SOL: “Live With Your Hands Unfolded”

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Like millions of people across the country, I look forward to the StoryCorps segment on NPR each Friday morning. Some of these stories have made me laugh, others have moved me to tears. They are always compelling. Yesterday, nine-year old Aiden Sykes had some questions for his father, Albert Sykes. When Aiden asked “What are your dreams for me?” Mr. Sykes told him

“My dream for you is to live out your dreams. There’s an old proverb that talks about when children are born, children come out with their fists closed because that’s where they keep all their gifts. And as you grow, your hands learn to unfold, because you’re learning to release your gifts to the world…For the rest of your life, I want you to see you live with your hands unfolded.”

Mr. Sykes’s wise words reminded me of Cornelius Minor’s keynote, “The Things that Break Us Don’t Have To,” at last Saturday’s Educator’s Institute in Providence. He urged the teachers in the audience to empower kids to be the superhero of their own lives and “give kids the tools they need to rescue themselves.” In other words, teach them that they have the power to find their gifts, to unfold their hands.

So how can we support our kids, both at home and in the classroom, so they can discover their gifts and passions?

Give them the skills they need to accomplish their goals. Begin with the basics of reading, writing, and math. But go further. Give them resources, both print and digital. Surround them with as many books as possible. Then, as Cornelius encouraged us, teach them “how to acquire their own prior knowledge.” The gift of how to learn is one they will never lose.

We also have to give kids plenty of opportunities to practice whatever it is they want to be good at. This is true for both home and school. My son can play one particular Nirvana song REALLY well because he played it about a gazillion times when he was 14 and 15. I personally don’t like the song, but I listened to it a gazillion times because it was important to him.

But above all, we have to be their champion. We have to, as Cornelius pointed out, give kids the feedback and encouragement that will help them pick themselves up after they fail. Because it is through these failures and missteps that they learn. It is through the advice and guidance of mentors that they gain knowledge. It is through our faith in them that they learn to have faith in themselves and realize their dreams.

 Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL: Poetry Friday is Here!

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Welcome to Poetry Friday! Today is my first time hosting, so I feel like celebrating, and there is a lot to celebrate today. To begin with, it’s the first day of spring! It’s also the International Day of Happiness. What better way to spread happiness than by sharing poetry? So share your poems, read what others have shared, and enjoy! And, to celebrate the publication of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, I’ll be giving away a copy to one lucky person. Just leave a comment and a winner will be chosen at random. In the meantime, visit Poetry Celebrations for a sneak peek at this fun-filled collection.

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It’s also World Folk Tales and Fables Week. To celebrate that, I’m sharing an original poem inspired by this photo (from a calendar I received for Christmas) and “The Frog Prince.” Although “The Frog Prince” is technically a fairy tale, the connection was too good to pass up.

Automaton, Swiss, 1820 Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Murtogh D. Guinness, 1976
Automaton, Swiss, 1820, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Murtogh D. Guinness, 1976

No princess would refuse this frog
with shiny ruby eyes.
His pearl encrusted legs
would surely mesmerize.

But, oh, poor frog, trapped within
this jeweled enamel toy;
no longer can he jump and splash,
or sing his songs of joy.

Her company cannot replace
the summer sky above.
Back to the pond he’d rather go,
And forsake her possessive love.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015

Please leave your link in the comments and I’ll be back throughout the day to round up your links. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Spring is sprouting everywhere today!

Robyn Hood Black at Life of the Deckle Edge starts us off by celebrating spring with a triolet all teachers will relate to.

Buffy Silverman has a menagerie of animal poems at Buffy’s Blog.

At Friendly Fairy Tales, Brenda Davis Harsham has gorgeous photos and a lovely concrete poem about the coming season.

Michelle Barnes welcomes Laura Shovan to Today’s Little Ditty, where shares her plans for an upcoming poetry workshop and a list poem from Heidi Stemple.

Jama is also celebrating spring with a poem from Wendy Cope, a bouquet of photos, and a giveaway of a Julie Paschkis print! 

At Random Noodling, Diane Mayr has two poems for Heidi Mordhorst’s March CH challenge, and at Kurious Kitty, she shares Wallace Stevents “The Poems of Our Climate.”

Keri Collins Lewis, of Keri Recommends, takes us traveling to California with a tanka for Michelle’s challenge.

Colette Bennett celebrates the anniversary of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s “I Shall Return” speech with a tribute to teachers at Used Books In Class.

Matt Forrest Esenwine is sharing his original poem, “No-Moon Day” at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme.

Linda Baie at Teacher Dance has another sign of spring with her original haiku, “Arrival.”

Charles Waters has a poem of spring and a basketball poems for Heidi’s CH challenge today at his Poetry Time Blog.

Over at GottaBook, Greg Pincus tries to convince us he’s in a poetry drought. I, for one, find that hard to believe!

At The Opposite of Indifference, Tabatha Yeatts has a beautiful poem, written by her daughter, about finding poems.

Robins have arrived at The Poetry Farm, and Amy is celebrating with an original poem.

At My Juicy Little Universe, Heidi isn’t letting a little snow spoil spring sharing from hatCHing out. Her original poem about 4 year old chefs is making me hungry!

Laura Shovan and Laura Gehl have an interesting discussion about whether rhyming picture books are poetry at Author Amok.

There are more spring poems at Reflections on the Teche, where Margaret is sharing two poems from her talented student, Erin.

Cathy Mere at Merely Day By Day contemplates the beauty of being up before dawn in her original poem.

At The Logonauts, Katie is featuring Jane Yolen,Heidi Stemple and Melissa Sweet’s lovely new book, You Nest Here With Me.

Memories of childhood inspired Donna Smith of Mainely Write to write a hatCH poem for Heidi’s challenge.

Mary Lee ponders hummingbird hatCHings at A Year of Reading.

Catherine Johnson shares a peek into Alice Walker’s book of poems, There is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me.

Myra has a wonderful clip of spoken word poets Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye performing “When Love Arrives” over at Gathering Books.

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect has two inconceivably good poems, both entries from her March Madness rounds.

Have you ever wondered what those black carts full of books at the library are thinking? JoAnn Early Macken share her idea in an original poem at Teaching Authors.

At The Drift Record, Julie Larios is sharing a spring spell, of sorts.

Julieanne Harmatz is sharing an amazing found poem her students have written from their responses to Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness at To Read To Write To Be.

Karen Edmisten is in today with James Weldon Johnson lovely poem, “Deep in the Quiet Wood”.

Bridget Magee has a tanka about a crane fly for Michelle’s challenge at Wee Words for Wee Ones.

At Bildungsroman, Little Willow is sharing “If Spirits Walk” by Sophie Jewett.

Ruth has an original poem about a multitude of tears at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town.

At Reader Totz, Lorie Ann is sharing “Paulette” from Bronzeville Boys and Girls by Gwendolyn Brooks and illustrated by Faith Ringgold. She also has an original haiku at On Point.

Football season may be over, but that’s no reason not to celebrate Jone’s poem in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations.

Over at Pleasures from the Page, Ramona shares her thoughts about I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery by Cynthia Grady with illustrations by Michele Wood.

Just in time for National Poetry Month, Kim of Flukeprints has a review of A Poem in Your Pocket, by Margaret McNamara and G. Brian Karas, as well as how she plans to celebrate with her students.

At Poetry for Children, Sylvia Vardell’s 700th (!) post is celebrating the publication of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations and features “Spring” by Jane Lichtenberger.

Carol Varsalona is anticipating spring in a lovely CH poem at Beyond Literacy Link.

This post is doing double duty for the March Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers. Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: Ten Things on Thursday

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I have started at least four different posts today, but none of them were coming together in a way that I was happy with, and I have no more time to write today. So I’m resorting to a 10 Things Right Now list, an idea Mandy Robeck shared from Ali Edwards way back in October, 2013. Many Slicers used this format last year, and I’ve seen more this year. It’s a tried-and-true option for a busy day.

10 Things on Thursday

  • The sky is a brilliant shade of blue this afternoon.
  • I crossed three items off my to-do list at work today.
  • One of my students made some terrific inferences today, which is typically a real challenge for him.
  • We have leftover corned beef, so I don’t have to cook supper.
  • The new issue of The Horn Book arrived today and I can’t wait to read about all the wonderful new books coming out in the next few months.
  • I’m still processing all I learned at the conference I went to last weekend.
  • This morning my husband asked me what movie I wanted to see this weekend. Any suggestions?
  • I MUST do some laundry tonight.
  • My critique group meets on Sunday, and I have new chapters and picture revisions in my mailbox that I’m looking forward to reading.
  • Tomorrow is the first day of spring!

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: You Nest Here With Me

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When my son was a baby, he had an ear infection almost non-stop from the time he was six months old until just before he had tubes put in his ears six months later. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time at the pediatrician’s office. There were always stacks of picture books in the waiting room, and one day, A House is a House for Me (Viking, 1978), by Mary Ann Hoberman was on top of the pile, just waiting for us. It quickly became one of our favorites.

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Now Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and Melissa Sweet have teamed up to create a book about homes that is every bit as wonderful as Hoberman’s classic. You Nest Here With Me (Boyds Mills Press, 2015) begins with a “little nestling,” carrying a copy of You Nest Here With Me being flown into bed by her mother. As the poem unfolds, we learn that “Pigeons nest on concrete ledges” while “Catbirds nest in greening hedges” but the mother always assures the child that “you nest here with me.”

Song birds, shore birds, birds of prey, and more are introduced through the gentle rhymes of Yolen and Stemple’s text. Readers will want to linger over Sweet’s inviting watercolor and collage illustrations. An author’s note explains that David Stemple, Jane’s late husband and Heidi’s father, was a “serious bird watcher.” This dedication clearly rubbed off, for their love of birds is present on every page.

Factual information about all the birds in the book is included, and there is a scavenger hunt of sorts included in the illustrations. Four kinds of birds are depicted in cozy nests, but not mentioned in the text. Children will have fun finding these favorite species tucked in with other familiar and some unfamiliar birds.

I got this beautiful poster at NCTE!
I got this beautiful poster at NCTE!

I would read this to Kindergarten and first grade students, but most of all I would love to share it with a toddler or preschooler nestled on my lap.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: Two Tanka

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hEarlier this month, Michelle Barnes, of Today’s Little Ditty, interviewed poet Margarita Engle about her new book Orangutanka (Henry Holt, 2015). Margarita challenged Michelle’s readers to write a tanka, a traditional Japanese form with five lines and a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count.

As I was driving to work yesterday, I noticed a red-tailed hawk perched in a tree near the edge of a field. That sighting inspired this tanka:

Still as a statue,
keen eyes scan the field below,
spot a flash of gray.
Swooping down on silent wings,
red-tailed hawk scoops up breakfast.

By Dori (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 us (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Dori (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 us (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Thinking about tanka brought Tonka trucks to mind:

By the Christmas tree
a shiny yellow dump truck
with wheels the size of
saucers, wrapped in a huge red bow,
waits for the boy’s shouts of joy.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015

Thank you, Michelle and Margarita, for inspiring me to write these tanka. And thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

 

Slice of Life: Finding Beauty

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We live in an age of information overload. There are so many books, blogs, and websites that it’s impossible to read everything. Because of this, I was only vaguely aware of author Lisa Bonchek Adams and her blog that chronicled her battle with metastatic breast cancer. Ms. Adams passed away from this disease last week and the outpouring of grief from her followers has been astonishing. Among the tweets have been quotes from Ms. Adams’s writing. And although I don’t in any way equate the challenge of writing a blog post every day with the challenge of having cancer, I found this bit of wisdom tailor made for those of us half way through this month long writing challenge:

“Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.”

Driving home from Rhode Island yesterday, the sky was overcast and gray. Suddenly, an almost perfect rectangle of blue appeared. The clouds seemed to have made a window just to let that bit of beautiful blue sky shine though.

Dave Spicer [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Dave Spicer [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Given that one theme running through Saturday’s conference was opening doors, I couldn’t help but think it was a sign that the door was open, that I should persevere. Persevere with my writing, which I sometimes question. Persevere with improving relationships that sometimes feel too hard. Persevere with doing what I know is right for my students. There is beauty to be found in pursuing our goals.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: Opening Doors

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I spent the day yesterday at the Rhode Island Convention Center where The Teaching Studio at The Learning Community, a public charter school in Central Falls, Rhode Island, held their 2nd Annual Educators’ Institute. Hundreds of teachers spent the day with noted educators Vicki Vinton, Cornelius Minor, and Sharon Taberski, learning new ways to improve their practice.

Opening doors to new possibilities was a thread that wove its way through all of the wisdom shared by Vicki, Cornelius, and Sharon. I’m excited to return to school tomorrow and talk with my colleagues about some of these ideas. Today, I want to share a peek inside those doors that were opened for me.

Vicki Vinton shared her latest work, which centers around three strands of meaning making: comprehension, understanding, and evaluation. Vicki talked about how we can help kids “make their thinking visible through a handful of simple charts,” and she urged us to share books that are accessible and “get kids involved doing the thinking right from the get go.” For those of you who don’t know Vicki, she is co-author with Dorothy Barnhouse of What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making and shares her brilliance regularly on her blog, To Make a Prairie.

During lunch, Cornelius Minor, a staff developer at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, talked about empowering kids to be the superhero of their own lives. He urged us to get rid of the idea of “my kids can’t…” because “we are the people who say the awesome things that help kids be awesome.” We have to respect kids and find ways to give them “a chance to live in text that is compelling and sustaining.” He cautioned us to be patient with this process, that learning is messy, and that kids will not get it right the first time. But through a cycle of doing, feedback, and encouragement, they will accomplish great things.

In the day’s final keynote, Sharon Taberski, author of On Solid Ground and Comprehension from the Ground Up, shared “Five Ways to Grow Critical, Engaged Thinkers.” Sharon urged us to “embrace the workshop model and its abundant opportunities for both balance and differentiation.”  She reminded us that brain research shows that both explicit instruction and time to practice are critical if students are to master the skills they need to be independent readers, writers, and thinkers. Sharon also emphasized the need to “let the students do the heavy lifting” and to teach kids to be “purposeful and strategic.” Finally, she talked about aligning our “belief systems about teaching and learning” with our goals for student learning and to design our classrooms in ways that are physical manifestations of what we value.

Each of these keynotes and the breakout sessions presented by Vicki, Cornelius, and Sharon deserve their own post. But each opened a door in my mind, and I’ll be thinking and writing more about these ideas in the weeks to come.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: Have Some Pi!

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Today, 3-14-15, is a once-in-a-century Pi day! To celebrate, I’m serving up a “slice” of pie! In case you’re math is a little rusty, you can brush up visiting Wonderopolis, or by watching this TED ED video:

http://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-infinite-life-of-pi-reynaldo-lopes

Otherwise, dig in!

By medea_material (originally posted to Flickr as Chocolate Pi Pie) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By medea_material (originally posted to Flickr as Chocolate Pi Pie) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
By Evan Shelhamer (Pi Day Pie) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Evan Shelhamer (Pi Day Pie) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
By GJ (Pi_pie2.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By GJ (Pi_pie2.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Paul Smith (originally posted to Flickr as Pi pie) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Paul Smith (originally posted to Flickr as Pi pie) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
In case you’re on a diet, you can enjoy pie vicariously through books,

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movies,

or nursery rhymes.

Illustration from Sing a Song for Sixpence (1880) by Randolph Caldecott via Wikimedia Commons
Illustration from Sing a Song for Sixpence (1880) by Randolph Caldecott via Wikimedia Commons

Happy Pi Day, everyone!

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL & Poetry Friday: Finding Poetry in The Birchbark House

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Earlier this week, I wrote about a piece in The New York Times that asked columnists 51-KqWtjyaLto consider which books they read over and over again. There are many books I’ve reread, but one of the best by far is The Birchbark House (Hyperion, 1999), Louise
Erdrich’s middle grade novel about Omakayas, a young Ojibwa girl, and her family. Erdrich’s depiction of their life on the shores of Lake Superior in the mid-1800s, which was a National Book Award finalist, offers readers a window into a culture that has essentially disappeared.

When I taught third grade, I read The Birchbark House to my students every year. But it’s been almost ten years since the last time I read this book. This week, I revisited Erdrich’s lyrical prose and “found” this poem in the final chapter, “Full Circle.”

Although spring,
with all the force of tender new buds,
opening magically,
touched her heart,
there would always be
a shadow to her laughter.

The ground harbored sunshine,
spread warmth beneath their feet.
Omakayas felt the calm sweetness of the earth
and tears burned.
Where was Newoo?
She missed him.

There were birds,
little birds with white throats,
sweet spring cries.

“I remember their song;
their song was my comfort,
my lullaby.”

Piercing spring music.
White throated sparrows
calling out to one another.

Their delicate song surrounded her,
running in waves through the leafless trees.

Omakayas heard something new in their voices.
She heard Newoo.

She smiled,
as the song of the white-throated sparrow
sank again and again through the air
like a shining needle,
and sewed up her broken heart.

You can learn more about The Birchbark House here, and find out more about found poetry here.

Please be sure to visit Laura Shovan at Author Amok for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: Currently

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My writing schedule has been disrupted by staying at school too late over the past few days, so this “Currently” list seemed like a good way to try to get back on track. Thanks to Fran McVeigh and Bev Baird for the inspiration!

CURRENTLY:

Listening to the wind. It’s howling this morning. Morning Edition is on, but I usually listen to music when I write. Mozart and Scarlatti are my favorites. On my way to work later, I’ll be listening to Erik Larson’s new book, Dead Wake, about the sinking of the Lusitania.

Eating oatmeal and toast for breakfast.

Drinking coffee!

Wearing my pajamas and bathrobe.

Reading Enchantment Lake, by Margi Preus. I love Preus’s writing, and this is an engaging mystery, but I haven’t had a lot of time for reading lately.

Feeling happy that the weather has finally changed and there are hints of spring in the air. The snow is melting faster that I thought possible.

Wanting more time to read. My TBR pile is about to topple over!

Needing to get ready to go to Rhode Island this weekend for the Teaching Studio’s Educators’ Institute. Vicki Vinton, Sharon Taberski, and Cornelius Minor are the keynote speakers!

Thinking about how we’ll celebrate my son’s upcoming 30th birthday. Will we go to Brooklyn, or will Michael and Julia come home for the weekend?

Enjoying having an extra half hour this morning to sit at the kitchen table to eat my breakfast, write this slice, and watch the sunrise.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.