Saturday, March 31, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 31: Joy Writing

"A central goal of school should be to engender a love of writing and reading."
Ralph Fletcher, WSRA Convention 2018 

In the beginning of February I was fortunate to hear Ralph Fletcher speak at the Wisconsin State Reading Association's annual convention. He was inspiring, and I found myself hanging on each word. Nearly two months later, I am still lingering over his insights and on a story he shared about observing his young grandson, Solomon, at play. Young Solomon was in bathtub enamored with a toy - lifting it, flipping it around, sharing it, dropping it, tossing it. Ralph noticed that this kind of play is not so different than what writers do. As writers we often lift, flip, share, drop, arrange writing. What a great analogy! 

If you are familiar with Ralph's Joy Write, you know that he advocates for teachers to create a space for writers to participate in what he calls greenbelt writing. This is when writers have the opportunity to write about they want. No grade. No particular genre. No prescribed topic. No one tries to fix it up. Fletcher says that when we allow students the space for greenbelt writing that teachers see:

  • engagement
  • collaboration
  • playfulness
  • humor
  • pop culture references 
I thought of Ralph's analogy often as I participated in the blogging Slice of Life (SOL) challenge this month, finding that I played more as a writer than I have in a long time. I lifted lines. I shared my work. I dropped ideas I didn't like. I tossed my words around in different sentences and phrases. I tried out different genres of writing. I was inspired by other blog posts and paid more attention to what was around me. Blogging this month was satisfying play. I didn't expect to find as much joy in participating in SOL. 

This past week my tween son and daughter and I were on spring break. We stayed in town, and I tried to limit their screen time whenever I could. To my surprise, whenever I sat down to write this week, my daughter and son joined me. My daughter loves to write, so this didn't surprise me about her, but it shocked me that my son wrote with us. My twelve-year-old son is emphatic about how much he hates writing, especially in school. Yet, this week he spent hours creating intricate comic strips, full of humor and voice. 

From afar, I listened to my children help each other, rehearse dialogue, giggle together, and hide their sketches and words from me. None of this writing was for school or for any special purpose other than my children simply enjoyed it. 

Quickly, I realized that my children were doing exactly the kind writing that Ralph Fletcher is a strong champion of - greenbelt writing. 

Sketch. Write. Play. Repeat.
One of the comics my daughter created
Part of a comic my son created
I was delighted to see my children play in this way. With words. With dialogue. With voice. 

Joy writing. 

Observing my own children play with writing this past week and reflecting on myself as a writer through the SOL challenge makes me wonder more about my own teaching practice. I write with my students. I find mentor texts for students to emulate. I pay attention to what students are reading and writing to guide my instruction. I allow for as much choice as possible. I try to teach writers in manageable chunks. I try to teach instead of just assign. Yet, I nearly always dictate the genre or topic. I don't assess every piece of writing, but I don't provide a lot of time for just play in writing. I am not making any kind of time for greenbelt writing in my classroom. 

Last August I wrote a post about why I write and some lingering questions:

  • How can I help to empower my students to see how they can write their way out?
  • How do I help writers find joy in writing?
As the end of the school year approaches, I find myself still grappling with these same questions, and I find myself with more questions to grapple with: 
  • How can I infuse what I learned about the importance of play in writing with my high school students?
  • Many of my students have not experienced a lot of success in school yet. How can I help them find success with greenbelt writing?
  • How can I teach writers in an engaging way and still follow the curriculum?
One of the last things Ralph Fletcher ended his keynote with was this powerful sentence: "We may cover all of the standards, but if kids hate writing, it's not worth it." 

I still hold onto this sentence, too. It is curiosity that propels me to grow. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 30: Writing Wellspring

"I get the ideas from everything. 
Children sometimes think you have to write special experiences to write, 
but good writing brings out what's special in ordinary things."
Laurence Yep. 

I was recently inspired by this blog post from blogger Tamara Jaimes about where she gets her creativity. In emulating her smart post, I decided to write a list poem about where my writing ideas originate. This also serves as an important reminder to myself that the roots of writing come from what is around me.

Writing Wellspring
Kid watching. Student feedback. Lesson plan reflection. High school teaching. Colleague conversations. Literacy coaching. Middle school teaching. Early morning dog walks. Comic strip creating. Coffee shop customers. Grocery shopping checkout lines. Music lesson waiting room people watching. Play dates. Puppy training. Snuggling. I gain writing ideas from noticing.

Overheard student conversations. Teacher lounge banter. Staff meetings. Powerful speakers. Inspiring podcasts. Song lyrics. Pokemon story snippets from my children. Girl Scout troop ideas. Familiar childhood sayings. Sermons from Reverend Allie. Toddler questions. Saved voicemail messages from Grandma Geanne. My inner voice - sometimes full of self-criticism, other times with a hint of encouragement. I gain writing ideas from listening.

Lifted lines from poems, songs, nonfiction, novels, children's books. Amy Krouse Rosenthal books for adults and children. Professional articles. Books about writing and books about teaching writers. Tweets. Instagram posts. Facebook. Blog posts. Book reviews. Recipe books. My past writer's notebook entries. I gain writing ideas from reading.    

Instructing middle and high school learners and adults. Retrospective Miscue Analysis. Emulating mentor texts. Teaching adjunct courses. Designing and leading professional development sessions. Swimming. Traveling abroad. Parenting. Cross stitch. Crocheting. Gardening. Letter writing. Baking bread. Making risotto from scratch. Playing with words and phrases and dialog and voice. Struggling as a young reader. Loss. Writing my way out. I gain writing ideas from experiencing.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 29: Life Equations

As I wrote in this post and this post, I adore Amy Krouse Rosenthal's work. She has a whole chapter in her book Textbook called Math (Unit 8), and it's filled with sweet equations. She also published an adorable children's book on equations called This Plus That: Life's Little Equations

Confession: I have a very poor growth mindset for math (especially with story problems), but these kinds of equations are perfect for me. My daughter, who turns ten next week, wrote some life equations with me. Below are a few we penned together: 

(sofa snuggling + sleeping in) x book reading + no homework = Spring Break

(itchy leotards + wild costumes + flowers) x stage fright = dance recital
Daffodils her brother gave her at her dance recital

(backyard digging + stealing stuffed animals) x sneaking on furniture = naughty border collie puppy

Don't be fooled by this sweet face. This is a puppy who is always in trouble!  

(cookies + honesty + exploration + confidence) x friendship = Girl Scouts
My Girl Scout in action selling cookies.  
Our equations were fun to create together. Try one! 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 28: Black Out Poetry

I am fascinated by Black Out Poetry, a form of found poetry. Last week writer and artist Austin Kleon posted this on his Instagram feed.

Austin Kleon's Newspaper Blackout Poem
He often posts Newspaper Blackout Poems (and he even has a book!) I adore them. He even includes a great tutorial and gallery on his website, and he writes about his process here. I am so intrigued and impressed with his daily practice of writing.

Although I don't subscribe to a printed newspaper anymore, I receive magazines, so I used the same concept with an older article from Educational Leadership. To create a black out poem, you simply need an old text (like a magazine article or newspaper or advertisement) and a black marker.

My Black Out Poem 
I am always amazed at the challenge of creating a found poem. Ultimately, it is about noticing words and creating something new from those words. (Writing all begins with noticing, right?) I think that the process is engaging, but it takes some time, playing with words, and brain power.

Below is the third Black Out Poem I created yesterday. After my first two attempts, I finally came up with something I liked:

to spur teacher growth.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 27: Obsessive Reader

Monica Wood, author of The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing (Writer's Digest Books, 2001) asks writers this, "What have you been reading lately? Most writers are obsessive readers." For me, this certainly fits the bill. I've been an obsessive reader for a while. 

Not surprisingly, when I began teaching, I immersed myself in Young Adult (YA) books of all genres. This was mostly to help encourage a positive atmosphere of reading. Some of my favorite YA books I have read this school year include:
I must confess, YA books do not always satisfy my reading diet alone. I also read a lot of literary fiction. In the past two years I discovered that I am drawn to books that are a little dark, perhaps because I am reminded that most humans lead really messy lives. Just like mine. A few of my all time favorite literary fiction books include: 
Although I haven't always read nonfiction books, now I read a lot of books on writing and on teaching/eduction. In addition, I read self-help books, especially on subjects of happiness and perseverance. 

This is my current stack of books to be read next:
My next stack of books to read

What's on your list? 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 26: You Are My Sunshine

Poetry Everywhere is a great resource for poets. Before Common Core was adopted in our district, I used to pull out this book on Fridays with my eighth graders, and we spent all class hour simply playing with poetry. Students were always invited, never required, to share their poems. I never graded these poems. It was just play. I loved it. Many of my students loved it as well.

I need to get back to incorporating poetry better in my classes.

Saturday morning I pulled Poetry Everywhere out in search of some inspiration. I came across a section called "acrostics-from-phrases." It is a variation of an acrostic poem. However, instead of using a letter of a word as the beginning of each line you use a word at the beginning of each line. The words make up a phrase or a title.

Here's an example from the book (page 27):
Example of acrostic-from-phrase poem
When my children were babies, I sang them the song “You Are My Sunshine” as I tucked them in at night. It was also a song I sang when one of them was hurt or needed extra snuggles. I adore that my daughter, now nearly ten years old, sings this song to me when she realizes that I need extra comfort. I thought that it would be fun use “You Are My Sunshine” as my acrostic-from-phrase poem.

This ended up being a lot more challenging to write than what I anticipated. I couldn't get it to work like an acrostic poem without adding extra lines. So I bent the rules a bit, and here’s what I came up with.

For my son:
YOU may rip holes in pants and jackets,
“forget” soap to clean, and
my constant inquiry seems to be,
“when ARE you going to clean your room?”
MY budget is exhausted at the large quantity of food
your adolescent body consumes,
yet you still bring
SUNSHINE into every room you enter.

For my daughter:
YOU scatter treasures throughout our home,
create baby blanket basket nests for stuffed animals,
wallpaper your closet doors with sketches when you
ARE in the mood to create beauty, and
MY heart swells when I watch you swing
and drink the SUNSHINE.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 25: Rainbow Quilt

My mom is an incredibly talented quilter. She began quilting as a newlywed. When she first learned how to quilt, she didn’t have any fancy tools. She used cardboard pieces as templates. Mom pieced fabrics together on her second-hand Singer sewing machine and then hand quilted intricate designs, no matter the size of the quilt. I literally cannot fathom how she made time to quilt, especially when she could not have had much time for herself.

As we grew up my mom continued to quilt. Mom made a stunning quilt as a gift for our wedding, gorgeous baby quilts for each of my children, and later twin-sized quilts for each child. In her retirement, she is active in her quilting guild, often enters her quilt in local quilt shows, and is an avid member of a mission quilting group at her church.

I love sleeping and snuggling under quilts she made for me - constant reminders of the love and care she stitched into each.

Below are two of the quilts she made for my children:

A cuddle blanket for my daughter

A quilt for my son's bed, some fabrics remnants from our wedding quilt. 
One of the memories that stands out for me from childhood involves a quilt Mom secretly made for me as a birthday gift. When I was about five or six years old I threw a tantrum in a department store for a rainbow comforter that we couldn’t afford. My mom designed a pattern similar to the comforter I wanted and made it for me. I wrote about this memory in this fifty word story:

“If you loved me, you’d buy me that rainbow comforter.” Seven-year-old Trina pleaded with her mom. Too much, Mom dimly replied.

“I never get anything new.” Ungrateful little imp.

At her next birthday, Trina opened a handstitched rainbow quilt from Mom-one she’d secretly worked on while her little girl slept.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 24: What My Childhood Tasted Like

In search of some inspiration for today's Slice of Life post, I turned to Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. I thought about writing an encyclopedia entry, but as I was paging through this familiar book, I noticed that she includes many tables in her writing - sources that I had never considered emulating before.

Below is a table called “What My Childhood Tasted Like” (on page 59 of my paperback of Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life). It is a simple T-Chart. On the left hand side is the item from her childhood and the right hand side is ARK's notes about it.
AKR's Taste of Childhood Table 

I immediately found myself thinking about my childhood tastes and got to work making my own childhood taste table.
Trina's Taste of Childhood table 

(Note: I couldn't figure out how to properly include a chart on Blogger without distorting the words, so here is a link to my full chart of childhood tastes.)

I think about food probably a lot more than I should, but I hadn't thought about writing about food in this way before. Creating this chart conjured so many fond memories, and I could easily elaborate on just one of these ideas in a poem or short story. I found it to be a playful way to come up with new seed ideas to write about.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 23: Golden Lines - On Writing

In the summer of 2016, in my former role as a secondary district literacy coach, I led a professional development session to middle level and high school English Language Arts (ELA) teachers in my district on best practices in teaching adolescent writers.

I wanted to lead a session that wasn't just me talking and telling. I wanted participants to be engaged. I yearned for teachers to leave with new learning and insights.

I ended up setting up this session like a workshop, providing participants with choice and inviting them to make something meaningful. You can see my plan here. I designed this staff development session based on what I learned from Samantha Bennett, who graciously guided me in developing it. (To me, Sam Bennett and Cris Tovani's explanation and examples for how to plan for and instruct using a workshop model makes the most sense. Check out Sam's That Workshop Book and Cris' So What Do They Really Know? for more on workshop.)

In the first part of the session I invited teachers to read an array of professional materials about teaching writers. I shared resources from some of my favorite teacher authors, including Katie Wood Ray, Katherine Bomer, Ralph Fletcher, Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, and Kelly Gallagher. In addition, I provided books on writing by Stephen King, Anne Lamott, Georgia Heard, and Natalie Goldberg. Participants could select which resources to read and determine what pieces that they were the most interested in.

A few of the writing resources I shared with teachers. 
As teachers poured through materials, I asked them to collect golden lines, or lines that particularly resonated with them. After teachers collected golden lines, I instructed them to star or circle one or two of their favorite lines. Next, each teacher shared his or her top golden lines with a small group and later with the large group. Based on conversations they had with each other about their golden lines, teachers were invited to add lines they heard about from their colleagues to their own list.

Finally, I asked each participant to create a writing manifesto based on the collection of golden lines or ideas based on what they read. The idea was that if teachers could create a writing manifesto, then they could articulate their beliefs on best practices AND be able to support their beliefs with theory or research.

Prior to leading the staff development session, I created two samples to share with teachers. Below is my writing manifesto, based on a collection of golden lines from my favorite teachers of writers:
We live in the world as writers, searching for and capturing ideas for writing.
Writing is a process and by focusing on the process and habits of a writer, writing improves.
Good things happen when writers are able to articulate what they are doing and why.
The daily practice of craft sharpens the writer’s vision and tunes the writer’s voice.
The more you do it, the easier it becomes for you to continue to do it and the more you learn about how it gets done.
No matter where we start as writers, we can reach for more.


I also wrote a poem as a different way to communicate my beliefs about writing. You can read it by visiting this post.

Collecting golden lines gave teachers the opportunity to write a manifesto similar to how someone would create a found poem. However, had the option to create his or her writing manifesto using any format desired. Honestly, the format didn't really matter. What mattered most was that teachers thought deeply about their practices in writing and how he or she synthesized that information in order to make positive change for writers.

At the end of the morning session, teachers shared their writing manifestos in small groups and a few shared in the large group. This led to a fantastic discussion about instructing writers. This was, by far, one of the most powerful staff development sessions that I have ever led. All of the high school and middle level teachers were engaged. Many commented that they appreciated making something that mattered to them. I encouraged all participants to hang their manifestos in their classrooms or where they plan as a reminder that our beliefs about teaching writers matter for planning.

Nearly two years later, both of my manifestos (my poem and my collection of golden lines) hang near my computer at school. They are daily reminders of what I strive to do as a teacher of writers.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 22: Take Pause

As I was paging through my notebook yesterday morning (reaching for an idea for my next slice), I stumbled across this poem that I wrote back in mid-February:

Take Pause
Take pause…
at raw, quivering

Notice your emotions.
Name your emotions.
Accept your emotions,
whether they are full of
joy, rage,
despair, sadness,
loneliness, or jealousy.

Allow an
of unfiltered, unapologetic

Recognize your humanity.
After all, emotions
are impermanent
and are what enable us
to feel ALIVE.
Be curious
to cultivate compassion and
wisdom within.

you are worthy
you are whole,
and you are beloved.

Initially, after I wrote this poem, I hated it and buried it in my writer’s notebook, determined that I could never share it. My negative self-talk took over: my poem was too simple, my words weren’t descriptive enough, I didn’t dive in deep enough, and my content was silly. Who would want to read something like this?

Negative self-talk is my worst critic.

Frequently, I find myself stifled by negative self-talk, especially in my writing. For this reason, I have this quote from Ralph Keyes’ The Courage to Write, taped on the inside of my writer’s notebook:

"Fear is felt by writers at every level. Anxiety accompanies the first word they put on paper and the last."
This quote nudges me to keep writing and sharing, even when it's scary.

This year I have been working on being more courageous in what I write and sharing it.
Blogging has been a great step for me in sharing my writing, so far. I am in awe when someone notices something about my writing that I hadn't considered. That is thrilling to know. I am always so honored (and humbled) when my dear friend and colleague Lisa reads one of my posts and tells me what she likes or what she tries in her classroom based on what I wrote. Generous comments from online readers, especially Glenda from Evolving English Teacher and Elisabeth from The Dirigible Plum has been another source of encouragement. They have commented on my post each single day during my Slice of Life Challenge.

And so I have deep gratitude for each of you who keeps coming back to read my writing and the new people who take the time to read my words. I sincerely appreciate it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 21: Rest

I yearn for easy days - extra sleep, taking time to read, breathe.
Reprieve from busy day chaos (sans rush). Time to simply be.
Looming headache, body aches, stuffy nose...provides forced lengthy rest.

These all give me relief so I can rest better

Above is my first attempt at a sijo poem. Sijo is a Korean poetic form, reported to be even older than Haiku. A sijo poem is three lines long and each line ranges from 14-16 syllables long. In all, a sijo poem ranges from 44-46 syllables.

Below is the basic structure of a sijo poem:
  1. Line one is the introduction to the idea or theme of the poem.
  2. Line two develops the idea or theme or topic more into depth. It can also be a line where there is a "turn." 
  3. Line three is how the poem concludes, but there is usually some sort of a twist or even a joke. This can be irony or humor, a play on words, or a pun. 
According to Writer's Digest, I learned that Sijos are meant to be songs. They can also be funny or personal or something about the mind. Each line is supposed to have some sort of a break or pause in the middle of the line. Finally, the last line needs some sort of a twist in meaning. Some sijo poems are six lines long. According to the Poetry Foundation, a six line sijo is more common for modern sijo poems. This is especially true for those written in English. 

I first heard of sijo poems when I read Linda Sue Park's Tap Dancing on the Roof (Clarion Books, 2007). However, it wasn't until today that I tried one out. I found writing a sijo to be more challenging than it looked, but these kind of writing challenges entice me. (And yes, if you are wondering, dear reader, I really have been sick. My daughter was sick last week, gifted her cold to me, and I spent most of last weekend in bed. I am ready to feel healthy again.) 

Perhaps you will try your pen at writing a sijo and share it with me! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 20: Living in a Poem

"Your Life is a Poem" by Naomi Shihab Nye
About three years ago, I started regularly listening to podcasts on my iPhone. Podcasts are typically what keeps me company as I fold clothes, cook, or do the dishes. And if I can manage it, I listen to podcasts when I walk one of my dogs. One of my favorite podcast to listen to is On Being, hosted by journalist and author Krista Tippett.

The On Being Podcast hosts a variety of guests, including poets, authors, activists, and spiritual leaders. No matter the topic, I find that I always benefit from listening to the conversation between Krista Tippett and her guest. I record lines I want to remember in my writer’s notebook and am thrilled to discover new books to read or ideas to consider. Last week Thursday’s guest was poet Naomi Shihab Nye. Although this episode originally aired in 2016, I loved listening to it again and thinking about Naomi Shihab Nye’s work in a deeper way.

In the beginning of the podcast Naomi Shihab Nye shared her belief that she feels we are all living in a poem. She explained that when she visits classrooms she often writes this phrase on the board, “you are living in a poem.” In addition, she shared how she finds poetry to be organic and that we all think in poems. As part of a conversation in sharing with children the ways in which we live in a poem, Naomi Shihab Nye says, “...when you think, when you’re in a very quiet place, when you’re remembering, when you’re saving an image, when you’re allowing your mind calmly to leap from one thought to another, that’s a poem. What’s what a poem does.”

What an exquisite thought.

And these two lines of Naomi Shihab Nye especially resonated with me as I was listening to this episode:
  • “If you know words, if you compose, you might want to share them because they’ll have a bigger life if you do that.” 
  • “The story that you would be telling to yourself about the street, even as you walk down it, or as you drive down it, as you look out the window, the story you would be telling-it always seemed very much to me, as a child that I was living in a poem that my life was the poem.”

Since I listened to this podcast again last Thursday, this line has spooled in my mind, “you are living in a poem.” I cannot express in words how much I love this concept - living in a poem. It makes me want to savor my thoughts more and remind myself that my thoughts can be crafted into poems.

In thinking about living in a poem, and as I walked my dogs early Monday morning, these were a few lines mulling in my mind:

I anticipate yesterday’s warm breezy air as we
emerge early this morning:
me and my canine companions.
Yet cold chills my neck, numbs my face.
Immediately I return inside for my insulated coat,
winter hat, and
Bare branches project against street lights,
trails of road salt snake on sidewalks,
and steep snow piles remain on edges of yards-
reminders that winter still remains.

How are you living in a poem today?

Slice of Life Challenge #21 Day 31: Easter Preparations

For the month of March, each day I am writing and posting  a slice of my life , hosted by Two Writing Teachers.  Slice of Life Challenge #21...