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The Big Fresh September 7, 2013 Perfect Pie Crusts

Brenda Power

Never doubt that a small, committed group of people with pies can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

                                              Subcomandante Tofutti


My mom is known for her pies. I grew up, moved out, and decided it was time to make pies like my mom. She took me to an elite store where they handcrafted rolling pins, and bought one that she deemed perfect. We also picked up a pastry blender and a mat. I was set to make perfect pies like my mom.

I copied down her pie dough recipe, lined up the ingredients, and attempted my first pie in the dinky kitchen of my one-bedroom apartment. I failed. Not one to give up, I continued attempting and failing for nearly a year. Eventually, I figured out a remedy for this problem. I swiped pie shells out of mom's freezer (because I was conditioned at a young age to believe buying pie dough from the grocery store was a sin).

Then a few summers ago the reality hit me that my mom wouldn't always be around to stock a freezer with pie shells. It was time I learned to roll my own pie shells. I dusted off the recipe, dug out my trusty rolling pin, lined up the ingredients in my grown-up kitchen, and attempted again. Agonizing over throwing the third batch of pie dough into the trash can, I called my mom and asked her to teach me to roll out pie dough.

Every week for an entire summer she came to my kitchen and went through the process of making pie dough. "You'll learn to feel it, Ruth," she said. I rolled my eyes.

But I watched and learned the art of pie making. I noticed the nuances, learning how not to overwork the dough, finding the right pressure for the rolling pin, and learning the technique of transferring the dough from the mat to the pie pan. My three young children were all successful with the process. I failed. Every week for ten weeks, I failed at making, rolling, and transferring pie dough. Mom (or one of the kids) sometimes rescued me. Other times the wad of dough went in the trash can.

And then it happened. I felt it. I knew the dough wasn't overworked. I knew the pressure on the rolling pin was perfect. I folded the dough and lifted it into the pie pan. I rolled a pie shell alone. I snapped a photo and texted it to my mom. We ate pie together that night, and she whispered revered praise to me.

Learning the art of something takes time. It is through vision and failure and mentors that we learn. I remember this when I'm helping students learn to craft a lead or structure an essay or spell a word. It takes time to learn to put sounds together to read a word, and put the meaning of different chapters together to find a theme. When we offer a vision, mentor, and help students learn how it feels to be a reader and writer, our classrooms will be filled with sweet success.

Teachers are feeling their way into the concept of close reading throughout the country these days because of the Common Core. This week we're featuring resources that explore close reading. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Ruth Ayres

Contributor, Choice Literacy

Ruth Ayres is a full-time writing coach for Wawasee School District in northern Indiana. She blogs at Ruth Ayres Writes and is the coauthor of Celebrating Writers, available soon through Stenhouse Publishers.


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In a new podcast, Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts look at close reading from many different angles:


"Close reading" is the darling new phrase in literacy education, used to describe everything from end-of-chapter textbook questions to sticky note extravaganzas when reading novels. Chris Lehman explains why Close Reading Isn't Just Anything in the start of a new blog series:


Close reading and rereading are linked in many classrooms. In this article from the Choice Literacy archives, Max Brand shares how he threads rereading throughout his fifth-grade literacy block:


Nancy Boyles highlights three strategies for bringing close reading to the elementary grades in this essay from Educational Leadership:


Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris have compiled over a dozen posts on close reading at their blog:


If you'd like more in-depth coaching from our contributors in the comfort of your home or school, consider taking one of our online courses this fall from Jennifer Allen (Literacy Coach Jumpstart), Franki Sibberson (The Tech-Savvy Literacy Teacher), or Katie DiCesare (Designing Primary Writing Units with the Common Core in Mind). Each course includes three on-demand webinars, a DVD for use after the course is completed, individual responses from the instructor, and a wealth of print and video resources linked to the topic. Click on the link below for more details:


Have you visited Lead Literacy yet? It's our new site dedicated to the needs of literacy leaders working with adults in professional development settings:



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In How to Eat an Elephant One Bit(e) at a Time, Maggie Beattie Roberts and Kate Roberts present a step-by-step process for close reading in the middle and high school grades involving multiple passes through the same text:


Students are given a nonfiction text to mark up during a close reading with a partner in this week's video from Andrea Smith's fourth-grade classroom. This is the first video in a two-part series:

Megan Ginther and Holly Mueller are Emphasizing Empathy in their September literacy contracts for middle school students. This is the second installment in a series:


Meghan Rose shares some Lessons from Listening to Toddlers Read from the Home Is Where the Books Are series:


New PD2Go: We're also featuring Andrea Smith's video on close reading of a text for research as a PD2Go offering with a workshop supplement and transcript:


This PD2Go video supports Common Core Standard ELA-Literacy W.4.9b: Apply Grade 4 reading standards to informational texts (e.g., "Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text").

That's all for this week!


Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.