Slice of Life: Writing as Exploration


“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”
E.L. Doctorow

This quote is perfect and true.

Over a year ago, I began writing a story about a girl who falls out of a tree and breaks her arm. When I started writing, I didn’t know much more than that. I didn’t even know why she was in the tree in the first place. But that didn’t stop me. I kept writing and have learned much about this girl.

Then, last spring, I got sidetracked by another idea. All my writing energy went into this new project. However, as it often does, life intervened and both projects have been on the back burner for a few months.

Now, though, I feel ready to move on. I’m curious about what’s going on with this girl. More than a year later, she still has her arm in a cast. Surely that bone must be healed by now!

So yesterday I just started writing. I had no plan, no idea what what was going on with this character. But, true to Doctorow’s words, I figured it out (or at least got a better idea). It turned out that she wanted to make popcorn balls. So we made popcorn balls. This endeavor wasn’t completely successful, as the sugar and molasses tasted slightly burned. But the process of making this old family recipe revealed priceless details that I’d long forgotten.


Who knows what lies ahead for this character, or if this scene will end up as part of her story. I have an idea of how events will go, but I don’t know for sure. And that’s why I love Doctorow’s quote. I don’t have to know. I’ll figure it out. All I have to do is keep writing.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: “Minstrels”


William Wordsworth

The minstrels played their Christmas tune
To-night beneath my cottage-eaves;
While, smitten by a lofty moon,
The encircling laurels, thick with leaves,
Gave back a rich and dazzling sheen,
That overpowered their natural green.

Through hill and valley every breeze
Had sunk to rest with folded wings:
Keen was the air, but could not freeze,
Nor check, the music of the strings;
So stout and hardy were the band
That scraped the chords with strenuous hand.

And who but listened?–till was paid
Respect to every inmate’s claim,
The greeting given, the music played
In honour of each household name,
Duly pronounced with lusty call,
And “Merry Christmas” wished to all.

Wishing you all a joyous holiday season! Be sure to visit Irene at Live Your Poem for the Poetry Friday Roundup.


Poetry Friday: “While Eating a Pear”


My husband loves Harry & David’s Royal Riviera pears and I give him a box every year for Christmas. I thought of this poem when I bought them yesterday.

“While Eating a Pear”
by Billy Collins

After we have finished here
the world will continue its quiet turning
and the years will still transpire,
but now without their numbers,
and the days and months will pass
without the names of Norse and Roman gods.

Time will go by the way it did
before history, pure and unnoticed,
a mystery that arose between the sun and moon
before there was a word for dawn
or noon or midnight,

Read the rest of the poem here.

By Hovey, C. M. (Charles Mason), 1810-1887 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Hovey, C. M. (Charles Mason), 1810-1887 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
This poem is also included in a lovely little collection of Collins’s “train-inspired poems,” Poetry For Every Season: Holiday Train Show Poetry Walk, which is part of this year’s Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden.

Please be sure to visit Diane at Random Noodling for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: A Year of Discovery


My One Little Word for 2015 was “discover.” I feel now like the housekeeper in the Bing Crosby movie White Christmas when she says, “sometimes you find out things you wish you hadn’t.” How could I have known that I’d discover what it was like to watch my 32 year old daughter-in-law lose her battle with metastatic melanoma? Or that I’d learn that hearts really do ache when they’re broken?

Everything else I discovered this year has the shadow of Julia’s death hanging over it. We’ve gone back to a semblance of daily life; I’ve even done most of the Christmas baking I usually do. But thoughts of Julia and Michael are never far from the surface. My grief for their lost life together is sometimes paralyzing, as is my worry about Michael’s life to come.

I know that our family is not the only family missing a loved one this holiday season. Sadly, the headlines have been too full of violent and untimely loss. That doesn’t make it any easier.

I’m not sure I’ll choose a word for 2016. Maybe I’m being superstitious, but it feels like tempting fate. Or maybe I will choose a word. That word is love. Because love is truly what has helped us all survive the past four months. And maybe that’s the most important discovery of all.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: “Pouncing Around the Christmas Tree”


Scrolling through Twitter earlier this week, I came across this:

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Sounds intriguing, right? So I checked it out. Susanna Leonard Hill is the author of several picture books, including Punxsutawny Phyllis (Holiday House, 2005). The contest, which ends at midnight, is to:

“Write a children’s story (children here defined as approximately age 12 and under) beginning with any version of ‘Rocking around the Christmas tree at the Christmas party hop.'”

Immediately, the wheels started turning. After several false starts and many revisions, here’s my entry:

“Pouncing Around the Christmas Tree”

Pouncing around the Christmas tree,
while the humans are away.
Such a happy, joyous spree,
It’s a feline holiday.

Pouncing around the Christmas tree,
now the garland’s in a heap.
Spying an angel on the crown,
I can reach her if I leap.

Shiny tinsel dangles,
It’s a sight I do adore.
Candy canes and twinkling lights.
Look at that angel soar!

Pouncing around the Christmas tree,
ribbons to frazzle and fling.
Batting at ornaments with glee,
watching them sway and swing.

No more tinsel dangles,
and the ornaments are smashed.
All the lights are in a tangle,
Oops, the tree toppled and crashed!

Yowling under the Christmas tree,
Now my fun is at an end.
Through bent branches I try to flee,
before they catch me and I’m penned!

© Catherine Flynn, 2015

Be sure to visit Tara Smith at A Teaching Life for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

A Slice of Wonder


Not long ago, I saw this picture on Facebook:


As a kid, I spent hours poring over our encyclopedias, soaking up all sorts of information. When I became a teacher, I wanted to foster that same sense of curiosity in my students. My first classroom had a wall of windows that looked out over the lawn and playing fields. I taped a construction paper frame to one of the windows and labeled it our “Observation Station.” I made little notebooks for the kids to write down what they saw and what they were curious about.

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On today’s Internet, the entire world is just one or two clicks away. Wonderopolis, in case you’re not familiar with this amazing resource, focuses on answering a single question each day. Recent questions include “Do snakes have ears?” and “What do bees do in winter?” If this website had been around when I was a classroom teacher, it would have had front and center billing in my classroom. As it is, I’ve promoted it and encouraged the teachers I work with to incorporate it into their day as often as possible. At NCTE, a stellar panel shared their thoughts about wonder and curiosity at the Wonderopolis Breakfast. Georgia Heard, Barbara Philips, Paul Hankins, Joellen McCarthy, and Kristin Ziemke wowed us with the depth of their thinking and insights about encouraging wonder in our students.

Georgia Heard began by telling us that “school should be a scavenger hunt” and that we should be “in awe of the universe.”

Paul Hankins left everyone speechless with his thinking about wonder. He thought of W as a compass, pointing to “our true north.” Rotating the letter 90 degrees to the left reveals a B, which stands for our beliefs. Flip the B, and, with some creative visualizing, you have a C, which reminds us of the need to create opportunities in our learning environments where kids can wonder, ask questions, collaborate. Finally, one last rotation reveals an M, which stands for the “mountains of meaning” our students will build in the our rich classrooms. Paul also urged us to have “uncommon courage” to build the habits of mind in our students that foster wonder and to become “classroom concierges.” Find out where your kids want to go and facilitate their journey.

The brilliance was flying and I honestly couldn’t keep up with all the smart thinking that was being shared. Here are a few examples:

Wonderopolis is as mobile as the human mind.

“We need to encourage our kids to go beyond the quick answer to find the connections and patterns that lead to the deeper answer.” Kristin Ziemke

Wonder journals are a place for questions, observations, sketches. They should travel back and forth between home and school.

“Wonder leads to finding the information, not finding the answer. New discoveries lead to new questions…” Kristin Ziemke

If you’re curious and want to know more, you can follow Wonderopolis and all the panelists on Twitter. JoEllen McCarthy regularly posts a text/Wonder pairing. Look for her #WOTDP hashtag. 

Georgia Heard & Jennifer McDonough’s book A Place for Wonder (Stenhouse, 2009) is another fabulous resource. It’s full of suggestions on how to invite children’s questions and observations into our classrooms by encouraging their curiosity and wonder.

Kristine Ziemke’s new book, co-authored with Katie MuhtarisAmplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom (Heinemann, 2015) was just published in October. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it’s at the top of my TBR stack!

The world has changed in immeasurable ways since I first cracked opened those encyclopedias more than fifty years ago. But the capacity for children to ask questions and be curious has not. Thank you, Wonderopolis, Georgia, Barbara, Paul, JoEllen, and Kristin, for sharing your ideas about nurturing our students and their ever-present sense of wonder.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: Toward the Winter Solstice


Earlier this week, BookRiot shared a link on Facebook to A Literary Advent Calendar. Isn’t that a great idea? So far, a poem by e.e. cummings, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” and “The Elves and the Shoemaker” have been shared. This gorgeous poem is today’s offering.

“Toward the Winter Solstice”
by Timothy Steele

Although the roof is just a story high,
It dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
And cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
A dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
Will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It’s comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born.

Read the entire poem here.

By ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA via Wikimedia Commons

Please be sure to visit Buffy Silverman at Buffy’s Blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: NCTE Book Recommendations

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hThere are many things I love about NCTE’s Annual Convention. I love learning from authors, teachers, and researchers I admire. I love meeting friends from blogging and Twitter in real life. And I love all the free or discounted books, posters, and bookmarks being given away by publishers in the Exhibition Hall. 

Something else I love are the book recommendations presenters make during their sessions. Teachers are readers, and presentations are always grounded in research. So, in addition to coming home with a suitcase full of books to share with my students, I brought home a list of professional books and other “adult” reading that I’m looking forward to diving into. Here, in no particular order, are some of the titles I’ll be reading in the weeks to come.

During her session, “Tracing the Shape of Human Thinking,” presented with her husband, Randy, Katherine Bomer referred toThe Best American Essays 2015, edited by Ariel Levy. I picked this up over the weekend and have already read Anthony Doerr’s lovely “Thing with Feathers That Perches in the Soul.” Katherine’s presentation was based on her upcoming book, The Journey is Everything. She closed her part of the session by telling us that “the act of writing without boundaries leads kids on a magical journey where they can hear what they think and say what they have to say.” I cannot wait to read more of Katherine’s thinking about changing they way we teach essay writing.

                                            9780544569621        91+CPKVK80L

At the Wonderopolois Breakfast (which deserves it’s own post), Georgia Heard talked about Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear. In this book, Gilbert urges her readers to live “a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” Sounds like good advice.

Amy Benjamin and Barb Golub’s session, “Infusing Grammar Instruction into the Workshop Model” was packed to the rafters and full of practical suggestions for implementing a “concept-based approach to grammar.” Fortunately, Benjamin and Golub have written a book, published by Routledge, to help us implement “activities [that] build language knowledge for ALL learners.”


This list is by no means complete, and doesn’t begin to address all the kids books now piled on my desk. But it perfectly illustrates that the learning from NCTE reaches far beyond the Minneapolis Convention Center.  Happy reading, everyone!

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.