Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sifter #poetryFriday

Welcome to Poetry Friday and my little corner of the world!  This is my first time hosting, and I appreciate you stopping by to share your bit of poetry with all of us.

My last Donor's Choose project was a collection of poetry books.  Some were old, some were new, but all revolved around the teenage years.  Today I share with you some thoughts and words from from Naomi Shihab Nye in her book, A Maze Me.

In the introduction to this book, Naomi shares her worry about becoming a teenager and wanting to hang on to childhood just a little bit longer.   In one part she talks about not remembering "the name of a single junior high school teacher."  Yet she could name every elementary teacher and most of her high school teachers.  She asks, "What happened in between?"

Naomi says when she turned seventeen, "I started feeling as if my soul fit my age again, or my body had grown to fit my brain.  When she was in college, she met Nellie Lucas, an eccentric women, who taught Naomi to "slow down and to pay better attention to everything" and to have faith about "growing up."

One of the best pieces of advice I found for want-to-be writers is, "If you write three lines down in a notebook every day (they don't have to be important, they don't have to relate to one another, you don't have to show them to anyone) will find out what you notice.  Uncanny connections will be made visible to you.  That's what I started learning when I was twelve, and I never stopped learning it."

She compares growing up as "Every year unfolds like a petal inside all the years that preceded it.  You will feel your thinking springing up and layering inside your huge mind a little differently.  Your thinking will befriend you.  Words will befriend you.  You will be given more than you could ever dream."

What follows these wise words, is a collection of 72 poems. Below is my favorite.

~Naomi Shihab Nye

When our English teacher gave
our first writing assignment of the year,
become a kitchen implement
in 2 descriptive paragraphs, I did not think
butcher knife or frying pan,
I thought immediately 
of soft flour showering through the little holes
of the sifter and the sifter's pleasing circular
swishing sound, and wrote it down.
Rhoda became a teaspoon,
Roberto a funnel,
Jim a muffin tin
and Forrest a soup pot.
We read our paragraphs out loud.
Abby was a blender.  Everyone laughed
and acted giddy but the more we thought about it, 
we were all everything in the whole kitchen,
drawers and drainers,
singing teapot and and grapefruit spoon
with serrated edges, we were all the 
empty cup, the tray.
This, said our teacher, is the beauty of metaphor.
It opens doors.
What I could not know then was how being a sifter
would help me all year long.
When bad days came
I would close my eyes and feel them passing
through the tiny holes.
When good days came
I would try to contain them gently
the way flour remains
in the sifter until you turn the handle.
Time, time. I was a sweet sifter in time
and no one ever knew.

Shihab Nye, Naomi. "A Maze Me: Poems for Girls." Harper Collins Publishers:  New York, NY. 2005.

May we all become sifters.  
Thank you for visiting today, and please share your link below.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Gown of Gold ~ Poetry Friday

It's Poetry Friday, and Irene has the round-up at Live Your Poem.

It is a glorious Poetry Friday, and I am on fall break.  I have spent the last three days trying to finish up a grad course.  I started classes in September and my reading and writing life has taken a downturn.  Today, while sitting outside, I decided I needed a break.  I thought catching up on blog posts from friends was just the thing I needed.

My first stop was Terje's at Just For a Month.  She posted photos from a fall walk, and they are gorgeous.  Next stop was Margaret's at Reflections on the Teche, where I read her Poetry Friday post, a collection of student poems.  

In my comment to her, I said how much I wanted to take time out from studying and just write.  

And so I did.

I went back to Terje's pictures because they always give me inspiration.  Jotted down some thoughts and ideas in my notebook.  Marked many out and tried again.  So instead of writing about learning theories, I wrote about fall and her gown of gold.  

Next week I host the round-up, so I hope to see you here.

Gown of Gold

Photo by Terje Akke, Estonia
I stand tall in my gown of gold,
sleeves stretching endlessly
to cover your bareness.

I pause and ponder
the change which will
become our destiny.

I glance one last time
at my reflection
in the mirror.

I bask in my moment of glory
and hesitantly wait 
for winter’s wardrobe.

©Leigh Anne Eck, 2017

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Celebrating Student Writing

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  Why don't you join the celebration?

Today I combine Poetry Friday with my Celebration post.  Join this week's round-up with Kathryn Apel.

As I was giving a test on Friday at school, a former student came to my room and asked me if I would read something she had written and tell her what I thought.  The assignment was to write from the voice of an inanimate object.  Kaitlyn's writing left me speechless.

A colleague describes Kaitlyn as an "old soul" and this description could not be more perfect.  The words which come from her pen are full of imagery.  Her vocabulary is beyond that of a 7th grader, and her sentence structure is something which cannot be taught.

I told her I thought she could work this into a stunning poem, adding line breaks to deepen the meaning and make the lyrical imagery stand out.  But when I shared it with Margaret Simon, she said it could be left as a prose poem.

So, today I share and celebrate her work with you.

I am paper. I am frail and faint, sitting in a stack of thousands just like myself, collecting more and more dust by the second. My skin crawls against the soft wind of her door opening, and then closing. Her humming echos throughout the bedroom. I can hear her tossing the brown rucksack down. I now know, it’s time to write. She gently scoops me up in her hands, taking me away from the others. But I know, I will see them again. I wish I could reach out a hand as soft as hers, but I cannot. For I am not real. She’s begun her writing now. Although I cannot see the words her pencil writes on my skin, I feel her story coming to life. I can feel every squiggle, line, and eraser mark she makes as she trails down my vibrant blue veins. When the pencil drops from her delicate hands, sadness washes over me like rain on a sunny day. But of course, she’s still smiling. She’ll never truly feel this pain that runs through my blue lines. As she steps up from her chair, I feel different. Shreds of my flaky paper skin begin dancing around the room. I see her eyes shining bright from the slight distance. And then time stops. She hesitantly brushes a hands across my cheek. I feel her arms wrap around me in a hug. Impossible, I think to myself. But I look down. I am human. My shreds of paper skin have become real. I have arms and legs and a torso, too. I am human, like her. But something is wrong. My flaky paper skin is falling apart now. I am becoming nothing more than paper again. She grasps my forearms, as I do the same to her. I am fading fast, too fast. But then I realize, I am paper. I am the body of a book. And with that book, a spine. We are all held together by nothing more than words. Her beautiful words. I feel her grip tightening as I take my paper form once more. But before I am completely lost, I tell her this, “I love you, but you’re real.”
And this is how your story becomes real. But is it really a story if the words don’t dance across the pages? Is it really a story if you aren’t a part of the same world?  And is it really a story if a piece of you isn’t left between the spine?
~ Kaitlyn

I plan to show her your comments about her writing, so thank you for reading today.  

Here is a quote in her writer's notebook. I don't think this is something she has to worry about because I am quite confident she was born to write.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rising Celebrations ~ Celebrate 2017 (nineteen)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  Why don't you join the celebration?

Isn't it funny how a single word can bring about change?  Changes you think about, changes you hope for,

and changes you never expected.

Today is a simple list of rising celebrations.

In about three weeks I start on my master's degree. After ten years of teaching, it is time to think about different paths.  Getting this degree is the first step.

In one week I will be presenting training/professional development on writing traits for our English department. Focusing on literacy instruction in every classroom in my school has been a vision for me, albeit a blurry one.  The path to what this may look like is becoming more visible (which is the reason for the above celebration).

In about six weeks our school district and (hopefully) our community will be celebrating the book Wonder by R.J. Polacio.  I am spearheading a One Book, One District, One Community project.  Thanks to Katherine Sokolowski for the idea.  Read about her project here.

A week ago Jennifer Laffin, Michelle Haseltine, Margaret Simon and I launched our new chat for teachers and teacher-writers. I think all four of us were rather surprised at the response we received. Check out the #TeachWrite Chat blog with an archive of the chat along with a call to write for the JOY of it.

I just finished our first full week of school.  Another school year with another set of students is always a celebration.

Have a great week, and may you find many celebrations along the way!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Roots and Wings #PoetryFriday

It's Poetry Friday, and Katie has the round-up at The Logonauts.

Dinner time has always been a sacred time for us the last 25 years. As our children have grown up, we have talked about our days, our struggles, and our stories. My children have also learned to sit and observe the climate of the room before asking for something they want, telling us something we don't want to hear, or making an announcement.

This week was no different. My son told us that he was starting his college time away from home this coming weekend, a month earlier than expected. 

I looked at my husband and found no reaction. Later that night as he was working on his jeep, I told him, "We raised them to have roots and wings. He's ready to fly."

He stopped and said, "I know."  He continued to work the white cloth in one continuous, circular motion as if he was trying to keep the circle of life going.

Today as my son and I were driving in his car, he looked over at me and said, "You are taking it better than I thought you would." 

I smiled.

And so, a new life for us begins and gives me reason to reflect on this poem.  Many different poems have been written about roots and wings, but I prefer this one:

Roots and Wings

Roots and wings are what we give our children, if we try. 
Roots that reach down deep and wings so they can touch the sky. 
To know that they are part of something greater than themselves. 
A harbor in the storms of life to save them from the swells. 

Much more than blood or family, roots provide integrity 
Which rounds out and develops character until they see 
The sky above and try their wings.  Roots help our children fly, 
Yet keep them grounded in the truth so they don't pass it by! 

You can find the entire poem here at All Poetry.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

#TeachWrite Twitter Chat

Back in January I chose a one little word - Rise. After choosing a word, I never know where it is going to take me, and I cherish those moments when it takes me by complete surprise.

I have been a writing teacher for ten years, but I have been a teacher-writer for about four. Writing has changed me as a person, as well as a teacher.

I am blessed to have connected with so many other teachers who write and share my passion about writing. Although these connections come from all over the world, when we share this passion, the distance becomes insignificant, and the passion unites us in ways I would have never dreamed.

I have joined Jennifer Laffin, Margaret Simon, and Michelle Haseltine in creating a new Twitter chat - #TeachWrite.  Our goal is to create a place to share our writing experiences with teacher-writers and with those teachers who want to begin the writing journey.

We rise when we lift others. It is my hope that this new chat becomes a place for us to lift other teachers, and a place for our writing to rise as well.

Do you….
Believe that teaching writing is easier when teachers are writers themselves?
Believe that our own writing lives deserve to be nurtured?
Believe that all writers grow through dedicated writing time?
Believe that all writers need support and encouragement?
Believe that writing is a messy process and the best way to learn this is through our own practice?
Believe that when teachers write, they make writing a priority in their classrooms?

Our chat will support teachers not only in their quest to become better teachers of writers but to become better writers ourselves.

In addition, each chat will end with an invitation to write!

Please join us!

Our first chat is Monday, August 7th at 7:30 PM EST with the topic of  “Writing for the JOY of It!”

You can sign up to receive a monthly reminder of our #TeachWrite chat by signing up for a Remind: 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My Journey with a Leveled Library

Discussions on leveling books and libraries seems to be elevated lately. This topic was the discussion in several conferences this week so tweets were flying.  The National Council of Teachers of English  posted "What's Your Lexile Score?" today.

This trend has me thinking about my own journey with a leveled library.

I teach in an Accelerated Reading district, and most of the classroom libraries are leveled. When I first began teaching, my library was leveled too. That's just how it was done, and I didn't know any better.

After reading professional books, especially The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, I began to see the light and the damage I was doing to my students. I began to slowly add baskets of popular series and authors, as well as baskets of genres and nonfiction topics. Because I taught 4th grade, many of my students did not know how to choose a book other than from the leveled baskets. 

We had a learning curve which I continue to fight today. One the of the first discussions I have with my middle schoolers is what they notice about our classroom library. Many immediately notice that the books are not leveled, and I tell them they never will be. I teach them to choose books based on their preferences and how to determine if a book is appropriate for them. This is part of teaching the reader.

I worked with a teacher who had a different philosophy of teaching reading then I did, especially when it came to AR. We often disagreed, and he often quoted, "Programs don't teach readers, teachers do." 

He is absolutely correct, and I agree 100%. 

But what is a leveled library doing? Many libraries are organized by matching colored baskets, clearly labeled with AR levels.  This "program" is teaching our students how to choose books.  Not teachers. 

I will continue to fight against "programs teaching readers" and limiting their ability to choose books for themselves. I will continue to advocate for choice.

My journey with a leveled library has ended.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Short Inventory of a Summer Day ~ Celebrate 2017 (eighteen)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  Why don't you join the celebration?

On my computer sits a coral sticky note. Its purpose is not what you would expect - a place to write reminders. Instead it is a quick check to see which one of the three Mac computers is actually mine. I have been known on multiple occasions to take the wrong one to school.

Today the sticky note sits in the bottom, left hand corner with these words scribbled in messy handwriting:  "short inventory of current life."

I wrote this quote down weeks ago because I loved the celebration that it captured. I thought I knew its owner, but when I went back to link the post with the quote, I couldn't find it. Please let me know if those words were yours so I can give proper credit.  Here is how I captured my inventory and my celebration today.

Short Inventory of a Summer Day

fresh sweet corn
fresh peaches
low-humidity pool time
kids home
lingering back porch moments
freshly brewed iced tea
a return of green grass
black-eyed Susans

a perfect summer celebration

Monday, July 3, 2017

Life After Accelerated Reader

Those of you who know me or have read my blog for awhile, know that I have a strong disdain for Accelerated Reader. I teach in an AR district, but thankfully, I am not forced to use it. Sadly, it is not like that for everyone in my district. I know we have teachers who do not like using AR in their classroom, yet we also have teachers who would struggle without it.

I recently had a conversation with a teacher who knows my opinions and knows that I have been successful without using AR.  She asked me what would be the first things I would do. My first response was that I would buy every teacher a copy of The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.

I fear that many of our teachers would struggle if we discontinue AR because we have used it for so long, and they do not know anything different.  I am sure many teachers, not only those in my district, have this same fear.  I am proof that there is life after Accelerated Reader.

If you know teachers who use AR and are afraid they can't teach without it, then send them a link to this post.  Let this post be their life preserver; give them something to hang on to and let it buoy up their strength to make the decision that is best for readers.

Is there life out there?

You have to believe that a reading community can and will exist without AR. You not only have to believe it, but you have to live it.  Is it easy? No. One of the positives (if there truly is one) of AR is the ease in its implementation and the little work it places on teachers.
Easy is not always best for our students. 
(click to tweet)

To believe in this new path, you need support.  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller or other books, articles or websites that support reading communities.  This is where you will read real stories about real teachers who have been in your shoes and have broken the chains of AR.  
  • Know the research.  Donalyn Miller has a great blog post with links to research. When someone questions your practices, you must be knowledgeable and you must be confident. You must know that research supports that giving students time to read and access to books is connected to reading achievement. Reading achievement is not connected to answering multiple choice questions after reading a book. 
  • Find your tribe.  I always thought I was the only one in my district who did not like AR. I learned that I was not alone, but many were afraid to take that stance for fear of backlash from other teachers or administrators. Becoming a connected educator through blogging and Twitter and attending literacy conferences made me realize that I am not alone.  Other people who believe in the same things as I do really do exist.
Where do I start?

The biggest obstacle for any teacher wanting to build a reading community without AR is knowing where to start.  If you ask teachers this question, you may get different answers, but many would include these five steps:

  1. Live a literate life.  Would you send your child to swim lessons with an instructor who never gets in the water?  Of course not.  So, why should our students have teachers who do not read? Being knowledgeable and excited about the books in your library is one of the best ways to motive kids to read.  Create a display of the books you have read. Have conversations about books with your students. Hand them a book and say, "I thought about you when I read this."  Building this connection with your students shows them that you are a reader.
  2. Plan regular book talks.  Make it a point to talk about a book(s) each and every day. After I do a book talk, my students can't wait to read it.  Many times, I have to have a drawing to see who gets it first. When I intentionally write book talks in my plans, I tend to do them more. It becomes part of my day.
  3. Build your classroom library.  Having access to books has a positive impact on student engagement.  If we want kids to read, they must have a quick and easy way to get books in their hands. Having access to books makes it easier for us as teachers to match kids with books.  And this is one of the most important jobs of being a reading teacher. 
  4. Make reading its own reward. Tangible rewards do not work.  Having students earn points and using them as motivation may be a quick fix for a grading period, but it does not create lifelong readers. And that should be our ultimate goal. I know teachers who punish students for bad behavior or for not making their AR goal by keeping them in for recess and making them read.  This is wrong. This is teaching malpractice. As Donalyn Miller says,

    "When we communicate to children that the only reason to read is to earn a reward or grade, we fail to impart reading's true value. 
    Reading is its own reward, and it bestows immeasurable gifts on readers."

  5. Find value in all reading.  This will be one of the hardest actions for an AR teacher to do because many are used to handing kids their ZPD and monitoring these levels. But let them read. If they want to read a graphic novel, let them read.  If they want to read a magazine, let them read. If they want to read a book that is too hard or too easy, let them read. With your professional knowledge as a teacher, you will guide them to find books that interest them and that they are capable of reading. To paraphrase Donalyn Miller, find value in all reading and let them know that all readers in your classroom are valuable.
Eliminating Accelerated Reader from your classroom and building a true reading community takes time and takes a lot of work. You must trust that your readers will read, and they must trust you to create an environment that nurtures a reading life.

When you have a true reading community, trust is the glue that holds it together.
(click to tweet)

Yes, there is life after AR. Be brave enough to seek it and find comfort in knowing you are not alone.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Contracts ~ Celebrate 2017 (seventeen)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  Why don't you join the celebration?

This week I have been reading tweets from the Booth Bay Literacy Retreat and copying many of them down in my notebook.  Many have made me think.  Many have made me nod my head.  And many have made me remember the important work we do as teachers.  This quote made me do all three:

"I feel like we have a contract:  I will tell the best story I can tell.  
And you put it in the hands of kids." ~ Chris Crutcher

Toward the end of the school year I finished Swing Sideways by Nanci Turner Steveson.  It was an autographed copy that I won in a Twitter drawing.  This book introduces us to Annie, a young girl who struggles with panic attacks and who has an overprotective mother.  Annie's parents agree to give her a "summer of freedom," and the three of them head off to the country.

Here, Annie meets California, a young girl staying with her grandfather, and the two girls form a perfect summer friendship.  When California tells Annie that her grandfather is dying of cancer, the two go on a mission to reunite the grandfather with California's estranged mother. This mission is full of adventure and secrets and a summer Annie (and the reader) will never forget.

I closed the book, wiped the tears, and knew exactly to whom I was going to hand this book.  As I handed it to Isabella, I told her to come see me as soon as she finished because I knew I would want to talk to her about it. 

The end of the school year was upon us, and Isabella had not finished the book. I told her what any passionate reading teacher would say, "You can take the book home with you."  She smiled and carefully (she knew it was a signed copy!) placed it in her backpack for the summer.

This week she returned the book along with this note.


I knew she would love this book because I know Isabella as a reader.  I spent the year handing her book after book after book.  She would come into my room and ask, "Ok I finished that one. What's next?"  She is the reader every teacher wants in their classroom.

Authors can write amazing books, but if we don't find a way to get them in the hands of our students, we are reneging on our end of the contract.  Today, I celebrate that contract, the trust that authors place in us as teachers, and the joy of placing the right books in the hands of the right readers.

Yes, we have important work to do.

Notes:  After I read Swing Sideways, I immediately ordered multiple copies to use in my student book clubs.  This is the reference Isabella makes in her note about ordering more copies.

Nanci is also the author of Georgia Rules, another amazing heart fiction book which was published in May, and Lizzie Flying Solo about a recently homeless girl who loves a pony she can't have - coming in September 2018.  Nanci is a must-read author for those middle grade students who love books that tug at the heartstrings. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Walking on the Boundaries of Change ~ #PoetryFriday

It's Poetry Friday, and  Diane has the round-up at Random Noodling.

One of my goals when I return to school this fall (or in less than five weeks!) is for students to read, write, and talk every day.  In order to reach that goal, I have been searching for poems and other short texts to read for quick writes.  

In my search I came across Walking on the Boundaries of Change by Sara Holbrook. This is a perfect collection of poems for middle school students who are trying to figure out who they are, who and what is important, and where they are headed.

Because I live in the midwest, many of the poems are not applicable to my students, but they open the world to them and help them to realize other kids are going through the same problems and experience the same emotions.

I have already marked several poems for quick writes, but this will be my first one.  

Walking on the Boundaries of Change

Day by day
a tightrope,
walking on the boundaries
of change.
One step--
firm, familiar,
the next step--
shaky, strange.

Some friends
will dare danger,
mock or push each step.
Some friends 
knock your confidence.

Real friends
form a net.

~ Sara Holbrook

My 6th graders come in trying on new friendships.  Some times each day brings a new friend, a new enemy.  But in time, they will figure it all out, and I will be there listening, drying tears, sharing smiles and catching them when they fall from the tightrope.  

That's the beauty of teaching middle schoolers.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating this space for me to share my corner of the world.

I am in the midst of two milestones.  I wrote my 500th post on Sunday, and four years ago next week, I wrote my first slice of life. 

Little did I know how writing about
milk jugs would change my life.  
  • I have met and connected with some wonderful people, not only in the blogosphere, but also face to to face.  
  • I understand how my students feel in the writing process.  I understand their struggles of a blank page, and I understand their celebration for having written. No greater feeling exists than to put down the pen and say, "This is a pretty good piece of writing."
  • I have become an advocate for teacher writers.  My writing instruction is so much stronger because I write. I want other teachers to understand this connection too.
  • I see the importance of story.  Our lives are made up of stories; we just need to open our eyes and our hearts and our notebooks.
  • I have become brave.  I have written about topics close to my heart.  I have shared my passion, and I have stood up for what I believe in the best interests of my students.
  • I have become a better writer. We tell our students that they become better readers and writers through practice.  Well, that works the same for adults.
  • This space has become a catalyst for opportunity.  I have presented at conferences. I have taken my writing beyond this space.  And I know many more opportunities are within my grasp.
These are just a few reflections today, but I know there are many more.

So thank you Two Writing Teachers, my readers, and my friends, for introducing me to this writing community, encouraging me to continue, and letting me share a day in my life as a teacher, a reader, and a writer.