brown girl dreaming

I was so taken with this book, brown girl dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson, that I decided to try my hand at free verse while writing about this book. I have no idea how to format poems correctly on WordPress. I type it in one way, but when I “publish” it looks different. If anyone has any suggestions, please send them my way. 


Several friends brightened up at the mention of this book.                                                               I only wanted to taste it, but within hours, only a morsel remained.

Is it the luscious words that lured me in?                                                                                                 Is it the poignant paraphrasing of an indelible time?                                                                           Is it Jacqueline’s voice weaving, warbling through the tales of her life?

I only know that this remarkable poetic novel will be                                                                       purchased, not borrowed, remembered, not forgotten.

brown girl dreaming…a mentor text, a memorable read,                                                                       a memorial to family and freedom.

Your words live on and inspire, Jacqueline Woodson!



An Atypical Week Ahead

The weekend flew by and now I’m faced with a very atypical week. Tomorrow and Tuesday I will be in school, but beginning on Wednesday, I’ll be out of school for a whole week. Ah…I can almost hear your envious sighs. Not so fast…the reason I’ll be absent is because my husband is having back surgery (a lamindectomy) on Wednesday. Mike has been struggling with spinal stenosis, herniated discs and a plethora of back ailments for quite a while. Recently, however, his legs have started to go numb when he walks. Over the past few months, this has become increasingly incapacitating. He tried a cortisone shot (very painful) and got minimal relief. Last month, we wound up in the orthopedic surgeon’s office. When the doctor looked at Mike’s X-ray’s, he proclaimed, “It’s a no-brainer”. At least we had a definitive answer. Confidently the doctor continued—“Surgery is the best option. It’s only going to get worse. If it’s not done now, it will be more difficult in the future.” Mike was scheduled for surgery before we left the office.

The preliminary tests are done, our work schedules are cleared, now we are within three days of a pretty serious surgery that carries with it at least six weeks of recovery time. I’m trying to stay positive and calm. I’m trying to not anticipate the problems that I know can arise. Mike and I will be married forty-five years this May. He is still the love of my life and it’s scary to think of what lies ahead for him. However, we both agree this has to happen. Our five children and their spouses have all reached out to us during the weekend and undoubtedly the days ahead will be filled with prayers, love and support for Mike. I’ve lived long enough to realize that challenges always come bearing gifts. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be mindful of the gifts this difficulty unveils and remember to be grateful for them.

Coming Home

Did you ever walk into a meeting or workshop and within minutes feel as though you were “home”?

That’s how I felt this morning when I attended a Continuity session in West Chester, hosted by Pennsylvania Literacy and Writing Project. It had been several years since connected with this group of teacher/writers. Shame on me for waiting so long.

When I arrived, about twenty folks were seated around a large table quietly writing. After a few minutes, everyone was given the opportunity to share if they chose to do so. One of the prompts related to books we had recently read. The participants threw out the names of so many wonderful books that I had trouble jotting down all the titles. One woman, a published author, passed around three incredible picture books. No need to wonder what I’m going to give my grandkids for their spring birthdays or what I’m going to read aloud to my students this week. Pink is for Blobfish, Good Morning, Yoga, and Finding Winnie are the names of these picture books if you want to check them out for yourselves. But the best was yet to come…

The facilitators asked if anyone had brought something to share. I spent the next hour immersed in listening and learning. One teacher mentioned the podcasts he is doing for/with his students. I can’t wait to check them out. Another woman explained a dilemma regarding assessment. All of us participated in assessing a piece of writing created by a first grade student. It was amazing to see  twenty-some people agree on where this child’s piece fell on the writing rubric. I believe this lady received the support she needs. Finally, a mother with one grown son, shared the exquisite narrative, told in verse, of her twenty-three year old son’s move to Japan. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. This poem was beautifully crafted and I know the author walked away bolstered not only by the emotional response, but also by the varied suggestions that will put her on the path to publication.

As a writer (and I feel I can legitimately use that term) I often have the sense that others don’t quite get it when I share my work or speak of my passion. Most of the time, that’s not a problem. I keep much to myself because I know it’s difficult to understand how exciting and surprising it can be to craft thoughts, ideas, feelings into a cohesive whole. Participating in this group today was like coming home. I felt connected, understood, in sync with everyone, even though I knew very few of the people personally. With a grateful heart, I thank these teacher/writers as well as all of the people participating in this Slice of Life challenge. Writing is a solitary activity. Writers are often filled with doubt, fear, vulnerability. But the destination is possible if there are fellow travelers along the way to teach, encourage, and applaud.  Thank you, fellow travelers!

Ode to Friday


Praise to you, Dear Friday, the day everyone loves.                                                                                Once you show your welcome face it’s a blessing from above.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are days to muddle through,                                            but you’re the spot within the week we all look forward to.

You’re a light-hearted creature, spreading joy around.                                                                       Once a Friday begins, no one wears a frown.

We’re all a little gayer, full of happiness and fun,                                                                                    cause at the end of your day, the weekend has begun.

So thank you for your blessings and the gifts you bring each week.                                                 You’re the spot of sunshine and the respite that we seek.

PCQC – A Test-Taking Strategy

I know yesterday’s post was a bit melancholy, but today I’m all business. For the past week I’ve been teaching my students a test-taking strategy that I created years ago and found very effective. When I became a Reading specialist at the elementary level (after a six-year stint as a Reading specialist at the middle-grade level), I knew I had to break down many of my strategies to their least possible steps. The first year I prepared elementary students for the PSSA assessment, the strategy PCQC was born.

Based on best reading practices, this strategy provides a systematic way for students to navigate through any reading assessment. Thus, it is a practical idea—not just applicable to standardized tests.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

P – Preview

Students carefully read all the text features (title, heading, sub-headings, sidebars, pictures, captions, charts, graphs, maps, etc.) to activate background knowledge and set themselves up for a successful read. In addition, students are taught to read each test question carefully. At this point, I only want the kids to read the questions, not the answer choices. Since questions typically zero in on important components of the text, this provides more clues to the passage, introduces names and places, and enables a student to know what will be asked.

C – Chunk

Breaking text down into manageable pieces is a beneficial reading strategy. Chunking the long passages offered up in many reading assessments, enables the reader to hone in on one portion, encouraging careful reading and self-monitoring. I tell my students to “Chunk with pencil in hand”. That is, mark up the text by underlining, coding, jotting marginal notes. Chunking the text helps students to feel confident and decreases the overwhelming feeling of having to read the whole text. “Just take one bite at a time,” I tell them, “You don’t have to gulp the whole passage down at once”.

Q – Questions

Ah…the scary part is next. Answering those long, tricky questions can be a stressful experience for many students. In this part of the strategy, students read the questions for the second time. I show them how to read each question carefully and underline what the question is asking. I make sure they circle key words like NOT (which one of these is not…) and tell them to number two-part questions. We practice paraphrasing the questions to help them understand what is being asked. From there, students read each choice carefully. Remind them that they are looking for the best answer and must read every choice. Then, they should eliminate those choices they know to be wrong and return to the text to verify the choice they think is correct.

C – Check

The job’s not finished!  As teachers, we all know how easy it is for students to finish the last question, close the booklet and relax. Teach students to read each question again (yes, it is the 3rd tie they will read the questions) and then read only the answer they have chosen. Does it make sense?  Did I mark the answer sheet correctly? If they can answer yes to both these questions, then they really are finished and can relax knowing they have taken a deliberate approach and done their best.

My Days are Numbered

Today, we had planning time with colleagues in lieu of our regular faculty meeting. Notebook in hand, I ran up the stairs at 7:45 to meet with the other two Reading specialists. We have worked as a team for ten years. JoAnn and Kelly are two of the most committed, caring individuals I know and it has truly been a privilege to work beside them, learn from them, share the ups and downs of life, and form friendships that will last a lifetime.

This morning, however, our meeting began with a totally different topic. The first question we discussed…”What do you want to do for your retirement, Rita?”  Yikes!  This is the real deal. Back in January I announced that I would retire this June. Since my original plan was to retire next year, not this, I could hardly believe it myself.  What a bittersweet experience this is going to be. On the one hand, I crave more space in my cramped life. No longer will I have to hustle to fit in visits with my grandkids and outings with friends and household chores and writing and a million other things into the weekends. No longer will I collapse into bed each night with most of the tasks on my to-do list undone. No longer will the evenings find my husband left alone with the TV and me zonked out on the chair five minutes into the show we were going to watch together. Yes, retirement will have its perks.

On the other hand, I realize I will be walking away from the rewarding, challenging, sacred profession that is at the core of who I am. I am determined that although I’m not “teaching” full-time, I will remain a teacher in some capacity. I’ve convinced myself that there are many ways to keep my hands in this without the commitment of a full-time job. I remind myself constantly that writing is a form of teaching and I’ll have the time and energy to pursue my writing in a way I cannot do while working. Examining the upside of this decision, is the only way I’ll be able to move forward with grace and confidence.

My days are numbered and I must savor the gift of each one. Wherever you are on the spectrum between beginning teacher and retirement, I encourage you to do the same. Life speeds by and teaching is so consuming that it is easy to take things for granted. Endorse the work that you do, enjoy your students, and energize yourself frequently so that when your time comes, you can look back with joy at a satisfying career.

Banish the Blues

Slice of Life

The Monday Morning Blues made an appearance early yesterday morning. I knew right away that I would have to do battle to win the fight and turn a bad start into a good day. As I sit here happily writing, I’ll start my first “slice of life” by reflecting on how I won that fight.

Unlike most Monday mornings, instead of heading off to school, I was heading to the dermatologist’s office for my annual checkup. When she finished the exam, the doctor told me I really looked good (meaning my skin had not changed)  and also answered my questions about some creams created to  “diminish fine lines and wrinkles” on aging skin. Her comment and cream recommendations lifted my spirits and I felt a little brighter by the time I left the office.

Since I didn’t have to return to school until 12:30, I decided to go back home and take care of a few niggling tasks that were creating anxiety. Within one hour, I had made two overdue phone calls and did some necessary online banking. Whew! What a good feeling to check those chores off my list. After enjoying an early lunch in my own home, I started off to school.

By 1:30, I had taught one of my Reading Recovery students and a group of fifth graders. My next two groups (both fourth grade) were cancelled because of a classroom activity. Found time…is there anything better to lift your spirits?

Driving home, I enjoyed a nice phone conversation with my daughter, then stopped at the bank so I could check off yet another task on my “to do” list. When Mike, my hubby, arrived home he suggested we simply go to the diner for dinner. That sounded good to me. My hot turkey sandwich and the conversation with Mike were both satisfying

I’m grateful that somewhere along the line I learned some strategies to salvage a bad morning. Early in the day I had a chance to engage in a positive interaction with another person (The dermatologist) and be good to myself (buying new skin cream). I made time to handle some of the anxiety-producing tasks, and took a few minutes to relax by eating an early lunch at home. I practiced gratitude when I realized I had a whole hour of unexpected time. At this point, my bad start had turned into a good day and it wasn’t even 2:00 in the afternoon yet. I’m a naturally upbeat person and remembering a few tricks does help me banish a bad mood.

There’s no bad mood this morning because I’m excited to be part of this challenge, I’m excited to learn from other writers, I’m excited to push myself to write more. Let the fun begin!












































































































Fatigue, a rainy Monday morning, lots of little tasks to accomplish, and a sour mood are the makings of a bad day. Somewhere along the line, I’ve learned that chipping away at annoying tasks, doing something nice for yourself, and appreciating the little things can lift my spirits and enable me to get myself back on track. Today turned out well. I’m excited to participate in this Slice of Life challenge, excited to learn from other writers and write more myself, excited to share bits of my wonderful life. It’s been a good day!