Doggedly devoted

30 Aug

It has been whirlwind of a week. My classroom is set up enough to get me through the first week of school. Fiona and Lucy have readjusted to my return to work.


I have hardly read or knit all week. There’s just been too much to do and I returned home exhausted each evening. My stack of library books needs some serious attention. But here is a pair of picture books that I loved.

Gaston, written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Christian Robinson, is about family.


Gaston is not like his sisters. He sometimes exasperates his mother.


When a chance encounter reveals that a mistake has been made, things look right. But they do not feel right. This book is about families, belonging, and square pegs in round holes.

David Ezra Stein’s I’m My Own Dog,  is another story about reversals.


Narrated from the dog’s point of view, we learn about an independent dog who fetches his own slippers. He can do everything for himself, except scratch that one spot in the middle of his back. So, one day, he lets a human scratch it. That poor human follows him home and eventually, dog finds that the human is a good companion.

Kids will love both of these books and I think they’d inspire some very funny writing by kids. The could tell stories from their pets’ perspective, or from the perspective of an animal in a zoo or in the wild. They could write about interspecies families.  They could also right about how they are the Gaston in their family.

These are also just really great read alouds too, especially as school begins and sometimes, that can have kids and teachers feeling a little like fish out of water.

Sounding my barbaric yawp

27 Aug

Today, I get to present to my staff about the CCSS for reading. There will be grumbles as I sound my barbaric yawp about best teaching practices in reading. I know this. I am prepared. I am going to show them this and maybe other clips from Dead Poets’ Society. Really, it comes down to this question: Do you want to be Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, or do you want to be Mr. Keating?

Last week I started reading Falling in Love With Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts.


I will be facilitating a book group/action research group with any staff members who are interested. I am hopeful that we have a biggish group, and that there are some people who join who might be a little uncomfortable with the whole thing.

I am excited about all the changes happening for me this year, but had a little meltdown when I got home yesterday because I haven’t had a chance to unpack any of my stuff and we are full on for meetings all day today and tomorrow morning. It’s this way every year.  I know, once the real business of teaching begins, it will be good. I just have to make it through this week.



Ear piercing: A Slice of life story

26 Aug



Mr. Faruzel pierced me the first time. It was our 12th birthday. My mom, twin sister and I walked down Huron Street to his house, where he had a beauty salon. We got to pick a pair of birthstone earrings off a card and he used a piercing gun. It was over quickly and easily, so much so that my mother went to get hers pierced a few weeks later. Mr. Faruzel was a German speaker, born in Poland  in the 1920’s, and had been in the Hitler Youth as a boy, like every other young German his age. He was a very kind man and had a son, Edward, who had muscular dystrophy.

I wore earrings religiously for decades. Then, for some unknown reason, I stopped. My holes grew smaller and before too long, it became impossible to wear them, even when I wanted to.

This summer, I decided I would repierce my ears. My sister offered to poke me with a sewing needle. I declined. I have very sensitive skin and history of MRSA, so I wanted a real professional to do the job. I sent out queries to my Facebook friends and got a few responses back. I checked out websites and YELP reviews and finally made my decision.

Friday morning, I got up with a plan in mind. I had a hair appointment and wanted to go see the 11:20 showing of the movie If I Stay.  After the movie, I would get it done. That was my plan.

Well, as I exited the theatre and checked the time on my phone because, piercing salons don’t open before noon. There was an urgent message from my teaching partner. I called to learn she would be leaving 4th grade, leaving our school, to teach first grade elsewhere in the district. At first, I thought she was joking. I asked to meet her for coffee and she invited me over, since I was already close. on my drive there, I had an inspiration. I could take her 4th grade job. At her house, where another teammate joined us, i told her my idea. She encouraged me to call our principal, who happened to have the same idea. So, I am once again a 4th grade classroom teacher. I didn’t leave until after 5 and by then, the piercing salon was closed.

Saturday morning, I got up early to throw open the doors and windows to cool the house down. I hemmed and hawed about getting the piercing, doubting my decision. I took a nap. When I woke up, I was resolved to carry out my plan.

I went to Nomad piercing Studio on Division Street in Portland., owned and operated by a man named Blake. I chose his studio because that’s all they do. No tattoos. No haircuts. Just piercings. His website is really interesting and has a video showing him piercing a 3 year old’s ears. That convinced me that this was the place to go.  His studio also has a museum, showing his collection of body art and piercings.

We had a nice chat and he said he wouldn’t really have to repierce, just open the holes, as if he were enlarging them to put in the sort of plugs he wears. This is Blake.


You can see the plugs he has in his ears and the labret in his bottom lip.  It was over quickly and I now have a captive ball ring in each ear. I don’t imagine I’ll ever be as adorned as Blake, or many others in Portland, but I’m feeling pretty cool right now.

Maptastic thoughts on personal geography

25 Aug

I recently finished listening to Andrew Clements’  The Map Trap.


Alton loves maps and draws his own personal geographies of people and experiences. Some of them are brutally honest, so he doesn’t show them to others. Alas, one day his collection goes missing and he goes on a mission to find them and the person who is holding them hostage. The book is about what you’d expect from Andrew Clements, though shorter than many of this other books. There is a precious kid with a problem to solve. I think, though, that my prediction about the culprit was better than Clements’ actual perpetrator. Even though his teacher is a first year teacher, I can’t imagine she would be so unprofessional as to blackmail a student to confront a principal about saying “um” or make him change the type of t-shirt he wears. I suspected it was Alton’s little sister, and I would expect someone her age to blackmail a  sibling into doing those sorts of activities.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Keith Nobbs who does a marvelous job. Quite frankly, he saved it for me.  Nobbs projects a youthful voice appropriate to the characters in the novel, whom he manages ti differentiate nicely. His narration of the more descriptive elements of the book provides a nice balance with the emotional states of the characters.

The 2 CD Simon & Schuster audiobook, which runs 2 hours & 30 minutes, was provided to me by Audiobook Jukebox.

As I was listening to the book, an idea took hold. In spite of the books faults, it could be a good read aloud during a map unit. Or, it could be a great beginning of the year read aloud that helps turn kids on to ways of representing themselves.

Imagine reading The Map Trap  aloud, but coupling it with non-fiction texts about mapping personal geographies!

For younger readers, or to introduce the idea, you could turn to Sara Fanelli’s My Map Book.


This is a wonderful book in which she maps everything from a bedroom to a dog.

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For older readers, there is You Are Here: Personal geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination by Katharine Harmon.


 Some of these have some mature content, so be sure to preview it before sharing it with kids. The book was written with an adult audience in mind, but the ideas contained within are beautiful and though provoking.

The idea of mapping your personal geography flows into the art of info graphics. James Gulliver Hancock has a new book out entitled Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers: Portraits of 50 famous Folks & All Their Weird Stuff.


From Abraham Lincoln to the Wright Brothers, Hancock creates mind maps of famous lives.


Wouldn’t this be a cool beginning of the year activity? You’d learn about your students and you could see what kind of thinking and graphic skills they have.

August 24, 1814

24 Aug

Two hundred years ago today, the White House burned.


On august 24, 1814, the United States lost a battle to the British on the outskirts of Washington D.C.. Citizens and soldiers fled the city and the British entered the city and burned the Capitol building and the White House.

Jane Sutcliffe has a new book all about it.


Drawing from primary sources,  The White House is Burning tells the story of this one day in history, through multiple voices. beginning before dawn and moving chronologically through the night, we are skillfully introduced to major players and new technology, like rockets. In my mind Dolley Madison steals the show, with the letter she wrote throughout the day. This is a very readable history of on day during the War of 1812.



Beginning Year Read Alouds

23 Aug Featured Image -- 4483


This question always comes up at the beginning of the year, so hear is one person’s answer.

Originally posted on TWO WRITING TEACHERS:

As a literacy coach, I try to offer valuable support to the classroom teachers during the first few weeks of school.  This year, I compiled a list of possible read aloud books for the opening days of the school year.  Although there are so many other wonderful titles I wanted to include, I limited my list to only those titles I had on hand, either in my personal collection or in our school library. The books were stacked in my office, readily accessible to teachers.  All they had to do was walk in and grab one.  Here are the books and notes I shared with the teachers:

Books to Help You Create a Positive Classroom Climate

by Peter Reynolds

There are some big messages in this book. I would imagine this book leading to a discussion about how our words matter, or maybe about appreciating our unique gifts, or…

View original 555 more words

Three books

21 Aug

At my meeting yesterday, one of the icebreaker things we had to do was write down 3 books we thought every elementary student should read by the time they leave for middle school. You could feel the buzz in the room. People had lots of ideas, but no one started to write. The hard part was limiting it to three.

My first one was my first book love,  The Story of Ferdinand  by Munro Leaf.


It’s an old book, but when I read it lo, those many years ago, my eyes were opened. I was just like Ferdinand and I had never realized that I could identify so closely with the character in a book. Disney turned it into cartoon in 1938.

Next on my list was Frindle by Andrew Clements.


This was Clements’ first book and it is a wonderful tale about creative thought and the power of words.Brian Selznick’s black-and-white illustrations enhance the humor in this unforgettable story.

Finally, I chose a newer book, one that resonated with me very powerfully the first time I read it, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.


Just thinking about the book makes me get all soft & mushy inside.

As the day wore on, I added a few titles to my list, as did other people, but I wonder, what three books of you think  every elementary student should read by the time they leave for middle school

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