Friday, February 28, 2014

Poetry Friday: Poems for a Book Character

Photo by Mary Lee Hahn. May be used with attribution.

I still haven't quite recovered from reading The Goldfinch. (My gobstopped review is here.)

This is a poem the main character, Theo, would appreciate. It fits with his world view. Mine, too, on the days when I choose not to think about the truth of our existence here.

by Wyatt Townley

It's only the body
It's only a hip joint
It's just a bulging disc
It's only weather
It's only your heart
It's a shoulder who needs it
This happens all the time
It's very common
It's unusual
For people your age
For people your age
You're in great shape
Remarkable shape
It's nothing you did
The main thing is
It's temporary
It's only a doll
In a house that's burning

But Theo would also like this one, knowing, as he did, the power of art to change our lives.

Archaic Torso of Apollo
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Stephen Mitchell

We cannot know his legendary head 
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso 
is still suffused with brilliance from inside, 
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low, 

gleams in all its power. Otherwise 
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could 
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs 
to that dark center where procreation flared. 

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced 
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders 
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur: 

would not, from all the borders of itself, 
burst like a star: for here there is no place 
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Anastasia has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week via Poet! Poet!, but on Pinterest HERE.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


The Goldfinch
by Donna Tartt
Little, Brown and Company, 2013

We have art in order not to die from the truth. 

This book. It's why I do what I do. So that someday, maybe sooner, maybe later, every child in the wake of my teaching will come across at least one book that knocks them backward, sits them down hard. Changes the way they see the world.

I read this book through my ears. It's a huge book; we've been together through months of trips back and forth to school, and walks light enough to wear earbuds, and housework menial enough to listen while I worked.

It's not an easy book to read. Donna Tartt doesn't make anything easy for Theo for very long at all. But it's a beautiful book. Long passages were poetry -- love songs to antiques, cities, seasons, art, life.

Yesterday when I woke up, I had about two hours left to listen to, and (you know the feeling) there was nothing else I could do but listen. I took my early morning walk as laps around the basement so that I could listen. I listened while I ate breakfast. I listened while I made my lunch. I listened in the car on the way to school. I listened while I got the classroom ready for the day, before I went to my meeting.

After my students finished their word study task, one after another picked up a book and started to read. By the time I should have done the reading workshop mini lesson, the room was silent. That Kind of Silent. Spring in Fifth Grade Silent. This is a Community of Readers Silent.

I had 15 minutes left in the book. What else could I do? I grabbed my earphones and joined my community of readers. I finished the book, brushing away tears.

And what will I do next? I will buy a copy of the physical book, because it's one I want to hold in my hands and shelve next to the other landmark books of my adulthood. I want to read those last pages again. And find other favorite parts and savor them and sticky-note them.

And then? No, I won't be able to start another audiobook for awhile. I'll listen to Arvo Pärt on the drive to and from school, because Pippa listened to his music. I'll think about art and love and loss and chance and fate and right and wrong.

And I'll think about how lives are changed by the power of beauty in great art and in great books.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Midweek Meandering

by Hugh MacLeod,

Do you agree or disagree?

Can you think of a time when you were invited onto the yacht? 
Did it make a difference in your life?

How about a time when you confidently paddled your own canoe? 
How did that experience change you?

Monday, February 24, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I've been looking forward to Louise Borden's book Baseball Is . . . ...for a LONG TIME! Louise is a great friend of mine and I love every book she's written.   This one is EXTRA FABULOUS!  I loved it. My kids loved it. Even my husband loved it.  Just an amazing celebration of baseball. So much information with Louise's poetic style. A definite must-have for almost every age!

For some reason, I have not had much time to really dig in and read lately.  But with a 3 day weekend last week, I decided to spend much of Monday on the couch reading a book on my stack.  One of the books I'd been hearing lots about was A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd (@_natalielloyd).  WOW! WOW! WOW! I so loved this book. It was as good as everyone is saying it is.  A perfectly wonderful read.  The story is about Felicity Pickle, who moves into Midnight Gulch with her mother and her sister.   This is a magical town and Felicity falls in love with it immediately.  But her mother is a wanderer so she worries that they won't stay.  This book gave me the same feeling that Because of Winn-Dixie gave me the first time I read it.  There is something about the language and the characters and the feeling of the book that are all just right. I can't believe that this is Natalie Lloyd's first novel. She is one brilliant writer and I am already excited to see what she writes next.  A must read middle grade novel FOR SURE!

I am anxiously awaiting Meenoo Rami's (@meenoorami) upcoming professional book, Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching . Heinemann has posted a sample chapter for readers so I read that this week. The chapter they released is one on mentors and it is brilliant! Such a fresh look at mentors in our teaching.  I can't wait to read the rest of this book when it is released in March!

NCTE tweeted out this great Lego article with infographic this week.  Colby Sharp has me interested in the study of infographics with my students so I paid closer attention than usual. This is an amazing info graphic!

And after a great chat on Twitter with Tony Keefer (@tonykeefer) and Niki Barnes (@daydreamreader) about how little Adult Fiction I fit into my reading life,  I definitely need to include more Adult Fiction into my reading life. Of the 776 books I've marked read on Goodreads, only 8 are adult fiction. UGH! I decided to forget the rest of my TBR stack and read Adult Fiction.  I've had The Snow Child: A Novel on my list for months and figured I might as well read it while it is still snow and cold.  It does not seem like a spring/summer read. But the book is already sad so I think I'm going to put it back on my stack and try something else.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

NCTE's Formative Assessment that Truly Informs Instruction: A Round-Up of Thoughts

On Sunday, February 16, I hosted an #nctechat with @anterobot on Formative Assessment. The conversation focused on the new position statement from NCTE: Formative Assessment That Truly  Informs Instruction.  It is a document that we think can make a difference and the chat was an energized one with so many powerful ideas.

I was a part of the group that helped create the position statement on Formative Assessment and one thing we hoped while crafting it is that it gives teachers a way to change the conversation around formative assessment. We want this document to help us get back to what we know is right about assessment and how it can impact our instruction.  The #nctechat was one way to begin the conversation and many participants had plans to take the position statement to colleagues, administrators and community members.

At the end of the chat, several people committed to writing posts about Formative Assessment as a follow-up to the chat.  I offered to collect the posts in one place so that the conversation around this topic and document can continue to grow.  If you missed the chat, you can read the archives of the chat here.  And regardless of whether or not you participated in the chat, we think these blog posts are important as a way to continue an ongoing conversation about the topic of true Formative Assessment.  So, take some time to read the posts, make comments, connect with the bloggers and comment lots.
Let's continue this conversation!

Jennifer Serravallo (@jserravallo) writes "What's in a Name?" .

Jennifer Brittin (@jenbrittin) writes "The Proof is in the Pudding, Right?"

Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) writes Formative Assessment That TRULY Informs Instruction

Megan Skogstad (@megskogie) writes Formative Assessment in Order to Maximize Student and Teacher Learning

Justin Stygles (@JustinStygles) writes Formative Assessment-Making Sense Through Practice

Carol Varsalona writes (@cvarsalona)Formative Assessment Can Be the Game Changer for You

Kathleen Jasper (@JasperKathleen) and Lisa Scherff(@lisascherff) write A Chat About Formative Assessment at CoversationED (@conversationed)

Kristine Mraz (@MrazKristine) writes Charts as Pathways to Success

Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan (@ClareandTammy) write Using Our Students' Perspectives to Triangulate Assessment

Katherine Sokolowski (@katsok) writes Thinking About Formative Assessment

Cathy Mere(@CathyMere) writes Formative Assessment that Informs Instruction

Renee Boss (@renee_boss) writes Formative Assessment--A Process--Not a Thing

Darcy Oberdofer (@DarcyJObe), Amanda TenBrink, Steve Seward and Andrew Smith (@smithand1015) write Formative Assessments: A Cornerstone to Math Workshop

Kim Jasper (@KimChismJasper) writes Formative Assessment in the Writing Process

Amy Cody (@acodyclancy) writes Using "Public Response" to Formatively Assess: Is it working?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Celebrate Today!

We LOVE the tradition Ruth Ayres has created our blog inviting bloggers to Celebrate each week. Take some time to visit her blog for the link up of everyone's celebrations this week!

Today is our 25th annual Dublin Literacy Conference!  We love this conference--it is one of our favorite days of the year. Not only do we learn lots, but we get to see so many friends and colleagues.  We get to hear amazing speakers and buy books.  So we thought today, we'd do a daylong photo essay. Throughout the day, we'll be adding photos to this post to celebrate the day!  So check back for new additions:-) We hope you enjoy the day with us!

Celebrating student work. 

Celebrating technology: the Blogger app (we're blogging from our phones today), the Mosaicam app ("celebrity" photos to follow), and the Skitch app (which I used to annotate this screen shot on my phone)! We will also be celebrating technology later this morning when we Skype with Gene Barretta, the only author who was not able to make it here yesterday during the Great Pre-Conference Flight Delay Mayhem. 

Top, L to R, celebrating blogger friends from far and near -- Betsy and Julie. Bottom row -- Celebrating Gene Barretta's flexibility in Skyping for our family session. 

More celebrities! Cathy, Bud Hunt, Katie and Franki. 

#dublit14 Authors: Penny Kittle, Bryan Collier, Kassia Wedekind, Don Brown

Look what Penny brought for me!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Poetry Friday -- Remembering Maxine Kumin

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Doug Wheller

On February 6, one of my all-time favorite poets died. Plain-spoken, New Hampshire farmer and horsewoman Maxine Kumin will never write another poem.

It pains my heart to be reminded that all life and all art are finite. And yet, in spite of every ending, we go on. We came from this earth and we will return to the earth the handful of minerals we have been loaned for our brief time here. We go on because we are and always will be A Part Of It All. And the art we leave will live on in strangers' hearts; our words will change lives without our knowledge or consent. We go on.

The Excrement Poem
by Maxine Kumin

It is done by us all, as God disposes, from
the least cast of worm to what may have been
in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor
of considerable heft, something awesome.

We eat, we evacuate, survivors that we are.
I think these things each morning with shovel
and rake, drawing the risen brown buns
toward me, fresh from the horse oven, as it were,

or culling the alfalfa-green ones, expelled
in a state of ooze, through the sawdust bed
to take a serviceable form, as putty does,
so as to lift out entire from the stall.

And wheeling to it, storming up the slope,
I think of the angle of repose the manure
pile assumes, how sparrows come to pick
the redelivered grain, how inky-cap

coprinus mushrooms spring up in a downpour.
I think of what drops from us and must then
be moved to make way for the next and next.
However much we stain the world, spatter
it with our leavings, make stenches, defile
the great formal oceans with what leaks down,
trundling off today's last barrowful,
I honor shit for saying: We go on.

A New Yorker postscript to Maxine Kumin's life is here.
The "Sonnets Uncorseted" mentioned in the article are here.
And Short the Season: Poems is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2014.

Karen Edmisten is hosting the Poetry Friday roundup this week.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Steampunk for Middle Grade (8-12) Readers

First of all, let's get this straight: what's steampunk?

I'd heard of steampunk, but I'd never read any. How about you?

The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon
by S.S. Taylor
illustrated by Katherine Roy
McSweeny McMullens, 2012
review copy provided by the publisher

I started reading THE EXPEDITIONERS by S.S. Taylor expecting, from the front cover, an old-time adventure story.

I really should have done a better job previewing. If I'd looked at the back cover, I would have noticed the airship. If I'd read the blurb on the jacket flap, I would have been better prepared for an alternative future, a place where "Computers have failed, electricity is extinct, and the race to discover new lands is underway!"

But sometimes you just have to test an author's ability to draw you into the world of the book and make you believe it is as real as the couch you are sitting on. And S.S. Taylor passed that test for me. By chapter 3, I was in a future where the idea that people of the past believed that there were just seven continents was laughable. A future where explorers continued to find new places and new species on earth. A future of shortages, lines in the market places, strangers with clockwork hands, and transportation by SteamDirigibles.

Kit, Zander and M.K. West, children of the late great explorer Alexander West find themselves in a race with government agents to follow clues their father left them about a lost canyon filled with gold treasure.

Not only do they find the canyon and gold, but also an entire race of people living in the lost canyon. People whose existence and whereabouts their father had kept secret so that their land and treasure would not be exploited.

The blend of futuristic science fiction with "low-tech" machines gives the reader a very fun sort of vertigo -- as if the directions of past and future got mixed up.

What are the chances, having read only one steampunk book, that the next book on my TBR is also described inside the front cover as, "Part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy, part steampunk adventure..."??

The Peculiar
by Stefan Bachmann
Greenwillow Books, 2012
recommended by Salli Oddi, owner of Cover to Cover

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Planning for Small Group Instruction: Problem and Solution

Moving from 4th grade to 3rd grade has been fascinating as there is a big difference between the two ages.  And I'm realizing again that 3rd grade readers are at a critical stage in reading development.  As they are becoming more sophisticated readers, the books become more complex. Not only are they building stamina to read longer books over several days but they are also learning to infer so much about a story.  Over the last few weeks I've been working with a small group on inferring problem and solution and I've learned so much from them. My thinking is that this cycle of lessons I've used with them might be the perfect cycle to use in whole class teaching early in the year next year.

I began working with several groups of students on inferring because although my students can infer isolated pieces in a text (what a word means in the context of a sentence, what a character meant by a phrase in a book, what might happen next, etc.), I am noticing a pattern that many of my students do not infer across the text and as texts become longer and more complex, this becomes more of a barrier to true comprehension. I'm finding students who can retell a story with every story part, but they miss some subtle thing that makes the story.  Their inferring is at the basic level and they rush through-making up their mind fast without pausing to think about the whole. So, I planned a few lesson and have continued from there.

I always thought that problem and solution was a rather basic thing to teach but there are so many conversations that have come from it that I am realizing how important it is for 8 and 9 year olds.


We began with Chalk by Bill Thompson. This is a wonderful wordless picture book that I thought would make sense for inferring. I started out with inferring predictions with this group. We did a shared reading of the book as a group, talking and predicting using evidence from the pictures. Kids could predict basic things but it became evident that they were reading for isolated events rather than the whole bigger story.  They seemed to pay close attention to minor details and went quickly over events that worked together to create a story. They didn't seem to have any focus in mind as they read that could help them put the pieces together.


I asked students to go off and read a wordless book on their own. I used A Ball for Daisy
Hippo! No, Rhino!, and Where's Walrus? and each student left with one of these books  I asked them to jot notes on stickies as they read.

We came back together to talk and their stickies confirmed my thinking from our reading of Chalk. I realized  that these students were reading events but not reading for the whole story to come together in some way.  I needed to help them read across a story. There were lots of stickies about little details not connected to the big story. I know that these are important for readers , but only if they can see how they fit into the bigger picture.  So I changed my focus to problem and solution to give these students a way to focus--how to read across a story for the bigger picture in a story--more than isolated events in a sequence.


One thing that struck me in all of our conversations in the first two days was the fact that my students equated "ending" with "last page". Whatever the characters were doing on the last page was described as the ending by these students. I knew if I wanted to change the way they approached story, they needed to understand that the "ending" was not necessarily a final event but the solution or the outcome of the story.  It wasn't always the very last thing that happened.

For the next lesson, I used the wordless book Fossil by Bill Thompson. This one is patterned similarly to Chalk so I figured the kids would be able to dig deeper and see the problem and solution more clearly after having read and discussed Chalk.  For Fossil, I asked students to focus on the big problem and the big solution and we talked through it. They were much better able to do this when they weren't jumping around to lots of unrelated details. Instead, they read with a focus in mind that they wanted to get a sense of the whole story.

In the meantime, during individual conferences, we also talked a bit about the book that each child was reading during independent reading. They were delighted to discover that the books they were reading had problems and that the longer the book, the longer it took to solve the problem!


I decided that once the kids knew that stories had problems and solutions, I wanted to give them ways to look at these more deeply.  I wanted them to learn two strategies for thinking of problem and solution. One was that the title of a book is often a clue about the problem or solution. The other was that the main character often DOES something to solve the problem.

One thing I am noticing is that my students are often missing the subtle things that a character does to solve a problem.  Often a character does something (like in Miss Nelson is Missing) that seems obvious to adult readers even though it is not stated in the story.  I wanted my kids to read knowing that often characters did something deliberate to solve the problem and that readers sometimes read for that.

For this lesson, we read the book, I Want a Dog!. I picked this book for a few reasons. First of all, the problem was hinted to in the title. Second of all, the character does something very obvious to solve the problem and I knew my kids would see that.  Finally, I knew that there were lots of books about kids who want pets and I wanted to be able to build on this lesson later in the study. So,  "What did the character do to solve the problem?" was the focus of this lesson and kids caught right on, excited to know this little trick for finding solution. (They acted like they were in on a big secret!)  The focus was helpful as they weren't jumping all over the place, hoping the random details they noticed would somehow make sense to them.


Following I Want a Dog, I gave each student a copy of the picture book A Small Brown Dog with a Wet Pink Nose. This book is about a little girl who wants a dog but her solution is quite clever and the reader has to infer quite a bit to see how deliberate the little girl is throughout the story in order to solve her problem. I knew that understanding this might be a stretch but I knew that it was a good next step to really dig in and figure out what the character did.


Before I finish up with this group, I want to give them tools to go a little deeper into their understanding. I want them to see that problem and solution matters and that often a character changes over time because of the problem. I know that they are at the point that they are reading across a whole story now and they are ready to see the impact of the problem/solution on the characters.  So my next few lessons with this group will be around the idea that the main character often changes because of the problem they encountered and that readers often ask themselves, "How does the character change in the journey to solve the problem?"  I have a few books in mind for this conversation and they are all three books that make sense as next steps and for this new focus: Those ShoesThe Summer My Father Was Ten, and A Bad Case of Stripes (Scholastic Bookshelf) are the three books I'll use next. I may only use one or two depending on how much support students need with this new idea.


Planning for this group helped me to think about my planning for all small groups.  I have been involved in lots of thinking around small group instruction at school. A group of teachers is meeting to discuss Jennifer Serravallo's book Teaching Reading in Small Groups: Differentiated Instruction for Building Strategic, Independent Readers and  we have been involved in LLI training. I'm realizing that my small group instruction at 3rd grade needs to be as planned and focused as my whole group lessons.  And they need to happen over more than a few days.  Even though my groups are not really guided reading groups, they are strategy groups that need to move students to new behaviors quickly. When I started thinking about this group, the change they needed seemed too big to happen in a short time, but when I really looked at the students' behaviors and what they had in place, I was able to break the idea down into smaller chunks and change behaviors quickly. My students quickly learned to read across a story, to find the problem and solution and to focus on character actions.  Next I am confident that they will be able to see the changes a character has on their journey in the story.  These little behaviors have changed in a two week period and has transferred to their independent reading so that they are more engaged and thoughtful readers.

These kids are not necessarily struggling readers but they are struggling with this idea and it is keeping them from truly understanding what they read .  I am all about discovery, but sometimes kids need some ways into discovery. They need to know what to read for and some things to remember as readers. Then when they move into complex texts they know these things will hold true and that's where the real thinking and discovery comes in.  I've been careful to choose books that really make visible the things I want them to see that are true of many stories so that they differently on their own.  In less than 2 weeks, they've changed their expectations of story.

I am rethinking small groups to be a bit longer than usual (over 2-ish weeks) to really change several behaviors that add up over time. This cycle has taught me a lot about what transitional readers need and about how to better plan small group instruction so that in a short period of time, students can become more independent readers.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Presidents' Day

by Jonah Winter
illustrated by AG Ford
Katherine Tegen Books, 2013
review copy provided by the publisher

I know it's supposed to be President's (singular possessive -- honoring George Washington) Day, but why can't we celebrate ALL the presidents on this day? We've had some great ones, and we've had some lousy ones, but either way, it's certainly not a job I would want to do!

When I received JFK, there was no doubt in my mind who should review it. Judy Hedge, a reading teacher in my building, is a passionate JFK fan. JFK came to visit her county in 1960. Judy's father, Robert Fulton, was a Wickliffe Councilman and running for County Commissioner and attended a fundraiser for Kennedy. Judy had to go to school and miss JFK riding in an open convertible through her community so she gave her father her autograph book. Her father got to shake JFK's hand and had him sign her autograph book. He had his picture taken with Kennedy, too. Judy has an extensive collection of Kennedy memorabilia: newspaper articles, magazines, political buttons and a signed photo from a letter she wrote to him after the election. He is her hero.

About Winter's JFK, she writes:

It’s hard for me to believe that fifty years have passed since the presidency of John F. Kennedy. To me, and many of my generation, the young president inspired us to serve the greater good; that hope and determination will always succeed over fear and uncertainty.

A lot has been said about the Kennedy legacy and “Camelot” in the years since. Some good, some bad and for a while it seemed like that legacy disappeared from an active role in our cultural life. Jonah Winter’s JFK gives me hope that children who will one day face the same issues that President Kennedy faced will know their historical legacy to guide their choices. While not a definitive volume, Winter touches on many of the defining moments of JFK’s administration.

AG Ford utilizes the technique of overemphasizing the light on the main subject’s face to make the illustrations look more dramatic. The illustrations are cartoonish so children can relate better to the events that they depict. My hope of this very well illustrated book is that it will inspire curiosity and allow the young minds to learn about the man and how his legacy still impacts them 50 years later.

EDITED TO ADD: Kindle Daily Deal for Kids has 5 books about presidents for $1.99 each...including George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and JFK!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Celebrate this week!

1.  #nerdlution -- What started last December as a "jump on the bandwagon" has gone past habit to become a cherished ritual: get up, walk for 20-30 minutes, sit down with my tea and yogurt and write for 20-30 minutes. If I start my day by doing these two things for ME, then a day never passes when I do everything for others and neglect myself.

2. Boundaries -- I stop working at 8:00 PM. That doesn't mean I always work until 8:00, that just means that if I am still working, I stop at 8:00. This boundary means I don't do any of those 8:00 PM Twitter chats, but it also means I don't spend my last waking hour doing Twitter chats.

3. Valentine boxes -- I wish I would have taken pictures! My students were SO creative this year! There was a minion, a MineCraft creeper, a black night-sky box with a styrofoam earth (on a tilted axis) with a smaller styrofoam moon (with spray painted craters) suspended (well, stuck on a stick) in the "night sky" above the box (yes, we are studying earth and moon in science), a race car, and one that had a string of lights that lit up with a battery inside it...among the other tissue paper/hearts/red+pink creations.

4. Life outside of school -- I organized a combination online (FB) / live auction that culminated this week. We raised over $700 for Casting for Recovery!

5. My weekend tea mug -- another ritual I cherish is switching on Saturday from my weekday regular-sized tea mug and teabag tea to my extra-large Writer's Almanac mug and super strong loose tea made in my infuser from NorthStar Cafe (from back in the day when they sold them). More tea = more time to sip. Ahhh...

EDITED TO ADD: Cybils Awards were announced yesterday! Congrats to the winners!

Those are five of the things I celebrate this week. How about you? What are you celebrating? Join Ruth and other bloggers at for the 18th edition of Celebrate This Week.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Poetry Friday -- Brrr...

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Lars Kristian Flem


It's frigid.
Each hand's fingers huddle
in the main house of the mitten,
fraternal quadruplets, each smitten
with the opposable digit.

It's touching
the way the four welcome thumb
in from his cold outpost,
fold over him,
hold him close.

Then later,
when the backs of the fingers succumb,
begin to numb,
thumb becomes reciprocator,
gathers the four beneath his meager reach.

For once,
thumb is unconcerned
about any job to be done.
Fingers appreciate thumb's cuddle,
though he covers only two knuckles.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day! Linda has the Poetry Friday roundup at TeacherDance today.