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The Big Fresh October 20, 2018 Crayons

Brenda Power

History written in pencil is easily erased, but crayon is forever.

                                                                               Emilie Autumn

This fall I’m immersed in a redesign of the Choice Literacy website. One thing the designer has learned is that I hate stock photos of teachers and students. I don’t even like the “good” ones, which always look the same to me -- a kid holding a pencil, looking off into the distance as she thinks a deep thought, just about to put it on the blank page. A teacher smiling joyfully (if a little too forcefully) as she looks out over a sea of raised hands and shining faces.

Nothing wrong with those photos. I just want the real thing. Luckily, I have thousands of images compiled from classroom visits over the years that we can use.

I thought the designer and I were in agreement about not using stock photos till he sent over the latest design draft, which included this shot:



“The crayons have to go. Crayons don’t look like that,” I told him.

“I know you don’t like stock images, but it’s . . . crayons. What else would they look like?” he replied.

I’m sure he thinks I’m crazy.

He may be right.

How can inanimate objects be inauthentic?

It was hard for me to put into words what was wrong with that image.  So I pored over classrooms photos I’d collected over the years, wondering if I had any shots from our photographers just of crayons. It didn’t take long to find this one:



This photo was taken just weeks into the school year, when believe it or not those crayons were still pretty new. But what a story they tell already. Of little hands fighting over favorite colors, and friends jabbering about what to draw. A few of the blue ones more than half gone already, sacrificed to fill in most of the page of a sky.  Many crayons colored a bit by other crayons. Who knows why kids do that? Messy. Irregular. Used. Loved. Dozens of stories in that little tote we’ll never know, but the hints are there.

In the scheme of things, the difference between the two photos of crayons doesn’t matter much at all. But the older and crankier I get, the less patience I have with teachers having to sit silently and politely while outsiders tell their story and get it wrong. Sometimes the stories are told with numbers -- tests that shame. Sometimes the stories are recounted from decades past, from an outsider’s perspective of school colored in sepia tones of memory and prejudice.

Speaking up for what young readers and writers need, and standing up for what we teach and how we teach it, means telling the truth. Even if it’s something as simple as what a crayon looks like in a classroom. Because if we don’t get the little things right, it becomes easier to fudge the truth about the big things.

My designer kindly agreed to nix the stock photos of inanimate objects. I think he gets it. But even if he doesn’t, I know in that split second when a teacher visits the new website and sees crayons, she will know. The classrooms here are real and the stories are true. And some of them are buried in those crayons.

This week we look at how to make classrooms more comforting to students. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Brenda Power
Founder, Choice Literacy


Free for All

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Christy Rush-Levine takes an oddly shaped unused nook in her classroom and turns it into a charming space where students can choose to take a quiet break with a "Self-Imposed Time-Out" (SITO):


Katie DiCesare comforts a student in tears at the end of the day, and realizes part of the problem may be that she moved the child into a guided writing group too quickly:


Mandy Robek shares her top 10 picture books to help students overcome worries:


Check out our new online courses for teachers and literacy coaches! In the next month we're featuring 12-day self-paced classes from Katherine Sokolowski on student research projects in grades 3-7, Christy Rush-Levine on quick and meaningful reading conferences in middle school, and Jennifer Schwanke on better outreach to families. Courses include three-month trial memberships to Choice Literacy and Lead Literacy, screencasts, videos, articles, and personal responses from the instructor to your questions. Explore detailed descriptions at this link:



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A paid membership gives you access to all premium content. For details on trial and annual memberships, click here.

Suzy Kaback feels rising unease as a tourist in unfamiliar neighborhoods. The experience provokes empathy for students who find classrooms strange or uncomfortable:


Stella Villalba is at a loss when a teacher is hostile to a new English language learner in her classroom. She considers the unspoken challenges of welcoming students who may have had no time at all in schools in their previous history:


In this week's video, Katrina Edwards helps her first graders early in the year transition to more thoughtful reading partnerships through a minilesson at the start of the morning workshop:


Sometimes it is more important for young learners to be comfortable than correct, especially if we want them to take risks. In an encore video, Melissa Kolb confers with three-year-old Daniela and explains why approximations are crucial for young literacy learners:


That's all for this week!

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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.