Wednesday, February 26, 2014


It is not enough to go into our classrooms and just teach.
And is there anything such as just teaching, anyway ?

Not only must we teach in our classrooms or our personal education settings.
Not only must we prepare for our time with our students and  whatever might occur once we enter that learning space.
Not only must we know our content, our context, our students, their parents and families, our community...the wide world.

We must also advocate for what will make all of the above effective in both process and product.
We must also call for positive and compassionate responsiveness to the needs of all involved, with priority on learners.
We must  challenge the status quo if it hinders us from doing our best work.
We must fight for the status quo if the coming changes will wreck our world and that of our learners.

We must speak up. We must speak out.
We must stand with those who can barely stand.
We must speak for those who can't speak for themselves.

February 27 has been designated as NCTE's (National Council of Teachers of English) Literacy Education Advocacy Day.
And March  has been designated as NCTE Advocacy Month.

On February 27 members of NCTE from across the country will be meeting in Washington D.C. to hear from and speak with our nation's legislators and policymakers.
NCTE's 2014 Education Policy Platform outlines some of what members will be saying in these encounters.
Click here to read this year's policy platform and to also access additional  NCTE  Position Statements on a variety of important topics.

You can't go to Washington DC?  There is plenty to do at home
On the NCTE website there is a list to get you started with activities that take as little time as 1 minute, as well as more activities that will take several hours. There are activities that will match the time you have available and are willing to allocate to advocacy on this day.

Click here to get started. with Literacy Education Advocacy Day Activities suggested by NCTE  

A petition is an effective way to initiate change. is a website that enables anyone to implement a grassroots campaign on any legal or social issue.  Check out the current online petitions related to education
 Each one includes an accompanying letter, as well as updates on where the related legal actions currently stand.

What is your concern or passion about Literacy Education?
Start your own online petition here

As educators we don't have to look far to find colleagues standing up and speaking out.  

The teachers at Snowhill Elementary School in Springfield, Ohio  were concerned about  the short time frame provided for teachers of Grades K-3 to be appropriated qualified and credentialled  as specified in Ohio House Bill 555, also known as the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, passed in December 2012. ( I must note that these same teachers do support other portions of the bill  -- early identification and intensive intervention for struggling K-3 readers and also the importance of life-long skill of reading.)

 They feared that teachers would face financial hardships as they raced to complete the required course work and also feared that valuable educational expertise, wisdom and experience would be lost as veteran teachers retired early as a result of the new requirements.

Their story of advocating for what they believe is appropriate and best for their students is told in the current

Ohio Schools  (February 2014) published by Ohio Education Association (OEA).

Read  their story-Advocacy in Action here.

These two resources that may be helpful as you raise your voice and encourage your secondary students to discover and their voices, as well.

And finally, I believe you are never too young to take a stand and advocate for your beliefs, your issues and causes--- your passions.

Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type details how animals effectively initiated changes to make their farm better. 

This is a perfect book to initiate discussion with younger elementary readers about areas in their classroom, school, or community in which they would  like to see change. 

What actions can they take to initiate these changes?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibility

What is your issue, concern, current cause or passion?

How can you advocate in this area? Possiblities include:
  • Making phone calls or scheduling appointment with  legislators or policymakers.
  • Initiating related petitions
  • Writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper
  • Making speeches
  • Talking to family members, neighbors, and colleagues
What can you add to the list?

Write  a list of talking points  and then write the appropriate text for one of the suggestions above or another option of your own choosing.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Many died.
Many survived.

They died because, for, instead of...
They lived because, for, despite, beyond...

This is the report from many disasters--- any disaster-- tragedy, war, catastrophe, atrocity.
We generate lists of names and places, numbers and statistics.

What do we say beyond the numbers?
What do we know beyond the news and  the obituaries?.
Who tells the story behind the reports?
Who builds memorials with bricks of words?
Who sings the requiems and  the elegies,  the accolades and the odes, the  laudations and  heroic hymns?

Through time, around the globe, individually and collectively, we have often found poetry to be the mortar that builds the monuments, hoists new flags, reminds us, informs us, challenges us, sustains us and raises us up.

Carolyn Forche anthologizes these memorials, these bricks of words, built by poets living in what she calls extremity. By the extreme, according to Duncan Wu, co-editor of  her newest book, Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001, she means the following:

...experiences that are the result of societal injustice,  the depredations of the state, or sins of omission--specifically war, imprisonment, torture and political oppression of various kinds... 

She studies and collects the diverse poetry of witness of 145 international  poets, written in 30 languages in her first volume, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness.

While her first volume examines world poetry, her second and newest collection examines the poetry of witness written in English over the last 500 years.

In the following film, she talks about the concept of poetry of witness:

For more on her ideas  read  the article: Reading the Living Archives: The Witness of Literary Art  .

Nelson Mandela, a man we know lived in the extreme, recognized and reviewed Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness :

Poetry cannot block a bullet or still a sjambok, but it can bear witness to brutality—thereby cultivating a flower in a graveyard. Carolyn Forché's Against Forgetting is itself a blow against tyranny, against prejudice, against injustice. It bears witness to the evil we would prefer to forget, but never can—and never should.
While Forche has collected the poetry of others, her own poetry also bears witness to the extreme.
Her collection, The Country Between Us lays bear her soul in El Salvador and calls us to journey with her beyond that place  to an awareness of the lives of others. 

Read her poem, The Colonel by clicking here. 

Poetry of Witness
Bearing witness, reminding us, making us look-- exposing us to that which often remains hidden or forgotten.

Poetry of Witness
Standing in hope in the face of danger, torture, death, evil-- hopelessness.

Poetry of Witness
Coming to terms with the evil and destruction we humans do-- reclaiming and collectively resisting in the extreme.

 In her poem The End and the Beginning, Wyslawa Szymborska reminds us 

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.
She also reminds us of the importance of remembering, witnessing --and poet-ing
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.
 To read Szymborska's complete poem click here.

I say that after every extreme-- after every event which takes away hope, after every act that makes us less than human-- someone must write a poem, to make us human again.

What have you witnessed in your life? In the world?
What is your story, your act, your poem of witness?

You may want to read my previous and related posts
Poetry of Resilience 
Poetry: A Place to Stand
Poetry in a Time of Pain

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Remember and reflect on a time you (or someone else) lived in the extreme- politically, personally, or professionally.

What do others need to know to redeem that time?
What do others need to  remember to insure the future?
What sustained you during this time?
What lessons are there in your experience that remind us all of our humanity and help us resist evil?

Write a poem of witness.

Monday, February 17, 2014


There are many kinds of quiet.

The awkward Did I really say that out loud? quiet.
The I don't know what to say next  because what you just said is so ridiculous quiet
The I am silenced by the beauty and magnificence I behold before me quiet.
The I am alone quiet.
The We are engrossed quiet.
The We are so close--so in tune that we can just be together without talking every minute quiet.
The  Everyone in the room is writing quiet.
And more...
There are many kinds of quiet.

 In The Quiet Book, Deborah Underwood  defines the many possible quiets we might experience as children (or still as adults) through out the day--from waking to going to bed at night.

First one awake quiet...Don't scare the robin quiet..Thinking of a good reason you were drawing on the wall quiet
Hide-and-seek quiet, Last one to be picked up from school quiet... Before the concert starts quiet .. Bedtime kiss quiet...
Sound asleep quiet

As I think about that  sound asleep quiet, I  am reminded of one of my all time favorite read-alouds, The Napping House by Audrey Wood.  The soft, soothing words that define a house "where everyone is sleeping"  read in a quiet voice rock us slowly and lull us.....

...And on that cat
there is a mouse,
a slumbering mouse
on a snoozing cat
on a dozing dog
on a dreaming child
on a snoring granny
in a cozy bed
in a napping house,
where everyone is sleeping

These words lull us...until the wakeful flea initiates a chain of events that is guaranteed to delight and amuse.

All those people and animals sleeping in the napping house reminds me of the scene Cynthia Rylant paints in The Relatives Came.  She beautifully captures the difference people make-- even the quiet of a whole house sleeping sounds different when the people sleeping there are new and different, yet close and familiar.

The relatives weren’t particular about beds, which was good since there weren’t any extras, so a few squeezed in with us, and the rest slept on the floor, some with their arms thrown over the closest person, or some with an arm across one person and a leg across another. It was different, going to sleep with all that new breathing in the house.

Sometimes the activity in which we are engaged requires our quiet participation.  In Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, another favorite read-aloud classic,  a young girl accompanies her father on a special walk through the moonlit woods to go owling.  After he hoots-- imitating the call of the Great Horned Owl  ... they wait in quiet anticipation for an echoing answer.

It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, when Pa and I went owling.  There was no wind.  The trees stood still as giant statues.  And the moon was so bright the sky seemed to shine... 
... it was as quiet as a dream.  We walked on towards the woods, Pa and I.
...I never called out. If you go owling  you  have to be quiet, that's what Pa says.
 And finally, in his poem  Keeping Quiet, Pablo Neruda reminds us of the healing empowerment, the positive potential of quiet .  He invites us to a  collective quiet, a united and purposeful quiet in which might change the world.

...It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines;we would all be together in a sudden strangeness....
...perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death...
You may read the entire poem,  Keeping Quiet here
You will find more poetry by Pablo Neruda here.

The next time you are quiet--- listen and name that quiet.
In the next quiet place--listen and define that quiet.

You may want to read my related post Silences.

 Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

There are many kinds of quiet.  Make a list of as many kinds as you can remember and imagine.
Create a poem using some or all of the items on your list.

Remember an activity in which you needed to be quiet.    Write a personal narrative about that time.

How does quiet empower/heal/change us?   Write a poem or essay to explain.

Friday, February 14, 2014


Love is hard.

Love that is working and winning is hard.
Love that is falling and failing is harder still.

What does love look like in its many splendors, iterations, and disarrays?

It is a hungry mother giving her child the last bite of food in the cupboard.
It is a father working three jobs and still making time between two of them to read a bedtime story to his children each night.

Love is the teacher who buys a pair of gloves or shoes, a hat and a coat, a breakfast or lunch for her student.

Love is listening-- and really hearing--the person across from you or beside you.

It is my mother holding my dad's hand in his hospital bed and talking to him constantly, when the ventilator prevented him from responding in kind.  It is her kissing and rubbing the forehead that she has always loved. It is him holding  her hand tightly.

It is a father waiting up for his daughter to return after a date.  It is this same father holding her while as she cries through tears dripping from her broken heart.

It is a wife telling her husband to follow his dream of opening a business, knowing the risks and sacrifices that will be required are huge.

Do you remember what love looks like-- in your childhood home, in a honeymoon suite, in the hospital, in church, riding in the car across country, swimming in the local creek? Do you remember?

What is love?

Joan Wickersham offers us seven answers to this question.
She looks at love between husband and wife, parent and child, doctor and patient, caregiver and the cared for-- lovers, friends, and family.


Her collection of stories defies categorization. Each story carries the same title-- The News from Spain.

In The News from Spain  she explores our question in  seven responses in seven stories, each linked by the phrase the news from Spain, which occurs in each story -- each story an imaginative and revealing elucidation of love -- somebody's love.

In her marvelously connected narratives, subtitled 7 Variations on a Love Story, she offers us seven images of love-- without airbrushing the flaws, nor erasing the frailties.

Love and variations.

In Wedlocked: A Memoir , Jay Ponteri examines his marriage-- what is, what once was, what might have been, what could be. He is writing a manuscript that offers us variations of his life and marriage.  He becomes fascinated/ infatuated with a woman he knows-- she suggests/becomes his main character..   His wife discovers the manuscript...

Variations of love. 

What is love?
What does it look like?

 For more additional comments, images and resources on love, you may want to read the previous post, What Love Got to Do With It?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

What is love?
What does love look like to you?

Make a list of concrete images, feelings, and evidences for love in your life, the life of someone you know, or life in general.

Is there a phrase that ties all of these images and feelings and evidences together?
Write seven short pieces utilizing this phrase to form a unity between the pieces.
You may choose to write all nonfiction, all poetry or all fiction.  You may want to write a mixture of genres.

You may also want to write one piece composed of just seven sentences defining love (or exploring another single theme.)

Monday, February 10, 2014


I am a writer.

I am thankful that I am a writer.

Writing is a way of life.  
When things are going well, I write.  
When life is not so right, I write.

Writing is how I think --and figure out what I think-- and who I am at this moment.  It's how I process my day, my week my being--this conversation, that event, this relationship, that  phenomenon.

I am thankful I am a writer.

As I sat in the hospital when my father was sick, when my father was dying-  writing is how I processed the thoughts, the fears, the wonderings that had no where else to go.  The vague thoughts, rogue ideas, and mental meanderings that didn't or couldn't enter conversations with my friends and family found their way to blank spaces in Evernote on my iPad.

Writing is how I talked to God about it all.

Writing is also how I hide and procrastinate... and live.

I am never at a loss for words-- but all words are not created equal.

Some words are written quickly --scribbled on a napkin, stuck in my purse, surfacing perhaps a day later or a year from now to my surprise or puzzlement or delight.

Other words are pondered-- tossed around and  turned over and over to see which angle catches the light just so, creating jewels to be offered at just the right moment.

Casual words written on cards-- signed with love.
Formal words spoken at formal events-- delivered with pomp befitting the circumstance.

Words ooze from my pen, swirling into quick lines and jotted meanings.
Words drip from my fingers onto white spaces creating shapes of lines and letters.

Some words are just for me and never shared.
Other words are for all who take the time to see or hear.

I am thankful I am a writer.

Sometimes I wonder how people who do not write manage to survive.
How do they know what they really think? How do they analyze their responses?

I lay in bed at night before I fall asleep--writing in my head--- my next blog post, a new writing prompt, a poem to sort out my feelings, and my wonderings.  I may wake to find myself with a perfect title for a piece in progress, a  new idea to try,  a next direction with which to experiment-- or an entire piece composed in my dreams.

I am thankful I am a writer.

Several  of my favorite authors have  eloquently told their stories--- why they write, how they write-- and gentle, practical suggestions on how we might write, as well..

The books above will illuminate the writing life for writers in  high school, college or adults

Ralph Fletcher offers the writing life and practical writing suggestions for elementary and middle level children in his several books and on his website.

I am thankful I am a writer.

I dance with the pen.
I sing with nuances.
I paint  with sentences.
I poet my truth
I create my realities
my fictions and my nonfictions.

I am thankful I am a writer.

For more on the writing life you may want to read the two previous posts:

The Writer's Notebook- Part 1 (What and Why)
The Writer's Notebook- Part 2 (Resources)

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

What role does writing play in your life?  How does it influence your thinking, your being and your doing?

Write a poem about writing in your life?

What are other elements play an important role in your life?
For example, you may be a singer, a dancer, a painter, a reader, etc.

Why are you thankful for this identity in your life?
Write a personal essay about being a writer or another identity.