Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sometimes They Still Surprise Me

I know most of my students pretty well. I work really hard at knowing them. I learn about boyfriends/girlfriends, out of school activities, jobs, sports, music, family, books. You name it, I really try to find out about it.

But, once in awhile, one of them surprises me.

Today was one of those surprises. It started with a phone call...

"Sorry to bother you in the middle of class. H has some questions about some poetry you are doing in creative writing. Can he come down or are you in the middle of a lecture?"

Lecture? Me?

"Send him down. My students are recording today. I've got the time to visit with him."

Now, you should know that this is the same young man I wrote about last week. We're getting to the meat of his story, but it still has a ways to go.

He saunters in. I really expect to tell him that he doesn't have to write poetry. I just want him to try a draft of it.

"So," he begins, "last night, when I got home from work, I wrote this and I just wondered if this is what you want."

He hands me his phone.

"You wrote a poem after work last night?"  H does not do homework.

"Yea. I write a lot of poetry."

"You do?????" I am incredulous.  This was not what I expected. Not from H. And the poem--it's really good.

"Yea. Why do you think I took Creative Writing? I have lots of poems at home."

"Really? Will you let me read them?"

"I have to type them all up???"

"No. just bring them to me and let me read them. You can use some of them for this assignment."

"OK. Sure. I'll bring them in tomorrow."

We also had a conversation about sharing--I've figured out that he comes to me during his study hall because he doesn't want to conference during class when his friends are around. I promised I wouldn't share it. I promised I wouldn't let his friends know. But I let him know that I thought the poem was really good.

H comes to class next hour with a typed copy of the poem for me. But first, HE SHARES WITH HIS FRIENDS! They think he copied and pasted. They google it. They don't find it. They ARE impressed.

And now, it hangs on my Pride Wall.

I love surprises.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Real Story

He thinks he's writing about his small cousins' birthday party.

But he's not.

He doesn't know I understand. His sister shared a very similar story last year.

His first piece of writing is just too much. You know what I mean. There's almost too much story there, covering up the one he really wants to tell.

We talk. We peel away layers. We strip away details until it hurts.

And there it is.

The real story.

He won't want to share it with anyone and that's OK.

He shared it with himself.

The real story.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Things That Made Me Smile

Taking a moment to remember the little things that made me smile this week.

Smile number one: My freshmen English classes meet the last two hours of the day.  On Fridays, it's almost impossible to get them to focus on much of anything.  The last two weeks we have worked on "fun" writing assignments. The first was a version of a pass-back story. I gave them three totally unrelated words and they had to use them in a story.  Each member in the group of four wrote for one minute. When the timer beeped, they passed the story on to the next person in the group. These turned out pretty silly, but the kids had fun and they were writing. Last week we wrote ABC stories. The stories were 26 lines long and each line started with a letter of the alphabet.  I couldn't believe how hard they worked on these!  They giggled. They wrote. They shared. I love it!

Smile number two: This smile started with a post Chloe and I wrote this summer. One of the elementary teachers in our district tweeted that she liked Chloe's writing and said she thought their dog could blog also. Well, over the weekend she let me know that her son and his dog had started a blog.

I just love that when this young man is bored he and his dog write a blog post.  It's really cute. You should check it out.

Smile number three comes from my "Reading Machine". Josh is home from Afghanistan and in college. I keep track of him through Facebook. Yesterday, another former student posted on Facebook that she was struggling to get back into free reading and asked for book recommendations. My reading machine told her about John Green books and offered to let her borrow his copies.  From non-reader to book recommender. How can I not smile about that?

Writing this post has made me smile all over again. What made you smile this week?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Don't Be Boring...

I love my drama class.

Most of them are my "Speech kids"...those kids who work with me from November through March to go to contest.  But there are also about five who just took Drama because they needed an English credit. They are, however, very talented and fit right in with my kids.

The assignment I give the first day of school is called "Don't Be Boring".  Students can do anything they want in one to three minutes. They just can't be boring.  It's purpose is to get them to perform right away. There's nothing worse than waiting for days before you have to perform in front of the class, even if you know them well.

This class showed some talent--I had a student play the ukelele and sing a Jason Mraz song. One sang, another played her clarinet, several told stories.

And when we were done, they wanted to do it again.

They seemed to have a new found respect for the others in the class--especially those they didn't know well.

"I just learn so much about people with this," said one of my senior contest speech students.

So, we planned another one for last Friday.  A couple were gone, and we ran out of time for a couple of others, so we finished up on Monday.

Again, I was blown away by some of the talent in my classroom. This time we had an acting piece, someone played piano on computer and we went to the band room for a percussion piece. There were also two dance numbers and several oral interpretation pieces

When the last person performed today, the same contest speech senior said, "Why aren't these people out for speech?"

"Yea," said another. "These are better than most of the things we saw at districts. And they didn't have much practice time."

Why indeed.

There are several things I love about this. But the main one is that my very talented contest speech students recognize talent when they see it. And instead of viewing this talent as competition, they look at great additions to our team. And they encourage and recruit those people to join us.

And the next "Don't Be Boring" Day is scheduled for September 21.  I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Getting Them Ready to Write

My creative writing class this semester is boy heavy. Boys who don't like to write. Most, took this class because they needed another English credit, and they like me. That's not bragging, it's just what it is.  They are some of the SSB's that I have written about in the past.  Many are not the students that one would wish to have in class--especially a class that makes them think and write and create.
They're just not that kind of student.

Ask one about the band he is in and you are likely to get a history of rock and roll.
Ask another about what he did over the weekend, you'll find out everything you ever wanted to know about racing.
Hunting is always a favorite thing to talk about.
So is football. So is wrestling. So is farming.
There is one young man that I can't get to be positive about anything.

But write?

Text messaging is about all the writing they do. A few also on Twitter or Facebook. They write when they have to at school.

They write as little as possible.

So, these first two weeks of school I have spent more time than I ever have working on ways to get writing ideas. I have liberally stolen exercises from my favorite teacher/authors, Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher. I have had writing prompts on the board that make them think outside of the box and beg for more to be written.

I show them work from the past.
I have them practice different styles (they thought 6 Word Memoirs were going to be easy until they had to try to write a couple).
I make those styles short!
I talk to them.

Next week, they are going to start telling their story.

We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


It's been four years since I've taught a drama class. In four years, I forgot how much I enjoyed it.  I laugh every day at the craziness that comes out of high school students. For them, I think this class is like recess....


We've been working on pantomimes in class.  Creating small stories without props. Today's assignment was a real person pantomime. We had moms driving cars, little kids watching TV and even Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk. My favorite was a dead on pantomime of our principal when he walks into a classroom. Hysterical. Really. Everyone knew who she was doing.

Next, a student did Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.  And the following conversation brought tears to my eyes.

"Isn't it Armstrong? Isn't it Louis?"

"No. Louis was a jazz trumpet player. Neil was the astronaut."

"Yea. Yea. Neil. Didn't he just die or something?"

"Yes. He did."

"Oh. Now both moonwalkers are dead."

Confused looks on the faces of the rest of us....

wait for it....

"Yea. Neil Armstrong AND Michael Jackson."

Really. I can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Practicing What I Teach

After reading and discussing Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle this summer with a group of blogging friends, I vowed I would write more WITH my Creative Writing students. Today's prompt I really like ("stolen" Diana at One Literacy Coach)

Things I Didn't Do This Summer:

I didn't go to the hospital when I rolled my ankle (although I think I should have)

I didn't get to see Los Lonely Boys in concert in Arnold's Park (although we went to another concert and saw them.

I didn't enjoy the excessive heat we had for much of the last part of the summer (although I found ways to beat it)

I didn't miss my grandchildren ( I saw them a lot)

I didn't read near enough books

I didn't break any records in golf

I didn't write all I wanted

I didn't catch the bouquet at one of the weddings I attended this summer

I didn't cry when school started

Something Just for Fun
I found this video through Pinterest this morning and thought I would share. It just made me happy:

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