Reading War Witch Hunt in Perspective


I was feeling dissatisfied with the PD at my school yesterday, which tends to get me riled up. It wasn't the topic that got me upset, just the pace, we are 3 sessions in taking baby steps with very little to show for it that is taking me anywhere new in my practice. When that happens I tend to find strange ways to get rid of that energy. I went exploring some data, and digging in my memory, because I am also annoyed that the SoR movement (which I am in favor of on many levels) is so media driven, and a lot of memes, charts, and posts, and yes, podcasts, are popping up on line that feel kind of witch hunt ish to me. I am here to make the argument that yes we need something to give, but the witch hunt isn't necessary.

I went digging and found some charts that perked my curiosity. First of all this Global Literacy Rate, from 1475-2003, look at that amazing trajectory! Each line represents a country, for the U.S., our little purple line is right up there with the rest. I found this to be just a hopeful view, don't worry, I do know we still have work to do.


The next chart caught my attention because it began the year I was born and takes us all the way up to present time.  In order to argue that a witch hunt isn't a super helpful path to move our practice of reading instruction along to make sure we are meeting the needs of all our learners, I thought a little historic perspective could be of use.  Personally, the charts made me wonder about all the factors that have affected reading achievement over history and help keep things in perspective as we continue onward adding tools to our toolboxes for reading instruction.


When I look at the NAEP graph above I noticed some correlations between education trends, national and world events, you may pick up on some others, as this is not comprehensive. Just think of how conscious we now are about trauma, fear, anxiety, and the effects of those on the learning brain, and think about all that has happened in the last 50 or so years besides just teaching and learning:
  • 1971, I was born. :)
  • 1977, I was finishing 1st grade, my teacher in a MA, public school used Basal Readers as did all my classes up through at least 4th grade. Kids receiving special education services spent much if not all of the day in a separate classroom as far as I recall.
  • Notice on the graph, there was some increase in reading achievement between 1971-1980.
  • 1980- Around this time cable tv became "a thing", divorce was becoming common along with Latchkey kids (yep me), and whole language was happening in some places *I qualify this bc I never actually saw whole language in action, I seemed to miss that trend for the most part, and then heard about it in college in 1990.
  • Throughout the 1980's, the AIDS epidemic.
  • 1988-89 World events leading up to start of Gulf War 1990.
  • 1996- guided reading was sparking teachers' interest. My whole K-2 school in Western, MA was trained in GuidedReading and we had Reading Recovery teachers as well and it felt like a godsend, because we finally had some real teaching tools to add to our box. We had lot's of books, no formal curriculum to speak of in years immediately before this.
  • 2001 NCLB and high stakes testing "teach to the test" was right on the heels of that.
  • Balanced Literacy was right in that next, albeit little, upswing for reading achievement, teachers knew of the 5 components by that time, Most of the teachers I worked with or knew were including those things into instruction.
  • By 2004 Computers, cell phones and the internet were now in many homes... I feel safe saying so as I was a slow poke on that and we had cell phones and a desk top with dial up by then.--- Like cable TV how did another increase in screen time continue to shape and effect the reading world?
  • Around 2012, when I began finding my way back into teaching after starting a family, folks were asking about Fundations experience at interviews, many schools had adopted the "intervention" program for whole group instruction.
  • 2012 And still High stakes testing...A few headlines from that year alone:
    • "High

      -stakes testing and the attack on public education in New York ..."

      and "High

      Stakes Tests Harm Students and Teachers, Undermine Equity in New York Schools"

  • 2020 The COVID pandemic- school, national, worldwide shutdown and largest drop in scores since 1990.
  • It is true that for the last 40-50 years our literacy rate has been hovering along the same line, but that line is not absolutely straight and it would be wise for us all to think about all the things that affect learning and teaching, that have nothing to do with teachers, curriculum, programs, or "evil forces" *snark alert. 

Hope I am not driving you all nuts with this!
I just don't like the current vibe, of spreading teacher dissatisfaction, blame and teacher guilt, if we are too busy feeling all that, we won't be able to learn to do better... it is brain science.

Happy Tuesday,


This isn't Homeschooling- It is Emergency Remote Learning

It is April 18th and the school kids, and myself (I teach in a school) have been home now for 5 weeks.  From the initial shock of it all, to the strange new reality this social isolation has become, I feel like we are all wondering if we are doing it right... teachers included.  I have been sitting on this post, knowing I would write, but not knowing where to begin.. then I started to hear my friends trying to make sense of this...

Some of the parents  and professionals I know have been talking about and pondering our current schooling situation. At a webinar I attended a couple of weeks ago with education innovators AJ Juliani, George Couros, and Katie Novak, I first heard the term, "Emergency Remote Learning".  Unlike homeschooling, or distance/online learning models we may know or be familiar with, this current situation is Not something we researched, decided to do, and prepared for.  It is a totally new model thrust upon us in varying shapes and forms from schools and districts around the world...and teachers did not research, choose, or prepare for this either!!  We are all in the same boat!

At this point I am having my own thoughts and reactions to the schooling portion of our life.  I have been working by bum off for school, but then at home, I take the 'less is more' approach, which is unlike most type A teacher types, (which I am not 😉 ) I worry a little, should I be pushing more?  should we be more structured?  . . .and am starting to hear from friends and other parents I know:

  • I feel like I have to do it all!
  • Working (trying to work) with a toddler under foot, is like some form of thought disruption torture.
  • There is so much to juggle with more than one kid.
  • It feels like they are really unproductive
  • I want to make sure they are moving
  • It seems like a lot of screen time
  • We are having issues connecting and streaming video, or we are trying to share a computer.
  • This (assignment or project) isn't helpful right now, or isn't important to him/her right now (for any number of reasons)
However your district is handling this current learning situation, from packets, to Google Classroom, video chats, and so on...the best advice I can offer is to go easy on yourself and your child.  Think about the work coming from school as a buffet, take what you need, and leave the rest.  You may have some things you can bring to the table as well. . .or not!  That is ok, either way your child will have plenty of opportunities to grow, but not if their brain is stressed... It actually isn't possible to learn if the brain is stressed.  So, go easy.

I thought I would start with a schedule, but for us, meh!  Not so much! Unless you count meals, the rest of our day is a bit of a crapshoot!  But, hey that works for us, your family may be different.  My big goals are to make sure we get outside or do something active (Just Dance anyone?) every day... which means we get about 5 out of 7 days maybe!  Everyone chips in with little things, empty the dishwasher, stack some wood, laundry...Then I check in and say, anyone have schoolwork?  Then some of them do it, or tell me they will do it later.

My daughter has been really into the class meetings online!  But, It took me 4 weeks to find a book online (which I ended up paying for, despite a wealth of books in our home), that my daughter would read!  I am a teacher, with a literacy background, and it took me. four. weeks.. now she has spent the last two days doing not much else.  She has started online piano lessons, and I have too, but suddenly 3-er 5, hmmm... how many? days goes by and I realize we haven't practiced.  She has also spent countless hours drawing.

The boys have been working outside a lot!  They are not built for online learning, but they do a big push a few times a week.  I cannot imagine if we were all in the house all day!  That would be good for none of us!  Charlie wired the new well pump, Joe is working on a new wood splitter, they both have vehicles and little projects they have been working on to make road worthy.  I am so thankful we have so much access to the outdoors and stuff that they thrive on... but I also realize many don't... and I worry...  I also worry that they aren't interested in Zoom meetings with their classes, at all!  I think one boy has attended one meeting!  The principal says on one hand that things are really flexible, but the words 'for credit'  and 'assignments in Powerschool' create tension in the back of my neck and head...are they doing enough?  (I know there is pressure to keep kids on track for graduation and all at the high school level)

Despite many online meetings, and hours of scouring the internet for good resources, and getting a school blog page up and running, I am caught up on laundry, mostly.  We replaced a well pump, (by we, I mean mostly my husband and teenage boys, with 10 minutes of me helping drag the pipe across the yard).  So a hot shower feels like a massage, instead of a measly sprinkle!  There is a lot of wood cut, split and stacked for the year, but always more to do.  I Dusted.  (did you hear that people?  I DUSTED!!). But then, I have been looking at my seed packets for two weeks, thinking 'today I will start some seeds inside', only to have something else take priority.

However your district is handling this current learning situation, from packets, to Google Classroom, video chats, and so on...the best advice I can offer is to go easy on yourself and your child.  Think about the work coming from school as a buffet, take what you need, and leave the rest.  You may have some things you can bring to the table as well. . .or not!  That is ok, either way your child will have plenty of opportunities to grow, but not if their brain is stressed... It actually isn't possible to learn if the brain is stressed.  So, go easy.   

YES this WAS the Same paragraph I started with, 
Because THIS is NOT Homeschooling!  
Because This is not Online learning! 

BEST to you ALL!!



sat down today, to begin writing a post to recap about a
colleague’s presentation of her UDL journey, and takeaways from a visit to the Groton-Dunstable School District.  I had some ideas, had even begun writing, when I was pulled off course by a memory, a song, and abruptly, I knew what I needed to write about at that moment, and It wasn’t Universal Design for Learning.  I suddenly had a need to write about something completely different, and I did.  I literally clicked open a new page and began, happily writing, remembering and creating this sweet little post, A Memory, a Melody. 

Now, hours later, I am thinking about Universal Design, and how often we ask kids to follow the plan rather than their heart, soul, or inspiration.  How often do we say, “here is a poem, here is a story, this is what is good about it, now you try and write one”?   How often do we say, “yes”?  What are our reasons for saying “no”?  I can remember specific moments from my childhood where I really wasn’t feeling it, when given a writing assignment, I began to believe I wasn’t really a writer, that it wasn’t my thing, that I had no real imagination.  I remember the dread in the pit of my being when told to sit down and write a story, sit there at that desk you have been at for hours, don’t rock your chair, keep your feet on the floor, and write... my stomach churns just thinking about it.  

I Think of my own classroom, where I allow kids clipboards, a choice of seating, comfort, and choice.  Where during writing workshop, I began to loosen the reins, after the mini lesson, students were encouraged to try it out, but I began to say to some, “If you have something you want to work on, that you are excited about, that is calling for your attention, write that”.  I particular began using this line with the kids who were not writing at all, but it is important for all of them, isn’t it? ... To be given the opportunity to dive into their work with passion and drive?  To be able to choose what is right for them, right now, on one day, or in one particular moment? 

UDL is a mindset shift.  A reminder to ask ourselves:

  • Where are the places where we can offer choice?  
  • Where are the times we can say yes to our students?
  •  If we are saying, “ no”, what is our reason?  Is it important to the learning goal?  Or is our reason irrelevant?  Why? Why? Why?


My Roots

I was just thinking of all the things I have done, all the lessons I have taught and learned as an educator.  Sometimes it becomes too easy to lose touch with the essence of what drives you.  In my case, integrating the arts in education was my beginning.  I was sure that using the arts to inspire kids in learning was the way to get kids brains engaged and learning.  Of course, I have built up experiences and skills teaching the basics, and continue to do so, and yet I was also right back then, when I believed engaging learners was important, when I created ‘fun’ lessons to keep kids learning, not to distract them from it.  I can see clearly today, how my roots have grown into a passion to create accessible, engaging experiences where kids can wonder, create and learn.

So today I am taking a bit of a walk down memory lane. . .

I can tell ( can you?) just by the cover that I began this book cover in the NCLB/ CCSS/ testing era of teaching.  Lol!  I scarcely mention artist, poet, nature lover, gardener... aspects of my life that once drove my teaching and inspired learners in my class at this point felt like dated practices, taboo subjects, frivolous idealism...

When I open the cover though, I see I included some quotes that ring true throughout my practice.

I reflected on things I thought I knew, and they evolved into driving questions that still drive me now..  and are surprisingly?  To me on line with the work I have been doing exploring Universal 
Design for Learning.  

I read this book and thought, not in a cocky “I have done this”, but more a “whoa! I’ve done so much 
of this!” That I included the cover in my scrapbook!  Crafting engaging lessons is Dave Burgess’ 
signature card and I have so many of his strategies over the years, before they became “pirate” tools.

Some of the real work of teaching for me began when I cotaught fourth grade for the first time, and really started putting questions to work, and thinking how do we get kids to actively drive their own learning.  I created  lessons like this one, where I treat the subject like a big mystery to be solved.  The kids used the three “ clues” to brainstorm ideas about what the message is...

A kickoff to geology unit that bridges previous knowledge and inspires curiosity

And they pretty much nailed it!  Time to introduce new vocabulary! “ geology”

or in some cases what the next unit of study would be on. There is no reason why, even if the learning
 goals are determined by the state, why we can’t make sure the kids are enjoying experiences at school, and finding school as a place where curiosity and wonder, exploration and creativity are a part of daily life.  As a matter of fact brain research, and current best practices, such as goal oriented instruction and universal design support the idea that engagement is so important.  We know now that a brain that is having fun is More open to learning. 

Cooking with 1st graders

Science in the classroom and across the curriculum!

Cooking, making art, questioning, problem solving, writing and putting on plays, Raising chicks, field trips to the Natural History Museaum, The Clark Art Institute, Apple Orchards, the Great Falls Discovery Center, and more. . . All while teaching math, language arts, social studies, science, and social emotional learning. . . all while building great relationships with kids. . . All while being self reflective, improving my practice, using data to inform instruction, and believing this is the work I am meant to do.


End of Year Song

I started singing in my area’s Rock Voices choir a couple summers ago, and I noticed a phenomena, probably discovered by many already in similar situations. We start getting to know the music, and over the course of a couple months we really get to know it well we love it.  After a while we almost get to the point where we are tired of it, we have rehearsed and reahearsed and it becomes old hat. Then one night, the band joins us with drums, rhythm, guitar, keyboard, or whatever the season’s arrangement calls for, and everything changes. For a good week, the music is more alive than it ever was, because all our work rehearsing harmonies comes together with the amazing rock sound of the band on stage with lights and audience energy, and the high is amazing. Suddenly, unexpectedly for me the first time, there is a let down, which this week I realized is very similar to the end of school year emotions I have felt, observed, and heard from others.  

After the last note is sung, the band packs up, the risers are dismantled and I am home with my ears that have only recently stopped ringing.  The emotional let down is huge. We will never sing those songs with that exact same mix of people, and that same crowd energy again. In that moment, I don’t want to hear the songs on the radio or listen to part recordings any more, because they are such a pale version of the performance, yet I wish I could, because I don’t really want to let go of those songs that carried all that thick, rich emotional color into my life.  

The last day of school was yesterday for us, and I was noting how we were all, kids and teachers alike dancing an emotional line, between relief that the hard work is coming to a close for a while, and the anguish that we will never get that performance back.  Whether our kids have made progress, or we wish we did more, whether our relationships with the kids are strong, or we wish we built stronger ones, it is all done by the time we walk in the door on that last day. Sixth grade has sung their last song, and said their last official farewell.  

We will never teach the same lesson in just the same way to the same students and have the same effect.  That same kiddo will probably not ever call you “Mom” by accident again. The student who was a challenge all year, and you adored anyway, is often particularly and precariously balanced that day, somewhere between nervous/giddy and somber/tear rimmed.  All year and especially the last few weeks, we build up to that final “goodbye” wave to busses and when it is all over… a part of us wishes it wasn’t. A part of us wants to sing that song one more time with the band loud, and the crowd dancing and singing along.


UDL more than the next ”Buzzword”

We have heard them before,  “whole language”, “phonics”, “research based”, “differentiation”, “RTI”, “data”, and on and on. . . the buzzword rotation in education cannot be denied.  Right now I am afraid that teachers are so conditioned to the buzzwords phasing in and out that some may be overlooking UDL as just another phrase or phase, just another new “thing to do”.  When I hear a search committee ask  about a teacher's understanding of UDL, then set her off in a room without any support materials (adequate curriculum, manipulatives, alternate seating, sufficient or even functioning technology options) that certainly corroborates the “buzz” notion.

There is sometimes a lack of true understanding around UDL at the administrative level some of who seem to use UDL as an excuse or means to reduce staff or corral a heavy “load” into a classroom and call it inclusion.  In a district where administration supports UDL practices I hear teachers not sure, “What is it really?”, “How can I do it?”, “I’m going to give them a choice board so it looks more UDL when admins come in”, or “Is this just a feather in the cap for admin?” As with any would be buzzword, there are many interpretations and misunderstandings, and mostly the feeling that UDL is another one of those, “just one more” items that they just don’t have time to “do”.  I for one find that heartbreaking.

I find it heartbreaking because, in the last forty five years or so, our country has noted many times over that our public education system doesn’t always work for everyone.  Since IDEA was introduced in 1975, we have grappled with ways to meet the needs of different learners.  We have noted “gaps” in growth indexes between students who live in poverty and those who do not, between kids whose parents graduated college and whose did not.  In the early 90’s, We implemented standards to ensure rigorous curriculum, and followed suit with rigorous testing before the  “rigorous standards” were
fully understood and implemented.  Yet the gaps persist. I find it heartbreaking.  We researched best
practices for reading instruction, yet are still struggling to consistently put them into play within
schools, or across districts, and across the nation.  We have more information available to us than ever before about how the brain learns, the role of emotions in learning, and how to best leverage memory to maximize learning, and yet teachers are still struggling with distracted learners, a lack of engagement, and teaching that doesn’t stick.  I find it heartbreaking.

2014 far left, 1992 scores far right. student average scores 8 th gr reading (darkest blue = parent didn’t graduate from high school,  next=graduated, graduated with some post HS ed, and lightest blue= college graduates)
My own children are growing up in this world of standards and standardized testing and their experiences have varied from teacher to teacher.  Some of the biggest complaints are too much
teacher talk, too many work sheets, too much expectation that all the kids are going to fit in the same box, or the saddest, “I didn’t really learn anything new.” I’m not sure how many teachers expect kids to fit in the box though.  Maybe they lack the time, understanding, or determination to chase down materials or create lessons that meet the needs of everyone in their class.  Whatever the reasons,
while working in different schools and districts in a variety of capacities over the last several years, I
have seen the same looks of disengagement on kids faces, the same poor attitudes toward school and
learning, and the same types of students sent to sit in time out, to take a break, on walking breaks, and
in buddy room chairs from preschool to middle elementary.  I have seen this in large and small schools in and around the county where I live where tiny rural schools still exist within 10-25 miles of larger ( but not huge) city schools.  I know teachers know it too, bc teachers are questioning student attitudes toward school daily on Facebook, Twitter, and even in PLC’s reading to find out where the joy has gone.  I find it heartbreaking.

I still remember when my mom advised me, “College is where you learn how to learn.”  And she was right, back then. ( @1992)   I am guessing that is at least a part of why standards based education took hold.  I know I hadn’t learned a lot about how to learn in my 12 years of public school, and I hope you don’t doubt for a minute that, upon hearing my mom speak those words, I asked myself, “Why is that?  What was the actual point of those 12 years anyway?  Why aren’t we teaching kids how to learn?”  When I graduated with my preliminary teaching certificate in the mid nineties, I
remember wishing I had more information about how kids actually learn.  I found it heartbreaking
even then.

I took workshops that had brain in the title in hopes of opening a magic door to learning.  I studied how to integrate the arts in a standards based curriculum, and backwards design before they called it that, because we knew back in 1992 that the arts were a great way to engage the brain.  We knew that teaching kids to read involved phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.  We knew kids needed support to learn to read, balanced with autonomy to make reading choices that mattered to them, and we were teaching writing all across the curriculum. Then something happened in education, testing became an all consuming entity, teacher autonomy gave way to scripted curriculums, and for the next twenty years our achievement and achievement gaps
have stagnated, or in some cases gotten worse.  I find it heartbreaking.

So fast forward to the last several years.  As the Information Age has grown, the need for
discriminating consumers of information, problem solvers, and designers of solutions has also
increased.  The Current standards really embody the idea of teaching students To be thinkers and consumers of information.  We know more and understand more about emotion, memory systems, learning and the Brain than ever before!  We have resources to support teachers scaffolding in the classroom, Keys to Literacy, Comprehension, Vocabulary...  We have graphic organizers out our ears.  We have books full of engagement strategies, Teach Like a Pirate, and strategies for how to encourage student centered practices in  Learn Like a Pirate.  We know readers should be wild about books, The Book Whisperer, and that they still need teaching, Reading Strategies and Writing Strategies, through mini lessons and small group work and conferences.  We require SEI endorsements in our state to ensure teachers understand how to best work with students who speak other languages, are bilingual, and bicultural We have access now to online tools like Epic, Pebble Go, Story Bird, and News ELA, just to name a very few!

In my current district, we also have  UDL Now!, handed out to teachers and staff last year.  When I read it, I thought “yes!”  I recognized the many great teaching practices I had read of, taken workshops on, learned and tried throughout the book, with Universal Deign in Learning as the framework to make sense of them all and give them a rightful place in our collective teaching pedagogy.  I have joined the Design Team in our district, attended last year’s cast symposium and completed my first online UDL course, but a lot of the teachers I have talked to haven’t even read the book yet.  I find that heartbreaking.

And we have the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines to give all this amazing
information, all these amazing resources, and all our tools for best practice, a framework to make them work for everyone in our classes.  Not just the kids who we know need help or learn different or whose barriers to learning are visible or obvious in some way, but also those kids who we might not know learn differently, or whose parents are for whatever reason unable to advocate for them.  In my thinking, UDL is SO much more than a buzzword.  UDL is so much more than the next hot topic.  UDL provides a framework for thinking and teaching focused on planning.  The guidelines provide us with a structure to build on, to not just teach our students but teach them how to be learners and problem solvers and  achievers.  UDL fills me with hope.


Great Auntie Claire

As a child, I had a the image of Auntie Claire with short, dark hair and clad in a bathing suit on the dock in Otis or hiking up and down the hill, burned into my mind.  I was going to say sitting, but I actually don’t remember her sitting. She walked, swam and was always on the go back then. I recall several week long adventures with Auntie, where she never failed to keep my brother and I on our toes teaching us manners of all kinds and making sure we said our prayers before bed (whether we did that at home or not)

The many lessons of auntie Claire ranged from setting the table properly with real napkins to “We say pass gas here.”  (**sounded like “Pass gaz” when she said it) and “I am not an ANT I am your Aunt.” Later on, at Henry Street when we borrowed her shower during a bathroom renovation at our own house, she taught us to squeegee the shower down when we were done.  We caught on pretty quickly I would say, as it was a loving necessity to learn in her presence.

As a child, I looked forward to our trips to the Wysteriahurst Museum. I know I still have some teeny tiny polished stones I got on one of our trips.  They came in a tiny plastic box with a little lid. ( they still live in a music box on my dresser). She invited us, My brother Mike and I, to go to the museum once and see a special Whale Exhibit.  We were all so excited to go inside a life sized inflated whale! Claire was the kind of Aunt who surprised me back then by acting just as disappointed as us kids when all we saw inside was blackness lit by a few bulbs.  We all thought it would be so much more exciting!

I know at least once or twice we walked to the museum from her house on Merrick Ave.  I remember feeling how long a walk home it felt, but she distracted us along the way, always engaging, walking along the river, where Mike and I were convinced we found a real dinosaur footprint.  We had seen one just like it at the museum! We had that rock for years though I am not sure where it is now, somehow having managed to carry it all the way back up the hill to her house.

She always seemed very proper to me as a child, but in contrast to memories of helping her iron boxer shorts, handkerchiefs, and pillowcases ‘my personal favorite’, I can also recall her devilishly digging up a yellow dayLily bulb growing wild out on a wooded road in Otis and swearing us to secrecy.  She was hoping she could transplant it at the cottage which was surrounded by orange lilies. Sometimes she would get a fire going in the stone fireplace outside, and set a package of hotdogs nearby, in case there might be any trouble, because ‘cooking fires’ were allowed.

I am sure anyone who knew her can attest to her excellent cooking skills!  It was at her home that I am sure I ate the best meatballs and gravy in my life, I still try to recreate them.  That might have been the evening that Mike was officially dubbed a “bottomless pit” by Auntie and Uncle Chuck alike. But let’s never forget, whatever the event, she was sure to show up with one of the most scrumptious desserts known to mankind, I particularly loved those seven layer bars!  But she even made a bowl of jello look like a delicacy.

The longest lasting impression of Auntie Claire though, a lesson that I hope to carry with me, is of her clear, unspoken message, “We take care of people in this family, we take care of people.”  Through all the adventures, Uncle Chuck, Wheelchair bound for as long as I can recall, was never overlooked or set aside, I can still picture her helping him in and out of the floating chair up at the lake, or pushing him down the stone ramp to the cottage. She cared for him diligently at home until it was beyond her ability to do so, I can still hear her wondering if it was the right thing to do. Even after, I recall visiting the soldiers home with her to say hello, or bring him home for a day.  

It seems not that long ago, I had a conversation with my mom about dropping in to visit Auntie Claire, and being warned, “Don't expect her to just be there, she keeps a pretty busy schedule still, volunteering and getting together with friends.”  I feel like this was just a part of her that I took for granted, until I began counting the years of service she contributed to the well being of so many people, and realized the magnitude of her truly giving nature.

It was her ability to always see, or hold onto  the human connection that I imagine must have driven her.  I have a letter she wrote to my grandfather when he was in the Navy, such a simple gesture about everyday things that spoke volumes.  After my grandfather Charlie, had a stroke she visited him regularly, and always treated and spoke to him as if he were the same person she always knew.  After all, he was the same man, still her beloved brother, though his speech was less clear, she knew his mind was still sharp and, unlike some, never treated him otherwise.  Often she would bring old photos, or a clippings of things she read so they would have something to chat about.

When I was looking to find out more about my own grandmother years back, Auntie described her as “Like a sister to me.”  She told me of an adventure they all had Auntie and Uncle, and my grandparents on a cruise, when my grandmother set her prosthetic leg on the side of the pool to go for a swim, despite shocked onlookers.  It definitely painted a picture of the kind of character she was. I am only hoping this paints at least half the picture of who Claire was to all of us!

With loving recollection for my Great Aunt Claire.
Amy Boyden


Page One

A Tuesday SLice of Life Post


With the end of the year, a lot to think about has me drawing into myself a bit, and literally drawing it out.  Tonight, after putting the kiddos to bed, I dug around for a few supplies and scouted quickly for a few items to study.  I set up shop in my kitchen and one thing led to
The next.  I enjoyed drawing, the feel of a soft pencil on paper, a light shade, a sharp line, a curve bring a certain contentment.  

When I finished I realized, I wasn't finished!  I wanted to take a photo of my drawing to post.   I began to play a bit including more, including less, give a bit of a twist to the image. . . Just the beginning. . . The first page. 

For a few more photos of this process visit my new blog:


Hunkered Down against a Restless night

Severe cold crept into the region over the weekend, then a flurry gave way to steady snowfall.  The kids were distracted with friends most of the day and I distracted myself with baking breads and keeping the fireplace crackling.  My husband settled, restless, by the fireplace comfortable and warm yet unable to be fully at home.  

Kids and I read,  played games, colored, and chilled out while he rested, an air of anticipation separating us all ever so slightly.  It was past dinner time and the children had just settled under their quilts for the night when the phone rang.  "There it is."  He said.

A hug and well wishes, and he was off to sit behind the wheel, lights flashing, and engine roaring over roads slick with snow, perhaps some ice soon.  I picture him in his truck, With heat blasting too hot, to keep his windshield clean, and window open to keep his mind clear, as I hunker down myself, both cozy and restless by the fire with the television on and a book to occupy my mind into the cold night.


Mom & Boys Ramble

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Had this thought the other day about raising boys.  Mine seem to at times go out of their way to do and say things that drive me absolutely bonkers.  They know, for instance that screaming Metallica lyrics at random quiet moments or chaotic moments like when we're all trying to get out of the house on time, are equally frazzling to my brain.  Yet, just as often (and it's easy not to notice if I'm in bonkersville) they do things, like ask for a back rub before bed just like they have since they were toddlers, or find a way to make me something I have been talking about, that remind me they are still my little boys who somewhere under all the sass need every bit as much love and positive parenting as they ever did! 

My husband said he thinks it's normal for moms and boys to go head to head with their tween/teen, maybe it is, but it feels like crap and then the snowball just gets bigger from there picking up steam as it goes.  I live for those little moment when the snowball busts apart and there's just that shiny stone inside that started it all. 


Dance of Seven


Saturday, Lila lay slumped across my lap holding me down lest I try to actually be helpful as  the boys (her brothers) set up their bunk bed.  She just kept saying, "I'm sad." or "I'm jealous." or the whole of it, "I wish I had a bunk bed."

Spending so much time with the boys clearing a hole in their room for the bunk bed was salt in her wound.  She flopped in and out of the way of bed parts, dipping in and out the door and under feet, pausing long enough to hold me down or hang from my arm as I attempt to help tighten screws.  Not only did they get a bunk bed, but "Can't you do something with me?  You only do stuff with the boys."

So, on Sunday we spent some time together in her room.  Job number one, "I want a job!" was to collect all stuffies in one basket. . . Three baskets later there were still plenty of stuffies for her bed too!  Job number two, pull old warn and summer items out of circulation, "to Lucy, (Lila's cousin), Get rid of, to Lucy, to Lucy. . ."  Now, job number three, the books.  I hauled up and repurposed a shelf from the basement.  The little organizer was in heaven, "I'll put all the Biscuit books on this shelf, the Elephant and Piggie books over here. . .

Before we knew it Lila had a large expanse of shining wood floor rediscovered!  But, apparently we weren't finished, "Mom, I really always wanted a dance space."  Silly me, I thought a big open room would make a perfect dance space.  Aghast, "Mom, anyone could come in and see me!  It needs a curtain."  Alas, the final touch, one pink and white checked sheet turned "Dance space curtain"

The Grande Finale:  "Now, watch me dance!"


Four Responsive Reasons to Read Ramona Books Before School Starts

When we opened our first Ramona book, not in any particular order, I read my daughter one chapter and stopped for bedtime.  My little girl was incensed that I would stop “so soon”.  She insisted, “This is the most exciting book ever!”  Ramona Quimby is one of my favorite characters, and I find the Ramona books to include fantastic reminders of Responsive Classroom practices and why we need them.   Ramona is such a true character!  With each book we watch her childish wisdom grow, her thoughts and actions true to her own person always.  Her stories are filled with insights into classroom and life that every teacher should remember.  That is why I believe every elementary teacher should revisite at least one Ramona book (bet you can’t stop at one!) by Beverly Cleary, before the start of school.
We all are familiar with the four main Responsive Classroom practices,
  • ·       Engaging Academics
  • ·       Positive Community
  • ·       Effective Management
  • ·       Developmental Awareness

Ramona and her family teach us a lot about what is engaging and that engagement is highly connected to happiness.  After being harangued by family members for coming home late and soaked. . .
She simply stood there, cold, dripping and feeling good.  She felt good from making a lot of noise, she felt good from the hard work of walking so far on her tin-can stilts, she felt good from calling a grown-up pieface and from the triumph of singing backwards from ninety-nine to one.  She felt good being out after dark with rain on her face and the street lights shining down on her.  (Ramona and Her Father, p134)

. . .and while playing ‘Brick Factory’ with Howie for hours and the importance of physical effort. . .
Each grasped a rock in both hands and with it pounded a brick into pieces and the pieces into smithereens.  The pounding was hard, tiring work.  Pow!  Pow!  Pow!  Then they were reduced to smithereens to dust.  (Ramona the Brave, p47)

. . . and Ramona teaches us what happens when academics are not engaging. . .
“Ramona” Said Mrs. Griggs in a voice that hinted she had caught Ramona napping. 
“Five” answered Ramona.  She was bored, not napping she had learned to think about schoolwork, and at the same time think about other things in a private corner of her mind.  ‘Mrs. Griggs, when do we get to make paper bag owls?’”  (Ramona the Brave, p79)

Ramona and Beezus Quimby teach us the importance of a positive learning community.  Sometimes good isn’t always good enough. . .

“There wasn’t anything really wrong with her, I guess,”  answered Beezus. (Regarding Ramona’s teacher) “She just wasn’t very exciting is all. . .” 
“Was she unfair?” asked Mrs. Quimby. 
Beezus considered the question, “No. But I was the kind of child she liked.”  (Ramona the Brave, p158)

Ramona’s feelings on public apologies. . .
Ramona was horrified.  Now?  In front of the whole class?  (Ramona the Brave p113)

. . .and that the effect a teacher can have on a child, both bad. . .
Ramona dreaded school because she felt Mrs. Griggs did not like her, and she did not enjoy spending the whole day in a room with someone who did not like her, especially when that person was in charge.  (Ramona the Brave p122)

. . .and great!
(Ramona sitting in the hall avoiding going to class was approached by her sister’s teacher.)
“I know you! . . .You are Ramona Quimby. Also known as Ramona Q.”  Ramona was astonished she had expected him to tell her, if he knew who she was at all, that she was Beatrice’s little sister. . . (watching him leave up the stairs). . . She suddenly felt more cheerful, cheerful enough to face Room one once more.
Ramona reminds us praise is not always an effective management technique and must be used cautiously. ..
(When her teacher makes an announcement and Ramona discovers Susan copied her owl.) 
Mrs. Griggs paused between Ramona’s and Susan’s desks.  Ramona bent over her owl because she wanted to surprise Mrs. Griggs when it was finished, “What a wise old owl Susan has made!”  Mrs. Griggs held up Susan’s owl for the class to see, while Susan tried to look modest and pleased at the same time.  Ramona was furious. . . copycat!  (Ramona the Brave, p83-85)

Lucky for Ramona, her family exhibits some effective management techniques. . .
Beezus:  “Maybe if we feed them right away they’ll think the party is over and go home.”  (Beezus and Ramona p121)

Aunt Beatrice:  “Lots of times little children are naughty because they want to attract attention.  I have an idea that saying nothing about her naughtiness will worry Ramona more than a scolding.”  (Beezus and Ramona, p98)

And not so effective. . .
Mother, who had bought The Littlest Steam Shovel at the Supermarket to keep Ramona quiet while she shopped one afternoon, was so tired of Scoopy that she always managed to be too busy to read to Ramona. (Beezus and Ramona, p15)

One aspect that Beverly Cleary brings to each and every book is a sense of where Ramona and Beezus are in their development from the preschool Ramona, breathing in and out of a harmonica, while riding in circles on her trike in the livingroom, to Beezus blushing in preteen emotions as being cast as Mary opposite her school crush, cast as Joseph in the school play.  The adults in the book occasionally tune into the girls developmental stages.

(When Ramona signed her mother up to sew her a sheep costume)
“I know,”. . . “But she is little and these things are so important to her.  I’ll manage somehow.”  (Ramona and her Father, p150)

And sometimes they underestimate the depth of her thinking. . .
Didn’t grown-ups think children worried about anything but jack-o-lanterns?  Didn’t they know children worried about grown-ups?  (Ramona and Her Father, p85)

These are just a few of the many reasons I recommend reading at least one Ramona book before school begins.  Ramona will remind you of the innocence of the children we will be working with, the joy, the frustrations, and that it is all a part of life as a little human and the people responsible for raising them.  Ramona will remind you why we embrace Responsive Classroom practices for creating safe communities with engaging academics, and why we strive to use effective management techniques and knowledge of developmental stages while we teach. 
Feel funny reading to yourself?  Find someone to read to they will appreciate Ramona too!




A new Page

It is midsummer.  I haven't been writing. I blame it on the fact that I need a new writer's notebook!  I actually shouldn't say I haven't been writing, but it has felt like a stale, stuck in the lines, and stagnant kind of writing.  For a while now, more often than not, I have been using just an ordinary composition book, bound white paper with faint lines. I had a large stash of them purchased a few years ago after the start of school, they were on clearance for only 10 cents a piece!But my newest composition book has a too bendy cover and too thin paper, and bleh. . . I just am not enjoying the experience.  Did I mention the lines?  Like a coloring book, the lines hold me in places I don't want to be held.

 My favorite thing to write in is a large black covered artist's sketchbook with sturdy clear white paper held by a book spine and opens flat to expose an expanse of white to write or draw my thinking out.  I have had several of these over the years.

I enjoy the way my favorite pen, a fine tip black uniball glides over the surface leaving a clean black line in contrast to the stark page.  I love the way the clear page leaves me free to draw, doodle, list, sketch, diagram, map, or write my ideas out.  But alas, this is one of the last clean pages.

The cover has fallen apart!

Sigh.  I will be heading to the store to buy school supplies soon.  A new "sketchbook" is in order, but until then, no more excuses.  A writer must write, I must turn the page, whatever the page.

My next project is to take my notes from a day by the pond, and create a poem, wish me luck!


Morning a musing and poem

I wake and have a cup of tea, but even that is a labor, to keep my eyes opened.  I try to get a jumpstart with icy cold water on my face, it helps my eyes to not feel quite as hot and heavy from sleep. . . Then, I sit in the cushy chair, while my husband sits drinking his coffee nearby, our feet touching on the stool between us.  We talk a bit about the day before or the day to come and then it is time to move.

Morning poem

Coffee and cold water
Eyes still heavy
Quiet, slow waking in the still darkness soft chair morning
Build sandwiches, 
stuff backpacks,
match socks, 
wake children, wash hair
Pull on pants
Where are my red shoes?
Stop arguing. 
Where's your coat it's only 15 degrees?!


Phoenix rises From Ashes

 One week ago, I took these photos.  Lila and I spent the day at the sugarhouse for Sunday's boiling.  It was a weekend like so many others in early spring, shared over generations, in both sides of my husband's family tree.  I just happened to stop and take this photo of the sugarhouse itself last week, because I thought I might share it with students at school.  I knew this weekend would be busy and I was feeling sad Lila and I would not have much time to spend sugaring.
 This weekend, my boys headed to Conway on Saturday morning to spend the weekend doing sugaring projects.  Even when the sap isn't running there are jobs to be done and plenty to keep the boys busy, so they were happy to go.  I was committed to escorting Lila to a weekend of dance performances, and a plan to bring supper on Sunday afternoon when I would meet the boys, my husband and family at the sugarhouse with Lila.

Her show (Cinderella) on Sunday, was at 2 and I just got on the highway when my phone rang.  A friend of my husband from the local fire dept was trying to reach him to see if he heard the news, a call had just come in for a fire at Boyden's Sugarhouse in Conway.  My heart was racing as I tried to reach my husband.  I didn't know till later his phone was hanging, in the pocket of his coat, on the mirror of his truck where he was splitting wood.  Once off the highway, I pulled over to track down someone in town, and I heard the report, "fully involved structure fire."

Many thoughts came to mind.  "Where are my boys?" I was not so much concerned they were in it, I was confident Howard and Jeanne would be sure they were safe, as I worried they were hysterically watching their beloved sugarhouse burn while adults bustled around them.  I needed to get there.  I also was alarmed to think of a fully involved blaze while my brother in law was boiling, is he ok? what happened? no way in hell he would let it go without a fight. . . over his dead body. . . when hell freezes over. . .

 Little did I know he was inside at that moment about a foot or 2 from the flames with just a one inch pine wall between him and the blazing wood shed.  He was holding fire from racing across the peak with a water hose, electric pump and his thumb and the very generous help of a passerby who grabbed the fire extinguishers and blasted them under the door at the fire on the otherside!
 (these 7 photos of the fire and FD response came from Fireground 360)
They attacked the fire from the door where Howard was holding off the fire, trying desparately to keep it back away from the main operation.  Howard talks now about the minutes (which seemed like hours) he spent planning the attack, while awaiting the fire department's arrival.  He is humbled by the respect of the department, who followed his plan without question though it has been years since he held the title of Captain on the department.  

True to form.  Howard was quick to see the bright side of the story.  Despite the loss of one third of the structure, the main operation was saved, and no one was hurt!  I was never so greatful to see anything as I was to see the building standing with family looking on when I arrived. To look at pictures of the building engulfed in flames, it is just amazing that it was not a total loss.  It is a wonder to think about the man holding a garden hose, a passerby offering help, Jeanne and her helper (a cousin's daughter) hauling out anything they could grab to save it from what seemed both inevitable, and impossible at the same time.  Quick response from the local volunteer FD was crucial and yet the whole stream of events came together to say, not this sugarhouse, not this time. . .

Howard had a quick positive response to inquiries of a workbee the next day.  He began seeking out folks he knew had skills he needed, but little did he know how many would seek him out on this day of blue sky, bitter cold, and optimism.  Out of the ashes they rose like a phoenix, a beautiful sight after the fire.


Vehicles everywhere. . . 




 a community

working together




                      learning important lessons


 and eating well



the phoenix

productive day

Coming together. .. Howard and JeanneA new beginning. . . 

Boiling again Thursday, March 26, 2015!!