Sunday, October 19, 2014

5 Pics/1 Story: A Collaborative Effort

You know me and Twitter.  I love it. Follow great people. Try new ideas I find there.
That's what this post is about. It's full of links, so I hope you have the patience to check them out!

Two Iowa educators, Erin Olson and Leslie Pralle Keehn, who now work for one of the education agencies in our state, have started a Connecting Creativity Series. I'll let you check it out. There is a new activity every month, and I use these as a way to connect my students to students in other parts of the state.

This month's "assignment" is a 5 Photo Story. This one excited me because my Creative Writing students and I already do this in collaboration with our art teacher and her digital camera class.  This post will share how we go about creating this activity and even meet some common core standards!

STEP 1A (and beyond. Will try to have her write about what she does in class)
@Artteach13 talks with her students about telling stories with pictures. They need to take pictures to give a setting, characters, mood, etc.  They get about a week to take pictures. Once they have their pictures taken, they upload them to a google doc with numbered folders. @Artteach13 grades their photos separately from the story (although WHEN we are allowed to have our digital storytelling class, this will be one grade)

Meanwhile, over in Creative Writing....


This is the beginning of our fiction writing unit, so we spend a couple of days writing group stories from picture prompts I found on Pinterest (where else?):

My students have fun with these little writing "episodes" and there is no pressure. We share them out in class and talk about what it takes to write a story from a picture.

On Day 2 or 3, I send them to my website to work through tutorials on creating 5 Pic Stories. It includes sending them to a site dedicated to 5 Card Flickr Stories. On this site they can pick five pictures and write a practice story of their own. They also have the ability to share their story, so I have them email me the link. This is not a graded activity, but it is an expectation.

By this time, the digital camera class photos are uploaded to the google doc. My students have two more things to do: Read/look through @Artteach13's and my mentor text and watch the tutorial on using tackkboard. We post our stories to tackk, and the video shows them how to do it. (Our hashtag this year: #CHS5Photos14 Look for it after Monday.  Last year's photo stories are here)

My students have several class periods to draft/share/conference before their deadline. At first, they look at the pictures and think they can't possibly come up with a story. But you know what? Once they stare at them for awhile, talk about them for awhile, move them around for awhile, a story pops into their heads. And they write.

This is a fun collaborative project for our two classes. Do we have kids who don't get pictures done on time? Yep. Kids who don't get story done on time? Yep. But because they are collaborating with peers, no one wants to be that kid who doesn't do the work. It all gets done!

Our students (and ourselves, actually) are always surprised at how the stories turn out. The photographers had a story in mind when they took the pictures, but the writers can arrange the pictures however they want. Our kids have created some amazing stories. I hope you'll try this fun activity in your own class, either on your own or in collaboration with another.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Discover. Play. Build.

Sometimes, when I sit at the computer and get ready to write my celebrations, it's hard to think of what to write.

Either I have too many

Or I don't feel anything is worthy.

And sometimes, I let dumb things block the celebrations.

This is one of those weeks.

But as I sit here, snuggled in a blanket, schoolwork spread around me, coffee in hand, waiting for the football game to start, lots of celebrations come flooding into my head

  • Our IT department. I can't imagine how hard their job is. 2 people and LOTS of devices. We are a 1 to 1 district. Every student in kindergarten through 12th grade have a device of some kind. Keeping everyone up and running is a tough job.
  • I have an amazing principal. Even when I don't handle things in the best way, he's got my back. He has totally changed the culture at our high school by being a role model and leader. I am so blessed to work with him.
  • I'm home. You all know I LOVE the lake, our friends there, the peace and quiet, being close to the grandkids.... But there's no place like home. And now that we've closed for the season, I can get some things done here.  Home gets a little neglected during lake time :)
  • Alone time. My husband has been at his brother's house for a couple of days. It's given me time to get grades done (end of first quarter-where did the time go?). I really needed this time!  He'll be home later today and promised going out to dinner or takeout. 
  • YEA for not having to cook!
So a little less thoughtful this week, but still celebrating. 
How was your week?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Forgetting Aloha: Anger

I could feel it welling up
(Damn it all. Why do I cry when I'm angry?)

A semi-unprofessional email
for which I will apologize tomorrow
But it got the job done

Why does it have to go this far
Why do I have to get angry
Why do I have to ask three times for
Which should have been done a month ago

Tired of being part of the
Red-Headed step-child building
(I apologize for those I've offended with that remark)

Even now
hours later
I'm still angry
I had to take it this far

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Celebrating Student Voice

Discover. Play. Build.

After two days of state testing in Language, I explained to my #Crazy8s (8th graders taking 9th grade English) that we would be starting a personal narrative unit.

They moaned.


At 13 they are sick and tired of personal narratives.
I get it, but now what?
I know they are right. It's the go-to writing piece for everyone. I hate being lazy. My excuse is that I wanted to plan a new unit for them and doing something familiar would make that easier for me.

Shame on me.

Truth is. These are REALLY smart kids. Smarter than most I've had in advanced classes before and I'm struggling to challenge them, yet keep things fun.

So this weekend, our last at the lake, I am scrambling for new ideas.  (Any ideas appreciated)

But I'm still celebrating. The fact that 13 year olds speak up and let me know this is not an engaging lesson is GOOD. It's their education. They should speak up.

So I'll keep thinking.
This week has also been demonstration speech week. And if you've read my blog before you know I love this week. I've written about it before (although I can't find the posts right now).

As always, I learn a lot about students (and sometimes other staff members!)

Lots of drawing lessons and braiding lessons and gaming lessons
But I've also learned about the care and feeding of Royal Pythons (UGH!)

How to make a weed wacker bike. This was an amazing project done by this kid (Totally Unacceptable). He had to repeat my class and we still have issues, but as the para in my class said, "Why don't we have class like this for kids like this?"  
Yea, why don't we?

But the biggest celebration this week is for A. A tall thin young man, who seldom speaks above a whisper. He has a para who goes to every class with him. Speech class is his nightmare, his hell on earth. But it's required for graduation and we're doing our best to get him through the class. He has been doing his speeches just for me, out in the hall. Friday morning he came during his study hall to do his demonstration speech for me. He made a homemade lava lamp (pretty cool. He let me keep it in my room). At the end of his class later in the day, he put an Alka-Seltzer tablet in the bottle and showed a couple of kids how it worked.  Others noticed and liked his lamp.

It was a small, but important step for him.  And we celebrated!

And how was your week?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I Forgot

So caught up in the teaching of genres,
      in the teaching of the how and why and what
I forgot to make writing fun.

But they reminded me today
That everything doesn't have to be
        or polished
          or even finished.
They reminded me of how important sharing is
      Even if it's just a silly little piece
        or one great line
          or a title that says it all.

I forgot
      the hook
        the engagement
          the fun.

But they reminded me.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Discover. Play. Build.

This past week was Homecoming week in our district.  A week not only celebrated at our high school, but with our elementary and junior high as well. It is a crazy week of dressing up, selfie contests and and anticipation. For some it is easy to see negative behaviors and wasted class time, but for most of us, IT IS FUN.

Three little words that are so powerful.  I love you.  I've been saying them a lot this week--to students.  And I've been hearing those words a lot this week--from students. Kids drop in to talk, "Love you, Mrs. Day."

"Love you, too"

As I thought about it one night this week, it just made me smile.  Today, as I was looking through my quote board on Pinterest, I found this:

My students and I are creating quite the little community. We have a few "family" members who need to shape up, but most of us are taking care of each other in the classroom.  We're not perfect. Sometimes we lose our patience with others, sometimes we say things we shouldn't, sometimes we let things slide that we shouldn't. But mostly, we are getting it done.  And I do love my kids.....

This is my favorite picture of the week

When I asked him if was getting work done or if he was watching a movie or something, he immediately turned his computer around and showed me his work.  Never underestimate the power of putting yourself in the corner and getting a little work done!

And the last thing I am celebrating this week is a new friend, someone I know I can go to if I need to. She has joined @Artteach13 and I every Friday morning in a little project we have.  We are writing Happy Grams, for lack of a better term. Notes home celebrating something a student has done in the classroom or in school.  Not just the A students, but any kid who needs a boost.  It's been fun for us to meet and talk and write these notes.  We also decided that maybe they shouldn't be just for kids...there are a few adults who could use a boost also.  Here's to sharing celebrations!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Celebrate: Letting It Go

Discover. Play. Build.
Take a moment out of your day and CELEBRATE with us at Ruth Ayers Writes.
It's a great place to share!
Last weekend, instead of heading to the lake, my husband and I headed to small town a few miles from my hometown. For the first time since I was in elementary school (well, at least the first one I could get to since then) my mom's family had a family reunion. All of her living siblings and their kids showed up (well, the ones who live in state. We missed the California cousins.) .  It was amazing. It was fun. It brought me back to who I am and where I'm from.

It was the first, but it won't be the last.

The first two of four generations gathering together

Every semester in Drama, the first assignment is "Don't Be Boring". Kids can do anything they want in class and there is only one requirement...Don't Be Boring.  They are scared, nervous, and swear this is the worst assignment ever.


Something happens.

At some point in the weeks following, someone always asks, "Are we going to do Don't Be Boring again? "

So we do. Usually several times throughout the semester.

Friday was one of those times


We had such fun watching everyone perform that I don't think she realized that she was the only one they applauded. But she was. The only freshmen in a class mostly full of my contest speech kids. She stood in front of us and flat out told us that she doesn't sing well, but she loves this song. And then she pushed play and began to sing "Let it Go" from Frozen. 

And she's right. She doesn't sing well, but what she lacks in pitch, she makes up for in courage, passion and enthusiasm and belief in the song.  She stood in the center of our room and belted out it out.

Not one student laughed
or rolled their eyes
or made snide comments

And when she was finished, they applauded. Not polite claps. Not a smattering throughout the room. But LOUD applause.

I couldn't have been more proud of all of them....


One of my senior speech kids shared a "Where I'm From" poem that she wrote for a college class. She had shared it with me throughout the writing of it. I've taught this student since she was in seventh grade and she's an amazing writer.  She took a simple template and created a heartbreakingly beautiful piece about her mother and her.

The thing about this student is, she NEVER reads her poetry out loud. EVER.  She lets other people read it. She will share the written page. She just has never read it out loud, in her voice.

Ironically, in contest speech, she's does poetry--oral interpretation of poetry. I've convinced her, I think, to use this as her contest piece this year---her senior year. So Friday was the debut of her "Where I'm From". Kids sat there for a minute, shocked that she had written this piece. Her honesty and courage in sharing it will stay with me for awhile.

We took a break and danced with another student.

So I guess this week, I'm celebrating family. The one you are born into and the one you create for yourself.

How was your week?