E.B. White and Spiders

This month, E.B. White’s classic Charlotte’s Web is the read-aloud book for the 2nd grade. They take the book home to share with their families; the hallway is decorated with spiders and pigs. The enthusiasm shown by teachers and students alike is “T double-E double-R double-R double-I double-F double-I double C, C, C!” to quote the Goose in the novel.

I mentioned to one of the teachers that I had seen an exhibit at the Eric Carle museum in 2013. The exhibit, Some Book, Some Art: Selected Drawings by Garth Williams for Charlotte’s Web, celebrated the 60th anniversary of the novel with original illustrations by Garth Williams. They showed how the spider drawing “morphed” as a collaboration between White and Williams.

At the end of the exhibit, there was a poem that  White wrote in 1929 shortly after his marriage.  The poem’s title is “Natural History” and the first of three stanzas reads:spider

“The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unwinds a thread of his devising;
A thin, premeditated rig
To use in rising.”

The choice of words such as “devising” and “premeditated” are certainly part of any spider’s nature, but these characteristics are central to the plot the character of Charlotte devises to rescue the pig Wilber from the butcher’s block.

White also saw spiders also as loyal, spinning metaphorical connections of threads to lives as evidenced by the closing stanza:

“Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you
For my returning.”

While it is unlikely the 2nd graders will understand all the language of White’s poem, their experience with the character of Charlotte-her loyalty, her bravery, and her compassion- will be the silken strand that keeps them forever connected to this wonderful book.


The Lucky Shamrock In the Hallway

St PatsBecause I grew up in a large Irish Catholic family (nine children), I am conditioned to expect to see decorations of shamrocks, pots of gold, and leprechauns every March 17th.

And because of my job, I am able to see how this tradition is being passed on in schools, even when the students are not all Irish Catholic. Schools today use St. Patrick’s Day as one way to discuss the culture heritage of this holiday in America today.

When I walked down the hall this morning, I saw how the teachers had used the motif of luck in their hallway decorations. There were construction paper rainbows attached to construction paper pots of gold. On the bow of each arch was the statement, “I am fortunate because of my ….” This statement was completed by each student with a different sentiment: a puppy, a friend, a nice house, or lunch.

On the opposite wall, there were the leprechauns and additional shamrocks with even more student writing. Students wrote that they were lucky because of favorite foods, favorite books, and recess.

Then, I found the one shamrock almost hidden behind a dancing green leprechaun that touched on a fraternal nerve:

 “I am lucky because my report card was better than my brother’s.”

Reducing academics to luck? Sibling rivalry with a brother? A confession?

How much does that statement sound like someone who could relate to growing up in a big-maybe even a big Irish- family?

The Rabbits Who Lead

Every new initiative that becomes a success must first have a few brave rabbits that leap quickly ahead.Racing-Rabbit-line-png

That is illustrated by the recent adoption of Google Docs in our middle school as a collaborative writing platform. Two teachers, one from ELA and one from science, created a  series of interdisciplinary lessons based on the bestselling book by Andy Weir, The Martian. They submitted the lessons to a contest Curious Classroom offered by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (kicking off their new website HMH Marketplace). These lessons explained that they would be using many of the instructional strategies with these lessons that they do everyday and won second place: 30 Chromebooks and 500 books.

According to the Curious Classroom website, the 2nd place winners

“…were rewarded “for their collaborative and engaging interdisciplinary mini-unit based on Weir’s novel, The Martian, which helps students learn about the science behind realistic fiction. Matt DiGioia and Sherry Mitchell, teachers at Bailey Middle School in West Haven, CT, created a collaborative resource that highlights Language Arts and Science lessons, but can be easily modified and applied across the curriculum.”

The success of their venture is an example for other teachers to follow, but more important was the authentic lesson they taught their students. These teachers collaborated in submitting the lessons and encouraged student participation. The success of their 2nd place finish demonstrated to students how to be a part of a larger venture…a Google Doc adventure of sorts.

Now that these rabbits are out of the gate…the pack will follow.

“Stop Crossing that Delaware!”

What do you remember from your time in spent history class?

Screenshot 2016-02-17 22.10.07

1851 oil-on-canvas painting by the German American artist Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

Chances are, you remember Washington crossing the Delaware.
You remember he crossed the Delaware when you were in 5th grade…
And you remember he crossed the Delaware (again) when you were in 8th grade…
And you remember he crossed the Delaware (again, again) when you were in in high school.

You may want to consider how that iconic moment could represent all those moments that Social Studies/History teachers repeatedly revisited in your education.

Yes, there are almost 80 years between that winter crossing during the American Revolution and that shot at Fort Sumter that set off the Civil War…but not a lot of reteaching on those 80 years of Constitution making, British blockading, and tear trailing.

Besides, while Washington’s sneak attack on the Hessians’ celebration at their winter quarters in Trenton, New Jersey, was a military coup, there is something a little underhanded about attacking at Christmas.

The National Council of Social Studies has approved  new frameworks for social studies teachers to follow that address this problem of reteaching. They are called  The College, Career and Civic Life Frameworks for Social Studies – the C3s – and the emphasis is not on teaching the the iconic events, but on the skills all students need to be members of a democratic society.

So while history repeats its, the C3s are to stop the repeating of history… and the crossing of the Delaware, again.




100 Days Down; 80 To Go

Today was the 100th day of school in the elementary schools. To mark the event students wore hats decorated with the proclamation, “I am 100 days smarter today!”100 days

Of course, the possibility of inclement weather in Connecticut makes the planning for celebrating “fluid”, and teachers had to be flexible. At this late date, there have been two snow day cancellations in spite of a remarkably warm winter.

By law, students must attend 180 days (or “nine hundred hours of actual school work for full-day kindergarten and grades one to twelve”), leaving 185 days in the year (…and don’t forget 2016 is a leap year!)

In other words, students attend school LESS than 1/2 the year. Given all the effort, however, the school year just seems…. longer.

Literacy Night Seuss-cess!

One of the goals for all teachers in our West Haven School District is the “parent communication” goal. For this goal, teachers’ efforts to engage families in the instructional program are supposed to be “frequent and successful.” While the literacy nights the schools run annually are not frequent (two a year) one cannot argue with their very obvious success.

IMG_0072Over 400 people attended this particular literacy night, which was thematically dedicated to Dr. Seuss. A great deal of interest was generated by the school’s art department and the reading department….Cats in Hats were everywhere!


Over 400 people attending Literacy Night at the Savin Rock Community School (in collaboration with Washington School)

The ziti dinner proved so popular that tables and chairs were soon in short supply. Families crowded side by crowded side. After the meal, students sat on the floor to learn about the life of Dr. Seuss. They wrote short responses to a prompt that asked what they would do if they were visited by Thing One and Thing Two.

Families sat around the tables chatting with each other, teachers circulated, and students proudly displayed literacy skills. Most importantly, every child was given a book.

Literacy night=Parent goal achieved.

Two Proposals for NCTE Conference: November 2016

It’s conference proposal time for the National Council of Teachers of English and I have waited until the eleventh hour (literally 12:59 PST) to complete two proposals. This conference will  be held in Atlanta, Georgia in November 2016.

2016 ac logo

Here are the short explanations that I am submitting this year…I hope one gets picked!

Get Your Game App On for Teacher PD

Why should students be the only ones who have the opportunity to play games in class? Game
application programs are just as powerful an instructional tool for teachers as they are for their students, because game apps can deliver professional development content to educators in an engaging and challenging way.

 ProjecTILE- a community interactive Scrabble Adventure

This presentation will demonstrate the steps taken to plan and tomdesign a middle school’s Family Game Night that focused on the crossroads of math and literacy skills using the “crosswords” found in a life-sized Scrabble board installed in the school.