a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Saturday, October 26, 2013

in which I CELEBRATE Lehman, Roberts, and Kittle

Ruth Ayres is hosting a Saturday link-up!  Join us by clicking the link below.

Participating in the Heinemann Webinar Let’s Talk About Your Readers with Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts, and Penny Kittle was just the nudge I needed to deepen and solidify the work Paulsen’s words had begun. 

Friday after school, I met with some colleagues for our weekly staff Write Club.  Each week we read a short piece, complete a quick write in response, and share our writing (of course we do much more than that—laugh, cry, vent, grow—but this is the basic structure of our time).  This week, I had chosen “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins.  Initially, I thought I might write my own piece in response focusing on the passion, knowledge, and dedication I bring to my job, and counter it with the mandates, clipboards, and negative feedback I get in response. 

However, I just couldn’t muster up the negative energy (which had come so easily over the past few weeks) to write such a piece.  Instead, I found myself focusing on a line of the poem that I hadn’t fully appreciated the first few times I’d read the poem:  and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered.  This time, with the words of Lehman, Roberts, and Kittle still lingering in my heart, the whispered gift of two clear eyes to read the world tugged at my sleeve, calling to be noticed, hoping to be admired.

I started to think about reading the world—closely reading the world.  I started to think about choice and the role it plays.  And I wondered why I have been choosing to closely read the parts of the world I have been lately.  This reminded me of the words of Ruth AyresLife is for celebration, not survival.  Why had I been focusing on the parts of my world I feel I have to endure instead of the parts of my world that sustain me?

And you know that part of the Grinch’s story where his heart grows?  I felt that happening for me.  The black outer layer started to crack away to reveal a pink, fleshy interior, as if someone had finally sprinkled water on the dry, parched ground of my teacher soul. 

I whispered a new choice—a choice to focus my two clear eyes to read closely the parts of the world that matter.

I choose to focus on Chris Lehman’s idea that close reading is a particular type of thinking about text, a habit readers can choose to use while reading; it is NOT all of reading, NOT an entire curriculum, NOT a list of text-dependent questions.

I choose to focus on Kate Robert’s thoughts about the purpose for close reading being to raise engagement and joy for reading.

I choose to focus on what Chris Lehman said when he was summarizing Kate Robert’s ideas about close reading being an interaction between a text and reader rather than the act of finding of a truth inside of a text.

I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s practice of closely reading her students, and Chris Lehman’s thoughts about students being our curriculum.

I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s idea that part of our job is to create a love reading, which leads to the development of non-cognitive qualities that are critical to future success (see How Children Succeed by Paul Tough): persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.

I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s words about taking time for what really matters in our classrooms: Without conferring I can’t reach my readers.

I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s declaration that every text is worth reading closely, and students should be making choices about what they are closely reading.

I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s ideas about text complexity needing to start where kids are, that it is okay for students to end the year in different places when it comes to text complexity.  This kind of differentiation is good practice, she says.

I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s idea that the more control she gives her students, the more they read.

I choose to focus on Chris Lehamn’s words about the Common Core State Standards: They are all about independence.

I choose to focus on what matters.


  1. Yes Christie, yes, yes, yes! I echo every word you write. This post makes me happy :-)

  2. This is beautiful and I feel an awakenig as I read through your post. It seems as though your soul is being restored.

  3. It's wonderful to hear the words, and so happy you made them yours, not just Kittle's and Lehman's and Robert's words, but yours, too. I know from what you write that that's exactly what you do, Christy, for your students. I hope you'll print this text and keep it posted for you! Thanks for sharing the important words with us, too!

  4. Christie, I've been all over since reading your post. Listened to Billy Collins read The Lanyard (a new one of his for me), headed over to Twitter to read some of the tweets from the webinar, and read your SOL from last week (which I had missed). I love this question, " Why had I been focusing on the parts of my world I feel I have to endure instead of the parts of my world that sustain me?" and then I love your answer, "I choose to focus . . . " Thanks for the inspiration. And now I think it's time for me to crack open my copy of Falling in Love with Close Reading which arrived this week.

  5. I choose to focus on you and your blog Christy because you are brilliant and teach me so much! Thank you for always reminding me to look beyond!

  6. I'm glad that you are rising like a phoenix, stronger than ever, powered by words.

  7. Sometimes, the nudge of a thought is all you need. Every seed is protected by a seedcoat; contained within that coat are the nutrients needed for the seed's survival. It is only when those nutrients are no longer enough to sustain the seed that the seedcoat breaks open.

    Perhaps you are now sustained by the words and deeds of others in a way that wasn't possible before; perhaps those words didn't have enough nutrient to spur or sustain anything beyond physical growth.

    Now...there seems to be a greater sense of the emotional growth. Call it wisdom, call it age, call it knowledge...no matter what we call it, the seedcoat only breaks open exactly when it is supposed to open.

    Sometimes we leave the seedcoat behind, others, like me, pick it up and carry it along on the journey. If you choose to keep yours, remember it will never fit and protect you again, but it will remind you that you don't need that protection. You have friends for that.

  8. Choosing to focus on the positive, on what you can do. I love the quote from Penny about conferring to know her readers. Be renewed, my friend.

  9. Amen, Christie, Amen, Amen, Amen. I'm loving that you were in Boston hearing from these amazing authors. My big question is this...why would we read, unless we are reading to know...and experience joy? You are an amazing girl...I wish I could be in your Friday club. xo nanc