11 WAYS TO CROSS THE ENGLISH CHANNEL: When the wind is right, canvas can do miracles.

I recently crossed the English Channel, the arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France. It’s a link between shared cultures and political structures. Oh, and it’s where you’ll find Guernsey ~ that small island between Weymouth,England and St. Malo, France.

I’m a huge fan of the epistolary novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows. Believe the hype you hear about this book. It’s an eminently scarfable story (unlike the potato peel pie in its title) about the occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII. But it’s also about the healing power of books ~ their ability to bring people together and help them through the dark times..


I asked dear Captain Jurgen if we could swing by Guernsey.  How far could it be? He suggested I wait for the movie. http://www.movieweb.com/news/kate-winslet-joins-the-guernsey-literary-and-potato-peel-pie-society (delayed until 2013) 

My trip across the Channel? Well, consider me transported.


You may have guessed I didn’t take the Eurostar through the Chunnel, like Queen Elizabeth II and French president Francois Mitterand did on opening day…

…or jump on a ferry.

I didn’t cross in a hot air balloon like Jean Pierre Francois Blanςhard, the French pioneer of aviation and ballooning.  Jean Pierre’s flights started a Balloonomania craze ~ images of balloons were everywhere, even hair was coifed à la Blanchard. In 1808, Blanchard had a heart attack while ballooning, fell from his balloon and died a year later. Lovely Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant, his widow, continued to support herself with ballooning demonstrations until it also killed her. That little lady must have been one no-quit trouper with juggernaut nerves of titanium.

I did’t hop on a paddle steamer…

…and swimming was definitely out. Ditto: water skis. There’s jellyfish and freighters to dodge, bone-numbing temperatures, volatile weather, and powerful tides in this most fickle of seas.

Nor did I take to the air in an autogyro like Juan de la Cierva, father of the modern helicopter…

…or paddle an coracle like Bernard Thomas.


I didn’t soar in a helium balloon like Jonathan Trappe, who zipped across the Channel in four hours, dangling beneath a cloud of coloured helium balloons. He controlled his altitude by cutting the balloons free one by one, with a pair of scissors.

Jet Pack?  Uh uh.

Swiss pilot Yves Rossy, nicknamed Rocket Man, flew the Channel using a jet pack. He launched from a plane high over Calais and flew to Dover in just ten minutes, powered by four kerosene-burning engines. I wonder if Rossy read Ray Bradbury’s story.



Me? I read the memoir Three Ways to Capsize a Boat – An Optimist Afloat by Chris Stewart. Stewart is a great storyteller with a rollicking good sense of humor.  So, naturally, I chose to sail across the Channel on a four-masted barkentine, a full-rigged clipper ship. And the trip went swimmingly, which is buoyantly hilarious ~ or ironic ~ because I can’t swim. And neither could Captain Jurgen, he confessed to me over a glass of Prosecco.

Ropes spin and spool.  The crew cranks and pulls. The bridge is open, the Captain plots his course.  I peer over his shoulder.  The haunting strains of Vangelis’s symphony 1492: Conquest of Paradise plays and the first of the sails is unfurls.

Listen as you read ~ . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sxl1x8-oIRQ


All I hear is the sound of the music and the calls of the line handlers until every sail is in place. I feel the wind power the ship through the water. It’s spine-tingling.

She’s got her pretty on.  As always.


It’s not far down to paradise
At least it’s not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away
And find tranquility
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me

It’s not far to never never land
No reason to pretend
And if the wind is right you can find the joy
Of innocence again
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me

Takes me away
To where I’ve always heard it could be
Just a dream and the wind to carry me
And soon I will be free

It gets the best of me
When I’m sailing
All caught up in the reverie
Every word is a symphony
Won’t you believe me

It’s not far back to sanity
At least it’s not for me
And when the wind is right you can sail away
And find serenity
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me  

 ~  by Christopher Cross


Toni 9/27/12

When More Than One Teacher Subtracts Rather Than Adds: How to Solve a Problem Administrators and Teachers May Not Know They Have. Another Story from Those High-Achieving/High-Poverty Classrooms I’m Watching.

The only problem with the additional helping teachers found in a high-poverty school is the additional teachers.

Here’s a story followed by a solution. (And, no, the solution isn’t to get rid of the funding and the extra teachers!)

So, Eduardo, Mr. P points to his notebook page, Are you getting to the bottom of it?

Mr. P is teaching exploratory writing. “Ideas are like boxes. I can’t always see the bottom of them. When I write to get to the bottom of the page I sometimes get to the bottom of an idea too. Writing helps me figure out what I’m thinking.”

Now the lesson is at the “Try-It” phase, where Mr. P confers with the students as they grapple with what he’s demonstrated.

Eduardo points to the top of his page and, using the exact gesture Mr. P used, zigzags his finger down to the bottom of the page. “New Idea,” he announces, pointing to the last sentence.

“New Idea?” echoes Mr. P. “You got to the bottom of the page and surprised yourself? You came up with something you hadn’t thought of before?”

Eduardo nods and starts to tell Mr. P what he’s discovered.

At this point, Eduardo’s Helping Teacher rushes over.

Like a looming Goliath, she stands behind Eduardo. She makes a time-out gesture and says, as If Eduardo were deaf, “Eduardo’s not ready for that yet.”

With that pronouncement, Eduardo puts his pencil down and drops his hands to his lap. The light in his eyes switches off; he starts to do that humming thing he’d done when he first came to the class. When his foster mother enrolled him she said he had elected not to speak because of the trauma he’d suffered before coming to her. Now, several months later, although he does not yet volunteer in whole class situations or with his Helping Teacher, he talks freely in small group and with Mr. P.

Until now.

The Helping Teacher hadn’t coordinated with Mr. P. and that’s a huge problem. In order to accelerate progress, every adult working with the students must know the child and have the same goals.

So how to coordinate?

  1. Have all helpers working in the classroom where the main teacher can quickly talk to the helpers and make sure they get it.
  2. If this is not possible, the team working with the child must meet, even if it’s two minutes twice a week, even if it’s through a notebook that the child carries with him in which all the teachers make notes and give updates–something to ensure that everyone is on the same page–in this case literally.
  3. Helpers include: Chapter One and Special Ed teachers, interns, student teachers, the specials teachers, elder tutors, physical therapists, psychologist, etc.

Once the teacher team understands the vital nature of cohesion in instruction, it happens. And it’s not a case of David and Goliath anymore.

Patty 9/28/12

Learning Starts from an Itch that Needs Scratching: The Big Deal About Questions OR More Stories from Those High-Achieving, High-Poverty Classrooms I’m Watching. (Way to Go, Vogel-Wetmore!)

All learning begins with an itch that’s just has to be scratched, a curiosity that begs to be sated. Teacher questions assess learning; student questions spark it.

The students in these high-achieving, high-poverty classrooms I’m watching hear this anchor story. It reminds them to ask questions. (Anchor stories are stories that get retold to anchor ideas.)

Olaf is a first grader in Joan Lexau’s book Olaf Reads.

The Plot: One day Olaf receives a Champion Reader certificate. He always answers his teacher’s questions and can read words.  The next day, however, he makes a series of mistakes. He «mails» his mother’s important letter in a litter basket because he reads litter as letter on the “Put Litter Here” sign. When the trash collector retrieves the letter and hands it to him, he says, “What’s the matter, Olaf, weren’t you thinking?”

Olaf replies, “No. I just read the words.”

Later, at school, Olaf pulls the fire alarm after boasting that he can read anything, even the word PULL! After the fire chief determines that it was Olaf who pulled the alarm, the chief asks, “What’s the matter, Olaf? Weren’t you thinking?”

Olaf again has to say, “No. I just read the words.”

When Olaf is too noisy in the library, the teacher points to one of the QUIET signs and asks him to read it. He guesses wildly. Queen? Quit? King?

When she says Think, Olaf. What word would make sense here in the library where we use our six-inch voices? he reads the word quiet and sighs with great weariness.

Olaf slogs home. He goes to the refrigerator, pulls the Champion Reader certificate off the door, and rips it to shreds. His Mama is horrified. I’m not a champion explains Olaf, as he recounts all his mistakes. What to do, what to do worries his Mama. Then Olaf pulls a small laminated square out of his backpack. My teacher gave me this. She said, «keep it with you, Olaf, and memorize what’s on it.»

His mother takes it and reads:

Olaf tells her, My teacher says pretty soon I’ll ask myself questions without any reminders.

Students hear this story more than once in their K-5 years. It’s fun to listen to a storyteller and watch the plot unfold with sketches of the various read-but-don’t-think errors.  So, at the beginning of fifth grade the teacher tells the story and then distributes replicas of Olaf’s laminated square. She comes to Angus who shakes his head, No thank you. I don’t need one.

The teacher insists until Angus points to his head. I’ve got ’em here already.

And that’s the point.

Research says asking questions is vital, but to accelerate progress, to deepen the learning, to propel the reading, it’s the students not the teachers who need to ask them.

Ask Olaf.

Patty 9/27/12