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Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

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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Joining a community of bloggers at Sharing out Stories.

Ode to My Mask

Months and months
virus spreading
mouth to mouth.
We wear our love 
on a mask.
Ads on Facebook
led me to a Vera Bradley style,
flowers of peach
on a teal green background.
Flowers light up my face
like rouge on my cheeks
or lipstick on my lips.

I smile beneath this garden.
Can you see it in my eyes?
My love
My faith
My hope

My flowers are a bouquet for you
on a Hallmark greeting card.
I breathe in their sweet perfume.

Let’s take a walk outside
and smile with our eyes.

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.

Teaching through a screen is hard. I can’t tell what my students are doing. Their mikes are muted; their personal icon doesn’t move. Trying to have a book discussion was like talking to a mirror. The only good thing about that was I could see my face getting more and more exasperated. Why weren’t they answering me? The questions weren’t that hard.

The book we were discussing was Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome.

To relate to the main character’s discovery of Langston Hughes’ poetry, we watched a video of Langston Hughes reading Weary Blues.

I read aloud Hughes’ “Homesick Blues.” And tried to talk about what makes someone feel homesick. I was talking to myself, or so it seemed. After I gave up, I set the timer for a 5 minute writing time. In the chat, I wrote 5 different lines from Langston Hughes’ blues poems. I admit I didn’t have high expectations.

As always I asked for volunteers to read. Lashawn’s mike turned green and his soft voice said, “I’ll read.”

The silver lining, the golden thread, my poet heart pattered with emotion and joy. Lashawn gave me permission to share his poem.

 My Body’s Feeling Wrong

I feel as I need to do better
do better just do better. that’s all I need to do.
But why can’t I do it? is something distracting me?
Am I filled with bad luck?
I get blamed but it’s not me. no explaining can help me. 
I tell the truth not a fib at all. but a liar is what I get called.

I feel like they are talking about me.
It’s just no use for me. 
Change my look to let everyone know.
Just a smile is what everyone else needs. not me though.
I get asked if I’m fine and alright.
No I’m not fine. Because if I was, my body would have looked right.

I feel a bit empty just a friend all I need.
I lay down at nighttime. I was bullied by online Meanies.
I watch some anime but nothing can heal me.
At least I didn’t lose my life to sadness. I’ll still be here even If i’m sad.
But hey as I shed a tear. I just made some people laugh.
As more tears come down I smile it out.   

My body may look wrong but I make other people feel bright.                                                      Thanks to my friends for being by my side.
I’m happy I made all of you smile.

Lashawn, 5th Grade

I smiled, with tears, into the mirror.

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Jama today.

I enjoy playing with a new form, and this week I had a few to try out. One was invented by my very own student Chloe. This has happened only a few times in my teaching career when students become so comfortable with poetry that they venture into creating a new form. Chloe was writing to a prompt from Write Out, a collaboration between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. The prompt asked students to draw a bird and write a journal entry for a day in the city. Chloe decided to draw a peacock. Then she wrote a very P heavy peacock poem. The aha came when she realized there was a distinct rhythm to her words. Voila! A new form!

Her form uses the syllable count of 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. We talked about the number five and decided that Penta-poem (more P words) had a nice ring to it. There is an optional rhyme scheme.

Peacock by Chloe, 5th grade
Peacock Penta poem by Chloe, 5th grade

I used another Write Out prompt to play with Chloe’s form. This prompt asked us to write from the perspective of an underground creature.

Some of our Poetry Friday peeps have also tried the Penta-Poem: Responses to This Photo Wants to be a Poem and Linda Mitchell uses a variation with a found poem.

I was introduced to a few other new-to-me forms on Ethical ELA Open Write this week. Anna J. Small Roseboro presented “Take a Word for a Walk” like the 5-finger exercises that pianists use. Writing to a daily prompt is exercise for the poet. Read Anna’s prompt here.

Why Worry?

worry that I’m not good
enough to worry about myself when
I give in, worry for the sake
of all my silly worry lists
waiting for nothing but for worry.

Margaret Simon, draft

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When I was an Alligator released by UL Press.

Since I joined the local SCBWI, I’ve had the privilege of watching a few books go from idea to draft to published. I met Gayle Webre a few years ago as we were both attending our region’s critique meeting. We had the teaching of gifted students in common. But Gayle was hiding another talent, picture book writer. I remember the first time she read this manuscript aloud I loved it. Now when I have it in my hands, the charm of her imaginative story has grown with the addition of illustrations by Drew Beech.

Drew has taken Gayle’s idea and created an adorable Cajun girl who wears glasses and wonders what life would be like as different animals in the swamp. The wide round glasses appear on each animal to help our young readers understand that this Cajun girl was once an alligator, a heron, an opossum, and more.

I invited Gayle to answer some questions about herself and her writing process.

What was your path to becoming a writer?

As a student I was pretty good at writing. My teachers and professors encouraged me, yet I didn’t consider writing as a career. I stumbled into a career as a teacher and loved it. I wrote lesson plans, letters of recommendation, and grant proposals. I read lots of children’s literature. Still I did not consider writing for children. When I retired, I thought I might give it a try, and I had no idea where to begin. By “chance” I found our local SCBWI group who offered support, encouragement, and friendship.

What do you do with your time?

I read, host gatherings for family and friends (pre COVID), travel, visit my kids and grandkids in the New Orleans area, and ride my trike. And I try to write!

What inspires you?

People inspire me.  Their stories, their struggles, their personalities, their histories, their approaches to life…. 

What book would you recommend?

For adults?   I just read The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abe Dare. Set in Nigeria in 2014, it’s a beautifully told story of a young girl’s struggle to survive incredible hardships and get an education.  

Tell us about your journey from idea to published book.

When my 5th grade students and I met with scientists at the National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, I was impressed with the importance and fragility of our coastal wetlands.  We learned about the severity of coastal land loss and the work being done to mitigate it. (Nutria tracking was a favorite!)  A few years later, four-year old Sawyer walked into my house and spouted, “Aunt Gayle, when I was an alligator…”  A few years after that, the idea to write When I Was an Alligator surfaced.

SCBWI helped me with the polishing and submitting process. I sent the manuscript to publishers and got lots of rejections. Finally Devon Lord and the team at UL Press saw the potential, let me choose an artist, and now we have a book!

Why do you write? 

I enjoy the creative process; writing is fun and challenging. And I think I have some stories that need to be told.

Describe your writing habits.

I don’t think it could be called a habit.  When I get an idea, I jot it down and write a pretty bad first draft. (Ask the SCBWI critique group!)  My research for When I Was an Alligator took lots of time.  I can spend half an hour choosing one word.  I enjoy the whole process. 

What is your favorite spread of your book and why?

Drew did a great job on all the art, so it’s hard to pick one spread.  I especially like this one.  After all the curious Cajun kid has been through, she’s more than a little flustered, and she finds that she likes being herself!

How much, if any, communication did you have with the illustrator?

I met Drew at an SCBWI regional conference in New Orleans. Drew now lives in Chattanooga, so we’ve not met in person to work on the book, but we had lots of interaction through the whole process. In fact, we are still working together.  

What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

The answer to that changes often. Today it’s: “O, small beloved person, it is not all up to you.”

What advice do you have for writers?

Make time to write, find some folks who support you, and join SCBWI if you are writing for children.

Finally, I have a teaching idea for you. With books like Gayle’s, students can find a pattern working throughout. A student can use this book as a mentor text to write their own imaginative book. What animals do you wish you could be? Using onomatopoeia to describe what it would be like to turn into that animal.

Page from When I was an Alligator by Gayle Webre
Leo, 22 months, is also a curious Cajun kid who loves crawfish and peanut butter. He says, “crawfish, yum!” and “Ba-butter” for peanut butter.

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Bridget at wee words for wee ones.

Pablo Neruda was the master at writing odes, skinny poems of praise that would go on and on, metaphor after metaphor, describing the most ordinary thing. With my student Chloe, we read Neruda’s Ode to My Socks. We discussed metaphor. Then I asked her to write a skinny ode about something she cares about. Gymnastics came to mind right away. She made the connection between the uneven bars and a tree, and off she went.

Ode to the Uneven Bars

A high twig
it holds me. I’m
a feather. 
Cartwheels
on air
that bring
me higher,
my hands
are explorers
that discovered
a path
to the
wonderful
world of
magic.

I hold up
my invisible
hands
that reach
from island
to island.
My hands
are telescopes
that help me
see the world.
My arms 
wrapping
around trees,
my hands
out of
control
going everywhere.
Suddenly
they fly
high,
higher than
the trees
that wait
for me.

Chloe, 5th grade
2018 Summer Youth Olympics
Sandro Halank, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference

I have become enamored of the duplex poetry form, a modern take on a ghazal + sonnet + blues poem invented by Jericho Brown, the Pulitzer Prize Poetry Winner for 2020. I’ve read the description in this article over and over, and every time I see something new. In other words, it’s complicated.

Here are the boundaries:

Write a ghazal that is also a sonnet that is also a blues poem of 14 lines, giving each line 9 to 11 syllables.

The first line is echoed in the last line.

The second line of the poem should change our impression of the first line in an unexpected way.

The second line is echoed and becomes the third line.

The fourth line of the poem should change our impression of the third line in an unexpected way.

This continues until the penultimate line becomes the first line of the couplet that leads to the final (and first) line.

For the variations of repeated lines, it is useful to think of the a a’ b scheme of the blues form.   

Jericho Brown

I decided to challenge my writing group, The Sunday Night Swaggers, with the form. Challenges help to get us moving. (I hope my partners aren’t throwing eggs at this blog post.) I enjoyed this process. The repetition with the permission to vary it led to new discoveries.

To see more duplex poems from our group:

Catherine at Reading to the Core

Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone

Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe

Linda at A Word Edgewise

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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 know school looks different for most teachers this year. For me, I spend my whole day in one building. For the last 12 years, I’ve been an itinerate teacher, traveling to 3 schools each day. Now I travel through a screen to different students. I’m providing virtual gifted services for students who’ve chosen the virtual option. I’m learning very quickly what kinds of writing activities work well and which ones do not in this virtual setting.

Last week I presented a question for quick writing. Yesterday I used a different approach. I presented a poem and asked students to take a line and write from that line. It seemed to go well; however, the kids were not throwing their hands up (or turning their mikes on) to read what they wrote. This is the part I can’t quite figure out. Do they just need more time or is this how it’s going to be?

I still believe in writing alongside my students, so I wrote a poem with them. The poem we were reading together came from Teach this Poem from Poets.org, Cento Between the Ending and the End. The lines I took frame the poem. Before sharing my poem, I explained that when we write together in quick writes, we often write about whatever is on our mind at that moment. My youngest daughter is getting married in our backyard in 3 weeks. As plans begin to finalize, I am getting excited about the family (immediate family only) that with gather with us.

Unopened Gift

Everyone we love
is gathered
around the bride and groom.
Side by side,
their eyes glow.

We understand
this kind of love,
tender and new,
like a gift
waiting to be discovered.

We hold their hearts
in our hands,
bless them
with all that we have.
Send them to the blue sky
brimming
with golden light.

Margaret Simon
Photo by Secret Garden from Pexels

With my 6th grader, Daniel, we wrote back and forth (in a shared document), adding lines to create a Cento* poem. When the first stanza turned out to rhyme, it was a challenge to keep it going. We were both pleased with the results.

I soar to the sun
Look down at the sea
Bloom how you must, wild
Until we are free.

I wish I could share
All that’s in my heart.
It’s like the world
That keeps us apart.

Everyone we love
Gathered at the lakeside
Marble-glow the fire
A new one inside

I wish I could live
The body whole bright-
Of the day beautiful,
Honeyed light.

Cento from I Wish I Knew by Nina Simone and Cento Between the Ending and the End by Cameron Awkward-Rich

*From the Latin word for “patchwork,” the cento (or collage poem) is a poetic form composed entirely of lines from poems by other poets.

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Today’s posts will be gathered at Karen’s Blog.

I’ve been raising monarchs. See this post. I am also planning for hybrid teaching, some in person, some virtual. Finding my direction through these tasks has challenged me in new ways.

Male monarch by Judy Rizzo

The word alchemy came across my radar. I found this definition: “a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.” The process of metamorphosis is alchemy and in many ways, so is the way we have to teach this year. I decided to mine alchemist for words using Wordmaker. Following a poetic process created by April Halprin Wayland, I wrote a poem that probably doesn’t make sense to anybody but me. Let’s just say, finding my direction through this unique school year has taken some proactive effort. (The words from Wordmaker are in bold.)

Finding Direction

Connect line by line, etch
a trail through calm
worry, eyes that smile
despite each
new hurdle to scale.
Raise the latch
and release butterfly-mail
to the gods of ethics
Teach.

Margaret Simon, draft
Monarch in olive tree by Judy Rizzo

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

The Sunday Night Swaggers are back to monthly challenges. This month Catherine Flynn has challenged us to write an In One Word poem created by April Halprin Wayland. See her introductory post here.

I know I am not alone in having a rough beginning to this school year. Foremost on my mind is what is best for kids. Unfortunately, there are many meetings and required gobbledygook to get to the fun part of teaching. Every year, my goal is to inspire explorers, writers, and scholars. Following April’s prompt, I went to Wordmaker to gather words that can be made with the letters in inspiration. Each line ends with a word I chose. Thinking about this exercise was just what I needed to block out the messiness.

Virtual Teacher

I didn’t warm-up for this sprint.
Breathless; my hand anoints
each name, a nonart
list that rips
into a class of sorts,
a prison
on screen, trap
of pixels, brain strain.
Who’s bringing the aspirin?

In the spirit
of language, I rant.
Yet, I don’t rant
about you. You are the rain
to my pain,
showing me we can soar.

Margaret Simon, draft
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Other Swagger Posts In One Word…
Catherine Flynn
Linda Mitchell
Heidi Mordhorst
Molly Hogan

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