Saturday, November 14, 2015

I Just Can't Stop Smiling

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About 9:30 yesterday morning a Facebook message put a smile on my face and a happy tear in my eye. I haven't stopped smiling since. I'm not trying to be cryptic, but it's not my story to share, not really. So I'll keep my mouth shut, my keyboarding fingers quiet, a smile on my face and wait til it's OK to share. 

But after that good news, the day just kept getting better.

I finished grading my Creative Writing students' Digital Storytelling projects. Wow. Most of the kids did an amazing job. Some are heartbreaking. Some are disturbing.  And I'm not going to sugarcoat it, some are awful.  Well, not awful really. They just didn't spend the time on the assignment that it required, and what they ended up with was just incomplete. I'm sharing out more of them on our Facebook page and through Twitter #CWFierce if you'd like to see some more.

Here's one of my favorites:

Then I got home and checked my personal email. A letter for Chloe from Sam and a note from Ruth made my smile even bigger.  We're finally going to meet face to face! At NCTE! Next week! For Lunch! Ruth is one of my bucket list people, you know. I feel like we've been great friends for awhile, we just haven't sat down face to face.  And if meeting Ruth is anything like meeting Christy, well, we'll talk like we've known each other forever!

There are others on my bucket list also--and I've started connecting with them through Twitter and Facebook. I hope I have enough time to go to sessions!

NCTE.  It's this coming week, you know. And this old,  experienced teacher is going to be attending her very first one.  Sometimes, it seems like a waste for me to attend. I've only a year or two left before I retire. Maybe someone else should go. But then I think how much it excites me just to think about it and I know that this experience will rejuvenate me.  So I'll be spending the next few days scouring the program, scratching down sessions, crossing them off, scratching down new ones and waiting impatiently for the app to be released.

I've got my list of things to pack. I've extra boxes in the car to bring books home. I've got a rolling bag to drag through the convention (though that may be overkill). I've got the author signing list in my folder, books to take for the swap on Sunday, comfortable shoes (and I am shopping today just in case I need some new ones). I've read all the blogs I've found for navigating NCTE. Followed advice on Twitter. I am ready.

Can it be Thursday already?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Making Writing Fun Again

I've learned something in the last few years of teaching Creative Writing. High school students don't think writing is fun. According to their writing autobiographies, writing in school is dull and lifeless and done only according to teacher directions. No voice. No choice. No fun.

Sometimes, I forget that too.

This week was conference week and a great time to remind us all that writing is fun, creative and doable. These activities I used with my juniors and seniors and also with my eighth graders, who will also be writing fiction stories.  I have to say, the eighth graders are waaayyyy more excited about writing stories than the high schoolers are.

Monday we all wrote from picture prompts. I've been pinning these great pictures for awhile now and have used them in class several times. Kids get done with this assignment and always say, "That was fun."  The premise is simple. Students work in groups of three. They are given a picture with these directions:

WRITER #1: Tell the story about what was happening when this picture was taken
WRITER #2: Add to the first writer's story. 
WRITER #3: Share your thoughts or the life lesson. 
WRITER #1: Read the story. Edit and revise it for clarity. Give it a title. 
The idea and the questions aren't mine (as soon as I find the originator again, I'll be sure to credit!)

I give each writer three minutes and then they pass. When we've gone through the directions, it's time to share. And guess what? My high schoolers stand up in front of the class and read their writing! That's HUGE in my room.  So did my eighth graders, but it's not quite as big a deal with them :)

On Tuesday, my Creative Writing students wrote pass around stories in groups of five to seven (8th graders did this Wednesday). I gave them a story starter prompt (again, found some online), a sheet of paper and a clipboard.  Each student wrote one sentence and then kept passing the clipboard around for fifteen or twenty minutes. The eighth graders were so excited about these that one group acted theirs out!

Thursday was our last day of the week and my high school kids needed the period to share their digital storytelling projects with me, but the eighth graders wrote partner stories with Story Cubes. There are lots of ways to use Story Cubes, but I just rolled the dice and asked kids to write a story, trying to use all the images on the dice. The way this activity went, I'm pretty sure they will beg to finish them on Monday.

This all seems so simple as I write it that I'm not sure I should even share this post. But it's such a celebration of writing fun in a high school writing class that I just had to. If you had been there and seen the smiles, heard the laughter, you'd be celebrating too! 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Celebrating Friendship Through The Tears

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Our Sandbar gang last weekend. A getaway planned before cancer struck. A getaway continued so we could share our strength with friends who need all they can get right now.

My sister, the survivor, is in white. These are her cronies, to whom I will always be indebted. They loved and took care of my sister when I couldn't be there.

You don't see them looking at these pictures, but tears have been shed lately.
Lots of tears.
Because cancer sucks.

The last year has been tough. My baby sister (God, she'll hate that) was diagnosed with colon cancer last winter. A grapefruit sized tumor was found. But rounds of chemo and radiation shrunk that tumor to nothing and surgery was successful. As she finishes her last rounds of post surgery chemo, we have lots to celebrate.  She is a survivor.

Her group of friends, the "Cronies" as they call themselves, have been amazing. They are her strength. They keep her smiling through it all. They are her other family. I love them for that.

A couple of weeks ago, our dear friend, Tom, my "other husband"  (the guy in the middle of the top picture) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He's got a tough road ahead. We all know it. But we celebrate that it was found earlier than most. That he has a gifted medical team, who are doing everything they can to beat this thing. 

Yes. Cancer sucks.
But cancer can't take away friends and family who love you. 

No matter what.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why I Write

I often tell students that I don't remember not reading.  Well, when I think about it, I don't really remember not writing either. I've always loved putting pen to paper (Flair markers, thank you. Black or Brown are my favorite colors).  And I am a paper and pen kind of person...I love my computer and I love writing blog posts and connecting online, but when I really need to write, paper and pen are my go-to supplies.

When I need to sort out emotions, I write.  I look back into some notebooks and am amazed at the feelings that explode from them. I don't always remember the catalyst behind the page, but usually I do. Because it was important enough to write about.

I write to remember and reflecty.  Oh, I write the usual to-do lists. There's a certain satisfaction in drawing a line through those to-dos. But the most important remembers that I write are those things I want to go back and savor again.  Special moments. Special people. Special emotions.  They need to be saved and brought back out again in moments of despair or crisis.

I write for fun.  I love playing with words and styles. I try out poetry. I write in my dog's voice (Hence the title, Coffee With Chloe), I write with my students (how can I assign something I haven't tried myself?).

I write to share. I share my writing with students. I write in front of them and I provide mentor texts. I share my blog with others online. Not because I think I'm so wonderful, but because writing about my experiences allows me to connect with others and we create shared experiences.

I write because it's part of who I am.
I wouldn't be me.
I wouldn't know me,
if I didn't write.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Small Moments

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when your world seems to be
in around you

when the universe 
throws so much at you that 
your JOY,
your ALOHA,
can't BALANCE things out,

you need to relish 
the small moments.

Beautiful morning mists 
hovering just above the corn

Unexpected gifts
just because they thought of you

Sharing the unshareable
with those who do not judge.

Facebook family messages
that make us laugh and smile
through tears for others.

These small moments
remind us how 
we are for those who have
come into our life.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

No One Ever Told Me

I spent some time thinking this past Banned Book Week  how lucky I've been when it comes to books and reading...

No one ever told me I couldn't read Gone With The Wind at twelve because it was inappropriate or too old for me, or that it wasn't good literature. When I began to read it, both my mom and grandmother were excited that I was trying a book they both loved. I talked about it with both of them. Shared my thoughts, talked about Scarlett's good points, cried when Mellie died. It didn't scarred me, because I have read it 25 times and get something new out of it with each read.

I grew up in a family of readers, each with their own preferences that they shared with me. Grandma read True Story magazine, Grandpa read the newspaper.

My mom and dad always had books going and a pile that was waiting to be read.

My dad loved the grand historical novels of Herman Wouck and James Michner. Those led me to Steinbeck, whom I loved. I was never assigned his books in school (well, college maybe), but when I discovered him in the library, I read everything he wrote. Still today, I love the possibilities and new worlds that big thick books offer.

Mom loved what we called "trashy novels", those romantic, often historical novels by authors whose names I no longer remember. I often looked up the historical facts I found in those novels, just to make sure they were true. I think I learned more history as a result of reading those books than I ever did in school.  I loved them. Today, I have my students do a mini research of a time period before we read books like Fahrenheit 451  or Night. It's important to put things in context.

Mom also loved the gothic novels of Victoria Holt. And without that introduction I would not have found Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.... a canon book for me. And the spookiness of that is I'm sure what led me to Stephen King, an author I can't get enough of (and he writes BIG books, which satisfies that passion).

And all that freedom in my own reading as a kid carried through when I began teaching. It never occurred to me to give anything but choice to my students.

When I began my classroom library, no one told me I had to have the books approved. There was no lengthy process to go through to get approval for a book. If I found value in it, in the library it went. I've been trusted as an educator, as a reader, to choose the books my students have access to.

I'm so lucky that no one ever told me what books to read and buy.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Discover. Play. Build.

I think sometimes the lake pulls out all the stops at the end of the season, creating beautiful sunrises and sunsets just to remind us what we will miss when we close for the season. I'm just going to sit here awhile longer this morning sipping my coffee and enjoying the view.

I'm celebrating writing again. Inspiration seems to be finding me :)  I wrote yesterday about books I wouldn't have read if I didn't have a classroom library.  I kept trying to fit in all the books that I loved that I wouldn't have read, but there were just too many of them. I do know that they all started with Harry Potter.  I love that this year, one of my eighth graders started the series. She loves them and it's fun to watch someone experience them for the first time (and there's another celebration).

I've been sharing celebrations with students, staff and community through a new Facebook page, A Day in Room 25.  I love taking kids pictures and sharing out their work.  I'm getting a lot of "Mrs. Day, you should share that!" Or "Mrs. Day, are you going to put that on Facebook?"  I want it to be a little more interactive, but we have a good start.

I'm getting ready for NCTE.  I keep looking through the sessions and changing my mind about what I want to do. Except for one. The High School Matters session with Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher and Carol Jago is a must.  Seeing all three of these master teachers together will be worth the price of admission!

Other celebrations this morning---

  • flavored coffee and snuggly blankets
  • electric blankets (it is chilly at the lake!)
  • good books (I'm reading The Death of Bees. Strong voice in this one)
  • Chloe snuggles
  • soup
  • the crispness of a fall day
  • crunchy leaves
  • sunrise
  • students who really write
  • and read
Do you have celebrations to share?  Check out Ruth Ayre's site and share along with us!