Monthly Archives: August 2013

loving lyrics


Lyrics have always been a part of my life.  My earliest recollections include Sunday School and Bible School songs.  In second grade I remember our teacher having music contests every week after our music class; our classroom teacher would always ask who wanted to compete in the ‘Lyrics’ contest.  We would stand in front of an old microphone and recite or sing the song that we just learned in class.  We could also repeat a line from a piece of poetry that we had memorized, also telling the authors and the title of the poem.  Riddles and jokes counted back then and my favorites were from Bennett Cerf riddle books.   I think back on that now and realize that my second grade teacher was reinforcing what we all know about teaching beginning reading.  Repeated reading and even memorizing is very important in a beginning reader’s life.

Let’s try a few: (answers on the bottom, no peeking)

The wheels on the _____________________________________.

It’s all ____________ !

He’s got the ____________________________________________.

along came a ___________________________________________.

In the beginning ________________________________________________.

It was a terrible, _________________________________________________.

sugar and spice __________________________________________________.

Rome wasn’t _______________________________________.

We teach poetry for oh so many reasons.  It helps us with phonemic awareness, phonics instruction, vocabulary, fluency and the best part, for short attention spans… it can be short.  We don’t always have to teach even a whole poem.  We love it for the humor and I love it because it doesn’t have to have rules, however, we can teach certain poem forms for those students who love a format and need a format.  We can integrate in with our content areas.  It is the perfect avenue for noticing the world around us.  Poems can be put to music.  That is my favorite teaching device all.  I don’t have the best singing voice or the best rhythm, but it is my favorite way to learn something new.   My absolute favorite poets include  Amy at Poem love her new book, Mary Anne Hoberman Poems for Two Voice books and Jon Scieska’s Truckery Rhymes which mirror many Mother Goose rhymes and some early learner songs.

You might be like me if you can remember the songs you sang on the bus on a field trip in sixth grade (Daydream Believer) or your eighth grade dance (Build Me up Buttercup), walking down the alley with the girls on a hot summer night in high school (Here Comes the Sun), around the campfire at summer camp (His Banner Over Me is Love and Pass it On), James, James and more James for three decades…my thirty year old daughter is as in love with James Taylor as I still am in my fifties.

You also may have your favorite musicians to use in your classroom …I use Raffi, Greg and Steve, Peter Paul and Mary, Jim Gill, old camp songs, and even some Jock Jams with my first graders.  For twelve years we have been using Cotton Eye Joe to get all our 5th and 1st graders psyched for Buddy Day in our cafeteria.  It is our opening Whoa clap/dance.  It gets us 200 of us ready to learn.

Let’s continue to give our children the gifts of lyrics and song in our classes in elementary school.  It will build your community and build memories forever.

I am the late sixties and early seventies generation.  I started teaching in 1976.  I’m curious about your generation and your favorites.  I would love if you would share.

Oh, the answers for my lyric finishing quiz…on the bus go round and round, good from Pete the Cat, whole world in his hands, spider and sat down beside her, God created the heavens and the earth, horrible no good very bad day, and everything nice, built in a day.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is our classroom community of readers, writers and thinkers.  Poetry and music will help us get there…one of our very best tools!

For me, a hearty ‘belly laugh’ is one of the beautiful sounds in the world.

Bennett Cerf

our flowers


I’m not sure, but I think age has something to with nostalgia.  I felt it instantly and the tears began to well at church when we were singing This is my Father’s World.  I was instantly brought back in time to a Daily Vacation Bible school; it was our theme song for the week.  We sang it every day and the verses come back so easily without even having to gaze at the words on the giant screen.   I am transported back to love, to community…to JOY.

This is my Father’s world, 

                                     the birds their carols raise, 

                                    the morning light, the lily white, 

                                   declare their maker’s praise.

I am rereading a book that I loved so much at the beginning of new year flying home from Ecuador.  I’m sure many have read The Language of Flowers, a debut novel written by the amazing Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  This novel goes back and forth in time, telling Victoria’s story.  She is an emancipated foster youth negotiating homelessness and making her way in our harsh society.   At the beginning of this book Victoria is leaving her last group home.  The girls in the house maliciously try to burn her room with matches as a birthday prank.  There is little love between them.  But before she leaves she retaliated in a different way  putting a purple Dahlia under each doorway.  As the reader learns early in the context of the book, each flower has a meaning.  Flowers have a language; a ‘Dahlia’ means ‘dignity’.  Victoria gives dignity to the girls remaining in the group home.

 Victoria’s story is realistic as it is amazing.  It isn’t perfect because life rarely is.  But it is a story of rescue and hope and the importance of community.  The story is truthful in the ways of our very broken foster system.  As many of you know we, took our daughter into our home late in her high school career.  She was an emancipated minor, so this story ripped my soul in two.  Our daughter is now a healthy adult who finished college and is living and working near us in the city of Chicago.  I have learned over the years, but one thing is for certain; Kelly needed us.  This young girl would not have bloomed without our intervention.  God knew that our hearts needed to become softer, more alive because of her.  If you haven’t read this book yet, I definitely think that you should.  You will be enthralled with the characters; I promise.

 Many of us in this ‘slicing’ community have started or will start school shortly.  We will begin to recognize that our communities are filled with flowers that are strong and healthy and others that are limp and in need of a cold drink of water.  We will attempt to shower them daily and teach how to love and give ‘dignity’ to each other.  May we notice… may we care.  This is the true common core curriculum.

picture  zinnias and dahlias

This is a new flower bed in our yard this year, it is a primarily a ‘Dahlia’ bed.  Notice how brilliant the colors are.  Notice how they all bloom at different times.  I notice how sometimes one flower will indeed hold up another.

I am also  noticing  lately, that our season with the children in our classroom is also short.  I better start watering.  

new buds


the menu

love to write, love to think, love to SLICE... please join our community

love to write, love to think, love to SLICE… please join our community

It started with me looking for free fonts, kind of like the ones Ruth uses when she makes a really cool poster.  I don’t know how to get the awesome graphics…I’m guessing that I might have to pay for a program.  I was thinking about my coaching role to start the year and I decided to put it in a menu format.  Then I downloaded it into ‘Show Me’, a free program where you can talk and draw lines.  I can’t put it into my blog because that would be an upgrade, however, maybe I’m ready to do that.  If you want to see the ‘Show me’, just email and I can send it to you.  I’m pretty much in love with my stylus.  I think I am a wanna be coach, drawing the plays.  So here is what I am offering my teachers to start the year.  I will be changing the menu as the year builds with intensity!

Last room?

love to write, love to think, love to SLICE... please join our community

love to write, love to think, love to SLICE… please join our community

38 short years ago, I never thought this year would arrive.  Perhaps back then, I wasn’t even sure that I would last as a teacher.  That first year was very difficult, I was young… 20 years to be exact.  I finished college in three years instead of 4, anxious to be out in the ‘real world’.  I think now, “what was the hurry? ” College was a pretty awesome way to live.  I loved decorating my room with my four roomies every summer.  I loved getting my new books and the way they looked when they were all stacked on my desk.  And yes, I loved my classes, I loved the library, I loved learning.  I remember right where I was in the library stacks my freshman year when it dawned on me….I love research…how did this happen…suddenly I loved to learn!

It had developed steadily over a period of years.  I don’t remember loving all subjects, especially not math or Think and Do, the sixties version of teaching reading.  It wasn’t until Junior High school that I learned that writing wasn’t just beautiful cursive.  I started to learn about telling stories through writing from an anti grammar teacher of English.  I know she was ahead of her time.  She used to say to us,

You will learn to write by writing in this class, not through filling out worksheets on prepositional phrases.  I will teach you how to write a story with a prepositional phrase.

Thank God for Mrs. Gracey.  She was a rebel with a cause in 1967!  I never got above a ‘C’ on a first draft, but I remember that I kept working at something for the first time in my life.  There were a few other teachers that impacted me along the way in high school, some that even saw some sort of potential in me and told me so.

When I was a little girl, every August I started feeling the itch for the structure of school.  My mom always treated me to a pair of new shoes and at least one new outfit to wear.  I loved to pick out school supplies and tried every year to become a bit more organized than the last.  When I got my first teaching job, it actually was the day before school started.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know back then .  I quickly arranged my open space classroom after the inservice and felt like I was good to go.   That year I felt like I was always trying to catch up, that I was always a step behind.  I didn’t even have time to get my new pair of shoes or even a poster to hang in my first classroom.

The next summer, I basically got married, and then planned for the next eight weeks, curriculum, bulletin boards, letters home, mailboxes and the all important reading nook.  That second summer I remember cutting a hole in a giant refrigerator box and using contact paper to cover the whole box. My mom started screaming at me while I steadily worked in the back yard, “You’ve got a wedding in five days and you are doing this to get ready? Really, Nancy, don’t you care about anything other than that classroom?”

But, every year since then I have always had to have something new for my classroom, something that my students would love.  This year was no exception, even though it is my last.  I wanted a new reading/writing workshop sharing chair.  So last week I was busy painting it red and purple and stenciling flowers, vines and covering it in polka dots.  I have discovered the little kids love to count dots when they can.  I put one of my favorite pillows on and said to myself, “Voila…I am happy to start, excited to start, sad to start this bittersweet year of ‘Finishing Strong’. ”

What are new things that you are adding this year? I hope it brings you much joy….xo

my last room