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Archive for August, 2016

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

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

Write free

Thanks to Carol Varsalona for this image to add my words to.

Every time I walk by the kitchen window, I look toward the hummingbird feeder. I put it out after the flood two weeks ago. The rain had stopped.  A hummingbird flew to the window and hovered looking right at me, as if he was saying, “Where’s the sweet stuff?” It didn’t take me long to find the feeder and a storage of food in the cabinet, but he did’t return…for days. I wondered if he ever would.

He’s there now, and almost every time I look. I’ve come to depend on his appearance. Like he’s the rainbow after the storm. He’s the sign we all need that life goes on.

 

Photo by Margaret Simon

Last week I read aloud the essay “Joyas Voladoras” by Brian Doyle to a group of 6th graders. This is the first essay in Katherine Bomer’s book, The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays that Students Want to Write for People who Want to Read Them.

In his essay, Brian Doyle crushes our own hearts by writing about the hearts of hummingbirds.

(Hummingbird) hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer more heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures than any other living creature. It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine.

My students audibly gasped. Their reaction was pure emotion.

Katherine’s book leads us all on a quest for that reaction from our readers.

Watching my hummingbird, (Yes, he’s mine. I’ve named him Chuey), I realize that the smallest of beings, those minuscule moments, can bring about an emotional reaction.

However, to be open to these moments, I must be willing to write…every day.

Monday, I asked my students to start the class time sitting with their notebooks for 10 minutes and just writing. This freedom to express whatever was happening in their heads excited my young writers. There wasn’t a sound except the clicking of pencils for 10 minutes. Then they couldn’t wait to share!

  • Jacob wrote about a song he couldn’t get out of his head.
  • Noah wrote about imagining that everything was made of candy.
  • Madison wrote about the fire drill earlier in the school day.

To grow my young students into writers, I need to help them view their world as something worth writing about.  To show them, I join them.  I write freely and share the dribble that comes out on the page.  I talk to them about how we must weed through the dribble to find some good stuff.  To find those small moments worth savoring and sharing.

If you missed it, here’s the link to the storify for the #DigiLitSunday Twitter chat with Katherine Bomer.

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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

 

Months ago, some friends in my virtual professional learning network (PLN) decided to read Katherine Bomer’s new book from Heinemann, The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays that Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them.  We read and wrote responses to our reading in Google Docs to share our ideas, a virtual book club.

I decided to contact Katherine Bomer about doing a Twitter chat later in the summer.  She agreed with the disclaimer that she had never done a Twitter chat.  I explained that I had never curated one.

So the journey of discovery began.  Reading the book was the easy part.  Katherine’s voice in her writing is like she is sitting next to you having a conversation.  Yet at the same time, she is full of wisdom about essays, about writing, and about teaching.  There is so much goodness in this book, it was difficult to choose quotes to use in the Twitter chat.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  The first thing I did was to create an ad for the chat. I wanted something eye-catching that others could tweet and retweet.  I used Canva.  Canva was recommended by Dr. Mary Howard, another wise voice in education today.  She leads a weekly Twitter chat for Good to Great (#G2Great on Thursdays at 7:30 PM Central). You should follow her. @DrMaryHoward

A few weeks ago I invited some friends to participate in brainstorming questions.  A Twitter chat is usually an hour and includes 7 questions evenly spaced out by about 8 minutes.  (Mary Howard sent me a schedule she uses for G2Great.)   Tara Smith, Fran McVeigh, and Julieanne Harmatz contributed ideas and questions to the Google Doc. It got rather messy which is the way this kind of work is: messy, thoughtful, and inspiring.

Then I listened to this podcast from Heinemann.  I took notes and thought of more questions.  Jan Burkins offered me the advice to try out the questions to see if I could answer them in 140 characters.  That’s today’s task.  I am also going to test out pre-tweeting using Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck is necessary for following a chat. (For tonight, enter #DigiLitSunday.)

I spent a few hours putting the questions into a Canva Twitter background.  This way your questions can be longer than a tweet, but it also makes them attractive so they stand out from other tweets.  Here’s a sample question.

Journey Q 1

What is left to do is to make an image with all the questions to tweet out today before the chat.  This gives participants a heads up, time to think about their responses, and a way to participate more fully in the conversation.

Wish me luck.  I’m excited and nervous.  I have some great people backing me up.  I’m glad I’m doing this, but I don’t think we’ll chat every week.  Maybe once a month?

Please join us. Tweet and retweet. Share.

Twitter Chat with Katherine BomerSunday AUg. 28, 20166-00 CST (1) copy

 

 

Add your DigiLitSunday post to the links here.

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe

Poetry Friday round-up is with Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe

A few weeks ago, Mary Lee Hahn posted her poem Gratitude List as an exercise after Laura Foley’s Gratitude List. I immediately saved it to do with my students. This was the week of Gratitude, eating popcorn (Popcorn & Poetry), and writing our own Gratitude List. My students responded well to Laura Foley’s as well as Mary Lee’s poems. See this post to read these mentor texts.

As always, I write alongside my kids, so with a handful of popcorn and pictures from my trip to Tara’s farm, I fashioned my own version.

 

 

Praise be the morning mist,
the dewy grass, the crisp air,
and that moonrise last night
we raised a glass to.

 

Praise be a gathering of friends,
travels across miles, and the dog
that greeted each of us with a wagging tail.

 

Praise be the morning coffee, pancakes
covered in blueberries and maple syrup,
sweet, cool watermelon.
Praise be the wildflowers
in a canning jar.

–Margaret Simon (For Tara Smith)

I want to share a few lines from my students, too.

Praise be this afternoon
for gifted, the relaxing writing,
the fun of talking to friends,
reading a book.

Praise be Frootloop breakfast,
the hard floor under our feet
and a roof above our heads
and sunshine
after the flood.

–Madison, 3rd grade

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

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

Mississippi Book Festival 2016

Mississippi Book Festival 2016

I am lucky in so many ways. I grew up in the great state of Mississippi, my parents still live there, so I was able to attend the best book festival ever. The author line-up was a middle-grade teacher/author’s dream come true. Just look at that picture above. There’s me with Kate DiCamillo, and me with Jacqueline Woodson, and me with Irene Latham, me with Kathi Appelt, and me, my mom, and my blogger friend Keri with Augusta Scattergood.

Surrounded by such amazing authors and just plain smart generous people I felt amazing, smart, and generous. I also got brave. I realized early in the day that when you ask a question, a famous author knows you and likes you better.

I listened while Kate DiCamillo told stories that I had heard before (at NCTE 2015, on a streaming video with Mr. Schu, and on The Yarn podcast). But as she spoke and told her stories, funny ones that I never tire of hearing, I remembered on The Yarn interview that she said the only book she would consider rewriting was Tale of Despereaux because of its complicated plot structure. As a teacher of smart kids, I happen to love the structure of Despereaux. It makes for great conversations about craft. So I held up my hand and said that to her, face to face; she was looking right into my eyes.

And Kate said that the narrator in Despereaux guides the reader and guided her, too. Isn’t that a beautiful answer? When I stood in the forever-line to get her to sign my books, she knew me. Well, at least for that moment she did.

Kate (I can call her by her first name now since she knows me) left me with this advice as a fellow writer: “Write your Heart.” I have a WIP (work in progress) that is just that, my heart, so I am comforted by that advice.

img_7554

With my new brave on, I asked Jacqueline Woodson a question, too. She talked mostly about her new book Another Brooklyn, but I wanted to know how she speaks to social justice through her picture books, specifically Each Kindness.

She told the story that led her to write Each Kindness. She was visiting her daughter’s 2nd grade classroom. A girl came in with striped pants on. Jacqueline admired her pants, but then she overheard another child tell this girl, “Why’d you wear those pants to school?” And the girl covered her pants with her jacket the rest of the day.

each kindness

Jacqueline says you can’t be didactic with kids. You have to teach them through story, so she thought about how all of us at one time or other have probably said a mean thing that we could never take back. Each Kindness makes us think about what we say and the ripples our words may cause. I so admire Jacqueline for her social consciousness and for her gift of language.

Here is advice to writers from Jacqueline Woodson.

I strive for writingas strong as the story.writer's block is just fear.stay open to the musebutt in chair.

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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

 

 

What is voice in digital writing? We know it when we see it, but it’s difficult to define. In one sense, everyone has a voice, right? So shouldn’t every piece of writing have a voice?

However, we’ve all read things that touch us in a certain way. We feel like the writer is speaking right into our ears. The writer is with us all along the way.

Yesterday I had the privilege to see many wonderful authors at the Mississippi Book Festival in my home town of Jackson, MS. I’ll write more about this great day later this week. Kate DiCamillo told me (yes, me because I got up the courage to ask her a question.) that the voice of the narrator in The Tale of Despereaux carried her through the writing of the novel, and this voice carries the reader through as well.

Voice is elusive and difficult to teach. Actually, I don’t think voice can be taught. Voice needs to be discovered. My students discover voice by writing a Slice of Life every week. By writing about something personal, their personalities appear on the page. They post their Slices on our class blog at Kidblog. (Click here if you would like to follow our blog.)

This week we only had a few days together because of the extensive rain and flooding in our area. When we met on Wednesday, my kiddos were full of stories about the flooding. Jacob’s house was flooded, and he was excited that he could write about it. He wrote three and a half pages in his notebook. Others went directly to the blog to write.

Lynzee’s voice comes through in her poem.

Fearsome Flood

Half the yard gone,
Bayou is swollen,
Stranded in the house,
Some in shelters,
People afraid
Of the
Fearsome flood

And Tobie is, well, always Tobie on the page.

When my sister and I were getting dressed, we turned on the news as always, but this time, there were no commercials, no GMA, only local news. We watched a bit, getting dressed, when all of a sudden, it smacked us right in the face. We dropped dead, got buried, and stayed there until we rose as zombies. Okay, maybe I exaggerated, but we were pretty shocked. By the fact that… “Iberia Parish schools are closed,” said Dave Baker. I asked my mom what that meant, but on the inside, I knew. NO SCHOOL!! But that is bad because, well, it must be pretty bad to cancel school. For like, 4 days.

Digital writing makes an unique voice more possible. Daily blogging allows students to discover their own voices and to share that voice with others. My students are having conversations with each other. I am not the only one they are writing for. An authentic audience offers my writers a reason to write and a pathway for discovery.

Please join the conversation by posting a link to your unique voice, your own blog. Tweet at #DigiLitSunday. Google+ community here.

Twitter Chat with Katherine BomerSunday AUg. 28, 20166-00 CST (1) copy

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Find more celebration posts at Ruth's blog.

Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.

 

In the midst of tragedy, how can we celebrate?

Was it Mr. Rogers who said to look for the helpers?  There are helpers everywhere.

There is also kindness.

I have been glued to Facebook for the past week watching the shocking flooding of my friends’ homes. (The water came knocking but didn’t get into our house.)

I remember.  When I was in high school, my house was flooded 5 feet.  I know the smell.  I know how it feels to see your treasures piled up in the yard.  I’ve seen the studs in my home.

I also remember the kindness, the helpers.

I celebrate the helpers.  Kylene Beers and Kate Messner, authors I admire, both put out calls to replace books lost in the flooding.  If you know any school that has been affected, please check their Facebook pages.

I celebrate the resilience of my friends, how they are facing this tragedy and noticing the good.  They are experiencing the overwhelming feeling of loss alongside gratitude and hope.

Here is a post from my friend Gwen:

Our home is a metaphor for Louisiana.
Yes, we’ve been stripped down to our studs.
Right this moment, we’re a bit vulnerable, and we’re a bit weak.
We’re exposed.
But you know what is shining through?
Human character at its finest.
When we’re most exposed,
we show strength, generosity, kindness, joy, and love.
When we’re raw, we also show fear, despair, and sorrow.
The days have been long, and will continue to be.
When some are feeling strong, others are low.
But through it all, I have no doubt that we’ll recover.
It’s not our lowest point.
It’s not our darkest hour.
It’s our defining moment.

–Gwen Guillote

My friend, artist Paul Schexnayder, created a painting the symbolizes the resilience of people here.  He is selling prints and t-shirts to benefit the Community Foundation of Acadiana.  If you want more information about purchasing a print, t-shirt, or just making a donation, please send me a message by comment or email.

onward by Paul

 

Onward

We see the helpers.
We see the kindness.
We know hardship.
We know sorrow.
We know our neighbors.
We know love.
Onward

 

 

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Dori at Dori Reads

Poetry Friday round-up is with Dori at Dori Reads

 

With the threat of flooding gone and a need to connect with others, I attended a writing workshop led by my friend Sandra Sarr.

Sandy moved to Louisiana two years ago and quickly embedded herself in the arts community.  From her travels here to research her novel, she met interesting people like Dennis Paul Williams.  She once took me on a visit to his studio.  In 2013, University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press published a large coffee table book of Dennis’s artwork.  I bought the book, but hate to admit that it just sat on the coffee table.

But Sandy’s ekphrastic exercise brought me closer to the images housed in Soul Exchange.  She made color copies and handed them out.  This is the one I picked.

DPWilliams painting

 

Before Sandy instructed us to write, I started writing.

Secrets shared
like a kiss
softly touching
a cheek.
Even while
she’s sleeping,
she hears
the sound
of singing,
a lullaby.

Sun glows
through the window.
She traces the line
of her face
in the mirror
only touching
the outline–
That space
where skin
meets sky.

She’s never lonely
within
covers of lace
because she knows
the secrets,
the ones whispered
on the wings
of a prayer.

Even her hair
glows like
rainbow light.

–Margaret Simon

This was just the free write, but I was happy with it.  Then Sandy asked us to circle words from our free write that had some power for us.  She handed out notecards for us to write our words on, tear them apart and put them back together into a new poem.

 

Words taken from my free writing.

Words taken from my free writing.

 

This was the resulting poem.

Enter dark space
a line draws her face
whispers
secrets

Her protector
sleeps
in covers of lace.

Angels kiss
her prayer.

Opening
the path to grace.

–Margaret Simon

What I love about this activity is the abstract way it gets to the soul where you write with authenticity and abandon all at the same time.  I want to try this with my students.  I wonder how they will handle the randomness of it.  Will they get frustrated or enjoy the freedom?  Some days, and especially hard days full of sadness, I find solace in poetry, in the act of creating.  It gets me out of my thinking brain for a minute and allows me to relax into flow. Thanks, Sandy, for sharing Dennis’s art and leading me on a path of discovery.

 

 

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