Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Some Days Just Feel Right

Join other slicers at Two Writing Teachers every Tuesday.

Last week I presented mini lessons on writing children's books and poetry in class. Yesterday my 40 creative writing students shared their drafts. We share on Google Docs and I can then comment on them as I read their drafts. I would love to always conference with each of them, but the plain truth is, I simply can't get to everyone. By sharing on Google Docs, I can read and comment to all, and they can come to me if they want to talk more.

Last night, as I read and commented, I was simply amazed at the work they were sharing. Especially the poetry. That one genre that most kids--especially boys--think they can't write.  Boy, are they wrong!

The opening stanza from one young man's hunting poem--he revised this morning after reading comments and talking to me. Got rid of some extraneous words. Focused in on important details.


4:30 a.m
Blares in my ear
Morning chills run through my veins
Sitting in the woods, no sound to hear
Nothing to see but the steam from my breath

I love the line "Morning chills run through my veins". Even better, the last line of the poem (after he gets his deer)  "Excitement now running through my veins."

And how about this one:


Shades of yellows, oranges, reds
Capturing rays of sun illuminating our life.
Sunrises spread across the horizon filling the sky with breathtaking colors,
Shades of yellows, oranges, reds splashed across the sky.
Beautiful moments captured with a stroke of a brush.

Isn't it beautiful? Four stanzas of wonderful descriptions of color palettes. I told this student she should turn this into art work.

Athletes also find inspiration in their sport when it comes to writing poetry. This section of a poem by a swimmer is amazing to me. I can feel that burn and push to finish a race as I read it:

The burn in your legs is still there, but less noticeable.
The end is so close you can feel it.  
Energy dwindling.
A few yards to go.
Another gasp for air.
Give it your all.
Five yards left.
Kick, kick, kick.
Two yards left.
Don’t breath.
GO!!!

And even this one gave me a chuckle:

I’m suppose to write poetic
Its not working so well
Its more or less pathetic
I’m giving it my all
If i priced it, it wouldn’t sell
I don’t know what I’m doing
This class is so confusing
I need to learn how to write
I won’t go down
Not without a fight
Last chance to write this poem
I gave It all my might

I gave this one some templates of poetry to try and talked him through a few ideas. He'll get it.

The best part of the morning for me was talking to all these young writers about their pieces. We had great conversations. It helped that I was able to read their pieces the night before. And it helps that not everyone needed a face to face conference. They are so unsure of themselves when they first share. The smiles that appear on their faces as we finish talking are priceless. Their words--timeless.

Friday, January 27, 2012

How About a Little Cheese With That W(h)ine?


I got it. You hate to write. You enrolled in this class because the guidance department made you take another class and Drawing and Design was full.

I got it.

But do you really need to whine those words a million times a class period?

You whine about journal writing--even though I give you a topic to write about.
You whine when it's time to work on your draft--even though I gave you a topic to write about.
You whine when it's time to revise--even though I give you suggestions for revision.

You whine.

But you know what I think?

I think you are lazy. I think you don't want to think. I think that no matter what I say, you think Creative Writing should be a sluff class.

It's not.

In Creative Writing, WE WRITE  EVERY DAY.

Writing makes you think and feel and believe in something.  It strengthens brain muscles.
Writing helps you make sense of the world. It lets you explore the world around you.
Writing is joyful, and depressing, and illuminating. It is hard work.

There is no job out there where you will not have to write and communicate.  Suck it up and write.



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It Doesn't Mean You Can Teach

It's 1975 and I am a freshman in college. Like education majors everywhere, I have to take an Intro to Psych class. I'm excited about it really. Here's a class that  will actually relate to what I want to do with my life. I show up at 8:00am the first day of class.

In shuffles my professor.  A wizened man of indeterminate age.  Tufts of hair stand out at all angles (I see it gray in my memory, but the yearbook shows me differently) and he speaks to us in a thick Austrian accent ( I didn't know what accent at first, I just knew he was hard to understand). This is my psychology professor, Professor W.

Professor W tells us we will not be using the introductory psych book, instead, we will be using his textbook and learning a new language he has developed. Learning to speak "Aui" will allow us to communicate with extra-terrestrials when they arrive on Earth.  Mind you, this is a few years before E.T  or Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

He gives us a pretest.

I score  the highest score in my class, missing only one.

Really.

I go to class every day for a few weeks.  He shares his life at times. He grew up in the Austrian court before "the war" because his father was the tutor to the royal children.  He went to prestigious schools and traveled the world.

The man was a genius. He quoted Shakespeare, recited chemistry equations, spoke several languages fluently, and expected the same of us.  He was quite disgusted one day to find that we didn't know all that he did.

But he couldn't teach.

He also couldn't find his way out of a paper bag.  In the winter, some would take his well worn path in the snow around a tree, which he would follow for a very long time before he figured out he wasn't going anywhere. He forgot his family in a large city about an hour away. He was the classic absent-minded professor. According to our governor's education plan, he would be a great candidate for the teacher education programs in the state of Iowa.

I, however, wouldn't.

Having a 3.0 doesn't mean you will automatically be a good teacher. It mostly means you play the school game well.

  • It means you can regurgitate volumes of information. 
  • It means you can recite vocabulary words.
  • It means you can fill in the mad minutes sheet.
  • It means you can diagram a sentence.
  • It means you can take a test and fill in the bubbles.
It doesn't mean you can teach.




Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Start of a Great Day

What's the bus doing here so early? Wasn't he told I didn't need him here until 8:45?


It's Saturday. Contest day. A snowstorm delayed the start for two hours, but otherwise, everything's a go.

I better go tell him the kids won't be here for awhile and we're not leaving until 9, in case he wants to go get coffee or something.


I walk out into the cold and head to the bus. Brian lets me on with a smile.

"I wondered why there was no one here.  I'll be fine though. I already have coffee and this will give the bus time to warm up."

I head back to the building, making a list in my head of the last minute details I need to take care of.

MY KEYS! CRAP!


Remember, it's Saturday morning after a snowstorm.

I look around. There are cars and pick-ups down by the locker room entrance--maybe there are some wrestlers running around to let me in.

I pound on the door. No answer.

I walk around to the back entrance by the superintendent's door and the back door to the high school. I pound on both to no avail. I am really locked out.

My purse.
My car keys.
My cell phone.
All locked up with my school keys.

Great.

I walk back around to the front, happy that students will be arriving. I have a plan. One of them can drive down to a fellow teacher's house and get her keys. Problem solved.

Except she doesn't answer her phone and no one answers her door.

Great.

Kids keep jumping out of cars, excited and ready for the day. Except one, who I'm told, seems to be having car trouble.

"Go and get him," I tell one young man. He races off to help his friend.

"Would Bill have a key?" Brian asks.

I look out at the parking lot and see that one of our custodians is plowing the parking lot.

"Yea, he would," I say as the big blue snowplow heads towards the garage

"I'll chase him down and see if he has one." And off Brian drives, with most of my kids on the bus, chasing after the big blue snowplow.

More kids arrive, confused as they see the bus pull away and me standing in front of the school.

I explain the situation as the bus comes back, followed by the big blue snowplow.

Hurray!  


Some of the kids and I race down to my room to gather all our props and scripts and ballots and ...well, all that "stuff" needed for the day. Others grab my bags off the table and head toward the bus.

Thanks to my two heroes and a couple dozen great kids, everything and everyone was on the bus and we pulled out five minutes ahead of schedule.

The start of a terrific day....






Here's another little video I found online. Again, it has nothing to do with my post--I just like it!  When we get our digital storytelling class going, this will be an assignment...



Monday, January 23, 2012

Wings to the World

Thanks to Storykeeper, I discovered Every Day Poems on Facebook!  And on the web. And on Twitter. And for $0.99, you can subscribe to them and get emails every day!  I'm a little excited, can't you tell?


Anyway...

Yesterday's photo of inspiration



Wings To The World

I hope to give you wings
to soar above the world
spreading your message 
of passion, enthusiasm,
and love.

I hope to give you wings
to fly through the world
finding those who validate you
and 
support your dreams.

I hope to give you wings
so 
you may sail through the 
troubled times you experience 
and
rise above them.

I hope to give you wings
so
you may flit and float and flutter
for 
fun
without worrying what the fun-haters think.

I hope to give you wings.


Friday, January 20, 2012

He Loves Me

My husband and I aren't the lovey, dovey, gag me kind of couple.  Never have been. But, I know he loves me.

  • He turns off the bedroom TV when I fall asleep in front of it.
  • When people call after 9, he tells them I'm in bed ('cause I usually am!)
  • He tells them I'm busy when they call  on Sunday bath nights
  • He calls and says, "How about we order out tonight?"
  • He cooks.
  • He "lets"  me stay at the lake most of the summer while he has to go home to work.
  • He defends teachers--especially to the "Must be nice to be off at 4" or "Must be nice to have the summer off" people.  

District speech contest is this weekend, so as always, he was going to go and visit his brother tonight.  He hates to stay home alone.  But with a  snowstorm coming, he probably wouldn't have made it today, so he went last night.

When I got home late from school, the outside light was on so I could see, the shovel was pulled across the cement in front of the house--over the ice patch that has formed, and the kitchen light was on.

But what made me chuckle was the note on the fridge board. I guess he thought I wouldn't notice these things...

Deb
Walk along the fence.
Big ice patch has formed from faucet.
Out of milk soon.
Love,
Greg

Even when he's gone, he's here and taking care of me.  That's love.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Twas the Weeks Before State Visit...."


'Twas the weeks before state visit and all through the school
All the committees were meeting and checking state rules.
The posters were hung by the doors with care,
In hopes that state visitors would see them hung there.

The teachers were prepped by administrative staff
While visions of data maps danced in their heads.
And principals in chairs and staff in attendance
Had just settled in for an inservice nap.

When out in the center there arose such a clatter
We woke from our naps to see what was the matter.
Away from my computer I flew like a flash
Shut down my Twitter and opened up my trash.

The glow on the screen in the front of the room
Gave a luster of midday to brighten the gloom.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a list of acronyms of which I should fear.

Now, CSIP! Now, SIAC! Now, SINA and MISIC. On ITEDS and Reading.
On, Vision and Mission!
To the top of the list! And not just in the fall.
Now test away, test away, test away all.

Ok--that's it. My creativity is gone. Spent eight hours today preparing for the site visit from the state.  My mind is mush.  I know our administration is doing the right thing by having this inservice and making sure we all have the information we need.  I am just a tad touchy about some things said by teachers during a couple of my meetings.  This is how I handle it.  I write silly things.  Because if I publish what I really think about what some people say (not my administration--really), I'll be in trouble. There will be a post about these things, I just need to figure out a way to say it tactfully....


I really almost linked my post from Sunday--check out my review of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.  Terrific book!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars

My (signed, yea!) copy of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was waiting at my door when I came home the other day.  I made a decision I normally never make--I started it while I was reading another book. I've been reading Stephen King's new book 11/22/63.  I love King's book, but, for me, it's a slow read while I digest what he's writing about.

I thought Green's Young Adult novel would be a fast read and I could get it on my book shelf faster into the hands of kids if I just took a break and read it instead of 11/22/63. And it was, but I may have to read it again.

When I talk with students about books, I always tell them that, for me, if I wonder what the characters are doing without me, that's the sign of a good book.  Not only did I wonder what Augustus and Hazel were doing--I wondered HOW they were doing, especially Hazel.  She has cancer, you see.  Although she's had a "tumor shrinking medical miracle", she's still terminal, and I worried about how she was feeling.

And who wouldn't love Augustus.  The hot boy with one leg, who gave up shared his "Wish" with Hazel and took her to visit the author of a book she has many questions about. Really.  Who wouldn't want him as a boyfriend.

And then there was Isaac.  I loved Isaac too.  I worried about his surgery and how he would cope.  I loved the relationship he and Augustus had. The banter back and forth between them was so true to life.  I hurt for him after his break-up (really--if you worry and think about a secondary character, it's a great book).

Simply, this is a beautifully written book. I started keeping track of the lines I loved, but finally quit writing them down. There were just too many. But I am going to share a couple because they keep resonating in my head (God, I wish I could write like this!)

  • "As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."
  • "But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I am grateful."
This was one of those books where I couldn't decide if I wanted to read it fast, all in one sitting because I couldn't wait to find out what Hazel and Augustus were doing or if I should read it slow and savor it.

I loved the story.  I loved the characters. I loved the writing. 


I just plain loved this whole book.
 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

...But Ideas Never Die

Essays
Test questions
Research papers
Text messages
Status Updates
Lists
Orders

All things written by my creative writing students.  Most of them say they hate to write--FOR SCHOOL--

At home, on their own, for fun, they write

Rap songs
Poetry
Fantasy stories
Adventure stories
Journals
Stories about their lives
Lists of their likes and dislikes
Letters
Blogs

They write when they're angry,
They write when they're sad,
They write when they're happy,
They write when they can't talk to anyone else, but things need to be said.

And they love it.

And they get better at it.

Hmmmm

As those in power are pushing for more and more testing. Pushing for writing to answer prompts. As people shove students into my class only because they need an English credit.  Because it's "easy". I want them to listen to my students.  They know they need to learn to write for school. They get that. They hate it, but they get it.

But

Here's the stuff they can't test.

"I like having control over what to write and not having someone tell me."


"When I really feel what I'm writing, it sounds better."

"People can die, civilizations can fall, books can burn, but ideas never die."


"What is a day without words?  Chaos.


"...writing is the only way I can really be myself anymore. I use writing to explain all the feelings I would otherwise have left out. It's how I express the real me, instead of the fake me that everyone see walking around these halls now. Writing seems to be my only blessing because I have lost everything else that ever meant anything to me. Writing is all I have left to show even the slightest bit of who I am.







Wolf Moon


Racing through the doorway
Bouncing on walls
Shouting whatever come into their heads

Never sitting

Always Touching
Always poking
Always shoving

Brains disengaged
Silly questions
Random conversations
No intelligent thought to be had

LOUD movements
LOUD voices
LOUD laughter

Does it happen to you too?  
Can you tell there is a full moon 
without 
looking at the calendar 
or hearing it on the news?


The following video has nothing to do with my poem or the full moon.  It made me smile today as I head off to school so thought I would share with the people I know will appreciate it the most!


Friday, January 6, 2012

Is It Too Much To Ask?

Friday. I should have been home early tonight, but I stayed after rehearsals to straightened desks, clean my room, and get things ready for Monday.

It's crazy, I know. But I'm a little nervous for Monday. I have a "J-termer" coming to my class.  He/She is a student from the college about 20 miles from where I live.  My alma mater.  They are freshmen (usually) and come in January to observe classrooms.  I received an e-mail last night from my J-termer that was so full of excitement and enthusiasm, I'm afraid the experience won't live up to his/her expectations.

You see, when I was a J-termer, my experience wasn't so great.  It should have been right up my alley. I was assigned to the only English teacher in a very small school. She taught 7th to 12th grade English--every student in the building.  I don't remember anything about it except sitting and sitting and sitting and sitting and ...

Well, you get the picture.

I know. "Student Observers". But I remember so well wanting to help.  Check papers. Make a bulletin boards. Read aloud. Talk to students (even then I wanted to connect). ANYTHING!

I got nothin'.  (I do believe they've changed the rules a little bit)

So, since I began teaching in this district and began having J-termers and student teachers, I try to make it the best experience I can.  (Shhh! Don't tell anyone, but I break a few "rules".)

I will let my J-termer check papers. I will encourage them to walk around the room and talk to kids. They can give directions for an assignment or teach a simple lesson. Heck, they can make a bulletin board if they want.

I just want them to remember it.

I want them to see a teacher who LOVES her job and her students.
I want them to see that the enthusiasm they feel now, doesn't have to wane towards the end of their career.
I want them to see teaching as a fabulous profession.

And, I want it to be honest.
 
They should see and hear the unenthused talk about their job.
They should hear kids talk about teachers.
They should hear from teachers who are in the building at 7:30 and those who don't leave until long after 4:00.
They should hear from the teachers who do both.

And, I want them to look back in 30 years and say, "That was a great experience."

Is that too much to ask?


Thursday, January 5, 2012

"She Really Gets Us"

I seem to be having those honest conversations with kids a lot lately. Today it happened in English 9.  We are studying author's style and voice and somehow, the conversation turned to what other teachers had taught them in the past (as I have mentioned before, I have been frustrated with how this class has been going, so this conversation was one I had been wanting to have).

"We learned a lot about nouns and verbs and stuff. "

"Yea--and punctuation.  Yuck.  Please don't do that."

"What do we even need periods for?" Yes, a freshman in high school asked why we need periods. Of course, she was also the freshman who thought you had to chew your food up into really small bites when you were pregnant so the baby could eat the food. And she couldn't find her textbook on the shelf today.  Number 66. I pulled it off the shelf as soon as I went back to look. "Unh unh...that's number 99." Really. I couldn't make this stuff up!

"What's a noun again?"

"A person, place, thing, or idea."

"Oh. Yeah."

I had to ask, "Did you write?"

"No. This was English class. We just did English stuff."  Can you hear the screaming in my head?  


"I understand now.  No wonder this class was such a shock to you in the beginning.  You really didn't always get what I wanted."

"Yeah. It was hard, Mrs. Day."

"So, you didn't really write?"

"Well, we wrote a story once. And in seventh grade we did journals every day."

"We wrote in Mrs. __________ class.  We wrote something every week."  Sounded like a scripted prompt to me.


"Well, this is why you're going to write more this semester.  You need to!  Almost every job you will ever apply for will ask you for a writing sample.  You have to know how to write more than a tweet and a status update! And it needs to sound like you...it needs to be real.  No one's going to ask you what a noun is or have you diagram a sentence. Not that you don't need to have an understanding of those things.  But you need to be able to put your thoughts down and have them make sense to other people! So no grammar or punctuation units. If we need to review something, we will, but we're not going to study it to death and fill out lots of worksheets."

"Listen guys. She gets it!"

I'm not sure what I "got", but hopefully, they "got" that I think writing is more than grammar and punctuation worksheets. That the writing we will continue to do will be real. As for why we need periods, well, I did point out some examples later in the lesson!



Wednesday, January 4, 2012

But I Don't Have Weird Friends Like You Do

Connecting in Creative Writing is a little different than speech.  It's easier in some ways. For one thing, I have had most of these students in class before. We have a relationship of sorts.  I know things about them, they know some things about me. The connecting comes as we work through ideas and write them in our notebooks.

In some ways, it's harder. I already think I know things about them. They already think they know things about me.  Sometimes, like this morning, it would be easier to just let them come in and start writing...to just go with the status quo. When I came into my room, they were already hard at work on the writing autobiography I assigned yesterday.

But today, because of my OLW--CONNECT- I worked a little harder at deepening those connections.

I let them work the first part of the period, but with about 20 minutes left, I asked them to put away their computers and get out their notebooks.

I began with the simple words, "I am a writer.  These are my writer's notebooks. And when I first began my blog, it was hard for me to continually come up with ideas to write about.  So, I began making lists because it's my favorite way to write.  This is the first list I wrote in my notebook."


PEOPLE             PLACES               THINGS

the right side is my people, places, and things list

And I show them my list and how I got started.  I relate how I chose people, which sometimes lead me to places or things.  My writing scribbles all over my white board.  The rows fill as I tell quick little anecdotes about the things I wrote on my list.  Then, I ask them to do the same thing.

Most begin writing with a little trepidation. Frequently heard, "But I don't have any weird people and things like you do."  They always focus on the two, rather unique people I included on my list.  They forget about my college friends, the resort where our cabin is, Chloe, the college I attended...all the normal things I have included. 

So, I remind them of the things in their life I know about (this is the easy part). 

"What about your friends S and I?" I ask of one student. "They're a little weird. And together, I'll bet you've had a few experiences you could write about.  And what about some of the teachers you've had.  Any of them have a few quirks that make you laugh?"

Her list begins to fill.

To a young man trying to hide in the back and not fill out his list, "I had you in 6th period English in 7th grade.  Are there not a few things you could write about from that class?"

"Well, yeah..."

"Hello...get that notebook back out!  Think of how crazy that class could be and all the things you all tried to get away with."

He begins scribbling away.

In talking to those two, the entire class is writing furiously in their notebooks. Lists are beginning to take up most of a page!  One small lesson. Two small connections.  Success.


Monday, January 2, 2012

How Sucking at Golf Helps My Teaching

Check out other slicers at TwoWritingTeachers (or better yet, join the fun!)
And so we start anew.
A new day
A new semester
A new year

I love the start of a new semester and a new year. Life just seems full of possibilities. It seems like I can do anything. Be anything.

My plans for today--to begin making those connections with kids. I have 100 new students coming into my classroom. They'll be excited to be back in class, but a little nervous too.  Especially those in speech class. I want to let them know it's OK to be nervous, that I don't expect perfection, and that I want to help them.

I model the first speech of the year for them on each first day. It's a paper bag speech that introduces them to class. They are to put three objects in the bag that will help us get to know them. My speech goes a little something like this:

I'm Mrs. Day and I'll be your speech teacher this semester.  I know that many of you are a little nervous about this class and having me for a teacher.  I'm going to tell you a little bit about myself just so you know who I am.


I was a very shy student until my sophomore year in high school when I took speech and drama classes.  Those classes helped shape me into the person I am today.  I can still be shy, I still get a little nervous talking in front of people, but speech helped me deal with both of those things. I hope it does the same for you.


(Hold up my writer's notebook)

The first thing you should know is I am a writer.  I love to write.  Creative Writing is a class close to my heart.  I think it's important for people to write every day. It makes you think and feel.  This is my writer's notebook which I try to write in every day. I also write a blog about teaching and my life that has become a very important part of who I am.


(Hold up a book)

I am also a reader.  I read every day.  I read everything I can get my hands on--magazines, newspapers, blogs, books and cereal boxes. I have read at least half of the books on those shelves, so if you have the need for a good book, talk to me.  I promise I will find you one.  Just because this is speech class doesn't mean you can't check out my books, so find some time to go through the boxes and see what you can find.


These are important things to me and I'm good at them--guess it's why I'm an English teacher!


(Hold up golf ball)

In the last few years, I have also learned to golf.  I suck at golf (there's usually a little chuckle here). But I love getting outside with my friends and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. But really, I suck.


Now, let's face it. Most adults don't continue doing things they aren't good at.  If they try something and aren't successful at it, they quit.  They never do it again.  Kids don't get that option. For better or worse, you have to be in this class whether you enjoy it or not, whether you are good at it or not. So golf reminds what it's like to be a student in my classroom. What's its like to not be good at something. What it's like to not enjoy something all the time. What it's like to struggle.


You will see that I usually have a golf ball on my desk, It's my reminder to be patient, to be understanding, to sometimes give you a break when you need it.  If you are struggling with things, please come and talk to me about it.  My door is always open.


And then I stop. I hand out the assignment and the paper bags, and let them get to work. But I have figuratively opened that door.  I've let them know I don't expect them to all be good at this thing called speech. That's it's OK to struggle. That it's OK to ask for help. And this is how I start making connections.

My One Little Word:  Connect