Sunday, July 28, 2013


Birches (M.A. Reilly 2013)


When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Comprehension, Vocabulary & Writing Development in Grade 2: Previewing a New E-Book

I am just getting ready to publish the second volume of read aloud instruction on iTunes for grade 2. This is a continuation in a series of ebooks I have produced. In this ebook, there are seven units of study.  Within the units of study there is direct instruction focusing on comprehension, vocabulary, and writing in response to text, as well as independent reading.

The texts below are referenced in this ebook. For each text  there is a multi-day lesson.

Unit 1: Inspiring People
Bruchac, Joseph. (2009). Rachel Carson: Preserving a Sense of Wonder. Illustrated by Thomas Locker. Golden, CO: Fulcrum. (No Lexile Level Available)
Lawlor, Laurie. (2012). Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World. Illustrated by Laura Beingessener. New York: Holiday House. (890L)
McGinty, Alice B. (2013). Gandhi: A March to the Sea. Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Las Vegas, NV: AmazonChildren’s Publishing. (No Lexile Level Available)
Roth, Susan & Cindy Trumbore. (2011). The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families. Collages by Susan Roth. New York: Lee and Low Books. (1180L)
Winter, Jeanette. (2011). The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps. New York: Schwartz & Wade/Random House. (820L)
Winter, Jonah. 2009. Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx: La juez que crecio en el Bronx. Illustrated by Edel Rodriguez. New York: Atheneum. (840L)

Unit 2: Soil Habitats
Aston, Dianna Hutts. (2012). A Rock is Lively. Illustrated by Sylvia Long. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books. (1110L)
Bial, Raymond. (2000). A Handful of Dirt. New York: Walker Childrens. (1190L)
BodhaGuru Videos. (2012). Science - Soil Formation and Soil Layers. Retrieved 5.12.13
Murray Raymond C. (2005). Collecting Crime Evidence from Earth. Geotimes. (1280L)
Tomacek, Steve. (2007). Jump into Science: Dirt. Illustrated
by Nancy Woodman. Washington DC: National Geographic. (840L)

Unit 3: Noticing an Author’s Language
Christian, Peggy. (2008). If You Find a Rock. Photos by Barbara Hirsch Lember. New York: Sandpiper. (980L)
Collins, Pat Lowery. (1994). I Am an Artist. Illustrated by Robin Brickman. Millbrook Press. (1210L)
Hesse, Karen. (1999). Come On, Rain. Illustrated by Jon Muth. New York: Scholastic. (760L)

Unit 4: American Tall Tales
Kellogg, Steve. (2004). Paul Bunyan. New York: HarperCollins. (1030L)
Lester, Julius. (1999). John Henry. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. New York: Puffin. (720L)
Mora, Pat. (2005). Dona Flor: A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart. Illustrated by Raul Colon. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.(860L)
Nolen, Jerdine. (2003). Thunder Rose. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. San Diego, CA: Silver Whistle/Harcourt. (910L)
John Henry Video. Retrieved 7.11.13 from https://
S.E. Schlosser, S.E. Casey Jones: A Tennessee Legend.

Unit 5: The Power of Community
Cohn, Diana. (2002). ¡Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! Janitor Strike in L.A. Illustrated by Francisco Delgado. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press. (No Lexile Level)
DiSalvo-Ryan, DyAnne. (1994). City Green. New York: HarperCollins. (480L)
McKissack, Patricia. (2008). Stichin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt. Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera. New York: Random House. (No Lexile Level Available)
Tate, Don. (2012). It Jes Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. New York: Lee and Low Books. (840L)

Unit 6: All About Trees

Buchmann, Steven and Diana Cohn. (2012). The Bee TreeIllustrated by Paul Mirocha. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press. (1190L)
Chin, Jason. (2009). RedwoodsNew York: Roaring Brook Press. (1100L)
Guiberson, Brenda. (2009). Life in a Boreal Forest. Illustrated by Gennady Spirin. New York: Henry Holt. (860L)

Unit 7: Wants and Needs

Elya, Susan Middleton. (2006).  Home at Last. Illustrated by Felipe Davalos. New York: Lee & Low Books. (No Lexile Level)
English, Karen. (2004). Hot Day on Abbott Avenue. Illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. New York: Clarion Books. (640L)
Johnson, Angela. (2003). I Dream of Trains. Illustrated by Loren Long. New York: Simon & Schuster. (No Lexile Level)
Larson, Jennifer S. (2012). Do I Need It? Or Do I Want It? Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications. (510L)
Park, Linda Sue. (2004). The Firekeeper’s Son. Illustrated by Julie Downing. New York: Sandpiper. (450L)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Thinking About Line, Shape, and Tone

Swing  (Reilly, 2013)

Repose (Reilly, 2013)

Earlier in the week Anna Smith (@writerswriting) and Joseph McCaleb (@DocHorseTales) shared a video, Inge Druckery: Learning to See. It is such an inspirational film about how art education can alter how we see.

I was moved to try some of the ideas that Igne and her students created.

Here are a few.

Two Squares (Reilly, 2013)

5 Lines (Reilly, 2013)

The Sea (Reilly, 2013)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Product Worth Buying: Imagination Playground

I so appreciate the thinking that informs Imagination Playground: Provide kids with open space and portable blocks and observe how they make their own play space and what gets enacted and invented within that made space. If I had a school, I'd invest in this type of product along with lots and lots of blocks, sand, water, paints, musical instruments (especially different types of drums and sticks), and other stuff children can find and use to make things.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Making Ends Meet: Children's Books That Explore Social Class, Homelessness, and Poverty

I. Contemporary Works

Boelts, Maribeth. (2009). Those Shoes. Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Castaneda, Omar. (1995). Abuela's Weave. Illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez. New York: Lee and Low Books.
Chinn, Karen .(1997).  Sam and the Lucky Money. Illustrated by Cornelius Van wright ad Ying-Hwa Hu. New York: Lee and Low Books.

Cohn, Diana. (2005).¡Si, Se Puede! / Yes, We Can!: Janitor Strike in L.A. Illustrated by Francisco Delgado. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.

Cohn, Diana. (2011). Roses for IsabellaIllustrated by Amy Cordova. Great Barrington, MA: Steiner Books.

Cooper, Melrose. (1998). Getting Through Thursday. Illustrated by Nneka Bennett. New York: Lee and Low Books.
from A Shelter in Our Car.
Croza, Laurel. (2010).  I Know HereIllustrated by Matt James. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.
Cumpiano, Ina. (2009). Quinito's Neighborhood. El Vecindario de Quinito. Illustrated by José Ramírez. New York: Lee and Low/Children's Book Press.
DiSalvo, D. (2001). A Castle on Viola Street. New York: HarperCollins.
Fine Edith Hope. (2007). Armando and the Blue Tarp School. Illustrated by Judith Pinkerton Josephson. New York: Lee and Low Books.
Gonzalez, Rigoberto. (2003). Soledad Sigh-SighsIllustrated by Rosa Ibarra. San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press. 
Gunning, Monica. (2004). A Shelter in Our Car. Illustrated by Elaine Pedlar. San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press. 
Hazen, Barbara. (1983).  Tough TimesIllustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. New York: Puffin Books.
Kurusa. (2008). The Streets are Free. Illustrated by Monika Doppert. Buffalo, NY: Annick Press.
Lyon, George Ella. (1994). Mama is a MinerIllustrated by Peter Catalanotto. New York: Orchard Books. 
from Yasmin's Hammer
Malaspina. Ann. (2010). Yasmin's Hammer. Illustrated by Doug Chayka. New York: Lee and Low.
McGovern, Ann. (1999).  The Lady in the Box. Illustrated by Marni Backer. New York: Turtle Books.
Mora, Pat. (2000). Tomas and the Library LadyIllustrated by Raul Colon. New York: Dragonfly Books.
Perez, Amanda Irma. (2008). My Very Own Room/Mi propio cuartito.Illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez. New York: Lee and Low.
Ryan, DyAnne DiSalvo. (1997). Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen. New York: Harper Collins.
Seskin, Steve and Allen Shamblin. (2006). A Chance to Shine. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. San Francisco, CA: Tricycle Press.
Smothers, Ethel Footman. (2003). The Hard-Times Jar. Illustrated by John Holyfield.  New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Stuve-Bodeen, Stephanie. (2008). Babu's Song. Illustrated by Aaron Boyd. New York: Lee and Low.
Williams, Laura E. (2010). The Can Man. Illustrated by Craig Orback. New York: Lee and Low.
Woodson, Jacqueline. (2012). Each Kindness. Illustrated by E.B.Lewis. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books.

II. Historical Fiction 

Birtha, Becky. (2010). Lucky Beans. Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Company.
Fitzpatrick, Mary Louise. (2001). The Long March: Choctaw's Gift to Irish Famine Relief. San Francisco, CA: Tricycle Press.
Henson, Heather. (2008). That Book Woman. Illustrated by David Small. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Hopkinson, Deborah. (2006). Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building. Illustrated by James E. Ransome. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books / Random House.
Johnson Angela. (2003). I Dream of Trains. Illustrated by Loren Long. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Levitin, Sonia. (2007). Junkman's Daughter. Illustrated by Guy Porfirio. Sleeping Bear Press. 
Lied, Kate. (1997). Potato: A Tale from the Great Depression. Illustrated by Lisa Campbell Ernst. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
Lindsay, Kathleen. (2008). Sweet Potato PieIllustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb. New York: Lee and Low Books.
Miller, William. (2008). Rent Party JazzIllustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb. New York: Lee and Low Books.
Mills, Lauren. (1991). The Rag Coat. Boston: Little, Brown.
Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan. (2011). The Secret River. Illustrated by Leo Dillon and Dianne Dillon. New York: Atheneum Books.
Rocklif, Mara. (2012). My Heart Will Not Sit Down.  Illustrated y Ann Tanksley. New York: Knopf.
Schoettler, Joan. (2011). Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth. Illustrated by Jessica Lanan. Walnut Creek, CA: Shen's Books.
Wallace, Ian. (2005). Boy of the Deeps. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.

III. Nonfiction

from Brave Clara
Brown, Monica. (2004). My Name Is Celia/Me llamo Celia.  Illustrated by Rafael Lopez. New York: Cooper Square Publishing.
Herrera, Juan Felipe. (2001).  Calling the Doves/El canto de las palomas. Illustrated by Elly Simmons. New York: Lee and Low Books.
Jimenez, Francisco. (1998). La Mariposa.  Illustrated by Simon Silva. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Lyon, George Ella. (2009). You and Me and Home Sweet Home. Illustrated by Stephanie Anderson. New York: Atheneum Books
Markel, M. (2013). Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. New York: Balzer & Bray.
Schrock, Jan West. (2013). Give a Goat. Illustrated by Aileen Darragh. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House. 
Shulevitz, Uri. (2008). How I Learned Geography. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

from How I Learned Geography

Monday, July 1, 2013

Network Improvement Communities: Teaching, Researching, and Designing Learning in Newark

Making Meaning with Paint (Robert Treat Academy Central, 2013)
I. Entering

It has been a most amazing year.  I am finally catching my breath and wanted to take some time here to discuss the work my company, Blueprints for Learning, has done with teachers, administrators, students and parents in Newark, NJ and what that work means.

This year we partnered with 7 schools in Newark focusing on K-2 literacy at four of the schools, K-8 mathematics and K-8 literacy at two of the schools, and 6-8 literacy at one school.  On every measure schools used, children at our partner school sites were able to demonstrate very significant gains in literacy and mathematics.  The vast majority of children at all of our sites will enter the next school year having met or exceeded all school and district benchmarks.

So what went right?

II. Working in Network Learning Communities

A principal and teachers from different schools work together to dramatize a scene from
a Barry Lopez essay. (Newark, 2013)

First, we have no set program, but we did create relationships with our clients.  It is in the context of these relationships that community knowledge was made. Making community knowledge allowed us to understand our work as flawed, flexible and (in)formed by emerging situations.  We revised our work so often that we understood this behavior as essential to creating conditions where effective learning most often happens. Alongside community knowledge, commitment arose. (I suspect community knowledge and commitment are co-specifying).

Administrators and third grade teachers from different
sites working together. (Newark, 2013)
One observation an assistant superintendent in the city made that I most prized was that everyone from Blueprints spoke with teachers and children with great respect and clarity.  I imagine this occurred a a norm because we experienced teachers, administrators and children as partners.  These partnerships allowed us to frame and respond to emerging situations.  Because we worked across 7 sites within a city, we also were able to leverage the power of that network, which formed and remade itself as different alliances and commitments grew.  The dynamic nature of network improvement communities allowed us to situate our work in the middle of learning spaces as teachers, researchers, learners, and designers.  I think here David Weinberger's observation that " a networked world, knowledge lives not in books or in heads but in the network itself" (p. 45).

Jal Mehta (2013) in The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling writes about network improvement communities (Bryk & Gomez, 2008) as promising practices in education improvement.  He says:

Here the idea is to bring together local practitioners, researchers, and commercial designers around a set of shared objectives and across a number of networked schools. Rather than stage the process in the usual way (first research, then policy, then implementation), researchers, practitioners, and designers work together in real time to develop, adapt, and revise knowledge to solve a problem of practice across a variety of institutions. Learning takes place at three levels: the classroom, the school, and across the network. This model is particularly promising because it expands upon the more familiar idea of individual “learning organizations” and provides a process by which we could capture and adapt knowledge across a diverse network of schools" (5342-5343). 
Teachers observe as a kindergarten teacher teaches
a high intensity literacy lesson to her students.
(McKinley Elementary School, Newark, 2013)
Rather than understand emerging conditions as being uni-dimensional (i.e., a reading problem, teacher x's problem) and solely the 'problem' or 'practice' of a school, classroom, teacher, or child--we were able to understand these situations through a variety of lenses as networked intelligence informed our understanding. This led us to routinely create occasions that situated consultants, administrators, researchers, authors, and teachers from different places alongside one another. This juxtaposition allowed all of us to better learn and problem frame and solve.

III. Looking Toward

As we think about next year, we will privilege designing ongoing occasions where learners (that would be all of us) connect, contextualize, collaborate and create in more idiosyncratic ways with one another, as well as with others beyond the city.  At a workshop I conducted during the last week of school, I was so pleased to hear teachers and administrators in attendance getting one another's email so that they could stay in touch and work together during the summer and next year.  They valued one another's work.  For next year I have tentatively designed the opportunity for 300+ educators to learn in cross-school PLCs focusing on mathematics and literacy instruction.

I'll let you know what emerges from that invitation...

Work Cited
Mehta, Jal (2013-04-02). The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling (Studies in Postwar American Political Development). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

Weinberger, David (2012-01-03). Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest People. Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Maps and What Not

Looking (Tuscany, 2009)
I. the set up

Anna Smith (@writerswriting) told me about the Making Cycle series (#clmooc) and thought I might be interested in it as I like to make stuff. So I followed the link she provided and thought it the perfect reason to return to my neglected blog with a post in response. 

The focus for this week is on exploring the tenets of connected learning as expressed in these three key questions:

  • How is what you create driven by your interests?
  • How is your learning and making supported by peers?
  • How is your learning and making connected to larger systems?
The suggestion beyond these questions is to make a map that represents your making.  (Imagine my surprise that an earlier post I wrote about learning walks is referenced.)  A perfect day for that too.  Overcast with the hint of fog--every photographer's best day at that. There are all ways of walking.  Some happen largely on the feet.  Some happen mostly in the mind.  At best these differences may be hard to differentiate--not worth the bother.

II. an interlude
What is Written (Sant'Anna at Campana, 2009)

Last Thursday I learned that I won a trip to Italy. The last time I was in Italy I went alone and spent two weeks there, most of it at a monastery in Tuscany where I made art and practiced zen. The light in Tuscany is everything everyone says it is: too pure, it almost pains. It seems to set into focus specific parts of the landscape, like Hopper captured in Maine. To know I will be returning sometime this year fills me with confidence that I will return to making images--something that in this too busy year I have made less and less of.

Spun Gold (Tuscany, 2009)
This time I will travel with my husband and son and we will spend time in Tuscany and the south of England--where I recall the light as being bolder, working off the ocean with a sense of urgency.  I will bring my camera, a small box of paints, some paper, a brush, and a pencil or two. And the work I make there and later will be temporary maps, lighting possible ways.  This time I want to also work with sound. 
(Plymouth, England, 2012)

III. middle spaces

Like most walks, learning and not, the first physical steps happen while on your feet.  They begin with some intention--even if the intention is less clear, such as to wander, to be lost.  When you practice zen walking the focus is on putting one foot in front of the other, deliberately, nothing more or less.  At the monastery, we did such walking, a method that seems to clear the mind.  Now make images, says Doug. Make them at noon when the sun is directly above. Break the rules you think you know. Make portraits (see top image). 

And the walking, then and now, strips away the clutter, leaves  making photographs simple, doable, like this morning my husband taught me how to make coffee.  This is what it means to be in the middle: way leading on to way, loosing the need to know and the pretense of expertise.

Later today I will be meeting a friend in Morristown. Nearly two years to the day from the learning walk I documented. Who knows what might happen... Connected learning is less about the connections made with others, and more about the connections that happen when open to possibility. 

It's largely a way of living.