Archive for November, 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.

The writer has to be like the firefighter, whose job, while everyone else is fleeing the flames, is to run straight into them. — Jonathan Franzen in The Best American Essays 2016

After reading Katherine Bomer’s book The Journey is Everything, meeting her virtually by hosting a Twitter chat, and meeting her face to face at NCTE16, I have a new understanding of the power of essay. Katherine’s passion for the resurgence of the real essay came through in the panel she hosted at NCTE with Corinne Arens, Allyson Smith, and Matthew Harper. These teachers experienced the transformative power of essay in a writing institute, and transferred that understanding to their classrooms.

Unpacking my notes, I rediscovered this way of thinking and writing. In real essay, we explore Hot Spots, Buried Truths, and Freedom. We write to think, leaving space for unknowing. Like a conversation with your best friend, real essay uses words like maybe and perhaps while circling around an idea, unwinding your thinking.

Essay is literature. Essay includes ideas, voice, and risk. It is the risk that stood out to me. Isn’t all writing risky? Yes, but adding the element of risk to essay has been funneled out by the Common Core testing. And when we remove risk, we remove what makes us human. Jonathan Franzen agrees as he writes in the introduction to the 2016 collection of The Best American Essays, “A true essay is ‘something hazarded, not definitive, not authoritative; something ventured on the basis of the author’s personal experience and subjectivity.'”

Writers are not born, they are made. In order to discover what we think, what we know, what we are passionate about, we need to be real in our essays, in our blog posts, with our students. When we trust this process of discovery, we allow our students an opportunity to express themselves beyond 5 paragraph essay structure.

The writer holds the paintbrush. Rather than painting an image with authority, paint with abandon to the rules. The image will be creative, expressive, and all yours.


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This image was the Twitter image I made for this week’s DigiLit link-up but never posted.  As many of you, I’ve been enjoying time with my family this holiday weekend.  I will extend this topic to next week, so think about joining the round up next week on Sunday, Dec. 4th.

I would like you to think about what DigiLit Sunday means to you.  I was asked to explain it last weekend at NCTE, and I realized the description has changed from my original intent.  I wanted a space to showcase my students’ digital work as well as a place to have conversations around digital literacy.  The purpose has turned to one that more deeply defines my teaching practice.

My posts and those of others who link up seem to gravitate to the theory around the topic and how that plays out in the classroom.  Is it time for a new name?  Any ideas?

I want to keep #DigiLitSunday going.  I am grateful for everyone who links up week after week.  How can we build a stronger future?  What need does this platform serve?

I am full of questions this week as the kitchen has quieted down, and I prepare for the ending of 2016.  Let me know in the comments or by email if you have any ideas you would like to share.  Thanks for being here.



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Find more celebration posts at Ruth's blog.

Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.

Gorgeous fall flowers for the table.

Gorgeous fall flowers for the table.


Time changes things.  For practically every Thanksgiving in my adult life, I’ve traveled home to Mississippi for Thanksgiving.  This year, with our growing family, I felt it was time to stay home.  I missed being with my family of origin but loved being with my daughters and their significant others (one husband, one fiancé, and one boyfriend).

This Thanksgiving became cooking by committee.  At one point I looked around my kitchen, and there were only guys cooking.  Each couple contributed something to the meal.  But also, these grown children worked together in every way.  Such a fun thing to watch and be a part of.  As the meal was almost ready to be served, I cried out, “Salad!”  There is always something we’ve forgotten.  Usually it’s cranberry sauce or bread, but this year it was the salad.  As I scrambled to get the salad ready, others stopped and chopped.  Our small community came together to make everything just right.

Friday, the committee started up again with the traditional turkey and sausage gumbo.  I know nothin’ ’bout cookin’ a gumbo, being a Mississippi girl and all.  But there is something so comforting about the scent of a dark roux.

As this holiday comes to a close, I celebrate change.  I celebrate a growing family. I celebrate the new generation.

My married daughter, Katherine, has two dogs, so we took daily walks in the neighborhood.

My married daughter, Katherine, has two dogs, so we took daily walks in the neighborhood.


A satsuma candle made by Paul using a satsuma peel and a touch of olive oil.

A satsuma candle made by Paul using a satsuma peel and a touch of olive oil.

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Poetry Friday is with Carol at Carol's Corner.

Poetry Friday is with Carol at Carol’s Corner.



In my Inbox, I found this prompt from Poets and Writers:

In his 1821 essay “A Defence of Poetry,” Percy Bysshe Shelley writes, “Poetry is…the perfect and consummate surface and bloom of all things; it is as the odor and the color of the rose to the texture of the elements which compose it….” Make a list of words and phrases that describe the surface textures, odors, and colors that surround you as this year draws to an end, choosing the details that are most evocative of the season. You may find yourself drawing inspiration from the contrasting primary colors of holiday cheer, bright puffy parkas or dark wool coats, the shiny prints and textures of patterned gift wrap, the stark tones of snow, or the scents of fragrant conifers and baked desserts. Write a trio of poems, each focusing on one type of sensory input. Select an element–setting, narrator’s voice, repeated words, or a specific object–that stays constant through all three, tying them together.

I was relaxing at my daughter’s house in New Orleans after a long, amazing, yet tiring weekend at NCTE.  The mowers came to mow the median.  And this poem emerged.



Even in November
mowers hum,
chopping remains of green,
throwing dust to the wind.

My soul prepares
for the cold,
curled up in a blanket,
wearing wool socks.  

This cooling of air
this crisping of leaves, grass, my toes
gives space for new growth
prepares for seeds to flower.


When I hear
mower sounds,
wind playing its violin,

I turn my ear–


I see black faces
of the mowers earnestly
getting the job done.
Do they take pride
in their mowing?

Do they take their families
for a ride later,
drive by the median
on Carrollton Avenue,
point to the grass,
and say, “I did that!” ?

Do any of us
see the lawn of our lives
as beauty
we have created?

–Margaret Simon

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A breakfast conversation in the lobby of the Hilton in Atlanta for the NCTE 2016 conference, Collette turns to me and points her finger saying, “Words matter!”

We talked about this a lot.  Words and their importance was in the theme of every presentation I attended.  What we say, what we write, how we express ourselves and how we lead our students to express themselves matters.

The first gathering I attended on Thursday afternoon featured the work of Thomas Newkirk.  Friends and colleagues gathered to share how Tom’s words had influenced the ongoing work of writers like Penny Kittle, Jeff Wilhelm, and Ellin Keene. Jeff Wilhelm shared this Marge Percy poem, “To Be of Use.”   I wondered, “Am I of use?”

Our theories are disguised autobiographies often rooted in childhood.  –Tom Newkirk

Penny Kittle repeated this quote like a mantra, 3 times.  Long enough for me to write it down.  Long enough for me to contemplate what that means for me and for my students.  This idea leads us to empathy. How can we not be empathetic if we consider everyone’s theories come from their roots?  We must respect the roots to offer ourselves and our students wings.

This theme of empathy and the value of words continued on Friday morning at the Heinemann breakfast honoring the work of Don Graves.  Katherine Bomer reminded us that kids want to write.

Writing is the way children’s voices come into power, reminding us that we are all human.–Katherine Bomer

Following all of the amazing, articulate speakers, we were asked to create our own credo.  Here’s mine:

Student voices are precious, like a tiny fragile egg.  I must crack it open without destroying the life inside. –Margaret Simon

NCTE is a powerful, inspirational gathering of gentle, generous, kind and brave teachers and authors.  We know that words matter, but hearing the message in this atmosphere ingrains it into our hearts, and we are empowered to move forward.



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Note: Header image art by my sister, Beth Gibson Saxena.

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

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


Jane Yolen

Poets love words. Poets play with words. Poets want you to love language as much as they do.

In my classroom, we read poems together, searching for sounds, images, and meaning. Jane Yolen is a master. I’ve admired her poetry for years. But only a year ago, maybe less, I signed up for her daily poem email. She believes in writing a poem a day. She practices what she preaches and sends out her daily drafts trusting that we receivers will honor and respect her words.

I shared one of these gems with my students, “Seven Ways of Kneeling on the Ground.” My first intent in sharing this poem was to show students how to use a pattern of 7 stanzas with 3 lines each, but in further examination, the poem offered so much more. We found imagery bouncing off the page. Her poem exemplified the magical sounds of words without using end rhyme: “Kneeling in the high bracken/ the brown crackle of it.”

There is JOY in reading a poem together, marking it up in colorful markers, and discovering how language (the sounds of words, double meanings, metaphor) leads us to a deeper understanding of our 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



I find myself choosing topic words for DigiLitSunday that are current struggles of my own.  This week I was faced with a decision about my students’ podcasts.  They were written and recorded, but the technology department would not open Soundcloud as a venue for online publishing.  I asked myself, “Then what was the purpose of all that work?”

My teaching philosophy leans heavily on purpose.  I feel students need to have authentic learning experiences.  We listened to podcasts, discussed the elements, and wrote scripts based on research.  In order to fully experience production, though, the podcasts needed an audience.

I turned to YouTube.  In order to make the sound recording work for YouTube, we had to design a video using Movie Maker.  This added another step to the process.  We had to select images, load them into the Movie Maker app, and add the sound, playing over and over to make sure the images matched the words.

For this step with most of my students, I worked one on one which took time and patience, so I questioned its purpose.  I gave it back to the kids.  This step was important to them.  One student was excited to share the video with her sister who is away at college.  I tweeted out one podcast on Friday and received a response from a literacy coach who plans to share it with a 3rd grade classroom.

I believe it is important to model for our students authentic learning experiences and navigating the digital world.  It’s a scary place out there.  If my students begin in a safe place, perhaps they will become confident and responsible digital citizens.

Please consider following my YouTube channel (margaretsmn) as well as our class Twitter account (@MrsSimonsSea).

Today I am featuring Madison’s podcast on Barn Owls.  Madison becomes a teen barn owl in this podcast.  What you can’t see is how she “flaps her wings” when she says her part.


To join the digital literacy conversation today, please leave a link below.


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Find more celebration posts at Ruth's blog.

Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.



Celebrate #1: He bought me roses.  The beauty of a single rose is enough to take my breath away.  Something so small and simple is really a sign of the hope. I need that hope this week.

Celebrate #2:  NCTE is coming!  I leave on Thursday and will be meeting up with many friends.  I celebrate that I am co-moderating two panels.  I will also be involved with 2 roundtable discussions.  But most of all, I will be surrounded by like-minded people who want the best for their students.





My NCTE schedule:

Sat., 8 AM: F.21 We See Their Faces: How Historical Fiction Advocates for Empathy, Diversity, and Social Change B311

Sat., 9:30 G.12 Writing for a Better World: Poetry Response to World Events B210

Sat., 1:15 I.27 Authentic Voice in a Digital World: Using Technology in Our Literate Lives B215

Sunday, 1:30 N.20 Teachers as Writers: Practices and Possibilities (an NCTE Roundtable Session) b206 


Celebrate #3:  Class Twitter account: @MrsSimonsSea.  My students are excited to have their very own Twitter account.  I look forward to exploring ways we can connect with authors and other classrooms.  If you have a class account, please follow us.  Our first Tweet was a 4th grade student’s podcast about the importance of pets.

Jenn Hayhurst tweeted back.

I can’t wait to share this with Andrew on Monday.  I celebrate online connections and building student confidence with social media.

Please come back tomorrow for DigiLitSunday! Our topic this week is “Purpose.”


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The Heart of Small Things

Poetry Friday is with Jama at Jama's Alphabet Soup

Poetry Friday is with Jama at Jama’s Alphabet Soup




When I consider
feathers on a mourning dove
I know love

When I consider
chimes ring for an evening breeze
I know love

When I consider
roses he bought just-because
I know love

When I consider
pages that breathe a true life
I know love

When I consider small things
I am whole & here

–Margaret Simon

(Haiku sonnet on the opening line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet XV)



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Slice of a Swing

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

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


My three daughters lined up on the swing with Isabel, our weenie dog, and Sammy, the three-legged cat, on the first day of school.  My husband built the swing of heavy cypress, and it hung in the breezeway between the house and the carport.  The picture was taken in 1997 and took some time for me to find.  (I got lost in the trip down memory lane through albums of photos.)  I remembered that we took the first day of school picture every year on this cypress swing outside our back door.  Digging through the photos, I only found two.  The second one was taken in 1998, and Maggie had outgrown first-day-of-school photos, so it was only the younger two. (And Izzy and Sammy, of course)


Fast forward almost 20 years.  The swing has been sitting in our carport ever since we moved to this house 12 years ago.  We’ve just never found the right spot for it.  Our cats have enjoyed finding a dry spot to hang out, and we’ve used it to hold various things that tend to land in a carport.  It gathered dirt and leaves while the paint peeled.


A few weeks ago, our oldest daughter bought a house with her boyfriend.  They are engaged to be married this spring.  Their new house has a nice front porch just begging for a cypress swing.  So Jeff spent a few weekends cleaning, sanding, and painting the infamous swing.


On Sunday, we loaded it into his truck to deliver to its new home.

To me, this is a right of passage, of sorts.  The next generation is making their way into this world.  The swing has many more years left in it.  Solid, strong, and safe… like our family.

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