Rethinking Homework ~SOL#16


image from Death the Kid



Just thinking about homework brings me dread.

And, I’m the teacher.

I’m taking some time to rethink how we “do” homework in my third grade classroom. The math home links, worksheets, correcting, papers all over the place.  Let’s be honest. In the elementary classroom, we should not be spending instructional time going over homework papers every day.  There are not enough minutes in the day.  If you are like me, homework gets turned in and piles up.  Not good, I confess.

Homework is a hot topic right now with all the research now surfacing about its lack of benefits.  Especially, in elementary school.  Google research for or against it and you’ll find both, but current research is stating that it doesn’t help in achievement.

But, like everything else, this is not one of those all or nothing concepts.  I don’t believe homework is either good or bad.  It can be both.  And, it depends.  I hesitate to throw it all out based upon the idea that “research doesn’t support it”.

Here is what research does not support:

*mindless worksheets of 30 problems focused on the same concept (double-digit addition, grammar sheets, long division, writing the same spelling words over and over)

*concepts that students have not been taught in class

*a large amount of homework, especially for elementary students

I know that the prescribed home links that come with our provided curriculum series in both reading and math are too much.  An 8-year-old should not have to spend an hour on a math home link.  Yes, we have spelling words and math facts and yes, these are simple practices that students could practice at home with parents.  Perhaps this is all the homework requirements a third graders should have – along with reading – for pleasure.

I don’t know.  I wonder more than I actually know.

As a parent, although my four children are all grown and out in the world, but when they were in school, I liked to have an idea of how they were doing in school.  Observing how they performed on their homework was one way of monitoring that.

As a teacher, I do not use many worksheets in my classroom so papers do not fly home every night that blare, “See what I did!”  We use an app on our ipads called SeeSaw where students can take photos of their accomplishments during the day and parents can peek in on this.

As a parent, I know how busy home life is.  There are sports and parents working nights and daycare and meals and for Pete’s sake, kids just need to play and parents need to have the time to play with them.  But, I know the reality is:  Parent Are Tired.

I know I was.

So, I sit here and ponder some more.

Here are the questions I’m hanging on:

*How can homework be more of a communication tool from home to school so parents know what their child is doing?

*How can we illuminate all the bless-ed papers that go home and come back to school begging to be corrected?

*How can homework be quick, beneficial and interest the student?

*How can homework be something that parents do not have to police?

I still think it is important to begin to add responsibility to students, such as, finding a quiet place to work, focusing out distractions, and managing time (some kids do their homework on the bus because they know they have hockey practice when they get home).

I wonder if I could try some of these things?

1. Eliminate Paper/Reduce Problems

*Have a homework notebook (no papers).  In this notebook, students would glue in a half sheet of paper (from the teacher) that has perhaps 3-5 math problems that demonstrate evidence of what was taught that day.  Eventually, students could just write these problems into the notebook, copying them off of the white board/smart board.  Copying from white board to paper is an important skill students need to learn.  It also teaches independence.  These problems would show parents what students are learning and they could see evidence of their child’s performance.

2. Time Homework Takes Students To Do

*I’m also curious about how long it takes students to do the work.  I want to make sure I am assigning homework that takes minimal time away from family time.

Could we add a spot like this?

Beginning Time:_____ Ending Time: ______  Total Time to Do Homework:_______

This would also help to teach elapsed time, a difficult skill in third grade.

3. Effort?

*Could we have students show the effort it took to do the work by also including a rating scale or face that demonstrates this?  As a teacher, I want to know if they needed help.  As a parent, I want my child’s teacher to know if it was easy or hard.  Could it look like this?

How did you feel doing this homework?


Yes, it’s a pain chart.  But, I think it’s appropriate.

We could start out the year with these two added parts on the homework sheet, but eventually, students would just write them into the notebook.


4. Homework is not always math.

Sometimes, homework might be literacy related, or science, or social studies, rather than math.  Some examples might be:

*Find a photo to put in your writer’s notebook. Why? Because writers can write stories from a photo.

*Bring an object to school that tells something about who you are.  Be ready to tell the story behind the object.  Why? So we can all learn a little more about who you are and writers can write stories about objects, or poems.

*Draw a sketch of your reading nook at home.  Why?  Because it is important to have your own quiet reading spot free from distractions.  A special spot to read gets your body and mind ready to read and teaches rituals that adult readers do.

*Sit outside for 5 minutes and write a poem about something you hear, see, smell of feel. Why?  Because writers write about their surroundings using their senses.

These are homework activities that hopefully, students enjoy doing. When they are excited about a homework activity, the idea of homework changes and their belief shifts from drudgery to one of engagement.

Again, I say hopefully.

There are no “one size fits all” ideas in education.

What are your thoughts about homework and what might you try differently this year?



Rethinking Readers Notebooks #SOL16


Books and people inspire me to rethink the practices I hold on to in my reading and writing workshops. The Readers Notebook is a tool my students and I use that I do not think I will ever let go of.  However, my thinking is changing on how to best use this tool.

Last year, I discovered that most of the third graders in my classroom were extremely creative.  They loved to draw.  So, I taught them how to Zentangle.  We scoured You Tube videos and Pinterest on our ipads to find new patterns to learn and practice. We made anchor charts of the designs we wanted to remember.

I then realized that we are all, including myself, are drawn to visual learning.

I wanted some of that in my Readers Notebooks.

My burning question became:

“How can I make the Readers Notebooks more engaging, user-friendly and fun?  And, enhance our learning at the same time?”

My third graders were not always that excited about writing down their thoughts in the notebook at the end of our reading workshop – if only for 5 minutes.  They worked diligently on their weekly letters to me – but honestly, they were doing this for me.

We looked at other options to share their evidence of understandings from the books they read.  Fountas and Pinnell’s Teaching for Comprehension and Fluency suggests many ways to teach students to do this, of course, each strategy needs to be explicitly modeled first.  A few ideas are: webs, character trait charts, chapter summary grids, T-charts, etc.  We added these to our repertoire of options, yet I still did not see the enthusiasm I wished for.

But this summer, I followed Debby Ridpath Ohi  (@inkyelbows on Twitter) and anxiously awaited her visual displays of the books she was reading for Donalyn Miller’s Book A day Challenge.  I’d read some of the books she shared, so I was excited to see what elements she decided to jot down and put on the page.  Here are some of her examples:


and. . .


Here are some things Debbie did:

*She added an image of the book and the author.  Visual Stuff. Artsy. A collage kind of thing. I like this because I art journal and cutting and glueing and arranging things on paper are a love of mine.

*She adds what she’d like to find out more about by going to an author’s blog. She notes the blog.

*She drew a few sketches about how the book changed her life – just one thing!

Another inspirationalist I follow on Twitter is Leah O’ Donnell.  Oh, I can’t keep up with this lady!  I sizzle with energy every time I see what she is up to. She also does some doodling of the books she reads.  Here are a couple of examples:


What did Leah do?

*She lifted quotes from the book that she felt were important.

*She wrote down some questions that prompted her to think more deeply about her own life.

*She added some of her own thoughts about the book.

*Of course, she added her own little doodles and sketches and used lots of color.

I’ve also been following a few people who post their visual sketchnotes on Twitter under the hashtag #sketchnotes The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown and One Zentangle A Day books have also  influenced me here – just a bit.  And if you have time, you have to take a field trip to The Sketchnote Army and  Brain Doodles.

“Could I do this? Could I integrate this into our Readers Notebooks?” I wondered.

Surely, it’s been done in some shape or form.  But, I wondered what it might look like in third grade – the integrating of doodles, zentangles, collage and words to share our understandings about the books we read.

Now, you may be thinking, as I often do,

“But, I don’t want my kids spending so much time drawing and wasting time doodling.  They need to be reading and writing!”

This kind of work supports so many standards and best practices about teaching, I can’t even begin to list them all.  But, I have to, because I am a “Why should I do this?” and “Where is the research in this?” kind of  person.  We need to know our “Whys”.  Our practice purposes can never be, “Because the kids like it,” or “It’s the new shiny sparkly thing.” Even though the kids probably will like it and ultimately that’s what we hope to achieve.

Here are a couple of Big Why’s:

  1.  “A doodler is engaging in a deep and necessary information processing. A doodler is connecting neurological pathways with previously disconnected pathways.  A doodler is concentrating intently, sifting through information, conscious and otherwise generating insights.” ~Sonni Brown The Doodle Revolution
  2. “By using repetitive patterns with deliberate strokes, one becomes engrossed in each stroke and a shift of focus, a heightened awareness in which your mind, instincts, and knowledge all work together  quickly, effortlessly and accurately can occur.” ~Roberts and Thomas (the orgins of Zentangle) One Zentangle A Day by Beckah Krahula

If you want to read more research, go here, or here (under Research Links).  And, here are some visual literacy standards on Edutopia.

And, if you’d like a visual:


from page 17 of The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown.

A personal thought is also that we rush kids through books and do not give them enough time to let a book marinate in their souls long enough. We need to let books linger for a while, just like soup.  It always tastes better after it’s been simmering all day.  New thoughts and ideas keep bubbling up the longer we allow a book to stay with us.

Like anything new we teach to students, we’d need to start small and with what students already know.  I’m thinking we’ll do some visual notes on a couple of class read alouds first and go from there – adding various doodles and sketch note strategies little by little. Or perhaps they could do a visual page of who they are, an identy project to help us all learn more about one another.  However we choose to introduce this, anchor charts will be a must.

And most importantly, if we are expecting our kids to do it, we need to walk the walk alongside of them, and do it as well.

So, I had a go. . .

Here are a couple of my attempts from some of my summer reads:


I knew I could do better. . .


Oh yes ~~~~ this one was much more fun. 🙂

The possiblities are endless here.  And, I love to live in a classroom where anything is possible.

Shari 🙂

Waiting for Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s New Book and Pondering Structure SOL#16

I’m a little bit of a freak when it comes to keeping up with what my favorite authors are working on.

Okay.  I’m more of a stalker.

Regardless. . . waiting is hard work.

But, finally . . . something is coming.

Something BIG.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s new book comes out next month!  

The title?

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal:  Not Exactly A Memoir


She is genius.

I am giddy about the unique text structure she choose to write these “nonlinear reflections and insights”  (Penguin Random House Publishers).  Unlike most personal growth, memoir type books, Amy has organized this book by subject headings such as Social Studies, Math, Music, Language Arts, etc.  The writers at Penguin Random House Publishers describe it as such:

“Not exactly a memoir, not just a collection of observations, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal is an exploration into the many ways we are connected on this planet and speaks to the awe, bewilderment, and poignancy of being alive.”

How can you not rush directly to Amazon and hit that dang one-click purchase button? It’s only at the pre-order state though.  It’s not coming out until August 9th.  Oh, the agony!

Her previous book, The Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, is also her brain child organizational structure to use for writing, non fiction or not. She gathers all of her snippets of wisdom, quotes, observations, lists and documented happenings and hangs them on the framework of the encyclopedia.

I am drawn to this right now as I mine through my own notebooks digging for gems, not knowing what they will become.  It’s life stuff and most of it is garbage, loads of blah, blah, blah, but there are some tidbits that I’d like to do something with. Organization is the framework of how to think about our ideas.  It helps us visualize the possibilities of what our writing could be.  Writing then begins to take shape.

The teacher in me also wants to use these books as mentor texts to share with students. We are required to teach our students the standard forms/genres of writing:  narrative, non-fiction and persuasive.  However, there are creative ways to organize writing that go beyond the 5 paragraph essay for persuasion, a basic personal narrative, or a categorical nonfiction report. Within these forms of writing, we teach how to write in chronological, compare/contrast, problem/solution and cause/effect text structures.  Of course, there are a variety of plot structures for narratives, as well.  All of these must be taught as they are used under the umbrella of an entire piece of work.

But, it’s the authors that go so out of the box with unique ways to organize a book that makes reading and writing exciting.  When I discover a new structure, energy sizzles.

I headed to my book shelves to seek out other ideas for possible structures for my own writing gobbledy-gook.  Surely, I had much to learn from right here in front of me.

Here are a few I found:

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

Anna organizes her memoir type reflections at midlife into chapters that focus on a theme such as:

stuff, girlfriends, generations, solitude, expectations, and faith  

For me, these themes could each be a book, yet she is able to synthesize it all into tight chapters.  This would take tons of work for me as I am more detail oriented.

Mining my own notebooks, I think I would choose topics with more specificity, such as:

popcorn, sugar, hair, pie, walking, hips and knees, Captain Morgan, coffee and dogs

Perhaps each of these could be a vignette under a larger theme or section like:

Addictions, Wisdom, Body, Soul, Heart, Mind, Marriage

This is a possibility.  I love to think about what is possible.

The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Verlyn writes about his life in the country.  By Month.


Love. Love. Love.

We live in seasons.  I have realized over the years, that I go through many of the same experiences every September, just as I do in February.  The book could be called, The Teaching Life, The Mother’s Life, or even The Human Life.  The chapters could be narratives, poems or reflections.

Again. . . so many possibilities with this structure.

You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor organizes her book by important keys for living a more fulfilling life.  I think about this as each chapter being a lesson learned.  And, hopefully, a narrative to detail how she learned that lesson.  What lessons have I learned by midlife?  Are there lessons that I still need to learn?  I know there are lessons I am working on every day of my life.  As I scan over my pages of writing, each entry holds a lesson.  Each story teaches us something about living on this Earth School and what it means to be human.

Would my book be lessons about teaching?  or just stuff I’ve learned along the way?

Hmmmmm. . . .


This reminds me of  Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I know For Sure?  Could we not write a book on what we THINK we have figured out?

I had to generate a list of possible structures as well – just to have some fun in brainstorming session.


The best teachers are other books, so I’m going to compile a good list of books to show my third graders what other authors have done to organize their books.  We can then generate our own list together.

Then, we can all dwell in the possibilities of what our writing might become.

Dreamers, we are.

Shari 🙂




Sharing My 2016 Summer Reading Stack


“By opening your inner self to a book, you invite ideas and feelings that enrich and expand your interiority.  Reading is the making of a deeper self.” ~ John Miedema

I’m not sure where I would be without books.  Probably hanging on a ledge somewhere. Books have saved me over and over again and I know I would not be the person I am without the books I have read. We become what we read.

I love to know what others are reading, especially others who are mothers my age, educators, writers, artists, mid-lifers, thinkers, learners and readers.  So, I’m sharing my summer reading stack, not only to maybe inspire someone to read any of these books (so I have someone to talk to about them), but more so, in hopes that you’ll share your summer reads, too.

I try hard to read a variety of books over the summer, but I tend to migrate towards non-fiction; informational, memoirs, reflective vignettes. These kinds of books push me as a teacher and also give me guidance and insights as a writer and a human being.  I also have a fiction stack and a reread stack.  Those will have to be other posts. Yes, there are books everywhere.  They are my weakness and I’ll spend my money on books before I’ll buy myself new shoes or clothes.  Just because.

So, here is my non-fiction stack (I can’t wait to write about each one of these individually!):

For A Better World:  Reading and Writing for Social Action by Randy Bomer and Katherine Bommer (2001, Heinemann)



This book has been on my shelf since last summer.  With all that is happening in the world right now, it jumped off my shelf begging to be read.

On page five, these words had to be underlined:

“If we expect people to vote for the interests of the wounded and dispossessed, then people who are not poor have to be able to imagine other lives, to read out with their consciousness and know what their own narrow experience has not taught them.”

In other words, our kids need to hear the stories of the oppressed.

Wow.  Good stuff in here.

Writers are Readers:  Flipping Reading Instruction Into Writing Opportunities by Lester Laminack and Reba Wadsworth (2016, Heinemann)


There are some major tracks of my thinking throughout this book.  My scribbled notes are everywhere.  Mind shifting stuff here.  Thank goodness for the authors that leave wide margins for this reason.

If you have been teaching using the workshop model, you probably know this by now:

“When reading and writing instruction are planned separately, each without regard for the other, the resulting instruction fails to weave clear connection between these related language processes” (p. vii).

For this reason, we plan our reading and writing units of study with this in mind. However, Lester Laminack and Reba Wadsworth take this deeper. Walking through several text structures, comprehension strategies and story elements, they help us understand what the reader must do to make meaning for himself and on the flip side, what does the writer do to set up the reader (to infer).

I am looking at structures and comprehension strategies in a whole new light.

Honestly, if I was forced to read only one educational book this summer, this would be it.

DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts (2016, Stenhouse Publishers)


I chose this book because it is so HOT on Twitter right now.  And, I just adore Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts.  If you have watched any of the EdCamp PD sessions,  you know what I mean. Kate and Beattie have also created a video series of each teaching tool (from this book) at their website.  You can check them out here.  I know the Demonstration Notebooks will be my first tool to try out in my classroom next fall.

Close Writing:  Developing Purposeful Writers in Grades 2-6 by Paula Bourque (2016, Stenhouse)

Close Writing

This book was also hot on Twitter and it found its way into my Amazon cart when I bought DIY Literacy.  I don’t know how that happens.

I have not started this book yet, but from the introduction, I’m realizing that Paula Bourque’s goal is to help writers read and examine their own writing for understanding and clarity.  I know I need to figure out some strategies for helping my third graders do this as they tend to think their writing is good after the first draft!

Help me Paula!

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen (2012, Random House)


Oh my heavens, this lady.  She reflects on her life thus far (she is 60 at the writing of this book), in categories of marriage, stuff, girlfriends, work, our bodies, etc.  It’s her words scribed on the back of this book that lured me to read it:

“It’s odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to young woman to aging adult. First I was who I was.  Then I didn’t know who I was.  Then I invented someone and became her.  Then I began to like what I’d invented. Ad finally I was what I was again.”

I finished this book last week and it’s still simmering in my being.  I’ll have to carry the book around with me for a while. 🙂

When Women Were Birds:  Fifty-Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams  (2012, Picador)


This poetic memoir by Terry Tempest Williams has me on edge.  There is much to figure out.  The book opens with Terry receiving all of her mothers journals when her mother dies.  Her mother instructs her not to read them until after she’s gone.  A month after her mother has died, Terry works up the bravery to begin reading the journals.  She discovers they are all empty.

What the heck?

Yeah – I’m befuddled and so is Terry.  I’m trying to hold her hand through all the confusion and hoping she finds some resolution in her mother’s intentions.  I’m also living my own questions through this story as I wrestle with what to do with all of my own journals and notebooks. Do I really want people reading this stuff after I’m gone?

The Courage to Write and The Writer’s Book of Hope both by Ralph Keyes (2003, Holt Paperbacks)

5134cHJQh9L._AC_UL320_SR214,320_                     972978

Yes, I’m reading these two books because I have my own issues as a writer.  I’m hoping that Ralph Keys can shed some light on my problems.

It is important for writers to read about the struggles of other writers.  Not because we like to see others struggle, but we need to know that we are not alone in trying to put words into sentences. In The Courage to Write, Mr. Keys opens with the saga of E.B. White and his troubles as a writer.  I felt a kinship with E.B. White when I learned that he was a gifted procrastinator.


I’d never thought about being gifted at procrastination, but I like the thought and I’m hanging on to it. 🙂

The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg (2004, Backbay Books)


My husband bought me a subscription to the Travel and Leisure magazine.  Even though I don’t think I’ll ever save enough to visit Peru or some of exotic places in this magazine, I do enjoy reading the writing.

Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote an article in the Travel and Leisure magazine about Yellowstone National Park.  Having traveled to Yellowstone last summer, it was a must read.  Just reading the first paragraph, I hung on every word. Then, I tore it out of the magazine and studied it – this writing – how did he do this?  I was in awe.  You can read it here.  Give yourself some time, you’ll be rereading it.

Wanting to read more of Klinkenborg’s writing, I discovered some books he’d written about living in the country.  I bought used copies of The Rural Life and Making Hay.

The Rural LIfe is structured in chapters that chronicle the year,  each month, a chapter heading.  Beginning with “January”, he writes about how winter is the only season that has to be relearned every year and about baling twine being the thread of life.  He pays attention to the small details of life.

Being raised on a farm, this book brings up memories that I’d forgotten, along with a reminiscent gratefulness that I was able to live these experiences in my own rural life.

Find Your Focus Zone by Lucy Jo Palladino (2007, Free Press)


Because I seem to have a little trouble focusing lately, I sought out a book for support. Summer time is when dreams of accomplishing a zillion things swim in my head. Fall usually rolls around and honestly, discouragement seeps in as I examine how few tasks are crossed off of my summer to-do list.  I have somewhat learned to accept this, but still.  If only I could focus.

Lucy claims our old ways of paying attention can’t keep up with the information overload , digital distraction and the new levels of stimulation and anxiety we all have.  Because having control over your attention is a critical skill to being successful, we need to learn some new strategies.  She’s speaking to me here.

“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”  ~Albert Einstein

This book will need to be studied.  I’ll take notes, apply them and probably have to reread.

I’ll let you know if I am successful.

What books are on your summer reading stack?  Please share!

Shari 🙂





What A Writing Community Does #sol16

The month of March slipped away like a shadow into shade .

The challenge was to write a slice of life every day for the entire month of March and post it. Well, I made it 21 days out of 31.

21 blog posts in 31 days!  Although I did not accomplish the challenge of posting every day, I still am wearing my achievement cape like a superhero . Since I began my blog in 2012, writing a post every six months had become my going rate.  So, mathematically, I’ve increased my production from .005% to 66% if I keep up the pace.  My writing muscles are greased and the Bernice Brain has quieted long enough for me to put stuff out there.

If I were to be totally honest, it was not really the challenge that got me writing, it was this writing community.  Holy Kamoly.  I have never seen such an inspiring, encouraging, uplifting, dedicated, creative group of human beings.

Never once did I have a post sit there lonely without some cheers from my fellow writers, (and sometimes my mother).  Feedback is crucial to the writer, whether only a pat on the back for showing up to write or a serious shot of gratitude for writing something that was resonated with. Even more so, to give me another perspective in my own little narrow viewed world.  It is then that I really know my words were taken in.  Love that.

I anxiously awaited the posts of other slicers.  Sometimes I sought inspiration and it was the content or structure of another writer that made my own fingers later dance at the keyboard. Other times, I seriously didn’t wish to write at all and filled my coffee cup just to read and comment on other’s words.  It felt as if we were exchanging small gifts, enjoying each other’s company and allowing one another to get a little peek into the world of other teacher-writer-lovely-people.  Always, I felt a calm peace after reading other’s posts.

I am jealous of writers who have writing communities or writing groups that they meet with face to face on a regular basis.  I have yet to find that.  But, this community here is the closest I have come to realize I will ever get.  At least right now. I am so grateful to have had this.

Thank you to the writing teachers at Two Writing Teachers for the enormous amount of work this challenge must have added to their already busy days.  Their commitment to writing and fostering teachers who write is remarkable.

Thank you to Elisabeth Ellington who voiced she was taking the plunge to do the challenge this year.  I saw her tweet and there was this little nudge in me that said, “Do it.”  I needed her words to give me the confidence to take it on.

And, good heavens, thank you to anyone who took a few moments out of your busy lives to read my words and then to comment.  The comments kept me writing.  They told me that my words matter.

Such goodness.

And, now the pump is primed.

Shari 🙂

Pie Story #sol16

I don’t like to admit it, but we are pie snobs at my house.  It’s not our fault.  I blame my mother-in-law (or should I say credit?).

Before I even married my husband, I knew that making pie from scratch was going to be an art that I wanted to master.  His mother, you see, had the gift of creating these masterpieces and at the end of many Sunday meals, they would be presented, savored, and devoured.

I was there.  A mere 16-year-old girlfriend.

I saw the look on my husband’s eyes when the pie came out.

I saw the look on my father-in-law’s eyes when the pie came out.

I also saw the family in my husband’s house melt into a blissful state upon tasting that first bite.

And, I saw the love that radiated around the table.

I learned then and there that I would need to figure this pie thing out.  As a new bride, my pies were a sad disappointment. Crust making was torture.  My husband persevered, never criticizing my attempts.  Perhaps he knew he still had his mother’s pies as a default.  Or, maybe he was praying that eventually I would get there.  Really, I think he was just grateful that I was trying.

It’s taken years, and my pie making art is one of the few things I will openly say that I’m pretty good at.  There are days that no matter what, a crust won’t take shape and I’ll throw it in the garbage and start over (or decide to make a box cake instead).  There are days when I can’t find my rolling-pin cover and I have to cut off the toes of a sock to stretch over the pin.  And, there are days when I overcook the apples turning them to applesauce.

But, on those good pie days. . .

oh man. . .

my husband is like putty in my hands.

Shari 🙂

Nothing is Original #sol16


My day began with coffee, feeding Sandy and mining old notebooks.  Every so often, these old friends call on me to revisit past pages, reflect on where I’ve been and look for patterns or ideas that are begging to be attended to.

I love words.  Seriously, I do.  Word Crazy.  My notebooks are filled with glittering gems collected from other writers, singers, artists, thinker-people and from conversations. There’s a lot of garbage in my notebooks, too – not fit for the outsider’s eyes.

Most of the good stuff in my notebook . . . is not my own. It’s stolen from other places. Words jotted down because they have a hold on me.  I recycle them into my own writing in hopes that they can be crafted into my own voice authentically.

But sometimes, I worry.

When does a writer give credit to where words come from and when can we steal words and rework them into something unique, using them in a different context and not feel obligated to cite the source?  (Yes, this is the research/grad student coming out here.)

It’s muddy waters.

I don’t know how many times I’ve written, “They were like puppies in church,”  or “We melted into the furniture.”  These are memorized phrases from Anne Lamott’s writing that I’ve used in both my talking and my writing.  Do I credit her?  Who owns a metaphor?  or a simile?  or a phrase?  Is there even an original source?  Do we go by word count?

Listening to the radio today, lyrics from Blake Shelton’s song, Mine Would Be You, nudged me to write them down,

What’s the greatest chapter in your book?
Are there pages where it hurts to look?

These words reach out and grab you.  I will use them somewhere.  Do I have to make sure I say they are from Blake? or his song writer?  Do I revise these two sentences to make them my own before I can use them?

In my notebook are these words copied down from somewhere, a comment from a lady on a blog.

I’m glad to be on this journey at the same time as you, wonderful-writer-thinker-lady.

Dang.  I adore how that sounds. I imagine being given the gift of these words and feel my heart well up.  I had to keep them safe somewhere.  They have become etched in my brain and they have come out in my writing.  I have no idea where they came from.

The idea of being accused of plagiarism can stop a writer in their tracks.

Worse yet, it can make you not write anything at all for fear that everything you have is really from somewhere else.

Again, the image of Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like An Artistimmediately comes to mind.  I get up and snatch it from my shelf.  Page one of Austin’s book has these words:


Every single page of this book is a gold mine.  I have to fight the urge to underline each line because of its brilliance or way it is written.  Have you ever read a book that has a hold on you in that way?  I have so many books full of my notes and sticky notes that they resemble more of a fan than a book (yep – I stole that simile somewhere).

Austin teaches us that nothing is original.  “The writer Jonathan Lethem has said that we people call something ‘original’ nine out of ten times they just don’t know the reference or the original sources involved.”   

and he writes. . .

“French writer Andre Gide put it, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said.  But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

This is true for anything.  Writing, art, and teaching.  Much of what some educators claim is “new” is actually a mashup or remix from the work of John Dewey or Paul Freire, Marie Clay or Fountas and Pinnell, Donald Murray or Donald Graves.  We need to pay homage to these thinkers.  Who do we think we are to claim something brilliant our own?  Insane. (I’m looking down at my feet here.)

I really don’t know where I was going with this.  It’s still a worry/wonder, yet it’s not going to stop me from collecting and studying the work of those I love.  Our work becomes the product of those we read, study or are with.  We are the sum of all these parts.  Eventually, it all becomes a part of us and we don’t know where it comes from.

So, choose carefully.

If you have never been to Austin Kleon’s site, you need to get yourself some coffee, find a spare hour and head on over there.  And, then of course, you’ll need to go see Chase Jarvis. These two give a person so much inspiration that it is difficult to get any of those chores on your to-do list done.  No lie.  You’ll be off creating. . .

Shari 🙂

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March Challenge of posting a blog post every day for the month of March.  While I’ve missed a few days, I’m still in it for the long haul!  To check out other writers, visit here.



I Am The Moon #sol16

How am I the moon?
a poem ~ Shari Daniels
The moon is ever changing
emptying and filling
unlearning the old
to learn new

Always present
but sometimes needs 
to disappear
to become new again

it watches
when ready to be seen
you notice it
speaking volumes

Living in seasons
aligning with human energies
it whispers
the natural time
for starting things, maturing
and planning

This first full moon 
after spring equinox
reminds us
to rest, stop, reflect.

And begin again
with new eyes.

Befuddled #sol16

We began to do some notebook collecting for non fiction writing, my third graders and I. We created lists of passions, interests, wonders, places we’d like to visit and people we’d like to meet.

I became quite befuddled when I realized my kids did not know very many famous people beyond You Yubers.

“What’s a You Tuber?” I asked them.

“You know, people who make You Tube videos?” they laughed at me, not realizing I was fishing for more information.

“Well, what kind of You Tube videos are you all watching?” concerned – these are 8 and 9 year olds.  There is some pretty nasty stuff out there.

“Video games!” they shouted.

“What? I don’t get it,” I replied, confused.

“They make videos of themselves playing video games!” again, trying to help me understand.

“Huh? I’m confused.  Why would you want to watch that? Why wouldn’t you just play your own video games?” I asked.

“Because they are funnier!  They make jokes, but you have to be careful, Mrs. Daniels, because some of them swear,” they confessed, “but they are funny!”

I tried to nudge them to be interested in Teddy Roosevelt or even Kate Dicamillo, but several of them declared the name of a video You Tuber as their person they would love to meet some day.  Ugh.

So, I did a little googling tonight to see what they were talking about and I discovered that this character called PewDiePie made over 7 million dollars in 2014 just playing video games on You Tube.  Yes, he is what my third graders are watching.  No, they shouldn’t be.

Just sayin.

The world is a-changin.

And, I’m not sure yet what to think.

What are your kids watching?


I’m participating in twowritingteachers March Challenge of posting a blog post every day for the month of March.  While I’ve missed a few days, I’m still in it for the long haul!  To check out other writers, visit here.