One Book



Lynn has been back with her class for three weeks having returned from her maternity leave.  She has repeatedly told many people how much her class has grown – especially as readers.

We stood in the middle of the room, right after the mini lesson.  We were just looking at all the readers scattered around the room.  Some were sitting in a sea of books while others were sitting beside neatly stacked piles.  They all had a book in hand.

Lynn leaned in and whispered as she pointed to Joe.

“It’s engagement.  He has such a hard time staying focused.”

“I know. He definitely benefits from small groups and conferencing to keep him going.”

Lynn and I shared this quick exchange at the beginning of her Reader’s Workshop.

She and I went off and met with our small groups.  The room was noisy quiet with readers.

While my group  was practicing their new comprehension strategy, I glanced around the room and my eyes stopped at Joe.  He was sitting on the floor leaning against the computer table leg.  He was sitting criss cross and the book was nestled in his lap.  His head was down and I could hear his voice lifting every word off the page.  I watched him and then returned to my group.  When the small group had finished.  I walked around to confer.  Joe came up to me in the middle of a conference and said “Mrs. Sherriff, I just read this whole book!”  “I noticed you were reading the group and I were working!  What are your reading?”  I asked.  “It’s Mouse Soup.  Mrs. Hauser said it was a challenge book, but I just read it and it’s really good.”  “That is great Joe.  I guess Mrs. Hauser knew you were ready for the challenge.”  He shook his head, returned to his reading spot, and began to read Mouse Soup again.

That afternoon, I was back in Lynn’s room for a bonus reading time.  Lynn and I wanted to see what would happen if we ended Wednesday’s with a bonus reading time.  This was our first day.  We told the class that we thought the class was ready for this, “Only readers who are ready, get bonus time.”  Putting a positive spin on it, when in actuality her group just need more eyes on print time. Lynn and I watched the readers get settled, just as we had in the morning.  Joe went right to the same spot he had been in early in the day, against the computer table leg, and pulled out Mouse Soup.  He read the whole bonus reading time.  I could hear him.

This morning, I popped into Lynn’s room as the kids were entering the building and getting settled.  Joe came running up to me!  “Guess what, Mrs. Sherriff?  I read Mouse Soup AGAIN last night.  My mom was so impressed!   I love the ending!”  He went on to talk about the book and what he thought about it!

Was this the same reader that Lynn and I said had engagement issues the day before?

Sometimes all it takes is one good book.



Word Collectors



In my experience as a classroom teacher, journals had a central role in my work.  Both Journals and Writer’s Workshop were based on professional reading – Donald Graves, Donald Murray, Maureen Barbieri, Ralph Fletcher, Tom Newkirk, Jane Hansen – I could go on and on.  My classroom community was energized whenever they were working in their journals.  I learned that children thrive on discovery.

After reading Joy Write last spring, a group of teachers and I were inspired to weave Journal Pages into our  work.  I’ve been working in Amy’s room, once a week, since January. Each week, we offer the children choices that often include copying an art card, Word of The Day, or another writerly  invitation.  These writers always bring incredible  engagement and energy to their journals pages.

Today, I framed our time together around this – Writers Collect Words.  I was inspired by Peter Reynolds’ book, The Word Collector.  We read the book and at the end, I asked them what words stood out from the book.  Hands shot up all over and I heard Peter Reynolds words come out these little mouths – “emerald”, “brilliance”, and “harmony”.  Some of them veered away from the text sharing personal words that came to mind.

We set the writers off in in pairs with art cards.  They opened their journals to a clean page, read their art cards, talked, wrote, listened, and wrote more.  The room was busy with the chatter of writers collecting words. The children were joyfully engaged in discovery.



I grew up in a little town in Massachusetts – Seekonk.  It’s right on the Rhode Island border, so my childhood accent was a mix of Massachusetts twang with Rhode Island drawl.  Probably not the most appealing combination to the ear.

I grew up in a simple ranch home that Dad built.  Growing up, everyone in the family had responsibilities.  My brother and sister and I all had chores. to do.  My mom and dad were experts at divvying up the responsibilities around the house.

The yard was divided into three sections. My older sister, Jane, had the side yard to the right of the house.   My older brother, Alan, had the front and a piece of the left side yard.  I had the straight flat backyard.  During those spring, summer and even some fall days, we had to cut that grass.

Inside, we each had daily responsibilities.  I usually set the table, Alan usually cleared it and Jane had to clean and load the dishwasher. My mom emptied the dishwasher.  She routinely completed this chore in the early morning.  I can remember hearing the clank of the plates and ting of the silverware as she put it all away, as I lay half asleep, still in bed.

On the weekends, one of us had to vacuum, someone had to dust and someone had to clean bathrooms.  These chores weren’t delegated but rather chosen.  My mom would just holler out what needed to be done and it was first come first serve on the chores.

My favorite was cleaning the bathroom.  I remember getting enjoying watching the soap scum disappear from the well used sink.  I remember watching the Comet meld with the water.  I remember swishing that toilet bowl brush around the porcelain throne.  The smell and glow of a newly cleaned bathroom gave me sense of clean satisfaction.

Second to cleaning the bathroom was dusting.  In our front, “formal”, living room we had a bookcase that was home to framed pictures and knick knacks and of course a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica.  I remember taking everything off the book case, dousing it with lemon scented Pledge and clearing the dust with various strokes of my rag.  The best part was rearranging all the pictures and knick knacks.  Not only was the bookcase dusted, it got a revision thanks to my reorganization.

To this day, I still get that sense of clean satisfaction after scouring a bathroom.  I dust not when someone tells me to, or on any particular day of the week I dust  when I can actually see that a thin layer has collected on a night stand or an end table. Dusting still doesn’t bother me all that much. It’s still somewhat satisfying.  Now emptying the dishwasher was not a childhood chore, however, as an adult it is the chore I despise.   I think I am still haunted by the sounds of clanking dishes and tinging silverware when I was trying to sleep.

Now, mornings are meant for quiet and coffee not clanging dishes and tinging silverware.  But that darn dishwasher still has to be emptied – where’s Mom?

Transferring Energy



Monday, started as a melancholy kinda day.  Mondays are like that.

I went to Burn Boot Camp. I was there.  I did not give it my all.  I wasn’t feeling it.  It was Monday.

I got to school, psyched myself up for a great day of teaching with no snow in the forecast.  I perused some new books as the school came to life with kids.  I checked in with Sienna who had read over the weekend and was energized to read to me.  As she pulled out her books, she said “I thought I’d read the frog book to you and then share what I learned.”  “Sounds good, Sienna.”  I was secretly thankful for her take charge attitude and approach!

As I walked Sienna back to her classroom, I ran into Denia.  She clearly was not having a melancholy morning.  She blurted out, quite quickly, I might add.

“OH!  Mrs. Sherriff!”  her class was with her waiting to go into art.  “I just wanted you to know that I started my speech for 5th grade graduation over the weekend.  I was sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t know what to write…I don’t know what to write.’  and then I thought of The Word of the Day.  So I used the word TIME and I started to free write.  I was thinking of you the whole time I was writing.  I don’t know where it will go, I may change it but I don’t think I will, It was GREAT! I used word of the day just like we do every Friday morning during Journal Pages with the kids.  So thank you!”

I wasn’t quite sure what she was thanking me for because in that moment, I was thanking her! Her energy about her writing and passionate tone in sharing snapped me out of my melancholy mood and set me on the course for a great day, even though it was a Monday.


The Phone Rang


The phone rang.  I was vacuuming.  Grace yelled, “MOM!” I turned and looked at her.  She motioned to turn it off.  I did as I was told.  “It’s Muriel.”  “Answer it.”  I said.

Muriel is our neighbor.  She’s 91 years young. She lives alone.  She and her husband Bob bought the house in 1954. She is sharp as a tack.  When I talk to her, I always check to make sure she has her hearing aids in.  If she doesn’t, I know she’s not hearing a word I am saying.

Grace answered the phone and I stood there watched and listened.

“Hi Muriel!  This is Grace.”  Shespoke slowly and loudly.  I heard Muriel even though I was not the one holding the phone.  I couldn’t hear her exact words, but I could tell by her tone, something was a amiss.

“My dad’s not home, right now, but when he gets home, he can come right over.”  I can’t imagine why she needs Billy, I needed to know, so I grabbed the phone.  “Hi Muriel!  It’s Dawn.”  I spoke slowly and loudly.

“I think there’s an animal in my backyard.  I can’t tell what it is.  Can you come over and check it out?  Maybe I’m imagining things.  I’ll be in the backyard.”  “I’ll be right over Muriel.”  I told her.

I walked out the door and I could hear voices across the street.  I saw Trevor and his 5 year old daughter Olivia outside playing.  I took a mental note “If there is an animal in her yard, and I need reinforcement, I’m getting Trevor.”  I walked to the back and I cut through the leafless bushes.  I saw Muriel on her patio.

“Hey Muriel!” I called.  “Oh Dawn!  Thanks so much for coming!”  she sounded relieved just at my presence.  She must’ve had a lot of confidence in my ability to rid her yard of the animal.  “Where is it?”  I asked.  She pointed clear across her yard.  I followed her finger and there in the distance I saw a brown lump.  At first sight I wasn’t sure if it was an animal or not.  I slowly walked towards to brown lump.  Muriel was right behind me.  With each step, I studied the lump for any movement.  Nothing.  I kept walking and looking.  Looking and walking.  “It’s not an animal.”  I turned and told Muriel.  “It’s not?”  she was surprised at my statement.  “What is it?” she asked .  “It’s a lump of dirt and roots to that bush that’s laying on the ground.  It must have been uprooted in one of the storms.”  We got right up to the brown lump to inspect the dirt.  “Oh for heaven’s sake!”  she chuckled and raised her arms.  “Thank you so much for coming over. I was really scared.”

“You know you can call us anytime, Muriel!”

We chatted a while, like neighbors do, we hugged, and I headed home with a smile in my heart.