Sunday, April 20, 2014

If not for Franki!



What an honor to write about YOU Franki!

Oh, how exciting you make our lives!  Your high speed energy, your ability to get momentum going for almost anything, and your quick thinking enrich my life!

If not for you Franki, I would never have had the beginning I did in Dublin.  A district filled with young energized, innovative teachers - where you took a lead and encouraged so many of us.

If not for you Franki, I would not have had all these of years of learning and growing at the Dublin Literacy Conference.  What a gift you have given to all of us.  From being on the committee with you many, many years ago, to simply attending, the conference never disappoints.  

If not for you Franki and Mary Lee I would never have tried a blog.

If not for you Franki, inviting me to a tech gathering, I would never have tried Twitter and connected with so many incredible teachers.

If not for Franki, I may have never stayed connected to so many of our dear friends.  You have a beautiful and gifted way of bringing people together and helping us to stay connected.


If not for you, I wouldn't have tried running (Go Team Pumpkin!) or remembered the joy of yoga.

There is so much more that I love about you.  Franki, I love that we have discovered that little village in Italy that holds roots for both of us!  Love your family and have enjoyed every minute of us talking about our girls as they have grown over the years.  A conversation with you stays with me and inspires me. Simply thank you for all you do and for all you are to so many. Much love to you Frances!  (Or is it Francis?)


Monday, October 1, 2012

It's Monday! What Are Your Reading? Catching Up!

Here is my attempt to catch up on what I have been reading since school started - several weeks worth!  

One of the biggest gifts that I have received this school year so far, is the gift of working with Kindergarten students once again.  It has been four years since I have had this opportunity.  Sometimes  there is a flip side to good news - for me the flip is that, at this time, I won't be working with 4th and 5th grade readers.  I am a middle-grade book lover.  For sure I'd rather read a young YA book than an adult novel, so I won't give up my attempt to read as many of these novels as I possibly can. 

With this gift of reading with K kids, I am more determined to learn about the picture books I have been missing.  Here are just a few that I have read in the last few weeks...

Do Cows Meow?  and Do Crocs Kiss?  both by Salina Yoon.  These flap books are perfect for pre-k kids and many of the Ks I work with are learning to expand their English, so the simplicity of this text along with the excitement of the flaps should be a hit!


Oopsy, Teacher!  by Stephanie Calmenson - have loved Late for School, so I was thrilled to find this gem!  The message that teachers too make mistakes even though they can be trying their best is one that we need to continue to communicate with our students.  And who wouldn't love a book that features a creative teacher who turns a tough day into a party day? 


The Jungle Run by Tony Mitton - The bright cover pulled me to this book in the new book section of the library.  The clever and determined smallest animal perseveres even when all the other animals tell her she is too little.  Another great message for young listeners.

Laugh-Out -Loud Baby by Tony Johnston - Loved learning that there is a tradition in the Navajo culture to celebrate a baby's first laugh.  There is so much joy in this book.


I picked up The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech and could not put it down until I finished it.  Sharon Creech never disappoints.  Truly.  I simply love her books.  I think readers will enjoy trying to solve the mystery of how all the characters will come together.  Great story of connectedness and definition of family.  While definition of family is a common theme it is one that I never grow tired of and Creech brings an ever twisting turning storyline as she speaks to this theme.  I also loved the fanciful traditional tales interwoven throughout the story.

I finished the last disc of Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead.  I'll just say that driving isn't nearly as fulfilling as it was when those 4 discs were playing!  Another great read with themes of personal struggles and bullying, as well as family struggles.  Great look at how we meet adversity and deal in our own way.  The contrast of the two families the reader gets to know is intriguing.

I continue to try to keep up with at least a few adult fiction books which is always a challenge for me during the school year.  This week I finished Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry.  Our school book club chose this book and I had never read it.  I think what I loved the most about this book was that I didn't have it all figured out and that there were surprises for me.  I guess it felt good not to predict and solve the entire book before the last chapters.  This would be an important thought to keep with me as I conference with young readers.  I think sharing the joy of not being right in my predictions or not having it all figured out would make for interesting discussions.

Happy reading wishes to everyone!

Monday, June 18, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?



It has been a fabulous summer of reading so far.  Part of the joy is passing on books or titles to others and receiving titles from, thanks to technology, my ever widening reading community.  Recently Stella at My World-Mi Mundo posted about her experience as she finished See You at Harry's .  After hearing her and others talk about this book I knew I had to read it!  I read it in one day and immediately passed the book to a friend.  Last night I received a message from this friend saying, "Thanks for making me cry a ton today."  If you know me at all, then you know I went into paranoid mode!  Ah, finally, I realized I had not hurt her, rather the book had touched her.  A touching, deep read - many different layers of real  issues -  just get the tissues ready.



Several weeks ago I went out of my reading norm with Divergent.   While on a different level of intensity, I followed reading Divergent with a postapocalyptic YA The Prince Who Fell from the Sky.  It did feel good to move out of the comfort zone with both of these book and I loved them.  I think middle school and high school readers probably already know Divergent and are waiting for the 3rd book of this series!  I look forward to recommending The Prince Who Fell from the Sky to intermediate grade readers.

I am a huge fan of Deborah Wiles, her books just delight and reach me.  I have to say as I was reading Three Times Lucky, I was reminded of some of the Deborah Wiles characters who are unforgettable.  While the characters are uniquely each author's own, I just fell in love with the characters in Three Times Lucky easily as well.  I can't wait to share this book with 4th and 5th graders!  Sheila Turnage has created a book that makes you laugh, presents a mystery, offers memorable characters and reminds us how family is defined by our hearts.


Just a fun teacher note... the last time I blogged about Jake and Lily and mentioned that I knew just the twins who needed to read this book.  Funny thing, now every time I see these two the brother tells me how slow his sister reads and that it will be the end of the summer before he gets the book!  Yes, confirmed... the perfect twins for this twin/sibling book!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?





This week I realize how dependent I am on the twitter, blogs and the Goodreads community especially Mock Newbery 2013.
Mock Newbery 2013
 These networks have helped me to read some fantastic books that I would never have found on my own.   We can really celebrate how technology brings our teaching community together - glad to finally be joining in on a more participatory way!



My last post talked about how many YA books have parents who are missing in the young characters lives.  I felt like a was still on this theme a bit lately.  
Since that post, I finished  As Small as an Elephant.  This boy gets abandoned by his mother while they are on a camping trip.  For the most part the child remains sympathetic and understanding about his mother's condition.  What I loved about this story was that it reopens our eyes to the idea that things are not always as we think they are.  You witness this theme unfold with the main character's ah-ha moments, his moments of clarity.  


Fitting in the foster child theme I absolutely loved    One for the Murphys.  This book is beautifully written and warmed my heart.  I don't want to ruin the story for anyone but I have to share this quote from page 12: "The tone, the look on her face and the look on his, a gentle brush of his hair. A kiss on top of the head.  I struggle to decipher a foreign language.  She's looking at him like she's seeing the best thing ever. Even though he's done something wrong."  This is how I hope my face reads with my students every day - whether when giving a simple hello in the hall to instructional times.  This quote just struck a chord.  Kids know.


 After reading   Jake and Lily, I knew the perfect two people to share this book with - a set of twins in our 5th grade, boy/girl twins just like in the book.  I have read with these two in after school club and the brother is always trying to slam his sister.  I think he would truly love this book.  And possibly admit, if only to himself, his love for his twin sister.  This is a great story about growing up with the message of finding yourself rather than depending on others for your happiness. While the main characters are twins, many readers will be able to relate and grow from reading this book. There is a great side character in the book too, a self-admitted hippy grandfather who is very wise and quirky and adds a humorous dimension to the book. 


I just started Inside Out and Back Again.  I look forward to blogging next Monday about this book and any other reading I can squeeze in during our last week of school.  Until then... happy reading to all of you as you wrap up another school year.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Here's to the Moms in Story and in Life

Thanks to Donalyn Miller at Nerdybookclub for calling for favorite book moms.  This call started me thinking about the moms in the books that I have most recently read and the role of the mom character in YA books.  My first reaction to her question was "Are there moms in the books I read?"  I giggled to myself as I posed that question because when our girls were growing up and we shared books I always teased them about how the mom was missing in the story.  I know you have noticed this pattern, the mom is either missing, unable to care for the young adult, or has passed away.  Our running joke was, 'and yet another mom killed off.'  My insightful friend explained to me that by leaving the mom out of the story the characters were free to adventure off into learning and experiencing, finding their own way - the story could take flight.  That makes sense to me.  I just finished reading The Summer of the Gypsy Moths, beautifully written and features two foster children - one mom died in an accident and the other is finding her way.  Meanwhile these two twelve year olds find their way without any adults.
I am just at the beginning of Small as an Elephant, but clearly this mom is missing.

But this is not always the case in YA and I'm glad for the exceptions, especially right now as I am reflecting on the mom characters and what that means to me as a mom.  I have been on a YA quest recently and some of these books have featured incredibly strong mothers.  The kind of mom that you hope you'd be under the same circumstances.  Here is a quick recap of just a few that have stood out:


The Mighty Miss Malone - This mom shows us that no matter what our circumstances, no matter how devastating, we should not compromise our values and we should not lose our faith.  I absolutely loved the lessons these parents instilled throughout the book.


In How to Save a Life the mom is grieving yet she puts her daughter first and listens to her daughter. Together they find a way to put their family back together.  
In Bystander, this single mom works hard to keep her family together and is in touch with her son's feelings and well being.  


The following two moms have to be on my favorite list.  I read Wonder and Out of My Mind as a comparing set- while different, there were strong similarities in these mothers.  They both teach us the truth of being who we are meant to be and to believe in our gifts and purpose.  As a mom, these mothers make me remember to rejoice in the gifts we each have and bring to our family.  I can only hope I would be as strong as they both are.

Thank goodness that not all the moms are missing in YA. There are beautiful moms.  Some quiet to the story, some central strength.  Many remind us to keep teaching and to keep believing.  Some remind us to give our kids some space, a lesson I need from time to time!

And stories remind us that we don't have to be a mom to be a mom! In my life I have been blessed to know that not all moms are "moms" some are aunts, friends, neighbors, teachers etc. who are superb at mothering.  We all know people like this.

So here is to the "moms" those in the stories we read and those in our lives.  These are the ladies who teach us, guide us, support us and remind us to find our way.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Last Day Reflection



Sometimes live gives you just the nudge you need.  Several months ago I was sitting at the kitchen table with my parents.  My father has been showing true signs of memory loss and yet with such clarity he looks right at me, rather through me, and says, "I've been thinking, why aren't you writing anymore?"  As that was playing and replaying in my mind I discover the Slice of Life March Challenge.  I am sure I didn't really understand it at all, however it meant writing each day, just what my father ordered!

I was ready to jump in but I did not have a blog, I had no idea how to set-up a blog. But I dug in with the help of dedicated friends. Not only did these friends help me set-up, they also checked in and left encouraging comments along the way.  Thank you dear friends.

Through this I have learned a lot about myself as a writer. I remembered writing isn’t easy. I have discovered that narrative is kind of tricky for me. I feel all telly and preachy, not storyteller like at all. Also, writing takes time; I learned this lesson long ago, when I took a class with the now late Virginia Hamilton  author of so many eloquent novels for children. She once wrote on one of my rushed papers – “give your writing the time it deserves.” Those words both stung and encouraged. They stung because they were so true – I had indeed rushed the piece. (I rushed plenty of pieces this month too.  Some lessons are hard to learn!)  But her words also encouraged as I realized that my writing did indeed deserve time. Everyone’s writing does. I think that those participating in this challenge are thinking just that as they interact with kids.  Kids deserve the time to write and all the nourishing of writing that goes with that time. I have now asked myself, why if I think that all kids deserve the time to write and I believe that we all do, then why had I let my writing go? Many believe that if you do something for 21 days it becomes a habit. I think the habit is not as important as the need and the desire. I am counting on my need and desire to push me forward to continue writing.

I have learned to love falling asleep with my laptop!

I learned that I should have listened to my friend when she said write several slices during the early part of the month so that you are ready on the hard writing days…
There is real joy of spending time reading others' slices.
As one friend said the community holds you up and gives you the strength to write again. I feel like I have made new friends just from the glimpses into their life.
Like so many have said, participating in this makes you so aware of stories everywhere. You are keenly listening and looking. I think I’ll be better at capturing lists of ideas and thoughts because of this month. Just as in conversations, one story slice leads to another, whether it is a story from another participant or from one of my own.

I have a need to say thank you to Ruth and Stacey for their time in hosting this event. Only teachers with such passion for writing would do this for so many of us. Sincerely, thank you. Also, thank you to all of you for writing. I have loved reading your slices, getting a glimpse into your live, your classroom. Thank you SOL for bringing me even closer to people I already adore. Thank you to my friends who held my hand and gently taught and retaught me. 

Finally, I think these words from Little Bee describe the story telling we have experienced this month:
...I had started my story it wanted to be finished
We cannot choose where to start and stop. Our stories are the tellers of us.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lessons in Scaffolding



 Day 30 SOL

Being trained in Reading Recovery I have heard the word scaffolding countless times. Part of the beauty of the program is how scaffolding is built into all of the procedures. Of course I believe in scaffolding students and my own learning. Who wouldn’t want to be on the cutting edge of their own personal learning? Lucky for me one student has been teaching me big lessons in scaffolding and trust.

From the first time I started reading with him in a small group I knew that together we were setting out on a challenge, not because of ability rather I suspected from mindset. His overused phrase, “I can’t.” His most overused word, “No!” 

Once my reading coach, who is also my teacher leader, came to observe the small group he was somewhat a part of. He stood at the doorway, not sure he was going to participate. After inviting him in once, we both ignored him and went on with the lesson; he eased his way in and really wanted to be a part of the group but on his own terms. Hey, who among us doesn’t prefer things on our own terms? At the end of the lesson she looked at me and said, “Reading Recovery?” We both knew at that point that he would be better served one on one.

Now I should be clear, this little guy is really used to things on his own terms. Once in a conference with his dad, all of his teachers, and the principal, he refused to follow any direction or request. He clearly illustrated in the conference why the teachers were worried and yes, let’s be honest, frustrated. It is frustrating to see capability that is not being used. He was often choosing not to participate in class.  Was it fear, was it a language barrier, was it simply a behavior issue or was he really not equipped to participate?  The truth is, the why didn't matter as much as the how we were going to turn it around.  

There is pressure in RR to accelerate students, that is the goal. I was nervous as he entered into RR but totally endeared to him and looking forward to the challenge of getting into his mind and trying to figure out what was holding him back.

At first, true to RR, our lessons only revolved around what he knew. We built on this quickly and made his known solid and obvious to him.  We wrote about sharks every day. Writing is his least favorite thing, but talking about sharks is his favorite. I read shark books to him and we found some that he could read independently. He then wrote his own shark book. Small steps.

As he moved into lessons his teacher and I started to see a slight change.  Small steps.
And these steps of progress have continued.
We have gone from sharing the reading of the new book, to him taking total charge.  Bigger steps.  
We have gone from him refusing to write, to him writing two sentences. Small steps.  We have gone from him saying "no" to the running record book to him understanding that it is part of his lesson. Must have step! Yesterday he read to the Kindergarten class! Exciting step.  Today he read to HIS class.  Even more exciting step!
He is still in charge of picking his new book. Believe me if I don’t let him choose there will be no reading!  He has to have ownership.  

Goodbye routines, hello what is best for this child. Hello teacher willing to compromise and learn to patiently build.  Yes, he has taught me, step by step.