SOL16, Day 31: Self Assessment

I ask my students to self-evaluate. To reflect. To celebrate their growth. Time for me to do the same on the last day of the March Slice of Life Challenge.

For the record, at this moment, this is how I see writing.
I call myself a writer. Sometimes.

I am a better writer today than I was yesterday.
Everything I write isn’t better than the last thing I wrote.

My sentences are less complicated.
I used to love semicolons. Now I’m crazy about periods. Maybe it’s a phase.

Structure fascinate me.
Sentences move in ways that surprise me.

How writing ends is usually not how it begins.
The shortest pieces often take the most time.

I worry that I keep saying the same thing.
I worry that I have nothing to say.

I’m more comfortable with dialogue.
I’m less fearful of poetry.

I hear my mom in my writing.
I found dear friends by writing.

Crying when I write happens. Out of nowhere.
Being bold and honest in writing is a worthy challenge.

Feedback and audience matters.

Writing changes everything.



Thank you to Two Writing Teachers Blog. To Anna, Betsy, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara. You have made my writing life a possibility. Read more slices here.


SOL16, Day 30: Before You Go

Back to school today.

I saw the look on a teacher’s face that said, oh to be home drinking a cup of coffee.  I felt it too. I got used to that other time zone. The zone that allows for deeper sleep with no alarm. When we set the worry and work aside for tomorrow. Over the break, there was enough time to get comfortable, to shop carefully, to stay up a little later, to finish that book, to wind down.

Work came home over the break. I don’t mean papers. I mean the whole child. They sit beside me as they learn. They’re in your thoughts and your heart. They own you. It is an honor. It is exhausting.

Kids are working hard too. They’re growing like crazy, and they’ve rested, recovered, and they’re back.  They’re twitching, readied for flight. They want to show their stuff, to take off. It’s time to get going. To finish it out.

I get it.

But, dear students, since you’re here, there are a few things we should do, before you go.


one more read aloud,
daily wonderings,
a month of poetry,
a few fantasy books.
a graphic novel or two,
lots of blog posts and comments,
two more field trips,
a few group projects,
a couple of speeches,
maybe a podcast,
lots of talk
a park day

Then you can go.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. It has been a beautiful ride this month. Just one more to go. Hang on.
Read more slices here.





SOL16, Day 29: I Write to Hold On

I’m a witness. It lingers. And I want to hold it.

He leans over to give her a kiss. She touches his face and asks, “How are you?”

An image I’ve seen again and again. Memory.  I follow. Words appear and disappear. Some survive the backspace, the cut and paste. Others don’t.

I see them reflected in the nurse’s eyes that well up as she tells the story of her family. She looks on with envy as they join us. 

My thoughts diverge.

Medicines, special diets, monitor and maintain. Be vigilant. The job is complex. Frightening.They refuse to give in.

I change the tense. The sequence. The point of view.
Perhaps a dip to the past;
a closer look at the present.

They sit reading. The view from the backyard spills into the living room. Mom reads aloud; makes a joke, talks politics. Dad continues to read. This is how it’s always gone. For them. It’s impossible to imagine anything else.

What was said?
What did I see?

A bird lit on the wire. Mom grabs her bird book.

“It must be a scrub jay. Such a lowly name for such a lovely bird. Oh look another! See it on the wire above? They have made our garden their home. I could sit here any watch them all day.”

Dad gets up to check on something in the bedroom.

Ah yes. Or no. Does this fit?
Not quite.
Delete. Rearrange.
In the end, I hold on to a tiny bit of time.

Their lives go on. Fears quiet with the simple peace within.  

I write to capture the moment; to look back. As I do with the pictures in my hallway of times long ago, but so clear in my memory of what matters. I write to hold on. Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. We write, holding on together. Read more slices here.11454297503_e27946e4ff_h


SOL16, Day 28: A Poem for My Writing Partner

My Writing Partner

His velvet ears sweetly sit
in wait for my finger’s touch.

Twitching at the squeaking door
the nick and scar flip on alert
and tell the tale of an unseen foe.

Quiet and reserved, gentle in repose
he holds traumas casual observers miss.



I do not want to wish the days away, yet the month of March is long.
The work has new meaning. I am grateful.
I do not want to wish the days away, yet the month of March is long.

Happy day 28 of the March Slice of Life Challenge.
Thank you,Two Writing Teachers Blog.
Read more slices here.



SOL16, Day 27: DigiLit Sunday, Trust is Essential

Trust is fragile. Those are Margaret’s words for this week’s DigiLit Sunday.


Trust is a great responsibility and honor. Trust must be held carefully. Respected. It’s painful when it’s broken. That’s why it’s hard to give.

When I say I trust you, I’m handing you something valuable. I’m saying that I believe in you. You are worthy.

I give trust understanding if a person fails, breaks a trust, there is damage, to them and me. There is a risk.

Learning how to handle trust is essential. We give it to children understanding that desire and impulse might override the need to be responsible. We give it knowing they will make mistakes. They are learning.

I hand R a device. He has a choice to blog, to go to Google docs to write, to read on Newsela or Wonderopolis. I do this every morning.

I do it because I want him to have a choice in what he writes and reads. I do it because I want him to develop his sensibility as a writer and a reader. I want him to find what interests him. I want to give him freedom; something kids have precious little of. I want to teach him how to handle trust.

The rules are simple, and R knows them: safety and kindness. R can’t go anywhere or write anything he wants.

With that, being a child, R makes mistakes. He violates the rules.

R goes to a game on the iPad. He writes something he shouldn’t. He abuses the privilege and violates the trust. It happens.

Do we take this device away? Never let him touch it again. Put controls on the device?

I go back to my original thinking.

Trust means I believe in you. You are worthy. I risk giving it to you, but you are valuable, you deserve it.

R is a student, a child learning how to deal with a big essential idea. I am his teacher.

Don’t I owe R the chance to learn how to handle trust? Isn’t that my job?

Trust is not about the device and the rules. It’s not about me. It’s about being valuable, worthy.

Will students make mistakes? Absolutely. It should be expected and planned for. Possibly even hoped for. Then we’ll have the chance to teach them.

Trust is fragile and essential.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Thank you for creating and developing this vibrant writing community. Read more slices here.






SOL16, Day 26: Great Read Aloud Need Great Reads

I remember sitting on the plane coming home from my first Teachers College Summer Reading Institute.  I spent the flight pouring over Lester Laminack’s book on Read Aloud. Marking pages. Trying to understand how to do this thing called Read Aloud.

Ten years later, I’m still working on it.

Read Aloud is probably the most important (and misunderstood) tool of a reading teacher.

How to read and love a book is a precious gift reading teachers share when they read aloud. It can provide the opportunity to

  • build community
  • access the possibilities of reading
  • wonder, theorize, think deeply
  • study text on a macro or a micro level
  • understand why reading matters
  • find joy in reading


Read aloud is the heart and soul of my reading classroom.

Read aloud provides the why we must be readers.

But, read aloud can’t happen without books that allow for meaningful and varied work with students.

To do this challenging and I believe sacred work, I’ve bought a lot of books. Some are necessary at certain times, or for certain students. Finding “just right” read aloud books is a journey.  On my journey for great books, I have found excellent books and great colleagues who share this passion.

One such find is the Good to Great Voxer group. This group, of dedicated teacher readers led by Mary Howard and Amy Brennan, share passionate best practice beliefs about teaching children to read. Funny thing is strong views and collaboration can make amazing things happen.

One of those things was a “what if” challenge posed by Jan Burkins. It went something like this, “What if we created a collection of picture books that can foster student thinking.”

And the work began.

Jan culled recommendations from the group and the results, a collection of 31 short texts that can spark deep reading discussions, can be found here.

Children need access and the opportunity to engage and be engaged in books. Books that offer opportunities for students to experience reading joy while studying the craft of reading as a community.  Read aloud with great books can do this.

Today, I celebrate Jan Burkins and the Good to Great Voxer group who share a passion for reading and cultivating readers.

celebrate link up

Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for your link up to Celebrate every week.


And thank you to Two Writing Teachers Blog for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Much love to all who slice and comment every day! Happy Day 26. Find more slices here.




SOL16, Day 25: The Bonds That Form

We sat, my brother, my dad and me, in my mom’s hospital room. Telling stories. That’s what you do in the hospital.

My mom talks of how she can’t deal with numbers. A familiar mom story.

My brother responds with his story of the Yogi Bear bank designated for the money he could spend on candy and toys. And his Fred Flintstone bank that was for long term savings. He said he learned this from my mom. That her modeling of spreadsheets of the family’s budget set this up for him. I don’t doubt it. I remember those ledgers This is my brother’s narrative. The story of how my mom taught him to be wise with money. It isn’t surprising he turned out to be an accountant.

My story is different. My mom was a reader and a writer.  I hold memories of the library bookshelf. Books stacked on side tables. The need for a good reading light. My parents sitting in the living room reading. I hold memories of her typewriter. Of legal writing pads. Lists of names. Research.  Reams of paper in boxes. My story is how my mom taught me to be literate. Money didn’t attract me. Words did.  My story. One that fueled my desire to be a reader and a writer.

If we had other siblings, I wonder what their stories would be. Nature and nurture. We come into this world and absorb our environment. What sticks tends to be compatible with our strengths. It feels chemical.

Our narratives intertwine with the people who influence us. Our loved ones, our teachers, our friends. The bonds attach and new molecules form.

I’m lucky. To be near my parents. They are lucky. To have each other. Long lives together.

They Sit Together on the Porch
by Wendell Berry

They sit together on the porch, the dark
Almost fallen, the house behind them dark.
Their supper done with, they have washed and dried
The dishes–only two plates now, two glasses,
Two knives, two forks, two spoons–small work for two.
She sits with her hands folded in her lap,
At rest. He smokes his pipe. They do not speak,
And when they speak at last it is to say
What each one knows the other knows. They have
One mind between them, now, that finally
For all its knowing will not exactly know
Which one goes first through the dark doorway, bidding
Goodnight, and which sits on a while alone.
Thank you to  Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe for hosting for Poetry Friday.
poetry friday logo
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for the Slice of Life March Challenge. Read more Slices here.

SOL16, Day 24: Found Tanka

Read Aloud 

Listen to story.
When an underdog becomes
the hero, the boy
back of the class, middle row,
sees ideas begin, end and
drifts towards believing. Finds purpose.

I was at a loss. I had nothing. So I looked back to my last two March 24th posts and “found” this tanka.

Thank you to Tara Smith, who suggested looking back for ideas and to a voxer conversation on the importance of Read Aloud.

And thank you to Two Writing Teachers March Slice of Life Challenge. The fact that others show up when the writing gets hard, is profoundly inspirational. Find more slices here.


SOL16, Day 23: Goodnight Louisiana

The month of March is winding down and even though I’m on Spring Break, the writing time hasn’t gotten bigger, or easier.

Fatigued from the day, from the challenge, I am looking to sort things out with you in writing.

To those who visit this space, thank you. You are dear friends. It is an honor to be with you on this journey.

We walk and walk
Stand and listen.
Any questions?
Solicitous but scary.
That’s how college tours go.

I’ve been down this road before.
I know.
But I forgot.
Why didn’t I wear more comfortable shoes?
I look around.
The family from Chicago

The family from Minnesota

The family from Arkansas

We walk and walk.
Stand and listen.
Tiger Stadium, the fans, the band, Mike the Tiger
The library where you can hear a pin drop on the fourth floor
The 24/7 cameras assuring that, we take the safety of our students seriously
Late nights
Large classes
Emotions go



We walk and walk.
Stand and listen.
Old and new
Green beauty and classic buildings
They say,
I can’t imagine another college experience.

This is my home.

This is my family.

But how does she feel?
Is it home?
Is it family?
It’s not my decision.
It’s not my life.

This is my girl.

This is my heart.


Goodnight Louisiana.

You are big and beautiful, small and uncharted; filled with possibilities and unknowns.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for the Slice of Life March Challenge. Read more slices here.



SOL16, Day 22: Dumb Question, Rich Response

I’ve spent the last few days in Louisiana. Far from home. But lucky me, I’ve got a dear friend who welcomed my daughter and me to her home on the bayou.

Sunday, we drove from Baton Rouge to Margaret’s house. The bridges went on and on. Over many bodies of water: rivers, lakes, bayous,  and a swamp. I thought I knew what the difference was; I could make some educated assumptions.  But still I wondered.

So I asked. Margaret explained and then she went on to tell the legend of the Teche (a lovely name I botched). The bayou that runs through her backyard. The story paints an image of this waterway that twists through her city. Perhaps Margaret will share it in a slice someday.

The next day, we drove by the cane fields to one of Margaret’s schools. What a treat to be with her students. They shared their weekends, they read, wrote their slices, and loved Margaret. At the end of our time together, Margaret read Pax aloud to the students.

I’m not sure who wondered, but the result was looking up the word dyableman. The character Vola used it frequently; based on the syntax, I was reasonably sure it was a curse word. Tobie and Kadien raced to the computers. It was there, and I was right it was a mild expletive. But the real information came from the word’s origin: Haitian Creole. That changed how I pictured Vola.

After lunch, we drove back to Baton Rouge.

We drove by LSU. Wow. Talk about BIG sporting facilities. But so quiet. No one was there.

We drove to the zoo. We have a thing about zoos. Closed.

We drove to Perkins Rowe and parked. It was lovely. But empty.

I wanted to ask someone where were the people. In deference to my teenage daughter, I restrained myself.

LSU was on Spring Break. Could that be the reason? Did the university kids make the city come to life?

Later in the day, I wandered into the hotel’s lobby to get some tea. I was alone, so I asked, why the city seemed so deserted. Nicki looked at me and smiled. “It’s just Monday. Wait till Thursday. Sunday and Monday were particularly quiet.”

That made sense and gives me more perspective on this city that might be my daughter’s future home.

I’ve asked a lot of how-do-you-get-to questions.

I’ve mispronounced words.

I’ve embarrassed my daughter.

I’ve learned. Not just the information, but context and story.

I’ve also realized what an incredible gift you give when you ask questions: the joy of sharing and teaching.

I went through a long phase of not wanting to ask questions. I guess I thought it made me look stupid. I always thought I should know.

Travel to a place you haven’t been before and notice. Drive by a bayou, turn the pages of a book.

Notice. Wonder. Ask.

Give someone the opportunity to be an expert.

Give yourself the opportunity to be a learner.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for the March Slice of Life Challenge. I’m off to wonder some more. Read more here.