Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Slice of Life Tuesday: Ukulele Journey

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Tuesday Slice of Life: 
Ukulele Journey

I was recently paging through my writer's notebook and found this list poem I wrote some time last spring, reflecting on my journey of learning to play the ukulele. (If I remember correctly, I believe that I was reading through Poems Are Teachers at the time, and so this list poem was likely inspired by the smart work of Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.) 

Ukulele Wishes 

I wish I could
     remember strumming patterns
     effortlessly switch from chord D to Em,
     play tablature in tune 
     feel the rhythm of quarter, half, and whole notes
     read notes instead of looking at my fingers
     sing and strum 
     not fret so much about mistakes and 
     enjoy my music journey. 


A little over a week ago my thirteen-year-old son and I attended an outdoor ukulele workshop through our city's Mile of Music Festival. Although I played quite a bit last spring and took a few group lessons, I had not played my ukulele since the beginning of June. I was rusty. My uke was out of tune. In fact, it was so out of tune that I needed to ask my son in order to get my ukulele back in playing shape. 

As soon as my ukulele was in tune and my fingers found some familiar chords, I was instantly reminded how much I enjoy making music. My fingers immediately gravitated to the C and G7 chords - I still had some muscle memory in my fingers. 

Since the short workshop, I have been playing each day and I am beginning to enjoy it again. Now I can play Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and "Lean on Me" by Bill Withers. To my amazement, my son recently remarked that he actually recognizes these tunes when I play! Win!

It feels good. I need to keep spending the time to make music.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: That Time I Met KWR

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Tuesday Slice of Life: That Time I Met KWR

"I didn't realize Lester Laminack was speaking at this luncheon. Is there any way I can still buy a ticket?" 

Last month I was a newbie at NCTE's WLU Summer Institute in Columbia, South Carolina. In trying to save money, initially I did not sign up for the luncheon. Apparently I did not close-read the information on the WLU website and did not realize that beloved author Lester Laminack was the keynote speaker. Every person I had newly met at the conference was attending. 

The NCTE representative gently responded to my question, "It's a plated dinner, so it is not as simple as just charging you. Tell you what, if you just hang out until the luncheon officially begins, I will sneak you in if there is an open seat."

I nodded and thanked her. From the hotel hallway, I watched as conference participants streamed in, eager to secure spots by friends. A local elementary school from Irmo, South Carolina (The Oak Pointe Bucket Band) warmed the crowd with a lively bucket band performance. 

Just when I thought that I would be dining alone at the hotel restaurant, I heard, "You're in luck. We have some no-shows, so you can attend the luncheon. Just quietly find an empty seat and enjoy." 

"Thank you SO much!" Giddy, I scanned the room to find an empty seat and ventured towards a back table with one open chair. It happened to be next to Dr. Lenny Sanchez, a professor at U of SC and a colleague of my friend Cathy. 

"Is this seat taken?" I inquired.

"Nope, please sit!" Lenny grinned and I sat beside him.

To the right of me sat a thin woman with tight, curly hair. "I'm Trina," I quickly introduced myself. 

The woman held out her hand to shake mine, "Katie." Bucket band still playing, I glanced at her name tag to be certain I heard her name correctly. In a quick glance I peered at her name tag: Katie Wood Ray.

I froze. Katie Wood Ray? I sat next to the Katie Wood Ray, author and editor extraordinaire?  

"Oh. My. God. You're Katie Wood Ray?"

"Yes." She smiled.

Like a teenager upon seeing Justin Bieber, I gushed to Katie about how I loved all her books, how they changed me as a writer and a teacher of writers. And it would have been fine if I ended the conversation here. 

Mouth moving at warp speed, tangled in my Wisconsin accent, I went on to tell her that I loved writing so much, even pulling out and showing my latest journal, as somehow proving to her that I was writing. Yup, I was that girl. 

There are so many other ways that this conversation could have gone, but I was socially awkward. I offered stupid comments. I asked silly questions. I fumbled up my words. I did not really show up as myself.

Thank goodness Lester Laminack began his keynote SO I could keep my mouth shut and listen.

The WLU Summer Institute is a small, intimate conference. After the luncheon, of course I kept running into Katie: in the bathroom, in the hallway between sessions, in the hotel lobby. Each time I found myself inarticulate.

Through it all, Katie Wood Ray was gracious.

Until I wrote about it later in my notebook, I didn't realize how nervous I was to meet her. Then, in horror, I realized how desperate I was to sound intelligent and interesting - the kind of person Katie would want to know. It's not usually the person I show up as. 


It has now been a few weeks since the WLU Summer Institute. I can now think about this conversation and laugh at myself a bit. After all, I was a bit starstruck at meeting the great Katie Wood Ray. 

In retrospect, I am reminded that we all say and do stupid, awkward things sometimes. In our personal lives. As teachers. As humans. We all do this. For me, this was a great reminder that awkward conversations (or in my case, a SERIES of awkward conversations) happen, and it's just a slice in our lives - not a reflection of who we are as whole people. 


To read past posts about how I have been influenced by Katie Wood Ray's work, you can read here and here. Even if you are a teacher of high school or middle school students, Katie Wood Ray's work is brilliant, still applicable to older learners. Her work will inspire you to serve your students better. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Coloring

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Tuesday Slice of Life: Coloring 

"I brought coloring books. Does anyone want to color?"

"Oh my God! Yes!" Two sixteen-year-old students, sitting in the bus seat across from me, eagerly grab my small stash of coloring books, markers, and colored pencils. They page through the two books I brought, exclaiming at the spread of designs.

"I love to color," One of them shares, "I cannot even remember the last time I colored anything."

"Me too. We should have more times to color." 

Indeed, I think and smile. For now, their iPhones are put away and they are coloring and chattering. 

We are en route to a school-sponsored trip to Chicago. As a chaperone, I will be in close quarters with these high school students for the next three days. Beginning our trip with something light, like coloring on the bus, is a great way to begin our adventure. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Why I Slice

I have been going through some heavy, messy personal stuff for a long time now. In the past week I have been especially grappling with some significant shame. Although writing is often healing for me, sometimes it also takes me on a path that makes it easy for me to ruminate on all that is painful. This sort of writing often comes out in my daily Morning Pages in my notebooks. 
My current notebook
Although I can usually talk about messy, heavy stuff with trusted friends and professionals, I purposely do not share in a public way - through social media or through blogging. 

Yesterday, for the first time in over a month, I wrote and posted this slice on Two Writing TeachersWriting about an ordinary moment (playing games with my children when we were without power) helped me to focus in the best way. In addition, it reminded me how writing about one ordinary thing can be worthy of my time and valuable to leading a writerly life. As an unexpected bonus, writing a slice helped me set aside some of my shame yesterday. It helped me feel good. I needed this.

Chief of Operations and Lead Writer, Stacey Schubitz, reminds us that, "Our daily lives are filled with so many worthy moments just waiting to be written about and shared." Indeed, writing about ordinary moments is essential. In addition, I love reading small moments from other slicers and rereading some of my own slices. 

Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers writing community. This is why I slice.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Sequence

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Tuesday Slice of Life: 

"Mom, wanna play Sequence with us?" Eleven-year-old Alaina inquired. 

"Of course! I'll go get it!" I quickly responded, my heart giddy that my children wanted to play a board game with me. With each other. 

It was the second day without power following a massive storm. Batteries had long died from Nintendo DS systems, iPads, etc. Power banks were reserved for keeping cell phones charged and cell phone usage strictly monitored. Dusk was falling; no one was ready for sleep yet. 

Using our Coleman Carabineer Lantern, I ventured into the unlit basement and eventually found our weathered garage sale treasure of Sequence buried among forgotten jigsaw puzzles and various board games. Sequence game in hand, I cautiously climbed up the stairs.

The three of us sat on our living room floor, not too far from our bay window - the brightest spot in our house on summer evenings. Thirteen-year-old Isaac propped up a flashlight so we could see our game board and playing cards. 

That night we played two rousing rounds of Sequence before we retired to sleep. I imagine our giggles and elevated tones could be heard from outside our dark house. 

We created our own light that evening. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Heart Mapping and What Matters

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Tuesday Slice of Life: 
Heart Mapping and What Matters 
What matters to them?
I have been pondering this question all year, especially for my students who have not found a lot of success in school. Many of my high school students insist that they don't care about much, mostly when it comes to learning. 

Enter Heart Maps. 

I have been a fan of Georgia Heard's Heart Mapping for a while now. In Heart Maps (Heinemann, 2016), Georgia Heard shares this, "Heart Mapping is a metaphor for what all writer's know: to write is to delve into what matters to us, to keep our feelings alive, to be vulnerable, to tell the truth, to question, and to speak what many people keep inside." 

What matters to my students? What matters to me? These are questions that I have tossed around all year, not just in an effort to reach more of my students but as a personal inquiry as well. 

Below are two Heart Maps I created with students this semester.The first one is a general Heart Map of what currently matters the most to me, and the second is a Heart Map that is a zoomed in version of one item from my Heart Map - writing. 

One of my Heart Maps

A Zoomed In Version of a Heart Map - on writing 

As a class, we revisited Heart Maps throughout the school year, especially with my ninth and tenth grader learners. I was often surprised at what my students revealed to me through Heart Mapping, even my students who are the most reluctant to read and write and share. Often Heart Mapping was a springboard for writing, and it often created a perfect opening for conversation. Heart Mapping helped me better understand what my students were reading and thinking about. 

In my classes, Heart Maps aren't fancy. My students used their notebooks. I provided colored pencils, crayons, and markers. Making Heart Maps didn't take a lot of planning time. My high school students reported that they enjoyed the process of creating Heart Maps and often pleaded to work on Heart Maps when we had time.Creating and sharing Heart Maps helped me get to know my students better, fostering a positive classroom culture.  
One student example of a Heart Map (used with permission)
Another student example of a Heart Map (used with permission)
When one of my sophomore students, Tina, unexpectedly passed away in February, I felt paralyzed as a person, not just as her teacher. Tina was a close friend to many of my students, and grief arrived in many ways. One of my classes particularly struggled for an extended period of time, and I knew that I could not simply press on with our scheduled learning, even though deadlines were looming. We used Heart Mapping as a part of our healing. We didn't get to everything in my literacy support course that I wanted to, but I do not regret spending this time to process through Heart Mapping. Crafting Heart Maps also helped me recognize who needed more support than I could offer as a classroom teacher.  

Friday will conclude my nineteenth year of teaching. Still, as a seasoned teacher, I am always surprised at how long it often takes to build trust with students and to discover what they care deeply about. Knowing what matters to my students helps me recommend books for students to read, nudge them in issues to write and learn about, and meet their needs better. It helps me build trusting relationships. My teaching will continue to focus on what matters to my students so that I can serve them better. Heart Mapping is one way that has helped me know my students better, and I will keep using it. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Notebook Work

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Tuesday Slice of Life: Notebook Work
I have not felt particularly inspired as a writer this month. Although I have had plenty of topics to write about, I have had a challenging time articulating my thoughts in words and coherent sentences. Each time I have sat down to blog, my process has looked a little like this: I start writing. I get stuck. I write about something different. I get stuck. I try writing again about a new topic. I get stuck. Inevitably, I do not get a post published.

However, as much as I have dragged my feet in writing, I have continued to write daily in my notebook. Late in April I read the great visual artist and Professor Lynda Berry´s Syllabus. Instantly, I fell in love with the sketches infused with multimedia in Syllabus, the Emily Dickinson poems and other important quotes scattered throughout the book, but mostly I appreciated how Dr. Berry encouraged her students to explore and record what they noticed. For a great example of Lynda Berry´s work, read Brain Picking´s post

Throughout May I used Dr. Berry´s Daily Diary format for at least one page a day. The Daily Diary includes a list of seven things you saw, seven things you did, something you heard, and something drawn. By far, the most challenging part for me was drawing something every day. When I first started creating a Daily Diary it took me a while (about thirty minutes!) to create one page. Then I reread the instructions in Syllabus, and Daily Diary pages are meant to be created quickly, so I set a timer for each section and now I can complete each page in about fifteen minutes.

Below is an example of a recent Daily Diary page: 

One of my favorite things about creating Daily Diary pages has been rereading my past Daily Diary Pages and noticing emerging patterns, such as how I notice a lot about nature on dog walks, things my students and my own children say and do, how many of my days are spent. Ultimately, my favorite part of a Daily Diary page is recording what I heard. Often I include what I overhear at stores in in the hallway. ItÅ› such great stuff! The page I posted (see above) is an exchange between a teenager and a middle age women at Target. 

Daily Diary Pages did not necessarily give me confidence as a writer, but it has helped me continue with my notebook work and kept me noticing what I cared about. When I took the time to revisit my Daily Diary pages, I realized that I could go back and use these pages for future writing, too. 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Ukulele Journey

Looking to connect with a positive, supportive online community? Consider sharing  a slice of your life  with  Two Writing Teachers . All ...