Posts Tagged ‘reading’

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. The most interesting discussion came from those grey areas: a flower in a vase, a turtle in the egg, an apple 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.

Teacher Life, Exhibit P

October 3, 2020

Scene: Indiana Dunes State Park. I’m hiking with my husband. It’s a cool, crisp early autumn day, the wind is at our backs, and we have the place to ourselves. The only sounds in my ears are the crashing of waves, the crush of hiking boots on sand, and the echo of my thoughts. It’s the perfect space for spiritual reflection, for connecting to the universe.

Me, lost in thought: Hey!

Husband: What?

Me: I just thought of a really cool lesson idea using just the first chapters of a bunch of novels.

Husband: Do you ever stop working?

Me: …

So…no. The answer is no. There will always be something that gets me started. I might be thinking about that one kid. Or a book line that makes me think about a lesson I’ve taught. Or a blog post that I need to share with some loveys.

Or. or. or.

Stepping Back Up to the Soapbox

September 15, 2020

I have a lot of soapboxes to stand on when it comes to education.

I mean…c’mon. Just look at the name of my site.

from Etsy.com

It’s easy to get riled up about things when you feel as passionately I do about teaching, when you have as much faith in public schooling as I do.

One of my soapboxes is storytelling. It’s an incredible medium for sharing text that we don’t give enough credit to. People, the number of things that happen in our brains, big or small, when we hear a story being told? You could track the research here, or here, or here, or…

Aaaugh, I’m doing it again! All right, Lainie. Inhale. Exhale.

Now.

One of my storytelling soapboxes? Using storytelling as a way of crafting narrative. The way I put it is this. Our brains our lightning fast, like cheetahs. Our hands are super slow, like turtles.

When we ask children to write, we tell the cheetah and the turtle to keep the same pace.

No wonder so many kids struggle.

Oral language is that bridge, and it links our thoughts and words together in a manageable way. Think of it this way – how often do you have to talk through a problem to find a solution for it?

Through storytelling, writers at all stages of readiness understand that they hold the power of composition, even if their handwriting or typing skills don’t yet demonstrate it.

And yet oral language largely goes ignored at school, despite the fact that it’s one of the most powerful tools we have.

It’s why I had such a WIN when, a few years ago, I was able to bring a storytelling unit to one of the grades I work with. I crossed my fingers and hoped it would be in good hands with my colleagues.

Boy was it ever. I got the most amazing affirmation of my efforts in a planning meeting today, as teachers discussed their upcoming unit on personal narrative. Here are a few highlights…

Me: This might be a place where storyboarding would be great. It would help your writers use oral language to draft and organize your thoughts.

Them: Oh, we already do that!

Me: I find it helpful to sketch the first and last squares of the storyboard, then fill the action in between to build the story.

Them: Oh, we already do that! You taught us that.

Me: One trick for kids working on dialogue is to make quick puppets out of pencils and let them play with the characters.

Them: Oh, we already do that! That’s what you taught us.

Me: … (smiles inwardly, shuffles feet) …

What do I love best about these exchanges?
1. I love to learn and grow. I feel lucky to see colleagues do the same.
2. It’s affirming to know that things I see as good teaching…ARE.
3. I love making myself obsolete because others have pushed forward.

…I’d probably better stop before I get on another soapbox. Like I said, it’s easy to get riled up about things when you feel as passionately as I do…

Poetry, Found

February 25, 2020

If you had asked me today whether or not writing poetry should be on my to-do list, I might have laughed at you. But knowing that the universe has a way of conspiring, and knowing that grocery list poetry is a thing in this world, I felt compelled. What I loved were the ways this poem unfolded and surprised me in ways I didn’t quite expect. Enjoy.

Poetry, Found

In the way-too-early morning,
In my hurry out the door
Obligations (too many for my own good)
Slung from my shoulders, my back –
I catch, among the rocks,
Someone’s grocery list
Delivered to my doorstep,
And I wonder:
-Whose list is this?
-Did they ever get their pancetta?
-Do they always cook like that?
-Or is it for company?
-And can I be invited?
-Is it true what they say, that there is poetry in lists?
-And why did this one find me?
-Did it blow out an open car window,
            On a warm February day,
            Unexpected?
-Did it slip from the wallet of a grown-up,
            Anxious to get going?
-Is anyone missing it?
-How do they know what they’ve got?
-How do they know what they need?
-And how many things
            Flutter away
            With no one to feel their loss?

-(c) Lainie Levin, Feb. 25, 2020

Exhibit Q, R, S

January 10, 2020

“So, Lainie. How do you know you’re working with gifted kids?”

I present to you an obituary for…wait for it…

an EXPO marker.

Note the many fine text features, accurately applied

People, I can’t make this stuff up.

Earlier this week, we read Leo Lionni’s obituary to learn more about him as an artist and as a person. To understand that text, we had to discuss what exactly an obituary is. It just so happened that day we had to deep-six an EXPO marker that had gone south.

Today, my kiddos surprised me with the above gem. What do I love so very much about this? How do I know my fourth graders have already won 2020?

For starters, they’re completely true to form. I mean, c’mon. After a single day of exposure, they included the ACTUAL TEXT FEATURES of an obit:

  • “Photos” of the deceased
  • *”Send flowers/Send a letter”
  • *Information about his life
  • *”He was survived by”

And did you catch the “skinny purple” adopted child?

Or maybe you’d like to see how the “funeral” went down:

Please note the crocodile tear sketched in to the photo

Or, if you are in our classroom, you’d like to visit poor Purple Expo’s grave:

Alas, Poor Expo! We knew him…

Days like these, I am immeasurably grateful for my students.

Know who else I’m grateful for?

Their homeroom teacher.

Their classroom teacher actually allowed all of these hijinks to take place, trusting her instincts that they were up to something interesting. She is the one who knew that even though the kids were a little noisy, even though the kids were a little giggly, even though the kids were a little silly, that they were up to something good.

We know they were.

And stuff like this is 100% worth the price of admission.

So Much for a Soft Landing

January 6, 2020

I meant to take it easy on my kiddos today. I really did. They’re just coming back from break, and I was fully prepared for a slow start to ease them back into big ideas, big thinking.

Photo Credit: Paul Cooper

It all started when I realized we needed to finish up our conversation about Dr. Seuss’s allegory Yertle the Turtle.* I asked the kids to discuss what Seuss was trying to say about the world through the story. You know…we need fewer Yertles and more Macks in this world. I thought it would be a five-minute wrap-up.

I thought wrong.

We started as a whole group but I quickly saw most kids had more to say than they were getting the chance to share. We used a partnering activity to encourage conversation.

What followed was astounding.

At the end of our time, I asked kids to reflect on a thought they’re feeling most strongly. Here’s a sampling:
*Do dictators realize it when they become a dictator? If they do, then why do they want to be one?
*If becoming a dictator is a transformation, how do these people not realize that they will be more accepted as a leader if they change their ways?
*Why do people get greedy in power and turn allies into enemies?
*Power is often built off of emotion.
*There needs to be someone who will say, “enough is enough.”
*Why does America not let as many refugees in, though they deserve it because it is dictators that force or drive them away?
*Are we (the United States) better than our others?
*Who is our friend? What don’t we know about our enemies?
*So far the world has never come up with a solution that gives us complete world peace. Human greed has made it so that many of the problems will be extremely hard to solve.
*Sometimes it feels like the people have no voice. They have to listen. And to me, it feels meaningful. I wonder why such terrible things must happen, and they keep going on. We can’t just live in peace. Why?

How on earth did a brief task develop into a discussion of dictators past and present, of power dynamics, of why those in power abuse it, of why citizens elect dictators in the first place, and of what we can do to notice and fight abuse of power?

It’s easier than you think.

Simply put, I noticed my children NEEDED to talk about these big ideas. They watch this world. They think about this world, and they have more to say about it than they (or the people around them) give them credit for. They just need someone to hear them out.

I don’t know quite exactly how we got to these places, but BOY am I grateful we took the detour.

So much perspective and wisdom wrapped up in the minds of ten- and eleven-year-olds. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

*YES, I do know how very problematic Dr. Seuss is, especially when juxtaposed with conversation around social issues. I promise we’ll get there =)

Steering My Craft: Sound of Words Part 2

July 31, 2019

This blog post is part of an effort to refine my own work as a writer. For each exercise, I’ll provide the directions, my effort, and a short reflection.

The Assignment: Write a(nother) passage that wants to be read aloud, this one dealing with a particular action, feeling, or emotion. Here’s where I landed:

Yes.
Please.
Thank you.
Tight words, terse voice, hunched shoulders, a tightrope walk of everyday actions and interactions carefully strung together: brow set, breath held, until-

Until alone, when the pin pricks begin, poking, pulling, needling, loosening, then unraveling the grief that has wrapped, spooled, tangled and knotted itself in and around her heart. She senses a slackening, and before she can catch the strings they have spun out and away, leaving her naked, open, in a shuddering, deepening darkness.

It is there she sits until she is ready to gather threads, knit herself back together and back into the world.

My Reflection: Grief always seems to follow me, nosing its way into my writing. Even though the topic itself is a weighty one, I had fun with this exercise, and I like how the imagery of knitting came up as I was working.

Steering My Craft: Exercise 1-The Sound of Words

July 28, 2019

This blog post is part of an effort to refine my own work as a writer. For each exercise, I’ll provide the directions, my effort, and a short reflection.

The Assignment: To craft a short passage that asks to be read aloud. The object is to have fun playing with words and their sounds. Here’s what I came up with:

She stepped off the ship and drank of the air. Not the polite, genteel sips of a carefully-poured glass of wine, but the deep, full-thirsted gulps of clear, teeth-chilling water. Filling her lungs full, fuller, fuller, she began to wonder when she had last truly breathed, or if she had truly breathed, or when her lungs had last known how joyous it was to quench their thirst. Or…had they ever?

My Reflection: I enjoyed this exercise, and I think I crafted a passage that uses the sound of language well. At least, I know that I can hear the words when I write them, and I do enjoy reading it aloud. Did I go so far as to play with words? Mmmm…I’m thinking I may have stopped short there. Perhaps I’ll revisit this one with more of a playful eye – and ear.