Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Paper Elephants in the Classroom

A friend summarized the difference between short and long term solutions in the teaching of math. She said kids can fall into the trap of relying on tricks. The problem rests in the fact that the trick does not promote deep understanding. The student learns a work-around without understanding the content.

Credit: Asiatic elephant by Satoshi Kamiya
In ELA, I find myself feeling similarly about buzz words or phrases: hook your reader, writer's purpose, audience. While I understand what we mean when, as teachers, we present concepts to kids, our terminology can often turn into paper tigers. Well, maybe tiger is too strong. Maybe our words becomes more of a paper elephant in the classroom. Large and ineffective.

Each term hook your reader, purpose, audience remains vague to kids as a concept and unhelpful to kids when posed as advice: set your purpose; define an audience; etc. Often, our kids are left with one silent question: "How?"

Offering concrete examples of what writers do, and constantly returning to examples helps students focus on the moves made by writers. Seeing the strategy within an authentic newspaper, magazine, or text reinforces that these tools exists. Furthermore, teaching leads, or any aspect of organization, is ongoing and recursive because each new text opens new possibilities. 

Some of the more common and specific moves used when writing a lead:

  • striking image
  • startling fact
  • action!
  • dialogue
  • scene that sets the stage
  • intriguing question or quote
  • anecdote
  • summary of a problem

Take a look at the following leads. These are a small sample of what I pulled to discuss with my classes over the last week. Each image from the March 2016 edition of Teen Ink.

When I asked my students what they noticed in the first example, they noticed that the writer blended a summary of a problem with a scene that sets the stage. We don't have these terms memorized even though we have been working with them for several months. They are still displayed on the board. Students glance back and forth from the newspaper to the list before making a decision.

It is necessary to note that I use several interchangeable words for "problem" as in "summarize a problem." Writers might use a summary of a connection, a summary of an accomplishment, a summary of a solution, et al. Often, it is this element--the summary of a [problem]--that directs a reader towards an understanding of a writer's purpose. I don't need to say develop you writer's purpose. Most kids don't grasp the context of that word. Most need something more concrete. Without this brief summary, writing tends to plummet into narrative. As the writer risks writing a(n) (un)remarkable moments without much for the reader to hold onto, the writers risks allowing the reader to drifting away from the text, disconnected, uninterested.

Notice, in the second example, that we can point out the use of a dialogue blended with a summary of a problem. The dialogue is one of several ways in, but the path chosen by a writer always leads to a summary of something.

Currently, my students are wrestling adding this element--summary of [...]--to their writing. Through conferring, I understand that many are still writing to find their purpose--and this is ok. Actually, I prefer this method of writing to discover connections. Writing to make meaning. Writing to pull together fragments of life experiences, learning, and observations. 

I would rather a student write and write and write in order to make their own meaning than for students trained to write for my meaning, to my prompts or to the prompts of a textbook. Students trained to make widgets. Assembly line writing. Short term methods in lieu of deeper understanding. 

We do no one any favors when we focus on teaching the writing instead of teaching the writer. In other words, students can apply and adjust what they learn about leads to almost any writing or reading asked of them in school. 

Encouraging students to write to find their own meaning takes time. However, we can reclaim a lot of time by offering concrete moves. When students can refer to what they want to do by a specific term, instead of the blanket term (hook my reader) we are all positioned to help one another move and grow as writers with a long term understanding. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Margin Notes, Used Books

I'd read George Hillock's thoughts about writing and writing instruction in chunks. A chapter or essay here. An excerpt or quote there. 

An online seller shipped me Teaching Writing as Reflective Practice for a the cost of a cup of coffee. Bargain.

Inside, the margins are littered with notes. Sentences and phrases are underlined. At first, it felt like reading text through dirty glass. It distracted me. Sort of like someone muttering to me all throughout a film. Now, that dirty glass strikes me that it is closer to a bottle flung into the sea, and the margin notes are, well, my note--the message from the past.

As I began to fall into Hillock's line of reasoning, the notes in the margins become less distracting. I've come to see these notes as evidence of a person who was not a writer.  I recognize them because I have been there too. Maybe they were a teacher, maybe they were not. That is hard to glean. But I am fairly confident that I notice the questions and observations of a non-writer...which has made the experience of reading Hillocks, today, all the more fascinating.

The margin notes are still like someone muttering all throughout a film, but now it is like someone questioning and criticizing: "Oh, who would ever believe that! Nonsense. No one would ever be able to sneak onto the Titanic." 

I can feel the presence of an occasional Harumpf! and the shudder of a grouse in the brush.

For example, Hillocks writes, "...writing is a special craft that requires a trained professorate." The note in the margin asks, "How do you create or divine this?" 

A few pages later, Hillock writes, "The problem appears to be some combination of inadequate knowledge of what effective writing requires, absence of the strategies for producing it, and an assumption that 'people will know what I mean.'" And my margin-writer asks, "So what is the answer?"

Can I reach in through the text? If so, my hands would slip through time, grasp my new friend by the lapels, and shake him/her (gently) while pleading, "Write. At every turn of the page, and with every question you ask, the answer is almost always, write."

If it sounds like I am oversimplifying something, good. That is my intention. Sometimes, with good intentions, educators can turn obvious answers into a sticky taffy pull. 

It is as if we were hunting for light switches in windowless rooms where there is no electricity, only candles and flame. 

"There must be a switch somewhere."

There is no switch.

"Well, I'll just wait for a switch. Have one put in. There must be a way to put in a switch."

And we wait for switches when we, the teacher, have to strike matches. We have to touch flames to wicks. We have to come to a real, tangible, understanding of the work if we ever want to be able to teach by the light.

And so I am left wondering. How did this Hillocks book end up in my hands? Is the book like a bottle tossed into the sea? Was the person who scribbled all through this text...lost? Did they ever find the answer they were looking for?

Did they ever write?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dumbest Places I've Been

I've been in some dumb places...all for some really good reasons.

Squeezed inside the back window ledge of 280ZX in 1986. I was 18. We were driving around (aimlessly) looking for girls. We weren't thinking of accidents. Or breaking laws. Or the driving being able to see. We were thinking about girls. 

Chilling on the iron posts, peering out of the opening in the middle of second "O" in the Hollywood sign. It was very late at night during the summer of 1990. Three of us, recent college graduates, climbed Mt. Lee in the Los Angeles with a couple of backpacks of beer. It just seemed like the coolest place to slug back some beers. We were from Philadelphia on job interviews. We weren't thinking about rattlesnakes, mountain lions, or it possibly being trespassing. Or falling.

Clinging to the iron pegs leading down (or out) of the sewer in Philadelphia. It was Philadelphia. I was a curious child. I'd heard there were alligators and giants rats in the sewer. I wanted to see. Two of us pried the heavy iron plate off of the sewer. And down I went. Quickly, I realized I wouldn't see much until I would be willing to climb all the way down to the bottom. Or until I would be willing to let go of the rungs. Or until I took my eyes from my hands and their death grip in the rungs. I was not willing.

The pursuit of girls, beers, and giant alligators makes males do stupid things...and it doesn't change much with age, ladies. It doesn't change much with age.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Phone a Friend?

Credit: apanelofanalysts.tumblr.com

One November, possibly 1989 by my best estimate, my answering machine message was me "BOK-BOK-BOKKING" like a turkey. Remember when answering machine messages instilled an inordinate amount of pressure to sound cool or funny? I was in undergraduate school. Being professional wasn't on my radar yet. I felt the need to be quirky with the answering machine.

Today, I don't make voice mail messages. The thrill is gone. The default "your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system" recording is good enough.

And I don't carry a pager anymore. Remember those?

A phone was different when I was an adolescent and teenager. How we used it was different! And waiting for someone to pick up on the other end...before answering machines...we could be so patient!


Someone from the other room would yell, "Hang up! They're not home!"

"No, no, they might pick up! She said she'd be home." 

We hadn't suspected or invented screening calls yet.

I can remember walking to see people--not calling people on the phone. We would knock on doors...now, I think I might jump out of my skin if someone ever knocked on the door of our house. 

In college, we would walk into strange dorm rooms and foreign apartments just because we knew one person who would invite us in. Barely any furniture. Maybe a huge computer stacked together on the floors. A few ashtrays. We'd sit on the floor. Meet new people. The door would be open to a common area or the hallway.

Back at our place, we used the phone to call our family. Maybe friends at another school. But as far as the people around us, the people we saw on a daily basis...I can't remember calling those guys much, if ever. Now, we don't even use a land line in our house. We just use the devices in our pockets.

Recently, I joked with a small group of colleagues that I have a bone to pick with the new generation of teachers. A jealous bone. I'm jealous of their college experience with smart phones. All it took for them to find their friends was to send a text message--especially late on a Friday or Saturday night.

In the 80s, Sweet Honey Iced Tea! finding your friends was almost all luck. We would walk all over campus--dorm to dorm, fraternity to steak shop, student union back to the dorms--and the people you ran into, that is who you hung out with.

Our younger colleague--the one who grew up with and went to college with a smart phone, quipped, "Yeah, I don't understand how any of you ever made any friends!"

I almost wonder.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Where Does the Joy Go?

Credit: NPR.org
Christian Robinson/Courtesy of Penguin Random House Publishing
Yesterday afternoon, I conducted a podcast with a few 4th and 5th grade students. It was after school. Excited and nervous, the kids volunteered to stay.

For just under an hour, we discussed the picture book Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson.

What strikes me about the experience is that all four students spoke about content, text features, and personal connections. They extracted specific quotes from the text in order to make a point. They referenced how the illustrations worked with the text. They brought up simile and metaphor.

Most of it on their own.

What I am left with are discoveries compounded by questions--each its own slippery slope. I realize that I wouldn't have to test these kids. A conversation revealed just how much they understand about a book, reading in general, and analysis...because they could talk about it. If you listen to the podcast (15 minutes in length) you will hear the students make inferences. You will hear them use support for their positions. And you will hear their curiosity.

However, more importantly, you will hear their empathy and joy.

What will happen to their joy? In the time between 4th grade and when they reach me in 8th grade, what will happen to the joy I heard? I saw it. I sat around a table with it.

Will it stay? Or will their joy get snuffed out...extinguished...by pressure, by the loss of time, by mounting responsibilities...like so many young teenagers report to me again and again and again?

If you listen to the podcast, you will hear me ask these four kids make a promise to me...to not forget their joy, to not let it go, And to come and see me when they make it to middle school. Come tell me about your joy and the books that you love.

I hope they do.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Acres of Diamonds

The first video footage I ever saw of a teacher conferring with a student about writing astounded me. The conversation wasn't about correction; it was about decisions--the decisions made by the writer. 

[Cue the music of angels and flood the stage with golden light]

EUREKA! There is so so so much more to discuss. There is significant value in discussing the decisions of writers. It is so valuable, in fact, that it is literally worth our time to make it work, to make it happen.

For a few years, I had been scanning the web and thumbing through professional texts for links and QR codes for more examples, but few examples exist. Sure, I found footage of Atwell, Graves and Calkins, and Kittle, but there really is not much (publicly) in the way of video/audio beyond what has already been offered by these Titans. 

I had been so hungry to watch and listen to other teachers in the act of conferring with their kids, that I forgot about the acres of diamonds in my own backyard. And in your backyard! Why spend years scouring the globe when many of the answers I'd love to have are literally right here in front of me...are literally right in front of you, too!

My kids. Your kids. My students. Your students. Me. You. Why wasn't I recording my conferring?

Why aren't you??? (Are you? If so...please share!)

At the beginning of the year, I started using the Voice Record Pro app on my iPhone to record the conferences, and I haven't looked back. Instead of fumbling with clipboards, instead of the daunting task of deciphering hastily scrawled observations, I keep a library of audio recordings of my conferring right on my iPhone.

Through email, or uploading into Google Docs, or into an unlisted YouTube channel, I have shared these audio files with students and their parents. In each case, it has proven to be a concrete method of talking about what the student is saying about their writing in addition to what the student is showing in the writing. After several months of realizing what a goldmine of information my kids were sharing with  me, I decided to take the leap to podcast with my kids.

Three days a week, during lunch, I sit with two or three students and discuss reading or writing. We don't talk about any one specific essay or book per se, because I am more interested in writer and not so much the writing. I am interested in what has and what continues to influence their decisions. Where is their confidence? Where is their passion? Where is their curiosity? I try to say as little as possible. I want their words to build the content.

Learn from the writer, not just the writing.

So, my niche is presenting podcast episodes between 15-20 minutes in length that address these middle school students' perspectives on writing and reading. Students often offer a different (and honest) lens to see the very issues we grapple with as teachers.

So often, my kids tell me that they used to love writing, especially before elementary school. Many claim that up to third grade they still remember loving it. When I ask what changed. they say stress. Expectations. Time. Writing, especially writing for oneself, is no longer important enough. It gets set aside, forgotten. 

In the most recent episode (embedded below), Blank Paper & Big Dreams, one of my students says of herself as a writer, "I had big dreams." Kind of bittersweet to hear kids say this about themselves in the past tense. They are only thirteen and their writing dreams are over? What are we doing???

Give The Classroom a listen, and if so inclined, subscribe to it on iTunes. If you would rather hook up with it on your phone, I included a direct link on my Twitter profile @_briank_

In order to keep the podcast going, and in order to transition from one year and into the next year, I plan to podcast with teachers and authors over summers.

Finally, I would love some feedback...and I would be happy to answer any questions coming up for you. Technology has made it infinitely easy for us to keep audio libraries of our conferring as well as turn that workflow into a podcast--this is something that each of us could do in our own way. I would love to know if anyone gets something valuable from my podcast, but more importantly, I would love to know about your podcast if you decide to do something similar with conferring and talking/listening to your students.

PS Even though this looks like a video, it is an audio file.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Spoon Feeding Children Their Castor Oil

Lining Up
Photo by Fox Photos on Getty Images
Yesterday, during the continuity session with the writing project, a colleague shared a developing situation at a school. During some training, a clear division arose over the scoring of a student writing sample.

Nothing new, right? These exercises are extremely valuable for the conversation alone. It is one way to draw colleagues into comfortable conversations about writing. By comfortable, I mean everyone is happy to offer an opinion about student writing. Often, teachers come at it from differing angles. At times, teachers focus on the mistakes in the writing. Regrettably, we can grind kids' noses in the elements needing correction.

It is more challenging to find colleagues willing to write and/or share their own writing. So, until the day when the unicorns deliver us to that end of the rainbow, we can settle on discussing the writing of children.

In this specific case, the teacher and trainer (both of whom write) scored the student work at a 5 or a 6 in one specific category. The teacher's colleagues (including an administrator) scored the writing sample at a 3. None are writers.

A few universally accepted truths bubbled up as I listened to my writing project colleagues discuss the situation:
  1. Writing is becoming a stronger emphasis in schools.
  2. All stakeholders in schools want consistent experiences for students.
  3. Consistent assessment is a challenge.

I walked away from our continuity session chewing on the conversation. More truths surfaced, but these are not universally acknowledged by the actions of enough teachers:
  1. Teachers who do write understand writing, and the rubrics for writing, differently. 
  2. Teachers who do write can identify the moves that young writers are attempting (successful and unsuccessful) and see these moves as progressive and ongoing.
  3. Teachers who do not write tend to interpret writer's moves as outcomes, as final evidence, as endpoints. 
  4. Teachers who do not write tend to match the evidence in the writing to the surface meaning of the imperfect language on the rubric. 
I can say this with confidence because I was once a teacher who did not write...and one who kept trying to write the perfect rubric.

I struggled with understanding the language on rubrics for a couple of reasons.

First, writing a rubric is brutal. We tend to overwrite them to the extent that our kids have no idea what they mean...let alone the adults. We perseverate over the specific words. We try for accuracy. And we get it...so well that when considered from a distance we end up asking ourselves, what the hell does proficient mean? what is the difference between effectively supports and sufficiently supports?

Can you imagine a room full of non-writers trying to ascertain how to explicate those concepts for our students? Wouldn't we be better served by actually doing what we ask our kids to do? Wouldn't we be better served by being writers? Writers understand writing. Scorers think they understand rubrics.

[setting soapbox aside]

Second, I misinterpreted many rubrics because I did not write. I was a scorekeeper. I took on the roll of torchbearer of the state rubric, holding it high, jogging it through the community, through the halls, and into my classroom where I tacked it proudly on the wall like a Presidential portrait...because I was supposed to. Because this was the standard of good writing. Not because I understood it. I treated the teaching of writing (to borrow a metaphor I heard on Friday...thank you, Bill!) as if I were spoon feeding children their castor oil: You will be good writing citizens. The state knows all. Just follow the rubric and you too can find a life of proficient writing. I'm only doing this because it is good for you! You need to learn to be better! Look to the poster! Look to the rubric.

Please do not be offended if you interpret this as being directed at you. I truly am writing about me. My experience. And the connections I made and internalized yesterday in a roomful of teachers (from all over several counties) who are teachers who write.

By the way, we all saw the child's writing in question as a 5 or a 6. We shared no stake in it or that school or staff. But we do share a common lens--the lens of being writers.

I can't make an impassioned plea to schools hard enough. If writing is to be emphasized, if we truly want consistency, if we want to be better at assessing writing, then become teachers who write. There is no magic pill or no magic rubric.

The real magic is in writing.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Meet Bo's Snack Attack

Docile and calm, Bo hasn't caused much trouble in our house. But he has learned to check a certain door leading into the one bedroom where the cats eat. To keep the dogs out of the extra bedroom, we installed two features: a latch lock on the door, and a kitty door.

The kitty door works just fine. Bo can't fit. The cats can. And, quite honestly, the latch works just fine too...as long as someone locks it.

Sometimes someone forgets to put the latch on the door (we won't get into who). And Bo checks that one door by ramming his head into it. When it has been locked, it sounds like Vikings are taking a battering ram to the house. He grinds his head against the wood, the hinges screech, the door jamb crackles, and the floor rumbles. Cats scatter.

When the door, unlocked and forgotten, has swung open, Bo has entered and has gobbled down all of the dry cat food from the feeder. This snack attack has happened more than once. We won't count.
This act has one significant consequence: Bo gets a tummy ache. Like an old furnace asked to heat ancient pipes for one more winter, Bo whines and groans and rattles around the house for several hours. He requests to go outside...a lot. And he sounds pathetic, but the discomfort and distress eventually passes.

You'd think the humans would remember to keep the door locked!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Meet Bo's Path from X to Y.

Dean (left), Bo (right)
When we rescued Bo and Dean, they each lacked different components of being a dog. It was like they skipped a lot of school, and completely missed a unit. Too many years passed. Nothing seems to help them improve their areas of weakness.

In Dean's case, he must have missed the lessons on playing fetch. Actually, he missed the lessons on playing, period. Seriously, it has been a long process, but Dean is only just learning how to play. He won't chase any balls or squeaky toys. He doesn't really show an interest in any dog toy.

For Bo, he seems to have missed the doggy class on coordination...or manners. He rams through doors, shrubs, computer cables, extension cords, portable heaters, dining room chairs, and people. Anything in his way, Bo barrels into and through it. He barrels into the ocean. He barrels through any doggy accidents in the house...clean up is, ugh. If I am not careful, Bo damn near still takes my legs out from under me on occasion. I guess we are just in his way. Bo wants to go from point x to point y, and well, his course his set. Godspeed, Bo! Oh, and Bo lays behind Karla's feet in the kitchen--if she isn't careful, one day she just might tumble over him.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Meet Bo's Sidekick

Bo (left), Dean (right)
Bo has a brother. Not a blood brother, but a kill shelter brother. 

When inquired about adopting Bo, we learned that a second black lab was pulled from the shelter in Ohio. Both dogs would be, temporarily, at a farm. 

Karla and I drove several hours into Western Maryland to meet the dogs, intent on adopting one. Well, we adopted both. But don't assume it was an immediately warm and cuddly moment. Neither dog liked the other. As a matter of fact, the family who owned the farm would not bring both dogs out together.

We were told that the attacks were vicious. These dogs had been imprinted with some serious fear, anger, anxiety, distrust, and maybe even hate. It is hard to imagine that dogs can experience hate. But listening to this family prepare us for what we were about to encounter, I can't help but wonder.

Leaning on the family, we coaxed them to show us both dogs at the same time. We wanted to see what they described. We wanted to see if we could handle Bo and Dean, rehabilitate them. We wanted to see just how bad their hatred for the other appeared. Karla took Dean by the leash. I took Bo. And, yes, they clearly did not like one another. And, yes, the farmer raised a skeptical eyebrow when we decided that we would rescue both of them. Together. 

He said, "I 'spected you'd turn around, walk off without either of 'um."

Change took time. There were fights. I got nicked up a bit when trying to separate them, trying to protect them from one another. But after seeking some wonderful professional advice from an animal behaviorist, and lots of patience, Bo and Dean settled into a...friendship. At the time, we did not dare predict it. We did not see it coming. It just sort of happened one day. Literally, we woke up and things were different between them. They were sleeping alongside one another. For months, they had slept in separate rooms.

Now, this all fell into place after a long year and a well-needed neutering. So, time and snip-snip helped. Nevertheless, the neutering didn't to take as there were times when we didn't know for certain that Bo and Dean would ever be buddies. We were never going to give up on either. Instead, we were prepared to take care of them both even if the best we could hope for were a couple of dogs who only came to tolerate the other. We have over an acre of fenced-in land. There'd be space.

Yet, it turned out better than we had hoped. We were able to massage the anger out them. We out-waited them. We out-loved their expectations. And trust built. 

It reminds me of something I picked up from Shakespeare and have never forgotten. The real magic in this world is, indeed, in time. For all of those potions in Shakespeare's plays, none ever worked as intended. Often, disaster ensued when humans tried to concoct magic out of herbs and potions. Yet, it was time...it is time...that erases mistakes, softens the edges, and brought two dogs together to write a new chapter--two dogs who were previously conditioned into a life of fear amid the unmistakable scent of death. 

It is true. Time is a powerful eraser and a pencil point.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Meet Bo's Tongue

As Bo ages, new quirks arise.

The first that I noticed as Bo officially became a senior dog was Bo's tongue as he slept. The tip of it slipped out and stuck into place. It has continued to every since. The tip dries a touch--not so much that it feels unhealthy. I've run my fingers over it; it just feels like a damp piece of rubber.

Sometimes, when he wakes up, it remains in place until he drinks some water or moves his tongue around and makes it wet.

Looking at him closely, his teeth have been worn down with time. With his teeth smaller and unable to keep the tongue all the way in, this view has become a visual reminder of Bo's growing senility. 

This matters because I have been through this process a few times. The final years of beloved pets are bittersweet, but you learn to read the tea leaves. You prepare yourself.

Reminders are all around us. Pictures of pets from our past, pets of family members, and even a pet on social media taught me a lesson.

Recently, a loving couple chronicled the last years of their senior dog, Poh, on Instagram: Pohthedogsbigadventure. It was a remarkable narrative to follow. Poh beat kidney failure while his owners carried and carted him with them around the country, from ocean to ocean. The images and short video clips continue to appear on Instagram. Poh's family continues to share his legacy. While this remains a powerful connection for me, the care of any pet, especially those in their senior years, reminds me of our humanity.

My cousin and wife adopted a senior dog, Chessie, after caring for the dog preceding Chessie--Boo. This year, Chessie was featured on Michael and Kathy's family Christmas card. I love how much they embrace their senior labs--actually, they set such a beautiful example of respect and love for all of nature. Their photographs of wildlife on the Chesapeake are beautiful.

Back in 2010, when my wife moved in with me, she brought Smudge--a really old cat. Settling in, Smudge found a spot in a corner of a back bedroom and spent most of his last months curled up. Occasionally, Smudge came out to say hello. He passed in his sleep in his 18th year. I built a coffin and then buried him out back by a tree. It was an Irish wake. I spent the late afternoon polishing off several cans of beer by his resting place until my wife made it home from work to join me.

We knew Smudge's time were limited, and with each new quirk, or signal of Bo's aging, we realize where Bo is in his life. However, that only encourages us to make him as comfortable and as happy as he can be. As he is a rescue dog pulled from a kill shelter in Ohio, his first life may not have been ideal, but his time with us will always be the best we can make it.

Hopefully, those final days are still a year or two away.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Meet Bo

Meet Bo.

Bo is a senior dog. We are not certain of his precise age. He may have just celebrated his 11th or 12th birthday. Regardless, we celebrated this past weekend with a few treats and new dog bed.

Yet, Bo still uses the couch.

Here are five things to know about Bo, since Bo and I will be blogging (about him) throughout the month of March. He is snoring next to me on the sofa as I type...we need to discuss his participation grade tomorrow.

Bo doesn't see very well anymore. Often, he flinches when I call his name I and am standing right beside him. He doesn't flinch like he is frightened. He flinches like he is startled and he thinks I am playing a practical joke on him, like I am a magician, appearing and disappearing at will.

Bo walks in circles around the house and the yard. That is all well and good, except my wife, Karla, and I suspect that he just doesn't know how to find his way back home. He can't see the door. We call him. He follows our voices like a beacon and he is our laboring, lost ship.

As I have been reading a bit about senior dogs, I learned today that Bo might have canine cognitive dysfunction (aka as senility). He matches the three major symptoms: pacing, restlessness, and an inability to settle at night. Bo will wake up when I go to bed. I am usually up and down every two hours or so every night. Sometimes I sleep on the couch with him. Sometimes I take him out back to let him walk a bit. We will be trying a supplement called Neutricks which may help support some healthier cognitive functions in our little, clumsy friend.

Bo still eats well, but he isn't a fan of soft fruits. He chews on a piece of a banana for about ten minutes; yet, he chomps and swallows anything solid like a gator in the Everglades.

This has nothing to do with age, but Bo is a messy drinker. He leaves a trail of water around the house, sometimes puddles. Studying him, I know that Bo finishes his drinking by not swallowing the last four or five laps of water. He lets them pool in his mouth...and then off he goes as if his jaw was numbed with Novacaine.

Bo doesn't chase much of anything, but I will share that on his first day in our house he chased the cats. For hours. And they weren't too thrilled with Bo. We had rescued Bo from a kill shelter in Ohio. We drove to the western reaches of Maryland to meet his initial rescuer...but back to the chasing. Imagine a chubby, friendly dog waddling after cats 10x faster than him. That was Bo. He was curious and happy and couldn't understand why the cats wouldn't keep still. Now, Bo doesn't bother with the cats--the thrill is gone--but one cat does come close to sniff Bo's head and paws when he is safely asleep.

Tomorrow, maybe I will write about his snoring...