Saturday, December 31, 2011

Never Too Old To Be Read To

I have long been an advocate of the power of reading aloud. 

When my children were little we would curl up together on the couch and have adventures galore via wonderful books.  I’ll never forget my son running from the room when he couldn’t bear to hear another moment of the gripping drama unfolding in Meet Addy by Connie Porter, or the laughter we shared when Morris the Moose got a cold and Boris the Bear cared for him (series by B. Wiseman).  For years, he and his sister had imaginary orphan adventures after hearing The Boxcar Children and tales from The Orphan Train Quartet. 

Later, when my son went through a reluctant reader spell, I had only to read the first chapter aloud of something I knew he’d like before he’d begrudgingly grab it, saying, “Ok, I’ll read it.” 

When I became an elementary school librarian, the greatest joy of each day was coming to the end of a story and watching several hands thrust in the air with pleading cries of, “Can I have that book!?” 

In my own classroom the magic continued, but deepened, with the addition of chapter books and strategic stopping points.  “Noooooooooooo!  You can’t stop there!!!!!  Just a little more!”  Followed by a sheepish and a bit smug, “Tomorrow.”   

Lately I’ve been reminded of the power of a good story after reading aloud to a gravely ill friend.  She mentioned in a Facebook post that her current medication affected her eyes, making reading difficult.  When I asked if I might come read to her, she said yes.  We started with one of my favorites, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.  We made if halfway through in our first sitting and finished it in the second.  This dear friend cried, then laughed through her tears, exclaiming that she couldn’t believe she cared so much about a china rabbit.  I guess we are never too old to be carried away by beautiful words and the powerful magic of the read aloud.   

 cross posted at

Friday, December 9, 2011


Learning is not attained by chance.  It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.  
~ Abigail Adams

Learning can be fun, but there is a span of time between initial attempt and acquirement where the learner may feel tentative and unsure. 

I was at Joan's house when she was training her new puppy to come down the stairs independently.  She'd plop him up on the second step and lovingly coax and encourage.  Cooper wagged his little behind nervously while looking from the goal (the floor) to Joan (the coach) and back to the goal again.  Time and tenuous successes led to independence, evidenced by a puppy who now zooms up and down the stairs whether Joan wants him to or not. 

My daughter and I recently tried to get my grandbaby to take his first steps.  I laughed when I recognized how similar it was to Cooper's process.  My daughter and I sat about 2 feet apart, aimed Caleb, and the receiver would coax and encourage with open arms.  Caleb was at first completely conflicted, desiring to span the distance, but looking at us like "Are you serious?  I'm not sure I can do this!"  Initial Frankenstein steps have progressed to bowlegged cowboy ones, and his joy in the skill is such that he wanders around the house now just because it's fun. 

My heart longs to know how to play the guitar.   My son recently tried to teach me two chords.  Trying to manipulate my left hand into the unfamiliar and unnatural claw shapes required feels beyond my ability.  Even though the end result is something I really want, this phase of learning is far from fun. 

These recent experiences have created mental snapshots that have me thinking about the process of learning. Being a primary teacher, I tend to be sunny and positive and have a "Learning is Fun" mantra….but perhaps it would better serve my kids to say "Learning is sometimes really hard!  The fun comes once the skill is acquired, so the hard work is worth it.  We must be diligent."

Reading isn't fun yet for my struggling readers.  Thinking mathematically isn't fun for the students who haven't yet developed number sense.  But, if I coach well, if we all coach well, we can move through the parts that are just plain hard work, knowing that joy and fun are on the other side. 

(cross posted at

Friday, September 16, 2011

Can You See Me Now?

So…..I need new glasses.  Finding new frames is not a chore I relish or enjoy.  My friend Joan agreed to meet me and help me find the perfect pair.  I got to the vision store before she did and had about 10 pairs in the ‘maybe’ pile when she arrived. 

We sat down across from each other and I proceeded to put on pair after pair, watching her face for affirmation or rejection.   The last pair happened to be the worst pair I could find, simply because I love to make Joan laugh.  And laugh she did.  Her guffaw was so surprising and unexpected to the gal behind the counter that she said, “Ok…turn around….I need to see this.”  I turned around.  “Umm, those are what we call birth control frames.” 

Before I took them off I said, “You should take a picture with your phone and send it to Gail.  Tell her these are the ones we decided on.”  Just prior to snapping the photo I said,  “WAIT” and took the temporary fake fronts off 3 of my teeth, what I like to call….Rockin’ the Hillbilly look.  Joan snapped the picture. “Send one to my dad too, he’ll love it.”

Later that evening I called my dad to ask how he liked my picture.  “I didn’t get a picture from you.” 

“Sure you did…it’s in your phone.  Look in your phone.”

“ picture.”

And that’s when the small niggling seed of fear sprouted into a moment of horror.  I hung up the phone and dialed Joan.

“Joan!  What number did you send that picture to?”



I can’t help but wonder about the stranger who got that picture of me.  I wonder if he or she laughed as hard as we did. 

Is there a lesson?  There are a few.
Always shop for frames with a friend (we found a good pair). 
Laughter is good for the heart and soul.
Double check the number before you hit send.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Who Else?

For the sake of transparency, I will admit that I seldom read books for adults.  Because of my desire to always be ready to match a child with a book, or have the perfect text for a focus lesson, or discover the next great read aloud, my reading diet leans heavily toward picture books and chapter books for kids. 

However, upon the insistent urging of a friend, I have read a few grown up books this summer, the latest being The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister.

I was so enamored with the exquisite writing in the following excerpt that I read it three times:

Lillian had been four years old when her father left them, and her mother, stunned, had slid into books like a seal into water.  Lillian had watched her mother submerge and disappear, sensing instinctively even at her young age the impersonal nature of a choice made simply for survival, and adapting to the niche she would now inhabit, as a watcher from the shore of her mother’s ocean. (page 7)

Did your jaw drop open like mine did?  Ordinary words, carefully selected and combined, created such a powerful image that I had to pause for a moment in reverent awe. 

My reading comprehension is often interrupted with punctuated bursts of  “Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to share this with ______.” or “Who else needs to know about this book?” It is a rare occasion that I get together with Joan and Gail that I don’t have a book in hand….which is typically thrust at them with the demand, “You have to read this” before visiting and work can commence.  I read the above passage out loud to Joan and she immediately downloaded the rest of it on her Kindle.

Do you find the same thing to be true in your reading life?  Do you and your friends and colleagues swap terrific titles?  Are you always thinking about whom else needs to know about the book you are currently in love with? 

I want to create that same fervor and passion amongst my students.  I don’t think I give them enough time to talk with each other about what they are reading. I don’t think I’ve modeled explicitly enough, ending book talks with words like,  “Rachel, I thought of you when I was reading this because you love horses and mysteries too.  Would you like to put it in your book box next?”  I want to create a culture where students readily think about and offer answers to the following: Who else would love this author?  Who else needs to read this because they love learning about…?  Who else should read this series because they love being scared…or they love books that make them laugh?  If I really allow them to get to know each other as a community of readers, they’ll easily be able to identify and answer the “Who Else?”

On a side note…I jotted a quick note to Erika Bauereister, telling her how amazing the book was and got the following reply.  

Dear Lori,

Thank you so much for your letter.  I love the idea of you reading, reading, reading, so you'll always know the right book for your students.  When my kids were younger, I was the "book lady" for their classrooms.  Every month I would bring in five new books, which I would present and then leave for the classroom library.  Such fun -- I felt like Santa Claus 12 times a year...

I am also glad that you took a break to read a book just for you, too, and that it was mine :)

All the best,

Now, wouldn’t you love to have a parent helper like that? 

(cross posted at

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 10 for 10: Picture Book Event

We Are in a Book! is just one of the many books we read by the brilliant Mo Willems.  I hope I get to hug him in person one day and thank him for the endearing and engaging books that emergent and reluctant readers will read over and over.  Genius!

Silver Seeds by Paul Paolilli is stunningly beautiful and a must when we study and write poetry. 

My Lucky Day is the one I start with when we do a Keiko Kasza author study.  It's a fun read aloud, funny, and a lot to think about in terms of what is truly happening with this tricky little pig.

The Ok Book By Amy Krouse Rosenthal is one we read early in the year.  We are all good at some things, and ok at most...and that's ok.

Night of the Veggie Monster by George McClements makes me laugh!  This poor kid hates peas so much that if even one touches his tongue he turns into a veggie monster.  Having gotten in trouble for spitting mine into a napkin and the toilet when I was young, I can relate.        

 Chicken Butt by Erica S. Perl is a guilty pleasure since I wasn’t allowed to say “butt” when I was growing up.  My students feel the same.  Jacob read it at least a hundred times before relinquishing it to a friends book box.

Walk On! By Marla Frazee is a must in our room because we can all relate to the struggle of trying to learn something new.  It is a book for all ages, because the steps we follow as we move towards new goals are very much the same as this adorable baby takes.

Superhero ABC by Bob McLeod is fun and wacky and imaginative.  Each unusual hero has skills to match their designated letter.  Bubble-Man not only blows bubbles at bad guys…but he’s bald.    

Pickle-Chiffon Pie by Jolly Roger Bradfield is a silly kid pleaser with a really sweet message.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams is a must since our school is so diverse.  Life in a refugee camp and the desire to come to America is very real for some of our students.  In this book, two girls find a way to share one pair of sandals.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Chance Encounter

My mom had her right hip replaced last Monday and in the days following, my father and I took turns keeping vigil by her bedside.
If you’ve ever had a hospital stay, you know that it is far from restful (unless you are pumped full of morphine). Beeps, chimes and alarms sounded continuously. Registered Nurses, Certified Nurse Assistants, Doctors, Residents, Human Resources Representatives, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists and Housekeeping Employees came and went with such flowing regularity that we finally stopped closing the door.
One such visitor was unlike all the rest.
He was middle aged, wore a hospital badge, and smiled when he saw my mom. “When I saw your name on the board, I just had to come up to say hello. I don’t know if you remember me, but…” at which time my mother interrupted with his name. “That’s right!” he replied.
Then he looked at me and explained. “Your mom was my fifth grade teacher. My mom and dad had just uprooted us from Florida and I was a lost little boy. I’ll never forget your mom’s kindness.”
They caught up a little bit before he politely excused himself.
I felt so touched by the exchange. It was a powerful reminder that what we do matters. Education is taking a beating right now…and educators are being disrespected and maligned at every turn. However…there are so many outstanding educators…and while we can’t single handedly save education, we can single handedly have a lasting and powerful impact on the children we serve today. If we continue to love them madly, respect them deeply, and teach them fiercely, we too will be helping to form tomorrow’s citizens, whom we may be fortunate enough to cross paths with again many years from now.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Could Get Used To This

I drive a Lexus but I don’t live in a Lexus world. My clothes and home furnishings are mostly hand-me-downs. The rusty-red hued shag carpet has endured many a footfall in its 30+ years on the floor. We bring stacks of books home from the public library instead of buying them at the bookstore. When it’s time to change the oil on the afore mentioned Lexus, I wait for a coupon so I can take it into Oil and Toil (not the real name).
We purchased the car when it was 5 years old from a woman who wanted a hybrid, so I didn’t even know where the Lexus dealer was when I received a recall notice for a minor repair. After doing a little research, I found the closest dealer and was genuinely welcomed by a friendly employee. After checking in, he led me to a leather sofa where I could correct math tests for the next hour and a half or so. He invited me to help myself to the coffee, tea, pastries, water and juices before making his way back, past the sparkling saltwater tank (where I found Nemo), March Madness on the big screen, and beautifully groomed, suited salesmen.
I sunk into the comfortable couch and thought, “I could get used to this.”
I had finished my coffee, the math tests, and was deeply engrossed in my book when I saw him returning. “I’m sorry this is taking longer than I said it would. If you can give me 10 more minutes I’ll have it washed for you and fill it up with gas.”
“Who would say no to that?” I wondered.
As I drove home, I kept thinking about my experience and wondering how it might translate into education. How does entrance into our schools provide students with a glimpse into a world they might not live in?
· *Two meals a day! I could get used to this.
· *Learning can be fun? I could get used to this.
· *My teacher thinks I’m smart. I could get used to this.
One of my students told me daily for a couple weeks that I was nice. She switched it up in week 3 saying, “Mrs. Sabo, I like how you treat us.” I hunkered down and asked her to explain. What she was essentially saying was… kindness feels good - and she could get used to it.
As teachers, we can provide our students with a glimpse into a world they can truly be part of, one of academic success and outstanding character. It is a profound responsibility. Let’s let our classrooms become their Lexus experience.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Just Keep Writing

So, at one of my conferences a parent shared that her son came home
with writing all over his leg. When she asked him why he had writing
all over his leg, he said he had gotten stuck (didn't know what to
write about during writer's workshop). “Shouldn’t you have asked for
help?” " Well, that would break my stamina.”

Well…at least he didn’t stop writing.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Different Kind of Snow Storm

In honor of the recent snow flurries we have experienced here in the Northwest, I tried an art project that falls under that heading of, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Day one required a simple crayon winter scene topped with a cool-color watercolor wash. They turned out magnificent. Before heading for home, my first graders glanced proudly at the creations drying on tables, and anticipated the snowflake snowmen they would be adding the next day.

Day two…
Knowing the importance of early success, I prepared very large squares of newsprint for children to learn on and practice with before taking the graduated squares they would soon cut into snow crystals of unique and undeniable beauty.

It was early into this practicing step that a looming sense of doom filled my heart. The folding directions were trickier than I'd anticipated and my ears were soon met with frustrated pleas for help from 6 and 7 year olds. Had we been in a movie….ominous music foreshadowing defeat would have been playing in the background.

Fast forward to the end...and what I learned.

Lesson #1: It does not matter how good the instruction is…if the learner isn't developmentally ready, we are doomed. Goals and standards are all well and good…but they must be reasonable. Someone told me once, "Our goals should be overhead, but not out of reach." This little project turned out to be overhead for all and out of reach for most. Which leads to…

Lesson #2: If the ship is sinking, offer a lifeboat. Though there was evidence of cutting, there was not a successful snowflake in sight. "Boys and girls….if you are feeling frustrated right now…and you want to stick with it….I will help you every step of the way….but if you are feeling frustrated and you could not care less about cutting snowflakes…you may abandon this idea, take the white paper, and create your own snowman by drawing and cutting it out." A relieved cheer rippled through the room and almost all of them jumped ship to engage in happy creating in other parts of the room

Lesson #3: Highly motivated people will overcome obstacles and succeed. The children who stayed with me were so highly motivated that it overruled their frustration. Tenacious as pitbulls, they practiced until they got it.

Lesson #4: You can sell any job by giving it a good name and making it fun. Before leaving for the day I turned us all into "Rug Rats". We crawled on our hands and knees, and not a single snowflake scrap escaped our superhero eyes and pinching fingers.

Lesson #5: Lastly, taking a lesson from the tenacious young man in the photo who refused to give up…"if at first you don't succeed, well, you can always wear it on your head."

My thanks to Melody (known on Twitter as soingirl). She is just one of the many educators on Twitter that I love learning from. If you'd like to see what the project was supposed to look like, she was kind enough to let me link to her classroom blog where you can see the snowflake snowmen and all the other great things that are happening in her room.