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See more posts at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life .

 

What is your vision for 2019?  We really can’t know what the future holds, but we can think about what we want to do and be in the coming year.  I’ve never done a vision board before, and I can’t say that I am any kind of expert. I started when my students were working on One Little Word magazine collages.

Yesterday I made the necessary step to add more yoga into my life.  I signed up and paid for a class beginning in February.  And I put it in as a regular alert on my phone.

I’ve been making smoothies for breakfast ever since the winter break when my middle daughter visited.  She made a smoothie every morning and got me hooked.  My youngest daughter gave me a Magic Bullet blender in which the container converts to a cup with a top, so I can blend and go.  My typical recipe is quarter cup Greek yogurt, quarter cup oatmeal, half cup milk, teaspoon of flaxseed, half a banana, half an avocado (or Kale, if the avocado isn’t riper yet), and quarter cup blueberries (or strawberries). I am amazed at how full I feel after drinking it, and I’m not hungry until lunch.

My students worked this week on their one little word projects. I gave them options for creatively representing their words.  I also invited them to blog about their words.  I was moved by Madison’s post.  This 5th grader has the wisdom that I have longed for all my life.  She is comfortable in her skin.  I hope she will hold onto her values of Possibility.

This year, my word is possibility. I like this word because there is no such thing as completely impossible, they say, but I’ve added on it: but there is such thing as possible. Always try because if you don’t, if you lay down and let others control and use and block you from your goal, leave them. Always try. Never set a true goal that limits yourself- whenever you achieve one, go higher and higher, always trying. Have confidence. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The way it’s hard is what makes it a good challenge. Nothing ever comes easy, and it never should, or we’ll all be lazy and fat. Be aware of yourself, and don’t let yourself fall out of shape or routine or such just because you don’t feel like it even though it benefits you.

Because, as hard as it’ll seem…

It’s always

Possible.

(Blog post by Madison: to leave comments, click here.)

 

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When we returned from our holiday break, I found a poem from Poets.org in my inbox.  I subscribe to Teach this Poem, a weekly lesson plan around a selected poem.  The poem Dead Stars by Ada Limón drew me in, and I felt compelled to teach the lesson. To begin, we looked at pictures of the Orion constellation and made attempts to draw it in our notebooks.

Before we read the poem, I talked about how I love poems that take notice of something in nature then go deeper to something more profound.

We find it hard to settle our brains down, and poetry offers us that silence, that quiet space, and allows us to reconnect with ourselves, or with an idea, or with an emotion. (Ada Limón)

When reading a poem with my students, I let them take the lead.  “What do you notice?” “Are there any words you don’t know?” “What do you think the poem is about?”

Each group of students takes the discussion in a different direction.  With my first group, we discussed an interesting metaphor in this line, “I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.”  Daniel rephrased the line, “Laying eggs of attempt.” Then we noticed that both hearth and nest are places of caring.

With my second group, theme became the focus.  What is the poet trying to teach us? She wants us to rise above the tide (the hard times) and be alive.  Landon wrote a thematic sentence, “Be alive, reach for the stars, and shine!”

In my third group, stars, constellations, and the fact that we are made of stardust became the topic of discussion.  “But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising–” (Ada Limón)

I pulled up an article to read from National Geographic.

Everything we are and everything in the universe and on Earth originated from stardust, and it continually floats through us even today. It directly connects us to the universe, rebuilding our bodies over and again over our lifetimes. (Iris Schrijver)

In response I wrote a septercet, a form created by Jane Yolen with 3 lines of seven syllables each.  The last line is from Ada Limón’s poem “Look, we are not unspectacular things.”

When I work on poetry with my students, I try not to push them to complicated analysis.  There is time for that when they are older.  I hope to expose them to amazing language, to the art and craft of metaphor, and to understand that poetry is always available to them.  Even when they are “rolling their trash bins out.”

A cherita about the stars:

You say look up

Take notice of the stars
Name the one you are

We are the star
dust of many ages
collected as unique thoughts.

(c) Margaret Simon

 

 

 

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Buffy at Buffy’s Blog.

 

I have grown-up children and am very grateful for it, especially in light of the new elf-on-the-shelf craze.  I think I would fail miserably at being in charge of creative ways to position an elf each night.  However, when December was coming, the elf-on-the-shelf became a topic in my students’ writing.  One afternoon I left the room for a bit and when I returned, my students had positioned Jack the lemur hanging from a chair.  Chloe said, “I think Jack has an elf inside him!”

Since then, Jack has found many creative ways to make mischief in our classroom.  This phenomenon led me to respond with a poetic letter to Jack.

 

 

Dear Jack-on-the-shelf,

Your personality is showing through
the things you like to do.
Play Bananagrams.
Spell “I Love You.”
Hang with Santa.
Curl up in tissue.
Each day, Chloe looks for you
to see where you’ll be found.
You make our class time
full of joy.
I hope you’ll stick around.

Love,
Mrs. Simon

I’ve been participating in Mary Lee Hahn’s #haikuforhope this month.  On Twitter, we are all using this hashtag to share our small poems of hope.  I’ve posted mine on this blog daily.

In class every day, we choose a quote to write from.  On Monday, I wrote a haiku from this quote by E. S. Bouton, “True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.” I was talking to a friend about the birth of my grandson, and she told me about a book called Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Even within the happiest of moments, catastrophe lies.  We need to use the art of mindfulness to be aware and live fully through these moments.

Gathering moments
of happy catastrophe
into precious life.

Margaret Simon

 

 

 

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At NCTE 2018, I was excited to attend a session, Why Notebooks?, that some of my favorite people were leading: Jen Cherry, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Michelle Haseltine, and Linda Urban.  I’ve been a notebooker for some time now, and I always have my students decorate a marbleized journal at the beginning of the year, so I was drawn to finding more ways to use notebooks in my classroom.

As someone who loves little notebooks, I was delighted that there were handmade notebooks for us to keep (folded unlined paper with a colored cardstock cover).  They passed around puffy stickers for us to choose from.  I felt the thrill of creating something new.

Jen Cherry gave us reasons behind using notebooks with your students:

  1. Personalizes learning by providing choice.
  2. Encourages mindfulness.
  3. Builds stamina.
  4. Encourages risk.
  5. Students live like writers.

Michelle Haseltine prompted us to write an invitation to our notebooks.  On the first clean white page of the little green notebook, I wrote this poem.

 

I made a commitment to myself to be more intentional about notebook writing with my students.  On our first day back after Thanksgiving break, I asked my students to get out their notebooks.  In order to provide a structure that honors choice, I thought back to a workshop I attended with our Louisiana Poet Laureate Jack Bedell who told us about William Staffords’ daily writing discipline.

  1. date
  2. description of something that happened recently
  3. aphorism (cliche’)
  4. meditation (a poem-like thing)

After a few days of using this structure, I was hooked.  It was working for me, so why not share it with my students?  This is what I wrote on the board:

  1. Date
  2. Something that happened…
  3. Quote of the day
  4. Poem-ish writing

I set the timer for ten minutes and we wrote.  Some shared.  And some found their next blog post.  “I’m going to use this for my Slice of Life.”  We were doing the work of real writers.

We’ve been using the 365 Days of Wonder for quotes of the day, but I wasn’t doing anything more with it than having a student choose one and write it on a frame of glass.  They were enjoying the process of choosing and would often naturally start a conversation around the chosen quote.  Adding it to our daily notebook page gives more attention to the quote as well as possibly inspiring more writing.

This was our quote yesterday: “Happiness is a perfume you can not pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.”  My poem-like meditation:

Happiness is the scent of flowers
in a bouquet
you give
just because
you’re happy.
Then the drops of perfume
fill your senses
and transfer
to whomever you hug.
Spread some happiness today!

As we get more and more adept at writing in our notebooks every day, my students and I will reap the benefits of sharing in a writing community.  Why Notebooks? So many reasons.  Pull them out of the desks, booksacks, or cubbies and just do it! You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

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NCTE 2018 has come and gone as a quick wind beneath my wings.  The presentations, the authors, the people, the atmosphere lifts me up and says, “You are doing the good work.”

In his keynote with his twin brother Paul, Peter Reynolds said, “Your brain is beautiful.”  Everywhere I went, everyone I met helped me to believe this is true.

My husband calls the NCTE conference “hobnobbing with your fellow wizards.” My fellow wizards include poets from Poetry Friday, teacher-writers from Two Writing Teachers and TeachWrite, and dedicated educators from Good to Great.  These people are my tribe.

I was so privileged to be able to present with Ralph Fletcher, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Chris Crutcher on the theme of Voices in the Air.  These three authors are inspirational and powerful speakers.  Their message was one of hope, that when we write and put our voices out in the world, someone will be touched by it.

On a panel with my Poetry Friday peeps, Heidi Mordhorst, Laura Purdie Salas, Mary Lee Hahn, and Irene Latham, we inspired teachers to take their students outside of the classroom to write in the wild.  We talked about exploring the world through other perspectives and looking more closely.

In a session with Michelle Haseltine, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Linda Urban, and Jen Cherry, I felt renewed interest in writer’s notebooks, in providing a place for students to be themselves, to encourage mindfulness, build stamina, and encourage risk.  I felt braver writing in my own notebook, realizing that there is no perfect way to keep a notebook, my notebook is mine, and I should give my students more opportunities for free writing.

In a panel with Jan Burkins, Kim Yaris, Dani Burtsfield, Christina Nosek, and Kari Yeatts, I learned new ways to be responsive to my students as readers.  I learned to look at four characteristics of a reader: book choice, healthy habits, strategic process, and authentic response.  They said, “Learn about your student first; the teaching will come.”  I also noted this quote, “The awesome in us sees the awesome in you.” Back to that beautiful brain. These teacher-leaders did not say they had all the answers; they said, “We are with you.”

Sitting beside my students, I will have these people with me.  I am full! I am rich! I am renewed!

NCTE is…

presenting with author rock stars…

connecting with poets…

meeting your favorite author…

spending time with friends…

and more!

 

 

 

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Bayou Song is on the wall of books!

The rains had ended, the cool front came through, adding an element of celebration (like Christmas) to the Louisiana Book Festival.  This year was the 15th annual book festival and the 15th awards ceremony for LA Writes, our state youth writing contest.  I have been involved since the first contest and the first book festival.  I always marvel at the young authors as they arrive dressed up with their whole extended families with them. It is an event for celebrating good writing and for families celebrating their authors.

My student Chloe reads her winning poem, Cool Words.

Following the wonderful awards ceremony, I offered a student writing workshop.  You never really know what kind of audience to expect.  I was delighted to have 3 writers join me.  One was a 6-year-old who wrote and drew, then buzzed around. Her mother said, “She’s doing a lap.”  Then she was back to writing and drawing.  The other two girls were a sister pair.  The older sister is a student at LSU.  I am not accustomed to teaching college kids, but I was pleasantly surprised at how she responded to my prompts.  She wrote an I am poem about the river. (Baton Rouge is located on the Mississippi River.) When I taught them about the zeno poem, she transformed her I am poem into a zeno.  This was an unexpected transfer that worked well for her poem.  She gave me permission to publish it here.

I am a rusted red river.
My mouth echoes
rising
flood.
I touch cities
with their
blood.
Reminder they
come from
mud.

–Jami Kleinpeter

Thanks, Jami, for enriching our lives with your poem and for showing me how a simple (meant for elementary kids) prompt can be transformed into a sophisticated and profound poem.

 

 

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