Bud, Not Buddy – the play

I awoke Sunday to see this text from my daughter who currently lives 12 hours ahead of me in France:


Usually on a Sunday, I would be spending a few hours doing homework  and therefore taking time to see a play at the spur of the moment wouldn’t enter my mind. But Monday’s a holiday, I thought (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) so I went to the Kennedy Center website to get more information. I discovered the last show was today at 4:30pm and a balcony seat was just $20. I was in!

Once at the Kennedy Center, I stood in a short line and purchased the last balcony seat. “It’s in the last row, center seat. In the Eisenhower Theater, that is still a great seat,” the box office man told me. “I just want to be in the room so I’ll take it!” And I handed him a twenty dollar bill.

The show wouldn’t start for 30 minutes, so I walked out onto the terrace to enjoy the view of the Potomac River.  While wandering, I saw this quote carved on the building, a building honoring the great President who was the President the year I was born-John F. Kennedy.


I read it again and thought about what is happening in just 5 days on Inauguration Day, just blocks from here. Somehow it doesn’t feel to me like my country is even being recognized for its strength right now, let alone its culture. I wondered if we can still be a civil society.

Once seated, I had to agree with the box office – I loved my seat!


Bud, Not Buddy is a novel I had started a few times and never finished. Then a few summer’s ago, it was given to me again while I attended a Summer Reading Institute at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. I was to read it in a week and daily have a book club discussion with my partners. This workshop emphasized reading and thinking and jotting down those thoughts to bring to my club meetings and discuss.

I recall vividly while reading it closely that summer that I realized who Herman was before the main character, Bud did. I then wondered, how? What clues had Christopher Paul Curtis given me? I reread and jotted down all the places where he left clues. I shared these with my club members, proudly showing that I was a careful reader who felt the light bulb going on, even before it did for Bud. I came to love this book. Thinking back, I think it is mostly because it symbolized for me a book that I worked hard at to really get.

At the Kennedy Center, I saw the cast of a play, read the play before it gets blocked. Along with the reading with a full Jazz Orchestra played and only the only set I saw was the one in the picture above. However, I still truly enjoyed the hour of this story told as a play. Now I wonder how one could read this book without hearing the music. Jazz is such a huge part of the story that a play almost seems like the natural way to enjoy the story fully.

I few of my favorite lines:

  • “Whhhoooossshhh….the sound of the door opening!”
  • “Always remember, no matter how bad things look to you, when one door closes, another door opens.”
  • “This was where I was suppose to be.”
  • “I can see why this band has six exclamation points behind its name.”
  • “French always makes things sound classy – we will call you Sleepy Le Bone.”
  • “I carry everything I need inside.”

Sunday I saw the play Bud, Not Buddy! I am glad my daughter clued me in from miles aways. I am glad I was spontaneous and went to see the play. I am glad I have books in my life that I can read closely to understand how to live better. I am even trying to be glad/hopefully that as another great President passes the baton this coming Friday, our nation will still strive for all that President Kennedy demands.

Change sprinkled with Routine

As 2017 starts, I focus on my OLW – Routine. I know I feel comfort when in routine. I know that discombobulated feeling that comes when change is demanded.  I thought about this as I reflected on my 2016 Christmas.

Tree was decorated in the living room,

not cut down after a drive out to the country, like those first few years.

Blue, green and white-flashing lights wrapped it and ornaments hung,

no hand-made ornaments received as the kids are both 20+ years old.

Most presents shipped via Harry and David and gift cards mailed

so not many presents to wrap and place under the tree

Christmas Eve meal cooked by me this time, included stuffed cabbage and egg nog

no Grandma’s house to visit  to eat Grandma’s stuffed cabbage because Grandma is no longer here.

A highlight was an unexpected trip into DC to view ZooLights.

We entered the zoo gate and saw this:


and then this:


and this:

and then this:


and I happily stood and posed with my daughter here:


Now I plan to make a visit to ZooLights my new routine. Somehow unexpected fun helps accept the unexpected changes of the season.


2017 OLW – Routine

2015 – Responsiveness
2016 – Transparency
2017 – Routine

For the past 2 years, I have focused on my response to others – my family, my students, my colleagues, and strangers.

This year, I want to be focused on me. I love that I have a routine to write. I am motivated to write at least once a week because of the TwoWritingTeachers blog. Weekly writing IS a routine for me.

I want more routine in my life. I hope by making this my word,  more routines will enter my life.


I want a Reading Routine – I started by making THIS PADLET and I plan to add every book I read to it. My husband and I also figured out how to share books between our kindles which gives me more books at my fingertips.

I want an Exercise Routine – I am no sure yet what this will become. I fear it is not enough to just say I want to do it. I have to make a plan and then carry it out. Many years ago, my daughter needed a car for her work and I could take the Metro to work. It required a mile walk to the station and then quarter-mile walk from the stop to my school. Then the same walk in reverse after school to get back home. Daily, I exercised because it was the only way I could get to work. I wonder if I can somehow make exercise again just a part of how I navigate through my day? If so, I know it will be what I do. A routine.

I want a Healthy Eating Routine – That same year, I routinely attended Weight-Watcher meetings. That regular meeting allowed me time to sit and think and make a plan for how I would eat and exercise. That year I lost 20 pounds and one dress size. In the absence of an exercise and eating plan, those 20 pounds found me again. I would love to reverse this.

I believe when I put something in writing, then it must be done. I hesitate to name these three routines. But I will. I love having my writing routine and I look forward to following four routines strongly throughout 2017.


What OLW is motivating YOU this year?

Still Teaching with Kathleen Tolan

I can honestly say I am a better teacher because I was taught by Kathleen Tolan. She taught me first at the TCRWP 2011 Summer Reading Institute and then MANY more times after that.

She died on December 4, 2016 at the age of 53. If you aren’t familiar with this amazing literacy teacher, the Heinemann Website offers this bio: For more than 20 years, Kathleen Tolan was a Senior Deputy Director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She had special responsibility for the Project’s work with reading instruction, organizing instruction for staff developers and the Project’s four summer institutes. She was also instrumental in the creation of the content literacy institutes and coaching institutes. Kathleen provided staff development at schools in the South Bronx, Harlem, Manhattan, and Scarsdale. A coauthor of numerous books in the Units of Study for teaching reading and writing series, she is also featured in many of the TCRWP’s online videos. Throughout her career, Kathleen remained a consummate professional and a champion for kids and for literacy.

I am still in a bit of denial that her name is now followed by “was“. As soon as I heard of her passing, I posted my remembrance HERE. I add my tribute HERE. I donated to her Memorial Fund HERE. And then I started planning an interactive read-aloud using a story she read to me – The Giving Tree.

I invited another class to join me so more kids would experience Kathleen’s brilliant teaching. I invited the librarian, the reading teacher, and the Gifted Resource teacher so they could help and also experience this brilliant teacher.

I dug out my 2010 Units of Study for Teaching Reading, 3-5 kit and found the included DVDs.


On the red CD, in Unit 1-10 is a sixteen minute video of Kathleen reading aloud The Giving Tree. She models so well how to stop and share the thinking she is doing to help students know they are to be reading/listening and thinking, too. She asks the best questions and then says “Turn and Talk” and the students erupt in talk.

My plan – Listen to Kathleen read The Giving Tree and then have a debate: Is the tree strong or weak?

Day One
First, the students enjoyed a read-aloud of The Giving Tree by watching the video of Kathleen reading it. When she says, TURN AND TALK, I paused the video and allowed the students in front of me turn and talk. Then I fast forward to skip the kid’s on the video turn and talks and we continued to listen to Kathleen read and ask us to turn and talk.


Then using the Debate Protocol taught to me by TCRWP, I reread the book and asked the students to take notes. We focused on the tree and noticed whether the tree is being strong or being weak.


Personally, I love how this protocol pushes ALL to gather evidence for both sides of an argument. And THEN has you choose a side. I will admit, allowing a group of 40 third graders to freely choose feels a little uncomfortable as the teacher. What happens if most pick one side? I learned at TCRWP that you just say, “Who feels like they could be brave and argue the other side? We need to have an equal amount argue that the tree is strong and that the tree is weak.” To help with this messy sorting part, I had those who thought the tree was weak to stand shoulder to shoulder in the front of the room. Then we counted. And it worked out – one person said he could argue either side so we placed him on the weak side. To help the 3rd graders remember, I made number cards and handed them out. Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 9.07.07 AM.png

Then I sent Strong #1-10 with the librarian and Strong #11-20 with the other classroom teacher to caucus out in the hallway. I took Weak #1-10 and the reading teacher took Weak #11-20 and we took our groups to the front and back of the classroom. I also love how this protocol sets up all for success because within a caucus group, you have time to plan out exactly what to say. And if you aren’t sure, your group discussion helps all to brainstorm a collection of ideas. Using sentence stems, the students had this planning sheet:


And they all got busy planning!

Then it was time!!! I had already set the desks in the room to stand alone and I numbered them #1-20. I asked the debaters to go to they numbered desk and meet their opponent. I reminded them how both had an important job to do now. When it was their time to talk, they were to use their notes and be as persuasive as possible to convince their opponent of their position. The listener had a job to do, too. After hearing their opponent, they need to write down the points they heard.

Using the chime, I commanded the STONG group to go and 20 students shared their opinion in a span of one minute.


Then I called time and told the WEAK group to first jot down what they heard. Then the WEAK group had their chance to persuade their opponent. 50 minutes had passed and so much listening, reading, writing, sharing had occurred, all taught with Kathleen Tolan guiding us still!!

Day 2: We got into our caucus groups right away. We planned out our rebuttal.


We followed the same procedure as yesterday – same caucus groups, same opponent, same desk, same fired-up spirit! Then all returned to their own classroom desk and wrote long and strong about this book, The Giving Tree.

I noticed ALL in my room easily putting thoughts to paper. They had thoughts that they had orally rehearsed. First during Kathleen’s strong interactive read-aloud. Then in a caucus group. Then one-on-one with a partner who thought the opposite of them over two days.

I feel so lucky to have been taught by Kathleen Tolan and her colleagues at TCRWP. I will keep having Kathleen teach with me in my classroom. My students will be better readers and critical thinkers and writers because of her teaching with me!

How about YOU? Do you see Kathleen’s literacy spirit in your classroom?

Reflection on 2016 OLW

I wrote about my 2016 OLW, transparency, HERE when I picked it and  HERE at the midpoint of the year.

With just 11 days before picking my 2017 OLW, I feel I should reflect.

To me, TRANSPARENCY meant being clear and open and tolerant. With my students. With my parent community. With my family and friends. I also thought of my OLW and my house which I just moved into as 2016 began. The house fills with sunlight due to the windows and open floor plan and I also saw keeping my new house clean relate to my word.

I am proud of how I communicate in a predicable way with my parent community. I notice that much of learning in school is invisible. So I tell the kids to “show me your thinking”. Parents weren’t seeing lots of worksheets going on because at times, we do more hands-on. To remedy this, I started a parent letter routine. On Friday’s I have each student fill in a form letter to their parents. It does home in their take home folder and each student has to add details about the highlights of the week. This routine of open communication is working to make our learning more open and clear. Along with this, I send a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning email to the parents, too. I briefly tell them my favorite part of the week and highlight events coming up. They like my openness. They like that this comes electronically to their email and can easily reply to me with any questions. Through open communications, I am proud of my transparency as a teacher.

In terms of being tolerant, I am trying. I have a challenging group of students. I work on my patience. I work on planning lessons to meet all the needs in my room. I work to delivery clear instructions. Sometimes, it works. Other times I struggle. Often I feel overwhelmed. But in the end, my tolerance is serving me well.

As for my house, I can’t believe it has been a year! I was able to clear out all the leaves from our 2-year ignored backyard. I still want to do much more with the yard but that will have to happen in 2017. As for the inside, I clean when people visit. And I think my time might be spent better hiring someone to clean! Maybe something to investigate in 2017! Slowly we are buying furniture and unpacking stuff to make it feel more homey. The best part is that everyday, I enjoy the clear view to the outdoors. My favorite is the beginning and ending of the day when the sky is so many beautiful colors. I see this so easily from the inside of my house.

2016 – TRANPARENCY – a word that served me well!

2017 – I think habit or routine will be my word. I have 11 days to finalize it!

We are kind!

I have thought lots about kindness and teaching kindness recently. I teach 23 third graders and at times, I feels like they aren’t kind.

When they think something, they blurt it out. I remind them to raise their hand. It is kind to take turns and not all talk at the same time.

When I give directions, often I am then asked, “What?” right afterwards. I remind them it is kind to listen carefully to the oral directions so then they can follow them.

When playing, they need reminders to keep their hands to themselves. Tackling and wresting aren’t allowed at recess because we need to be safe and kind when we play.

However, Friday they showed me their kindness and I am so proud of them!

I got am email from C’s mom saying her daughter would  be absent and would be getting tubes placed in her ears today. C had told us all about this upcoming operation. She wrote about it on our class kidblog:

So we all knew she was a little nervous about it.

As students arrived on Friday, I told them that C would be out and maybe we could take a minute and post a note to her on Kidblog. I modeled by writing this:


Then I watched as C’s classmates kindly posted these words to her blog:

By the end of the day, C’s mom posted that all went well and thanked us for our blog posts. Then we read this post from C:


I’m proud of my kind students! They may not always raise their hand or listen well and they do love to tackle. But they also know how to send the best Get Well Wishes to a classmate. So kind!

My Holiday Traditions

On Wednesday, December 21st, five classes of 3rd graders will rotate through my classroom during our grade-level Holiday Celebration. My room mom found this video to share that gives a glimpse of the many different ways religions and cultures celebrate during the winter months. It got me to think more about my family traditions.

I grew up doing to Catholic School and Mass each Sunday. At this time of year, I’d help my mom cut evergreen from the tree outside and lay it on the lazy susan that now held the round wire candle holder for the 3 purple and 1 pink candles. Before dinner, we read the Advent prayer and each week took turns to light the candles. During the first week, the one purple, then two purple, then the pink and 2 purple and finally all 4 candles. As that first purple candle got littler, I knew Christmas Day was closer. Once the pink was lit, I knew I had to wait only one more week!

During this whole time at school, we weekly walked over to the church for Winter Concert practice. The whole school, Grades 1-8, sat quietly wearing our school uniforms for what seemed like hours, practicing our songs. I still have memorized Dona Nobis Pacem, Away in the Manger and Do You Hear What I Hear. On the night of the concert, we dressed in our finest Christmas outfit and paraded into a packed church. Extra flowers and candles and spotlights were used to transform the church into a grand theater. Then the first song was sung and the story of the first Christmas began. It was acted out on the altar while, class by class, we sang a song to further tell this story.

Looking back on these memories, no wonder I still love holiday music and candles and lights!  How about you? How are YOU celebrating during December?

Kathleen Tolan

These pictures hang in my classroom directly across the room from my teacher chair.img_7697

As I teach my mini-lessons, I can look beyond the heads of my students and see MY teachers reminding me how best to teach. And of course, Kathleen Tolan honors my wall.

She was my large group section teacher during my first Reading Institute in 2011.

Because of her, I work on my reading life. Because of her, I am not just a plot reader but a reader who can talk more deeply about the story with my book club. Because of her, I can plan a strong interactive read-aloud and guide a strong discussion.

I just clicked on TCRWP home page to read Lucy’s tribute and I learned that Kathleen was 53 years old. I am 53 years old. Kathleen will continue to hang on my classroom wall. But, now I have a much stronger urge to be the best reading teacher I can, for as long as I can. I’ll show my thanks to Kathleen daily through my continued effort to be the best I can for my students.

Raking – the mom’s perspective

I wrote a raking story a few weeks ago from my childhood HERE. Today I am trying to tell this same story but from the mom’s point of view. Here goes….

As I turn the corner, I saw the sign. Other neighbors would be happy to see the announcement that a week from today the leaf collector trucks would come.  Others would but not me.

“Look,” breaks my memory. It’s Sally pointing to the sign. “Can I help rake?” she asks eagerly.

“No silly. Those men come and rake our leafs, right mom?” Cathi corrects her in that voice only an older sister has. It sounds more like she is really saying, “Don’t you know anything? What a stupid question to ask.”

“But mom, I could help. Please…” Sally pressed.

“Maybe,” I replied as I pull the car into the driveway. “Right now let’s get the groceries into the house and I’ll start dinner.”

As I brown the ground beef to make chili, I think maybe it is time to do this task again. Then I allow myself to return to that November day. Have seven years really passed? I can see one- month old Sally, asleep in her bassinet and Jeannie looking out the window at the backyard, smiling and feeling better today.

“Rake?” she asks. Her blond curls frame her little three-year old face, making her look even more angelic today.

I recall the doctor saying to take our cues from Jeannie. If she feels up to doing, then do.

I glance at my new bundle fast asleep. Having just started a nap, I know I’ll be free for at least an hour. “Cathi, Jeanne,” I announce. “Let’s go rake!”

Once outside, I hand each a smaller rake and I grab mine. I work to create a big pile for jumping. Then I rake away a long path to the pile, making it look like an airport runway.

“OK, who wants to jump in this pile I’ve made?” I announce. Cathi and Jeannie drop their rakes and rush over.

“Me first,” Cathi says.

“On your mark, get set, go!” I shout and Cathi runs down the cleared path and jumps into a pile twice her height. Soon I can’t even see her for the leaves gobbled her up. But Jeannie and I can hear her giggles. I go help lift her out.

“My turn, my turn,” Jeannie shouts excitedly.

“OK, on your mark, get set, go!” Her legs move slowly down the path and wanting to be so much like her sister, she hops into the pile and laughs, too. We repeat this over and over and over, running and laughing and enjoying a fall day outside.

That was the last day we played together outside. Days later, the leukemia in her body got stronger and she got weaker. Then in May, she left us.

That following Fall I hired men to rake the leaves, bag them and remove them from our yard. And each fall since.

Now, remembering Jeannie’s doctor’s advice, I think “Maybe, today I still should take my cues from my daughters. If they are up for doing this task, then we do it.”



Books Used to Teach Kindness


It’s November. I’ve watched my 3rd graders not always show the best manners. For instance, they think something and immediately it comes out of their mouth. This doesn’t always work well when they share a room with 22 other impulsive mouths. “One voice at a time,” I’ll remind.

Lately, I was seeing more teasing. They would say, “We were just kidding.” They would say, “We like being silly.” I instead was seeing it as not being kind. I decided to “kill them with kindness” last week. I read an old favorite – Miss Rumphius, a new favorite, Each Kindness and then one shared by a parent, One. Then taking an idea from another blogger, There’s a Book for That by Carrie Gelson, I had the class add a tally next to their favorite.

Each day ended with a read aloud. Then we discussed how the characters acted. I kept asking about kindness. I find 8 year olds fascinating. They are on the verge of being able to see another’s perspective. Yet, they mostly see their actions as just playing. One comment was, “It’s OK to be mean once.”

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful I have the opportunity to help a classroom of friends learn about being kind. I hope they remember Maya in Each Kindness and how they should not waste an opportunity to greet a new friend, no matter how different. And remember how our actions towards others ripples out and we can never get it back. I hope they remember how One stood up to Red to help Blue in One. They too, can be the voice that helps everyone feel counted. I hope they remember Miss Rumphius and work to make the world a more beautiful place.

I hope the message of these three books sticks a bit with my friends. Because, in my opinion, the world needs the next generation to be more kind.

Happy Thanksgiving. I especially am thankful I have Tuesdays to SLICE among this very kind writing community. Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Lisa, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.