Thursday, July 24, 2014


Shhh!  Don't tell anyone...
Did you know...?
I am not sharing  this with anyone but you....

We all have secrets.  We all share secrets-- our own and other people's.

One of the things that amuses me about secrets is when someone has told me something in confidence, and then I hear the same something everywhere I go.... everyone having heard it from the same source.

Note to self-- I won't be telling that person any of my secrets.

What is your secret?

Perhaps you have a habit that you have hidden from everyone in your family or your circle of friends.
You smoke in your garage late at night or dance naked  in your bathroom  or eat ice cream directly from the container.

Secrets can be silly and harmless.
My fifth graders loved The Name of this Book Is Secret. This sly book kept them laughing and, at the same time, considering the complicated and diverse nature of secrets.

They went on to enjoy additional secretive books in The Secret Series.

Sometimes someone's happiness, well-being, or even their life depends on someone else keeping a secret.

I know someone who, while outside playing with friends, found out he was adopted.  The entire neighborhood knew the secret that he so casually had  just discovered.

That's the problem with secrets--someone always knows or finds out or guesses or otherwise outs the knowledge to at least one other person...  which means  the world at large.

Why do we keep secrets?

In Patricia Polacco's January's Sparrow, a family is on the run, traveling on the Underground Railroad.  The conductors and others who help them, as well as the family members themselves, must each be trusted to keep their secret.  The lives and safety of everyone involved depend on maintaining secrecy. It becomes second nature for them to avoid openness and honesty related to their travels and their background.

Perhaps your secret is bigger and deeper. Maybe you cheated on your spouse or...  murdered someone once.

Secrets can be dark and dangerous.

Secrets can turn worlds upside down, with ramifications that can last a lifetime and forever change relationships.  In Mississippi Morning by Ruth Vander Zee , the main character, after hearing horrifying details of the work of the Klan,  discovers that his own father is a member of this group-- the group that is terrorizing his friend's neighbors and family.

What is your deepest secret?

Have you ever discovered a secret about a family member or friend?

 We relish the knowledge of secrets.  We delight in knowing what others do not know.  We thrill in the excitement and power of holding a secret.

Not only do we muse about the secrets of folks we know, but we also ponder bigger, more comprehensive secrets.  Those things in human nature that we can't explain. Just what is that person's secret...?

Maya Angelou begins to let us in on the secret to her inexplicable appeal:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size 
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,  
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips. 
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

 Click here to read the rest of her secrets shared in her poem Phenomenal Woman.

 We can also ponder bigger secrets, secrets of the natural and supernatural world, secrets that we cannot begin to fathom. Secrets of the universe.

Emily Dickinson helps us ponder the unfathomable:

THE SKIES can’t keep their secret!
They tell it to the hills—
The hills just tell the orchards—
And they the daffodils!
A bird, by chance, that goes that way        5
Soft overheard the whole.
If I should bribe the little bird,
Who knows but she would tell?

Is this where we got the idea that little birds tell us secrets?
To read the remainder of this poem  from XVI, Part Two: Nature, click here.

And finally, no matter how much we examine, analyze, or ponder and meditate, there are some secrets that  we can never know.  Emily Dickinson expresses this in her poem, The Secret:

Some things that fly there be, –
Birds, hours, the bumble-bee:
Of these no elegy.
Some things that stay there be, –
Grief, hills, eternity:
Nor this behooveth me.
There are, that resting, rise.
Can I expound the skies?
How still the riddle lies!

What is your riddle?  What is your deepest secret?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Consider a secret about yourself or someone you know.

Write a fictional story in which this secret plays an important role in the plot?
How and why is secret kept?   Is this an appropriate decision?  Does the secret get discovered? If so, how?

Write a  personal narrative about a secret that is important in your life.

Or write a poem about the larger secrets of the universe.

Monday, July 14, 2014


I just finished rereading The Giver by Lois Lowry.

I closed the book, mesmerized  by the story and language, challenged by the possibilities for our future, and disturbed by implications for human development.

I closed the book, mind racing, memories reeling, and questions rising.

Just as in previous readings of this contemporary classic, I closed the book, still pondering its difficult themes.

Who holds my memories?
Who carries our memories?

What happens if our memories are lifted from us, removed from our consciousness?

And what if our emotions are also reduced or completely eradicated?

What do we lose?
What do we gain?

And what secrets do adults keep from young people?

What happens when rules that govern our society and the laws that organize our lives are hard to change?
What happens if we have forgotten why we created particular rules in the first place?

And who is best equipped to raise children?  Who should give birth? What do effective schools look like?
How do we recognize our life's work or our life partner? Who chooses for us?

I reread The Giver because it is a powerful book.
I reread The Giver also in anticipation of the upcoming film based on this novel coming to theaters August 15, 2014.

Who is the Giver?

Like the griots in West African countries-- like the one who held the stories and the history and the knowledge  that enabled Alex Haley to locate his ancestors-- the Giver holds, and ultimately transmits, the memories the stories, the history the beingness of the world to the new Receiver.

To be a Receiver, it was determined five essential qualities-- intelligence, integrity, courage, (including the ability to endure physical pain),wisdom. and the Capacity to See Beyond-- were necessary.

Do we have roles similar to these in our world?
Do we see a need for a giver?

One notion that captures my attention each time I have read this book is the preciseness of language.

Both teachers and the parents in the novel  foster a preciseness and specificity that we often our casual conversations.  For example,  at one point Jonas ( the new receiver) says he is starving. He is gently corrected and reminded that he is hungry, that he could eat a little bit, but is not actually starving.

How many times do we too make this same claim? My husband would tell you  that I say it almost every day.

I often advocate for specificity in language, but if our memories and feelings have been eliminated, how precise can we actually be?

At the OCTELA 2014 Conference earlier this year, I had the privilege of attending  a session entitled The Giver: Teaching, Memory and Education: Notes on the Power of the Giver.  

Led  by Randy Testa of Walden Media LLC, this session addressed the lasting power of this book, and introduced a theoretical framework based on three E's for bridging the teaching of narratives of books and films.
  • Education
How does the story promote critical thinking and deep comprehension?

  • Ethics
How does the story promote dialogue and ethical reflection?

  • Entertainment
How does the story promote creativity and capture character identity?

The GIVER Educator's Resource Guide addresses the Three E's Framework and includes materials that will  promote critical reading, viewing, writing, and discourse around both the novel and film.

The framework can, of course, be easily applied to other novel/film pairs, bringing depth and critical thinking to  lessons and learning around them, as well.

In addition, in this session, we were treated to an early unveiling of the trailer for this highly anticipated film.

I knew, as I watched the trailer, that I must reread the book, yet again, and must see the film.

It will be important for not only supporting the continuing interest in the book, but will initiate important conversations around our future and what is best for the human race-- conversations that we need to be having on an ongoing basis.

Here are two trailers that will probably cause you to run to find your tattered copy, buy a new copy or borrow a copy from a young person, so that you can read The Giver before the film arrives.

Why does this book remain so popular?

Why do both young folks and adults reread this book?

One powerful element often cited by children as they write to Lois Lowry is the ending of the novel.

How does it end?  Enigmatically!
In their letters they have indicated several suggested endings, all of them plausible, yet none of them actually detailed in the book.

And what other books have this same effect?
What other books can we take into adulthood as a mantra, a mentor, a bible or handbook to life?

What other books can foster similar conversations about sameness and differences?

In her acceptance speech for the Newbery Award, Lois Lowry  addresses the world she has created:
And if I've learned anything through that river of memories, it is that we can't live in a walled world, in an "only us, only now" world where we are all the same and feel safe. We would have to sacrifice too much. 
She ends this same speech by comparing the role of The Giver  to books:
The man that I named The Giver passed along to the boy knowledge, history, memories, color, pain, laughter, love and truth.  Every time you place a book in the hands of a child, you do the same thing.  It is very risky.  But each time a child opens a book, he pushed open the gate that separates him from Elsewhere.  It gives him choices. It gives him freedom. Those are magnificent, wonderfully unsafe things. 
Over the years, I have handed many books to young people.  This is one I have given often.

You can read her entire Newbery Award Acceptance Speech here .

For everything you might want related to The Giver-- information, posters, resources, blogs, trailers and more click here.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

What book has had a profound effect on your life and continues to be one that you reread often?

What elements of this book continue to be powerful and thought-provoking? Why, and in what ways?

Reflect on a life without memories and emotions and life in which everyone is the same? What does this life look like?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of this imaged life?

Given the opportunity, how would you design a society?  What elements, laws, concepts and principles will be important in your world?

Write a short story incorporating your ideas.
Or write an essay about why your imaged society would be perfect.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


I write riding on the pens of those who came before me.

I teach writing  looking over the shoulders and peeking into the minds of those who created new images of what writing instruction could look like.

It was almost 30 years ago, that Jim Sims, the Language Arts Director for Columbus City Schools, handed  me, along with my two colleagues and friends, Melissa Wilson and Marlene Beierele, copies of Writing: Teachers & Children at Work by Donald Graves,  with directions to read it and see if we could use some of the ideas as we wrote the new elementary writing curriculum for our school system.

We each went home and dipped into this book; we each read the entire book in one sitting. We returned the next morning on fire-- exhilarated and brimming with new thinking.  We did not write that day, but instead talked and processed, reacted and responded, sorted and discussed what we had read, the new ideas and principles we had encountered,  and what they meant for the work we were doing.

From Graves, we learned that children learn more about writing each time they write, if given the time to write. He taught us that children could write about people, places events, and feelings that were real--they could plumb their own lives for interesting, write-worthy topics. He challenged us to consider the interactions and contexts in which we were asking  a child to write, what the child brought to the writing by way of skill and knowledge, and how we could teach what the child still needed in the context of her writing.

I know this all sounds familiar and routine in 2014, but in 1985, this was revolutionary.

And yes, much of Donald Graves' thinking went into the Writing Guide that was used in our district for  more than a decade.

 A year later, our same team was asked to revise the newly minted guide. That year we were given The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins. From her work we welcomed and incorporated the notion of mini-lessons.  These short lessons provided necessary instructional scaffolding to foster better writing.  They addressed the needs of the students as they arose--presenting, modeling, and guiding the use of all aspects of the writing process.

This was just the piece that was missing from our evolving thinking and our previous guide.

Now armed with new and revolutionary thinking that dramatically transformed how we thought about writing, and  how we taught writing, the questions became How did this all fit in with the rest of our day?  What does this really look like in the classroom?

Enter Regie Routman  with Transitions, Invitations, and Conversations. Her books became staple texts in several literacy initiatiatives in our district.  They showed us possible frameworks for teaching all of the language arts-- how to incorporate our new thinking into our teaching day with real students in real classrooms.

It seems that just when we were ready for more, the next needed idea would arrive, the next important principle would emerge.

Katie Wood Ray's Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom  was right on time.She taught us how to use mentor texts to learn how to write what we wanted to write.  She affirmed that it is through reading that we are able to learn about writing, as we ask what words, structures, techniques and strategies a writer has used to achieve a desired effect.  She helped us deconstruct texts-- noticing, identifying, and naming what authors have done-- and  begin to use those same moves in our own writing, and more importantly, to help students use them in their writing, as well.

And synthesizing all that we learned, Ralph Fletcher reminds us of the areas of expertise on which we draw to teach--  all that we know about language and writing, all  that we know about the world, all that we know about our students and teaching.  He reiterates the need for mentor authors and texts, and considers elements of craft.  What a Writer Needs is what we needed to extend our own knowledge and confidence, and that of our writers.

In more recent years, as I worked to help my students develop more sophistication and creativity in sentence construction, I turned to Don and Jenny Kilgallon and their sentence imitation models. Along with their resources and my own systematic instruction that I gradually developed with my students, we saw vast improvements in this area. There is at least one text for each level, with all  of mentor sentences are excerpted directly from classic and contemporary literature. (My sentence work will probably be the focus of a future post.)


And finally, as we place greater emphasis on nonfiction, as we focus more on writing essays, research, and arguments, as well as the transition to college writing, the following resources have been  essential. In fact, I reread Critical Passages: Teaching the Transition to College Composition periodically for the benefit of my personal writing.


I gratefully acknowledge my mentor teachers.

I appreciate their books that have led to transformation of writing for me, as well as the instruction I offer to my students

I thank the writers who push my pen and whose voices I hear in my head as I teach writing.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

As a teacher, whose shoulder do you stand on as you teach?  Which books have most influenced the way you teach writing, or your specific content area? What have you learned from your mentor teachers and texts?

If you are not a teacher, whose shoulders do you stand on in your chosen field? What books and resources have been essential in your growth and maturation?

Write a history, essay, or personal narrative detailing your evolution in writing life, teaching life, or professional life.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


 Writing Ever After

The  Columbus Area Writing Project 2014 Summer Institute is over.

The daily dose of writing... and talk about writing... and teaching and learning and students and classrooms... and all manner of other things is over.

The guaranteed uninterrupted writing time and opportunity for immediate responses in writing group is over.

So what do we do now?

Will we keep writing? Will we continue to value our time for creation and composition? Will we still seek responses to our writing?

Will we continue to every day think I need to write about that?  Will we continue to be in what Donald Graves called the constant state of composition?

What we do next is important.

What we do next will determine whether the summer institute was just another great experience.. and now it's over...or the beginning of the ever after of the new or renewed  habits we have formed.

What we do next important.

We have made important writing connections this summer that we can continue. In the past participants have shared writing through email..   We can still post writing on National Writing Project Summer Writes through the remainder of the summer.

In addition, we may want to start our own writing groups-- in our schools and in our communities.

After I completed the summer institute in 2005, that fall I began two after-school groups--one for teachers and one for students.  Both groups lasted several years.

If you are interested in creating a writing community, this previous post, Writing Communities, may be a starting place.  It was written as last year's summer institute ended.

Most of our teachers feel compelled to do something special after this transformative experience.

What will you develop/create/initiate?

Resources for Writers

Columbus Area Writing Project

National Writing Project

Nita Sweeney's Newsletter for Writing Events, Classes and More

Ohioana Library and Ohioana Newsletter for Literary News in Ohio

And finally here is a publishing opportunity from OJELA, the professional journal of OCTELA (Ohio Council of Teachers of English Language Arts). See this link for more information

OJELA Call for Manuscripts

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

How do we continue to keep our writing habit alive?
How do we establish writing communities for ourselves?
How else can you be supported as a writer?

Write about several ways that you can create a writing community in which you can share writing, receive feedback, as well as provide it from other writers, and  establish a space for ongoing support?