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See more posts at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life

I’m back home after a whirlwind trip to Baltimore for NCTE19. NCTE is one of the most anticipated and yet the fastest events ever! So much preparation and so little time. It went by in a flash.

A flash of friends from far away!

Selfie with roommate Joanne Duncan from Washington.

A flash of powerful, profound speeches!

“Our society needs teachers who stand up for truth.” Lorena German

A flash of authors and ARCs!

With authors Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and Lauren Wolk getting signed ARCs.

A flash of authentic action!

Not just tolerance– Normalize, Nurture, Embrace

Travis Crowder, Access, Equity, Inquiry, and Reflection

A flash of the best educators!

Lester Laminack caught this shot of me chatting with one of my favorite educators, Fran McVeigh.

A flash of poets!

Charles Waters and Irene Latham talk about their new book Dictionary for a Better World.

A flash of inspiration!

Uncover your obsessions.
Keep your eyes and heart open.
Be surprise-able.
Get in touch with wonder.

Ralph Fletcher, Seeing the World through Poet’s Eyes

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This week’s round up is hosted by Rebecca at Sloth Reads.

Each week I receive an email with writing prompts from Poets & Writers The Time is Now. A few weeks ago this was the prompt for poetry.

Several years ago, New York Public Library staff discovered a box filled with file cards of written questions submitted to librarians from the 1940s to 1980s, many of which have been collected in the book Peculiar Questions and Practical Answers: A Little Book of Whimsy and Wisdom From the Files of the New York Public Library (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2019). Questions include: “What does it mean when you’re being chased by an elephant?” and “Can you give me the name of a book that dramatizes bedbugs?” and “What time does a bluebird sing?” Write a poem inspired by one of these curiously strange questions. Does your poem provide a practical answer, or avoid one altogether leading instead to more imaginative questions?

The Time is Now, Oct. 29, 2019

I used the question “What time does a bluebird sing?” to inspire a poem.

Photo by Henry Cancienne

What Time Does a Bluebird Sing?

Morning is filled with birdsong.
If it’s not yet sunrise, I hear the owl whoot.
If the sun’s up and there’s an electric pole nearby, 
it’s the woodpecker—drumming, not singing,
but musical all the same. 

Echoing through the breeze
sings Papa cardinal
and soon the mockingbird joins in
with a trill up the scales.

Where is the bluebird? 
Hiding in a grove of trees near the swamp,
shyly tweeting,
a flash of blue
the color of sky,
song of morning.

Margaret Simon, draft 2019

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See more posts at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life

On Wednesday in freezing temperatures (an unusual 28 degrees in the morning), I traveled with gifted colleagues and 4th-6th graders from our district to the Renaissance Festival in Hammond, LA. As the day wore on, the temperatures rose to a comfortable 50 degrees. With a number of parents attending, I ended up spending the day with just one student, Madison.

Madison loves all things Renaissance. We watched glassblowing and juggling and had a quick recorder lesson. I loved watching her absorb it all. When we ran into classmates, she pulled out the wooden dagger she had bought and challenged them to a dual.

Renaissance merchant with a wooden toy.

My students wrote about their experience and here are a few quotes:

 So at the renaissance fair we started at the Queen stage and watched a play which I didn’t watch all of. The next play we went to was Romeo and Juliet which was quite funny. Shakespeare himself directed Romeo and Juliet and the first thing he said was  dumb which we replied with no and which he replied well your watching a play directed by someone who calls himself Shakespeare. There was two families and the I was in was the Montagues the other people were Capulets. We will not talk about the rest and no I was not Romeo.

Jaden, 4th grade

 We saw this ride where you sit on a wooden horse and you in a way, joust. I think it was called “Sliding Joust.” Daniel told me he went on it. It looked daring to me.

        I learned that most of the swords weighed about two pounds. She even let me hold one of them. You would think that is not a lot, little do you know it really is. 

        We went to a shop and we asked why did they train with wooden swords. The man told us that they trained with wooden swords because if they did not train with wooden swords the real sword would hurt the other person.

Karson, 5th grade
Karson lifts a sword.

When it comes to field trips, this was a good one. The distance was not too far, 2 hour drive, and the experience was all in one safe, enclosed space. There are so many factors that can overshadow the educational experience of a field trip, weather, food, the bus and who you sit next to, etc. For a few hours, my students and I were transformed back in time. This experience will live on in their memory.

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Michelle Heidenrich Barnes hosts today with an announcement of the third collection of Today’s Little Ditty.
I have a little ditty in the book as do many of my PF friends.

A few weeks ago I grabbed a poetry writing idea from Kim Douillard.  She had her students make heart maps about a place they love and write a poem after Lee Bennett Hopkins’ City I Love.

I did this with my students. We cut simple heart shapes from plain paper and drew and wrote on them. Then glued them into our notebooks.  Here’s a photo of one of mine.

On the Bayou I Live Near

after Lee Bennett Hopkins

On the bayou I live near–
bayou I love–
morning sun streams
in wide golden beams
gleaming a new day.

On the bayou I live near–
bayou I love–
afternoons bloom
while speedboats vroom
through sweet olive perfume.

On the bayou I live near–
bayou I love–
sunsets glisten,
a lone heron listens
as the hoot owl
who, who, whos
me
to
sleep.


Margaret Simon, draft 2019

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See more posts at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life

I spent some time with grandsons this weekend. We had Leo, 11 months, Saturday through Sunday afternoon. Taking care of him is a physical endeavor. He’s at least 20 pounds of activity. I love talking to him and watching his responses. His facial expressions are funny–the O-face, his inquisitive eyebrows, and his endearing smile. Yet, as they say, he is a handful. And rightly so, learning how to move is serious and dangerous business. You always have to be on guard. I saved his life a few times over the weekend.

Cousins Thomas and Leo

Thomas at 2 months is less active and a light 11 lbs. 9 oz. of soft and cuddly. He has started responding with coos and smiles. But I don’t worry as much about his safety. He’s usually being calmly held, or he stays in one place on a floor mat.

As I was looking at my students today, I tried to imagine them as babies and toddlers. I said to them, “It’s hard for me to imagine that at one time if I had put you down in this room, you would’ve pulled all the books off the shelf, stuck your fingers in the socket, or tried to climb on the desks.” They all started talking at once with their stories of what dangerous things they had done as toddlers.

“Look! I still have a scar on my elbow!”

“I jammed my fingers in the door.”

I told them I think we need to save this as a writing prompt. They called me out on “peanut butter” which is what we call things that are off topic.

I admit I’m as bad as any of them at getting off the topic. But I got a good writing prompt out of it.

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Irene at Live Your Poem.

My poet-friend and writing group partner, Molly Hogan, is a fine art photographer in her spare time. She lives in Maine and posts amazing photos on her blog and Facebook page. Sometimes her photos inspire me to respond in poetry.

photo by Molly Hogan

Dawn on the Marsh

Dawn on the marsh glows
like embers, like the final flash of a torch
lighting the tiny particles of fog 
rising ghost-like and dreamy.

High in the sky
geese line up
to honk their way south

In the distance, deer graze,
tentatively perk their ears
to your sound.

You do not feel the cold
that numbs your fingers and toes
as you click the lens of your camera

whispering a prayer of thanks.

Margaret Simon, draft 2019

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See more posts at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life

I have been following the Two Writing Teachers blog for at least 6 years. At NCTE in 2014, I sat next to Melanie Meehan at the Slicer dinner. Melanie was not yet a member of the TWT team. We talked about writing, and she asked me to join her online critique group. At the time, she and I were both writing middle grade fiction.

Fast forward a few years and now Melanie has published a professional book. I won her book Every Child Can Write from a TWT blog giveaway. I’ve been reading and marking it up ever since it arrived. I am so impressed with the attention to detail and practical advice for our most challenged writers. Melanie calls them striving writers. In my opinion, all writers are striving writers.

I teach gifted kids, but that doesn’t mean they are all efficient writers. They struggle with many of the things Melanie covers in her book, idea generating, making transitions, adding details.

When reading a professional book or attending professional development, we look through the lens of our own experience. My students write a Slice of Life each week. I have been grading these posts using a rubric. Melanie made me look deeper at what I was asking my students to do. Were they authentically involved in the process?

Melanie asks her readers to consider designing writing checklists with kids. “Just as we need to understand the concepts, so do our students. Additionally, using their own language is powerful because students are then intrinsically involved in the self-assessment process…Student involvement in creating checklists leads to understanding on their part, and when they understand, the are better able to move along the ladder of mastery.”

I decided today to ask my students what they would include on a checklist for their SOLs. This is the list they compiled:

  • Details: Details help the reader imagine the scene
  • Your story: First person POV
  • Voice: Unique, humorous, new, emotional, have personality
  • Defining unknown words for others
  • Stay on topic
  • Imagery: Use the senses
  • Grammar
  • Paragraphs: Change with new topic or new speaker
  • Spelling

I found a few of their ideas interesting. They have really internalized the importance of using paragraph structure. They also see the value of using their own point of view as well as writing in their own voice. I appreciated that they added “stay on topic.” So often students will not know what to write about so their posts ramble. They do know that keeping to the topic is important to their readers. And their readers are each other.

This conversation inspired by Melanie helped me show my students they are writers and value their input into the whole process. And I’m only on Chapter Four!

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