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When Teachers Write: 7 Strategies for You and Your Students When Getting Started is Tough


I do not sit down at my desk to put to verse something that is already clear in my mind. If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. We do not write in order to be understood. We write in order to understand.
                                                                                                     ---C.S. Lewis

The  end-of-the-school-year build up felt particularly hard this year---like a climb uphill carrying a 100 pound pack while wearing too tight hiking boots with cotton socks. My brain felt blistered.  I'm a believer that one can not deny her true self forever. Trying to do so leads to unhappiness, and I find that what I'm trying to deny or restrain ends up oozing out of my pores eventually.  

I've been a writer since elementary school. While other kids rolled their eyes and groaned at the newest writing assignment, I relished them and often did more just for "extra credit." When I entered the teaching field in 1991, I felt I was relinquishing my writing dreams.  But starting this blog and my TpT journey has helped me reclaim those dreams. 

I recently dusted off manuscripts, complete and incomplete, from years ago.  And I have a new one in the works.  And it won't go away.  It's oozing out of my pores and comes into my mind at the oddest of times.  And so, this is my summer of writing. I don't mean dabbling. I mean writing 4 hours every day. Every day. Because I have to. School let out on June 16th for me. That's last Friday. I've already begun to write. 

But because I am a writer who also teaches, I'm very interested in learning lessons from my own writing processes that I can pass on to my students.  We know that learners and teachers learn from doing.  Every Wednesday until school begins (the last week in August), I will be writing on this blog about my own writing process and offering tips and lessons for your writers in your classroom. My lessons have already begun. They began on Saturday morning, June 17th. Here is what I've learned about writing, so far:



As I began writing my manuscript the day after school let out, I was struck by a tsunami of anxiety.  It was almost overwhelming.  Thoughts like, "This idea sucks." and "Who do you think you are?" hovered over my head as I put pencil to paper.  I pushed through, however and was able to begin. HOW I was able to do that made me think about my own students who struggle to begin.  What could I share with them? Here's what I discovered about beginning...

  1. Start by sketching.  Words weren't coming to me at first, even though they had been for weeks before I sat down with my writer's notebook.  So I sketched at first.  This helped my brain relax.
  2. Use a pen, especially if you are a perfectionist. Using a pen is messy. It allows for all of your ideas to to be seen...even the ones you think are crappy.  Later on, when you've had some distance between you and the page, you might not think they aren't so crappy. If you erase them, you're missing out on opportunities to rediscover and remember. Students are famous for wearing down their erasers instead of their pencil leads.
  3. Talk to the voice in your head. That's write. Talk to the voice that is telling you that your idea(s) or story is worthless. Tell it to shut up. Or, tell it that if you don't believe in yourself, no one else will either.
4. Write this: I don't know what to write...I don't know what to write...I don't know what to right. Sounds weird, I know.  But the simple act of getting your pen or pencil on the paper will start the process. Eventually, the words will come.

5. Write out of sequence. Sometimes, beginnings are the hardest for me.  I've learned to skip them if I'm really hung up. I will start writing a scene that my mind can't seem to stop seeing, instead.

6. Phone a friend. One thing I have discovered both as a teacher AND as a writer, is that I need to orally rehearse.  That's right. I'm almost 50 years old, and I need to tell my stories to trusted friends. Doing so makes me a much better writer. My fifth graders need to do this, too. Sometimes, I tell my stories to them.  They HELP ME when I'm stuck. I've learned to build this practice into my classroom writer's workshop, as well as my personal writing process.

7. Research if you can't write. Sometimes, I just can't begin writing the story in my head. So, I research details I know I'll need to tell my story.  My last few sessions, I've been researching trees and how they communicate with each other.  Researching keeps me moving in the right direction when my writing anxiety feels overwhelming.  Wouldn't this work for my students, too?

I'm really looking forward to pushing myself as a writer this summer.  Even if my manuscripts are never published, I will be able to say I've finished something. I've tried. I've grown from the effort, both as a teacher and writer.  

Be sure to stop by every Wednesday to hear more about "When Teachers Write..." And, feel free to tell me about your own writing journey by commenting on this post!

I've put together these seven strategies into a little interactive notebook page for you to use with your students. You can download it by clicking the picture below. Enjoy and please leave some feedback love if you're appreciative.


You might also be interested in this!

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See you on Sunday, for my regularly scheduled post! Come back to read about an different kind of book tasting event. Until next time...




The Kindess Poetry Project: 10 Writing Exercises from Poet Andrew Green




As part of the 3 E’s Blogging Collaborative monthly link-up series on empathy, equity, and empowerment, I’d like to introduce you to our guest blogger, Andrew Green from Potato Hill Poetry.  I first met Andrew in a weekend workshop in Phoenix, Arizona.  As a teacher-learner, I watched as he inspired us to experience poetry as writers, teachers and learners. And I thought to myself, “This is something special.” Fast forward fifteen years.  I am teaching in Michigan, and I stumble over Andrew’s materials in my filing cabinet.  I find his website.  I reach out to him. He travels from Boston to Michigan to be our writer-in-residence.  I watch our students, eating poetry out of the palm of his hand. I think to myself, “His work. It’s still something special.”  He brings a unique perspective to teaching the 3 E’s as he travels the greater New England area and the rest of the United States. And yes, he’s still something pretty special. 

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.
                                                —Henry James

 
When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.
                                                —Dalai Lama, XIV

I work as a poet in the schools. My job is to inspire, motivate, and encourage kids to read and write poetry. I do this by sharing my love of poetry with them. I read them poems. I share my writing notebooks and writing habits with them. We read poems out loud and talk about them. We write poems together on the board and then we all write our own. If we have time, we revise them. Finally, we share and celebrate them in pairs and as a large group. We notice what we like. We ask questions about things we don’t understand. We encourage revision. We applaud the effort. And kids love it. Especially the sharing out loud.



It’s that simple. The trick is to help each student find a connection to poetry. This can be done by sharing many different poems so that students see all the ways poems can be written. Once students discover a poem about a subject they like, suddenly a light goes off. Bingo. Poetry speaks to me. Poetry is about something I care about. Poetry has purpose and pleasure and power.





This year, we took the act of kindness as one of our main themes to explore in our poetry. We talked about what kindness is and how we show it? We talked about the different ways people can be kind to each other. We read poems about kindness and then we went on “Kindness Hunts” to see where and how we might witness it. We discovered these acts all around us.



Kindness was everywhere. In our classrooms, lunchrooms, at recess, on the playground, in our kitchens and homes, on the sports fields, in parking lots and stores, on the sidewalks and in traffic.



And we wrote about it. We wrote poems describing what we observed. We shared them. We passed them on to others. We gave them as gifts.



When writing poems about acts of kindness, one learns that there are many different kinds of kindness. There are small momentary kindnesses to strangers – holding the door for someone, picking up someone’s dropped pencil, letting someone slide into the long line of morning traffic.


There are planned kindnesses – writing a poem for someone, taking a day off from work to stay home and nurse someone back to health, surprising someone with a special gift.

And then, there are the daily kindnesses to those we love: packing a lunch for someone, driving someone to school in the morning, helping someone with homework or reading them a story before bed.

Poetry is one place to acknowledge these acts of kindness, to write them down and measure them out, to describe them in words on the page. By describing these moments on the page, we make them come to life in a poem – it’s a way of saying thank you to those who make our lives better.



Writing Time:

When you write a poem about an act of kindness you have many choices.

Your job is to write a lot about a little act of kindness you witness. Here are some questions, strategies, and thoughts to consider when writing:

Questions to Ponder when Writing:

1.What are different types of kindnesses you can write about?  This is a good classroom topic for discussion as a pre-writing exercise.

2.What kinds of things can you include in your poem?

3.Will the five senses help you to convey the scene?

    4.What observations can you make about the people, the setting, 
        the light, the time of day, the weather?

5.Could you include a line (or more) of dialogue – what are people actually saying?

6.What are some examples of your topic that you could show us?

7.What struck you the most about this act of kindness?

8.Will the Five W’s help you? Who? What? When? Where? Why?

9.How did the people involved act and react?

10. What thoughts do you have about this act of kindness?


Ten Exercises for Writing a Poem on Kindness:

1.Write a poem about an act of kindness that you observe between two people. This could be in a coffee shop or school cafeteria or anywhere you observe people.

    2.Write a poem about an act of kindness that someone you live    
       with does for you each and every day.



    3.Write a poem about a friend who does something kind for you. What do they do that makes you feel good about yourself

and about them?


    4.Write a poem about a relative and some act of kindness they     have done for you in the past.


5.Write a poem about an act of kindness you have done for someone else. Don’t be bashful. Describe it in detail.



6. Write a poem about an act of kindness from a teacher or coach.



7.Write a portrait poem describing a person you know who is kind to you.



8.Write a poem describing your thoughts on what kindness is and why it’s important.

9.Write a poem using only simile or metaphor describing what kindness is.

10. Write a poem about the kindness of a pet or an animal or something from the natural world.

Remember, the best poems are those that don’t tell us, but show us and therefore leave the conclusions up to the reader. Put on your discovery hat and go discover kindness out there. Then write your poems.


No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

                                                —Aesop

Here are several sample poems:

At The Grocery Store

By Andrew Green

As he walks up behind her

She turns

At the last minute

And decides

To hold the door for him

Who gladly accepts



And in return

Holds the inside door for her

Each of them

Thanking the other

For that brief moment



Before they scurry on their way

He to the produce aisle

For a box of strawberries

She to the deli

For a quarter pound of pastrami.



The Kindness of Grass
By Maisie

The first thing you do

Is see the grass.

It catches your eye.

You smell the grass.

It smells as beautiful

As perfume.

The grass is as fresh

As a strawberry just picked

From the patch.

I love the grass.

It tickles between your toes

And it’s as soft as your pillow.



He

By Samantha

He stops unloading the light bulbs

Out of his red van

To push me on the swings

With his dirty hands

He hugs and kisses me good-bye

Every day sending me

Well wishes

He always has time

After his long and weary days

To play with me

On the hoverboards

He kills the evil spiders

When I am too scared to

He asks me how

My day was every day

After school

He kisses me good night

Each night.


Penny

By Meghan

We are friends

Me and her

Her and me

And that is fact

As always will be

I see her

She sees me

Friends from beginning

Puppy her

Baby me

Friends are friends

We’ll never leave

And that is a fact

As always will be

Me and her

Her and me.


Mrs. Flieger
By Annie

She asks, “Are you okay, my love?”

She helps me stay focused

She stops her work to talk to me

She calms me when I’m stressed

She comforts me when I’m down.



Flute

By Findlay


B flat, F, F, G, F, D, E flat, F —

Mr. Harlow stopped me.

He told me:

Chin up, elbows down.

I continued:

F, G, G, F —

My hands started to hurt.

D, C.

He told me:

Take a break.

I calmed down and continued:

B flat, B flat, B flat, B flat —

I felt dizzy.

Then Mr. Harlow stopped me again

And said:

Smaller embouchure,

Slower breathing.

It helped.

I kept playing.


Pancakes

By Jasper

Every weekend: pancakes.

Recipe memorized in my head:

Flour, sugar, salt, baking powder,

Then the wet.

Butter, eggs, milk, vanilla.

Then fruit: banana, strawberry blueberry.

Then the chocolate chips.

Sizzle, sizzle, goes the batter

On the griddle.


You can check out Andrew's Potato Hill Poetry residencies and workshops right here!





This post is the last posting you'll see from the 3E's Blogging Collaborative until August! Until we meet again, you can find us at



Meanwhile, pour yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, put your feet up, and check out the other teacher authors in our collaborative this month. Their links are below!




Lost in Space: Mother's Day Without Mom


Grief does not change you...it reveals you.
                                                                                             ---John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

It is Mother's Day. This is not the first Mother's Day without her.  It's the second.  And as the oldest child who consistently believes she has control over the chaos that swirls around her,  I have believed that I was over the awful speed bump of the first.  I had squared my shoulders all week, prepared to meet today.  I don't have children myself, so my Mother's Days have all orbited around my mom. Except that now they don't.  And I can imagine what it would be like to be a planet (let's say Venus, because who hasn't wanted to be a goddess of love at some point in her life?) and the sun has just simply disappeared. The pull of gravity is still there--- the residue of star dust, but I don't know why I'm orbiting anymore... kind of like that cheesy 70s show "Lost in Space."

Most often, our moms are our first teachers. Mine was. I entered into a world of song, and my mom's big soprano voice filled that world.  From it, I learned the do's and don'ts of living. I learned what it means to be a woman from my mom, and I learned from her mistakes, too. But since her death almost a year and a half ago, my mind boggles from the lessons I've realized.  I was unprepared for those lessons.  I didn't expect them.  They shock me. They leave me breathless, at times.

So on this second Mother's Day without her, I have to share:

  1. Your mind IS a beautiful, gorgeous entity. You may not realize this until you fear losing it to disease. Spend some time decorating it and less time caring about the jelly doughnut you just ate.
  2. It's okay to be like your mom. There's also free will. You can choose to emulate the parts that you love and adore.  None of us are saints.
  3. Do not wait. Don't do it. Take the trip. Buy the shoes. Drink the sangria. Now.
  4. If you still have your mom, spend some time covertly watching her. Watch what makes her face light up. Watch what makes her sad. Ask her about herself. She's more than just a mom. 
  5. If you've lost your mom, like me. Do some archaeological excavating through the family photos. Look for the old ones.  Try to organize your memories. Appreciate.
  6. Take care of yourself. Go to the doctor appointments. MAKE THE DOCTOR APPOINTMENTS. It's a loving thing to do for your family. They will worry less.
  7. Think about your happiest times with her. What made them happy?  If you could strip away all the stress of life with or without your mom, what happiness would be left? 
  8. Age well. That means saying "F-you" to naysayers sometimes. 
  9. Ask "Why not me?" more often. And just say "No" sometimes.
  10. Stand up straight and fill the space you take up with your vibrancy. Remember who you are.

My mom's story is filled with love and heartbreak. Just as yours is. Just as mine is.  My mom was the third generation of her family to fight Alzheimer's Disease, and she was robbed of so much living. None of us have any guarantees. I miss her so much. One of the best ways to honor our moms is to LIVE the lives they gave us with wild abandon.  This isn't a dress rehearsal.  Happy Mother's Day.








Walking the Red Carpet with Book-of-the-Year Awards, Part 1 + a freebie!




Every year at the end of the school year, my students and I hold an election. We review the major mentor texts that we read over the entire school year. We discuss them. We share our opinions about our favorites and our least favorites.  Then, we vote to elect our Book-of-the-Year for room 9. This year, I decided to ramp it up a bit. As part of our developing culture of thinking, I wanted my students to delve more deeply into our year and the texts we read together.

The Brainstorm

Raise your hand if some of the best teaching ideas you've had occur at the oddest times. This happens to me constantly.  This one was no different.  As I bent over my piece-of-crap lawn mower to pull the cord yet again,  the obscenities clouding my mind parted, and I was struck by an image of my students creating a huge mind map about all ten of our mentor texts.  I saw them drawing arrows to and from text titles to show connections.  I saw them writing and talking about their connections. Then I imagined them writing an opinion piece to defend their choices for the Book-of-the-Year Award.  After I put the lawn mower back in my garage (it never did start---I had killed yet another mower), I sat down at my kitchen table to continue daydreaming. 





Before you read any farther, please know that this "new idea" is just now being explored in my classroom.  This post is not a "Hey! Look what we did!" kind of post.  We are in process.  This week, I began by placing a huge sheet of butcher paper on the floor.  On it, I wrote the titles of each major mentor text we had read over the year.  The titles include: Perloo the Bold, Tuck Everlasting, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Pictures of Hollis Woods, Bridge to Terabithia, The Poetry of Langston Hughes, Coming Home, My Brother Sam Is Dead, Between the Lines, and A Long Walk to Water.

We sat on the floor, surrounding the butcher paper and revisited each text. Our discussions focused on the characters and the themes we thought were important in each text.  Just as I had imagined, my students began to find connections between the texts.  This delighted me. Want to know why? Because many of the connections weren't intentional, and yet as they thought through the entire year, they could see themes and important ideas as common threads. 

I ended this discussion by asking students to choose one mentor text that they wanted to nominate for our Book-of-the-Year Award. Surprisingly, every book was chosen by at least one student.  They returned to their seats to do a flash write about their choices.




What's Next?

This week, I'm really excited about our next steps.  Students will begin to review persuasive writing goals by writing a short persuasive essay about their book nomination.  We've been studying bias in text and discussing how authors use words in certain ways to convince or rile up their readers around a product or cause.  We will be learning to do this in our writing this week!  

We will also be completing our floor-sized mind map about the texts and their connections.  I plan to leave this out in the back of my classroom for students to add to on their own, during our independent reading block.  This will be a huge discussion piece for the end of the week. 

After my kids have written their persuasive nominations, they'll practice reading them using whisper phones in order to be less dependent on their texts when they orally defend their choices.  By the last week of May, we will be presenting our nominations, walking the red carpet with our nominations and voting! Be sure to check back for the update next week!

This week, I'm offering something special for my readers and teacher friends!

Until then, check out the free resource below. It's a sample from the larger collection of resources I'm developing and using to complete our "Red Carpet Awards" project.  The larger resource will be available next Sunday, May 21st.  This week, I'm offering something special for my readers and teacher friends! Download the free sample below and leave feedback.  If you're one of the first 5 to leave feedback and comment on this post OR email me, I will GIVE you the FULL RESOURCE, FREE!





This week, you might also want to touch base with these amazing Teacher Talk authors.  This month's posts are packed full of end-of-year goodness!





   
   

The 3 Es Blogging Collaborative & Featured Author and Guest Blogger, Claudia Whitsitt


DRUM ROLL, PLEASE!  This month, as part of the 3E's Blogging Collaborative, we welcome youth and adult fiction author Claudia Whitsitt to our collaborative. Welcome, Claudia!

                                 

Studies have long shown that reading is a great healer, but those of us who read already know that. We don't need a study to recognize how quickly our stress levels drop when we delve into a story or to understand that avid readers maintain active brains and remain healthier the longer they live. Reading is the gift that keeps on giving. 

As I talk to students throughout the year, I'm continually amazed at their insight and understanding of the human experience. I focus on the holes we have in our hearts, invisible though they may be, and how we can help each other to heal by treating each other with respect and kindness. This idea came out of Between the Lines, the first book in the Kids Like You series, which focuses on racism and prejudice in the sixties. Writing this book for middle grade students took me back to my early reading days and the reasons I became an enthusiastic reader at such an early age.  



When I share my version of the "Holes in the Fence" with students, even at the tender ages of nine and ten, they recognize what it's like to have a hole in their heart. They tell me that wounds of the heart may never heal, although they may live to a ripe old age. While the wounds may scab over, kids also recognize how easily a memory or trigger can reopen them. The bottom line is this—we've all suffered loss and pain, no matter our age, but the holes that live in our hearts are invisible to all we meet. We don't "wear our hearts on our sleeves" each moment of every day, but in the same sense, we know how painful the wounds can be, because each of us has lived with pain.  

No one bugs me when I'm reading.

At a recent school visit, few students attended first hour, having parents who are too busy sleeping in from a late night with drugs or alcohol to make sure their kids eat a healthy breakfast, are dressed properly, or kissed goodbye when they head out to class. When those kids finally arrived, we talked about why they love reading. Some common answers were "No one bugs me when I'm reading," and "I can hide in my room and read. It's quiet after everyone is in bed." Escaping from the chaos of their lives, learning to solve problems in different ways, seeing examples of courage and identifying with characters gives these kids hope, helps them develop empathy, and allows them to envision a life beyond the troubled walls of their birth families.  

Art is the nearest thing to life...
                                                           ---George Elliot 

As children, we are often drawn to reading for the simple reason that we love stories. Stories pull us out of our lives and into the lives of others. From characters, we learn to overcome struggles, to display courage in the face of fear, to laugh, to cry, to root for characters that have become our friends. "Mirror neurons" develop—neurons that fire in our brains as if we performed an action ourselves. When we immerse ourselves in a character's world, we develop empathy. Reading soon becomes self-medication. Not just a Band-Aid, but as George Elliot, an English novelist believed, "art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot."  

When we teach kids to read, we also demonstrate how to become well-rounded human beings who believe in the strength and value of each individual, as well as give them the gift of lifetime healing. We teach kids to crave equity, for themselves and others. By offering them stories of survival, overcoming obstacles and facing fear, we empower kids to be courageous. 

Readers are more self-reliant individuals. They become better citizens, deeper thinkers and happier, less wounded people. I can't think of a better way to support our future leaders than to teach them to read. 



Claudia Whitsitt is a former educator and the award-winning author of the Kids Like You series. Between the Lines, Beyond the Lines and Broken Lines teach many lessons, prompting readers to think about the value of friendship, equality, and tolerance. If you would like her to visit your school, you can find information by clicking HERE.



Continue to join in the conversation by reading about more thought-provoking ideas and resources below. Join us!