Friday, March 8, 2024

8 Years

At the Paterson Falls (acrylic, ink, pencil, papers)

Yesterday I photographed at the Paterson Falls. After all of the tumultuous storms we’ve been having, the falls were powerful, awe-inspiring. Being in Paterson, once again, had me remembering William Carlos Williams’ Paterson. I first read it in its entirety with Rob. Prior to that (like Joyce’s Ulysses) I read parts. Rob loved to read aloud and what I recall most about Paterson was hearing so much of the book. I went back to see if I could find a section that was in mind, but not recalled with fidelity. 

No defeat is made up entirely of defeat—since
the world it opens is always a place
                               unsuspected. A
world lost,
              a world unsuspected,
                               beckons to new places
and no whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory
of whiteness     .

8 years ago today, Rob died. I will tell you that I never imagined what 8 years out might feel like. During those beginning years, placing one foot in front of the other took effort. The lines from Williams quoted here (from The Descent), remind me that in great loss, there is the possibility for new spaces to open up, in part because of the holes left by grief and loss, in part because the pulse to live is so very strong. At the falls yesterday, I thought of how some slim memories endure, while the greater majority of living and remembering the last 8 years flow with a force not too dissimilar to those falls after much rain.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024


Edges (Nome, Alaska)

The days get muddled together when I recall. 8 years is a long time in many ways especially when I think of all the living that has happened from then to now.  On this past Saturday, I would remember the hospital room, the quietness of the floor so early in the morning, the oncologist. I would recall all of this and more, almost to the minute. 

5 a.m. and the interstate was more abandoned than not. A lone truck in the far right lane. It’s light cutting through the still darkness. By 6 a.m., I had coffee in hand for both of us and was making my way upstairs to the 3rd? or was it the 4th floor of the hospital?  Three hours later the oncologist who was supposed to be away surprised us. I don’t recall his exact words, but he said something about consulting with his partners, a cat scan, spread, and how Rob who only a few weeks earlier had a prognosis of at least another year of life, was now terminal. Less than 4 weeks, he would be dead. 

This past Saturday, I was sipping a second cup of coffee when the date hit me. February 10. 9 a.m.  I had come home from a client the afternoon before suddenly feeling miserable, certain I had caught a bug. Sore throat, achy, headache behind the eyes. The body knows what consciousness cannot always grasp. I went to sleep early, waking Saturday morning and feeling off. And then I remembered. That is what grief is. Years can pass and in the space of an ordinary day, a sip of coffee, a date and time , and 

     the knees 

fall out from under.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Six Works by Black Authors to Read

A few books authored by Black writers that I’m looking forward to reading this February, including a most anticipated book (James) that will be published March 19, 2024.

1. The Trees: A Novel by Percival Everett —I’m reading this now. A tough opening of a book that tells of a series of brutal murders that take place in Money Mississippi. At each crime scene there is a second body of a man who resembles Emmett Till.

Shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize
Winner of the 2022 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
Finalist for the 2022 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award
Finalist for the 2023 Dublin Literary Award
Longlisted for the 2022 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

2. James by Percival Everett (published in March, 2024)— Oh what I would have given to have this book all those years ago when I taught Huck Finn.  This is an insightful retelling of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — all told through the eyes of Jim, an enslaved man making a bid for freedom on the Mississippi alongside Mark Twain’s Huck. I always thought Jim was the moral center of the novel. 

A most anticipated book of 2024.

3. Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward — What now feels like a few years ago, one of my book groups went on a reading spree of Ward’s books. Her fiction is often brutal and somehow at the same time compelling—connecting the past to the present.  Her novels are intriguing and so language-rich. This is a story of enslavement as told by a teenage girl, Annis.

4. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adejei-Brenyah —a debut story collection about growing up Black in the USA.

5. Survival Math: Notes on an All America Family by Mitchell S. Jackson—This summer I spent nearly a week in Portland, Oregon and this account of what Jackson terms, the Other America, surely resonates. The title of the work comes from the calculations Jackson and his family made to survive. 

6. Spectral Evidence: Poems by Gregory Pardo — One aspect of this book of poems that caught my interest was the poetic focus on MOVE, the militant separatist group that was bombed by Philadelphia government in 1985. Last year, a painting of mine was selected to be the cover to a memoir by one of the few survivors of that bombing. The narrative biography, Osage Avenue: Coming of Age in the Summer of MOVE by Tony Gervasi was riveting, tragic, especially given the immense loss he suffers.  I’m curious as to how this history translates to poetry. 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

One Addition to Better Writing in Grades 2-8

Article 4th graders were Writing About 

Often I see hardworking teachers trying to ensure their students compose clear, meaningful writing by relying on mnemonics, like R.A.C.E. (Restate question, answer question, cite evidence, explain evidence) and failing.  The issue with this strategy is that the single most critical aspect of writing, especially for younger learners is missing! Most students are able to restate the question and then they offer an answer and this is where the essays fall apart. The ‘answer’ almost always is incorrect, unclear, or vague. As a result, the ‘evidence’ that follows is usually wrong or unclear as well or at best too obvious. If an explanation follows it most often is an attempt to summarize what has been previously stated and given the absence of clarity, it too offers little to the reader. 

This is a recipe for failure. What is missing? The key term has not been defined or explained. I cannot overstate how critical this is. If children fail to define the term they are writing about, often what follows is a mess. 

Strategy in Action 

I had the opportunity last week to observe learning in a great 4th grade classroom in NJ. Students were engaged in writing an essay about how Yolanda Renee King is an activist. The teacher smartly provided early feedback to her students saying that they had not yet included evidence of what Ms. King had done and instead focused their writing on her grandfather, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  As I read students’ drafts, I noticed that all had neglected the critical step of defining the topic, in this case what an activist is. I mentioned this to the teacher and she regathered her students for some quick instruction. 

Seated in a circle, I asked the students to explain what an activist was. As the term was defined in the article they had read, students with some guidance were able to paraphrase quickly. Within a minute or two, we determined what an activist was and how Ms. King was an activist. I then asked them to insert that explanation of what an activist is into their essays—as the second sentence. We listened to a few students who read their revisions. Last, we discussed how this explanation of the key term now provided a guide for everything else that would follow. Their essays now could explain how Ms. King campaigned for change (environmental and gun control)  in order to make the world a better place. 

Focus on Thinking First

Without a definition to guide the composing, students often make a lot of syntax (sentence) errors and teachers spend considerable instructional time helping students correct those errors. What needs to be attended to initially is the students’ reasoning once a definition of the key term has happened. In this 4th grade classroom, because students had clarity about the topic, writing quality improved. Once clarity occurred, syntax errors were reduced as students focused on explaining how Ms. King was an activist by using the definition to guide the evidence they selected and their explanation. They made less errors simply because they understood what their argument was.

Instead of blindly following a formula that too often leads to error making, students stated an idea and expanded on it. What a difference this brief shift in instruction made in the students’ confidence and performance. 

Grade 3 Reading Challenge: A Key Action to Take

Developing reading stamina helps third graders comprehend grade level text. Reading stamina is the ability to read increasingly longer texts with ease. It develops through consistent (daily) practice. Building  to 30-minutes of sustained reading daily ought to be a goal both schools and parents champion. Parents and teachers can invite children to chart the number of minutes of reading they do each day until they build up to and then maintain a minimum of 30-minutes. This practice of charting motivates and allows children, parents, and teachers to track progress. 

For grades 2-5 students, reading series books is a great way to develop stamina. Once a child has read the first book in the series, that reading allows them to be familiar with the reoccurring characters in the series. This knowledge allows for three important things: 

1. Readers fall into the next book quickly due to familiarity. This helps readers finish books. 

2. Readers tend to want to keep reading to see what happens next in the series.

3. All of this practicing builds reading stamina, develops vocabulary, and increases confidence. 

Here are links to series books:

Measuring Reading Stamina

How is my child doing? This is often a question parents have. We want to know if our child is making progress and reading at grade level. Oral reading fluency tests quickly help a parent, a child, and the teacher answer that important question!  Words correct per minute has been shown, in both theoretical and empirical research, to serve as an accurate and powerful indicator of overall reading competence, especially in its strong correlation with comprehension.  - Hasbrouck & Tindal (2006).  

An easy and quick way to formally assess reading is to take a timed sample of a child reading a grade level passage and compare the performance (number of words read correctly per minute) with published Oral Reading Fluency Target (ORF) Rate Norms (Hasbrouck & Tindal, 1992). Grade level norms are listed below in a chart. 

MAZE is the assessment offered from grade 2 and higher that will provide educators and parents with a quick, free fluency and comprehension assessment. The materials and instructions can be downloaded from here:

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Books Read in 2023

Will be published in 2024

Hester - Laurie Lico Albanese

Outlive: The Science of Longevity- Peter Attia MD

The Book of Baraka - Ras Baraka

Build the Life You Want - Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey

Krantzman: A Memoir in Stories and Poems - Rob Cohen (will be publish in 2024)

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry - John Mark Comer

The Botanist - M. W. Craven

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion  

The Modigliani Scandal -Ken Follett

The Escape Artist -Jonathan Freedland  

Osage Avenue: Coming of Age in the Summer of MOVE   - Tony Gervasi

There’s Nothing for You Here - Fiona Hill

Rough Sleepers -Tracy Kidder

Demon Copperhead - Barbara Kingsolver 

When We Cease to Understand the World - Benjamin Labatut 

The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison 

Playing in the Dark - Toni Morrison 

Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison 

Sula - Toni Morrison 

Devotions -Mary Oliver 

Tom Lake - Anne Patchett

In Defense of Food - Michael Pollan

The 5-Second Rule - Mel Robbins 

Breathing Under Water - Richard Rohr 

Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape - Laura Savoy

Lost & Found - Kathryn Schulz

To Free the Captives -Tracy K. Smith 

Saving Katie; A Father’s Story - Steve Trebing

Remarkably Bright Creatures - Shelby Van Pelt

The Dictionary of Lost Words - Pip Williams

As it Turns Out: Thinking about Edie and Andy- Alice Sedgwick Wohl

Saturday, April 8, 2023

72 Hours

It’s not uncommon to think of inhumane historical events as non-repeating. The last few years in the US and frankly beyond our borders should awaken all to the idea the history is repeatable, especially outrageous acts of inhumanity. 

Women’s control of their own bodies is severely under assault by GOP-led politicians, judges, and pundits. The stance that a woman cannot determine her own well being is played out well beyond the matter of abortion. Women are positioned as chattel, items of property—not people. 

Racism is overt, cruel, and deadly especially for Black people. The ousting of Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson exemplify how bolden and brazen the Republican racism is in this country. These Republican elected officials in TN thought their actions were above critique or rebuke. Just read about the ‘Red Summer 1919’ when white supremacist terrorism ran wild without impunity and compare where we are now. 

Everyday there is gun violence in the United States. In the last 72 hours in the US there have been 60 gun incidents resulting in 30 deaths and an additional 52 people injured. Yesterday Gov. DeSantis joined Florida to 25 other states that allow concealed weapons to be carried without any kind of damn permit! 

72 hours from now in the US, there likely will be another 30 people dead, another 52 people injured and folks will continue to return to state houses and Washington the very folks who support this violence on women, persons of color, and the entire country.