Reflections on One Year of Blogging


Today is Reading to the Core’s first birthday! Although my posts have been sporadic at best, I’ve learned a lot over the past year. Since birthdays and anniversaries are always a good time to look back and reflect, here, in no particular order, are my thoughts on becoming a blogger.

The blogosphere is filled with friendly, supportive and generous people. While this may not be true of all corners of cyberspace, this describes the kidlitosphere in spades. I’ve been inspired by you all! Kate Messner’s Teacher’s Write summer camp prodded me to write more. While not everything I wrote in response to her prompts ended up here (trust me, that’s a good thing!), she and all the writers who joined in encouraged me to stretch myself and take risks. Thanks, Kate!

It’s Monday, What Are Your Reading (Book Journey), Tuesday’s Slice of Life (Two Writing Teachers) and Poetry Friday (various hosts, but you can always find the line up at A Year of Reading) have also been especially motivating. Thank you to all you equally busy bloggers who’ve found your way here via one of these memes.

I’m also thankful for the kind words people have left in their comments. I especially appreciate my loyal commenters Colette, Betsy, and Elizabeth. Some people may despair that the internet is changing the world as we know it, but I am incredibly grateful that it allows me to connect with faraway friends so easily.

One of the most eye-opening realizations I’ve had from blogging is just how difficult it is to sit down and compose a half-way intelligible piece of writing. Not one of these posts has been completed in less than an hour, and they have usually been rolling around in my head for a day or two before I begin writing. Why we think our students should be able to sit down and hammer out a fluent story or essay in 45 minutes is beyond me. They should have at least an hour! Seriously, without regular, sustained writing practice, it simply isn’t fair to subject our students to the kind of writing assessments that dominate today’s instructional landscape. As a result of this insight, I have been more mindful of my own writing instruction and my support of teachers implementing writing workshop this year.

Over the next year I’m really going to make a concerted effort to post at least once a week. I have lots left to say about books, teaching, and life in general. Which brings me to the name of this blog. In one sense, the “Core” of the title refers to the Common Core. I think about the implications of the CCSS on instruction almost all the time. (Sad, I know.) And yet, much of what I wrote about over the past year had nothing to do with these standards. They were more about what’s at the core of me: curiosity about the world around us and a passion to help all kids find their own true self, to find their own true core.

Growing Minds

Wallace Stegner once wrote that “Minds grow by contact with other minds. The bigger the better, as clouds grow toward thunder by rubbing together.” My mind grew by leaps and bounds at the 83rd Saturday Reunion of Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project on Saturday, thanks to Tony Wagner, Mary Ehrenworth, Lucy Calkins, Chris Lehman, Audra Robb and Jack Gantos. Their passion about education in general, and the potential of the CCSS in particular, was truly inspiring.

At the end of the day, I made a bee line for Bank St. Books, where I purchased Oh Rats! The Story of Rats and People, by Albert Marrin (2006). Mary Ehrenworth had read a passage from this during her session on teaching nonfiction skills and my interest was piqued. Did you know that an adult rat can bite down with a force of 7,000 pounds per square inch? Neither did I! Marrin’s book is filled with other amazing facts about this most-detested of mammals.

As I finished reading the text this morning, I had many thoughts about how to incorporate this book and all I had learned on Saturday into a unit for our 5th graders. Ehrenworth had stressed the importance of teaching kids how to note these details and then use them to support big ideas, of leading students to see not just a collection of interesting facts, but rather figuring out “what is this adding up to that really matters?”  This is definitely a challenge for many students. I also wanted to revisit “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” which is of course mentioned by Marrin. So I headed to my bookcase and pulled this off the shelf:

My well worn (and puppy-chewed) copy of The World’s Best Fairy Tales

My grandmother gave this book (a Reader’s Digest Anthology) to me in 1968 and I have hauled it with me everywhere ever since.  “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” was the first selection in the book. While reading, my thoughts flew to CCSS Reading Literature standard 4: “Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone” and the Language standards addressing vocabulary acquisition and use. The language of the version included in my anthology, attributed to Charles Marelles, Andrew Lang Collection, is rich and descriptive. The piper himself is “a tall, gawky fellow, dry and bronzed, with a crooked nose, a long rattail mustache, two great yellow piercing and mocking eyes under a large felt hat set off by a scarlet cock’s feather.” Isn’t that fabulous?

I’m not sure how this will all come together, but I do know that by sharing my thinking about Ehrenworth’s ideas with the 5th grade teachers, we’ll have the beginnings of a unit that will be purposeful and engaging; one that will grow the minds of our students.