Archive for June, 2014

Join the Chalk-a-bration at Betsy Hubbard's site Teaching Young Writers.

Join the Chalk-a-bration at Betsy Hubbard’s site Teaching Young Writers.

Link up with Teach Mentor Texts

Link up with Teach Mentor Texts

Today is the last day of June and it’s Monday, so what am I reading? I’m combining two posts today. I am missing my students because Chalk-a-bration was one of their favorite days of the month. I am at the lake with my parents with no access to kids or to a sidewalk (much less a piece of chalk), so I played with my iPad and wrote a quote from one of the books I read this week, how i discovered poetry by Marilyn Nelson.

chalk Marilyn Nelson

What a lovely book! Marilyn Nelson writes a memoir of growing up in the late 50’s with 50 intimate poems. Each poem is both deeply personal as well as universal. Marilyn’s father was in the military, so they moved often. Marilyn captures the feelings of being moved from place to place. I was touched by the poems dealing with having to leave their pets behind. “Daddy pulled a puppy from the pocket/ of his flight jacket, and we imprinted/ like a gosling to a goose. Speida’s my dog,/ though he’s impartially affectionate.”

Marilyn’s mother prided herself on being a First Negro. As they move from base to base, they are often the only black family. “Making History takes more than standing in line/ believing little white lies about pain./ Mama says First Negroes are History…That lady in Montgomery just became a First/ by sqwunching up her eyes and sitting there.”

This little book is an important one with a very personal, first hand account of living in the late 50’s. #WeNeedDiverseBooks: This one is going on my shelf for my students as we study memoir and history.

Billy Miller

The Year of Billy Miller took me back to being in second grade. There is so much to love about this book. Billy is just a fun kid to be with. He wants to be brave and stay up all night but ends up in his sister’s room falling asleep with her. Billy has to write a poem and perform it in front of an audience. I enjoyed watching the development of his poem. Kevin Henkes does not make Billy Miller a brilliant writer but shows us a real boy. He has the typical feelings of a seven year old boy and his family is most important to him. This book makes you smile.

I am currently listening to Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, a great book to listen to on my long car ride home today. What are you reading?

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

I am not a grandmother yet, but this week made me feel old. The CLMOOC make cycle #2 was on making memes. High learning curve for me. For one thing, you must be tuned in to popular culture…not! And another, you had to have something clever to say…another not! So I got a little rebellious and decided that memes were just not for me.


During the week I posted this silly picture of my cat, Mimi. She loves to perch on top of books. This makes her look especially intelligent. My husband made the comment that she was in her literary post. On my Facebook post, Julie Johnson commented that I could make a meme of that. Since Mimi was sitting on top of Donalyn Miller’s books, I created a caption about book whispering. The post only got 5 likes. Needless to say, I don’t think I get this meme thing.

But I do like that I am out there in this digital world taking a dare. Trying to be brave. Trying to be digitally literate. In all honesty, I will not be using memes with my students; they are only elementary age. Then comes this question from the Connected Learning team, “How do we turn the principles of Connected Learning into memes that spread in an educational setting?”

The CLMOOC principles are important for education. See Why Connected Learning. These principles should be spread. Am I responsible for spreading them in my small corner of the universe? As responsible as I am to any principle that I believe in, so whatever I may personally think about memes and my ability to create a clever one, I should find a way to express the principles of Connected Learning.

connected learning tagxedo

Read more about serious memes on Kevin Hodgson’s site and another one from Beth O’Connor.

So Mimi begs the question, “Am I a Meme or a Mimi?” Sorry, just had to have a little pun fun.

Made in WordFoto

Made in WordFoto

Link up your DigiLit Sunday post with Mr. Linky.

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.


I’m here at the lake
Quietly watching the day go by
Talking with Mom and Dad
Taking a walk in the morning breeze
Eating the perfect pancake
Relishing the gift of time
Lingering and loving life

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Poetry Friday Round-up is at Buffy's Blog.

Poetry Friday Round-up is at Buffy’s Blog.


I do not remember who introduced me to the poetry of Barbara Crooker, but I want to thank you. I am reading Line Dance published in 2008 by Word Press. Barbara Crooker speaks to me. She writes with rich imagery and real life events, touching my heart and my inner poet. She is also a very nice person. When I decided to review her book here on my blog, I wrote her an email from the contact information on her website. Imagine my excitement when, not 24 hours later, she had written me back!

I had a hard time deciding which poem to feature because they are all so good. In the title poem, the lines dance literally on the page as Barbara connects the people she loves in a dance at her daughter’s wedding. “everyone I’ve ever loved/ is here today, even the dead, raising a glass/ and dancing, circling around the bride/ in her frothy gown, bubbles rising/ in a fluted glass, spilling out, running over.”

The collection begins in winter when her father dies “through the narrow window, the cold sky/ stretched blameless, white and blue, behind him.” We are taken on a journey through grief, but not without hope. “this old blue world will keep on spinning, without you.” from Blues for Karen. And then comes Valentine’s Day when she strings hearts in all the windows. “The heart wants and wants and wants some more. Spring so far in the distance.”

Our hearts break with hers and are put back together with the puzzle pieces of her words.


I want to tell you something. This morning
is bright after all the steady rain, and every iris,
peony, rose, opens its mouth, rejoicing.
I want to say, wake up, open your eyes, there’s
a snow-covered road ahead, a field of blankness,
a sheet of paper, an empty screen. Even
the smallest insects are singing, vibrating
their entire bodies, tiny violins of longing
and desire. We were made for song.
I can’t tell you what prayer is, but I can take
the breath of the meadow into my mouth,
and I can release it for the leaves’ green need.
I want to tell you your life is a blue coal, a slice
of orange in the mouth, cut hay in the nostrils.
The cardinals’ red song dances in your blood.
Look, every month the moon blossoms
into a peony, then shrinks to a sliver of garlic.
And then it blooms again.

— Barbara Crooker, from Line Dance, all rights reserved.

The natural world sings in Barbara Crooker’s poetry. In Peony, “Imagine the hard knot of its bud,/ all that pink possibility.” Her poem, One Song (after Rumi), sounds like a concert of birds, beginning with a cardinal in all its red, then a chickadee adds percussion. The sun even comes out to join the chorus. And ends with “All the world breathes in, breathes out./ It hums, it throbs, it improvises./ So many voices. Only one song.”

So many voices. Only one song. Thank you, Barbara, for allowing me to be witness to your song. What a joy!

Thanks to Tabatha Yeatts for organizing the Summer Poem Swap.

Thanks to Tabatha Yeatts for organizing the Summer Poem Swap.

My own poem written for Robyn Hood Black for the Summer Poetry Swap is featured on Robyn’s site today.

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Follow this link to read more spiritual journey posts.

Follow this link to read more spiritual journey posts.

I love the connections I have made through blogging. One of these wonderful bloggers is Holly Mueller. She wrote last week on Thursday about wanting to start a link-up, round-up, meme thing for Thursdays on the theme of the spiritual journey. I told her I was in, so here we are, another writing adventure. Please go to her blogspot using the link above and read.

Heron in flight by Beth Gibson Saxena

Heron in flight by Beth Gibson Saxena

I am at the lake. My parents moved here 24 years ago. It is not where I grew up, but they are here, so it is another home for me. When I come, I am immediately soothed by the calmness of water and the love my parents have for each other and for me.


to the banter of the birds.
They chatter and flutter for the feeder Mom sets out and tends to with her mothering hands. This morning, a red-headed woodpecker squished his long body up and stuck his pecker beak into the mesh of the finch feeder. Mom says he comes every day. “No finch has ever come to that feeder.” The sparrow waited its turn while Mr. Woody wriggled his beak in and out for a tasty treat. I watched and listened to the other birds. I love this sound, symphonic, syncopated, soothing. Silence is never really silent. I could close my eyes to meditate here and listen for the joy in my heart. It’s there waiting to be heard, like the laughter of my mother as she talks to an old friend on the phone.

We are called to be listeners. We should not chatter like the birds wanting to be heard. We need to listen. Listen to the wisdom of fathers. Listen to the song of the wind. Whatever is there…listen.

Sometimes we get so deeply involved with our own thoughts, worries, concerns to listen to others. We practice our own counter-story rather than listen to our friend’s story. On this spiritual journey, I vow to be a better listener. Then I may become a better hearer. In the silence of my heart, God speaks.

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  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.


The theater was practically empty on a Tuesday afternoon during a storm. But Carolyn and I didn’t mind. We both forgot our Kleenex, so she slipped out just when Augustus and Hazel got to Amsterdam knowing full well we would both need napkins. Why do we do this to ourselves? Yet we were both gloriously sobbing. Cleansing or stupid?

I warn my students when they have to read Where the Red Fern Grows in the summer between 5th and 6th grade, “Do not read the end in public. Close yourself into your room and get under the sheets.”

Carolyn and I both read the book. We knew what was coming, but we watched anyway. And loved it. I don’t really understand why, except that humans are like this. We want to love, and we want to watch others fall in love. I was right there with Hazel and Augustus. I don’t even know the actors’ real names.

Literature and good movies move us. They reveal to us the faults, the beauty, and the sadness of life in a way that is safe. We can crawl under the covers and read the book, wipe away the tears, and move on. Move on in a better way, more full, heart attuned to life. The leaves look greener somehow.

I don’t know if you should go see The Fault in our Stars, but if you do, your heart will swell and you will cry, but as Augustus says to Hazel, “Oh, I don’t mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.” It is a privilege to have your heart broken by The Fault in our Stars.

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It’s Monday, what are you reading? I am joining in a meme at Jen Vincent’s site Teach Mentor Texts. Follow me to her site to see more Monday book reviews.


Some of my colleagues and I have started a book club for reading middle grade books. We’ve had a hard time selecting books to read, so we decided that the hostess for the next meeting would pick the book. Coty picked Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. I have never read it, and it was published in 2001. I also missed the movie but will soon remedy that. I flipped over Flipped. The story is told from two points of view, Bryce and Julianna. I enjoyed reading their different perspectives on the same events. Once I read Bryce’s story, I had to read Juli’s. This is a romantic novel in the best, most innocent sense. The back and forth of feelings is so real. And the lessons are valuable. I think sixth grade girls would love Flipped. Not sure if the boys would have the same reaction. Girls tend to enjoy relationship drama more than boys. I recommend Flipped for your summer reading. It’s quick and delightful. Makes you want to go climb a tree.

The Year of Lettering by Kelly Cummings

The Year of Lettering by Kelly Cummings

Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place

A huge fan of The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler, I had not read The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. Another great read! I am a fan of realistic fiction. This book is written in the snarky voice of Margaret Rose Kane. (Can’t help but love her name.) At first I didn’t like that she was having such a rough time at camp, but then along came the Uncles and their eccentricities. For 45 years, Margaret’s uncles had been building three towers in their backyard using glass jars, watch and clock parts, and scrap metal. When neighbors decide the towers must go, Margaret works to save them. I think middle graders will enjoy this book because of its colorful characters and sense of purpose. We all want to know what happens to the towers.

What are you reading?

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please join in this meme designed to share our digital learning and challenges. Just as a teacher of writing needs to be a writer, a teacher of digital literacy needs to be a digital learner. Use this button on your blog post and leave a link with Mr. Linky. Please read and comment on other posts. That’s how connectedness and collaboration begin.

Reflection is another means to apply the Connected Learning principles of being Interest-Powered and Production Centered by considering what you’re making and interests are now, and what your orientation is for the immediate future. –Chris Butts, CLMOOC team


I have jumped right in to the waters of two digital challenges: The Thinglink Teacher Challenge and National Writing Project’s Making Learning Connected, a.k.a. #clmooc.


Yesterday’s email from the CLMOOC team asked us to make a list of three things and to reflect on two questions.

1. What I’ve made so far…

How to pick blueberries: Thinglink
Self avatar: Bitstrip

Digital Self: Thinglink

How to be water: Animoto/YouTube

2. What I’m working on:

Poster about writing in Canva: This is a higher learning curve than other apps I tried this week. I struggled and gave up. But I am determined to try again and conquer this!

3. What I want to work on:

Prezi is a presentation site that I am daunted by. I have seen others do great things with it, and I’m sure my students would love it.


What did you learn from what you’ve already made? I learned to be more confident in my digital self. The Thinglink challenge for this week was to make a digital self. I thought I had to draw something. I started working on my ipad with a new stylus and became quickly annoyed. Then I googled avatar and low and behold, there’s an app for that! I was surprised how easy it was. So many online apps can make you feel stupid, but some, like Bitstrips, made me feel smart.

What do you see as the purpose of making this week? The purpose for me always goes back to my teaching and being able to support my students in their digital learning. However, I also discovered that making was fun, and I was compelled to share (and show off). I want to invite you to take the plunge. Jump in the deep end because there are lots of supportive floatie people out there.

I wanted to make a blog icon for the Connected Learning values, so after writing this post, I tried Canva again. It worked better for this purpose. You should try it.

Connected Learning

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

This morning I have weeded the flower bed, swept the floor, and made spinach balls for tonight’s poetry reading and book signing. I am sitting down now and enjoying the rest. I wasn’t going to do a Celebration Saturday post, but why not? I’m happy in my home and should celebrate that in itself.

Because it’s summer and because I like to connect with other educators, I signed up for the Making Learning Connected Community or #clmooc.
Of course, I already feel behind. I participated in the Twitter chat on Thursday night. It moved so fast. But I got a little encouragement about my first make: a How To. I also learned about some new tech tools that I am saving for tomorrow’s DigiLit Sunday post. The best part of any PD challenge such as this is the connection you make with other teachers and makers. (Julie Johnson is a blogger who is also doing the #clmooc challenge. Check out her blog post here.)

I believe that in order to teach my students to be brave in the tech world, I must be brave. Just do it, as they say.

I waited for inspiration. It came late yesterday evening after my dinner was cooked and cooling off. I thought “How to be water,” inspired by Laura Purdie Salas’ new book Water Can Be. I downloaded the Animoto app on my phone, made a video of my cat drinking from the faucet as she wants to do almost all the time, and uploaded water images. This was quick and satisfying.

Today I celebrate connecting and creating. Have a wonderful summer solstice day!

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Join the Poetry Friday round-up at Jone's site: Check it Out.

Join the Poetry Friday round-up at Jone’s site: Check it Out.

Revision? Ugh! If you are a writer, revision is a necessary evil. Maybe not evil, but definitely necessary. If I am going to urge my students to revise, I must experience it myself.

I have a copy of Kate Messner’s Real Revision in my stack of professional books for the summer. It’s already dog-eared, written in, and sticky-noted. Each chapter ends with a section “Meet Mentor Author…” I decided for this post that I would take one piece of advice and apply it to an old draft of a poem. However, when I got started, I went in a different direction.

I’ve “met” Jeannine Atkins through Poetry Friday. Her exercise in Real Revision begins, “Try It: Jeannine Atkins tries to use concrete nouns- specific, precise words- and verbs that really suggest action.”

I pulled out my poem “Singing the Blues” that I wrote in a wordlab setting. I liked it but felt that it needed work. Jeannine’s exercise helped me attack the challenge, but once I started pinpointing precise words, I also made other changes. This is a good lesson for my work with students. A revision strategy such as this one by Jeannine can be a starting point, but I also should encourage other changes. Jump in with finding precise words, then move on to confirming the theme, changing the order, or adding in senses, metaphor, etc. Revision can be endless. We should teach our students that it can also be fun and satisfying when your writing takes shape and looks like a bird that may fly.

My brother, the performer, Hunter Gibson

My brother, the performer, Hunter Gibson

Find Hunter’s music on the web here.

Singing the Blues

My mother sang blues in rhythm with her cleaning,
mopped on out to the shade of the oak tree
to cool off and cool down. That Mississippi sun
shone like Jupiter on a summer night.

We played with fire.

The front yard burned.
Smoke rose to the gods,
Chatty Cathy and a set of Lincoln Logs—ashes.
Mom cried when she saw her begonias
seared like sausage on a stick.

I buried my Barbies in the flowerbed, knelt
beside the snake of Eden—I am a sinner.
I Guess that’s Why They Call it the Blues
echoes from the microphone.

Brother now plays the keyboard,
sways his Elton John head
above the noise of a crowded bar.
Does he remember?

We were only children, for God’s sake!
What did we know about heat and rage then?
Our phoenix rose long ago.

–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

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