Monthly Archives: November 2012

…you asked for memories


The day before Thanksgiving my daughter Emily called from South America to tell me to tell everyone in the family to write down a Thanksgiving memory and send it to her.  I told the boys and Dave said, “Well, you know my memory stinks.”  Jeff and I both nodded and Jeff, said, “Well, I’m writing about something more recent.  I think new memories are the better ones usually.”  I started reflecting a bit about those that I remembered growing up.  I could write about the time I got my first speeding ticket speeding to the sunrise Thanksgiving service my friends and I went to every year…or the time I decided to shave my legs for the first time with my Dad’s blade, and sliced nearly to my shin. I hid that with long pants and a handy Kotex bandage.  So I started thinking about more recent memories.

So I wrote:

When you kids were younger we were always watching Dad’s girls team play the whole week before Thanksgiving. And I was trying to get through the first three days of school and manage my exhaustion of working all day and cheering all night with both of you.  We were always exhausted and a bit crabby  when we arrived in Niles.  But I remember my Dad, carving up the turkey and my mom happily singing in the kitchen and putting the finishing touches on an enormous meal.  Dad always let me hang around and watch him carve.  He never could relinquish that job, even to Uncle Joe who was a surgeon by trade.  He always let me sample a few bites before we brought the platter out.  I did it again this year…. and it made me smile.  Grandma read her grace and we went around the room saying what we were thankful for and Grandpa finished, thanking our wonderful God for sending Jesus Christ into our broken world to rescue and redeem us.  That is why I love Thanksgiving. That is why it is my favorite holiday.

Of course, you know that I have this huge memory so here is one more, a very important one:

It is strange how good things happen when we are in the car together.  My favorite moment was when you and John picked us up at the airport  when we came out to the mountains to celebrate Thanksgiving a couple of years ago.  Right as we were pulling up to the hotel doors, you announced to all of us that you were going to have the baby, our baby – precious, beautiful, rocking baby Samantha Love Darnell.  We didn’t know that she would be a girl or full of vinegar and laughter.  We didn’t know anything in that moment.  All I know is that it was one of the best moments of my life…that one little sentence you spoke on that snowy, joyful night.
xo mama

Verlee’s book


A couple of days ago I was searching in my basement for some old books that I knew I had stored down there.  I was hoping to find my Dick and Jane’s to put in my new bookends on top of my cute little chest that we had just found to put between our cozy chairs.  It was the perfect last step in our family room home make over.  Instead of coming up with Dick and Jane I walked upstairs with a book that belonged to my mother-in-law, that I didn’t even know that we possessed.

It was titled ENGLISH ACTIVITIES GRADE SEVEN. “Great, I thought, I wonder what these practice lessons would look like.”  Some of you, like me remember our old grammar books heavy grammar books that we toted around from our freshman to our senior years in high school.  They were fat enough for four years of work in the early ’70s.  But this little slim volume intrigued me.  There was a girl pictured on the cover speaking into a circular microphone.  “A radio station,” I wondered.  I opened up to the copyright page.  It was published in 1936 by the American Book Company.  The next page was the PREFACE.

It read:

In 1935 the National Council of Teachers of English published An Experience Curriculum in English in which these statements appear:

1.  The idea curriculum consists of well-selected experiences.     I agree !

2.  The program of experiences must be well balanced.                 I agree !

3.  The program of experiences must be orderly.                              Yep !

4.  Experiences must be adapted to the needs and capacities of individual learners.  Amen!

5.  Techniques are essential and must be cummulative                  All the grades contribute !

6.  A curriculum of actual experiences in communication must be like these

a.  Make the pupils conscious of a worthy occasion for communication

b.  Let the pupils attempt speaking or writing or both       Can you disagree with any?

c.  Give advice on the techniques used to communicate

d.  Their work must be measured in terms of the audience.

e.  Introduce specific practice of a skill that students realize the worth, but have not mastered.

f.  Noting growth, by comparing success on this and previous similar occasions.

First of all, I was amazed that the National Council of Teachers of English have been around this many years.  I love the emphasis on oral expression which cuts right to the heart of what I believe.  This little slim volume of treasures goes on to describe English as a social subject, integrated units, separation of expression and mechanics and how teaching a few things thoroughly is better than many.

Next I turned to the Table of Contents and was intrigued by

Unit IV , TELLING EVERYDAY ADVENTURES                              Hmmm… I just talked about that last week!

I decided to investigate this amazing little nugget…ending your story satisfactorily.  I’m investigating this for a reason.  Endings are parts of my stories that I agonize over.   The text says, “Even though your story has a challenging beginning, the excitement of suspense, and excellent choice of words, it will not be effective unless it has a satisfying ending.”  The author offer mentor texts to read and decide whether the ending is satisfying or not.  The students are then invited to practice some endings on incomplete stories. again using mentor texts.

Who would have thought that I would feel such kinship to Verlee’s textbook written 76 years ago.  I’m  maybe discovering that I’m more old fashioned than I thought.  Good teaching just doesn’t go out of style.  This book is promtly displayed in my new bookends.

“In addition to…”


This year in our very large school district, we have purchased a writing program for every elementary teacher to use with their students.  You may have heard of Developmental Studies, a non-profit, in California that is 100 percent committed to creating classroom materials that are designed with best-practice research in mind.  Our district has had a ‘Writing Workshop’ framework in place for over ten years that has been also based on the work of the great masters in our field (Graves, Atwell, Caulkins, etc.).

However, writing workshop had not taken hold.  Yes, there were pockets of teachers, here and there, but there was never a core to collaborate with. We grew our model to include the work of 6 trait language and we began teaching using the language of this model as well.  We knew that books were key, that modeling was important and even that building that community of writers trusting each other was also very important, however, we just couldn’t seem to get it done…collectively, until now.

Every elementary teacher has these materials and every teacher now understands that building the writing community is absolutely essential.

Turn and talk is the most familiar language of the program and by the way,  students are taught turn and talk from the beginning of the program.  Children are taught how to listen to their partners from kindergarten forward.  Author’s chair is another key to the success of this workshop.

Model texts are also an extremely important element.  Developmental Studies did many field tests with the books at all levels to determine the texts that are used.  Teachers will know some of the titles however, some are obscure and wouldn’t be books that wo that I would have selected necessarily chosen to read aloud in my classroom.  But, they really work with the students.  They are selected for the element of craft that they mentoring.

Usually the lesson takes on a familiar format.  A teacher reads a bit from the book.  Questions are asked, pairs confer and then there in a short time where the class discusses together and then of course, the independent writing begins.  Last week we were at the part in the lesson where the students were sharing out about the mentor text.  The first 4th grader shared.  The second was called on.  She interjected, “In addition to what Nancy said, I feel….”.  I was shocked and amazed at her language which had been taught and reinforced in the prior unit, “In addition to”.

Both Stacey ( my partner) and I looked at each other and smiled.  They were using what we had taught in Unit 1. Writing is contagious…writing communities are contagious.

Look out world, here we come!

It felt magical to us.


This program, based on research, stands on the shoulders of great teachers of writing.  We are embracing the structure and the materials provided,  a program that unites us and moves us forward as “teachers of writers, not just the writing”.



On Wednesday I was driving in the darkness to school ruminating over what I had heard at church the night before.

“Instead of rehearsing our anxieties, rehearse our blessings.”

Now that makes sense I told myself.  But here I was again, rehearsing a big anxiety.  If our district goes out on strike, which seems likely at this point…here is where I start to rehearse the anxiety, we will have to make up school days. If we have to make up school days, when will they have us make them up? At the end of the year? On spring break? Or, heaven forbid, at Winter break? Why am I so worried?  Why do I have a knot the size of a golf ball in my gut?

We have tickets to go to Ecuador after Christmas and I just can’t bear the thought that maybe, just maybe,  I would have to stay home while Jeff and Dave go see Emily, Samantha and John. Even Kelly will most likely be celebrating with her boyfriend’s family out-of-state.  They would be together, I would be alone.

So here I am in the car, in the dark and my tears are starting…what if, what if, what if?

Today, I’m sitting in church with anxious thoughts flitting this way and that.   I’m realizing that this will be the first Christmas in 30 years that my daughter and son won’t be with us when we sing Silent Night at the end of the service.  This is when our pastor encourages us to get up and hug tell each other that we love them.  I hate making this change at all!  Things seem to be slowly unraveling. My anxiety whispers…”you can’t take this, Nancy, you aren’t strong enough, you will just fall apart in a pile on the floor.”

But then  another voice begins to whisper.

Life is change- ever flowing movement, rogue winds, making way to sunny days and then to darkness over again. You are not alone.  You have friends that have lost children, you have friends that have lost their soul mate to another, you have friends that are raising children alone, you have friends that are searching for redemption and even those who wonder what a blessing is. You have me.

There will be someone to sing Silent Night with.  Keep your eyes open, wide open.  Be courageous and start peeling back the darkness that you cry out in.  Be open to new possibilities of change and blessing, be open to my love that encircles you always.

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…I rehearse the greatest blessing of all time.