Address Change!

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The Feather

I recently heard an interview on NPR with Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard. He was discussing his book, Autumn.  In this text Knausgaard works to describe the world for his newborn daughter. He describes everything from teeth and chewing gum to dawn and Flaubert.

This interview made me think about the writing I am doing with my Joy Writers group (inspired, of course, by Ralph Fletcher’s book Joy Write).  We spent some time this summer observing, sketching, and writing about objects around us.  I worked on writing about some sycamore bark and trying to write off of an art card. I thought maybe I’d try out one of these descriptive pieces of writing for this week’s Slice.


I often find feathers on the ground. I pick them up, turn them over, bring them inside, and spend some time wondering about them and the the birds they came from.

Who lost this feather?

Why did it drop here?  

Was the bird in trouble, or is this just natural moulting?

What type of bird does this belong to?  

Why was he/she here?

Where was he/she coming from?  Where is he/she going?

I found this particular feather on my yard this summer.  It is so beautiful that I decided to add it to my collection of small items that I keep under my computer.

The feather has a yellow stem (Is that what you call the center of a feather?) with brown markings on either side that look like waves rippling in the ocean. The waves on the top of the feather are softer and less defined, while the waves on the bottom are clearer with deep troughs and higher peaks.  When I turn the feather over to the side that would sit closer to the bird’s body, it has a shiny yellow hue to the underside, and the “waves” look a bit out of focus. The feather feels smooth on both sides. I love running it through my fingers.  It has a calming effect on me.

The feather sits on my desk, on the stand that holds my computer screen.  I look at it often.  It reminds me to be curious, to ask questions, to wonder, to learn, and to remain in awe of the natural beauty that surrounds us.




Disrupt Thinking or Maintain a Classic?

Two of our daughters came home for the weekend. (Our neighbors are away and gave us the task of looking after their beautiful pool!) In our family, I am in charge of cooking breakfast. Over the years, I’ve become famous for my cinnamon rolls (made with Jiffy), corn muffins (Jiffy again) filled with fresh corn, banana muffins (fresh), pumpkin muffins in the fall (canned pumpkin), scones (from scratch), pancakes, waffles, or french toast with Challah. I add scrambled eggs, fruit, sausage, or bacon as needed.  It has become a ritual, and one that everyone looks forward to and enjoys.

This weekend I decided to try something new!  We recently traveled to Sweden as a family, and we enjoyed some delicious Kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon rolls). I wanted to try my hand at making these treats.  I went to the Swedish store to get a few of the ingredients, and prepared to spend a few hours making these delicious rolls (The recipe calls for yeast, so it’s a bit of a process.).

On Friday, as we sat in traffic coming out of New York City, I announced the breakfast plan. Let’s just say the response was not what I had expected.



“We love your cinnamon rolls.  You know, the ones you make with Jiffy?”

“We don’t want something new!

This is particularly strange when you consider that one daughter is a true foodie who runs a supper club and creates and tests new recipes all of the time, and loves nothing better than to try something unusual and different when she is out at a restaurant (One of her latest experiences was a duck tongue salad!). The younger daughter is a modern dancer and fashion expert who loves nothing better than to be on the edge of her craft.

So when I raised this dichotomy, my oldest daughter said, “Yes, change is good, but not when you are talking about a classic!”

OK, I know a bit of sweet talking when I hear it, but that statement really made me think.  I’m currently reading Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. In this text the authors push us to think about how we can challenge children to disrupt their thinking by not just reading what a text says, but also thinking about how they are responding to the text (in their heads and their hearts) and how reading a particular text might change them.  The authors also wonder why so many teachers seem content with current “best practices” instead of driving toward what they call “next practices.”

Are we afraid of change, even resistant to it, or is it that some of our teaching practices are “classics” and shouldn’t be changed?

Some food for thought (pun intended).

p.s.  I’m making the Kanelbullar this weekend for a different audience.  We’ll see how it goes.  I might be running back to cinnamon rolls with Jiffy, but at least I can say that I tried a next practice.



Cocoa by Candlelight

Today was a cold and rainy summer day.  My husband and I declared it a Summer Snow Day!  We didn’t go anywhere.  Instead we did some indoor projects, made cookies, organized files, and then curled up with our books and read for hours. The extra time devoted to reading allowed me to finish A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I loved every minute of reading this book!  It was laugh out loud funny on one page, and then incredibly touching on the next.  It is a story about a cranky old man.  It is a story about loneliness, loss, and love.  It is a story about the importance of community.

This power of community to make people happy (or happier in the case of Ove – the cranky old man) reminded me of something I learned while traveling to Scandinavia this summer. As you probably know, Denmark (and much of Scandinavia) is considered to be the happiest places on Earth!  How can that be when they have long winters filled with many days of almost complete darkness and extremely cold temperatures?  How can that be when Danes pay some of the highest taxes in the world?  According to Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, Danes are happier because they practice the art of Hygge (pronounced Hoo-ga).  The word hygge is defined by some as the art of creating a wellbeing of the soul, a feeling of safety, “cocoa by candlelight.”  Wiking states that Danes spend a great deal of time gathering with family and friends. When they gather, they practice the art of Hygge.  Here is his Hygge Manifesto – 10 Things Needed to Create Hygge:

  1. Atmosphere (Candles are essential.)
  2. Presence (Turn off the cell phones.)
  3. Pleasure (Coffee, chocolate, and cake are recommended.)
  4. Equality (“We” over “Me”)
  5. Gratitude
  6. Harmony
  7. Comfort (Wear warm sweaters and comfy socks.)
  8. Truce (No drama.)
  9. Togetherness (Build relationships and narratives.)
  10. Shelter (A place of peace and safety)

How can we bring this practice into our schools and into classrooms?  Maybe we can’t burn candles (although I’m buying a few of those fake flickering candles for my office), wear our sweats to work, and eat cake in the classroom, but I’d like to think about how we can create an atmosphere of trust and safety where we are all present and feeling a sense of joy.  A place where “we” is the operative word, and where students and teachers leave the drama behind and work together to build relationships and narratives.

Here’s to creating a little Hygge this school year! If it can work for Ove, it can work for us!

p.s.  I’m sitting in my warm kitchen, wearing comfortable summer pajamas, eating a cinnamon roll, drinking good coffee, and writing.  I’m feeling the Hygge!



Holding Fast to Summer

Today is a dreaded day. It’s the first day of August!  We teachers all know what that means.  School is around the corner.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love the work I do, and I look forward to returning to my work family, seeing the children and families, and trying to outgrow myself by learning new things about teaching and learning.  This year promises to be a great one, filled with new learning and new experiences!  What I dread is the loss of the summer schedule (or lack of schedule).

It takes me some time to settle in to the routines of summer, but by the middle of July I’ve transitioned.  I go to sleep when I’m tired, and I wake up when I want to.  I make the coffee, quickly check emails, and then sit out on the porch for a bit.  As I look out over the lawn and the gardens, I might see something that needs to be done.  If so, I get up and do it.  If not, I read or write.  If it happens to be raining, I work on my list of indoor projects and get a few things accomplished and crossed off the list.  Then I read or write some more.  Maybe I have coffee or lunch or a glass of wine with friends, head into New York for some urban fun, take a vacation, head to the beach, or invite people over for a cookout.  I have time to walk the dog every day (some days we even sneak in two walks),  exercise (when the urge strikes me-it often doesn’t), clean the house (when the the urge strikes me – if often doesn’t) and pretty much just do what feels right at any given moment.  And the best part of this non-scheduled summer is that I have time to think deeply about books and ideas and writing and people and events. That all changes when school starts in 24 days.  But do I have to lose all of this lifestyle?  Is there a way to hold on to summer?

I’m starting a list:

Holding Fast to Summer

-Get up a bit earlier and have coffee on the porch as long as the weather allows.

-Walk the dog every day, even if it’s dark or cold or rainy. (It’s good for both of us.)

-Take a few minutes between work and dinner to sit down and read or write (even if it’s just for a few minutes).

-Stay up late sometimes….just for the heck of it!

-Be spontaneous whenever possible.

I’m going to work on this list for the next few weeks.  I need to hold fast to summer for as long as possible.



Thinking About Writing Instruction

I’ve just finished Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write. As usual, Ralph has given me some important questions to ponder (That’s what I love about Ralph.). I’m sure Ralph is right when he says that in many classrooms, schools, and districts, writing workshop no longer looks like a joyful (and hardworking) place where students consider their passions and interests, select topics and genres, think hard about their audiences, and write (a lot) in a safe and supportive climate created to match the studios of published writers. In so many classrooms today, the writing workshop has become a more teacher (or maybe unit) – driven place where, although there is some choice, it is often quite limited.  The issues of “rigor” and “meeting standards” are also front and center, creating an environment that can feel a bit more like we are pushing students to meet benchmarks rather than write really well, with strong voice, and from the heart.

In Joy Write, Ralph introduces a provocative idea – add some “greenbelt” writing to the schedule.  By “greenbelt” writing, he is talking about the free, wild, feral type of writing that lets student writers explore, wonder, sketch, and pursue projects and interests.  He is asking us to  find ways to put kids in charge of their writing, and encourage honest writing filled with voice and choice and authenticity.  This kind of writing, according to Ralph, should not be heavily influenced by the teacher (guided and supported, yes, but not graded or subjected to checklists and other measures).  Ralph suggests that we find ways to include this type of writing in addition to the writing workshop.  I’m all for this kind of writing.  I know how powerful it is.  I taught third grade during what I might call the heyday of writing workshop!

Here are some of my questions:

-Can we find ways to include this “greenbelt” type of writing in the writing workshop, or does this writing have to be different and happen at a different time of the day/week?

-Could we consider putting a week or two of “greenbelt” writing in between our writing units?

-If we keep this kind of writing separate from writing workshop, will teachers be able to find the time in their already jam-packed schedules?

-How can we get teachers to do some of this “greenbelt” writing so that they can feel the power of this kind of experience?

I’d love to hear your responses and questions.  I’d love to start a conversation about how we can get back some of the joy and energy that was so powerful in the writing classroom.

Thank you, Ralph Fletcher, for getting this conversation started!


Asking More Questions

I recently spent some time with my family in Denmark and Sweden.  While in Copenhagen for an afternoon, strolling over bridges and along canals, we came upon an art installation by Yoko Ono. It was quite simple. There were trees and paper tags. People were encouraged to write a wish on one of the tags and tie it on a tree.  Of course this intrigued me, so I grabbed a piece of paper and started thinking……Of all the wishes I could make, which one will it be? After spending some time reading other wishes and thinking about my own, I decided that today my wish would be:

 “I wish that people would spend more time asking questions, and less time worrying about having all the answers.”

Since that day, I’ve really been trying to work on this in my own conversations.  I am finding that when we ask questions, people think we want answers. I’m trying to work on asking the kinds of questions that lead to more questions, and answering questions with questions.  Yes, I do think this has seriously confused some of my friends and family members, but I’m finding the conversations more tentative, more exploratory, and more interesting.

I want to think about this with teachers and students when we return to school later this summer.  I want to ponder and discover.  I wonder if we are living in a world where people feel like they are expected to quickly have answers to questions (After all, we have only to grab our phones and look something up and we have the answer!). I wonder if people feel that a quick tweet or text is sufficient. I wonder if we should work on slowing things down, pondering ideas, talking hard about the work we are doing, the books we are reading, and the pieces we are writing. I wonder if we should to spend more time in the land of ideas, asking more questions, considering more perspectives.

I’m enjoying this questioning stance.  Maybe you can send me some good questions to ponder!