Celebrate This Week: Mulling

cropped-2014-07-19-09-01-15.jpgI mull. It’s the way I process.  I’ve become an approximator out of necessity. I have to be ok with “close to” actions; otherwise, I’d always be mulling.

When I mull, I draft ideas. I read. I scrounge around on websites and blogs, in magazines and books. I write. I scribble in notebooks and blog posts, tweets and texts.
And I talk. I synthesize in discussion with colleagues, over coffee and after school.

This takes time and presence. Finding someone who is open to dialogue, to lend an ear, their heart and mind to your concerns, can be challenging, a scarce commodity.

Today I want to celebrate those who take the time to talk, to mull with me. Some in person, some on voxer and some in “conversation” on blogs or Twitter. Conversation instigates ideas for my teaching or writing life. It keeps the cycle alive so that I can act. Jenn Hayhurst and Jill DeRosa do this work well. Read about their process here.

Some are uncomfortable with my mulling and approximating tendencies. And I don’t blame them. The time it takes, and the slipperiness of it can be painful. People want schedules and steps, amounts and measures, curriculums with day one through day twenty. I need those things too. To mull over, to check the accuracy of my approximations.

It takes time and I celebrate my colleagues who take the time to talk to mull things over with me. Read more celebrations here on Ruth Ayers blog that celebrates the week.

celebrate link up

SOL: Book Magic

Sunday afternoon I walk into my classroom, and an explosion greets me.

On the carpet, the tables, bursting out of the cabinets, are books. Piles of books.

Out with the old and in with the new. The changing of a classroom library.

The last units on non-fiction and realistic fiction are boxed up. Waiting to be put away in the cabinets.

The shelves are empty. Waiting to be filled with fantasy, a renewed selection of realistic fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

Over the years, I’ve collected books for units of study, for kids’ interests. Each book has a history.

I pick up the Guardians of the Gahoole series, and I remember those students who loved Gelfie and Soren.  Maybird, The Unicorn Chronicles, and Emily Windsnap bring to mind the girls who begged for the next in the series. Owlboy, the superhero of the sewers, is always a favorite. Each book reminds me of a kid or makes me think of a potential reader. Sir Fartsalot.  I know the group for this one.

Hours later the room is finished. Every book will be new to my current crop of fifth graders.  I leave knowing that books will attach themselves to children. Books will make their mark. Students will love these books.

Monday morning, before class,
the usuals stop in.
To ask if they can help, to talk.
This morning,
spotting the change they swarm.

And dig in.

Dragons, unicorns, witches, mermaids, wizards, friendly giants.
What more could a kid ask for?

At lunchtime, a group of girls made unicorns out of colored paper and taped them to their heads. They said they were alicorns. Alicorns? I asked, Yeah, those are girl unicorns. Then there were the Pegacorns. These are half unicorn, half Pegasus creatures.

Ah, the magic of fantasy.The promise of new books. I can’t help but smile.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.

Celebrate This Week: Failure

More and more I’m thinking about being a learner and failing.

I love learning. I seek it. It keeps me going.

But recently, I’ve had a couple of learning with different reactions. I didn’t love it. I hated it. I was failing, and I didn’t want to fight through it. I wanted to flee.

I wanted to hide, shut down. All things kids do when they can’t, and teachers try to break through, I felt.

I sat there. I didn’t understand. On the spot with others looking at me.

Some say myself included, we need to push to discomfort to stretch ourselves. We need to fail to succeed. But that day, I went to that place, and I walked away feeling less than others.  It’s stuck with me. And I’m glad.

Why did I react that way? Was it the tone, environment, subject?  Was it something I wasn’t ready for? Was it just how I woke up that morning?

The trouble in this learning situation wasn’t the push, the challenge, the lack of understanding, or failure. It was a feeling, like drowning. I felt it at the moment, and it lingers. It a scary place. To go there again would make reconstructing my sense of self more and more difficult.

Another person might have thrived in this experience. Their tipping points of frustration, their competitive sense, their need to comply or a multitude of other factors might have kept another person afloat as a learner.

As an adult, I have a choice and knowledge of myself. I can avoid or modify my situation.

My students don’t have that choice. It’s up to me to create it for them.

They come to me day after day.  How they feel deep in the pit of their being when they walk in the door is on me.  Some don’t have the maturity or enough learning history to process failure and solider on. Students who tune out, misbehave, appear lazy are making the only choice they can at that moment. They are protecting themselves. They are keeping themselves in a safe place. I know it. But it’s a good thing to feel it.

It isn’t about the push, the stretch, or the failure. It’s about how you feel deep inside when you finish a task, a day, a week. And how you walk in the door the next day.

I experienced failure, and it wasn’t anything but painful. It sticks with me.

Our paths to learning are varied. The point is that we stay on it. This week learning wasn’t what I expected, and I celebrate it with you.

Read more celebrations here. Thank you, Ruth, for this place to share.

celebrate link up

SOL16: Support with Choice

I drop the pills, each into its proper place. Morning, evening, bedtime. Just one thing I do for my once independent parents. The one who held my hand, balanced my bike, pushed and let go, is now the one that holds on to me tightly. If you have parents who live to old age, this is inevitable.

I do this, so they don’t get hurt. But as I do this, I see a cognitive decline and increasing dependence. And while this is necessary, as I do this, I take a little bit of them. They are supported but diminished.

As a teacher, I put up supports for students to hold on to so they can approximate the work they are close to achieving. I think carefully about what supports to set up. Always with an eye to outcomes.

Today I’m wondering what implicit messages I send with supports.  Do they diminish independence? Are students aware that supports are not there to undermine their talents, thoughts, and abilities? Do they know, when I hand them a tool, which it is just a way, not the way to tackle something? Do I set supports up with these thoughts in mind?

Supports, scaffolds are designed to allow the next step, to reach higher without the fear of failure. The tools we give to access ideas, actions, should allow for success and safety but also identity. As I build scaffolds up for my students, I need to be mindful of the person standing there. In my need to get it done, to get to a perceived end goal, I need to hear their voice.

Putting up scaffolds with the intent to take them down is appropriate. And part of that design should allow for the voice and choice. We want the vulnerable to get stronger, to stand on their own without the crutch.To become independent.

How might that look? Scaffolds with a menu of options, allowing for choice and decision making. By offering options, asking for input, we who build scaffolds are implicitly honoring the individual while giving guidance.

My acts of support for my parents and students are different. But there are similarities. I’m in the supporting role. If I’m the person, who saves the day because the parent, the student can’t, am I supporting or minimizing? The more I think about intended and actual outcomes of supports; I realize that choice and voice must be in the spotlight in all phases of our lives.

Just because I’m in charge, for now, means I need to be particularly mindful of voices of those who are not.


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. A place to share our thoughts and slices of our lives. Read more here.

Celebrate: Read Aloud in their Midst

Elevation matters.

Even the slightest height inequity sets a tone.

I pulled kids to the carpet for Read Aloud. (Notice the emphasis?)

This time of the year, students become a little resistant. They are comfortable with me and more self-conscious about their 10 to 11-year old bodies. Add in a bit of fatigue and sunshiny day and there is a recipe for even the most willing to start to lingering at their desks when called to the carpet. I can see this thought on their faces: Am I a little too old for carpet sitting? 

I saw an open space on the carpet; just big enough for me. I grabbed A Writing Kind of Day by Ralph Fletcher and sat down in that spot. I leaned back against the corner of the bookshelf.  We were knee to knee, eye to eye. K laughed and said, “This is so weird!”

I opened to Poetry Recipe and started to read, til we got to the end …

I picked up my best friend’s pen
that I’ve kept in my drawer
ever since he moved away.

I took a deep breath,
opened my notebook,
and started to write.

They sat listening. Mouths open.

Just like Ralph,
I said,
let’s remember
a someone or something
you know, miss, or care about.
Open your notebook.
Put yourself there.
Look, smell, feel, hear.
In you mind,
look to the left,
write what you see.
Now to the right,
write what you smell.
Reach out in your mind’s eye,
write what you feel.
Close your eyes
and listen.
Write what you hear.

They sat and wrote
on the carpet.

This week I celebrate Read Aloud’s superpower: flexibility.

Read aloud allows us to adjust our stance with students and text. Sometimes were are in the thick of it.  Sometimes we listen in, observe; coach; direct. Sometimes we take our pens and study text. Letting the words move our pens, as thinkers, as readers, as writers. And sometimes we let words wash over us.

Writing beside them is nothing new. Sitting, in a place where a student usually sits, changes stance. Everything looks different, from my perspective and theirs. Read aloud lets me be with students. This week I celebrate being in their midst.

Thank you, Ruth, for Celebrate this Week. Read other celebrations here.



Poetry: An Added Essential

I woke up too early, too cold, too dark to get up. Not able to push the covers off, not able to go to sleep. Silence in the house but a roar in my mind. Still body. Mind tossing.

I thought of getting up, to write a post, but the covers were too soft. My hand wandered over to my bookshelf and reached out to find a slim volume ensuring poetry. Luck of the draw, Billy Collins, The Trouble with Poetry.

Under the covers it took me, each poem touching a cord, a place, a friend, a student, a writer. Early morning communion.

I added the volume to my bag. Alongside my computer, my writer’s notebook, my wallet, keys, a zippered bag of favorite pens, a bookmarked novel.  An added essential. At the ready.

This morning I get up to write and there it is, next to my writer’s notebook. A perfect fit.

This morning, this poem.


There is the sudden silence of the crowd
above a motionless player on the field,
and the silence of the orchid.

The silence of the falling vase
before it strikes the floor,
the silence of the belt when it is not striking the child.

The stillness of the cup and the water in it,
the silence of the moon
and the quiet of the day far from the roar of the sun.

The silence when I hold you to my chest,
the silence of the window above us,
and the silence when you rise and turn away.

And there is the silence of this morning
which I have broken with my pen,
a silence that had piled up all night

like snow falling in the darkness of the house-
the silence before I wrote a word
and the poorer silence now.

–Billy Collins

Please be sure to visit Michelle Barnes at her blog, Today’s Little Ditty, for the Poetry Friday Roundup.



SOL16: When They’re Ready, Writers Bloom

I didn’t see it. I drove by daily and hadn’t noticed. But Sunday, there it was. A single plant amongst the weeds: tall purple spires of the Pride of Madiera. They blossom this time of year. And it always surprises me. I forget they’re there. Waiting for the right time and just enough water. Every year they come out to claim the hillsides, and a sad looking field of weeds transforms.  Color. 

It happens in the classroom this time of year. Amongst the weeds of fifth-grade drama, some writers show up. Stories and poems filled with voice.

Last week, we started working on a classroom poetry anthology. We dabbled in a bit of narrative writing too. The notebooks house their poems. Google docs hold their stories.

Lunch time rolled around yesterday, and kids come to talk, to eat and talk, to eat and talk and write. Usually, their writing is digital. But today they noticed the poems I’d put on the wall.

“Someday I’m going to do this,” T said, and she pointed at a concrete poem.

I thought she meant the form.
But that wasn’t it.
She wanted to put a poem on the wall.

I told her, go ahead. Claim a space.

Next thing I know, color.

Just yesterday, there was nothing there.
Now poems decorate the door.

It happens this time of year. Every year it surprises me. I forget they’re there. Waiting. When they’re ready, writers bloom.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.

Celebrate This Week: Why I Teach Reading

This week, one of my students asked me why I teach reading.

I’ve been thinking about this question in the context of this week.

We’re getting ready. For the test. We took on testing language.

What does that mean?” was a typical reaction to a phrase like, “draw a conclusion.”

It’s not that students hadn’t heard the words before or read texts on grade level or responded to questions.

We’ve been doing this all year. But there’s a difference.

We’ve used these words as learners. There has been approximation, engagement, not mastery. We’ve done the work in texts of choice. The questions have grown out our thinking.

Testing changes context.

The work is not learning. It is responding. It’s right and wrong.

This week, students noticed author’s point of view, made inferences, drew conclusions and found evidence in the text to support their thinking.  The same thing they have done all year. But this week, it was done in a static situation with one text and fixed questions.

It’s unsettling.

One could argue we needed more practice with this kind of work.

One could spend all year getting used to this sort of language. Working in same texts, answering questions with test-like question stems. I’ve done this. But there is a cost.

If we spend our precious time teaching this kind of reading and this type of questioning, the work would be familiar. Perhaps scores would be higher. It’s a possibility.

But if we do this, students will walk out of our doors with an aborted view of reading. Reading for knowledge and pleasure will diminish. And, I believe a result could be that the resources available to them as adults will evaporate along with the richness of a life of learning.

We do students a huge disservice if we don’t give them the opportunity to access enjoyment and to learn through reading.  Providing a classroom environment that reaches that potential is the challenge and craft of being a reading teacher. This is the magic that is reading. This is why I teach reading.

This week, I celebrate testing language a few weeks before the test.

This week, I celebrate knowing why I teach reading.


Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for a place to share our thoughts and celebrations each week. Read more celebrations here.



Poetry Friday: Floaties

If I let it, all it takes is a phrase, a word to spur me on to write poetry.

This line, swimming in an ocean of unknowns, from Elisabeth Ellington’s poem spoke to me.  Leigh Anne’s poem about her little corner of the world inspired Elisabeth to write.

My students and I are similar this way. We hold on to the poets around us. They support us.  We use a word, structure, an idea to give us confidence. Then we can let go of the edge and swim in the deep end.


Swimming in an ocean of unknowns
as if I know what will happen
I’m holding on.

Moving in the turbulence,
exuberance spills
and bounces voices around the room.

Words jump, and we grab
and let thoughts grow between
as they settle on the page.

Thank you, Laura Purdie Salas, for the Poetry Friday Round Up on  Writing the World for Kids.

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Slice of Life: Poetry Teaching Points

It’s April, and I’m writing a poem a day.  Poems are hiding in my writing notebook. Tucked away. For me. It’s about volume. Not perfection.

Like me, the classroom writing turns towards poetry. The openness of poetry allows for lots of possible. And with that kids can feel uncertain. It’s scary. Not always pretty. Shaky ground.

I know what I want. I want to them to find meaning and soak up poems.  To wordplay. To make color happen on the page and find white space. To not be afraid.

To do that, I start with a plan that grew out of TCRWP’s poetry unit of study and a bit of Ralph Fletcher. It will be an adventure!

Poetry Teaching Points
Poets notice
Poets walk, look, and realize.

Poets collect
that hide in notebooks
turn jots into drafts
Poets circle, a line, a paragraph, and mold it.

Poets reflect
I’m writing about this because . . .  
This is important because . . .
I used to think . . .
But I learned . . .
So now I think . . .
I want my reader to feel or think . . .
One thing that may be missing here is . . . .

Poets find
an image
the setting
an object.
Poets choose words, a surprising detail
add emotion, create mood and evoke a reaction.

Poets say
Poets close their eyes and picture.


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Love to all that slice and those who venture into poetry. Read more slice here.