Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Slice of Life Tuesday: Why do THEY write?

Last week Saturday was National Day on Writing. Since National Day on Writing didn't fall on a school day, I proudly wore my NCTE shirt the day before and shared with my students about #WhyIWrite. I often write with my students using a document camera, but this time I prepared a triple Haiku to share with them:

Reflect. Question. Learn.
I write to know myself. Brings
calm, wonder, healing. 

Writing reveals my
surprise, gratitude. I play.
I notice. Record.

Daily writing fills 
me - helps make sense of my world
as better human.  

Later I asked students to write about why they write. Below are a few of their responses: 

"I write because it's a form of communicating.
I write so that I can clear out my mind.
I write to become creative.
I write to create music."  
"I write because my teachers make me.
I write sometimes when im really really made and I cant do anything about [it].
I write to communicate."
"I am forced to.
When I send something to my best friend in Florida.
When I m grounded and have nothing to do.
My cousin who lives in Cali."
"I write so that I can get all my feelings out because if I don't I would just feel crazy. Writing helps with pain." 

"I write so I can remember things that are important."
A few of these responses surprised me. I was delighted that I have a handful of students who use writing to create (such as write music). This gives me some new entry points with my students. In addition, although I am not happy that my students are going through tough situations, I am relieved to see that a few are using writing as a healthy way to manage their emotions.  

Head over to Two Writing Teachers today. Join me in sharing a slice of your life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Slice of Life Tuesday: Gordon Korman Visit

Last Friday night, as a part of the Fox Valley Book Festival, my two children and I had the privilege to hear children's author Gordon Korman speak. As an avid reader and writer, I always appreciate hearing an author talk about his or her writing process and craft. I was in awe after learning that Gordon has published over eighty books and that he began writing his first book when he was in seventh grade as part of a school project for English class. In fact, Scholastic published his first book when Gordon was only in ninth grade.  

During the Question/Answer Session towards the end of the presentation, a young child asked Gordon, "How do you feel when you are writing your books?" I adored Gordon's response, "Everything. Happy. Frustrating. Satisfaction when you're done."

Perhaps my favorite takeaway from Friday night was when Gordon shared the power of asking the question what if. This is his guiding question that is often at the heart of his writing. For example, Restart, one of his more recent books, is all about the question what if. What makes us the people we are? Is it ever possible to restart? He explained that constantly asking himself this question what if is what helps him play with ideas in his writing. His advice to writers was to consider, "what are the what ifs in your story?" 

As a reminder, during the presentation I wrote the words what if on my hand. 

Those two words have been lingering in my mind all week. 
How can what if guide me as a writer? 
How can what if guide my teaching? 
How can what if guide my learning? 
What if opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities. 

Write your own Slice of Life and head on over to Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!  

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Slice of Life Tuesday: Awkward Conferring Moments

"I don't read. I don't do reading. I don't do books." 

A fourteen-year-old student, *Ellen, shared these three strong phrases with me today while I was conferring with her. 

I have been observing Ellen's reading behavior during our daily independent reading time for the last few days. She selected a thick book. She's quiet as we read. She turns pages every few minutes. She even uses a book mark. It looks like she is reading and enjoying it. 

Yet in the first few moments of our conversation, she couldn't tell me what her book was about. At all. She couldn't provide me with any predictions or even a superficial connection. She did not have anything to share that she thought was worthy to talk about.

"How did you select this book?" I asked Ellen.
"It looked cool, " Ellen replied.
"Tell me more about what you are thinking. What made it look cool?" I prompted.
"Um. I liked the cover?" She responded.
"Oh, sometimes looking at the cover is a great way to pick out books. I am often attracted to great covers too. What did you like about the cover?"
"I don't know....oh, I liked the lettering," She said. I nodded.
"Did you read the back to see if it looked like a book you might enjoy?"
She shook her head no.
"Did you page through the book?"
Another head nod of no.
"Hmm...Maybe it isn't a good reading fit for you if you cannot think if anything to talk about." I wondered out loud. 
Ellen nodded.  
"Would you want to take a look at a book about design?" I was thinking of introducing her with a design book like Chip Kidd's Go
"Nah. I'm good. This book is okay." 
"Maybe I could help you find a book that you like to read. What are you interested in?"
Ellen simply stared at me. 

I let a few moments of uncomfortable silence pass between us. 

"Ellen, can you remember a book that you read in the past that you really liked?" I asked.
"Not really."
"Is there a title you remember reading last year or in seventh grade?" I asked.
"What about from elementary school?"
"I told you. I don't do books."
I tried to hold my heavy sigh inside. 

Finally, I asked if Ellen if she had ever tried reading a graphic novel. She hadn't. Although not all students like reading graphic novels, I have found that many of my most reluctant readers are willing to read a few pages of a graphic novel. I gave a few book talks of two  graphic novels: Raina Telgemeier's Drama and Terri Libenson's Invisible Emmie. Reluctantly, she said that she would try Drama

My conferring session with Ellen ended up lasting nearly ten minutes, almost the entire time that I had to confer with students in class today. By the time I handed her Drama, our reading time was over, and I did not get the chance to confer with anyone else. 

Fellow readers, this was an awkward conferring session.These are the kind of conferring sessions that make me cringe and fill me with anxiety. I want each conferring session to run smoothly and efficiently, but this didn't happen today.

However, I know more about Ellen as a reader than I did yesterday. In addition, I have a better sense of what some next steps may be with Ellen.

Not so long ago (maybe six years ago) I wasn't conferring. I told myself (and colleagues) that I didn't think that older students (middle school and up) really needed it. In reality, I was intimidated. I felt so unprepared as a teacher, and I didn't know how to confer well. However, I have learned that the more I confer with my students, the more comfortable I am with awkward conversations like the one with Ellen today. It makes me strive to become ever better at conferring. 

*A pseudonym 

Join me and post your Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers! Everyone is welcome!  

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Slice of Life Tuesday: Writing Group Wonderings

Recently, a local artist (and former student), asked me to consider submitting a piece of writing for an upcoming art show in support of women's issues. Of course I was honored, thanked her, and I assured her that I would immediately begin working on a piece.

Then I privately panicked.

Me sharing my writing with a larger, public audience? Aye. Just the thought fills me with so much angst. Yes, that's me, the English/Reading teacher who is always encouraging her students to submit writing for publication. 

What a hypocrite. 

Each time I have carved out some time to work on a piece for this show I get stuck. Here are a few questions that have rolled through my brain:

  • What is worth writing about? 
  • Once I figure out my topic, which details do I include? Which details do I omit? 
  • How will I craft my work in such a way that is compelling? 
  • What form should I write in? A poem? An essay? 

This weekend I found myself combing through past writer's notebooks. I culled my favorite lines and topics. I made lists. I created Heart Maps. I wrote Haiku. I even turned to works from my favorite writers for inspiration. No luck. 

Finally, I reached out to a far away writerly friend for some advice. She inquired if I belonged to a writing group and shared that she would be lost without her writing group. 

Hmm. A writing group might give me suggestions, help me get unstuck, and at least help me silence some of those self-defeating voices in my mind. If I had a community of writers, I might hold myself more accountable to writing and publishing. A community of writers might provide me with feedback. A community of writers might provide me with more inspiration. A community of writers may be working through some of the same struggles about writing that I am. 

On Sunday night I finally decided on a topic to write about for submission to the local art show - my unhealthy body image and how I fear that I have passed this on to my daughter.

Now that I have determined my topic, I have some serious writing work ahead of me. 

In the meantime, I am wondering about writing groups. To my writing friends, do you belong in a writing group? If so, how often do you meet? For how long? What does it look like? Sound like? Has being in a writing group helped you as a writer? What smart suggestions do you have for me? 

Thank you in advance for any insights! 

Join Two Writing Teachers and share your own Slice of Life. All writers are welcome! 

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