Archive for December, 2020

Slice of Life Tuesday: Missing Dreams

December 22, 2020

Today for the weekly Slice of Life challenge I knew I had a poem to write, but wanted to experiment with language and form. I came to a modified version of a triversen, a William Carlos Williams-created form consisting of six tercets: 18 lines in 6 stanzas. I’m still tweaking and working and thinking, but here goes:

In timesothertimes my dreams are vivid
and I carry them clanking in my pocket
and I listen to how they speakatme

Now manytoomany dreams slip from holes
in my pocket and shatter on the floor leaving
shards beautiful to stare atandat

I see my selfnotself in pieces of these dreams
and I play those bits again and over
til their edges smooth roundanddown

I force these realnotreal visions to replay
like lyrics of beyond-reach songs so
I might slide into sight of what came nextandbefore

But each timeaftertime the light fades
from the edges, the lyrics never come and
neither does the wisdom that used to comeandstay

So for nowtilwhenever all my pocket holds is hope
that dream-words will once again rest there
long enough whole enough clear enough to be heardandfelt

On Finding a Writing Community

December 15, 2020

Sometimes my lessons are OK, but no great shakes. Sometimes they crash and burn – sometimes sadly and softly, others in a great fiery blaze of glory.

But sometimes.

Sometimes I have an idea for a lesson that’s a GREAT ONE.

And it WORKS.

I’ve been trying to be deliberate this year about writing workshop for my fourth- and fifth-grade students. I want to create a community of writers where we improve our craft. Where we love writing and fiercely protect our time at every turn. Where we take risks in our writing. Where we exist as a group that offers our fellow writers support, feedback and the occasional kick in the proverbial pants.

So far, we’ve got a space where we love writing, where we take risks and fiercely protect our time. I’d like to think it’s because I’m transparent with my students about my own writing. Whatever I ask my students to do, I do along with them. I share my writing, even when I don’t like the results so much. I love what I write sometimes, and I struggle to write sometimes. I think, and I’d like to hope, that it’s validating for kids to know that someone they see as a “real writer” (translate: a grown-up with a blog) shares their hopes and insecurities.

One area that’s been really tough for me? Peer feedback. I’ve tried for years to create routines, rituals and skills that fulfill the vision I have for a student writing community. This year, I really want to make that happen. I want my kids to feel comfortable sharing their work with others. I want them to feel like they are part of a writing community. I want them to feel that other writers SEE them, that other writers READ them, that other writers RESPOND to them.

Kind of like…the community I have in the Slice of Life challenge.
(dim the lights)
Like the fearless writing my blog cohorts put out every week.
(cue soft music)
Like the thoughtful, sincere and thorough feedback in the comments.
(gradual crescendo)
Like the fascinating conversations that occur in the comment section.
(lights and angel music UP)

YES. That’s IT. How did I not see it before, ever?
I can use the posts and comments from other Slice of Life bloggers…as MENTOR TEXT for FEEDBACK!
How. On. EARTH. Did this idea not come to me sooner?

We started with my own blog post from last week. Students read my post and the comments that followed. What did we notice? Encouragement. Quotation from the text. Deep connections. Specific compliments. Questions.

And then? We hopped over to my blogging hero Fran Haley’s site and read her work. The students’ challenge? Work together to write a comment that’s worthy of being in the company of those we saw.

WOW. Did they ever deliver. Don’t believe me? Check out the page for yourself and be the judge!

What’s even more incredible is how excited the kids were to see their posts up on the Internet. We read the kind and sincere comments that Fran wrote back to each and every one of them. I don’t know how much time Fran put into her responses, but it was worth every second to see the smiles on my kids’ faces. I’m utterly overwhelmed by Fran’s generosity. Of course, she might read this, blush and say it was nothing.

But it was everything.

My kids feel seen. They feel proud. They now know their work deserves to be read, to be considered and talked about. And they feel inspired to continue their work.

I can’t fool myself into thinking that our work is done, that we have somehow magically perfected this community of writers. But we have laid the foundation, and I am grateful to the writers and colleagues from my own writing community for helping me make it happen.

Slice of Life bloggers, if you’re out there, and you’ve made it this far, THANK YOU. Thank you for providing me with your support, motivation, friendship and inspiration. It means the world.

Little Folks, Big Ideas

December 9, 2020

My third graders have been delving into philosophy, of all things. Because if little minds deserve ANYTHING, it’s the ability to wrestle with BIG ideas.

I’ve been using resources from The Prindle Institute to support our work. Our questions lately have focused on: what is alive? what is real?

After an AMAZING webinar with my hero Ellin Keene and her co-conspirator Dan Feigelson, I decided that today, I’d try taking their strategies for a spin.

Rather than falling into the question-answer-response rut, I took Ellin and Dan’s advice and posted a thought statement to see how kids might respond.

Some context. Last week, we read Lio Lionni’s Let’s Make Rabbits, which challenges our ideas about what is real, about what is ALIVE.

On Monday, I gave kids a list of different things and asked them to explain if they were alive or not. TheĀ most interesting discussion came from those grey areas: a flower in a vase, a turtle in the egg, an appleĀ that fell to the ground. Their conversation led me to think about the idea that life may not be a binary concept.

The thought statement I posted? “I wonder if being alive or not is like an on-off switch, or more like a dimmer switch.” (Yes, I demonstrated the two from my kitchen today. =)

Things I’ve learned:
1) There’s an ART to teaching this, and to structuring it for student success.
2) I didn’t quite get there.
3) Even the messy results were still pretty cool.

Some student thoughts/reflections from the day that made me smile:
-I am now wondering how people started.
-Something new I thought about today is what is real and not real.
-A dimmer light is like a person growing up.
-When you turn a dimmer switch, it’s like a person getting older and when it gets to the darkest point it’s like the person dying.
-Can life be pain?
-Is your imagination alive?

This, from eight year-olds. Friends, the world is in good hands.

A Thing of Wonder

December 8, 2020

Today I saw an owl.

It glided over and lit in my next-door neighbor’s tree just as I was returning from a walk at dusk. There it sat, easily a foot tall and several inches across.

It was a thing of wonder.

It sat long enough for me to walk through the front door of my house.
Long enough for me to shout to my boys, “Guys! There’s an OWL!”
Long enough for them to ignore me.
Long enough for me to quietly slip out the back to get a better look.
Long enough for me to slip back in for a flashlight to see better.
Long enough for me to turn that flashlight on and

Remind me that
A thing of wonder does not need me to
Stop in my tracks
Take a moment
Catch my breath
Stare in awe
Take a picture

Wonder will be wonder,
Whether or not
We bear witness.