Poetry Friday: The Coming of Light


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The Coming of Light

by Mark Strand

Even this late it happens:

the coming of love, the coming of light.

You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,

stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,

sending up warm bouquets of air.

Read the rest of the poem here.

photo credit: johan wieland via photopin cc

photo credit: johan wieland via photopin cc

Wishing you all love and light and joy this holiday season!

Be sure to visit Buffy Silverman at Buffy’s Blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: Close “Reading” in Kindergarten


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Be curious always! For knowledge will not acquire you; you must acquire it.

~ Sudie Back ~

It’s hard to believe NCTE was almost a month ago! Amidst the chaos of the holidays, I’ve been reading books snagged in the Exhibition Hall (thank you, publishers!), reviewing my notes, and sharing the wealth of knowledge I gained from the terrific sessions I attended.

I was lucky to get into Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts, and Kristi Mraz’s standing-room-only session, CLOSE READING AND THE LITTLE ONES: HOW IT’S DIFFERENT (AND INCREDIBLY FUN AND EFFECTIVE) IN EARLY ELEMENTARY GRADES. With their characteristic blend of common sense and humor, these three inspiring educators shared routines K-3 teachers can use to capitalize on the natural curiosity of kids.

Chris, Kate, and Kristi pointed out that close reading in these early grades is akin to close study, or observation, “something that little ones are doing already.” Giving students opportunities to engage in close observation accomplishes many goals that support young learners, including opportunities to talk to others about their ideas. It also encourages students to “open up” their thinking through “meaningful, enjoyable experiences”

Close reading is only one part of “a balanced diet of reading instruction” that should

  • serve a specific purpose
  • focus on details in high success texts
  • allow kids to discover new meaning through carefully looking at details

Adapting the paradigm for middle and high school readers Chris and Kate laid out in their book Falling In Love With Close Reading (Heinemann, 2013) for young readers resulted in this structure, or instructional routine, which should be repeated so often that it becomes a habit, which leads to independence.

Photo courtesy of Fran McVeigh

Photo courtesy of Fran McVeigh

Kristi, Kate, and Chris emphasized that this close reading isn’t about teaching kids how to read, nor should everything be read closely. Rather, this routine is about “teaching kids a way of looking at a text or an image or an object so they can develop ideas about it.

This makes so much sense! I was excited to get back to school to share this thinking with my wonderful Kindergarten colleagues. Using Kristi, Chris, and Kate’s ideas about “close looking,” we designed an object study that coordinated with the Kindergarten’s current unit on the animal kingdom AND laid the foundation for daily close observation. As Kristi so wisely pointed out, “If you want to do strong work in reading, you have have to do strong work in other places.”

So we began by closely observing seashells. I modeled the cycle by looking closely at a shell, pointing to its surface and saying something about the color. Then I thought more about the color, and added more details about the variations of color on the shell. The kids couldn’t wait to get their hands on a shell to observe with their partners.

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Soon the room was filled with the hum of the children’s voices. They talked about the colors and the shapes and the textures. They noticed that some shells had bumps on the outside and others had spikes. They ran their hands along the smooth surface on the mouth of the shell and wondered why the texture was so different from the top of the shell. And they talked about the sounds they heard when they held the shells to their ears.

When we came back together so the kids could share their findings, it was clear they had developed some “big ideas” through their observations. Several children mentioned protection and camouflage when they talked about the colors of the shells or how hard they were. They all wanted to spend more time with the shells, comparing them and “getting to know [them] better.”

This is work we will return to daily. There are countless opportunities for close observation throughout the day, opportunities for kids to look at the world and say     “Wow!”

Thank you, Chris, Kate, and Kristi, for sharing your insights and pushing me as a teacher! Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: Snowpiaries




According to the calendar we still have a week of autumn, but winter has definitely arrived! We had snow for Thanksgiving, and it seems like it’s snowed every day this week. Here are two poems inspired by the recent weather.


After the blizzard,

hydrangeas blanketed in white:



Children sledding, Heiloo, Netherlands, via picc.it


Giggling, laughing,

Come on, let’s go!

Sliding, gliding,

Through the snow.

Skidding, crashing,

Watch out! Oh, no!

Tumbling, crumbling,

into a heap.

Brushing, rushing,

up we leap.

Giggling, laughing,

Come on, let’s go!

© Catherine Flynn, 2014

Thank you to Paul, for hosting Poetry Friday. Be sure to visit him at These Four Corners for the round up.

Slice of Life: ‘Tis the Season



‘Twas two weeks till Christmas, and all through the house

there were presents to wrap, cards to write, and cookies to bake…

You get the idea. Throw in a stressful week at work, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I’m doing my best to remain unflappable amidst all the hubbub. Thanks to my sister, who shared this on Facebook today, I have a new motto:


“Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle” From Lily Pulitzer’s Facebook page.

If you do feel like your loosing control of your tinsel, watch this video. It will restore you.

Thank you, StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.




A Poem for Autumn



Back in September, the lovely Carol Varsalona created a “Summer Serenity” Gallery, a gorgeous collection of summer poems and photographs. Soon afterwards, Carol, who I was lucky enough to meet at NCTE, announced a “Finding Fall” gallery. Autumn is my favorite season, so I thought writing a poem about its beauty would be pretty straightforward. Alas, I have been scribbling notes and ideas for the better part of two months, but a poem has eluded me. Since winter is almost here, I knew it was time to sit down and “just do it!”

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Leaf Globe

I’d like to capture autumn’s glow

inside a globe of glass,

where leaves of red and gold

swirl like confetti in the breeze.

Beneath the fiery trees,

a multicolored carpet,

crackles and rustles

as chipmunks dash and scurry,

gathering nuts and acorns

for their secret cache.

A globe that I can gaze at

on snowy afternoons,

remembering these golden days,

which drift away too soon.

© Catherine Flynn, 2014

Thank you, Carol, for being such an inspiration!

Poetry Friday: NCTE Poetry Rock Stars


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“Poetry is about loving the world and showing that love through words.”

Irene Latham

I’m still basking in the glow of NCTE. Many of the sessions I attended were about integrating poetry into the curriculum. I feel fortunate that I’ve gotten to know many of the poets and teachers who presented during these sessions through blogging on Poetry Friday. Meeting them face-to-face was a highlight of my weekend at the Gaylord. Their wisdom, humor and generosity have made me a better writer and a better teacher. I use their books with students every day.

During her portion of the CLA Master Class, Poetry Across the Curriculum, Heidi Mordhorst described her vision of integrating the curriculum as synergy. The definition she provided, “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects” not only characterizes what happens when we share poetry with our students. It embodies the spirit of the Poetry Friday community, a community I am so thankful for.

So many wonderful poems were shared during these sessions (thank you, Janet & Sylvia, for all the postcards!), I couldn’t choose just one to share today. I also wanted to express how grateful I am to these women. So I’ve stitched together a thank you of sorts using their own words.

What is beauty?

Whatever you believe it to be. (1)

To listen, to look,

to think, and to learn. (2)

Opening your heart and sharing your feelings, (3)

with plenty of space to dream. (4)

I’m glad you are my secret friend. (5)

We’re just a link away. (6)

You fold the memory

into your hearts, (7)

turn outside to inside

stranger to friend, (8)

and look inside yourself to find

the good I see in you. (9)

I’m a piece of the sky

in a circle of sun, (10)

But none of it would matter much

without the likes of you. (11)

Thank you to all the poets whose work inspired this poem!

1: Tricia Stohr-Hunt, whose blog, The Miss Rumphius Effect, was one of the first I ever read, continues to be an incredible resource for poetry. These lines are from Tricia’s poem, “Beauty”.

2: Janet Wong, co-creator with Sylvia Vardell, of The Poetry Friday Anthologies. These books are amazing resources. Janet’s poem, “Liberty” provided these lines.

3: Irene Latham‘s newest book, Dear Wandering Wildebeest and Other Poems from the Watering Hole (Millbrook Press, 2014) has quickly become a favorite with my students. These lines are from an acrostic Irene shared during the session “Poem As Storyteller: Collaborating With Authors to Write Narrative Poetry.”

4. Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger‘s session, “Writing to Increase Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum” was full of practical suggestions for incorporating poetry into the school day. This line is from her poem, “On Becoming Proficient,” which can be found in Zombies Evacuate the School (WordSong, 2010).

5. Heidi Mordhorst is a teacher, poet, and blogger whose work I have only recently become familiar with, but I’m looking forward to reading and sharing more of Heidi’s poetry. This line can be found in Heidi’s poem, “Funday, Imaginary 1st”.

6. The poetry of Laura Purdie Salas is a staple of my classroom. I’ve been sharing her poetry with students for years and was thrilled to meet her at NCTE! This line is from Laura’s poem, “Just Like That”.

7. Georgia Heard is another rock star of poetry I was excited to meet. Georgia’s books about Awakening the Heart and For the Good of the Sun and the Earth have had a profound influence on my teaching. This line is from her poem “Ars Poetica”, which can be found in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.

8. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s blog, The Poem Farm, is a treasure-trove of resources for teachers and poets. This line is from “First Practice”, one of Amy’s contributions to the The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.

9. I have long been a fan of Eileen Spinelli‘s picture book, Sophie’s MasterpieceBut I was less familiar with her poetry. These lines are from Eileen’s powerful “Poem for a Bully” which can be found in The Poetry Friday AnthologyK-5 edition.

10. I met Rebecca Kai Dotlich at NCTE almost by accident. We were each waiting for a friend, and, without having any idea who she was, I introduced myself. She was very friendly and introduced herself as Rebecca. We chatted, and through the course of the conversation I realized that I was casually talking with the author of some of my favorite poems for children. These lines are from an all-time favorite, “A Circle of Sun”.

11. Mary Lee Hahn‘s blog, A Year of Reading, is another inspirational resource. She and Franki Sibberson have set the standard for excellence in blogs by teachers. Mary Lee’s passion for teaching and poetic skills continue to amaze me. Mary Lee’s poem “Our Wonderful World” is the source of these lines.

Thank you again to every one of you! Thank you also to Anastasia Suen for hosting the Poetry Friday Round Up!

Slice of Life: Developing a Coaching Vision


Yesterday, the administrators at my school, the math specialist, and I spent the day with a coach from our regional educational consortium. Our goal was to improve our coaching practice. At the beginning of the day, Carly gave us a lengthy list of values that applied “to work and personal life.” She asked us to choose ten values that are central to our work with teachers and students. This was quite a challenge, as many of the words were closely related. For example, what is the difference between team-work and collaboration? Kindness & compassion? After we each had our list of ten values, we had to narrow our choices to five. Again, how to choose? Finally, we had to pick three core values that we felt best described our coaching practice. This is what I came up with:

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Obviously there is no right or wrong answer to this process, but I found it valuable because it did make me really reflect on what I believe about my work with teachers and students. On a different day, I might have chosen different words. But I do think that if we bring a positive attitude to our collaboration, and thoughtfully and honestly reflect on our work, then growth will be a natural outcome, for both teachers and students. 

My thoughts about this process are evolving. Carly shared a number of coaching strategies that had to do with inquiry and purposeful questioning. Inquiry is a word that has been buzzing around in my brain for a few months. Inquiry has many implications for my work with teachers, but also for our work with students in the classroom. I’m excited to learn more about the inquiry process and to put some of these ideas into practice. I’ll be sharing more about this journey in the weeks to come. 

Thank you, StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: NCTE 2014



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As I flew home from the NCTE Convention last night, my mind was full of all I had learned over the past three days. I was also grateful that I had the chance to meet so many of my Slice of Life and Twitter friends. This online community is still a marvel to me. At one point, I glanced out the window and realized a large chunk of the eastern seaboard was spread out beneath me. Millions of lights clustered in cities and stretched into the distance, following roads that seemed to go on forever. They looked like a dew-drenched web, illuminated by the moon.

I was mesmerized by the sight, and my book lay forgotten on my lap. Kate DiCamillo’s words immediately came to mind: “Stories connect us.” The web of lights seemed like the perfect metaphor for the web of stories that were spun out by teachers, storytellers and poets throughout the vast Gaylord National Resort during the convention, connecting educators from all over the country and around the world. These dedicated people had all come to Washington seeking ways to help their students learn.

In his new book, Minds Made For Stories (Heinemann, 2014), Tom Newkirk says “When we strip human motives from our teaching, I suspect we make learning harder, not easier.” (p. 17) The stories shared at NCTE were full of the very human motives of passion and curiosity, and it will take me weeks to sort out and internalize them. Inspired and enlightened by people I admire and feel so lucky to know, I went to school today with one goal in mind: to share this passion with my students and colleagues. I can’t wait to help them, in the words of Paul Hankins, “be wonder bound.” I can’t wait to see them deepen their connections with the world and find their stories.

Thank you, StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.


Slice of Life: Unlocking Possiblities




I do a lot of my best thinking in the shower. One morning last week as I was washing my hair, I was thinking about “The Good Old Days,” a poem Ralph Fletcher shared at the Connecticut Reading Conference. Later that morning, I would be facilitating a meeting with ELA teachers and I wanted to share the poem with them. Fletcher had us use this poem as a mentor text, taking the first and last stanzas from his poem and filling in the middle with our own “good old days” memories. As I lathered my hair, I thought about what I had written. I realized I hadn’t focused on any one memory. Instead, I had more of a list of special people and objects. While I was rinsing out the shampoo, it occurred to me that students could use this poem as a way to gather seed stories.

Then my thoughts returned to my poem. One line was about climbing a favorite apple tree in my grandmother’s yard. This made me think of a story I’ve been working on, but have been stumped by about where to go next. Suddenly, the tumblers in the lock aligned and I saw a possible path. Now I was rushing to finish my shower so I could write down my idea. Since that morning, I’ve been steadily working on this story, writing a little each day.

For me, these aha! moments of insight are like finding the perfect gift for someone who is notoriously hard to buy for. They give me immense satisfaction. But they don’t happen unless I’m writing regularly. When I’m writing each day, something is different in my brain. I see the world differently. I see possibilities. Donald Murray said, “The daily practice of craft sharpens the writer’s vision and tunes the writer’s voice. Habit makes writing easy.” I don’t think any amount of writing will ever make writing easy for me. Easier, maybe. But never easy.

Which brings me to students. Many students find writing the most difficult part of their day. Teachers often tell me they find it hard to make time for writing. That writing time is the first thing to go when time is short. Maybe this is because writing is difficult for them, too. This makes me sad. It is only by writing that we build our writing muscle. It is only by writing that we begin to see the world with what Maxine Greene called “wide awake eyes.” I’m constantly amazed by the metaphors children use for everyday objects when we ask them to be observant.

In order to cultivate this kind of awareness, we have to ensure that children have what Penny Kittle calls “time to count on,” time they know they’ll have so “if something occurs to [them] during the day, [they’ll] store it away, knowing [they’ll] have time to write soon, and the idea will resurface then.”  Children deserve this time to write about things that matter to them. Every. Single. Day. Nothing in our curriculum matters more than this. After all, who knows what they’ll think of while they’re in the shower!

Thank you, StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for the gift of this space for teachers and others to share their writing each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: A Writing Kind of Day


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It was raining yesterday morning when I arrived at the the Connecticut Reading Conference. But Ralph Fletcher’s inspiring keynote address and break-out session about the importance of narratives and mentor texts quickly drove away the day’s dreariness.

Fletcher told the ballroom full of teachers that “mentor texts breathe new life into the classroom; they expand kids’ vision of what’s possible.” He demonstrated this by asking us to use his poem, “The Good Old Days,” as a model for our own writing. A hush came over the room as everyone wrote feverishly about childhood memories. If anyone in the room doubted the importance of giving writers choices about their writing, this activity dispelled that notion.

He encouraged us to share powerful mentor texts with students so they can be “showered by the pixie dust” that comes off these books and poems and write their own powerful texts. He urged us to leave room in our curriculum for personal narratives so our students can learn to write with voice. “Kids find their stride as writers by writing about themselves,” he said.

After his session, Ralph graciously stayed to sign books and answer questions. When he signed my copy of his poetry collection, A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets (WordSong, 2005) he told me his favorite poem in this book is “Squished Squirrel Poem.” I love it, too. I can picture a student (or two) of mine who would be inspired by this poem. This is a poem they could go into and find exactly “what they need” to create a poem of their own.

He also gave me permission to share this poem from the collection, the perfect poem for a rainy autumn day.

“A Writing Kind of Day”

It is raining today,

a writing kind of day.

Each word hits the page

like a drop in a puddle,

creating a tiny circle

of trembling feeling

that ripples out

and gathers strength

ringing toward the stars

Then it hit me,

Ma was my first word.

As if the word swam back

to where it all began.

I want my students to think every day is a writing kind of day. Thank you, Ralph Fletcher, for sharing your wisdom with teachers and inspiring us to create classrooms that will encourage our students to create “tiny circle[s] of trembling feeling.”

Please be sure to visit Cathy Mere at Merely Day By Day for the Poetry Friday Round Up. Thanks for hosting, Cathy!


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