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Archive for June, 2015

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

The first sentence of a novel is the author’s first opportunity to grab you, to hook you, and keep you reading.  Somewhere in my stacks of books that are now packed away for the summer, I have a lesson about first lines. The exercise lists all the options that E.B. White had for the first line of Charlotte’s Web. Do you know what the first line is? It’s the best first line ever.

Where is Papa going with that ax? (E.B. White)

I am working on a middle grade novel. One of my writing group friends suggested trying First Five Pages Workshop, an online critique group for MG and YA literature. I had to have my submission ready to email by noon on the first Saturday of the month. The formatting rules for the entry were very specific. I prepared a few days ahead and then hit send at 12:01 PM. I got in!

Turns out that was the easy part. There is no slacking in this group of authors. The expectation is that you will critique the others in the workshop as well. The writing is good. Finding something to say that is meaningful and helpful is hard.

americana_started_pullet_1

Sunshine, a main character for my middle grade novel.

The first sentence of my novel has changed a number of times.

My first draft began, “Sunshine flutters her feathers on my cheek.” But as I wrote the story, I soon discovered that things were amiss. And I needed to hook the reader with the idea that not everything was quite in order.

Draft #2: “I gather Sunshine from her nest by placing my cupped hands under her fluffy breast.” This is the one I submitted for First Five Pages. I got a comment that it was unclear that Sunshine is a chicken.

I completely rewrote the first sentence to “In the quiet of the morning, before the sun rises, before the barges move down the bayou, even before the St. Martinville, Louisiana public school bus drives down True Friend Road, I usually find a miracle waiting for me in the chicken coop.”

I liked the craft of three going on here and that it has a strong sense of place. I put it on the Facebook page for First Five Pages and got some great comments. “I like it. It sets a mood and tone and hints at trouble brewing with the little word, usually. I did stumble a bit on the town and state name. I’m not sure if you need those specifically right now vs. just saying the public school bus. The bayou gives us an idea that you’re in the south. Great job!”

This commenter suggested the word rumble to describe the bus going down the street.

The current version: “In the quiet of the morning, before the sun rises, before the barges move down the bayou, even before the school bus rumbles down True Friend Road, I usually find a miracle waiting for me in the chicken coop.”

What a process! I don’t think I could do this writing thing without help. I need the advice and encouragement of writing partners and critics. To put my writing out there for all the world to see, I have to muster up a boatload of courage. But I am never disappointed. I often get frustrated and wallow in self-doubt. In fact when I thought about writing this post, my little monster told me that no one would want to read this. I told him to take a walk.

If you are writing middle grade or YA, I highly recommend First Five Pages Workshop. I also suggest Teachers Write which is starting up next month.

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

skyping with spark kids

Technology allows us, invites us even, to collaborate more and more. No longer am I a lonely teacher behind closed doors of a classroom. Through my PLN (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter and Facebook, I have met colleagues. Teachers are doing the every day thing in innovative ways. Months ago, Leigh Anne Eck tweeted me about helping with her high ability camp. She was teaching poetry. I Skyped with a group of 2nd and 3rd graders this week. What fun! I didn’t have to care at all about the boy who wiggled all around in his seat and started drumming with his pencil. That’s my kind of teaching. I was on screen far away in my own living room.

Leigh Anne shared the student work and her thoughts about the collaboration on her site A Day in the Life.

The haiku lesson itself was a collaboration because I used another colleague’s poetry project. Linda Baie blogs at Teacher Dance. We’ve never met face to face, but every week we are in contact through our blog posts. She’s one of my top commenters. Her poetry project in April was to write a haiku each day. She catalogued them on her site.

I am encouraged by this collaboration to look for ways to use Skype more in my class during the year. We’ve had author visits. These are great, but what about connecting with other teachers and students? We could Skype a whole hour lesson and share our writing together across the miles.

This next school year, I will have two 6th grade girls at two different schools. I am wondering how I can use collaboration to make their world bigger and more meaningful. Through Kidblogs, we could create a site just for them. If you know you will have high ability sixth graders next year, maybe we could collaborate on a book or writing prompt. Let me know in the comments.

In what ways are you collaborating using technology? What ways do you plan to collaborate? Link up your blog post and/or tweet out your response to #digilitchallenge and @MargaretGSimon.

For the next month, DigiLit Sunday will be on vacation. Please consider joining CLMOOC.

Sign up for CLMOOC running June 28- August 2, 2015.

Sign up for CLMOOC running June 28- August 2, 2015.

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

Twitter is buzzing this morning. My friends in cyberspace are posting images of their writing spaces. Such a fun way to connect with other teacher/writers. My writing space is messy. I sit at the kitchen table most days because Charlie (my dog) is here, so he keeps me company. Mimi, the cat, is often lying on some random piece of paper. What is it about cats and paper? I have a tablet for notes, a leather journal for quick poems, and my school notebook where many ideas are stored. I celebrate time to sit here, connect with others, and write.

#Iwritehere

#Iwritehere

Celebrating Rainbows: The good thing about summer rain showers (which are happening daily) is rainbows. I know the science behind a rainbow, but I still marvel at the sight and believe in the promise. May your summer be filled with rainbows.

Thursday morning rainbow

Thursday morning rainbow

Celebrating coffee shop visits: Yesterday I had two coffee shop dates. A wonderful way to relax and reconnect with friends over summer days.

I'm in between Jen and Sandy.  Coffee cups and friends!

I’m in between Jen and Sandy. Coffee cups and friends!



Celebrating antique shopping:
This is a rare treat for me, to wander through an antique market. This one is next to the Joie De Vivre Coffee Shop in Breaux Bridge, Lagniappe Antiques Mall. Lagniappe is a French word that means a little something extra. That’s an understatement. It was a warehouse full of somethings extra. I bought a few things that jumped off the shelves at me, silver napkin rings, a 1961 Life magazine, and vintage postcards.

Lagniappe Antiques Mall

Lagniappe Antiques Mall

Antique store finds, a 1961 Life magazine and vintage postcards.

Antique store finds, a 1961 Life magazine and vintage postcards.

What are you celebrating today?

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Poetry Friday round up is hosted by Jama.

Poetry Friday round up is hosted by Jama.

In this wacky wonderful world of the Kidlitosphere, I have met so many awesome writers and teachers and teacher/writers. It becomes an even richer experience when we work together to teach and inspire students. When Leigh Anne Eck tweeted me about Skyping with her summer writing camp, I agreed, of course. I was actually flattered. As the day got closer, I worried that I didn’t have what I needed to adequately teach this workshop. We had a quick email exchange and decided to do haiku. All my books are packed away at school, so I turned to another online friend, Linda Baie. She had written a haiku every day in April and made a catalog of them all on her site. How perfect and convenient! Thanks, Linda!

These were the poems I selected and a few things we talked about.

snow shadows again
blossoms tighten their hold
no open window

(Note the use of the word shadows. Why do blossoms tighten? What does the last line tell you?)

That little boy
digs into warm earth –
wiggle in his hand

(What is in his hand? How do you know? Poets can tell you that it’s a worm without using the word.)

from snow to puddles
mother nature’s pasttime –
trees drink deeply

(What is happening? How do you know? Note the personification of trees. What is a pasttime?)

Following our discussion, we looked at this image from National Geographic. First we collected words and phrases that the students shared. Together we wrote this haiku.

Three pairs of flip-flops.
Shadows of three kids playing.
Puddle reflection.

We pulled up a Google image search of “summer days.” Each student chose their own image to write from. Sacred writing time for about 7 minutes. Then some wonderful sharing time. I had such a good time teaching from my living room, even if it was early in the morning. (two time zones)

I wrote a haiku to an image of daisies. Teachers write, too, during workshop. I borrowed a line from Linda, “no open window,” and made it “open your window.” I talked about how poets get ideas from other poets.

Open your window
Summer daisies are here.
Golden sunshine smiles.
–Margaret Simon

quotes-about-summer

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Join the Spiritual Thursday round up at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Join the Spiritual Thursday round up at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Mom and Dad

My parents, Dot and John, with my youngest daughter.

When Holly posted that the theme for this week’s Spiritual Thursday would be legacy again, my attitude about this word had improved. I realized that today is June 11th, my parents’ 55th wedding anniversary. Somehow we don’t tend to talk about someone’s legacy while they are still living, but I want to challenge that idea today. My parents are thankfully still living and healthy. Every day I am grateful for that. They do not live near me, so I have to rely on phone calls. In fact, my mother was the one who talked me into doing Facebook. She wanted to know what I was doing. Funny, I don’t think she counted on this whole blogging thing, though.

I could write about the legacy of talent; My father is an artist while my mother is a musician. Or I could write about how they parented us to be ourselves. Or I could write about the great flood of 1979 that tested our family as well as our community. All of these would make good blog posts. However, today, since it’s Spiritual Thursday, I want to write about my parents as spiritual directors.

My parents met at the Episcopal Student Center on the campus of LSU. My mother was the daughter of an Episcopal priest. I am what they call a “cradle Episcopalian.” I was baptized by my grandfather at a mere 3 weeks old. At that time our country was involved in the Korean War, and there was a possibility Dad would be sent to Korea. He ended up being sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana.

From my birth, the Episcopal church has been a stronghold in my life. I even followed in my parents’ footsteps to LSU and the Episcopal Student Center where I met my husband. You could say there was something in the water, but in reality, the church was a place where I felt at home. And when you feel at home somewhere, you can be the best you. Today, my husband and I are faithful parishioners at his home church, The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany.

When I visit, we can be in the kitchen or on the porch where we look out at the lake and talk for hours about spiritual theology. I value these discussions. My mother and I talk about the Enneagram. This is a interesting theory around personalities. My father will discuss theories about time and space, death and resurrection. His ideas fascinate me.

While the church is my stronghold, my parents have been and continue to be my spiritual directors. I found this picture of their church holding a can drive and creating a labyrinth. They are there in the circle of worshippers like they are with me in the circle of my spirit.

Labyrinth of cans raises awareness of hunger.

Labyrinth of cans raises awareness of hunger.

There are only two lasting bequests we copy

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

good thoughts

A lovely face. I strive to make my face lovely every day, but this is easier said than done.

I found this card when I was shopping for something to take to a friend in the hospital. She had gotten the diagnosis and had to have surgery. I bought her a plant and went by. She said, “I’ve decided to just ride the wave of this journey.” She was not wailing about “woe is me” or “why me.” And her face looked lovely.

“When the sun is shining, you never expect it to rain. When it’s raining, you think it will never end.” These wise words from my mother-in-law as we drove home (in the rain) from the doctor. She had not gotten good news. Looks like surgery is in the future. Later she texted me “Petey (her dog) and I think an inch and a half of wine is better than Lortab.” Her chin is up. Her face is lovely.

Summer has come to South Louisiana and every day showers fall. Summer rains are so refreshing. They make everything lovely.

What can you do today to make your face lovely? What positive words can you put in the world?

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

As I thought about this week’s challenge, the word transformation kept popping into my head. I am constantly amazed at how transformative digital writing can be. Digital tools can make our ordinary words seem extraordinary.

When I was in high school many years ago, my parents bought me an SLR camera. I wanted to be a photographer for the yearbook. My high school had a dark room, and I learned how to develop film and create photographs. The process was long from taking the picture to rolling the film into the canister, to selecting the negative, then placing the paper in three different bins of chemicals and hanging it out to dry. I loved this process. I loved discovering what my hands had created. The art of photography has totally transformed. With our phones and a computer we can easily produce and share photographs.

Writing has transformed, too. Even the youngest students can produce and publish their writing. I use Kidblogs with my students. The format of typing onto a screen and watching your words become an image is exciting and motivating.

Our school year ended a few weeks ago. The mother of one of my students texted me that he had discovered graphic novels. He was so excited about the story of Percy Jackson that he asked if he could blog about the book. Jacob left me as a first grader writing 50-75 words at best in his blog posts. His post about Percy Jackson was 317 words! This is transformative!

One day my mom decided that we should go to a library so we did. Then we went to a new library. It had so many books and movies. And I got 7 books because I am 7 years old. I got 2 Percy Jackson books.They are graphic novels. That means they look like
comic books. Ok forget every thing I said. Let’s just focus on what the book is about. (Read the post here.)

I invite you to think about digital literacies and transformation. Tag me in your posts (@MargaretGibsonSimon on Facebook, @MargaretGSimon on Twitter). Use #digilitchallenge.

A site I enjoy playing with is Tagxedo. It creates word clouds in shapes. I used a poem I wrote about chickens in the yard. This process transforms the poem into an image. The words are read differently. The original poem is here.

chicken poem tagxedo

Don’t forget to sign up for CLMOOC beginning June 18th. “CLMOOC is a collaborative, knowledge-building and sharing experience open to anyone interested in making, playing, and learning together about the educational framework known as Connected Learning.” Click on the image to sign up.

Sign up for CLMOOC running June 28- August 2, 2015.

Sign up for CLMOOC running June 28- August 2, 2015.

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

Another week of summer and I am celebrating…

1. A daily walk with Charlie. One of my outside cats, Buzz, likes to come along, but not for my company, for Charlie’s. Here he’s holding onto Charlie’s leash as if to take him for a walk.

Charlie and Buzz

Charlie and Buzz

2. Visits with friends. Jen lives at Bonne Terre Cottage which includes a pond, a farm, and a yard full of chickens. I sat on her back porch and wrote this little ditty about the chickens.

Can you count the chickens in the yard?
Like a kid on the playground,
Black-n-White pecks under the tree,
trots to the birdbath to join his friends.
A treasure of seeds in this dirt?

Here comes Petite Princess
prancing like the queen of the yard,
Spreading the gossip of the group.

These chickens in the yard
make me happy until…
Big Orange decides my toe looks yummy!

3. Judging LA Writes. I coordinate our state writing contest and every year other teachers from our state join me to judge the entries. This year we read 825 poems, stories, and essays to cull each grade level division to 8-10 to send to author judges. I was disappointed in the quality. (Food for another blog post thought.) But spending time with other teachers talking about the craft of teaching and writing is always inspiring and fun.

4. Taking care of myself. I had a sinful facial this week. I say sinful because it feels way too good to be guilt-free. I’m not sure it does anything for my aging face, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Happy Summer, y’all!

white chicken

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Poetry Friday round up is hosted by Buffy today.

Poetry Friday round up is hosted by Buffy today.

Elderberry growing in the healer's garden.

Elderberry growing in the healer’s garden.

Last weekend I attended a presentation at Vermilionville, a historic Cajun/Creole Village. The speaker was a Creole traiteur or healer, Rebecca Henry. I created this poem from my notes.

Advice from a healer:

Always think positive.
Eat an odd number of pumpkin seeds, 3, 5, 7 for back ache.
Don’t search for roots if you don’t know them.

We had our own names for stuff.
We were never poor.
We had a momma, a daddy, our brothers, our sisters.
We had everything we needed.

Every leaf, every plant, every flower is for food.
For croup, wear the flannel collar soaked in goose grease until Easter.
Use mud from the mud dauber nest for diaper rash.
Those mud daubers know the best dirt.

We never measure.
Treat the whole person.
Clean out in August.
Grease your machine real good.

Say why not me instead of why me.
If you believe, you will be healed.

Lizard's Tail: "You put some lizard's tail to soak in water, and you make the little baby drink it."

Lizard’s Tail: “You put some lizard’s tail to soak in water, and you make the little baby drink it.”

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Join the Spiritual Thursday round up at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Join the Spiritual Thursday round up at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Every week Holly invites us to write about our spiritual journey. This week’s theme is Leaving a Legacy. Too much pressure if you think about it, which is exactly what I do after she tweets out the theme. Carol wrote about leaving a digital footprint on Sunday. I told her that I don’t like to think about this because it’s intimidating. What if I’m not “leaving a legacy.” I am very good at assigning guilt to myself. I do much better in this digital platform when I just write what’s on my mind. When I am true to myself, most readers respond in a positive way and with a connection. This is more important to me than leaving a legacy.

Which leads me to playing with the word in a word play poem.

Legacy is a lofty word
leaning on me like
the preacher gripping the pulpit
pointing its accusing finger.

Legacy leaves me looking
too long, hoping to see
what they see, to know the secret
of a life well lived.

With its sharp turned back,
Legacy asks “Why aren’t you scrapbooking?”
Folding pictures into decorative pages,
making memories into 3 by 5 cards.

I’d like my legacy to be a flower
shrouded in beauty with strong scent
pressed between the pages of a favorite book
waiting there for you to find.

–Margaret Simon

Painted in Waterlogue

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