The day after school let out I left on a road trip to Maine to participate in one of the most enjoyable PD experiences I've ever had! If you have the chance to attend Heinemann's Boothbay Literacy Retreat, do it! It is truly a community of learners on all levels with the faculty and speakers participating in and enjoying the experience as much as you are. Often they are at the table with you. Having Penny Kittle sit down to learn with you is a fabulous experience!
I need to write this post to consolidate the immense amount of learning I have done & process it from my point of view & my place in my teaching, so I can use it next year. I'm thinking of this post as my handful of knowledge from Boothbay, which focuses on the importance of Voice & Choice to Create Engagement. Here's what I took away from these five inspirational teachers.
I'm so lucky! Not only do I have a job I love, I am a half time librarian and a grade 7 langauge teacher where I get to run Readers' Workshop out of my library, but I have a family and community, home and profession that supports me.
That's why today's post is special for me. It has only come about because of my husband who organized care for my children and my school which personally gave me a portion of the funds so I could come to the 8th Annual Boothbay Retreat in Maine, sponsored by Heinemann Publishing. I'm here to soak up knowledge and do some writing of my own!
Yesterday morning at the Thinking-as-a-Writer session run by Linda Rief, (Yes, that Linda Rief!) I completed three QuickWrites and was sent off to find what surprised me. A couple of mine were on topics I usually touch on, but one surprised me. When I had the time, I continued writing. I do love that about writing and I try to tell my students about the phenomena. My hand seems to know more about what is going on in my head than my head does! My daughter just turned twelve last week and although I am proud of her and happy for her, I'm sad that growing up has to happen so quickly!
Last night Naomi Shihab Nye, (Yes, that Naomi Shihab Nye! You can't believe how funny she is! You will believe how grounded, insightful and human she is.) said we should send our poetry out into the world, so I will, although it still needs much revising.
Twelve By Stefanie Cole
Do you remember when it poured rain, causing shrieks, fears and questions about tornados? We went out, on the front porch, sheets of rain, a wall from the overfilled toughs flooding the base of the uneven sidewalk stones. A fast storm. In and out. Do you remember taking off you shoes and dancing deep in storm remnants Soaking wet, eyes glowing, no fear? That was being a mother
You won’t remember the late nights, Rocking chair, lights off. You in my arms, Sweet smell, dark hair Rocking by the glow of the street light through the seasons Light changing from soft green to stark white, last leaf falling, then sparkles reflecting off of icy branches. That was being a mother.
You will remember: Lunch in bags! Where’s your shoes? Screen time’s over! Not, just a minute! Use your utensils Must you? That is being a mother too. Sometimes eternally, Day in and day out.
I know it’s coming, At one point, you won’t be able to look at me without cringing. Everything I do will be wrong, Embarrassing! How could you come from me? How could I possibly know your life? That, painfully, is also being a mother.
I know we’ll argue, with laughter About the times when… I know you’ll remember wrong, saying it’s my memory that hasn’t got it right But we’ll both be wrong, And we’ll both be right. As we interpret out lives In the mirror of each other Forever, Your Mother
One of my favourite books on the craft of writing is Stephen King's On Writing. Not only is he interesting and quote-worthy, but he just gives a lot of solid advice.
One of my favourites is his explanation of his writing process. He writes out that first draft quickly, puts it in a drawer and let it mellow before he returns to it. I wish I had known this in high school & university. Often I was tired of my essay after all that time, so I reviewed it a few times after the first draft and handed it in. If I had been organized enough and had done this one simple act, I could have written better, seen the holes in my arguments and found those grammar mistakes that my brain auto-corrected for me.
In a routine interview with a parent last week, we found out that a great student was being harassed in-class and potentially over social media due to a break-up in a group project.
We talked to the parent to see if we could get some evidence of the social media piece. She couldn't for a couple of valid reasons but one was that the posts disappear over time and are entirely anonymous. She mentioned a newish social media app entitled Yik Yak, so I looked into it.
The point of the App is to have a direct feed of all the people on Yik Yak who are in a 1.5 mile radius around you and as the advertisements say, there are, "No profiles, no passwords, it's all anonymous."
I was privileged to hear Dennis Lee share poems from his new collection of poetry, Melvis and Elvis, last Monday at Reading For The Love Of It 2015. I love Dennis Lee's poetry and always have. His sense of rhythm mixed with his poet-philosopher outlook have always produced fun poetry that digs into the truths of life and being. That is a pretty big statement, but it's true for me.
When I was young, my book Aunt gave me Nicholas Knock and Other People and I read it innumberable times. In university when discussing rhythm in Oral Narrative, I shared Nicholas Knock with my class and when I'm out biking, even today, I still hear,
Nicholas Knock was a venturesome boy. He lived at number eight. He went for walks in the universe and generally got home late.
reverberating around my head to the rhythm of my pumping legs. That poem has never left me.
Word whip out his mouth, her mouth Who do they slice? Where do they tear? "Just a joke, Ms. Cole, I swear," eyes wide.
Direct hit pain resides It was quick. It could slide. "Just a joke, Ms. Cole," from the inside group.
A joke should be funny A joke should include all. If it excludes, causes pain "Is it a joke after all?" Where does your excuse fall d o w n ? S. Cole
I've always loved poetry, especially free verse and this year my class has been exposed to and some have read, in their independent reading, Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming, Kwame Alexander's The Crossover, Sharon Creech's Heartbeat and now Meg Kearney's The Secret of Me. They are liking them and I'm so pleased they are enjoying poetry.
Although I love all these books I've been exposed to this year, I'm learning from Meg's The Secret of Me. She entertains and then teaches through her Guide to This Book's Poetics located in the back. After reading a fabulous book I get to read about the different types of poems she's written. She explains the elements and tells you which poems to flip to for examples.
I want my students to know that the decisions writers make are delibrate. With this poem I've followed recommendations on Free Verse & created my own structure of 7 smallish lines. I've repeated the just a joke line as I've heard it too many times and it is the main idea of the poem. I've also tried to add an enjambment at the end because I like the impression they provide.
Excerpts from The Secret of Me's Guide To This Book's Poetics
I'm going to create a poster to show my students how I used Meg Kearney and the knowledge of format elements to help me improve my writing and how they can use authors and their posters to understand more deeply what they are writing and how to write it. Thanks Meg for the inspiration!
I like this planning sheet because it illustrates many aspects of our curriculum and acknowledges many aspects of the writing process. Form, main message, conventions and those literary devices we explore. It is always overwhelming for them when they first start to write though. Hopefully this will make it easier for me
First of all, thank you to #TeachersWrite. You motivate me and give me enough structure to take ideas and play with them. The structure makes me write and the feedback...lined with knowledge...makes me feel like I'm not writing in a vacuum and want to continue. Hopefully this knowledge and joy transfers to my class, so I can give those students who want to play with stories and spark and those who don't, the discovery that good things can come out of your brain when you actually sit and write.
Another connection is I saw an amazing image on Twitter yesterday, so I saved it. It is the culmination of what good PD does. Good PD inspires you to think, process your new information and figure out how to act on it. I love it!
Here is me processing something I just learned through the free PD of #TeachersWrite:
You Can Write in Scenes!
This year I read Lynda Mulally Hunt's One for the Murphys and I was amazed at how smart she must be to craft her book almost poetically and for a whole whack of other reasons I won't get into here, but you should read One for the Murphys. It is amazing.
Much to my delight she is one of the #TeachersWrite guest authors for the Summer of 2014 and when I read her guest post on Kate Messner's website, her structure made sense to me. She writes in scenes.
When I write a book I write the first two chapters and then I write the last chapter. All the middle chapters are written out of order. I don’t plan it that way—it comes to me that way. While I’m in the kitchen making coffee I have no idea what will leak out of my fingers that day.
She also wrote, "Thing was, characters dropped into me. I’d imagine things that would happen to them almost as if coming back to me as a memory. So, I started taking notes. Soon, those notes became scenes."
This was a revelation to me. I figured you had to write a story from the beginning to the end. I am currently trying to write a story that ties together my childhood memories of my pet chicken and my obsession with UFOs. I had written a draft and returned to it this summer. When I reread it, the story I thought I had finished turned out to be a bit of the story with an ending tacked on. I love the fresh eyes that come from leaving a piece for a while. Stephen King's On Writing helped me discover that one.
In Class Scene Applications One of the aha's that came to me from reading Lynda's post was that my students don't have to write full stories. We can come up with characters. We can find stories and their underlying emotions. We can study Mentor Texts looking for a mix of dialogue; reflection, and action; sensory writing; or whatever literary devices we need to explore. We can experiment with different formats including and beyond memoir, fiction and script writing. We can embed it into Quick Writes. We can play with point of view and it doesn't have to be a two month unit of study. We can write a scene, or two or three...
With such a visual society, why not imagine a scene and flesh it out. I can see a couple of benefits for me. First, I will have a lot less intensive reading when I have 30 students next year and, secondly, students who are serious can stash their writing away, explore it throughout the year and, hopefully, come back to it when they are ready for it. A student could focus on one piece off and on for an entire year, and some could just play with topics they love that can differ from day to day.
My Own Application So I tried it. A scene I wanted to be in my story dropped into my head. I have a number of other scenes that circle this one, but here is the entirely fictional account of brother and sister duo, Hannah and Adam, sneaking out to try to get photos of the UFO they've glimpsed a couple times over the last few months.
Within the parameters of #TeachersWrite we are allowed to post three to five paragraphs on Fridays for feedback and the feedback I received was valid for the five paragraphs. I think reading the whole scene provides the details and answers the questions that arose in the readers' head during their readings.
So here it is:
The glow from Adam’s digital watch lit up parts of his face a ghastly green. “It’s ten-thirty and their lights been out for a while. I think we’re safe to go out now.”
“Adam, this is ridiculous. What are we even looking for?.” I sighed. “Do you think an alien ship is going to pop out of the sky with a sign saying take my picture now!”
“Braaaawck! Braa, Braa..” Adam started with his annoying chicken imitation…again.
“Stop it.” I snapped at him.
“Come on, Hannah. If we don’t go, nothing will happen. It could be exciting. We could...”
“Enough.” I cut him off before he could make up something else my mind didn’t need to focus on. “Okay, let’s make a plan first though. I don’t want to just wander around the yard, making noise and getting caught.”
“Okay…a plan. Where have we seen the UFO before?”
“We’ve seen it behind the barn and up above the barn, so far. So let’s explore around the barn. Maybe we can go down to the back field. That way, we’ll be away from the house, at least.”
“Let’s go. I’ve the flashlight.”
“Where’s the camera?” I asked.
“Over on the table. You grab it. I can’t handle both.”
I hung the camera around my neck. Other than that we’d been ready for a while now, so I slowly opened the metal door to the trailer. Nothing odd was there. Again, there was just the bugs around the back porch light and a couple bats doing their dance around the poplars lining the back yard to big maple tree in the centre. There was also a full moon. We wouldn’t need the flashlight much after all. We stepped down and walked towards the barn yard gate, not talking, just taking quick peeks at each other. We were actually doing this.
“Open or climb?” Adam whispered.
It was a long metal gate with a chain hooked around the fence post. “Climb. I’ll hold it steady. It’ll make less noise that way.” The fact that not opening the gate meant we wouldn’t forget to close it was kindly left unsaid. Large dark spots with no moonlight reflected meant large cow patties left by Rosie and her calf and were easy to avoid. A patty bombed shoe could be a dead giveaway that our night in the trailer had been more than just that.
We made our way past the apple tree, barn and manure pile, up the fence-line to the creek and trees that divided our two fields with some stumbling and giggling. We’d taken the fence-line since the ground was flat there without the hay furrows. If you squinted just right the path up the side of the field almost glowed in the light of the night sky.
It felt different when we reached the cover of the trees. There were shadows and places to hide. Adam turned on his flashlight. “Turn it off.” I said. He swung around and my eyes followed the light trail. A pair of glowing red eyes reflected at us from under the brush. “Adam, turn it off.” I knew it was a rabbit or fox. I’d seen their eyes glow red in the winter when they ate the shrubs around the front of the house.
The noise in the trees was louder too. There was the gurgling of the creek and the rustling of leaves. Adam turned off the flashlight and walked away, when his foot caught. He tripped into the brush, sounding like he was bringing the forest down with him.
Suddenly, a small, round, white object, glowing slightly in the moonlight, erupted with a squawk from below him, floating erratically down the creek side.
“Camera!” Adam yelled from the bush. “Camera!”
I took off, branches breaking under my feet and snapped random photos,hoping to capture one of the escaping object. The glowing object disappeared from my view, as the bright light of the flash was blinding. My eyes had no time to adjust. I had probably clicked the button eight times when my foot caught something hard. I felt myself hurtling down, while managing to think, ‘Camera. Save the camera.” Time slowed as I twisted myself, holding the camera high in the air, just before landing butt first in the creek. Luckily, it was neither deep nor wide. My body was in the creek and my head firmly planted in the mud bank on the other side.
“Need a hand?” Adam smirked after wrangling out of the bush.
“I don’t think you’re much better.”
“Did you get a picture?”
“How would I know? Do you think mini low-flying spaceship? Did you hear it though?” A thought was percolating in my mind. “I swear it sounded chicken-like.”
“I couldn’t hear anything with all the sound you were making!”
Me! You were the one..” I paused. “You know, we have a bigger problem than that right now. In fact, we have two.”
“How are we going to get cleaned up and get the pictures developed? “
We headed back, wet, dirty and scraped. Luckily we had pajamas in the trailer. “Okay. The film is easy. We’ve got another roll. We were at picture twelve on the first roll. So we’ll just take eleven photos with the cover on so Mom will thinks the camera was messed. Next time we’re in Northover, you and I will ask to go up to the candy store and drop the film by the Qwick Photo for one hour developing.”
“No wonder you get away with so much. How do you think of all that? What about the clothes?”
“Can you make Mom believe you have a sudden interest in laundry, Hannah?”
One scene. A ton of fun for me! Thank you #TeachersWrite. I feel like another piece of the puzzle of my story and of the teaching of writing was put in place.
I'm a Teacher Librarian and Grade 7 Language Teacher. I'm using this forum support my addiction to Twitter and the amazing #PLN group I get to learn from & with! This is my spot to share ideas, inspirations and writing. With three children and all that that entails, morning is my time to do this. A cup of coffee . . . my necessity!
Many thanks to these forums which inspire, educate and promote collaboration & communication!