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Archive for the ‘Slice of Life’ Category

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

 

As I sit at home rummaging through my notes and photos from NCTE, I wonder how I can capture this amazing weekend in a single post.  Then I wrote my title, “A Slice of NCTE.”  I can do a slice, a snippet, a taste.

The overarching message that I came away with was equity.

From Katherine and Randy Bomer, as they accepted the NCTE award for Outstanding Elementary Educator, equity is communicated in their core values.  Meet every child with an air of expectancy and listen with love.  When I attended Katherine’s session “Appreciative Response for Writers: Words and Ways to Reclaim our Voices and Instill Agency in All Students,” once again the word equity arose as she and her teacher educators gave very practical ways to give students what they need in feedback to writing. I stopped by Corwin Books to buy Patty McGee’s new book Feedback that Moves Writers Forward.  In the session, Patty showed us how to honor what students are already doing and yet, move them toward growth.  I look forward to digging into this book.

From Jason Reynolds, the equity message was evident in his acceptance speech for the NCTE Charlotte Huck Award.  The story of Ghost is based on Jason’s real life friend, Matthew.  The real Ghost also loved to eat sunflower seeds.  Jason challenged us teachers by asking us what kind of sunflower eater would we be.  One who puts the whole seed in your mouth and sucks all the salt off to spit it out whole?  One who chews the whole seed and spits it out?  Or one who carefully finds the perfect place to crack the shell, hides the tiny seed in a safe place, then takes out the hard, cracked shell?  #sunflowerseedchallenge.

 

Jack, the lemur, eats sunflower seeds slowly.

From a panel of moving educators (Sara Ahmed, Katharine Hale, Jessica Lifshitz, Donalyn Miller, Katie Muhtaris, Pernille Ripp, and Katherine Sokolowski), all women who have a story, a story of inequity, a story of how they were called to stand up and stand out for justice.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.  I was more than moved by their stories.  I resolved to be better, to do better.  I resolved to carefully eat my sunflower seeds and offer a place a safety, a place of equity, a home for all student voices.

 

 

 

 

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

On Saturday I attended a photography workshop about using your smartphone held at The Shadows on the Teche, our resident plantation home.  I have fond feelings for this place not just because of its beauty, but it’s a place where my students participate every year in a play for first grade students in the parish.

After James, our presenter, gave us much technical information (some of which flew right over my head), we were sent out on the grounds to find interesting things to photograph.  Although he didn’t say it, most of us interpreted that James wanted us to look at things with a new eye, a different perspective, and an appreciation for the hidden beauty of the place.

I was drawn to a lace curtain over a window with moss in the trees barely visible beyond.  When I got home, I played around with the effects on the iPhone app and sent the photo off to Shutterfly and ordered cards.  One thing that James pointed out to us is that nothing is more satisfying than seeing an actual, hands-on print of your photo.

I also wrote a haiku to place inside the card:

Through the lace curtain,
moss hangs in soft stillness
whispering a prayer.

James assured us that not every photo we take will be “the shot”. We have to take a bunch, practice moving around the subject for many angles, and give yourself permission to try new things.

Here is a gallery of a few of my favorite photos from the day.

The Shadows on the Teche

Moss hangs over the Bayou Teche.

My photo partner wanders to find a perfect shot of the graveyard.

This workshop helped me feel more confident with photography with the camera I always carry with me. I am now more alert to what may make my next winning shot.

This week I’ll be at NCTE.  Hope to see many of my slicing friends there. I’ll be presenting on Friday morning with a panel of knock-out authors.

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

 

We’ve been talking about mood lately, in reading and in writing. I pre-ordered a box of mindfulness cards, Mindful Kids by Whitney Stewart. They arrived last week.  I started to use them along with meditation first thing in the morning.  I wasn’t sure how a group of various ages would respond to the concept of meditation.  So far, I’ve been pleased.

I pulled a card from the Mindful Kids box and the instructions were to draw a picture of your mood.  I asked my students to select a color that depicted their mood. I talked about the importance of being in touch with what you are feeling.  Each response was as different as the kids in the room.

Dawson, 4th grade, said the picture on the right is how he felt when he came to school. On the left is how he feels in our class.

 

Austin, 6th grade, wrote a key to his color and image choices.

We turned off the overhead lights and sat in a comfortable position. I turned on the Insight Timer app, and we were silent together.

This was a beautiful and thoughtful way to begin a Monday morning, a Monday after another mass shooting, a Monday of a soft lockdown, a Monday in new time.  I am coming to believe more and more in the face of these troubling times, I need to create a safe place.  A safe place for expressing your mood, speaking your truth, and creating peace.

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

In September I received an invitation from Paul Allison of the New York Writing Project to participate in a discussion about a new website for publishing student work.  In 2010, we worked together to create a platform around the Gulf oil spill called “Voices on the Gulf.”  From this experience, Paul created Youth Voices.  My students participated for a little while, but eventually the content became inappropriate for my young students.  I moved away from using this site because it did not meet the needs of my students as younger voices.

When Paul contacted me that he was ready to open a new site for elementary students, I was thrilled.  An authentic audience is extremely valuable in teaching writing.  Many of my students are isolated as one of few gifted students in their class.  When they write, they want people to read it.  They crave a wider audience.

Kidvoices.live is now live! Some of my students have begun posting their creative poetry there.  The platform is similar to blogging at Kidblogs, but different enough to serve a slightly more sophisticated purpose.

Kidvoices.live is open to other elementary classrooms as well.  If you want to join and get your students involved, you can.  You have to provide a unique email for each student.  You can use a gmail + account or a parent’s email address.  Once they sign up, each student will have a user name and password for future log-ins.  I recommend sending home a parent permission letter.  Paul plans to post it on the site, but you can also contact me for a copy.

Last week we read a story from Scholastic’s Scope magazine that was very close to us. The Great Flood of 2016 occurred in our area as well as in the setting of the article, Baton Rouge.  We then read from Here We Go about helpers and volunteering. (PowerPack #8 on page 65)   My students wrote response poems about the flood, and the larger topics of fear and hope.

When students have the opportunity to share writing online, they grow as writers, as digital citizens, and as people navigating this world.

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

On Saturday night, storms ravaged through our area.  I was up for at least an hour comforting my dog Charlie who is afraid of thunderstorms.  I admit, though, I wasn’t sleeping anyway.  Word has it we had some tornado activity.  One school had a small electric fire that caused some smoke damage in their library.

When we arrived at school Monday morning, the internet was out.  For my first group, it was back to the basics of paper and pencil writing.  We read together at school two. But at school #3, where I am teaching 4th grade science, I had planned a video about roller coasters to show force and motion.  When the internet was still not up and running, I had to think creatively.  I grabbed some Jenga blocks and Dominoes.

We reviewed the idea of force and motion.  I sent them off to work on a chain reaction while I worked with a second grader on writing a story.  The two 4th graders were speaking in whispers and didn’t want me to see what they were building.  I promised not to look.  When they were ready, I found that they had been creative themselves and built the blocks in the shape of my name.  Of course, I had to smile and take a video.

This experience made me realize how dependent I have become on technology.  I expect it to work.  I plan for it to work.  I think I should plan for at least one day a week that we unplug and get back to the basics of writing with pencils, reading with each other, and playing with blocks.

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

 

This past weekend was the 28th annual World Championship Gumbo Cookoff in New Iberia.  Every year during the second weekend of October, Main Street is shut down and groups gather to cook their best gumbo for hundreds or thousands of hungry tasters.

Seventeen years ago when our three girls were young, the family decided to have a booth.  Jeff’s siblings and their families came to town, and together we cooked and served the first ever Simon Family Gumbo.  My daughters have been nostalgic about that event and have talked about having another Simon Family Gumbo booth.  So this was the year.

Jeff and our oldest daughter Maggie were in charge.  For months, Jeff has worked weekends on building a facade of our house, the Big White Castle.  Son-in-law Grant designed a logo using our family Christmas frog as a model and adding a chef’s hat and a superman cape. (The theme for this year’s event was super heroes.)

Katherine and Jeff show the back of our family t-shirts after they ran the 5K Roux Run on Saturday.  Each won second place in their division.  The “medal” was a mini wooden gumbo spoon.

The Simon family castle!

When the weekend arrived, Jeff headed to Cosco for roasted chickens, a dozen of them.  Maggie and Grant arrived with sausage to cook in the cast iron pot to fully season it.  The day Saturday was spent chopping loads of onions, celery, and bell pepper.  What joy to have all hands chopping while everyone visited together!  Jeff and Grant worked on the stock outside on the burner.  I wish I could have captured the smell along with the photos.

 

Saturday night was early to bed because the alarms went off at 4:45 AM on Sunday.  The cooking crew had to get downtown to set up and start the roux.  At 6 AM, the gumbo police announced, “Start your burners,” and the town began to smell of flour and oil slowly cooking into 75+ gravies. If you ask anyone who knows anything about cooking a gumbo, they will tell you the secret is in the roux.  For our team it was touch and go and tag-teaming for about an hour and a half before the roux was the just-right color of chocolate to satisfy head chef, Maggie.

Once the roux was done, it was added to the stock along with vegetables, sausage, and chicken. The stew cooked for a few more hours before a sample was sent to the judges.  Then people arrived with tickets in hand to try out as many samples as their stomachs would hold.  Unfortunately, the crowd was lighter than in previous years due to the extreme heat.  No one really craves gumbo when the temperature climbs over 90 degrees.  The heat really wore us all down, but we powered through.

I celebrate my amazing family.  My girls and their significant others get along so well with each other.  At the end of the weekend, Jeff said, “I think they could do anything.”  This was a huge undertaking, and I was proud of our tasty gumbo even though we didn’t place in the competition.  In our hearts, we knew Simon Family Gumbo was the best!

 

 

 

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

 

Over the summer I connected with JoAnne Duncan through Voxer.  JoAnne is an assistant principal in Washington. Connecting with other educators across the globe is exciting to me.  Little did I know how much this new friendship would grow and sprout new growth.

On Friday afternoon after a difficult day, I checked Facebook to find a video message for me (and others) from JoAnne.  She was challenging us to join a kindness project, #welearnkindness.  This project stems from the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  JoAnne’s school is reading the book and raising awareness of bullying in new and innovative ways.  One way is asking others to join the kindness challenge by taking 3 action steps in 24 hours.

The idea is to tag others on Facebook or Twitter to take on the challenge themselves.  This is how phenomenons are started.  Remember the ice bucket challenge?

On Monday, I did my three acts of kindness, but the planning started on Sunday. My husband added Swiss Rolls to his Walmart list so that I could treat one of my students for his birthday.  I grabbed a bouquet of flowers on my grocery run, and I located a gift I had bought during the summer to give to a colleague.

When I arrived at my first school, I caught the assistant principal in the hallway and asked if I could take her breakfast duty.  She was grateful and rushed to do whatever it is assistant principals have to do.  (I’m sure her list was long.) While in the cafeteria, I talked with our French teacher whom I know little about and learned he is from Niger, Africa.  We had a great conversation.

At school number 2, I handed my colleague her belated birthday gift.  I had tagged her in the kindness challenge, and she brought me cookies.  She also challenged other teachers in our school.  I saw one carrying around candy treats to give to kids caught being kind.  This kindness thing is spreading quickly.

At school number 3 where I am new this year, I brought fall flowers to a teacher across the hall who is helping me navigate this new-to-me place.  She was more than thrilled.  I think I made her cry.  She will talk to me about those flowers every day this week, I’m sure.

But I am not writing about these acts of kindness to tell you how wonderful I am at being kind.  I’m writing this post because of the way I felt all day on Monday.

Kindness buoyed me through my day.

Kindness lightened my heart and made me smile.

Kindness spreads like wildflowers on a spring wind.

Try it.  I think you’ll find that being kind makes you a happier person all the way around.

Pledge to Choose Kind!

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