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When something comes across my radar multiple times, I pay attention. This is the first year I’ve heard of the Sealy Challenge. It is a challenge to read a poetry book each day in the month of August. I read poetry books for more than one purpose.

  1. To enjoy lyrical language
  2. To inform my own writing practice
  3. To get ideas for teaching

The first book I read was Jacqueline Woodson’s Before the Ever After which accomplishes all three goals.

I picked up the book at a new local independent bookstore, and it was signed! Ha! What a find!

Before the Ever After is a middle grade novel-in-verse. To read a review, click here.

For my take on the Sealy Challenge, I’d like feature one poem and respond to it.

This poem captures a few themes of the verse novel. ZJ’s father is suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and his friends help him through the struggle. Football is a major topic, but ZJ is a musician and has troubled feelings about football due to his father’s illness. The repetition of “Used to” effectively communicates ZJ’s continued struggle about how things used to be before his father was ill.

Craft moves I love in this poem are the repetition (anaphora) of “Used to be” as well as that ending. “Just feels like that.” becomes “Just. Feels. Like. That.” This craft move is something I can try in my own writing and I can show kids how to use it with effectiveness.

Jacqueline Woodson, while being a master of craft, does not overuse any literary element. It just feels natural. It’s. Just. Natural.

Pin on winkies

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Jama at Jama’s Alphabet Soup

I hope you are having a fun-filled poetry month. This week I played with equation poems à la Laura Purdie Salas. Laura released a book of equation poems titled Snowman – Sun = Puddle (published by Charlesbridge and with art by Micha Archer). This is a great book to read with budding second and third grade writers as they learn about figurative language. This month Laura is posting an equation poem on her blog daily. My students and I enjoyed creating image equation poems using Canva.

by Rylee, on a stormy day when her teacher had a hard time getting home because the streets were flooded.
by Mrs. Simon on the same rainy day when no one could go out for recess.
by Adelyn, who in second grade is learning about the Civil Rights Movement.
by Chloe with a nod to Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.
by Mrs. Simon

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

I have been tutoring 3rd grade virtual students after school once a week. There are rarely more than 3 students who tune in. It’s on Monday; what can I expect? I actually prefer the small group. The planning for these meetings has been a challenge because I am not completely familiar with 3rd grade standards. I usually focus on a writing skill. This week when I checked on what third graders are learning, I found similes. That was a topic I could get my head around.

I created a slide show with some simile examples and a writing activity. Only one student came. D does not show his face or turn on his mike because there is a lot going on in his house. I often wonder if he is paying attention at all. When I asked him what a simile was, silence.

“Are you with me?”

In the chat box, “yes”.

“Do you know what it is?”

“no”

“Let me show you.”

I showed examples and then asked him to find the simile in a passage. He got it. We then moved on to the poem. Have you ever written a poem with a student you cannot see or hear? With discussion (me talking, him typing), we got through it. For taste and sound, I gave him some ideas to choose from.

“Do you have any clothing that is lime green?”

“A shirt”

“Where did you get that shirt?”

“school”

“Oh, it’s the Spirit Shirt you can wear on Friday?”

“yes”

So I typed “feels like Friday” as well as the line “Lime green reminds me of the shirt I wear to school on Spirit Days.”

We had “It smells like…” to fill in.

By then he had gotten the idea. He typed, “outside.” Perfect!

D unmuted long enough to read his poem out loud. I heard the pride in his voice. And then he said, “Thanks. I learned something today.” There it was, all I needed to smile.

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https://twowritingteachers.org/
Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

As an adult I’ve learned that failure is a part of life. However, it’s not one we want to admit to. Failure feels uncomfortable. Failure feels unspeakable. Failure is fearful of what happens now.

This year of the Covid pandemic, there has been a great deal of failure. It’s hard to find the silver lining. I met with my last remote student yesterday and wanted to reach across the screen and cradle him. He feels like a failure. He will go back to in-person school on Monday because he couldn’t keep up with the work in the computer program he was given.

Our district has a virtual option for parents who did not want to send their children back to the buildings. The virtual option does not come with a teacher. As a gifted teacher, I was only responsible for IEP minutes, enrichment basically. I did not teach content to the virtual students. Their curriculum was through a program of videos and tasks. Virtual literally means “not real” and the program is not at all real. My student is not alone. Many students are not making it. Many are failing.

Our System has failed our Students. I do not know what this year will mean in the long run. What does the future hold? Where will we go from here? Education has failed. Our students are the victims.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

I teach multiple grade levels, so in one given day I’ll read a social justice poem, an article about invertebrates, a picture book about water protectors, and student slices. But all reading roads lead to writing in one way, shape, or form. We write every day.

Today’s notebook collage is a sea of invertebrates, including a thesaurus page with the heading word specimen. But it was the words that led to my thoughts. We all have a story to tell. I may not have a story about significant environmental issues or roots in injustice, but it is a story, a history worth noting in a poem.

Notebook page collage, 3/1/21

In the Natural Rhythm of Memory

While she may speak of rivers,
and he speaks for the trees, the poet
speaks for mollusks, snails, and anemones.

Who do I represent?
Neither drums of nature, nor blood
of brothers tell my story.
Not poor or tortured;
My river runs from Mississippi
to Texas, through veins of magnolias
and spray of Gulf waves–
my history is a southern drawl
spoken over the telephone,
sweet as maple syrup,
white as cornbread,
and golden as the morning sun.

Margaret Simon, draft

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

Amanda Gorman is an icon these days. She’s everywhere. Even at the Super Bowl. While I didn’t care much for the game, I do care about poetry and am enthralled by Amanda Gorman.

For writing time Monday morning, I showed this video of her performance. At first we just watched and listened. Then my students and I collected word groups. Amanda not only writes with rhyme and rhythm, she also plays with the inner sounds of words. Here are a few of the groups we collected:

captain
action
impact
need
lead 
exceeding
succeed
expectation
limitation
uplifting
wound
warfare
warrior
share
nonstop
hot spots
laptops
workshops
acting 
courage
compassion
charge
champions
carry
call
captain
neighbors
leaders
educators
healers
schools
tools

Chloe said “Her tongue’s a trampoline.” I grabbed that line as a first line to this poem.

Amanda

Her tongue’s a trampoline!
Words bouncing,
beginning a charge
for compassion,
acting,
not reacting
with a force
for choice. Nonstop
flips and jumps,
swinging above expectations
with a landing,
a bow,
and branding
a voice for now,
an example of how,
Amanda amps the vow–
Wow!

Margaret Simon, draft

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Jan at BookSeedStudio.

Last Friday I posted poems from my two fifth grade girls who responded to Amanda Gorman’s powerful words with their own poems. Their poetry prowess has not stopped. On Thursday, Kaia announced that she had written another poem. She explained to me that she saw Beldam, the Other Mother in Coraline. She googled it and found a poem by John Keats, La Belle Dame sans Merci. As she’s telling me this, she is writing and googling and writing and asking me about the Queen and how tall she is. Where is she going with this? In the end, it all led to an original ballad-esque poem.

I told her, “You are doing the work of a poet.”

Her face (her eyes, for she was wearing a mask) lit up. “Really, why?”

I explained that as a writer, we seek inspiration and research it and then write from it. Amanda Gorman explained in an interview with Anderson Cooper that she read other inaugural poets and researched inspirational speeches to write her poem, The Hill We Climb. “You are doing this kind of work. You are not just writing from my prompts anymore. You are actually a poet.”

Those words inspired her to write another poem. I will post a stanza here. She said, “I love how in poetry, you can write about anything. I can write about your desk, that pen, the Kleenex box.”

“Yes, you can.” I thought to myself, a dream come true. Or my One Little Word, Inspire, at work.

I’d like to find a place to send some of her work. If you have any ideas, please leave a comment.

The Work of a Poet

As you pick up the pen, you wonder what to write 
Thinking this way and that way, until you see a light
A shining and glistening rhythm it sets off
And helps you to the end of the paper, as fast as a cough

Kaia, 5th grade
Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Laura Shovan.

Like the nation, I have fallen head over heals in love with Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet ever, and a heroine to many young girls just like the ones I teach. All girls, no matter their race, can now dream of being a Vice President someday. As much as I admire Kamala Harris and her accomplishments, the star of Inauguration Day was young Amanda Gorman. I couldn’t wait to present her to my students this week.

We started on Tuesday with her poem “In this Place (An American Lyric)” written for Tracy K. Smith’s inauguration as Poet Laureate in 2017. (This post from the Library of Congress contains the poem and a video from the reading.) As Kaia heard that poem, she was writing. And after class that day, she sent me two more poems. Amanda lit a fire in her, a flame for words.

There’s a poem in this place 
after Amanda Gorman


Not here nor there
But there’s no need to look everywhere
tug and pull on my hair 
Hoping that this poem, has time to spare

There’s a poem in this place 
While i’m in disgrace
Of finding my lyric
That belongs in this place

There’s a poem in this place
Still not being found 
Is it in a dog hound?
No, it weighs more than that one pound 

There’s a poem in this place
While the wind is hitting my face
Being withdrawn due to lack of space
Without leaving any sign of a trace

There’s a poem in this place 
Where could it be?
Wait, I have found it!
It’s in YOU
and ME. 

Kaia, 5th grade

On Thursday, we used Pernille Ripp’s generous gift of a slide show to visit and discuss “The Hill We Climb.” While the message of this poem was powerful, I was drawn to Amanda’s effective word choice, how they sound and how their meanings change with usage. Combinations like just is and justice, arms, harm, and harmony, and tired, tried, and tied. Chloe’s poem below is her good effort to play with word sounds like Amanda.

There’s a poem in sight 
Too bright
To fight
It takes flight 
To the world
of an artist
Who’s never artless
Who just started
to harness
The sharpest words
That bring out
The creativity
With a twist
And a big
Dream to
Feel like
They exist

Chloe, 5th grade

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I introduced the concept of a golden shovel poem to my students as we discussed On Friendship by Kahlil Gibran.

Because friendship is such a universal topic, most young students have experience with it, so the tough puzzle of a golden shovel was eased somewhat. I’m sharing a few results today.

To write a Golden Shovel, borrow a line or phrase by someone else, and use each of their words as the final word of each line in your new poem. You must keep the original order of the words intact, and you must credit the author of the original line or phrase. Peter Kahn

Friendship

When you need help, and when 

you are in trouble, he 

will be the one who is 

going to help you. And when you are silent,

he will know that your

mind and heart 

are in trouble. He ceases not 

to understand your emotions. He loves to listen

to what you have to 

say. His 

love for you is as big as your heart.

by Daniel, 6th grade

Friends are there for
you in
sprinkles and the
storm.  They are the dew
that softens hardness of
the darkness, like a little
sunshine when things
get tough. The
best friends know your heart.
The true friend finds
a way to reach you even when its
a dark time, offering morning
to your night, and 
assuring you all is
refreshed.

Margaret Simon, draft

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Slice of Life: Magic Wand

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

This is the week of five days of open writing with Ethical ELA. Sarah Donovan has created a safe place for teacher-writers to “play” with poetry. One of her prompts this week asked us to consider what we give. Along with many of you, I give instruction for writing every day, but it’s not every day that I witness success. But when I do, I find Joy. This poem celebrates all teachers who wave their wands every day, whether or not there is magic inside.

Magic Bean

How a writer is made
some think comes from a magic bean–
it just is
this writer can’t help but write & write,
but I know better.

I know a writer comes from the magic wand
of a teacher who told her
she was.

A teacher finds magic
in the light of a child’s words,
rubs the lantern again & again.
She knows the power of waiting,
of how a seed of an idea
can sprout
if you give it
nourishment
& time.

I love most
the smile of realization
“Wow! I wrote that!”
Pride from my wishing
which, in the end,
is me working magic,
still unknown,
still a mystery. 

Margaret Simon

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