Posts Tagged ‘Katherine Bomer’

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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.

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

The writer has to be like the firefighter, whose job, while everyone else is fleeing the flames, is to run straight into them. — Jonathan Franzen in The Best American Essays 2016

After reading Katherine Bomer’s book The Journey is Everything, meeting her virtually by hosting a Twitter chat, and meeting her face to face at NCTE16, I have a new understanding of the power of essay. Katherine’s passion for the resurgence of the real essay came through in the panel she hosted at NCTE with Corinne Arens, Allyson Smith, and Matthew Harper. These teachers experienced the transformative power of essay in a writing institute, and transferred that understanding to their classrooms.

Unpacking my notes, I rediscovered this way of thinking and writing. In real essay, we explore Hot Spots, Buried Truths, and Freedom. We write to think, leaving space for unknowing. Like a conversation with your best friend, real essay uses words like maybe and perhaps while circling around an idea, unwinding your thinking.

Essay is literature. Essay includes ideas, voice, and risk. It is the risk that stood out to me. Isn’t all writing risky? Yes, but adding the element of risk to essay has been funneled out by the Common Core testing. And when we remove risk, we remove what makes us human. Jonathan Franzen agrees as he writes in the introduction to the 2016 collection of The Best American Essays, “A true essay is ‘something hazarded, not definitive, not authoritative; something ventured on the basis of the author’s personal experience and subjectivity.'”

Writers are not born, they are made. In order to discover what we think, what we know, what we are passionate about, we need to be real in our essays, in our blog posts, with our students. When we trust this process of discovery, we allow our students an opportunity to express themselves beyond 5 paragraph essay structure.

The writer holds the paintbrush. Rather than painting an image with authority, paint with abandon to the rules. The image will be creative, expressive, and all yours.


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A breakfast conversation in the lobby of the Hilton in Atlanta for the NCTE 2016 conference, Collette turns to me and points her finger saying, “Words matter!”

We talked about this a lot.  Words and their importance was in the theme of every presentation I attended.  What we say, what we write, how we express ourselves and how we lead our students to express themselves matters.

The first gathering I attended on Thursday afternoon featured the work of Thomas Newkirk.  Friends and colleagues gathered to share how Tom’s words had influenced the ongoing work of writers like Penny Kittle, Jeff Wilhelm, and Ellin Keene. Jeff Wilhelm shared this Marge Percy poem, “To Be of Use.”   I wondered, “Am I of use?”

Our theories are disguised autobiographies often rooted in childhood.  –Tom Newkirk

Penny Kittle repeated this quote like a mantra, 3 times.  Long enough for me to write it down.  Long enough for me to contemplate what that means for me and for my students.  This idea leads us to empathy. How can we not be empathetic if we consider everyone’s theories come from their roots?  We must respect the roots to offer ourselves and our students wings.

This theme of empathy and the value of words continued on Friday morning at the Heinemann breakfast honoring the work of Don Graves.  Katherine Bomer reminded us that kids want to write.

Writing is the way children’s voices come into power, reminding us that we are all human.–Katherine Bomer

Following all of the amazing, articulate speakers, we were asked to create our own credo.  Here’s mine:

Student voices are precious, like a tiny fragile egg.  I must crack it open without destroying the life inside. –Margaret Simon

NCTE is a powerful, inspirational gathering of gentle, generous, kind and brave teachers and authors.  We know that words matter, but hearing the message in this atmosphere ingrains it into our hearts, and we are empowered to move forward.



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

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

Write free

Thanks to Carol Varsalona for this image to add my words to.

Every time I walk by the kitchen window, I look toward the hummingbird feeder. I put it out after the flood two weeks ago. The rain had stopped.  A hummingbird flew to the window and hovered looking right at me, as if he was saying, “Where’s the sweet stuff?” It didn’t take me long to find the feeder and a storage of food in the cabinet, but he did’t return…for days. I wondered if he ever would.

He’s there now, and almost every time I look. I’ve come to depend on his appearance. Like he’s the rainbow after the storm. He’s the sign we all need that life goes on.


Photo by Margaret Simon

Last week I read aloud the essay “Joyas Voladoras” by Brian Doyle to a group of 6th graders. This is the first essay in Katherine Bomer’s book, The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays that Students Want to Write for People who Want to Read Them.

In his essay, Brian Doyle crushes our own hearts by writing about the hearts of hummingbirds.

(Hummingbird) hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer more heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures than any other living creature. It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine.

My students audibly gasped. Their reaction was pure emotion.

Katherine’s book leads us all on a quest for that reaction from our readers.

Watching my hummingbird, (Yes, he’s mine. I’ve named him Chuey), I realize that the smallest of beings, those minuscule moments, can bring about an emotional reaction.

However, to be open to these moments, I must be willing to write…every day.

Monday, I asked my students to start the class time sitting with their notebooks for 10 minutes and just writing. This freedom to express whatever was happening in their heads excited my young writers. There wasn’t a sound except the clicking of pencils for 10 minutes. Then they couldn’t wait to share!

  • Jacob wrote about a song he couldn’t get out of his head.
  • Noah wrote about imagining that everything was made of candy.
  • Madison wrote about the fire drill earlier in the school day.

To grow my young students into writers, I need to help them view their world as something worth writing about.  To show them, I join them.  I write freely and share the dribble that comes out on the page.  I talk to them about how we must weed through the dribble to find some good stuff.  To find those small moments worth savoring and sharing.

If you missed it, here’s the link to the storify for the #DigiLitSunday Twitter chat with Katherine Bomer.

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

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Months ago, some friends in my virtual professional learning network (PLN) decided to read Katherine Bomer’s new book from Heinemann, The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays that Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them.  We read and wrote responses to our reading in Google Docs to share our ideas, a virtual book club.

I decided to contact Katherine Bomer about doing a Twitter chat later in the summer.  She agreed with the disclaimer that she had never done a Twitter chat.  I explained that I had never curated one.

So the journey of discovery began.  Reading the book was the easy part.  Katherine’s voice in her writing is like she is sitting next to you having a conversation.  Yet at the same time, she is full of wisdom about essays, about writing, and about teaching.  There is so much goodness in this book, it was difficult to choose quotes to use in the Twitter chat.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  The first thing I did was to create an ad for the chat. I wanted something eye-catching that others could tweet and retweet.  I used Canva.  Canva was recommended by Dr. Mary Howard, another wise voice in education today.  She leads a weekly Twitter chat for Good to Great (#G2Great on Thursdays at 7:30 PM Central). You should follow her. @DrMaryHoward

A few weeks ago I invited some friends to participate in brainstorming questions.  A Twitter chat is usually an hour and includes 7 questions evenly spaced out by about 8 minutes.  (Mary Howard sent me a schedule she uses for G2Great.)   Tara Smith, Fran McVeigh, and Julieanne Harmatz contributed ideas and questions to the Google Doc. It got rather messy which is the way this kind of work is: messy, thoughtful, and inspiring.

Then I listened to this podcast from Heinemann.  I took notes and thought of more questions.  Jan Burkins offered me the advice to try out the questions to see if I could answer them in 140 characters.  That’s today’s task.  I am also going to test out pre-tweeting using Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck is necessary for following a chat. (For tonight, enter #DigiLitSunday.)

I spent a few hours putting the questions into a Canva Twitter background.  This way your questions can be longer than a tweet, but it also makes them attractive so they stand out from other tweets.  Here’s a sample question.

Journey Q 1

What is left to do is to make an image with all the questions to tweet out today before the chat.  This gives participants a heads up, time to think about their responses, and a way to participate more fully in the conversation.

Wish me luck.  I’m excited and nervous.  I have some great people backing me up.  I’m glad I’m doing this, but I don’t think we’ll chat every week.  Maybe once a month?

Please join us. Tweet and retweet. Share.

Twitter Chat with Katherine BomerSunday AUg. 28, 20166-00 CST (1) copy



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

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

In Louisiana, the term Lagniappe (pronounced lahn-yahp) means a little something extra. Imagine my surprise when my colleague told me that we start school on Wednesday, not Tuesday. I have a whole extra day of summer! Lagniappe!



Lagniappe is taking a break in the shade when the temperatures rise.

roadside spoonbill

Lagniappe is a roseate spoonbill fishing by the roadside.



Lagniappe is goldfish glittering on top.

name plate

Lagniappe is finding old treasures.

This name plate was a gift from my supervising teacher when I was student teaching. I wasn’t Mrs. Simon yet, but I would be by the time I had my own classroom. This gift meant so much to me. I’d forgotten how much until I found it. I’ve always preferred to be called Mrs. Simon rather than Miss Margaret, as some teachers in the south do. I think this preference stems from my pride in being Mr. Simon’s wife. Our 34th anniversary is this weekend, and we will be dancing the night away.

Lagniappe is the Wonder quote app which speaks to me today.

Lagniappe is the Wonder quote app which speaks to me today.


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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

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Into every day, a cloud must come. Here's hoping all your clouds are this filled with light.

Into every day,
a cloud must come.
Here’s hoping all your clouds
are this filled with light.

How often do you post on social media?  Once a day?  Once a week?  Occasionally?

I am curious about what makes us connect and why some share more than others.  And when I read a post, on Facebook or Twitter, who am I really seeing?

If I am honest, I am a pretty free sharer of my life.  I probably post at least once a day on Facebook.  I’m not as active on Twitter or Instagram, but I have a presence there.  And then there’s this blog right here.

I am partial to my blogging space.  I feel safe here.  I open the draft and spill out onto the page whatever is on my mind.

I’ve been reading Katherine Bomer’s book The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them.   In Chapter 4, Living Like an Essayist,  Katherine makes a case for the Writer’s Notebook as a place to think and generate ideas.  While I am determined to give this a good shot next school year, trying it out myself was not easy.  I have gotten better and better at typing and backspacing, type, delete, copy, paste, highlight, spellcheck.

The notebook has lost some of its usefulness to me, at least for writing rough drafts.  I still take notes in a notebook and apparently this is good for my brain.  NPR posted an article about the advantages of hand-written notes in college. But unless I need those notes for something I am writing, they get lost in the pages of my notebook.

From this chapter, I gleaned five ways to make use of notebook time.  (I think I’ll call it Notebook Time in my classroom.)

  1. Write daily for 12-15 minutes: Free writing that may lead to a good essay topic.
  2. A thinking space for slow pondering, not rushing toward an end product.
  3. Share notebook writing with a partner or small group.  Reading aloud what you have written can validate or deepen thinking.
  4. Writing leads to more writing.  Ideas lead to ideas.  Allow for this free range thinking time.
  5. Write what is true.  This space should be used to explore the deep dark corners of our lives.  Shake it all out.  Don’t write only what makes you look good. Be authentic on the page.

I truly believe in sharing our lives.  By putting our true selves out there, we can find connections in new and exciting ways.  As I read and think about what I want for my students, I am more convinced that writing your truth makes you a stronger person, reaches out to others, and creates a caring world community.

DigiLit Sunday will be on hiatus for the next 6 weeks as I will be traveling.  We will be back on July 31st.  Have a wonderful summer!

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

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I have taken a few art classes. In art, perspective is important and obvious to the eye. One of my favorite artists is Georgia O’Keefe. A series of her paintings focuses in on the center of a flower. Looking closely changes the perspective. Seeing the center without white space to guide your eye makes the image more focused.



My school year ended ten days ago. This period of time I have worked hard to relax and be present. I have actually avoided thinking at all about school. However, teaching is never far from my radar.

Today, I can see more clearly the white space. I understand the structure of my year and have some perspective on things.

At the center of focus is always literacy.  Writing is an important component in my class. We wrote daily about our lives, about our reading, sprinkled with poetry.

But as I look forward and begin to shift my perspective to the horizon line, I see where my focus should be next year.  I will have the same students. In many ways this makes the transition to a new grade level much smoother. They know what to expect. They know me.

Because of this, I will have to be intentional about changes and make them happen early on. I am reading Katherine Bomer’s book, The Journey is Everything. The intended audience is teachers of middle grades 6-8. The highest grade I teach is 6th, but I can see ways to incorporate her ideas in my lower grades as well.

While we need to pay attention to structure in the essay, that is not the purpose. I will continue using blogs as the main format for writing. A few points of perspective their writing will take are 1. writing to discover and 2. writing to explore language.

I want to be more aware of my students’ perspectives and allow them to discover them safely in our classroom. When we focus on the single poppy in the field, we can see more clearly the unique individual. We can honor their voices and work toward developing authentic, valuable writing.

In order to prepare to teach essay differently, I am experimenting with my own writing.  I am trying out “writing for discovery” and “exploring language” with more intention in my blogging.

Perspective as a writer gives me a clearer lens for teaching writing.

you have a story to tell

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

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The school year has ended for me. The end isn’t a celebration for me. I try to feel excited about summer, but my heart is hurting. I miss my kids. I wonder what they are doing. I miss our daily connection. I hear their voices in my head. Eventually this fades, and I fit into my days like they were meant for me.

This weekend in order to tender the depression I know is coming, I traveled home to my parents’ house on the lake. This is a beautiful place to reflect, read, and relax.

Canada geese

While at the lake, these Canada geese hatched five goslings.

Teachers need this time as much as our students do. Time to not worry about the next lesson or the necessary evaluations. Time to look out at nature and just be present.

This is my intention: Presence.

My other intention is professional reading. I have started Katherine Bomer’s book The Journey is Everything. What I love about this book is Katherine writes as if she is speaking directly to me. Her tone is easy and conversational as she marvels in the wonder of the essay. I think her book will transform me personally as a writer as much as it does me as a teacher. The very things I love about writing this blog, writing to know what I’m thinking, is central to her theory about essaying. I grabbed the following quote to keep.

Students need essays

In order to read with more intention, I will be joining a book study group. Let me know in the comments if you want to join us. I am planning a Twitter chat with Katherine Bomer for later in the summer, so stay tuned.

If you have written a DigiLit blog post this week, please click the link below.

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