Posts Tagged ‘Teachers Write’

I have signed up to participate in a few online communities this summer, two of which started last week while I was vacationing: #cyberpd and an online book club. This week Kate Messner’s Teachers Write virtual writing camp began. As I was thinking about Sara Ahmed’s book Being the Change (the book chosen for #cyberpd), I thought of a way I could connect ideas across all that I was studying. Let’s see if this works.

The first chapter of Ahmed’s book guides us to writing activities around identity as a way to begin to see our students and treat them with a kindness that comes from knowing them.

Identity has never been a problem for me, really. I grew up seeing a large portrait of my maternal grandmother holding her violin on her lap. She wore a flowing white gown and looked beyond the viewer in such a way that I felt her presence without judgment. I was named for her and have always thought she was my guardian angel. (She died 3 months before I was born.) This portrait still hangs in my parents’ dining room. Maybe it’s wrong to hang your identity on a portrait, but this heritage comes to mind when I think about who I am and who I came from.

In the Teachers Write prompt for Monday warm-up with Jo Knowles, we were asked to think about the identity of our character in our WIP (work in progress). Her exact instructions involved imagining a photograph of your character at the end of the story, but I made the leap myself to identity.

The character I am currently writing about is far from who I am. She was born on the heels of emancipation as a black woman. Her intelligence and education took her out of the South to San Francisco in 1901. My intuition tells me that she would have struggled with identity. She was a light-skinned black woman, and there is some supposition that she acted as white in San Francisco. If this is true, how did she feel about the denial she was living in? Was she proud of who she had become or ashamed at who she left behind? Identity can be complicated.


In the book I’ll Give you the Sun, one of the characters, Noah, is a boy of 14 coming of age and falling in love with another boy. His identity is rocked by this realization. His expression is his art. In what ways can creativity help us understand our identity? Can poetry, like art, help me write about my character’s identity as well as my own. How connected are we all when it comes to identity? How separate?

Sara Ahmed suggests an identity web for students to draw and come back to throughout the year. Can I use an identity web to better know my WIP character? An identity web is also a great tool for getting to know a fictional character like Noah.

Identity is important when it comes to valuing others for who they are.  We must value our own identities, accept them as OK; we certainly cannot change them.  And yet, when we are faced with new characters in our lives, either from fiction, from history, or our very own students, we should accept and honor their identities.  Our differences, our connections, our shared lives make this world an interesting and wonderful place.

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My favorite writing teacher, Tara is rounding up today at A Teaching Life.

My favorite writing teacher, Tara is rounding up today at A Teaching Life.

Last Saturday I celebrated that my Teachers Write reflection was published in Kate Messner’s new book for writers, 59 Reasons to Write. On Tuesday, I showed the book with my name in the index to my students. Matthew exclaimed, “Mrs. Simon, you are in the index of a book that is written about your passion! I can only dream about being in the index of a book about magic.”

After I glowed in their attention and admiration, we thumbed through to find an activity to do. We tried Kate’s Three-Column Brainstorming activity. I was amazed that all of us, myself included, got good ideas for new fiction stories.

So here it is the eve of Poetry Friday, and I need an idea to write about. Kate to the rescue once again. She suggests using a poem she wrote, Sometimes on a Mountain in April, as a mentor text. So here is my attempt.

Sometimes on the bayou in January,
rain falls all day
soaking the dry leaves,
softening the hard earth
while softly whispering promises
of resurrection.

Sometimes on the bayou in January,
temperatures drop twenty degrees
reminding the cats’ coat to thicken,
the cardinals to find nests,
and mothers to pull on fleece.

Sometimes on the bayou in January,
bare cypress trees scarcely sway
reminding me to slow down,
take shelter,
drink warm tea.

Sometimes on the bayou in January
light hides behind grey,
the owl hoots before sunset,
shadows disappear
and I watch
for a poem hiding there.

–Margaret Simon

Through the screen door

Through the screen door

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

Today I am celebrating comments. I am admitting how important comments are to me. They drive me to write more. They give me confidence. Comments are like attention from a close friend; they wrap me up in warmth.

Every Friday of Kate Messner’s Teachers Write Camp, Gae Polisner hosts a Friday Feedback on her site with a guest author each week. A week ago, the guest was Avi. Yes, the one and only. If you are steeped into the kidlit world of middle grade books, you know Avi well for books like Crispin and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and many more. I was a bit star struck when I saw this and hesitated to post anything, but I got my courage up and posted this little piece of Sunshine, the sequel to Blessen.

On the porch hidden by the screen door, I think I see a child. All I can see are eyes, big and round like white marbles, staring out at me. Still, I am startled by the voice.

“Hi, there! Whatcha’ doin? Swinging?”

A little black girl swirls off the porch and flies like a raven to my side. She wears a tattered pink dress that’s too short for her long skinny legs. Her hair is plaited in braids close to her scalp. Her skin is as dark as a moonless night. She runs around me and pushes me forward on the rope.

I swing higher and squeal. Holding tighter to the rope, I ask the girl, “Who are you? Where did you come from?”

“My name is Harmony, Harmony, Harmony.” Harmony sings her name higher and higher on the scale. “Who are you, you, you?”

Holding tightly to the thick rope, I unwrap my legs and stand.

“I’m Blessen. I live right there in that double-wide with my momma, Miss Gardenia LaFleur. Are you living here now?”

“Oh, well, it’s all just temporary. We’ll see, we’ll see. Will you swing me high?”

And from Avi, “Dear Margaret,
Not much to add, because this seems to work as is. Good job!. I assume there is more, and would like to read.”

And this week from Gae herself, “Margaret, I’d offer constructive criticism if I had it. But your writing is really stellar and compelling. Just beautiful. Keep going!”

How can I not keep going with support like this from successful authors like Avi and Gae. A huge THANKS to Kate Messner and Gae Polisner and all the other amazing authors who are devoting their time and energy to nurturing struggling teacher-writers like me.

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I am trying to trust my authentic voice. Comments strengthen this voice and make me feel worthy! Totally selfish and totally true!

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Sunset 1

I have been participating in the Teachers Write virtual writing camp at Kate Messner’s blog. The first few weeks I was very good about doing all the exercises. One of the early quick writes asked us to think about a special place. The details of the prompt can be found here.

I visited my parents this summer and enjoyed daily views of their lake. Usually a bird was in the view. The sunset is always beautiful and different. So this became my special place for my response poem.

The Lake
Sometimes near the lake
cardinals flirt,
flickers of red
darting, clicking.
You’ll hear honks of Canada geese,
a gaggle on the shore pecking grass.
There is the great white egret
sailing above the water
reflecting a shimmer of sparkling sun-kiss.
Sometimes, the tinkle of the wind chime
whispers softly, “I love you.”
–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

Kate’s model poem was her own Sometimes on a Mountain in April. Hers is a poem in photos, very nice. Hop on over there now.

Thanks, Matt Forrest, for taking on the Poetry Friday Roundup today. Go on over to find more rich poetry links. poetry friday button

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Poetry Friday is hosted today by Carol at Carol's Corner.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Carol at Carol’s Corner.

Last week for Poetry Friday, Mary Lee had a feast of verse novels. These have attracted my interest lately. While I read Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse years ago and have shared Love that Dog, Love that Cat, and Heartbeat by Sharon Creech with my students, the genre feels new.

This week I read Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. The book is based on her own life story of coming to America from Vietnam. The verse was simple, yet moving. In a verse novel, each chapter/verse/poem should stand alone yet hold the whole together. Lai does this. The novel made me think about 1975 when refugees were coming in to my own city. I don’t remember how I reacted. I hope I was kind. Not everyone in Lai’s book is kind. Our students can learn from Lai that not everyone looks the same or speaks the same, but everyone should be kind.


Wet and Crying

My biggest papaya
is light yellow,
still flecked with green.

Brother Vu wants
to cut it down,
saying it’s better than
letting the Communists have it.

Mother says yellow papaya
tastes lovely
dipped in chili salt.
You children should eat
fresh fruit
while you can.

Brother Vu chops;
the head falls;
a silver blade slices.

Black seeds spill
like clusters of eyes,
wet and crying.

–Thanhha Lai from Inside Out & Back Again

Last year during Teachers Write camp (which, by the way, begins Monday), Gae Polisner had Caroline Starr Rose, author of May B, as a guest on her Friday Feedback blog post. I was turned on to writing in verse. I have a WIP (Work in Progress) that hasn’t gone anywhere in years, and by turning to verse, I was able to revive it. I am attracted to this genre because it’s a way to combine my love of poetry and writing for children. Here’s a sample verse from my WIP Dear God:

Dear God,
Winter can be so boring,
short days, long nights.
But today, snow fell
for hours.
No school.
I watched the snow from the window,
picture perfect,
piling onto the bare tree branches,
sparkling, gleaming.
Benjie and I bundled up,
headed over to the hill by the park.
Neighborhood kids were there with sleds
and makeshift sleds of cardboard.
I helped Benjie climb onto the sled and pushed him off,
down the hill, twenty times at least.
When we finally headed home,
my nose and fingertips were frozen solid.
Mom made us hot chocolate and vegetable soup.
Simone could not play in the snow.
When we passed by, she waved at us from her window seat.
She wore a knit cap and a scarf around her neck,
looking like a snowman herself, pale and hairless.
She wasn’t sad, though.
Her smile was big and sparkled like the snow.

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In the Teacher’s Write Online Writing Camp, I wrote a poem. The prompt came from guest author D. Dina Friedman, whose titles include ESCAPING INTO THE NIGHT and PLAYING DAD’S SONG. Dina grew up in New York City and can be found online at http://ddinafriedman.com/.

Her prompt was one I use often to jump start my own writing and my students’ writing. I call it “stealing a line.” Thumbing through a book of poetry, you find a line that jumps out and wants you to write about it. My post Fallen Oak came about when I borrowed a Mary Oliver line. The line I used today was Richard Hugo’s ” The day is a woman who loves you.” Here’s my poem.

The day is a woman who loves you.

Like the grandmother oak who
stretches her arms wide
offering a rope swing
for your very own pleasure.

Jump on and sway
or pump your legs until they ache.

This day offers you this kind of joy,
the joy of an open blossom–
morning glory blue
as deep as the Aegean Sea, the color
of your mother’s eyes.

She looks at you now,
hoping you will notice
her loving glance
and embrace this new day
as a gift.

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