Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Fletcher’

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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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Poetry Friday round-up is with Carol at Beyond Literacy Link.
Waiting for the Harvest, by Mickey Delcambre.
First place in the Sugarcane Festival Photography Contest

Ralph Fletcher’s new book, Focus Lessons, is coming out, so I took advantage of Heinemann’s offer to read a sample.

There are strong links between photography and writing. This is true in substance and process, as well as language. The world of photography provides a visual, concrete language (angle, focus, point of view, close-up, panorama) that is enormously helpful in teaching writing.

Ralph Fletcher, Focus Lessons

When I saw Mickey Delcambre’s photo on my Facebook page, I was compelled to write a haiku.

Equinox harvest–
Slow down days, long resting nights
Autumn changes time.

Margaret Simon, draft, 2019

On Monday, I talked with my students about the Fall Equinox. I was surprised how well they know the solstices, but they were less familiar with the meaning of equinox.

In New Iberia this weekend, there is the annual Sugarcane Festival, celebrated on the last weekend of September as harvesting begins. We only have to look out of the window to see the tall cane waving in the fields.

One of the Craft Lessons included in the book sample focuses on Mood. Ralph explains how mood can be expressed in a photograph as well as in writing. I look forward to finding more crossovers between photography and writing Ralph says, “Photography is writing with light.”

I put Mickey’s photograph up and ask my students to do a quick write about it. Our quickwrites are typically 5 minutes. Then we share. Sometimes (it’s always a choice), a quickwrite will become a poem.

Seeing the Days Change

I see the days
changing around me,
going from
day to night
night to day
the marks of tires
from the day before
seeing the sun go down
getting ready
for the night,
goodnight sun.

Breighlynn, 4th grade


Sugar in the fields,
still as a cane.
Growing, oh so tall,
ready for the harvest.
Burning leaves
make the sweet smelling

Can you smell
the sugar?
Smelling, oh so
Have you ever
eaten the cane?
As pure as sugar

A.J., 6th grade

This morning on my morning walk I smelled the sweet air that A. J. wrote about. One of the gifts of fall.

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I know “pantser” isn’t a real word.  It’s derived from the phrase, “flying by the seat of your pants.”  I’ve seen this term used in reference to writing style, “Do you plot or pants?”

This tweet from Ralph Fletcher during the Two Writing Teachers Twitter chat jump-started my thinking about this idea.

I started thinking about my first week of teaching and how often I veered off the plan. Pantsing it is where I find my creative teacher self. It’s when my students tend to respond more authentically.

I understand the purpose of planning, and I am certainly capable of falling into a planning zone when I’m writing my lesson plans for the week. I research to find the resources I may need to use. I write out an outline of this, this, then this. But once the day starts and there are real live children sitting in front of me, I begin to fly by the seat of my pants.

Actually I like the phrase, “Go with the Flow” better. As a teacher, my calling is to respond to the needs of my students, or to the creative flow they direct.

This is a silly example: I bought a chair at Goodwill that had an exercise ball in it. I spray painted the black plastic part orange. I brought it to my classroom. When we had writing workshop and were ready to share, the students brought out the ball chair to sit on. I said, “This is our new author’s chair” like that was my plan all along. The kids called it a snail. I said, “Author’s snail” which became “Arthur the author’s snail.”

I wanted to have a soft start to the day this year. This is the kind of thing that if you don’t start on day one and continue, it won’t happen. The planner in me put on some quiet music (I had carefully selected and downloaded it to my phone), and we all read silently for 20 minutes. I read, too, which felt like a joyful rest from the rush of getting to school.

Then my pantser self kicked in, but only because I had read Dynamic Teaching by Vicki Vinton this summer. Following the quiet reading session, I asked my students to take some time to write about what they knew so far and what they were wondering about. Then to turn and talk to their neighbor about the book they were reading. This started meaningful conversations about books that have continued all week.

Being a pantser comes with experience. I have lots of strategies in my tool bag just waiting for the right time to be used. I think it’s time for me to stop feeling guilty when I run off the lesson plan. Actually, I want to embrace my pantser self and bring her out more often. That’s when the real teaching happens.

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I am reading Ralph Fletcher’s book Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook. I’m a little late to this book published in 1996. But it’s special to me because Ralph himself signed it this past November at NCTE. If you’ve never read any of Ralph’s books about writing, I highly recommend them. This one in particular is full of ideas, but it’s also full of Ralph’s voice. I could listen to him all day long.

In the first chapter, “A Place to Write,” Ralph writes about the things on his desk. This prompted me to write about my teacher desk.

There’s been a movement among teachers to get rid of the teacher desk. I suppose the idea is for the teacher to be more active, wandering among her students or sitting at a table designed for group meetings. I get that, but I can’t get rid of my teacher desk, not yet. It holds too many precious things. Gifts from students.

  • Sweet Pea body lotion
  • Two message rocks: “If you have the choice of being right or being kind, be kind.” “You Rock!” with a painted smiley face
  • A glass bear holding a red heart, “The Joy that you give to others is the Joy that comes back to you.”
  • Coffee container painted by Emily with our class theme “Mrs. Simon’s Sea”
  • Wooden pencil holder hand-made by Andrew’s father
  • A paper flower from Erin
  • Practical stuff: box of tissues, tape, stapler, paper clips, grade book, current read-aloud, cups of pens, pencils, markers, and hand sanitizer

After writing about my teacher desk, I realize that this space holds meaning.  It is the center of our classroom.  Often a student will prop a laptop right next to me.  Once a student called this area the zone of learning.  Voluntarily, they find a comfort in being close to me.

My notebook is here on my desk.  The one Ralph talks about in his book.  The place I breathe into, write alongside my students, make observations, discover poems.  Like Ralph says, your notebook is a room of your own, a space that is alive to even the barest suggestion of light. 

What is on your writing desk?  Do you still have a teacher desk?  Spaces take on the meaning we assign to them.  My desk, my notebook, my classroom are sacred spaces for sharing, learning, and finding Joy.



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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

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In my world of teaching and writing, revision is a constant companion. I look at my teaching and revise. Rarely am I following the lesson plan I wrote. I revise based on the direction my students need to take. And last week revision was something we needed to talk about.

I believe that revision is a mature behavior. Revision is having the confidence in a piece of writing to take the risk of changing it. Without even realizing it, I write in constant revision. As I write this post, I backspace. I save and read. Go back. Rephrase.

My students do this, too, as they type their pieces into the blog. Many of them are resistant to the two steps of rough draft in their notebooks, then typing into a final draft. But as I watch them, I see that revision becomes organic to this process.

Sometimes, revision comes from talk. We read the piece together. Discuss what we like. And look at where the words can be stronger.

I sat down with Kaiden to revise his abecedarian about wonder posted here. For the most part, this was an excellent piece of writing. The repeated word, wonder, was intentional and served a purpose. Yet there were a few words that weren’t quite working. So we looked at a list of Shakespeare words. This elevated Kaiden’s poem. There we found kindle. What a great word for K and for wonder! Engaging in this work with him was fun for both of us.

Ralph Fletcher tweeted:

revision by Ralph Fletcher

Let’s relax about revision. If a piece of writing is a stepping stone to another piece, let it be. Use revision strategies on those gems, the ones you want to embrace and hug a little longer.

Revision canva

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

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

Recently I heard through the grapevine that Ralph Fletcher was looking for student samples of informal writing. I jumped at the chance. I emailed him three student slices. (I require a Slice of Life post on our class blog each week.) When Ralph saw the student work, he responded with questions to survey my students themselves.

I was remiss that I had never really done this before.  Asking my students to reflect on how writing a slice each week affects them was worthwhile. With permission from Ralph Fletcher, these are the questions he asked.

  • What do you like about this kind of writing?
  • Does Slice of Life writing feel different from other kinds of writing you do? How?
  • Do you think having the opportunity to do Slice of Life writing has made you a stronger/better writer? If so, how?
  • When you are doing Slice of Life writing are you thinking of an audience (who you wan to read it)?
  • Do you ever try out a Slice of Life piece at home?
  • Please answer TRUE or FALSE: I am a writer. ____TRUE ___FALSE

I read through my students’ responses and came to some conclusions.

  1. Slice of Life writing frees you to write about your own life with the support of your classmates and other bloggers.
  2. Slice of Life writing is different from other writing because it is about your own life, your own feelings, or almost anything you want to write about.
  3. Slice of Life writing makes you stronger because you are aware of an audience and so you care about the commas and stuff.  It also helps you express yourself and not hold everything inside.
  4. The Slice of Life audience are your classmates, so you try to be funny and casual and normal.
  5. Slice of Life writing can be done at home, but most of my students do not write from home.
  6. Some of my students hesitate to call themselves writers because they do not have any books written.  This response surprised me and made me realize my own hang-ups with calling myself a writer.  I need to be more intentional about telling them that they are writers.

If you are considering doing the Slice of Life Story Challenge with your students in March, I have a few tips.

  • Give parents a heads-up and encourage them to support their children by giving them computer time for writing.
  • Tell your students often that they are writers.  Post it on the wall.  Call them “writers.”
  • Encourage classmates to support each other through comments.  We occasionally have a  comment challenge.  How many comments can you do in 30 minutes?  (Once I brought Skittles, but I ran out.  And I was only giving one Skittle per comment.)
  • Ideas!  I gave my students a tiny idea notebook that they decorated, but you can also do an anchor chart or Padlet.  I’m thinking about doing an idea box, too.
  • Share your own experience.  I participate in the teacher’s Slice of Life Challenge, and I share my writing and my struggles with my students.
  • Have fun!  If it’s not fun, regroup. and evaluate.

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

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Don’t miss the Google Doodle today for Langston Hughes.

I am a believer in blogging for kids. My students have been blogging all year. I require three posts a week, “It’s Monday, What are you reading?”, Slice of Life, and Poetry Friday. Since Christmas break one of my 4th grade boys has been writing a story. This has been beyond the three required posts, so I was giving him bonus points. I’ve asked him about it a few times because I wasn’t understanding what was going on. He vaguely answered my questions. I did realize he was writing about a game, but I figured he was writing, and he was using creative language. I did not find the posts at all violent until this last one.

Another boy student was reading over the shoulder of a first grader new to my gifted group. He exclaimed, “This story is not appropriate! It is about a scary game!” So I Googled the game “Five Nights at Freddy’s.” Sure enough, the rating is over 14. My student is not yet 10. What should I do?

I talked to the student and asked him to take down the story. I told him that he was a very good writer, but I wanted to read a story that he had made up on his own. He actually started writing a fiction story in writing workshop, so I encouraged him to post it.

Here is a portion of one of the Freddy stories:

I heard the phone ring. “Hey, you’re doing great” the phone said. “Thanks! I’m working hard.” I said back. “I nearly had five heart attacks, survived one night, plus I’ve had 3 positive heart attacks and 6 seizures!” “Well, you must be having a rough time.” The phone said disappointingly. “You have 4 more nights, including this one.” “Let me work, I must finish this.” I said, angrily. The phone hung up. “Good.” I said to myself. Suddenly, I heard a laugh. It was deep, like a bullfrog’s voice. I closed all the doors. I didn’t care. I checked on the lights. A bear was there, and I think he’s called Freddy.

Looking at this piece from a teacher’s perspective, the writing is good. Dialogue is strong. Punctuation is all in the right place. But my other student had a point; It was a violent game that would end in the death of the player. And these story posts would encourage other young kids to want to play it.

What would Ralph Fletcher do? I gave my young boy writers his book Guy Write which encourages boys to write about things they are interested in. After reading Ralph’s book, I let up on the rule of no violence or no body functions (like farts.) But this one slammed me in the face. When other students feel that it shouldn’t be allowed, I had to react. And the boy writer was compliant. He did not seem at all upset, in fact. Could it be he felt he was getting away with something he shouldn’t have?

What would Ralph Fletcher do? What would you do?

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