purple sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper
Source: Wikipedia
(Click on the image.)

As Deb and I were walking out to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse today we noticed two men with binoculars. Curious about their conversation, I asked, “Do you mind if I ask what you are watching?”

“Birds,” they responded.

“I have some friends who are birdwatchers too. It’s a great hobby.”

They both smiled and nodded in agreement. They walked a few paces with us and then began telling more of their story They shared how they began bird watching. Then one said, “Three weeks ago we were here and saw some purple sandpipers, right here along the breakwater. We were so close to them. It’s a rare treat. They usually don’t come this far south.”

Their wives, who were farther down the breakwater, joined the conversation as we neared. “Those sandpipers are here again.”

“Really?” both men perched their binoculars and focused their attention in the direction of the purple sandpipers.

Deb and I searched for them too. One of the wives pointed them out to me. “See the three? Down there in the rocks?”

I stretched and angled and saw them hopping along the black rocks. “They are rare?”

“Oh, yes,” the woman said. “This is special to get to see them.” The enthusiasm of the bird watchers was contagious. We were compelled to watch for a little longer.

I was struck by how we could have completely walked by this rare treat. Without having someone, an expert, point it out to me, I wouldn’t have even known I was near something special. If they weren’t looking the purple sandpipers could have been almost invisible.

I think this happens too often with the readers and writers in our classrooms. We miss the rare treats of deep thinking or compelling writing because we aren’t looking. We see the misspellings. We see the conventional errors. We get hung up on text complexity. And we miss the remarkable work that is happening each day in our classrooms. This wee let’s be on the look out for rare treats. Let’s look past the annoyances and instead find solid reading and writing work.

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  1. A great reminder about looking closely…My friend is a bird-watching too and it wasn't until I looked through her binoculars did I really notices the spectacular beauty of the birds. Both requires patience and taking time to watch closely.

  2. What a great story–and you are so right about it applying to workshop…or to life in general. I'll be on the lookout for rare treats tomorrow.

  3. Your ability to learn from small incidents and apply them to your professional life amazes me. Thanks for sharing your insights! I'll be looking for rare treats this week!

  4. Amen! Great connection…from out there…to in the classrooms. I love the whole notion of experts, and treats, and missing out on them if we are too focused on one particular aspect of instruction. I'm glad you were able to witness the Purple Sandpipers :). A treat for sure.

  5. Wow! I love the connection of the bird watching to teaching writers!

    My son just told me this week that he really likes his baseball coaches this year. He mentioned how they always give a positive before they instruct about something to improve or change.

    I do find myself sometimes focusing on the negatives/typos/misspellings, etc; I realize that is NEVER a good thing! I will strive this week to notice the, “rare treats..to look past the annoyances and instead find solid reading and writing work.” AND PRAISE STUDENTS FOR IT!

  6. i've never given a single thought to birdwatching but it sounds like such a peaceful distraction-free hobby. I like the idea of being out in nature and paying such close attention to it. I also like your connection to writing. Sometimes i feel that way when I read–i have so much i want to read and so little time that I want to “get through” my reading so fast, instead of reading slowly and soaking in the beauty of words

  7. I hike with a few birders, and I'm amazed at their skill. If I see birds, they see sparrows, blue jays, etc…

    I like the thought of rare treats and noticing them….not just in writing class but in life too!

  8. Your post also made me think that it is up to us, as writing teachers, to point out the “rare treats” when we notice them in our reading. Unless we slow down and make them visible, our students will not realize how special they are, nor will they be able to eventually emulate them.

    Nice way to begin the week!