Archive for October, 2016

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts


The past week I have been coaching my students on a new project, podcasting.

Noah said, “But, Mrs. Simon, I don’t know how to write a podcast.”

“Neither do I,” I replied, “We’re figuring this out together. I’ve shown you two mentor texts for nonfiction, and we’ve listened to a sample podcast. Let’s see if we can figure this out.”

This is a precarious situation to put myself into, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

According to an analogy from Jenn Hayhurst @hayhurst3 (Good2Great Voxer), I am daring to get on the roller-coaster of teaching rather than the Merry-go-Round. Her comparison resonated with me and my work with gifted kids. I think they would refuse to ride the Merry-go-Round with me, but they will hop on the roller coaster and not ask questions until the ride gets rough. Then it’s scary, and they’re not sure why they got on. Where are we going? When will the ride get easier? When will we know it’s over?

Flexibility is the name of the game in my classroom. When the ride gets scary, I step next to them and ask questions. Would you like to interview a classmate? Are you interested in including the sound an owl makes?

My students are finding their own nonfiction topics. The best resource for kid-friendly nonfiction topics is Wonderopolis with almost 2000 topics, easy to read articles including videos and vocabulary. That is a starting point.

Andrew started his podcast idea at Wonderopolis reading the article, “Why do People Keep Pets?” He then read articles about bonding with cats and dogs. He decided to survey his class about their pets. Then he selected one student from his class to interview.

I downloaded Audacity, but I’m on an uphill climb trying to figure it out. Experiment. Mess up. Back up. Try again. Flexibility.

Writing the scripts themselves are a challenge because my students want to make their podcasts interesting to listen to. They want to include humor. They want to balance fun with facts. Flexible, flexible, flexible. When do I step in? When do I step back?

I want to thank my friend, Kimberley Moran, for giving me the courage to give this roller-coaster ride a chance. We’re still on board, but I think the ride will soon get thrilling, and all the hard work will be worth it.

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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.

Living on the bayou is a gift I don’t always remember to appreciate, but on Saturday, I announced to my husband, “It’s a gorgeous day. We have to go canoeing.”

For the first Saturday this month we had little to do. I sat outside on my deck, clean and inviting from the wedding we had a few short weeks ago, and watched my neighbors prepare for their daughter’s wedding reception. Tents and lights and tables and chairs were going up, and all I needed to do was watch. The lack of responsibility felt freeing.

Peeking through the grandmother oak to the wedding prep next door.

Peeking through the grandmother oak to the wedding prep next door.

Jeff quickly grabbed the paddles, life jackets, and a lunchbox of two beers, and launched the canoe. This canoe has a long history, close to 50 years. The Grumman. He and his brother bought it together when they were Boy Scouts competing in canoe races.

Jeff paddles the stern, the steering part.

Jeff paddles the stern, the steering part.

The bayou was slow and still, offering endless reflections. The air was a perfect 70+ degrees. I know that happiness is fleeting, but on this day in October, we grabbed hold of it, and spent some time savoring and celebrating the goodness.

Cypress tree reflection

Cypress tree reflection

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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

On Thursday, NCTE hosted a Twitter frenzy on #WhyIWrite to celebrate National Day on Writing. I gave myself an assignment spurred on by the many posts I read about Why I Write. I collected quotes and added them to images. I posted a few here. I also tweeted them out throughout the day on Thursday.

I asked my students to write on this topic and tweeted out their responses using Word Swag, an iPhone app.

Jacob's #WhyIWrite quote on Word Swag

Jacob’s #WhyIWrite quote on Word Swag

Any time you use a new application, you have to commit yourself to patience, practice, and persistence. Even my mother is learning about the three Ps as she switches my dad to Mac from PC.

Kids are so much more adept at this than we are as adults. They know right off that anything new will take patience. Two of my 6th grade boys have decided to do a project that uses animation. I was amazed at the concentrated time they spent to get a stick figure to move his arm up and down.

Digital literacies motivate us to put in the practice it takes to learn something new. We all know this, so we seem to have more patience when it comes to learning a new app. Don’t you hate it when your phone updates and something you have become accustomed to changes? I still swipe when I want to access my iPhone, but some genius thought it would be easier to hit the Home button. Persistence. I keep missing it, and by the time it becomes a habit, something else will change.

Face it, we are stuck with a constantly evolving universe of technology. But thanks to Word Swag, my iPhone, and a beautiful sunrise on the bayou today, I can create this quote from Mary Oliver.


Link your digital literacy posts below. Click to read more posts.

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Poetry Friday is with Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect

Poetry Friday is with Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect



What a joy to join Georgia Heard on the Good to Great (#G2Great) chat Thursday night! Georgia sent me a copy of her latest book a few weeks ago. I was so excited to see that three of my students’ heart maps were included.

I questioned how Georgia could write a whole book about heart maps. But this book is a gem. In each section, not only do we get another idea for another type of heart map, twenty in all, but we also get a list of writing ideas and mentor texts. A side bar on each template asks questions to lead the student to his own heart.

I used the wish heart map this week with 6th graders. These students are embarking on a yearlong project. As we begin this journey, my colleagues and I wanted them to explore deeply a problem they see in the world. The heart maps were a way to visually get them to the “heart” of the matter. Some students went straight to writing. This student’s wish map became a list poem of wishes.


I usually write with my students, so why not make heart maps? The students rotated to me 4 times, so I have 4 hearts. Each one is different. Some are completely visual, but two of them became poems.

My wish heart maps

My wish heart maps

I Wish

I wish I could draw love
into the world.
Blow it freely
like a dandelion seed
to fertilize lives
with empathy.

We wish on falling stars,
on rainbows,
pennies thrown in the fountain.
There’s the obligatory pull
of wishbone, a tug between my brother and me.
If I win this time,
can I send this wish to you?
Will it come true?

–Margaret Simon

Thank you, Georgia Heard, for leading me, as well as countless children, to our hearts.

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Today is the National Day on Writing!  On Sunday, I wrote my top ten list and collected posts from bloggers on this topic here.

As I read blog posts, I was inspired to collect quotes and make them into images. You can use these images for Twitter posts or on your own blog posts. Spread the love of writing today!

Image by Margaret Simon. Quote by Ruth Ayres.

Image by Margaret Simon. Quote by Ruth Ayres.

Image and quote by Catherine Flynn

Image and quote by Catherine Flynn

Image by Pixabay Quote by Michelle Haseltine

Image by Pixabay
Quote by Michelle Haseltine


Image enhanced by Picmonkey. Photo and quote by Kim Douillard


Image by Pixabay. Quote by Julieanne Harmatz.

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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.

The Oprah Magazine for November arrived. And in it, an article by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert. The tag line “How to be the real you? Teach your various sides to live harmoniously.” She identifies her three selves, Lizzy, Elizabeth, and Ms. Gilbert. I started thinking about my selves. Do I have three different people living inside of me?

There’s Margarita: fun-loving, outgoing dancer. She laughs and talks freely. She really doesn’t care what others think of her. She’s confident and carefree.

There’s Margaret: practical, hard-working, dedicated wife and mother. She will do anything that needs doing to help someone she loves. She feels less than if she is not doing her best.

There’s Mrs. Simon: serious, disciplined teacher. She respects her students and wants only the best for them. She doesn’t like slackers or disrespectful comments about anyone. She has high expectations and infallible values.

I know all three of these Margarets live inside of me. I love and nurture them all, but sometimes their goals conflict. Sometimes Margarita’s fun makes Mrs. Simon’s Mondays tired and tough, and leaves piles of dirty clothes for Margaret to wash. But I think I’ll keep her because she makes me happy.


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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


Excitement is building in cyberspace for the National Day on Writing scheduled for this Thursday, Oct. 20th.  This is a day when everyone is asked to think about why we write.  NCTE created the hashtag #WhyIWrite for Twitter.  The day is a collaboration among NCTE, National Writing Project, The New York Times Learning Network, and Teaching Channel.

Here are my top ten JOYS for writing:

  1. Writing helps me see clearly.
  2. Writing makes hard times easier.
  3. Writing sends my words into the world.
  4. Writing is a creative act that feeds my soul.
  5. Writing is hard and challenging like vitamins for my brain.
  6. Writing connects me with others.
  7. Writing leads me to me.
  8. Writing is understanding and confusing all at the same time.
  9. Writing builds hope.
  10. Writing is the thing with feathers.

Hope is the thing


Kevin Hodgson says he writes digitally to feel the groove between the spaces.  Read all about Kevin’s groove and explore a Thinglink of thoughts here.

Enter your DigiLitSunday posts below:


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Poetry Friday is with sweet Irene from Birmingham.

Poetry Friday is with sweet Irene from Birmingham.


I was letting this Poetry Friday go, but this morning (Saturday) I received the Full Moon Alert from my friend Jim.  Jim has missed two FMAs.  When I saw him out dancing at La Poussiere a few weekends ago, I felt I conjured him out of the dust. (La Poussiere means “the dust” in Cajun French.) Turns out, Jim and his wife Paula are fine, just busy.  That’s my excuse, too.  Well, isn’t it everyone’s?

The thing I love about Jim, in addition to his attention to nature and moons, is his love of poetry.  I am reposting the two poems he sent.  The first is from David Lee.  I have taken in the hummingbird feeder, but I still have such a fond image of them at the feeder this summer.


Hummingbird at the feeder in my backyard. Taken August 30th. Photo by Margaret Simon

Hummingbird at the feeder in my backyard. Taken August 30th. Photo by Margaret Simon

Ode Beneath a Hummingbird Feeder


Greenflash of lightning
and memory of a red scar
etched on the golden throat
of a still afternoon.


Whirr of tiny wings
like a small thunder
across the redwood porch.


Oh, arrogant little warrior,
if I had a naked weapon
I could brandish like yours,
I, too, would suffer
no foolish rival suitors
sipping at my ruby fount.

–David Lee 

The second poem Jim sent was by Mary Oliver.  The sentiment she expresses of hurricanes and the resurrection after is familiar to me.  I send this out to my Poetry Friday friends who recently endured Hurricane Matthew.


It didn’t behave
like anything you had
ever imagined. The wind
tore at the trees, the rain
fell for days slant and hard.
The back of the hand
to everything. I watched
the trees bow and their leaves fall
and crawl back into the Earth.
As though, that was that.
This was one hurricane
I lived through, the other one
was of a different sort, and
lasted longer. Then
I felt my own leaves giving up and
falling. The back of the hand to
Everything. But listen now to what happened
to the actual trees;
toward the end of that summer they
pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
But they couldn’t stop. They
Looked like telephone poles and didn’t
care. And after the leaves came
blossoms. For some things
There are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.

–Mary Oliver 


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Find more celebration posts at Ruth's blog.

Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.

October is my favorite month of the year. The air is cooling. My favorite fruit is ripe, satsumas. And Halloween is coming soon.

This week I had a discussion about Halloween with my Voxer group. For me Halloween evokes memories of my super-mom-syndrome days when I decorated, made costumes, and invited friends over for hot dogs and chili. I remember when my girls and I dressed as the Wizard of Oz characters.

Lately, though, Halloween is a happy memory. But one of my schools is going all out. I am on the first grade hall, and my door was the only one not decorated. So I turned to Pinterest. I’ve never used Pinterest in this way before. I emailed myself a picture and with the help of one of my students, we made the door look like a one-eyed purple monster.


Pinterest Halloween door

Andrew made a plan to read aloud to his sister’s first grade class.  He selected the book Louise Loves Art.  We had such fun reading the book, singing along with Emily Arrow, and drawing Kelly Light’s cat “Chuck.”  We tweeted to Kelly Light.

Emily made me my own pair of Louise glasses.




Friday was Madison’s ninth birthday.  We celebrated with chocolate-chocolatey cupcakes.  They decorate them with candy pieces.  Look at those smiles!


We love cupcakes!

By Friday evening, I was exhausted.  I headed out to pickup takeout and the moon was rising in the sunset.  I had to stop and notice.  There is always time to stop and notice.



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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.

The air is turning cooler, and the leaves are changing color. Satsumas are ripening on our satsuma tree. They are so heavy the branches are dragging on the ground. And when I take Charlie out at six in the morning, it’s dark, very dark, and the sun doesn’t rise until we are almost home. All these signs should have made me realize that the first nine weeks of school is ending.

Each grading period, I ask my students to revisit all the books they have read and select one to present to their classmates. This is a fun activity for them. I also want to make it a learning activity, so we talk about elements to include: title, author, genre, tone, characters, setting, plot…

Madison was excited about her book trailer. Animoto was her choice and she carefully selected pictures, music, and background. When I looked at her finished product, I noticed that she had identified the genre of the Warrior Cat series as realistic fiction. This gave me pause. Maybe she just didn’t have a clear understanding of genres.

I started a private discussion with Madison that I’m afraid made her cry. I was confused about her tears. She just kept repeating, “It’s the point of view of the cats.”

I finally realized that to her the story was very real. By then a few other classmates had joined into the conversation. Jacob recalled that they had learned about lucid dreams. He said, “It’s like that lucid dream when you feel like you are really doing all those things.”

Ding! The Aha bell rang. I told Madison that it was OK that she feels like the story is real. The author writes as if everything is real, like a lucid dream.

The next thing I knew, Madison had created a new genre, the lucid book. At this point she excitedly went back to her video and changed the genre to lucid. I did not correct her this time. Some things are best left to the imagination of children.

To see Madison’s Animoto book trailer, click here.


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