Friday, April 30, 2010

IRA Poem

Outside the glass walls
of the convention center,
the big lake shines
tranquil blue,
almost aqua.
Bouncing buoys in the waves.
Gulls flying.
A ship gliding in the distance.

Inside, near the exhibit hall,
teachers sit in clumps
on chairs,
at tables,
in trios,
in pairs
spreading out on convention carpet
of blue, orange, yellow, and


Perusing book bags,
Sharing session notes,
Emptying complimentary totes.
Contemplating new learning.

Teachers writing.
Teachers talking.
Teachers sharing.
Teachers laughing.
Teachers packing boxes for shipping;
Wallets empty, minds full.

Glimmering in the distance,
the Chicago skyline glimmers.
Filled with people who learned
To be…

Because of teachers. 

Thank you for the challenge, Mary Lee... this is poem #30...  

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chipotle, in Chicago? Really?

Chipotle on the Michigan Avenue,
Three Tacos, Hard Shells
Pintos, No Sauce
Mild Tomato Salsa
A Bit of Green As Well
Light Cheese and Sour Cream
Lots of Lettuce
Iced Tea with Lemon

The perfect Chicago meal...
fine dining, not, but delicious!

I knew you when in 1993
you took over Dolly Madison
on Evans, near DU!
Brought to school by teammate Deb.
Burritos with rice?  Strange then.
Not so strange now!
Really... It's amazing...
Who knew you'd grow up so quickly.

Guess where I ate when I got to Chicago tonight?  Better than a hotel burger, I'd say.  Is it May yet?  These poems are killing me!   

Monday, April 26, 2010

Airport Birds

Ode to the Airport Starling

Viewing the concourse
From cold steel rafters,
Flitting and flying,
Filling the airport with song.

Zipping to empty tables,
Nesting hidden corners with
napkin bits and straw wrappers.

Singing outdoor songs, indoors.
Chirping a starling’s song.
Calling the terminal home,
Like a bad Tom Hank’s movie.

Your body bulges with
Droppings from Paradise Bakery.
Cracker crumbs,
Salad bits,
Scraps of bread,
You’re dancing a hiphop
Around each tasty morsel.

Almost unnoticed, you fly,
Hearing giggles and seeing pointing fingers
Of two young sisters
Waiting for their turn to fly.

You would fly free too…
If it weren’t for that damn glass!

But for now, 
airport living is the life!

I wrote this today while sitting in the Denver airport, waiting to leave for IRA in Chicago.  Amazing little creatures, those airport birds... poetic, but a bit annoying as well!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Finding Your Smile

Last night at a staff developer's meeting (Ellin Keene has been doing a marvelous job of leading us for four nights this year), my colleague from the PEBC (Public Education and Business Coalition), Susan McIver, handed me a copy Augustus and His Smile.  She thanked me for letting her visit my classroom and for "making such an impact."  Really?  I was so surprised.  Such a kind token of thoughtfulness, just the kind of thing you expect from someone like Susan.  Well, when I read it, was flabbergasted.  
     There have been a lot changes happening around my school and throughout our district (some good, some bad, some indifferent--but that's another blog entry).  How did Susan know this was just the book I needed to read?  How did she know that it's words would speak so eloquently to me on my first day back with kids after our spring track-off period?  How did she know that I've been searching for answers for the past few weeks?
     In this book, Augustus has lost his smile and doesn't know where to find it... so he begins the search.  He searches through jungles, deserts, and oceans... and finally finds it in a pool of water after the rain just under his nose.  
   Catherine Rayner did it for me today.  It's the old "there's no place like home" and "the grass isn't always greener" scenero.  Because as we all know... there is no place like home and the grass on the other side of the fence isn't as green as we think it looks. 
    So within the cycle of uncertainty of ending a year, the perplexities of transitioning to a new school year, and throughout the process of change within this system called "school," I'll be falling back on this book... often!   Thanks, Susan, for sharing it with me!  It made me smile.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Blu? Bleu? Blue?

This week a colleague sent us a picture of her new Great Dane puppy named Bleu.  So, one of the poems I jotted in my writer's notebook this week is about our Australian Shephard, Blu.  She was a great dog ( my wife and I inherited her from my brother and sister-in-law when they moved to Alaska).  Piercing blue eyes.  Long blue merle coat.  An affinity for chasing ducks.  A quiet presence.  A gentile and graceful friend.  A happy wag and a love for snow.  She and Nicholas, our black spaniel mix, were always the best of pals.
     We eventually had her put to sleep.  It was a sad day.  She was old, blind, and weak.  Her coat had lost most of its luster.  We tried to replace her with Annie, another Aussie, but she wasn't the same (although she, too, was a good dog).  There was only one Blu (and Nicholas too).
     Haven't had a dog since (although a Newfoundland tops the list)... but we have memories.  Blu falling off a two-story balcony and surviving, wandering blindly down below (no injuries).  Blu running across fallen trees over mountain river streams.  Blu breathing with the WORST dog breath ever.  Blu eating her way through any fence that tried to contain her.  She was a long-haired Aussie, beautiful.  A great dog.  So, thanks to my colleague for sharing Bleu and thanks to Mary Lee for nudging me to write a poem each day.  This is the first one I'm sharing:


I saw your puppy, Bleu today.
My heart was reminded of our Blu.
I often dream of her dancing in the snow,
throwing white winter wisps high into the air,
watching snowflakes land on her blue merle coat,
melting softly into silky fur.
Seeing her smile.

I often dream of her waiting,
sitting beside me patiently, longing for a pet,
wagging her tail with hope,
asking with piercing blue eyes for a treat,
knowing she is loved.
Seeing her smile.

I often dream of her sleeping soundly,
laying on my tired feet, snoring,
her heartbeat gently warming cold toes,
knowing she'll soon want a walk,
one eye opens, hoping it comes soon.
Seeing her smile.

I often dream of her barking softly,
sharing her quiet voice, demure,
a happy bark rumbling from deep inside,
never obnoxious, always sincere,
a bark of happiness and joy.
Seeing her smile.

I saw your puppy, Bleu today.
And was reminded.
I miss our Blu...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A great find...

Found this little gem at The Boulder Bookstore today.  My friend, Troy, and I went to Boulder for the morning and made a quick trip into the bookstore.  I picked it up because of the cover and was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered.  The author is a philatelist and uses U.S. postage stamps to trace the journey of American history.  The details of each historical event are limited (I wanted to read more), but I thought it was an interesting way to trace the history of America.  A nice timeline with wonderful watercolors and simply written text.  
     I loved the reproductions of U.S. postage stamps throughout the book.  The author, C. H. Colman, uses his lifetime love of postage stamps to guide the reader through the text.  I love the passion he has for his "collection" and shares that he's been mesmerized by stamps since he was a little boy.  Colman decided to share his passion through stories of bald eagles (something he noticed took a prominent place in a lot of the stamps in his collection) intermingled with historic events in our country's history.  I think students will be intrigued by the colorful stamps represented in the book.  The historical events might just nudge students to discover more... and might just show them how to turn their own passions into a collection of writings. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


This morning, I was playing around with planning a unit of study that couched both reader's workshop and writer's workshop within the context of a specific thinking strategy - specifically Creating Sensory Images.  I pulled out our new standards, some of my favorite resources, a planning guide, some old charts and files, my notebook, and then went to work...
     In Carl Anderson's book Assessing Writers he asks several great questions to think about when planning a unit of study in writing:
     What are our students' needs? 
     What are our students' interests?  
     What have the students studied in previous grades? 
     What units of study do we know well enough to teach?  
     What curriculum mandates are we required to meet?"  
Good questions to think about, eh?  I read a bit of Katie Wood Ray's Writer's Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts and They're All Hard Parts, Shelley Harwayne's Writing Through Childhood, and Don Graves' A Fresh Look at Writing.  I always find it helpful to go to the mentors I trust, with whom I've learned, and that I hold in esteem.  The mentors from whom I've come to understand writers.  The mentors who taught me about the power of being a writer.  The mentors who spent years perfecting, revising, and perfecting their craft.
     I pulled out the work of my favorite poets... Kristine O'Connell George, Georgia Heard, Ralph Fletcher, Jane Yolen, Donald Graves, Randi Allison, Lee Bennett Hopkins.  I pulled out other helpful resources from my bookshelves... A Note Slipped Under the Door by Nick Flynn and Shirley McPhillips, Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard, Writing Toward Home by Georgia Heard, For the Good of the Earth and Sun by Georgia Heard, Study Driven by Katie Wood Ray, Notebook Connections by Aimee Buckner, Poetry Matters by Ralph Fletcher.  I pulled out my own notebooks to look for writing of my own that might be work re-exploring.  I pulled out notes on previous attempts of teaching both Sensory Images and poetry.  I searched.  I pondered.  I jotted.  I surmised.   I wondered.  I wrote.
     Then I sketched out a preliminary plan - paralleling sensory images and poetry.  I think the possibilities are amazing (and endless) when we look carefully at the what and how we teach specific skills and strategies when we investigate them within the auspices of a specific "thinking strategy."
     It seems that so often teachers are asking for a pretty packaged curriculum, something they can follow step-by-step.  I can't tell you how often I hear teachers say, "Just tell me what to teach!"  The problem is, if we say that too loudly and too often and too quickly, it happens... someone tells you exactly what to teach and exactly when to teach it.  But I don't think in a "Stepford" manner, so for me the quest of my own inquiry, based on my students' needs and interests, gives me the energy to investigate... to challenge... to experiment... to forge ahead.  
     If we want every child to be a writer, we don't need a canned curriculum to teach from... we need to use our own writing, resources within our reach, and the depth that great writing teachers offer us.  Now, don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with using something as a preliminary guide... but who knows our students better than we do?  My friend and colleague, Lori Conrad, once told me that the "scope" of what to teach is what our children are showing us they need (based on what our district/state curriculum and what we see/hear children doing) and the "sequence" is when our students are showing us they need it (or we deem it important within a specific study).
     Am I finished, nope.  But I have an idea of where I'm headed when I track back on at the end of April.  And... once I'm in front of my students, then I'll be able to see where this study leads.  But for now, I have some more thinking to do... if you need me, just slip a note under the door.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Poetry Links

I sent these five links to my third graders yesterday (we are on our three week break) and challenged them to think about writing a poem every day in April (thanks to Mary Lee Hahn for suggesting it).  You might like to check these sites out and share some tidbits with your students (or with your notebook).   

Monday, April 5, 2010

In Your Dreams...

Accepting Mary Lee's nudge to write a poem each day in April has been a great challenge (of course, she's posting her poetry... I love Franki's poem about the red KitchenAid).  Here's a poem (just to inspire us a bit to write... not just about wildflowers, but about anything that's resting in our head or our heart) by Linda Pastan that my friend and colleague , Randi Allison, sent us this week.  Randi is sending us a poem each day via email and I loved this one... 

     A New Poet

Finding a new poet
is like finding a new wildflower
out in the woods. You don't see

its name in the flower books, and
nobody you tell believes
in its odd color or the way

its leaves grow in splayed rows
down the whole length of the page. In fact
the very page smells of spilled

red wine and the mustiness of the sea
on a foggy day - the odor of truth
and of lying.

And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only

in your dreams there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.
Photo by R. Crawford

By the way, today is my wife's birthday... presents are wrapped, Susan's sleeping in (I drove the kids to school), soon we'll start our day.  I love that her birthday falls so close to Easter.  I love that Susan means "Lily".  Each year I'm reminded of two amazing gifts God gave me (neither one deserved, both from the Lily of the Valley)... one is eternal life and one is someone with whom to share my earthly life.  It's a week of blessings

Here's another poem Randi sent us.  I think I might share it with Susan today...

A Birthday Candle
Donald Justice

Thirty today, I saw
The trees flare briefly like
The candles on a cake,
As the sun went down the sky,
A momentary flash,
Yet there was time to wish.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mangiare, Mangiare, Mangiare! Un Libro...

The Book That Eats People by John Perry, illustrated by Mark Fearing, is just unique.  You're warned from the first page that this book eats people and throughout the book Sam, Victoria, and Mr. Singh learn the hard way that, indeed, it does!
     I love Mark Fearing's illustrations... as you read, you'll see that "fearing" is exactly what you'll be doing.  This book made me chuckle a bit.  As I read through it, I was in awe of the collage-like artwork.  Throughout the book we learn the history of the book's unfortunate characters (or should I say victims)... poor Sam, his bones coughed up and clattered across the floor!
     The reader is warned never to turn your back on the book and you wonder if children might heed the words, literally.  Bravery is the only requirement for reading this book.  Page after page the reader is greeted with the fangs and slanted eyes of the book as it waits for its next meal.  Victoria's demise came when she picked up All About Dolphins... only to discover that it was a book that eats peoples that traded places with the dolphin book.  
     Try this book... you might find it in poor taste or you might find that it's deliciously sweet, wicked, sinister, and just plain fun!  Check out Mark Fearing's wonderful website at: (it's a delightful one).

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Can Man

The Can Man by Laura E. Williams is a perfect cousin text to books like Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts and Fly Away Home by Even Bunting.
     In The Can Man Tim notices the homeless man gathering cans on the streets and has an idea.  He too decides to collect cans... for a skateboard for his birthday.  Within a week, Tim has collected enough cans to almost reach his goal, but a chance meeting with the "can man" changes everything.  Tim realizes that the "can man" is more than just the homeless man who gathers cans throughout the neighborhood.
     Tim discovers that the "can man" is saving money for a winter coat (not a skateboard) "before the snow starts flying."  Tim learns a valuable lesson (especially when the "can man" offers his cart to Tim).  He learns the differences between a "want" and a "need."  Tim learns that the can man's name is Mr. Peters, who used to work in an auto body shop and in live an apartment until his life took an unexpected turn.  Now Mr. Peters collects cans for survival.
     This is a simple story about a boy who learns not to judge and also learns about the power of sharing with those less fortunate... he eventually gives his profit to Mr. Peters.  To Tim's surprise, he receives a skateboard that Mr. Peters refurbished just for him.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


There is something very endearing about this coming of age graphic novel.  It's funny, it's touching, it's beautifully illustrated.  I was conferring with a 5th grader in Kansas City earlier this week when she introduced it to me.
     You might know Raina Telgameier's work, she also illustrates the graphic novel series of The Baby Sitters Club.  There's something special about this book.  The main character, Raina, is a typical sixth grader who just happens to trip and fall and injure her two front teeth.  The result?  An orthodontic nightmare of braces, headgear, surgeries, a retainer and all the embarrassment it brings to a sixth grader's life (not to mention the friendship struggles, the boy-girl situations, the earthquake).  The plot of this book connects to the life of an adolescent with all its ups and downs.
     When I was conferring with the student in Kansas City, her eyes lit up as I sat next to her and she started talking about the book... about how real it felt, how it made her laugh, how fun it was to read, how much she was inferring as she was reading.  It's a book I can't wait for my own daughter to read.
     The best part - the author based it on her life.  On her website ( when she was asked if she really knocked her teeth out, she said,"Yes! It’s all true. I was in sixth grade when I fell and knocked out my teeth, and I have been dealing with the consequences ever since. I had braces, a lot of surgery, and a lot of awkward smiles as a result. The comic SMILE was born out of a need to get the whole experience down on paper, since I spent so much time telling people about it."
     The artist's skill as a cartoonist and her brilliance as a writer take the reader to the days of adolescent adjustment and awkwardness.  But with dignity, humor, and insight.  I think it's a must read and a perfect book to discuss as a family.  You won't be disappointed.  Neither will your students.