journal, I found a brief piece that captured my memories of going to the library when I was young. There was library within walking distance from my home. I went there often. The closer I got to the library the quicker my steps would take me. I knew I would come home with a stack of books that I couldn't wait to read.

I loved the smell of the library. It's familiar scent of books and bindings greeted me at the door. I would walk in the door knowing that I had arrived at a place that was sheer pleasure. I spent many quiet hours pulling books from the shelves to see if they were just what I was looking for. The library became a place that was familiar and comforting. I would leave with a stack of books in my bag that would fascinate me and inspire me until I returned to the library for more.

As I reread my journal entry, I noticed this line:

"When I went to the library, I expected books to find me."

So I was thinking about what expectations our children have when they come to school?
Do they expect to be inspired? 
Do they expect to have choices?
Do they expect to have time to wonder?
Do they expect to have time to wander?
Do they expect to have a voice? 
Do they expect to love learning?
I hope so.

We need to be watchful. 
Do our students walk into school with excitement and anticipation for a day of learning?
Do they sense a feeling of comfort because there are people there that really know them?
Do they smile and treat each other with kindness?
Do they love to learn?

I hope we can hear them say:

"When I go to school, I expect to love learning."

I am participating in the 
March Slice of Life Challenge.
Each day we post our thoughts.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Day 30 - I Expected Books to Find Me

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Please, Spring.

The bluest sky says spring.
The fresh, green grass shoots upward.
The flowers blossom with joy.

But the cold still plays with me
In the brisk wind
That blows my hair
And reminds me that our part of the earth
Is just not ready for warm breezes.

It saddens me and I shudder.
I am just not patient enough
For spring to come.
I want to abandon my sweater
And feel the warm sun on my skin.

Please spring.
Come to me now.
Bring me joy.

I am participating in the 
March Slice of Life Challenge.
Each day we post our thoughts.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Day 29 - Please, Spring.