He is a Dog

Here is more form poetry from http://ettcweb.lr.k12.nj.us/forms/newpoem.htm. I like to show kids my poem revisions side-by-side when I teach poetry. It focuses the discussion on craft and the decisions that writers make. These are my three revisions of an I Am An Amimal Poem.

First Draft

I am a dog
Brownish as a caramel candy

I  chase the birds that pick food from my bowl
I  doze in the afternoon
I can bark when you walk by my fence
I can wiggle all over when you pat my head
I am a dog

Second Draft

I am a dog,
buttery brown like caramel candy.

Chasing the birds that pick food from my bowl
Dozing in the afternoon
Barking when you walk by my fence
Wiggling my tail stub when you pat my head

I am a dog,
buttery brown like caramel candy.

Third Draft

He is a dog,
buttery brown,
like caramel candy.

Chasing the birds that pick food from his bowl,
Dozing in the afternoon,
Barking when I walk by his fence,
Wiggling his stub tail when I pat his head.

He was a dog,
buttery brown,
like caramel candy.

April is Poetry Month

Visit http://ettcweb.lr.k12.nj.us/forms/newpoem.htm for fun and easy ideas for form poetry. Here is my attempt at an Emotional Animal Poem:

is a purring cat
dreaming and snuggling
deep in the warm sheets
Content to stay put, even after I wake up.

Bad Hair Nightmare

In third grade, I put Vaseline in my hair the night before picture day at school. I don’t know why I did it. Maybe I was thinking about all the Dippity-Do I had watched my sisters put in their hair. Maybe I enjoyed the slimy feel of the cloudy petroleum jelly. Maybe I liked scooping out thick hunks of the lard-like goo and smearing it through my thin brown hair. 
Stronger than dirt!
After I had spread it throughout my hair, I made goofy hairstyles. The more Vaseline I added to my bangs, the better I could make them stand straight up in spikes. I got bored with making silly hairdos and decided to wash it out. I washed and washed and washed. I tried using shampoo, dishwashing detergent, and Lifebuoy soap. None of them worked. I finally told my mom. I was crying by then. I can’t remember for sure, but I think she was laughing which made me cry even more. She scrubbed my head with Comet and that worked. The next day at school, I smiled for my picture and no one ever knew what I had done the night before. In fact, my hair had never looked shinier.

A Little Night Music

On Saturday, my husband and I spent the evening watching our daughter, Sam, perform in her college's production of A Little Night Music. The voices were amazing. The pit orchestra was excellent. All in all, a very high quality production. My daughter was an extra, barely noticeable. She was also in charge of moving one of the set panels throughout the show. The few weeks before the opening night, I got several stressed out phone calls, which surprised me. My daughter was worried about keeping up with her class work while she spent countless hours every night at the theater. I never once reminded her that it was her choice to become a musical theater major. I just listened and told her to push herself as much as she could.

After the show, we waited for Sam. I could tell she was glad we made the trip to see her, even though she was just a moving set panel. She was exhausted, getting a cold, frustrated. My husband and I told her we thought the show was very good and she agreed. When we got to her dorm, we hauled up a box of food we brought her, handed her money, then hugged her good-bye.

On the ride home, I thought about how proud I was that Sam had worked so hard to just be a moving set panel. Paying dues was building her character and her determination.

Teaching Lounge: Part 2

I was very surprised by the number of responses to my post about spending time in the teacher lounge. I found out that I am not the only one that has struggled with this issue.  In my years as both a speech therapist and literacy coach, I've worked with teachers and children in seven public elementary schools and at least four parochial schools.  Some years, in some schools, I ate lunch in the lounge. Other years I shoved food in my mouth, in my car, on the way to the next school. Every building had its own karma, which extended to the lounge. 

 I've lived my teaching day in the classrooms of others for the past ten years.  In a previous post, I compared coaching to cliff diving. I've spent many hours planning with teachers, problem-solving ways to assist children that puzzle them, and helped them communicate with challenging parents. I've modeled both successful and unsuccessful lessons and avoided behaving like the expert. Listening to and sharing personal stories has been essential in developing  trust with co-professionals.  In the past, when I ate lunch in the lounge, I was often put on the spot with regard to district issues or ended up with an additional to-do list. Eating lunch in my office, which I share with two wonderful colleagues, gave me a safe place to be myself.

The Teaching Lounge

I seldom go in the teacher lounge at school, except to grab my lunch from the refrigerator or heat my tea.  The TWT community has become my teacher lounge. Actually, I think teaching lounge or learning lounge would be a more accurate label.  I have the opportunity to learn new teaching ideas and hear stories about children. I can find out about  the personal challenges and triumphs that TWT members are experiencing and offer heartfelt words of support or congratulations. I have grown to respect and trust the opinions and thinking of TWT members.  Sometimes I find myself wishing I could plan lessons and co-teach with fellow bloggers.  Did that sound stalker-ish? I hope not.

Young Authors

On Thursday, I got to spend a lovely day buried in the writing of children. I sat in a room with two of my favorite colleagues and we read stacks of stories written by students and submitted by their teachers for entry into our school's Young Authors contest.  We read several "never-ending-stories" with page after page of nothing but dialogue. There were a couple poetry anthologies, a few nonfiction pieces, and some memoirs.  Many of the kids took risks which appealed to me. I also appreciated thoughtful and creative presentation. But a piece with voice always stuck out. Even though we used a rubric as we read and commented on each piece, our own personal preferences colored our decisions about the winning entries.

I'm not sure how I feel about writing contests. Is there any evidence that it encourages young authors? Do competitions motivate students to write more? Do writing contests promote writing instruction? What do you think?

What is your opinion on writing contests?

A Slice of a Teacher's Life in Michigan

This is what I woke up to on Wednesday morning. I received a letter from the Michigan Education Association the day before stating that local unions are being asked to take a strike vote before April 14th.

After I got to school, I learned that next month, all teachers in my district will be given a pink slip.

I just want to do my job.

Me and Dad on the Gracie Mae

I grew up afraid of my dad. He never hit me. I never saw him hit my siblings. I only heard the stories. Once he broke his own hand when he slammed it down on the desk by the kitchen. I saw him do it. He knew I was afraid of him and it bothered him when I pulled away.

When I was ten, my dad bought a pontoon boat. He left it sit by the neighbor's garage all winter. Come spring, he began scraping, priming, and painting the pontoons. He yanked out the rotten benches and scrubbed the deck.  By the time he was done, the boat was bright and clean and didn't smell like dead fish. My mom and sisters wanted nothing to do with the boat. My brother liked the boat but complained that the motor wasn't powerful enough to pull a water skier. I loved the boat. My dad and I named her the Gracie Mae. Even before school was out, on warm evenings, Dad and I would take the short drive to Grand Rapids Marina on the Maumee River, where Gracie was docked. By the time we made it half-way up the river, the coals in the hibachi were white-hot. When we got near the sandbar, Dad dropped the anchor. I finished grilling our onion burgers and we ate. Sometimes he would throw in a line, and me, I was content to dangle my toes in the muddy river. There was nothing scary about my dad when it was just us on the Gracie Mae.


I'm nine years younger than Liz and seven years younger than Jennifer. Although I'm close to my sisters, we always seem to be at different stages. When I was in high school, they were getting married. When I was in college, they were having kids. By the time I got married, they were getting divorced. Now that my children are older, Liz and Jen are busy being grandparents. Center stage in our family, is typically reserved for whatever my sisters, their children, or grandchildren happen to be experiencing. I'm usually watching in the wings, unless they are having a fight and need someone to take their side. I'm okay with being the observer. It makes for far less theatre.

More Than 7 Stories

I thumbed through my old writer's notebooks, looking for common threads. I found these four lists:

I'm working at finding my writing territories. There are many stories that I probably need to write but I don't because I'm not sure how people that know me personally would respond. I find that my writing tiptoes around the real stories more than I would like. I guess that is part of trying to understand my audience and my purpose for writing.

Not Justin Bieber Hair

As I watched my 14-year-old son get a haircut yesterday, it occurred to me that he didn't have Justin Bieber hair. Not that he wanted Justin Bieber hair. My son's hair didn't move or swing. Mitch always tried to smash down his wiry curls. It ended up looking a bit like a helmet. I never said anything.I wanted to but I didn't. After the stylist cut and thinned his hair, she made a joke about how he had enough hair on his head for at least two people. She rubbed some product in her hands and kind of played with and sculpted his curls. His hair looked great. Mitch looked older, more mature.

As  we walked to the car, I tried to look at his hair. I reached up to touch it.

"What are you DOINGGGGGG? Leave me alone!"

We got in the car. And he proceeded to smash his hair back down into a helmet. I didn't say a word.

This Was Supposed to Be a Different Post

Oh my goodness, be quiet. Can't you see I'm trying to write. Since when do you get up on a Saturday morning and clean? Are you doing this on purpose? I cannot think with you clanking dishes and clomping around. Sweeping? When do you sweep anything but the garage? Now you're looking at me with that I'm-superior-because-I'm-working look. And here comes the interrogation.

"You gonna sit at your computer all day?"

"Nope, I just have to get my post in."


"You gonna cut up this mango, it is getting old."

"Yup, I'll do that in a little bit."

"You wanna help me clean the sun room today? (This actually means, am I going to clean the sun room today.) There are boxelder bugs everywhere."

"Yup, I was planning on doing that. I just need to finish my post."

"You gonna go to Kroger's today?"


"Okay, you don't need to yell."


"It says here in the paper that tuition is going up at BGSU."


"You almost done with whatever you're doing on the computer?"

"Yeah, I'm done."

Little Girl Dreams

My first ballet teacher, Mrs. Houser, had a ruler she used to clap in her hand when we were at the barre. I was scared to death of getting whacked in the calf. The other girls in class said it didn't hurt, but I wasn't convinced. She wore caftans or long skirts in loud colors. Her graying hair was tucked high and loose with a comb and her low heeled shoes clicked when she walked. I was glad when she left.

My second teacher, Mrs. Moravech was dark and thin, always in a black leotard. She talked with such a thick accent that most of the time I had no idea what she was saying. I adored her. She told my mom I had great feet. Mrs. Moravech's daughter, Donna, was in my class. Donna was the only one my teacher ever yelled at. Sometimes Donna yelled back but I couldn't understand what she was saying either. I was devastated when Mrs. Moravech moved away. There were a few more ballet teachers but they never stuck around my small town for too long. The nearest ballet school was in Toledo and Dad said it was too far and too expensive. One of the girls in my class, Mary, went on to study at Toledo Ballet and eventually joined a ballet company.

Cliff Diving

Nothing lasts forever. I knew that when I took my position as a literacy coach. Literacy coaching was a fairly new concept when I was hired 10 years ago. Resources for coaches were limited. In many ways, my colleagues and I were pioneers. We didn't have much else but each other.  It was supposed to be a 3 year gig and then back to the classroom. And the deal was that when and if coaches were eliminated, we didn't have a choice of grade level or school to return to. We had to go where there was an opening. None of us became literacy coaches because we saw it as a stepping stone to administration. None of us were trying to escape difficult teaching assignments. We took the position because we felt it was a learning opportunity too valuable to pass up. Becoming a literacy coach was like jumping off a cliff. None of us knew what we were getting into or where we would land. We had to invent ourselves along the way and continued to reinvent ourselves every year after that. It has been a heck of a ride. My position hasn't been eliminated but our district is in the midst of many changes. I feel a bit like a bobbing cork. The only thing I know for sure is that wherever I land, there will be kids to teach.

Boxelder Bug Adventures: Part 2

This is my second installment of the Boxelder Bug Adventures. I tried to inject more factual information into their conversation. As I talked with my colleague, Billisue, about my slice, she thought a comic would be a fun format for a research project. We talked about how when kids start to research a topic, they often want to just copy the information they read out of an article or book. Thinking about what an animal, insect, or plant would say if it could talk, allows students the opportunity to synthesize what they have read and present it in a format other than a report. I did have one problem: I could only find one live bug in my sun room when I went to take the pictures for the slice. The bug with the crinkled up legs is unfortunately deceased. At least he kept still when I took the pictures.

Guilt by Association

My brother threw the peanut butter sandwich up and it stuck to the ceiling. I’d watched him do it. That made me an accomplice. Jack was used to getting in trouble. He was always in trouble. Not me. I was scared to death of even the threat of the belt.

He looked up at it. I looked up at it. Yup, it was stuck.

“What are you looking at . . . oh, my God! You guys are in BIG trouble!” said my sister Becky as she entered the kitchen. I started crying. Jack didn’t flinch. The fact that Becky didn’t immediately tell on Jack made her an accomplice too. Why hadn’t she told mom? I began to wonder if Becky thought I had done it.

No one else noticed the slice of bread on the ceiling when we sat down to the table for dinner that night. As the potatoes were passed, the bread began to pull away and hang, right above my sister Sheila’s head.  
Jack's missing because he took
the picture.

Then it fell, splat, on her freshly washed hair. Sheila went insane screaming something about having a date with her boyfriend. I started crying again. Over the sound of my sister’s shrieks and my own sobbing, I heard everyone laughing, even my dad.

“Why did you do that?” my mom asked me. I just kept rubbing my eyes and whimpering, looking very guilty. Jack said nothing.  Later, he volunteered to get the step ladder and clean the peanut butter spot.

And no one got the belt.

The Boxelder Bugs Are Back!

On Sunday, I got to hang out with my teenage son. My husband took my daughter back to college after lunch so it was just the two of us for the rest of the day. We made a killer carrot cake, watched basketball, and he checked out my blog. I told him about my idea to create a piece that conveyed information about boxelder bugs through a conversation between the two bugs. He was instrumental in posing the bugs and re-positioning them when they ran away.

Remember Holly Hobbie?

At about 12 years old, I spent hours sewing. When I wasn't sewing, I was thinking about sewing. I could visualize pieces of cut fabric coming together to form whatever I was trying to construct. I had my own Viking sewing machine that I bought with money I had saved since 4th grade. My mom had an Elna. My mom's Elna might have sewed straighter stiches but my Viking was a beast. It could sew through thick layers at full speed without jamming or breaking a needle. I loved my Viking more than my bike.

Simplicity Pattern #6008
A visit to Minnesota Fabrics was heaven.  When I saw a pattern for a Holly Hobbie doll in a pattern book, I knew I had found my next project. I located Simplicity pattern #6008 in the metal pattern cabinet and pulled it out. I opened the pattern envelope and took out the instruction sheet. It looked hard. Much harder than anything I had ever tried to sew before. I had made stuffed animals, but a doll with a bonnet, petticoat, shoes, and a pinafore was sewing on a whole different level. Undaunted, I convinced my mom to buy the pattern.

Me and Holly, December 1973
It took about a month to make that doll. First the cutting, then the sewing, then the ripping out, then the crying, then the sewing, then the ripping out again. I remember being frustrated and screaming at my beloved Viking and a naked Holly Hobbie. I begged my mom to fix my mistakes but she wouldn't. She kept saying that I would figure it out if I re-read the directions. Eventually I finished the doll. I remember feeling like I didn't like Holly when she was done because I could see all my mistakes. It took a couple days before I could be proud of myself.

Saturday Reflection

As a new blogger, I am learning a lot about my own writing process. Here is a partial list of my new learning:

~Prior noticings often become ideas while I'm engaged in mundane tasks like folding clothes.

~I need to have a plan in order to meet a deadline. I prefer deadlines and I like a routine.

~Posting daily seems to help me avoid writer’s block. I get started faster. I don’t agonize over topics like I used to.

~I like to have my pieces for the following day 90% completed before I go to bed. Then I spend time re-reading and revising in the morning before I link my post.

~I often re-read my older posts looking for errors or thinking about parts of the piece I might like to re-work. I also re-read comments and scan for future writing ideas.

~I am often writing several pieces simultaneously. Some in my head, some on paper, and some as draft posts.

~I tend to write pieces that I might be able to use later for instruction. I practice the techniques I want my students to learn.

~I only use one label per post. I like the idea of being able to organize my posts by topic if I should ever want to print my blog.

~My writing stamina has increased since beginning the TWT Challenge.
What are you learning about yourself as a writer?

Fabulous Foam Core

I never know what I will be walking into. In my school, some teachers use smartboards, ELMO's, LCD projectors, and document cameras as tools for their daily instruction. In other classrooms, teachers use the chalkboard and overhead projector. Some classes have gathering areas with an easel. Others have the desks in rows. 
As a literacy coach, I have to find a way to work with teachers and children within the existing room arrangement. Using foam core boards helps me to do that. When I am teaching students about writing, I like to show them lots of samples. Showing them 2 or 3 text samples side-by-side allows them to quickly shift their eyes and compare the pieces. I blow up writing samples to poster size and attach them to foam core. I can write directly on the pieces in the gathering area in front of the kids. Then I can leave the boards in the room for kids and teacher to refer to.

 I can move the boards anywhere in the room. I can line up several boards on a chalk tray, put them on an easel without disturbing the teacher's chart paper, or prop them on the floor for a small group. I've also used them during presentations and study groups when I cannot control the room arrangement or count on the technology available. Jennifer Allen also talks about how she uses foam core boards as portable anchor charts in an article on Choice Literacy.  

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