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See more Poetry Friday with Linda at Teacher Dance.

See more Poetry Friday with Linda at Teacher Dance.

The Festival of Words is around the corner (next weekend!). Naomi Shihab Nye is coming to the small town of Grand Coteau, Louisiana to be a part of this great celebration of poetry. Naomi is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and she is coming to see us and share poetry with us. I have signed up for her workshop next Saturday and have gotten special permission to bring a student with me.

The Festival of Words was organized six years ago by a small group who believed that Poetry is for Everybody. With drive-by poetry and open air readings, the festival brings the power of poetry to the streets.

The Festival also holds a student writing contest. The contest is open to 6th-12th graders. The highest level I teach is 6th grade. My student, Brooklyn, entered her poem about sugarcane and placed FIRST in the Jr. High Division. I have been teaching Brooklyn since she was in 4th grade, and it delights me to see her writing develop to contest-winning level. I am so proud of her. Her winning poem is here:

I’m home

A green line of cane,
above the tan dirt,
under the bright blue
Louisiana sky.

Colorful, like a
shining rainbow after
a harsh rain,
like a path full of
roses and daisies.
There is a hushing noise,
made by the stalks slowly
and gently rubbing together,
hush, hush, hush.
sugarcane 4
With the touch of the angel’s wing
so delicate and free, reassuring
you that anything is possible.

Always giving off the soft,
welcoming, harmless,
I’m home feeling.
I’m home,
I’m home,
I’m home.

Brooklyn, all rights reserved

From the Festival of Words Kickstarter Site on Why it Matters: “Writing poems and stories gives people of all ages a positive means to communicate, share, and respect each other’s words and individuality. • Creative writing raises student literacy levels • Creative writing teaches problem-solving, analysis, and creative thinking • Students who participate in the arts are more likely to excel academically and professionally.”

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Poetry Friday is hosted this week at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

The end of the school year is always bittersweet. This year was especially so. One of my students finished sixth grade which means she is moving on to middle school. We have been together since she was in third grade. I love all my students, but sometimes one comes along who connects a little deeper. We become more than teacher and student. Kaylie is one of those students. Kaylie loves what I love. We shared books and favorite authors. We became writing partners. She read and commented on my writing as much as I did hers.

Kaylie’s mother wrote me a note saying that Kaylie was crying about leaving. She told Kaylie that I was like a mother bird that has prepared her birds to fly. It was time for her to fly. Kaylie stopped crying and said, “That was a great metaphor, Mom.”

I am so grateful for this special relationship. Kaylie wrote a poem for me. She put it in a book she made on Snapfish including pictures of us through the years. (Yes, I cried.) I wrote a response to her using her form. I put it into an accordion book, also with pictures. Call and response, so to speak. These poems are very personal, so I hesitated printing them here. But sometimes the deeply personal touches a universal theme.

What if
By Kaylie
What if you asked me-
just wondering-
If you wanted me to write
about our four years together?
What if you wanted me
to put that into a poem
Like the one you’re reading now?
Would I write about peanut butter,
nonsense talking sticking in my mouth
like the real stuff?
Or, that dreaded summer reading?
Would I tell you that I hated that?
Would I remember Daisy and Poncho,
the most beautiful spider story
I have ever heard?
Hmm…let me think…
I would definitely have to mention
all that writing: stories, poetry,
every letter, every word from my pen
inspired by you.
I would try not to talk about the tears
that shed when I left, though.
No.
I will only think of what you showed me,
and how I will use it in my life.
If you told me to write a poem about all of that,
just to remind you of me now and then,
I think this poem
would do just that.

By Kaylie

What if?
What if you wanted me to write a poem
about our four years together?
Four years, really? Hard to believe.
No wonder you are so much a part of my life.

I know you. You know me.
Greater than a teacher and student,
yet not a mother and daughter.
(Even though I caught myself sometimes calling you my daughter.)
My poem would have to say how
teaching you was easy, fun, delightful.
I watched you blossom from a tiny, shy seed
to a dancing flower singing,

“Anything you can do, I can do better.”

And yes, you can. You can be
whatever you want to be.
Be who you are.

You are a writing teacher’s dream,
but more than that…
You trusted me with your heart,
your mind, your creativity.

If you wanted me to write a poem about our time together,
I would write through tears,
wipe them away
and say
You are ready
to fly,
sweet bird.
Your wings will
soar!
–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Last year I started following the Two Writing Teachers blog written by Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz, coauthors of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. Each week they host a blog round-up called “The Slice of Life.” If you regularly read my blog, you have seen the logo on every Tuesday post. What’s so nice about the Slice of Life is you can write about anything. And it keeps me blogging at least once a week. Well, in March comes the big Slice of Life Challenge…blog every day, all 31, in the month of March. Can I do that? Can my students do that?

I think we can, I think we can…

On Sunday, The Two Writing Teachers had a guest post by a teacher, Amanda Cornwell, who listed Ten Tips for Creating an Electronic SOLC for your Students. Amanda teaches middle school students. I teach elementary, yet most of the tips still apply.

I teach multiple grades in gifted, so my students are at different levels not only in ability, but also in their motivation to write. This year I’ve used kidblog.org with all of my students. It has been a safe place for them to write and respond and has provided a community of writers among my students who go to different schools. But the kidblog is private. I am considering opening a public blog for the March challenge, so other students and teachers can read my students’ posts. Please leave a comment if you would be interested in partnering up our classes for reading and commenting.

Here are my Ten Tips for Slicing about your life:

1. Think about writing all day long.
There are many seeds out there on your way to school, in your dreams, and even in your conversations with your students. After the Super Bowl blackout, there were many comments and questions among my students that could have led to a SOL story about “What do you think happened?”

2. Turn off the inner critic.
This is as hard for me as anything. But every time I talk to a fellow writer, I hear this message again and again, “Trust your voice.”

3. Start with an image.
Images lead to description. Description leads to connection. There you go, a Slice of Life story.

4. Try different genres.
Write an acrostic poem or the opening scene for a short story. Write about the last time your grandmother made gumbo or a short research piece about why cats’ claws are retractable.

5. Write together.
When my students write, I write. We call it “sacred writing time.” I set the timer and no one speaks or gets up, or even sharpens a pencil.

6. Be realistic and set attainable goals.
We are going to be out of school for Spring Break the last week of March, so I may set the goal at 16 days which is the number of days we will be in school that month.

7. Encourage each other.
One of my students called commenting, “a compliment sandwich.” I like that. Start and end with a positive comment with a criticycle inside. Criticycle is critique with a little sweetness.

8. Prizes: Last year I bought all my students who participated in the challenge a pack of decorative sticky notes and a blank book. I will probably consider another similar practical gift as well as lots of high fives and way to gos!

9. Share your writing.
In addition to typing into a blog post, my students enjoy sharing their writing. They like to hear me read as well. They encourage me and give me advice. I will continue to provide sharing time.

10. Celebrate.
I am stealing this from Amanda. She had a picnic and reading to celebrate along with certificates signed by the principal. I like this idea. We may have to host a Slice of Life Author’s Chair when we invite parents and guests to come and hear our writing.

I am excited about this challenge. Won’t you join me?

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