Archive for January, 2017

Slice of Life Challenge

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


The Hallmark channel is on again.  I pour a glass of wine.  I search for something positive to say.  I’ve always thought of myself as an optimist, but these days are dark.  Winter is an apt metaphor for the state of our country.  I am carrying a weight of pessimism that I find too heavy and hard.

So I turn to my passion, poetry.  Poetry is like prayer for me.  I go inside my thoughts and work to make some sense of them.

Laura Shovan is getting ready for her annual February poetry project.  She has built a Facebook group.  It’s a closed group, but if you ask, you can join.  We are a bunch of liberals looking for ways to make sense of the news by taking 10 words from a current news report and writing poetry.

On Saturday, I found an empty journal on my shelf.  It is quite beautiful, a gift from someone, I’m sure.  The title reads, “Personal Journal with Quotes & Art by Women.”  I decided to use this book to pen the poems I am writing for Laura’s challenge.  On this page I share below is a sculpture called “Invocation” by Edith Schaller.  I wrote a poem for the January 25th warm-up using ten words from Janet Mock’s Women’s March speech.  I am not accustomed to being outspoken, political, or radical.  I am uncomfortable in this position, but I find solace in poetry, in writing, in words.



I am my sister’s keeper.
I hold her body.
I am committed to this work
of loving and comforting,
feeling safe and sensitive.

I refuse to crawl deeper into poverty,
refuse to give up all that we have fought for.
I will not be invisible or neglected.

But his words tear at a core
I fear is weak.  My liberation
is linked to my resolve
to not be moved, to hold fast.

Why must I turn into a revolutionary?
I once was a peaceful woman,
teaching, learning, writing,
minding my own business.

Why must I be confrontational?
Someone who has written herself
into this story of marches,
signs and petitions?

Sister, help me be this new me.

–Margaret Simon

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I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s in Jackson, Mississippi. I didn’t really know about prejudice, but I remember well when our schools were integrated. I was in the fourth grade. We went home for two weeks and came back (I still attended a neighborhood school) to new students and new teachers. Mrs. Love was my new 4th grade teacher, the first African American teacher I had ever met. She beamed with joy and kindness. Her name completely expressed who she was. Her classroom was fun and engaging. The color of her skin made no difference to me. I was just so happy to be back in school.

In Ruby Lee and Me, the schools of Shady Creek, North Carolina, were being integrated. Sarah would attend school with her best friend Ruby Lee, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Sarah is dealing with a huge load of guilt. Her sister was hit by a car and hurt badly, and Sarah thinks it was her fault. While her sister is in the hospital, Sarah stays with her grandparents. She messes things up with her good friend Ruby Lee and calls her the “N” word. Apologizing in the midst of small town racial issues is difficult. Can Sarah save her friendship?

Sarah and Ruby Lee meet their new seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Smyre who reminded me of Mrs. Love, the new African American teacher in a previously all white school. I was curious about author Shannon Hitchcock’s process to publishing this book. She shares some of her story in the end pages. Like me, she was raised during this time period of school integration. Her favorite teacher, like Mrs. Love and Mrs. Smyre, was Mrs. Pauline Porter.

I contacted Shannon and interviewed her by email.

When writing about the past for children of today, I focus on the universal. RUBY LEE & ME is about the love Sarah has for her sister and her best friend. Those are feelings kids still experience today, and along with the universal, I sprinkle in a generous dose of history. Kids may be surprised that Ruby Lee couldn’t swim in the town pool, or eat in Bubba’s Grill, but hopefully, they’ll be outraged on Ruby’s behalf. Historical fiction touches our hearts because we experience the past through characters we care about.

Interracial friendship is at the heart of RUBY LEE & ME. I hope the book sheds light on how hard it was for blacks and whites to be friends in the 1950s and 60s. That may even lead to a discussion of how things have changed and remained the same. For instance, have today’s students faced friendship challenges with kids who are disabled, or of a different religion, or maybe speak a different language? We all struggle to understand people who aren’t like us.

My advice for writers is to read, read, read, especially books that have been published in the last five years or so. I’m also a big proponent of SCBWI. I met my editor at the Orlando SCBWI conference, and sold RUBY LEE & ME to her after revising on spec. I also love taking writing workshops because authors never stop learning.

From her post on Nerdy Book Club, April 4, 2016: The 1960’s were a turbulent time in my family and in my town. Though Brown v. Board of Education became the law of the land in 1954, our public schools remained segregated until 1967. I started first grade that year, and my school’s first African-American teacher taught in the classroom beside mine.

Mrs. Porter had a special gift for working with reluctant readers. So every afternoon, she changed classrooms with my teacher and worked with those of us struggling to read… I shudder to think what might have happened if I’d never caught up.

Thanks, Shannon, for your bravery in writing this book, for sharing a piece of your own life story, and helping students to see how things have changed, and how some things, like friendship, love, and understanding, are universal.


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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

Digitally enhanced iPhone image

Digitally enhanced iPhone image

A few weeks ago, I set up a plan for the month of January DigiLit posts. I promised to tweet the topic on Thursdays. I have not fulfilled that plan. I have been barely making it with a tweet on Saturday. Forgive me. I’m adjusting the plan somewhat. I’ll place the topic for next week in the current DigiLit Sunday post and tweet a reminder on Saturday. If you are writing posts, or want to join us, please go to the Google doc to add your information and your topic ides.

I enjoy playing with photographs on my phone using various photo-enhancing apps. The technology available to us today allows for regular people like me to make cool, professional looking photos with a click.

My students have discovered that in their Kidblog, they can change, manipulate, add features, etc. to their avatars. While this is fun, it can take away time from focusing on the real stuff of blogging, the writing. What place does digital design have in our classrooms, if any?

I struggle with this question. I think it is important to encourage creativity in the classroom, but where does creativity end and just fooling around begin?

My answer has been in setting purposes for digital design and creativity. When my students work on blogging, the design for their posts must serve a purpose. The design should communicate. Setting backgrounds, changing fonts and font size, manipulating images should communicate a tone or theme.

What are some ways you encourage digital design in your classroom? Join the conversation with the link below.

I am blogging for Kidblog. To see my latest post on Tapping into the World of Wonder, click here.

Next week’s topic comes from Maria Caplin: Increasing student vocabulary beyond definitions.


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Find more celebration posts at Ruth's blog.

Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.

There are those weeks that seem to go on and on, yet offer nothing to be celebrated. Sometimes I have to look harder to find the bright spots. I am actually ashamed that I felt this way yesterday because this morning I looked through my mail and found so much to celebrate.

I signed up for a poetry postcard exchange. I thought the giving and receiving was over, but this week I got three more poetry postcards.

New Year poem cards from Sylvia Vardell with a Wonder Woman stamp.

New Year poem cards from Sylvia Vardell with a Wonder Woman stamp.

Poem from Donna Smith: Listen to the sounds crunching, munching, lunch a foot Leaves nourishing earth

Poem from Donna Smith:
Listen to the sounds
crunching, munching, lunch a foot
Leaves nourishing earth

Handwritten poem and card from Kim Urband:

Summer Storm
Stone-gray clouds steal azure sky
Lightning stabs, singes
Liquid silver glazes hills
Relinquishes to Rhapsody

–Kim Urband

This sweet, uplifting message from Joy Acey:

My body feels electric like new years fireworks
blazing in starlight.
I want to raise my arms
to twirl and dance in the moonlight.
Poetry fills me
and runs out of my pen.
May the force be with your poetry.
–Joy Acey

And an invitation to my daughter’s wedding in March. Here we go again!


This week I read aloud Preaching to the Chickens about John Lewis’s childhood. I wanted my students to know his name and to have a better understanding of the fight for civil rights. This book is beautifully illustrated. One of my students, Madison, was inspired by the paintings to draw her own yard of chickens. I love the personalities of each of her chickens.

Chickens by Madison, 3rd grade.

Chickens by Madison, 3rd grade.

I didn’t have to look very hard to find these celebrations today. What are you celebrating?

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Carol at Beyond Literacy Link

Challenges can be fun. Challenges can be…well…challenging. Donna Smith posted a challenge to write a poem using all the lines given out by the visitors to her blog. She collected the following lines:

Buffy Silverman: ferocious women who never bring you coffee
Donna Smith: always leave a wild song
Linda Baie: dreaming women do art in poetry
Buffy Silverman: where wizards and wolves rush by in a blur of green and gold and gray
Kay McGriff: ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones
Linda Mitchell: waking the world to a new day
Margaret Simon: steam that climbs like smoke from a fire
Carol Varsalona: fearless women reach out, connect, and find joy in life’s intertwined moments
Tabatha Yeatts: little chest to put the Alive in
Joy Acey: wear loose clothing and a smile
Jan Godown Annino: I feel like there should be more stories out there for girls, and I try to tell them
Mary Lee Hahn: ferocious women do not exaggerate
Brenda Harsham: make a ferocious dinner that eats masks, drips truth and saves softness for dessert
Keri Lewis: radical at their core
Kiesha Shepard: ferocious women would rather drink the wind
Diane Mayr: out of endurance, exaltation

One of the rules was to break the rules, so I did. I didn’t use all the lines.

Here is my poem:

Dreaming women
wake the world
reach out
to find joy in life’s
intertwined moments.

They write stories
where wizards and wolves
rush by. Their stories
sing like steam
that rises, smoke from a fire–
a wild fire!

Ferocious women
never bring you coffee.
They make a ferocious dinner,
save softness for dessert
and a smile.

Take advice from us:
Ignore the awful times.
Dream on.
Leave a wild song.
Drink the wind.

To see other poetic responses, go to Donna’s site for the link up.

Now for a very important announcement: The winners of Here We Go! If you see your name here and you haven’t gotten an email from me, please send me your address by email.

1. Jane Whittingham

2. Joanne Duncan

3. Leigh Anne Eck

4. Linda Mitchell

5. Kimberley Moran

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The image above makes me imagine metaphorically that I am that big green rock holding in balance the different colors of my students.  Teaching is a delicate balancing act.  As teachers, we must set goals for our students, individually and collectively.  Our job is to get on the train every morning and move down the tracks to that goal.  (Excuse the mix of metaphors.)

Sometimes one student can topple the whole balancing game.  We must stop whatever it is we are doing and pay attention.  Focus on needs rather than goals.

This week I had to call on a colleague for help.  I was not meeting a student’s need, and I wasn’t sure where to go next.  I had tried many directions, but none were working very well.  This is humbling.  However, I found strength and comfort in the shared experience.  Reaching out when you feel defeated is tough to do.  I am so grateful now that I did.  My student is better for it.  I am better for it.

My students write every day.  Writing is a brave act. So different from answering questions or working out a math problem.  Writing is personal and hard.

This week one of my goals was teaching essay.  The kind of essay that testing will require in which the student writes about a literary element (in this case, theme) comparing two texts.  We worked with a nonfiction article and a poem.

During a conference with one of my students, I read aloud to her what she had written.  “Blah, blah, blah” was her response.  “I can’t stand writing essays.  They’re so boring!”  After our chat, she typed up her boring essay.  I had to laugh when I read it.  She began with, “Hey, world. Listen here!”  And at a later point, she wrote, “Now that is awesome!”

My students need to be able to express themselves.  Sometimes these expressions come out in loud exclamations, quiet tears, or interjections. No matter the goal, needs may throw us out of balance, or may be the very thing to keep the balance.

Please join the conversation by leaving a link below:

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Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.


“Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there.” Rumi The Sunrise Ruby

A celebration list:

Monday: Manchego cheese on arugula
Wednesday: Tutu salad pepper tuna, avocado
Friday: Greek Fatouche with pita chips

Tables turned
daughters give advice to Mom

Writing, receiving

Projects develop
making a difference
in more ways than one

A dog
snoring happily
at my feet

His love
patient, kind
my heart is always open
and complete



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Poetry Friday: Here We Go!

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Violet.


I am pinching myself today.  I just got my shipment of Here We Go, Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong’s latest Poetry Friday project.  These two amazing women have been gathering poets in anthologies for years.  I met them a few years ago at NCTE at the Children’s Literature Lunch.  They handed me the Poetry Friday anthology for Science.  This is how they are.  Their goal is to get poetry in the hands of teachers who will pass them on to children.

At NCTE 2016, I saw Sylvia and Janet in a hotel restaurant.  They were eating breakfast.  I just walked right on up.  This time they handed me You Just Wait.   We took a picture with my class’s mascot, Jack.  Before we said good-bye, I said, “I want to write a poem for you.”


“Well,” exclaimed Janet, “It just so happens we need one more poem for our next book coming out before the inauguration.”

“In this book, we want to empower the voices of girls.  Do you think you could write a poem from the point of view of a young girl who wants to do something she’s been told she can’t do?”

“Of course I can!”  I didn’t really say that.  I said, “I’d like to try.”

I had no idea my poem would be next to poets like Naomi Shihab Nye and Carole Boston Weatherford.  I’ve long admired Poetry Friday contributors such as Michelle Heindenrich Barnes, Kate Coombs, and Robyn Hood Black.

I absolutely love the format they have used for this book!  The subtitle is “A Poetry Friday Power Book.” Included are 12 powerplay prewriting activities, 12 anchor poems, 24 new poems to join them together,12 power2you writing prompts, and 12 resource lists for young writers and activists.  The poems work together to create a story of community, bias, acceptance, and activism.  Each “Power Pack” can be used by an individual writer or by a teacher with her class.

Please join me in celebrating this new book by leaving a comment.  Janet and Sylvia sent me 5 extra copies to give away.  Leave a comment by Friday, Jan. 27th to be entered into a random drawing for a free copy.




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Slice of Life Challenge

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


New Orleans Little Free Library

I took the opportunity of an extra day this weekend to visit my daughters in New Orleans.  My cousin and his family met me for lunch on Monday.  Then we headed over to Blue Cypress Books, an uptown used book store.  I listened while my cousin’s wife read aloud to her second grader.  I pulled favorite books off the shelf to suggest to the 5th grader.  We made our book stacks.

“Mom, how many books can we get?”

“When it comes to books, we don’t set a limit.  We look at which ones we really want to read.”

I wandered over to the poetry section.  Have you ever had a book call out to you?  Say, “Here I am waiting for you!”

I picked up “A Year with Rumi” and opened to January 17th.  How did Rumi know that this was the poem I needed today?  Book magic happens in used bookstores.



On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I also bought two quote magnets.  Bookstore magic.


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Personally I have become very suspicious of news lately.  The skeptic in me is showing.  On social media, I hesitate to click through to a website for fear of ad invasion or some pop-up wanting me to sign up, and then there’s the creepy fact that everything you search becomes part of your history and everyone knows.  I placed an order on Jet.com and for a week, every website I went to popped up a Jet.com ad.  Really? Modern day commercials geared to who some cyberspace robot thinks I am.

How do we protect our children in these times of everything is news, real or fake?  When the topic came up, I originally thought I didn’t need to worry about it.  Our school district has safety blocks in place; however, lots of fake news sites have ways of circumventing these blocks.  And in the name of good research, my students were finding them.  Time for a talk.

Armed with chart paper, I wanted to find out what my students already knew about the difference between fake and real news stories.  Here’s what we came up with.


Then I asked my students to pick a story on the internet that they are interested in investigating and write about their findings.  One student made an interesting discovery when she wanted to find out if Donald Trump supports LGBT rights.  She was confused by the reports and the images of Trump holding an LGBT flag.  Which is true?  In this case, both.  So now we are on to another issue, what do we believe by the actions and the words of a person in politics?  My response was yes, it’s confusing, so write about that!

Kevin Hodgson tweeted a Google slide show that he created for his students.  I plan to show this next week to keep the conversation open.

I don’t have all the answers.   This world of news at our fingertips, real or fake or just plain confusing, can be daunting.  I want my students to be discerning citizens.  So I keep the doors open.  We wonder.  We question.  We look for answers.

Please add your link to the conversation below.

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