Reading, Writing & Food!

Those of you who know me personally know that my second passion, apart from literacy, is food. My time away from writing on this blog coincides with several months of making connections in the food community, and much of that through social media. What a journey! Here are some highlights:

This week ...
Over the weekend I ran into Orren Fox through Twitter. Rob Smart of Vermont wondered aloud if this 12 year old who raises chickens and honeybees north of Boston might be the next Michael Pollan. Visit Orren's blog or follow him @happychickens or @happyhoneybees to decide for yourself. Find Rob @jambutter.

I love Orren's definition of ProFood: "To be ProFood means you are FOR food. That sounds funny, but what I mean is that you think about food, you care about food and you will make an effort for good food." Read more here at a guest blog posting.

Orren's commitment to 21st century issues + 21st century literacy tools = a great example for all of us!

This month I renewed my membership with Slow Food, and soon after got to hear U.S. Executive Director, Erika Lesser, speak to its mission of good, clean, and fair food. Slow Food has evolved since a group of us founded Prairieland Slow Food in East Central Illinois in 2001, and now includes a stronger focus on food justice:

... that the food we eat should taste good; that it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work.

No doubt I'll find ways to connect with the Seattle Slow Food convivia down the line. @SlowFoodSeattle

On 9/2 I sped home from work to grab an apron and a pie plate, then hurried across town for a date with Kate McDermott of The Art of the Pie. Her pie class was a treat to myself and an early birthday present for daughters-in-law Lisa and Annie.

There is so much to share about this incredible experience. First, Kate's passion for pie is contagious. After five years perfecting a recipe for the quintessential American apple pie, she and right hand partner, Jon Rowley, have single-handedly revived the art of pie making in our community. Class graduates now scour the farmers markets for heritage apples and compete for limited supplies of rendered leaf lard and Irish butter, a testimony to her inspiration!

Second, Kate teaches students to trust their senses: Use your hands to work the cold butter and lard into cold flour, aiming for a pieces that vary from sand to small nuts. Rub kosher salt in your palms before adding it to the flour. Slowly add the ice water, tablespoon by tablespoon, until a squeeze of the dough brings it together.

Even the baking time demands attention. Ear to the crust, listen for the sizzle of the fats in the crust and the deep bubbling of the fruit juices. If you don't hear that distinctive bubbling, the pie goes back in the oven!

Lisa arrived as an experienced pie baker, and left with new skills. Annie is still amazed at the ease of making her first pie. And I finally made a real crust and promise never again to buy a frozen one! Here we are with our pies! Would you believe that each of these 10" pies weighed between 8 1/4 and 9 lbs (including the pie plate)!

Three weeks later, Lisa and I put our baking skills on the line and entered the Queen Anne Farmer's Market pie contest. Blue ribbon fantasies evaporated when I set my humble "backyard plum pie" down alongside some real beauties. My pie is decorated with the leafy branch, and included a grape-sized plum variety combined with Italian prune plums harvested down the street. Lisa's plum/pluot pie was a beauty, but in the end, neither of them stood up to the winners (shown at the link above). Thanks to QAFM event organizer, Jenise @licorous!

Last, Kate's skill as a teacher helps me think more deeply about my work as a literacy coach. She demonstrated the crust making, and coached us individually as needed, but the work was our own from beginning to end. Three of us began with distinctly different baking experiences and each left with a prized pie and the inspiration to keep baking.

Kate's recipe here! Follow Kate @katemcdermott and Jon @oysterwine.

In that way that only Twitter can connect you with like-minded souls around the country and the world, in late summer I met Michelle Stern who describes herself as an "animal loving eco-mom." She owns a green company in the San Francisco area that teaches kids to cook healthy, seasonal foods for their families and for community members in need. I wrote directly to Michelle when she wondered about the viability of non-profit status, one avenue to qualify her company for grant monies, thus enabling her to invite more kids into her classes. I'm hoping to meet her in person when she presents her work next spring at the IACP conference in Portland. See more here. Follow Michelle @whatscooking.

The event highlight of the month was the Northwest Sustainability Discovery Tour. I joined 80 other people interested in food sustainability practices at what turned out to be an amazing 3-day event in nearby Portland, sponsored by Truitt Brothers, a family-owned food processing and canning company. Here you can access our full itinerary, as well as photos and key points made by the speakers.

Fabulous new acquaintances include Joan Ottinger, director of the state of Oregon's farm-to-school program, social media mentor Paul Barron @paulbarron, and Angela Shen, of Savor Seattle Food Tours. Angela and I talked on the drive back to Seattle about how she can make her business practices more sustainable. How do you responsibly provide battery-powered headsets for 7,000+ tour-goers a year. Or water?

Milwaukee-based Will Allen, dubbed the Urban Farmer, graced the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine the same week I was leaving Wisconsin. My trip to his Growing Power Farm (tours daily, Mon-Sat. at 1:00 pm) will have to wait for the next visit. In the meantime, I
found a video mini-tour here.

Allen's goals are simple:
to grow food, to grow minds, and to grow community. His extensive operation (vegetables, worms, fish, and honeybees), and training opportunities (from bio-phyto remediation and soil health, to aquaculture closed-loop systems, to youth and participatory leadership development) in multiple cities shows the power of the community Allen has grown over 15 years. His work is an inspiration in my exploration of working with kids and food!

I returned to Seattle just in time to go on the self-guided City Chicken Coop Tour (Patrick spelled out his response: N-O), to attend chef Tamara Murphy's ever-popular Burning Beast 2009 (see pix), to host a spontaneous artisan beef tasting led by "beef geek" Carrie Oliver @OliverRanch, and finally to join 350 other food-minded participants at Foodportunity, a networking event arranged by Seattle relative newcomer, Keren Brown. Foodportunity #2 will be held on 11/2.

And the rest is history ...
It is amazing to me that I knew few of these people 4 short months ago (and this list isn't even exhaustive)! Many of the connections can be traced back to one fateful afternoon in March '09 when I ran into Traca Savadogo, aka Seattle Tall Poppy, while visiting a friend in the hospital. Traca's love of connecting people with like passions has led friends to call her 2-degrees-of-separation Traca. Traca + Twitter. The rest, as they say, is history. And these are just food connections!

You might also be interested in the work of @FarmerRoger, from South 47 Farm in the Sammamish Valley, and Readers to Eaters, food literacy from the ground up, the latest venture of Philip Lee, founding partner and editor-in-chief of Lee & Low Books, and his wife, food industry consultant, June Jo Lee, who recently moved to the Puget Sound area.


Are you serious?

This s-word keeps resurfacing in my life with kids, and I'm curious about why. I have one hypothesis and would love to hear from you what you think! Here are the three s-word stories.

Serious story #1
"Our teacher is serious," Vanna whispers to the teaching assistant who's waiting to take them to lunch. Vanna is learning English so I'm not sure exactly what she thinks I mean when I gather the first graders on the rug to review their responsibilities during our reading/writing workshop period. Our student teacher had ended her time with us the Friday before, and I was seriously recalibrating our daily 100-minute work period.

(There's a deep structure and predictability to workshop teaching that might escape recognition for those more accustomed to teacher-directed curriculum. The student teacher was able to depend on the deep structure I had created with the kids in the fall, which is different that creating it oneself, and it had gone a little off track.)

Serious story #2
"Kathy, is that the Serious Tower? Can we take the elevator?" Imagine my laugh! At 108 stories and taller than the World Trade Center, the Sears Tower is serious enough! Eight-year-old T and I are in Chicago for the day and the Sears Tower is one of our destinations. Of course an 8 year old wouldn't connect Sears with a tall building, even if she did recognize it as a store in her community. (Official name change to Willis Tower as of 7.16.09.)

Serious story #3
"Hey, are you serious?" three-year-old Morgan yells to the landscape gardeners working next door. This got a chuckle out of all of us, and several of the guys look up to our deck. "Yeah, we're serious." And you know three year olds: "What are you doing?" "How come?" And again, "But are you serious?" It wasn't long before they stayed focused on their work and seriously ignored him!

Why "serious"?
I've spent time with many kids over many years, and their use of serious has singularly caught my attention. For my part, I'm loving how the sound of the word slides out of my mouth, and kids could love that, too. And I'm guessing that most of us slow down and slightly exaggerate our enunciation of it when we use it with kids, and it seriously sticks with them! What do you think?


Translating Book Levels to Grade Levels

In the last post, I offered readily available book titles in "leveled" lists that represent increasing text difficulty, grades Pre K to 3rd. If you are not an educator, you might wonder how these calculations are made, how they translate into grade levels, and where your child's reading ability falls along this continuum.

If your child is in 1st-3rd grade, his or her reading has likely been assessed through the use of running records or reading miscue inventory (RMI). The Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) is one commonly-used commercial product that includes such an analysis, in addition to fluency and comprehension components. Your child's report card may include a "DRA level" that is calculated from this assessment. Each DRA level and book level represents an increasingly more complex set of text features and these correspond to the approximate grade levels shown below.

Book Level A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P
Grade Level K K K/1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1/2 2 2 2/3 3 3 3/4
DRA 1 2/3 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 24 28 30 34 38


"Just Right" Book Titles, Grades Pre K-3

Matching books and readers is magical! Last week Danny ran down the hall and breathlessly asked me, "Do you know why I'm a better reader? Mouse Tales!"

This was and was not a surprise. I had chosen several books like Mouse Tales (Frog & Toad, Mouse Soup, Fox in Love) because I knew he would enjoy reading them with me, and this was the title he had enjoyed the most.

What I hadn't anticipated was that he was thinking meta-cognitively about his own learning! The book was a win-win choice, for sure. But Mouse Tales wasn't what educators would call a "just-right" book. Rather, I had launched Danny into reading it by sharing the reading--in this instance we took turns as the narrator and Mouse--and only after many readings can he now read it on his own.

In contrast, "just right" books, also called leveled books, are books we intend that kids will read independently. (Younger readers often benefit from a first or second reading by a more experienced reader, but they then can take off on their own. I often compare the importance of this first reading with hearing a piece of music before you can play it yourself--both to know how it sounds, as well as to serve as inspiration. This also means the 5-finger rule--put up one finger for each word you don't know in a book, and when you come to 5, you know it's too difficult--is not always helpful before kids have heard a book. But I digress.)

Most primary classrooms have tubs of "just right" books, coded alphabetically (usually guided reading levels, as determined by Fountas & Pinnell), that kids read during independent reading time. Ideally, each tub has many books, both fiction and nonfiction, so kids have lots of choice. The intent is not that all kids will read all of the books.

The challenge for families is that these sets of books are more readily available through educational publishers. Most are not found in book stores.

To help out, I promised several posts ago to provide the titles of books and their levels that you can find in your library or bookstore. These are available in my local library system, and hopefully yours. If you track some of them down, you can get a sense of how they are progressively more challenging. Below you will find levels A-P, or roughly what we would expect preschoolers through third graders to read. (If you would like the lists as PDFs and in bookmark form, contact me via email.)

So here are the lists! And here is a picture of 9-year old Nick, reading independently. The 20
minutes a day he spent on these books launched him as a reader, albeit several years after his peers.

Level A (Kindergarten)

Count & See / Hoban
Do You Want to Be My Friend / Carle
Good Morning, Good Night / Grejniec
Growing Colors / McMillan
One Hunter / Hutchins
Sunshine / Ormerod

Level B (Kindergarten)

Have you Seen My Cat / Carle
Have You Seen My Duckling / Tafuri
I Like Stars / Brown
Let’s Go Visiting / Williams

Level C (K-1st)

Baby Says / Steptoe
Big Pig & Little Pig / McPhail
Brown Bear Brown Bear / Martin
I Went Walking / Williams
Mice Squeak, We Speak / Shapiro
Now We Can Go / Jonas
Jump Frog, Jump / Kalan
Blue Sea / Kalan
A Rainbow of My Own / Freeman
Spots, Feathers, and Curly Tails / Tafuri
Yo! Yes? / Raschka

Level D (1st)

Alphabet Under Construction / Fleming
Bears, Bears, Everywhere / Milios
Berenstain Bears Ride the Thunderbolt
Big Brown Bear / McPhail
Chick & the Duckling / Ginsburg
Click Clack Quackity-Quack / Cronin
Feathers for Lunch / Ehlert
Fire Truck / Sis
Hide & Snake / Baker
How Many Bugs in a Box / Carter
I Like Books / Browne
I’m Not Scared / Wilhelm
Little Bear / Namm
Max’s Birthday / Wells
Mole in a Hole / Gilman
Quack & Count / Baker
Sam’s Cookie / Lindgren
School Bus / Crews
Tomorrow’s Alphabet / Shannon

Level E (1st)

Clifford’s Christmas / Bridwell
Clifford’s Puppy Days / Bridwell
Hats, Hats, Hats / Morris
Herman the Helper / Kraus
More or Less Fish Story / Wylie
Oh, A Hunting We Will Go / Langstaff
Quick as a Cricket / Wood
Spring is Here / Gomi
This Old Man / Adams

Level F (1st)

Bread, Bread, Bread / Morris
Clifford's Thanksgiving Visit / Bridwell
Curious George / Rey
Curious George and the Pizza / Rey
Growing Vegetable Soup / Ehlert
Harry Takes a Bath / Ziefert
Just Like Daddy / Asch
Lady with the Alligator Purse / Westcott
Mother, Mother I Want Another / Polushkin
Nobody Asked Me If I Wanted a Baby Brother / Alexander
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish / Seuss
Pumpkin, Pumpkin / Titherington
Shortcut / Crews
Soccer Game / Maccarone
The Teeny Tiny Woman / O'Connor
Who Will Be My Friends? / Hoff

Level G (1st)

Buzz Said the Bee / Lewison
Curious George at the Beach / Rey
Feathers for Lunch / Ehlert
I Like Me / Carlson
Jason's Bus Ride / Ziefert
Jump, Frog, Jump / Kalan
Just for You / Mayer
One Monday Morning / Shulevitz
Peanut Butter and Jelly / Westcott
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You See / Martin
Sheep in a Jeep / Shaw
Spot's First Walk / Hill
There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed / Adams
Titch / Hutchins
When You Were a Baby / Jonas

Level H (1st)

Building a House / Barton
Gilberto and the Wind / Ets, Marie Hall
Goodnight Moon / Brown
Jafta / Lewin
Just Me and My Dad / Mayer
Just Me and My Puppy / Mayer
Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry... / Wood
Oliver / Hoff
Picture for Harold's Room / Johnson
Sammy the Seal / Hoff
Sleepy Book / Zolotow
We Are Best Friends / Aliki
Where Are You Going, Little Mouse? / Kraus
You'll Soon Grow into Them Titch / Hutchins

Level I (1st)

Barney's Horse / Hoff
Big Dog & Little Dog / Pilkey
Fix-It / McPhail
Fly Guy / Arnold
Goodnight, Owl! / Hutchins
Happy Birthday, Sam / Hutchins
Hattie and the Fox / Fox
Henny Penny / Galdone
Jim's Dog Muffins / Cohen
Leo the Late Bloomer / Kraus
Liar, Liar Pants on Fire / Cohen
Little Toot / Gramatky
Mama, Do You Love Me? / Joosse
Messy Bessey / Rookie Readers
Messy Bessey's Garden / Rookie Readers
Mirror, Mirror / Fowler
Never Spit on Your Shoes / Cazet
No Good in Art / Cohen
The Quilt / Jonas
Small Pig / Lobel
Spot's Birthday Party / Hill
This is the Bear / Hayes
Three Billy Goats Gruff / Brown
Tidy Titch / Hutchins
The Trek / Jonas
Trucks / Gibbons
Trucks / Rockwell
The Very Busy Spider / Carle
We're Going on a Bear Hunt / Rosen
We're in Big Trouble, Blackboard Bear / Alexander
When Will I Read? / Cohen

Level J (1st)

A Color of his Own / Lionni
Angel Child, Dragon Child / Surat
Arthur Babysits / Brown
Ask Mr. Bear / Flack
Bear Shadow / Asch
Moonbear's Bargain / Asch
B-e-s-t Friends / Giff
Feed Me / Hooks
Fox All Week / Marshall
Fox on the Job / Marshall
Funnybones / Ahlberg
Good Morning Chick / Ginsburg
The Good-Bye Book / Viorst
Great Day for Up / Seuss
Green Eggs and Ham / Seuss
Harry and the Lady Next Door / Zion
Henry and Mudge / Rylant
Hop on Pop / Seuss
The Horse in Harry's Room / Hoff
How Kittens Grow / Selsam
I Can Read with My Eyes Shut / Seuss
I Was So Mad / Mayer
Jennie's Hat / Keats
Jimmy Lee Did It / Cummings
Knots on a Counting Rope / Martin
Let's Be Enemies / Udry
Little Bear / Minarik
Little Bear's Friend / Minarik
Little Bear's Visit / Minarik
Little Blue and Little Yellow / Lionni
Little Gorilla / Bornstein
The Little Red Hen / Galdone
Max / Isadora
Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia / Parish
Milk and Cookies / Asch
The Missing Tooth / Cole
Morris Goes to School / Wiseman
Mouse Soup / Lobel
Mouse Tales / Lobel
Mr. Putter and Tabby series / Rylant
Otto the Cat / Herman
Owl at Home / Lobel
Peace at Last / Murphy
Peter's Chair / Keats
The Popcorn Shop / Low
SkyFire / Asch
Starring First Grade / Cohen
There's a Wocket in My Pocket / Seuss
There's An Alligator Under My Bed / Mayer
There's Something in My Attic / Mayer, Mercer
Too Many Rabbits / Parish
Too Much Noise / McGovern
Uncle Elephant / Lobel
The Very Hungry Caterpillar / Carle
Where the Wild Things Are / Sendak

Level K (2nd)

A Letter to Amy / Keats
Bear Goes to Town / Browne
Bear's Toothache / McPhail
Bedtime for Frances / Hoban
Best Friends for Frances / Hoban
Bony-Legs / Cole
The Bremen Town Musicians / Gross & Kent
Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express / Coerr
Caps for Sale / Slobodkina
The Case of the Double Cross / Bonsally
Chester / Hoff
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom / Martin
Clara and the Bookwagon, Levinson
Clifford, the Big Red Dog / Bridwell
Clifford, the Small Red Puppy / Bridwell
Curious George / Rey
Ducks Don't Get Wet / Goldin
Earrings / Viorst
Farmer Duck / Waddell
Flash, Crash, Rumble / Branley
Frog and Toad All Year / Lobel
Frog and Toad Are Friends / Lobel
Furry News: How to Make a Newspaper / Leedy
Geraldine's Blanket / Keller
The Growing-up Feet / Cleary
Harold and the Purple Crayon / Johnson
Is Your Mama a Llama / Guarino
The Island of the Skog / Kellogg
It's Halloween / Prelutsky
Jafta--The Town / Lewin
Jamaica's Find / Havill
Just Us Women / Caines
Keep the Lights Burning / Roop
Madeline / Bemelmans
Madeline's Rescue / Bemelmans
May I Bring a Friend? / DeRegniers
Messy Bessey's Closet / Rookie Readers
More Tales of Oliver Pig / Van Leeuwen
Nate the Great series / Sharmat
No Fighting, No Biting! / Minarik
The Old Woman and Her Pig / Kimmel
On Mother's Lap / Scott
A Pocket for Corduroy / Freeman
Sam Who Never Forgets / Rice
Sand Cake / Asch
Sheila Rae, the Brave / Henkes
Stone Soup / Brown
The Surprise Party / Hutchins
Three Bears / Galdone
Three Up a Tree / Marshall

Level L (2nd)

Amazing Snakes / Eyewitness
Animal Tracks / Dorros
Annie and the Old One / Miles
Arthur Meets the President / Brown
Beans on the Roof / Byars
Big Al / Clements
Chang's Paper Pony / Coerr
Dolphins! / Bokoske
George and Martha / Marshall
The Gingerbread Boy / Galdone
Good Work, Amelia Bedelia / Parish
Grasshopper on the Road / Lobel
Great White Man-Eating Shark / Many
Gregory, the Terrible Eater / Sharmat
The Grouchy Ladybug / Carle
Happy Birthday, Moon / Asch
Happy Hippopotami / Martin
Harry Goes to Day Camp / Ziefert
Hill of Fire / Lewis
I Am Eyes--Ni Macho / Ward
I Know a Lady / Zolotow
Jack and the Beanstalk / Galdone
Katy and the Big Snow / Burton
A Long Way to a New Land / Sandin
Madeline's Christmas / Bemelmans
Make Way for Ducklings / McCloskey
Miss Nelson is Missing / Allard
Mitchell is Moving / Sharmat
The Mitten / Tresselt
Mop Top / Freeman
Mr. Gumpy's Outing / Burningham
The Mud Pony / Cohen
Mystery of the Tooth Gremlin / Graves
No Jumping on the Bed! / Arnold
One Fine Day / Hogrogian
Over the Green Hills / Isadora
Owl and the Pussycat / Lear
Perfect the Pig / Jeschke
Picking Apples and Pumpkins / Hutchings
Play Ball, Amelia Bedelia / Parish
The Post Office Book / Gibbons
The Quilt Story, Johnston & DePaola
Seven Blind Mice / Young
Surprises / Hopkins
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble / Steig
The Tale of Peter Rabbit / Potter
Three Little Pigs / Galdone
Three Names / MacLachlan

Level M (2nd/3rd)

Afternoon on the Amazon / Osborne
The Art Lesson / De Paola
Aunt Flossie's Hats / Howard
Baseball Pals / Christopher
Bathwater Gang / Spinelli
Blueberries for Sal / McCloskey
Chicken Sunday / Polacco
Chinese Mirror / Ginsburg
Dirt Bike Racer / Christopher
Dr. De Soto / Steig
Fables / Lobel
Fossils Tell of Long Ago / Aliki
The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night / Spier
Harold's Circus / Johnson
Hattie Rabbit / Gackenbach
Heckedy Peg / Wood
The Hit-Away Kid / Christopher
The Hundred Penny Box / Mathis
If the Dinosaurs Came Back / Most
Ira Sleeps Over / Waber
Island Baby / Keller
Jenny Archer, Author / Conford
The Knight at Dawn, Osborne
Lions at Lunchtime / Osborne
The Little Engine That Could / Piper
The Little House / Burton
The Littles series / Peterson
Magic Tree House series / Osborne
Man Out at First / Christopher
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel / Burton
The Mitten / Brett
My Father's Dragon / Gannett
Night Tree / Bunting
The Patchwork Quilt / Flournoy
A Promise is a Promise / Munsch
Sleeping Ugly / Yolen
The Story of Ferdinand / Leaf
The Sun, Wind, and the Rain / Peters
Tallyho, Pinkerton! / Kellogg
There's No Such Thing as a Dragon / Kent
The Valentine Star / Giff
The Village of Round and Square Houses / Grifalconi
The Wednesday Surprise / Bunting, Eve
When I Was Young in the Mountains / Rylant
William's Doll / Zolotow
Wise Woman and Her Secret / Merriam
Write Up a Storm with the Polk Street School / Giff

Level N (3rd)

A-Z Mystery series / Roy
Be a perfect person in just three days! / Manes
Buffalo woman / Goble
Catwings series / LeGuin
Chicken Sunday / Polacco
Drive-by / Ewing
Gung hay fat choy = Happy New Year / Behrens
Library Lil / Williams
26 Fairmont Avenue / DePaola
On my way / De Paola
Pompeii: Buried alive / Kunhardt
Silver / Whelan
Smiffy Blue: Ace Crime Detective / Myers
Story of the Three Kingdoms / Myers
Why did the Underwear Cross the Road / Korman

Level O (3rd)

Boxcar Children series / Warner
Bill Gates: Helping people use computers / Simon
Bunnicula series / Howe
Fantastic Mr. Fox / Dahl
George’s Marvelous Medicine / Dahl
Rain Forest Secrets / Dorros
Stone fox / Gardiner
The Black Snowman / Mendez

Level P (3rd/4th)

Magic School Bus series / various authors
Felita / Mohr
Yang the Youngest & his Terrible Ear / Namioka
Captain Underpants series / Pilkey
Tar Beach / Ringgold
Wayside school series / Sachar
Time Warp Trio series / Scieszka
Brainstorm! 20 stories of 20 American kid inventors / Tucker
Battle for the Castle / Winthrop
Dragon prince: A Chinese Beauty & the Beast tale / Yep


Never Say Never

I love it when lessons come at unexpected times.

Monday night I slammed the car door on my cellphone, nestled inside my jacket pocket. The impact shattered the screen, and of course, rendered the cellphone useless. Oh, and had I downloaded the program that would have backed up my 400+ contacts, and would have easily let me load them onto a new phone? You know the answer to that question! More crazy-making than that was that the phone still received incoming calls--I just couldn't answer them. I contacted the insurance company and my new phone arrived Wednesday night.

I then called the local carrier store on the off-chance that the contact info could be rescued. The first "associate" said it wasn't possible, then asked another who said it might be. I took the chance and drove 12 miles to the store. There I was met by another smiling associate who assured me, in 30 seconds, that nothing could be retrieved from my phone because the screen couldn't be accessed. I recounted the earlier call, to no avail. I appealed with the rush hour drive, and finally, she reluctantly went to ask another associate. I watched #2's response, and clearly it might be possible. I made my way to the back of the store to show #2 my phone.

Kaylee--her name--looked maybe 22 years old, and could easily have been one of my former first grade students. Watching her problem-solve was an art in and of itself! When the usual route of beaming the info from the damaged phone to a data device didn't work, she repeated it three times, just to be sure. Then she used my second phone to access the same process to make sure (since she couldn't see the screen) that she had pushed the right buttons. And then, to leave no stone unturned, she tried one last process: beaming from the damaged phone (she counted how many clicks to move the cursor, using the new phone as a guide) to the new phone. Voila! It worked. In one second, my contacts jumped from one phone to another. On top of it, she skipped the lecture on why I hadn't backed up the contacts ... And on top of that, there was no charge.

The story doesn't end there. While Kaylee worked, and a third associate watched while she was doing her own task, a fourth associate approached. "Are you busy? Could either of you help with a billing problem? I need someone good." They let him know when they could help and he returned to the customer.

"That was a compliment," I offered, and they both laughed.

"Yeah, maybe a back-handed compliment!" I subtly asked about their laughter.

Seems the young women are "good" at billing (and the simpler repair issues), and the young men are "good" at sales. Salaries, of course, are based on sales commissions. How can you get good at something that you don't often do. On and on it goes.

There is so much to learn from this brief 15 minute encounter. My greeter, for instance, was overly interested in being right, rather than problem-solving. My insistence made the difference. Kaylee might be "going places" with her incredible perseverance, or maybe not! And gender issues might be more subtle, but are ever present.

For my part, I'm reconsidering times I've been overly invested in being right myself. A great lesson for a Friday afternoon.


Can I Take That Book Home?

What could be more fun than to be a literacy learning geek who gets to hang out with our four year old grandson. Talk about observing early reading up close! Morgan was here last week, and asked to take a book home with him for the very first time. That inspired this post.

I've written before about texts for beginning readers, but this time I think I'll write out excerpts from the books Morgan most enjoys and think aloud on the topic. I'll follow these with an excerpt from a phonics-based (or decodable reader) so we can all see/hear the differences. To get the full benefit, you will want to read the excerpts aloud.

I advocate that from the earliest ages, readers experience a range of reading engagements--a structure I worked out over months of reading with Nick. I've simplified these to three (beyond reading aloud), to help teachers and parents try their own hand at them.

In addition to hearing books read aloud, readers benefit from 1) independent reading from books they read on their own after hearing them read aloud several times. In school these are often called "just right books" or leveled readers. Next, readers benefit from 2) shared reading experiences, where they read along with a more experienced reader, taking a part or chiming in as they are able. Finally, readers should 3) read books about topics of keen interest. At early ages, this might mean reading the pictures, or reading captions, or asking someone to read pages that most interest them.

Here is how my suggestion plays out with four year old Morgan.

Independent Reading
Morgan's favorite book to read independently is the one he asked to take home. I read it to him several times before he started chiming in on the second or third page. Now he reads it on his own, using his memory of the predicable pattern and the pictures to read the text.

Before I Go to School

Before I go to school
I make my bed

Before I go to school
I put on my clothes

Before I go to school
I eat my breakfast

Before I go to school
I wash my face

Before I go to school
I brush my teeth

Before I go to school
I put on my backpack

Now I'm ready to go to school!

While these "just right books" for early readers offer simple stories, the language patterns that are easy to reread invite young readers to pick them up again and again. I have 10-12 of these kind of books on hand to read with Morgan, yet this is the first one that he has asked to take home. All readers have preferences, and it's amazing how early they kick in!

(This book was a sample from a collection of "leveled" books at school, and is the most difficult for parents to find for purchase. I"ll do some research on this issue and post suggestions soon.)

Shared Reading
Morgan chimes along with many books, but these are two favorites. The first is David Shannon's popular, NO, David!

David's mom always said, No David!
No, David! (as he reaches for the cookie jar)
No, David, no! (as he tracks mud in the house)
No! No! No! (as the bathtub water overflows)
Come back here, David! (as he runs down the street in the nude)
DAVID! BE QUIET! (as he bangs on a pan)
Don't play with your food!
That's enough, David! (as he chews with his mouth open)

This book is compelling to Morgan, and although it's longer and more complex than Before I Go to School, it's also more supportive of his emerging letter/sound knowledge. He focuses on the name David ("like Daddy"), and the word NO, and looks more closely at the actual print than he does in Before I Go to School. Yet, my guess is that he asked to take Before I Go to School home because he currently relates to it (he goes to preschool three days a week) and he feels most successful reading it.

Another favorite shared reading is Pig Pig Grows Up, by David McPhail.

Pig Pig was the baby of the family. His brothers and sisters had grown up and left home long ago. But Pig Pig refused to grow up. (picture of Pig Pig in the sandbox)

He still wore his sleep suit, though it was too tight, and he continued to sleep in his crib, even though his feet hung over the end. (picture of a very big pig squeezed into a crib)

At breakfast, Pig Pig sat in his high chair. He ate Pablum and strained fruit.
Pig Pig's mother grew tired of it. "You're a big pig now, Pig Pig," she said. "You've got to grow up."

But when she took away his old blanket and bought him a real bed, he sobbed like a baby all night long.

On this last page above, I read "his old blanket and his binky ..." as Morgan gave up his binky last summer. He scrutinizes the illustrations in this longer text, and asks to hear it at least once a day.

Reading about a keen interest
Morgan's favorite nonfiction book these days is Trains. This is hardly a surprise, as trains have been his most intense interest for two years. He's happy to hear the text read aloud, or to look at the pictures and to name the different kinds of trains: passenger train, locomotive, freight train, bullet train. He recognizes the Amtrak train he rode to Portland, and after hearing the term "sleeper cars," asks, "How do you sleep there?" He is most verbal when reading this book.

What makes these texts successful?
No doubt your predictions are similar to mine: These books focus on topics from his life, topics of interest, and topics that pique his curiosity. The language is also rich, and and he can figure out new concepts (sleep suit, pablum, sleeper car) based on the illustrations and his own experiences.

Reading theory suggests that Morgan is able to use all three cueing systems as he reads along with me: 1) grapho-phonemic, or letter/sound knowledge (what people often call phonics), 2) syntax (grammar system), or how language sounds, and 3) semantics, or the meaning of the text. Taken together, these three systems at play fully support readers. This complex support frees him to zero in on NO, or David ("like Daddy"), or to repeat lines that stay with him in other contexts ("Just this once!" he recently said to me, quoting the title and repetitious refrain from another of his favorite books).
In contrast ...
There are other educators who advocate for a simpler theory of early reading that focuses on just one of the cueing systems, phonics. It begins with individual sounds that are taught and combined (sounded out) to make simple words. These are paired with a short list of sight words (words that can't be sounded out and that are memorized) to create decodable readers. Here is an example:

The Wig

Tag is a pup.
Kit is a cat.
Kit ran to get Tag. (an outline of a cat scampering after a dog)

Peg has a wig.
The wig is wet. (an outline of a girl with a dripping wig on a wig stand)

Peg set the wig on a big log.
The log is in the sun.
It is hot in the sun.

The log got wet.
Peg ran to get a rag.

Tag ran up to the log.
The pup can get the wig.

Reading a text like this one is an exercise. I can't imagine curling up in bed to read it, or what connections Morgan might possibly make. When it crossed my mind to try it out on him, I realized I wouldn't even waste the time it would take to do that. Too many books, too little time!

An invitation
I'll end this post with an invitation to try your hand at any of these reading engagements with the young readers in your life, or to share an experience that came to mind as you read. I would love to hear from you!


Three Theories of Literacy Instruction

Emily wrote recently to request the context in which I had used a coded set of reading books (phonics, skills, holistic) in a Language and Literacy graduate class. She wants to use the engagement herself with teacher education students, as she remembers it being powerful. At the time she was using Distar and the coded books helped her understand how kids might be experiencing the program.

The point of using the three texts included below is that they represent three common theories about how people learn to read. All teachers operate from a theory (whether they're conscious of it or not) and the experience of these three models in action offers them a chance to become more aware and reflective about their teaching.

Reading programs are based on particular assumptions. A phonics model is based on the belief, for instance that kids first learn individual sounds, and as they have mastered 5-6 sounds, small words can be composed of those, making reading to learn "easy." This is a commonsensical idea, hence the proliferation of BOB books and other phonetically controlled readers.

The story used to illustrate the phonics model is called a A Pin for Dan. We used flashcards and word lists that the group read prior to reading the story, and the text contained no pictures. Those espousing this model often believe that seeing pictures allows kids to figure out the words and is "cheating." The list of words reads: pin, win, bin, tin, in, into. Can you figure out the second column? Even I have to work hard to remember that the only change is an /S/ added to the end of each word. The sight word is circled: of.

The story, again without illustrations so readers won't cheat by looking at them, is below. See how well you can read it.

The reality is that for many young readers, books that don't sound like real language make learning to read much more difficult.

The skills model of reading, represented in most reading textbooks for elementary students or older "remedial" readers, is based on phonics, combined with some sight words. Each story is "constructed" to teach a particular skill. Hence a story in a first grade reader on boating safety that was crafted to teach the OA sound. Instead of calling a life jacket just that, the text called it a floating jacket. (Would you predict this is helpful to readers?)

First students are grouped by their "ability" to read in this way. Vocabulary and skills are taught to each group, next comes the story, and then the kids complete worksheets to apply their new learning. Games are often included as independent work: flashcards, word searches, and coloring sheets.

The story used to illustrate the skills model is It Will Not Go. We worked on the intro skills page together (introducing the pronouns: I, we, it), then used flashcards on beginning and ending sounds, then read the coded story. Students then return to their seats to independently complete three worksheets. This group of readers was allowed to "go out to recess" when they finished the worksheets. I used this same structure for the adults in our class.

The third, holistic model, assumes that the smallest "unit of meaning" is an entire text, rather than individual letters and sounds or words. A familiar text (or with a pattern readers can pick up) and real language makes the early reading experience easier rather than harder, even though the story is much longer. The lesson is organized so readers work together (the earlier models are characterized by working alone: "keep your eyes on your own paper," playing "around the world" with the flashcards so the quick kids earn cards and the more deliberative or thoughtful kids are "less successful", etc).

The text used to illustrate the holistic model was The Three Little Pigs. This group did a "picture walk" through the story in pairs, the whole group talked about their predictions, and then we read the story together as a group. Everyone knows the story and some of the lines, so there is a lot of predictability. People can use what they know to figure out what they don't know. The illustrations are an integral feature of the reading experience.

Both of the phonics and skills models are based on the assumption that there is a clear sequence to how kids learn language. The researchers I studied with clearly showed that there is no specific sequence, but rather that different kids attend to different features of language in their environment. The role of the teacher is to closely observe kids immersed in using language (big books, read aloud, talking, early writing, etc.), see what they know and are able to do, and to provide demonstrations that will help them do it better. A language rich environment is key. (More on that in a future posting.)

The analogy to the early reading experience for kids only goes so far, as adult students can use what they know about written English to decode these coded texts. Further, these adults weren't required to write in each model, as kids would be. Spelling tests, copying from the board, and homework assignments are also treated differently among these models. By the way, Houghton Mifflin published a similar engagement in the '70s called A Primer for Parents. Interested readers might be able to track it down.

In our course, this reading experience set up months of professional reading and study on how reading is taught. Here is one post that illustrates my beliefs about how to support early reading.


"Practice" with Abstract Sight Words

I've been researching information for the family literacy night engagements. First, I ran off a list of Dolch words (one of many sight word lists, this list is organized by frequency of occurrence in early reading texts), and I ran across this advice on practicing abstract sight words from Patricia Cunningham: Use words like of or that in phrases, along with pictures, for practice.

Imagine the challenge of creating such flashcards. In the end, I can only advise reading real books. To me, reading is not practice ... it's reading. Kids learn to read by reading. They are also learning more about what it is they are reading. (They are also learning their identity as readers: Are they in the "top group" or the "low group" or ...? But that's a discussion for another time.)

The challenge might be to find the right books, and that's why librarians, teachers, and literacy coaches are here, not to mention Nancy Pearl (all ages), Franki Sibberson (elementary) and Teri Lesesne (adolescents).

Another colleague suggests families only use the flashcards that have meaning, that you could talk about or draw. Words like house, tree, car, friend, sun, neighborhood. She also concurs that reading books is what really matters.

Today I borrowed five early readers from a first grade colleague and analyzed each one by highlighting the sight words in each one. Here are the titles: Days with Frog & Toad, Mouse Tales, Owl at Home, Stuart Little, and The Teeny Tiny Woman. All of these books will work for these less experienced 1st-3rd grade readers.

One of my librarian colleagues offered additional titles of similar and of slightly more difficult books: The Fox series, Henry & Mudge, Amelia Bedilia, M & M (detective series), Biscuit, Commander Toad, and Nate the Great. The analyzing work continues. And I'm not just thinking about whether these books contain the right words (listen to how crazy that sounds!), but if they are right for this diverse group of English language learners. It is not a surprise that Teri titled her book, Making the Match.

More soon!


Facing Flashcards Head On

In an ironic twist, given my last post, I am faced with helping lead a family literacy night at which the families will receive materials made by others. And, as you might guess, half of the materials families will receive to take home are flashcards with letters & sounds, and sight words. The event is just weeks away and the other event organizers are eager to make these resources available to families. They haven't had the advantage of using a variety of materials, understanding the theory that produces each option, and observing how readers respond to their use. It is this kind of experience and critical analysis that helps teacher education students understand the connection between theory and practice.

On top of it all, most of the families are English language learners, making the practice of practicing words out of context particularly challenging. Instead of "comprehensible input," as Stephen Krashen terms meaningful language experiences, flashcards strip away all meaning.

So what will I do? My first plan is to use available funds to purchase books, so each family receives at least one book with each flashcard set. I'll highlight the "sight words" within these books (or have the families do it) so the surrounding text supports the reading.

In the meantime, I have not located the research I mentioned in my last post. Stay tuned for any additional ideas I come up with. Oh yes, I've also raised the issue with leaders who may have the latitude to revise the next production of materials.

Time to scan in the coded texts that Emily borrowed so I can illustrate this issue for you, blog readers.


The Usefulness of Flashcards & Worksheets

Emily asks for my perspective on flashcards and worksheets.

In general I can say that I don't ask kids to read words in isolation. A study I'm trying to track down for you showed that kids can read 60% more of the same words in context (with the support of all the cueing systems: phonics, meaning, grammar) than they can in isolation. Words in the real world are always part of texts, not apart. (Even STOP on stop signs is always in white print on a red octagonal field.)

One day I walked by a mom who volunteered for a first grade teacher by monitoring kids reading "sight words" on flashcards. One kid correctly read the word "were," to which the mom responded, "Good reading! Here's your sticker!" At the same time, the kid was quizzically shaking her head, "Were. Were. What's a were?"

That being said, the occasional flashcard isn't going to hurt a reader. Rather, I would question how much they actually help. I prefer to focus on kids reading real texts.

Another study quoted to me by a prof in grad school documented that 80% of the spelling errors kids make after grade four are usage errors, like there for their or they're, or personnel for personal. It is not possible to spell these words correctly out of context, so all the more reason to focus on writing, and then edit for conventions (spelling, punctuation, grammar) in the final stages.

It's hard to comment on any particular worksheet outside of seeing it. In general, worksheets require a minimum of writing on kids' part, especially in the early grades. An entire piece of paper may be used for a child to draw lines between 5 words and 5 pictures, or to X several boxes. These pieces of paper have such a short life, and classrooms where lots of worksheets are used are often littered with them, or one can likely find many of last week's worksheets crumpled up in desks. (Corrected, or completed but not turned in, or incomplete: Which is worse?) Moreover, many worksheets must be almost incomprehensible for kids, as adults can be challenged to figure out what is being asked.

In contrast, many of the purported goals of these practice sheets can be accomplished in spiral notebooks or composition books, and the more kids write, the more evidence of their understanding, as well as their growing skill as writers. Midway into my career I made a goal to use no more than one sheet of copied paper, per kid, per day. On most days that was a group-authored class newspaper on one side, and something relevant to our current learning on the backside. The kids eagerly read their news, and the parents counted on the Notes for Home section to keep them updated. All other draft or informal writing was accomplished in 19 cent spiral notebooks from someplace like Target. If the purpose of the writing was not obvious and it was important for parents to understand my intentions, I ran off small notes describing the assignment that we glued right on the page.

Emily's question touches on trends in "best practices." Here is a web-based adaptation of the work of Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde: Best Practice: Today's Standards for Teaching and Learning in America's Schools. (I prefer the earlier first or second editions.) Both include worksheets ... decreasing in use.

Trust your judgment on their value. And ask yourself: "What are my most valuable learning experiences? What have I saved in a portfolio or box of artifacts?" If you answer a worksheet, let me know!


Coming Full Circle: When Students Teach!

One of the rewards of teaching is reconnecting with students. Two years ago it was Judy, a student from one of my last first grade classes in Tacoma. She is now teaching herself and trying to figure out what shape her work with young people will take. I'm awed by her intellect and thoughtfulness, and humbled to think I might have played the smallest part in her learning.
And each Christmas season brings a visit from Emily, one of my amazing Pacific Oaks
College students. She is now working as a teacher educator in Nashville, and is the mom to two incredible young kids. We have stayed in touch for a decade, and nothing has been more touching than the photograph she sent of Anna, just ten months old, reading books to herself. This "simple joy and beautiful thing to see," as Emily described in her journal, got us talking about literacy once again.
Now Anna is a kindergartner, and Emily and I are corresponding about Anna's early reading instruction, as well as Emily's work with pre-service teachers. We've agreed to post some of her questions here so others can have the benefit of her insights and questions, and my attempts to address them. Her questions are similar to those of Jacqueline.
So for tonight, I've pasted in comments and questions from Emily, and over the next week, we can continue the conversation. Stay tuned.
In light of a balanced literacy approach that you advocate, what do you think of sight word flashcards and things like that? I am seeing a lot of this in a different light as Anna has been learning to read this year. I see her being asked to do flashcards and there are quite a few worksheets that come out of her class. I am trying to figure out what a real balanced literacy class looks like (as they say that they use balanced literacy, but it seems that perhaps it has a heavier leaning toward the phonics.)
What do you recommend as far as a specific reading curriculum? (If we don't use the textbooks, what is the best way to supplement the curriculum if teachers are just starting out with few resources?)
Would you remind me of the exact context in which you used the coded reading books (phonics, skills, holistic) in our Language and Literacy class? [Note: Emily borrowed these coded texts from me this winter so that she could use them with her own students.] What was the objective in relation to the rest of what you had already been working with us on? I just want to make sure that I am using this experience to its maximum potential! I remember it being powerful because I had been teaching Distar (which was hard for me to swallow) and this showed me how some kids might view it.
I was reading the book New Policy Guidelines for Reading and loved that page that showed the writing samples from the three different classrooms. In classrooms where real literature is used, it seems that everything improves (reading, writing, language in general). Is this going to hit the mid to higher readers or will it hit everyone from your experience? (I am trying to think about some of my struggling readers and writers and wondering if I would have seen that kind of writing from them-- the kind in the final sample.)
What about the kids who are really struggling? I remember when I was at XYZ school that some of the folks brought in Distar because they wanted to make sure that the kids had a phonics background. They were concerned that they had no foundation with this so they chose this route. (And it totally bored the higher-level readers. I recall that this was not really engaging for the struggling readers either--it just seemed that folks thought that we had to give this foundation or they would not get it from the other literature).
Also, what about Reading Recovery models? Don't they just go back to the phonics? Hmm--are we doing this all wrong? Do we just need to get to reading good literature? Doesn't "balanced literacy" try to focus on some phonics too?


To Teach Well is to Learn From Children

Hello again. My time away from the blog means I've been busy with other endeavors, including several pieces for the print world. I also wrote an essay for the National Public Radio project, This I Believe. My essay is now in their library, although it wasn't selected to be recorded for radio. I share it below, as it includes the writing of several students in my blog photo: Mandy, Erin, and Makeesh.

I believe that to teach well is to learn from children. My students have taught me about how they learn, about their vulnerabilities and strengths, and most importantly, about myself.

Thirty years ago I became a teacher. Perhaps it was an expected choice for a teenager who volunteered in the church nursery and helped to raise younger siblings. After college I learned the ropes of teaching on the job, then fine-tuned my knowledge in graduate school. But in the end, it has been the students themselves that have most helped me become the teacher I am. The more I learned from them, the more I valued them, and the more I valued them, the more I paid attention to their strengths, needs, and interests.

For over twenty years I learned about children in the presence of six and seven year olds, and nothing better documents the small gems of my learning than the students’ writing. The students and I kept journals, writing back and forth daily to one another, which certainly provided writing opportunities for these beginning authors and allowed my writing to serve as an example. Yet, beyond the journals’ practical role of helping the students grow as readers and writers, the students’ entries introduced me to the amazing intelligence and thoughtfulness of young children.

Thin and quiet, Mandy’s personality was mirrored in her spare, beginning writing. In the spring I wrote about the garden I was planning, and Mandy asked what I would plant. I responded that I wasn’t sure, but that I didn’t have room for flowers and vegetables both. She advised that I better choose so the plants wouldn’t get stepped on. Even though her spelling was becoming easier to read, it would have been easy to miss the humor she found in her own advice and the small happy face that punctuated it. A month later Mandy’s family moved. In her journal she wrote, “Please don’t ever, ever forget me.” Because of Mandy, I took even more care to notice and respond to the ideas that kids shared.

It was most common for students to write about their daily experiences. Michael wrote, “Yesterday when I got off the bus little puffs of wind passed by. It felt good to me.” And Joseph noticed that “the snow looked like gold” on his way to school and illustrated his description with bursts of color across a white lawn. It was a surprise to me that six year olds experienced these kind of small moments much like I did and that they could so vividly describe their experiences.

Even if a writing assignment was contrived, like one I borrowed after hearing kids’ responses on the Johnny Carson show, first graders continued to teach me. I asked the kids what spring fever meant, and James wrote: “[It] means that more people might be getting fevers or colds, or the sniffles. But it might mean people are finding more lovers. It might mean the flowers are going away. Or more people are getting tired. It might mean you stay inside and dance.” Joseph, in contrast, approached me several times to say he didn’t know what to write. In spite of my assurance that he should do his best, I later found his paper on my desk with a small note stapled to it: “I ain’t gonna do this. I don’t know how.” My students’ writing transformed the quick laughs on the Carson show the night before. The sincerity of their efforts called me to treat their writing with respect, not as a source of amusement. I learned that their ideas mattered and could inspire amazing life poetry.

Erin brought a keen eye to the talents of her classmates and used writing to compliment them during an end-of-the-year letter project. It seemed she intuitively understood the encouraging power of words: “Dear Arthur,” she wrote. “I like you because you’re like the Incredible Hulk. You’re cool all the time, too. You’re snazzy and jazzy and razzamatazzy. You are the best fighter.” And to Krista she wrote, “I like you because you are beautiful and so calm. You’re so unique, so intelligent, so feminine. You sing nicely. You look like a ballerina. Love, Erin.” In letter after letter, she identified her classmates’ strengths. Most poignant was the letter she wrote to herself: “Dear Me, I like you because you’re an author and you went to the Young Author’s Conference. I’ll tell you a secret. How about it, me? Okay, here’s the secret. Me, do you have any friends?” Makeesh decided to write a second letter to Erin, warning her that, “You shouldn’t write to your own self. People be talking!”

Over a career I’ve taught every subject area, including music and art, as well as my area of expertise, literacy. I’ve developed lessons based on research and national standards, and used many different curriculum materials to support kids’ learning. But in the end, the most important work I’ve done is to help students develop the tools to make sense of their experiences, to express their ideas, and to follow their passions. Then I’ve paid very close attention, allowing me to form a relationship with each one. And while I’ve played an important role as the teacher, I’ve also been privileged to be a part of each unique classroom community.

Indeed, when Anne wrote, “You are very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very special, Ms. Egawa,” I became more of that special teacher who has now touched the lives of close to 2,000 children. I never imagined these experiences when I chose teaching as my life’s work.

I now carry within me a rich tapestry woven from each of these young voices, much of it preserved in writing. Their observations of the world changed how I see it, and how I see myself. Fortunately, I’ve also learned that a teacher’s learning is never complete. Seth reminded me of this final point on his last day of first grade: “Dear Ms. Egawa, You weren’t always a good teacher, but when you were, it was fun.”