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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.

Rumi quote
 

I am honored to be writing with friends.  Recently I read the book My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.  I loved this book, but I am not going to write a book review.  What I did was took a page, page 191 to be exact, and stole the first line along with the form.  “At times these days I think of the way the sun would set on the farmland around our small house in the autumn.”  The rest of the page is one long sentence beautifully flowing and drawing me in to the scene.

I am not Elizabeth Strout, but I can pretend for a moment that I am.  I wrote.

At times these days I think of the ways the trees look in winter, all that bareness, the blue sky open beyond as wide as the ocean, and how birds are exposed on the branches, last year’s nest an unhidden cluster, and I search in my own life for meaning, trying to make a life when things are not as they seem, when all the leaves are gone, the quiet branches of a tree in winter, and the sky above, open and alive.  –Margaret Simon

Then I invited some writing friends to write from the same prompt.  Here are their responses.

 

At times these days I think about the ways the ocean invites my attention, as the cliff rises up to meet the road, looking down I feel as if I could reach out and touch the blue stillness, and yet below the surface the cold Pacific digs and pulls showing an endless uncontrollable power calling me towards its vast space that was, is, and will be, long after I am gone. —Julianne Harmatz

At times these days I think about how I will be remembered and if it will be because I made them laugh or because I made them think as I talked and talked and talked when maybe I should have been listening and I think it’s because I am changing into someone who needs more time to reflect and be purposeful instead of someone who needs to charge ahead and get it all done and I guess this makes me seem to be going off in a different direction and I guess I am because it not only looks different but it feels different like somehow I am becoming that person I should have been had other influences not forced me to develop traits for survival and strength instead of personal fortitude and introspection. —Kimberley Moran

At times these days I think about the ways my children’s arms and hearts reach out to me…once their hearts beat inside my womb and mine kept time and half time to theirs, I knew each beat and pull of muscle, each twitch of nerve. Now, they live apart from me, but every fibre of every nerve reacts and responds as it did so long ago when they call about heartbreak, loss, love, and hope.  Again, in that moment, we are one body and our hearts beat in rhythm again. —Tara Smith

Then we talked about the process.  The writing of it and how we each came to it with our own unique lens.  The beauty of this.  And how we can do this for our students.  How when we write together in community, not only does our creativity flow, our connection is enriched.

But we also talked about trust.  How we wrote and shared because we trust each other.   When we write alongside our students and build a community of writers, trust must be present.  The students need to trust each other, and they need to trust me.  That I will honor their words and honor the place they came from.   Real writing comes from a vulnerable place.  We need to experience this vulnerability ourselves in order to understand it in our students.  A teacher of writing must be a writer. This is what I believe and this is what my friends writing together proved.

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  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

da vinci

This weekend I heard a presentation from an independent school principal. She told us that every first Friday the faculty and staff wear t-shirts that display the Italian words, “Ancora Imparo” which translates, “I am still learning.” They use this quote attributed to Michelangelo to show the students and parents that all are learners at their school. At first I felt a little envious. Wouldn’t I like to be a part of a school with this motto? But then I realized that I am a part of that motto.

Last week one of my students, a second grader, was reading about the chicken and the egg. You know, that age old question, which came first? But in the process, we read together that scientists believe that the chicken is a relative of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. “Mind Blown!” That’s what my kids say when we learn something unbelievable. When the older students arrived, Andrew made an announcement. There was a dramatic reaction. Fun! Learning! And I am right there with them.

When my students write, I write. I let them know my struggles, my worries. They all know I struggle with rhyming. They help me. We are all learners. “Ancora Imparo” “I am still learning.” I never pretend to know all the answers. We discover them together. We share in the learning.

Some days I worry that I don’t teach enough. I coach. I lead. I keep discipline…somewhat. But standing in front writing something on a white board that students copy or read and subsequently learn, that is not my style. I do not need to pine over another school’s philosophy. I just need to embrace my own. Maybe I’ll design my own t-shirt.

Faith bigger than fear

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Join the Chalk-a-bration over at Teaching Young Writers

Join the Chalk-a-bration over at Teaching Young Writers

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life!

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life!

My students love the last day of the month because it is time for Chalkabration. Monday was a cloudy day, but I was prepared. I had bought a roll of chalkboard contact paper. Each student got a 10 inch piece. We read aloud from the new book, Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems for Two Voices by Carole Gerber. So they composed poems for two voices.

Kendall wrote a poem inviting you to enjoy the chalkabration.

Kendall wrote a poem inviting you to enjoy the chalkabration.

In the Ocean by Matthew, read aloud by Matthew and Tyler

In the Ocean by Matthew, read aloud by Matthew and Tyler

Brooke writes a poem about waves. Read aloud by Brooke and Matthew.

Brooke writes a poem about waves. Read aloud by Brooke and Matthew.

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rough draft
I know this is an ugly picture. This is my journal page after struggling all day long with the double dactyl form. Ugh! I almost gave up. It was like a puzzle or a really hard math problem. Although, had it been a really hard math problem, I would have given up hours ago. I shared this process with my students. They could see me struggling. I would call them to attention and test it out, then shake my head, “No, not yet.”

The double dactyl form has so many requirements. I used to think rhyming was hard, but rhythm is harder. A dactyl is a long, short, short syllable pattern. Then there’s this rule that the second stanza has to have a double dactyl word. And who has ever heard of a spondee?

Most of the examples I read had a person’s name for the second line. I decided to use a book character and who better than the tragic character of Miggery Sow from The Tale of Despereaux? I found out by reading my poem aloud to my last group of students that you can’t quite “get it” if you haven’t read the book. I have to credit my fifth grade boys with the last line. High fives all around when they came up with that one.

My students are writing poetry like mad over at our kidblog. Please check them out and leave a comment or two. They love comments.

Now for my attempt to capture Miggery Sow in double dactyl.
miggerysow

Higgledy Piggledy
Miggery Sow was a
young girl who longed to be
princess like Pea.

Handful of cigarettes
perfidiously swapped;
Birthday wave brings forth a
queen wannabe.

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Join Poetry Friday with Robyn Hood Black.

Join Poetry Friday with Robyn Hood Black.

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Slice of Life Challenge Day 29

Slice of Life Challenge Day 29

Passion is energy. It’s the power that comes from focusing on what really excites you. When we live with enthusiasm, we fully engage our brains and bodies in our activities, building new pathways that foster health and wellbeing. –Oprah and Deepak, 21 Day Meditation Challenge

I am looking forward to the month of April. Don’t you just love the sound of the word, “April?” I love poetry. Actually some people (namely my husband) think I am obsessed. I can’t help sharing this enthusiasm, passion, obsession with my students. And what better time to celebrate poetry than the month of April! National Poetry Month

Last year I decided to teach a poetry form for every letter of the alphabet. It was a challenge to find one to fit each letter. However, with state testing taking one week, and spring break another, we ran out of days before letters. I want to do this again. I have discovered so many new forms from the triolet to the rondelet, and even a clogyrnach. We will try ghazals and pantoums, sonnets, and ekphrasis. See an alphabetized list on Poets.org.

I plan to continue our Slice of Life blog page for posting poems each day. If you or your class would like to follow us, click here.

I will write alongside my students as I always do and share the results with you here on my blog. I have joined the kidlitosphere progressive poem. See the schedule in my sidebar.

Shh, don’t tell, but we plan to post poems all around the school, secret poems, so we can have everyone reading poems throughout their day.

I am still toying with ideas for a final product. Last year we transformed old books into our own poetry books using a technique called altered books.

Do you have any plans? ideas?

If you teach 7th-10th grade, your students can participate in the Dear Poet Project.
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National Poetry Month

Poems will echo in the halls,
be pasted on walls,
carried in pockets,
and shared out loud.

Listen to the words
of Naomi Shihab Nye.
Rhyme silly with Shel Silverstein.
Rap with Nikki Giovanni
and imagine like Jane Yolen.

It’s a national phenomenon,
this month of poem fun.
Come on in!
The writing’s fine!

Join Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for more Poetry Friday

Join Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for more Poetry Friday

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

As a fundraiser for the Festival of Words, Darrell Bourque, former Louisiana state poet laureate, offered a master class. I submitted 3 poems and was accepted. Twelve poets gathered in Darrell’s home on Saturday afternoon. His house is set in a grove of bamboo. To get to the house, you walk through a shaded garden, enter a beautiful courtyard then into his art-filled home. I immediately relaxed and felt welcome.

Once the others arrived, Darrell quickly began teaching. I’ve known Darrell for more than 15 years. I’ve taken a number of workshops with him, but this was different. While I missed the interchange of ideas of the workshop style, I adjusted to just listening. His knowledge did not intimidate me as I expected. Instead, I understood. I followed. I wrote notes. I was a student and a poet.

He started off by telling us that there are no mistakes. He compared writing a poem to making a quilt. You get all the pieces laid out, and then you can move them around until a new pattern emerges. He challenged us to look for a pattern.

He took each person’s heart out, held it up to the light, and shaped it into something more beautiful, more glowing.

In an email to us all on Sunday, Darrell wrote this verse about this group of poets:

Brushing a child’s hair,
sitting by a powerful river,
taking a lunch break and really listening while being at work,
seeing angels,
standing next to sleeping Gypsies,
traveling toward the beloved,
salvaging the essential after rupture,
letting footsteps become prayers,
searching for traiteurs and medicine men,
sewing a new seam,
visiting monasteries,
standing in the presence of natural wonder
or grieving for a lost child—
these are all common experiences which you made extraordinary by your making them a part of your most essential human experiences. I thank you heartily and I wish you all continued good luck.

To show the results of Darrell’s shaping, I am posting one of my poems in both versions. He found the pattern of commands to make my poem-quilt clearer, stronger, and just plain better.

After the Storm (version 1)
If you want to study the skeletons of frogs,
take a walk after the storm when the sun comes up.
Listen to mockingbirds sing, high-pitched, discordant.
Walk the path of fallen limbs, clustered leaf-puddles.
We are washed yet still unclean. New day sun breaks
deepening the green, solid, and strong earth. Red spots
glitter after I glance at the spotlight. God’s eyes
peak through the ghost of a waning moon. Wren gathers
twigs for nesting, flutters off like a thief with goods.
No need for imagination here; all life breathes.
The beat of my footsteps become my prayer.

After the Storm (Darrell’s reshaping)
Study the skeletons of frogs.
Take a walk in the light after the storm.
Listen to mockingbirds in discordant songs.
See the sun deepening the green earth.
Glance at the sun; see the red spots glitter.
Peak through the ghost of a waning moon.
Gather twigs for nesting; become the wren.
Flutter off like a thief with his stolen goods.
Imagine nothing; all life breathes.
Let my footsteps become prayers.

After a storm, resurrection fern fluffs up and becomes a green blanket on the live oaks.

After a storm, resurrection fern fluffs up and becomes a green blanket on the live oaks.

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I am so proud to be the teacher of the Louisiana Regional Student of the Year. I am privileged to teach gifted students. This means that once a student is identified as gifted, I pull them out for services each year throughout elementary school. I have had Kaylie in my class now for 2 1/2 years. We have gotten very close. On Tuesday, she found out she had won the Regional Student of the Year. First she was nominated by her school, then she competed at the parish level, then the regional level. Now she will be in competition for the State Student of the Year. This is a pretty amazing accomplishment for an 11 year old girl. She is amazing, though.

On Wednesday, Kaylie came early to class. We sat quietly absorbing the news. She told me she gets two free nights’ stay in Baton Rouge and a savings bond. She looked at me and gently said, “It’s because of you that I got this.”

I gave her a hug and said, “I don’t believe that for one minute.” But she went on to explain. She said she was not a writer when she came to my classroom. I made her a writer. That statement has been my lifelong goal.

Once at a turning point in my teaching career, my husband asked me point blank, “What do you want to do?”
I responded, “I want to teach writing. One day I want to hear an author on NPR thank me.”

Kaylie isn’t on NPR…yet. But this moment made my heart swell. I opened the door. She has stepped in royally. Writing is a major component of the Student of the Year competition. At each level, she has to write an essay on a prompt in a given amount of time. Obviously, she does not give in to the pressure. What a gifted writer she is!

Kaylie has won a number of writing contests. The most memorable for me was the LA Writes! state youth writing contest. She won first place with a poem she wrote in my class. We were celebrating National Poetry Month and the daily challenge was to write a bad poem. I used Billy Collins’ poem Litany as inspiration. Kaylie went to the computer and composed this brilliant first place poem:

Perfect Nonsense

*after Billy Collins’ Litany

You can be the watering pail in the pine tree.

You can be the left shoe on the roof.

You can even be-somehow-just-maybe the buttered slice of burnt toast on a Sunday morning.

You are NOT the billowing clouds.

You are DEFINITELY NOT the sandy aftertaste when a wave knocks you down.

And you are most DEFINITELY CERTAINLY ABSOLUTELY TRULY NOT the pancake swimming in syrup on the hottest day of the year.

Whereas I, I am the dandelion that gently blows away.

I am your mamma’s ruby red lipstick for dinner at her best friend’s house on Thursday night.

And, as you know, I am the spit-on microphone that sits lazily in the studio.

I am me.

You are you.

We are US.


A link to Kaylie’s Slices of Life.

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