Posted on

Gluing the wings back on.


Is it still beautiful? Functional? Does it break my heart?
Is it still beautiful? Functional? Does it break my heart?

As an artist and a scholar, I prefer the specific detail to the generalization, images to ideas, obscure facts to clear symbols, and the discovered wild fruit to the synthetic jam.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov

An epiphany, oftentimes, doesn’t form as a flash or explosion, but a slow, forward creeping light. This is mine with close reading.

This overwhelming sensation of pulling the wings off the butterfly, of disassembling the parts and not understanding the whole, blind men trying to describe an elephant…all of this. I have read Falling In Love With Close Reading by Lehman/Roberts, and dug plenty into Notice & Note, and When Kids Can’t Read (Beers), and conducted a study of Kelly Gallagher of nearly fangirl proportions. All of these great minds, and intense professional development with close reading, and still I was left bereft.

It ruined my reading life.

For years, (and I am not being hyperbolic) I found that no novel, no news article, heck, not even a cereal box would cross my path without my examination of every word in close detail of where and what and how and when some text passage would spark my EUREKA! LOOK AT THIS CHARACTER RELATIONSHIP TO SETTING! This happened long before I heard the term ‘close reading.’ Annotating, discussion points, questioning, digging…on and on. The (over) analysis of literature, news, history, politics, religion, movies, poetry– and yes — cereal boxes, no longer came to me with just the need to read [say this in a Top Gun voice of ‘I feel the need for speed’]. I didn’t need to read for myself, I needed to read through every students’ brain that came into my classroom.

My best conversations about narrative are always with my husband. But even now, I sometimes tell him I don’t want to analyze what we’re watching, which probably hurts his feelings. I don’t blame him. We did manage to enjoy this anthology’s selection of True Detective, and if you say one word against Vince Vaughn’s performance we can’t be friends anymore. I did have one scuffle with a friend over her inability to appreciate the sad, sweet frosting that is The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I’m not married to her, so I let it go.

But you see how this goes, right? That what we love and share is as close to our hearts as anything can be? And if we love reading, and then must dissect it, masticate it, and regurgitate for others to find the path…then…(don’t worry: I’m going to get to a good place with this).

Another place that’s mine to share when discussing books is a book club one of my dearest friends started. There are several members, mostly NOT teachers, which provides a refreshing place to discuss books. My friend’s turn to choose came up, and she thought a classic would be in order, so she shared her love, Pride and Prejudice. I went through a “Jane Austen” phase in my late 30s, having not read any of her work in high school. I loved them. I got them. And I saw connection after connection between her genuis of writing about social foibles in her time and the relevancy to today. Now, one of my friend’s friends asked her if it was okay to just watch the movie. I don’t blame her. The text was written in 1813, for Elizabeth Bennet’s sake, and it’s hard to make heads or tails out of it.

Take this passage:

“Pride, observed Mary, who who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, “is…

Austen, Jane (2008-02-11). Pride and Prejudice (Kindle Location 216). Dolphin Books. Kindle Edition.

Translation: This girl likes her own opinions. 

We all know this girl. The one who interjects into every conversation her personal wisdom and sage advice.

Am I sure that’s what it means? No. I didn’t look up Sparknotes, or talk about it, or have a scholarly discussion about Jane Austen. I JUST KNOW.

*deep breath*

I promised someplace good with this. Some kind of wake for my loss of my reading life. A fête, perhaps.


But here is that slow-burn epiphany: I signed up for this. It doesn’t matter that my inner reading life is no more: I am a teacher now, and all that matters is that I help ease the path for reading, and making meaning, for students. Just like parenting responsibilities, teaching is a biggie. It’s not an avocation or hobby. But unless I get back my own engagement in the conversation with students, it’s going to feel like work. (It did last year, but last year was fraught with a dearth of imagination and abundance of negativity, lack of scope, lack of growth mindset, and just plain bad manners. I can’t abide bad manners.)

But that was last year. This is now. I still love to discuss ideas: ideas from books, movies, graphic novels, politics, media, and world events, past, present and future. As long as I show students that close reading is just a tool to help make reading easier–easier to access the ideas–then it’ll be okay. Close reading, and my internal dialogue and connections with writers’ craft, still delights and engages me, and makes me feel smart and confident. I want my students to share in the same gift.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on

Media Festival: Go West, Teacher! (Part 2)

Is that 19th Century Texting?!
Is that 19th Century Texting?!

This is a follow-up to Part 1 of “Go West, Teacher!” One of my burning questions is a ‘Now and Then’ sort of game — what do we do now, and what did folks do back then to (fill in the blank)? Many of these will be treated in a constructivist model, with the questions posed as writing about what students’ experiences are now, and then constructing and inquiring about the past. Any suggestions for constructing meaning and thinking are welcome. 

How did the Europeans construct their ‘new world?’ What ideals should they have left behind, and what values and technologies help them survive? (What IF they had left some of their values behind and embraced the indigenous cultures’ values instead–how might our country be different?)

1692 Salem Witch Trials

‘The Crucible” by Arthur Miller

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

How did people find someone to date?

When Flirtation Cards Were All The Rage

Handkerchief Flirting

What did people read for fun?

Washington Irving

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820)

The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – maybe just close reading excerpts, and let them have all the fun in high school?

Edgar Allan Poe (b. 1809)

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes –though published in 1906, it harkens back to earlier times.

The Emergence of Popular Culture in Colonial America

American Folklore


American Fairy Tales by L. Frank Baum

Her Stories: African Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales –Virginia Hamilton

…and I basically bought out the collection of Laurie Halse Anderson.

Who wrote, and why? How were items published? How was freedom of speech manifested and protected then?

*Note to self: research into literary period timelines

*Note to self: re-read Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates

How are the Amendments interpreted now?

Bill of Rights

What were forms of entertainment? 

How were gender roles defined, and why?

1747 John Greenwood (Amerian colonial era artist, 1727-1792) The Greenwood-Lee Family MFA (2)
The Greenwood-Lee Family

By the time of the Revolution, historian Jane Carson writes, second to their dolls, the “favorite toy of little girls” was the tea set, sold in Williamsburg shops. This toy offered the colonial girl an opportunity to play at the enormously popular adult pastime, the tea ceremony, which had captivated Americans from the wealthiest to the lower classes. So popular had tea services and daily rituals surrounding the consumption of the beverage become that a survey of estate inventories in New York from 1742 through 1768 shows that wealthy and lowly estates in cities as well as in rural areas included the essentials: teapots, cups, saucers, and teaspoons. The boycott of tea called in response to the Townshend Act of 1767 did not alter the behavior of many colonials, and even those who gave up tea continued their tea ceremonies by substituting chocolate or coffee.

Who contributed to the dialogue?

African-American Women Writers of the 19th Century

African-American Writers/Thinkers of the 19th Century

Women Writing in 19th Century America

Female Writers 19th Century

A Time-Line of Native American Culture

More questions…

How did teenage girls become women? –look across all cultures – more research

How did teenage boys become men?–look across all cultures–more research

Dare I venture back to my fifth grade experience? Johnny Tremain by Esther Hoskins Forbes

What was school like? Who received an education, and how?

'11 Ways School Was Different in the 1800s'
’11 Ways School Was Different in the 1800s’

How did they punish criminals? What were considered crimes compared to now?

And of course, the most important question: how do I keep future generations from believing “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is fact?

vampire hunter

I appreciate your indulgence in these ‘curation posts’.


Just as a placeholder, here are the texts used for 7th grade (Washington State) in the past:

novel sets

A unit on Japanese Interment camps would be excellent. No to “Jackie’s Wild” and “Walk Across the Sea”…hard to teach texts that are not engaging personally.

Chock full of unity-goodness, just needs updating and refinement.

 These texts must be reviewed through the text complexity lens, and many other filters, too.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on

Inner voice logorrhea.

Teachers need one for Shame, Student Success Joy, Professional Guide, and Data Wrangler.
Teachers need one for Shame, Student Success Joy, Professional Guide, and Data Wrangler.


Come on old brain, learn some new tricks! Is it possible to re-program a brain to think differently, not focus on the negative, but wash away shameful thoughts and quickly suture confidence? Hope so. Remember, there’s no such thing as overnight success, people! I have faith–I’m a writer, after all. Whatever that means. (Maybe I need Journalist Inner Voice, too?)

The other day I had a gift of an opportunity to discuss ideas for next year: it was a good chance to listen to new directives and possibilities. My local professional circle is characterized by folks of immeasurable generosity, new connections and long-time colleagues. I have been attempting to do planning now for next year, anticipating and adapting for students’ needs. I have a lot of questions about new directions, and am desperately trying to sort out the most important things. But me and my big mouth. Unfortunately, I wrote something in an e-mail that was too strident in tone, and I wish I could have the chance to say it differently, because what I was trying to say matters. Because I said it in a matter-of-fact way the perception (and understandable) may have been that I was being petulant and stubborn, not action-oriented. From that point, what got lost, because of my own stupidity, was the potential for a great discussion about the bigger ideas. I mishandled it, and made it worse.  Talk about the alarm bells going off! There isn’t a homunculus personified emotion representation for how it feels to feel ashamed at allowing the conversation to veer off into personality ditches. Where is the “Beating Yourself Up” inner voice?

My new homunculus: Inner Monk
My new homunculus: Inner Monk

Here was the big idea: there are solid concepts, enduring understandings, and pedagogical foundations that transcend change. A few examples may be the concept of Name, Voice, Identity, Social Justice, History Repeats, Monomyth Studies/Archetypes, Storytelling Over Time, etc. These themes in the Humanities are transformative for generations of students. The time and place, however, for these deep discussions about instruction is something I need to work on, big time. But what steps to take, which direction to go?

As we shift toward focused, skill-based conversations about instruction and less about the means of delivery, I know I’m blessed–the empowerment of teacher choice and autonomy is huge, and that message was clearly communicated, for which I am grateful.

Keep in mind, the standards are helpful in guidance, but not necessarily these ‘big view’ ideas:

Before we myopically fixate on any set of new standards, teachers and administrators would be well served to remind themselves two things about the new standards: (1) teachers who religiously follow them are being asked to do things that are not in the best interest of our students, and (2) these new standards will one day be ushered out the door to make room for the next generation of “improved” standards. When first introduced, new standards come with a certain gravitas— a gravitas, however, that is unlikely to persist. One study, How Well Are American Students Learning? The 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, notes that “standards with real consequences are most popular when they are first proposed. Their popularity steadily declines from there, reaching a nadir when tests are given and consequences kick in.

Gallagher, Kelly (2015-02-28). In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom (Kindle Locations 157-162). Stenhouse Publishers. Kindle Edition.


Listening well is skill-based, too.

Most of the time I am in the role of listener. I listen to directives, agendas, targets, and translating subtext. (Translating subtext is a skill I wish I could shed, however. Blessing in the classroom when I’m listening to a student, a curse when I recognize others are not synthesizing or integrating concepts, or I’m failing at communication.) I am the receiver of others’ decisions and discussions, and no longer at the local ‘big kids table.’ And that is totally okay.

Choosing time and place is tricky. It was a great discussion about logistics and philosophies, and that’s really important. I listened, and listened deeply, to the bigger message. It’s possible, and perhaps preferable, to keep those big idea conversations in my own head as I clean out the mental teacher clutter. I am an ambivert, and need processing time. However, that internal monologue at some point needs to be external: I love my partnerships and collaboration, and am so grateful for PLNs (Professional Learning Networks). So the take-away: not all conversations should be about the means of delivery of instruction. This is where a PLN (Professional Learning Network) is a lifesaver.


Ah, but what a gift that is: I am free to create on my own, and collaborate with whom I choose. One of my passionate PLN connections has, and will forever be, with the National Writing Project. I can’t wait for the first of two workshops starting tomorrow. I have things to pack my lunch, and extra snacks! (I might even write myself a note to put in my lunch bag: they’ll command, “Make Me Proud!” and “Make Good Choices!”)

 PSWP Writing Workshop | One of the pillars of the National Writing Project is that teachers of writing should write. In this class we immerse ourselves in the writing workshop, focusing on ourselves as writers. We spend time writing, working in writing groups, sharing craft lessons, and reflecting on our writing process. Genre for your writing is open; craft lessons focus on memoir, article writing, and fiction. We welcome anyone who teaches.


PSWP Reading and Writing in ELA and Social Studies | This class focuses on language arts and social studies content and how to approach the new thinking and skill demands of the Common Core. We explore strategies for teaching students to think, read, and write in English, social studies, and/or humanities classes. This engaging class is inquiry-based, hands-on, and practical.

This past June, one of the nicest things an exiting teacher told me was to keep her on my ‘tech tips’ e-mail list; she loves those tips, and wanted to make sure she was still included. No one pays me for those, and oftentimes I thought they were either annoying folks, or being sucked into a vacuum. This local PLN heartened me greatly.

I strongly encourage you to curate your own PLN: Three Steps for Building a Professional Learning Network by Brianna Crowley. My own Twitter account, @mrskellylove, has a wide variety of interest and friends, as well as professional connections. (I am not so great at delineating knowledge and curiosity from multiple sources.)

Here are some good folks to follow:

John Spencer @spencerideas

Phillip Cummings @Philip_Cummings

Cult of Pedagogy @cultofpedagogy

Valerie Strauss @valeriestrauss

Hank Green @hankgreen John Green @johngreen

Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension

There are hundreds of potential PLN connections, from politics, to social studies, authors, researchers, science, math, current issues to history. Caution: once you fall down this rabbit hole it’s tough to get back out. But you won’t want to–it’s a safe place to discuss big ideas. And the coffee is just how you like it.


Part II:


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on

How to [anything]

“How to” is married to “how come?” They are partners in our curiosity and creativity.

But along with this great beauty comes something much harder to bear. What do you do about the answers that lie beyond your reach?

I have only had one teaching job to date, and this past spring I wondered if the grass might be greener. I’ve been honest with employers and interview committees of why I may be seeking other opportunities, and subsequently why I decided to stop having those conversations for the time being. I am overdue for some professional growth opportunities: those moments have been truncated and stagnant with past administrators (note: this is not a criticism, just a different leadership style and priorities). There has been a lot to learn from sitting on that side of the interview table, and I’ve also been sitting on the interviewer side, too. I can’t and won’t divulge details of what candidates offered, nor where I took missteps. (Okay: I’ll share one: I pointed out a typo on the questions for a high school ELA position, joking that I wondered if it was a test. The unsmiling faces and defensiveness of the teachers interviewing me assured me no, it was not intentional, and their senses of humor, in short supply anyway, quickly evaporated. Is it sour grapes to say it probably wasn’t a good fit if they didn’t get my irreverent sense of humor?)

Sorry for the detour. This is intended to be a discussion about ‘how to teach [fill in the blank]. A colleague and I noticed none of the ELA candidates spoke to reading instruction other than an aside, and all (and I am not being generalizing or global here) spoke about writing instruction and their work in that area. Some spoke about presentation and the listening/speaking standards; however, reading was the afterthought.

I am wondering if maybe the questions themselves lent the respondents to focus on writing, or if there is some message that’s being telegraphed about writing instruction being neglected. I wonder if others believe I’m not a competent teacher of reading because I talked about my work with PSWP/NWP, and my work with reading instruction is quiet and deep. (I would have thought my masters in children’s literature as engaging reading instruction, my National Boards certification, or my multiple novel units/curriculum would have demonstrated adequately my skills, but I am terrible at self-promotion.) This is the only reason I can think some jumped to this Island of Conclusions.

"To be sure," said Canby; "you're on the Island of Conclusions. Make yourself at home. You're apt to be here for some time."
“To be sure,” said Canby; “you’re on the Island of Conclusions. Make yourself at home. You’re apt to be here for some time.”

This not only deeply offends me, but these dangerous assumptions create a climate of defensiveness and undermining. And I am struck by how much I’m not laughing about it now, either. And perhaps those multiple candidates did not speak about reading because teaching reading is about as difficult as it gets. Our responses and biases toward any text are as complex as a dream, and twice as difficult to describe or explain.

Why is reading difficult to teach? While many articles focus on teachers’ actions as the culprit for why reading is a “instructional ghetto,” many voices strive to underscore the inequity of school-readiness. I know whose parents have the luxury of time to read to their children, and those who don’t. I’ve encouraged many students throughout the year to read to younger siblings. I’ve done book talks, librarian discussions, close text and annotating lessons, and a text-rich classroom.

Personally, I’m returning to basics, as well as refreshing some tried and true approaches. I’ve linked this before, but it deserves another read, to think about engaging texts not in terms of difficulty, but in terms of thematic thinking. Close reading need not be the pulling the wings off the butterfly, but expressing the beauty and anguish in language; not being afraid to teach the fundamentals of reading. By the time I get students in eighth grade, there will be a handful in every class who do not know that the vowel sound changes if you had an ‘e’ at the end, or to chunk sound patterns instead of the laborious ‘sounding it out.’ Their prior teachers did nothing wrong: the gaps come from our never-ending push through of students and not knowing their strengths and weaknesses.

One thing I plan on doing intentionally and wholly this year is teaching reading with love. Not the kind of love that is mushy or some kind of Facebook sentimental glop. The kind of love that is dangerous, and full of conflict and struggle, as well as safety and agreement. I’m going to hold that baby multiple ways, but never, ever drop it.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on


Older than the fridge it's on, this relic list still satisfies and inspires
Older than the fridge it’s on, this relic list still satisfies and inspires

Monday and Tuesday found me and my colleagues in another “studio” style professional development. I can trace the evolution of this professional development to two species: one, where I used to do work off-campus with my mentor on novel units, and two, the desire we teachers expressed to talk to each other more, learn from each other, and visit each others’ classrooms. Somehow the District heard this as, “Let’s hire a consultant to go in and run professional development.” It’s been truly transformative, and I’ve learned so much, but can’t help but feel that once again there is a slight patronizing wash over the whole thing, that veteran and new teachers alike are not capable of learning from each other, or to be trusted with our own professional development.

To help the guest teacher, I always leave my district-issued laptop in my room, and bring my personal one. My personal one is cool, sleek, and just BUSTING with novel ideas, story starts, haikus, poems, and yes, the ubiquitous to-do list in the form of Stickies. The coach for our professional development noticed the stickies all over my desktop, and said something to the effect she used to have the same, etc. (sic: Perhaps become more organized, or is using a different method.)

Her funny comment made me actually look and read my sticky notes again. (We both mused at my different colors: there was a system at one point, but now it’s just for visual effect.) Everything from who’s in my current PSWP writing group, household projects, project ideas, and all the minutiae of teaching, parenting, and perpetual problem solving. But there are hundreds of things not on any sticky note or to-do list. I have two sons, very different, both brave, creative, and loyal to each other, but each have different paths I have to help clear and guide. My husband’s health and his volatile industry, with the life-span of a typical UX Designer (and he is a genius one) of about two-three years means I respond by taking root in a job so deep, with roots seeking the deepest aquifers to try to stay alive and sustain my soul. Sound over dramatic? Try my job sometime. My dog needs to go to the vet. The mammogram is a year overdue. The teeth haven’t been cleaned. And administrators need everyone to be all above average. Oh, and the legislators are considering pay scale based on test scores. 

Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.

Garrison Keillor

Then yesterday, Wednesday, I read John Spencer’s post on his lists. He is one busy man, and I know he’s been through his time of burn-out. And I believe that is what we creative types do: we write our way through it. Even to-do lists or a sticky note can empower.

Lists can buoy us or anchor us. The invisible on the lists drown us. If I actually listed all the nonsense that floats around in my brain, the ocean of mental trash generated by those who pollute my professional and personal life, perhaps I wouldn’t be able to do anything at all. See my list up there? There are some things I can cross off. And to be sure, there are some things I need to add.

It’s on my list.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email