Poetry Friday: Poems from “Soul Food”

Poetry Friday is hosted by JoAnn at Teaching Authors

Thursday is usually poetry day in my sixth grade classroom (here’s a post about what that looks like), but the PARCC test got in the way of our usual routine this week. Thursday without poetry just did not feel right, and I was feeling the absence of our usual unpacking of and delight in poetry when I arrived home.

Waiting for me in my mailbox was this lovely book, a thoughtful gift from my friend Kimberley:

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Somehow, she must have intuited my need for nourishing words on this cloudy, poetry-less day, and somehow luck delivered it at exactly the right moment.

I made myself a cup of green tea, found the right spot on my favorite reading chair, and immersed myself in poetry.  First, I came upon an old favorite:

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and then I discovered a new favorite:

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Finally, Thursday felt like Thursday again

Slice of Life Tuesday: Testing, testing, testing…

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Spring Break is over and testing season is here – the PARCC test, and the “too cool for school” test.   The PARCC test will be over and done with in a week…the other test, well, that will take longer than we have time for this school year.

Every year,my sixth graders return from their Spring Break on the precipice of adolescence.   A switch is flipped by some mysterious, known-only-to-sixth-graders force, and they return from break seventh graders in spirit and behavior.  Suddenly (or so it seems), there is a need to present a cool facade, a demeanor of disinterest, a sort of “I’m kinda done with this little place-ness”.  Everyone has a crush on someone else, and middle school drama begins to show up at inopportune times…in the middle of book club, for instance.

Sly smiles, and throwing serious shade  become common place; a need to watch oneself becomes moment by moment work, for one never knows who is watching, or what they might say.

Of course, all of the above does daily battle with the pre-Spring Break self who fights mightily, and with success, at every turn.   That sophisticated sixth grader can (ion the blink of an eye) morph back into the kid who laughs at fart jokes, needs to build a “reading fort” behind the easel, and wants to spend choice time writing about magic wands.

And, of course, there is the unrelenting need to test boundaries, rules, limits, patience…and sometimes even kindness.  They are watchful when testing, paying close attention to how far they can push before there is push back, to whether the same rules apply in the same way they did when the year first began.

They are comfortable with each other and me, sometimes too comfortable.  Throughout the day there is the constant push and pull of maintaining that exact level of comfort that allows for freedom of expression, creativity, and thinking, and yet prevents all of that good stuff from careening off into mayhem (which they both yearn for and and are terrified of).

Testing, testing, testing….

#IMWAYR: Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

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As luck would have it, my copy of Ralph Fletcher’s  Joy Write: Cultivating High-impact, Low-Stakes Writing arrived the week we were getting ready for the PARCC test – i.e. low-impact, high-stakes writing.  I read it with relish and relief – relish because few people write with as much joy about writing workshop as does Ralph Fletcher, and relief because Ralph’s note of caution about current writing workshop practice is something I have been grappling with and needed to hear his voice of encouragement.

For some time now, Ralph Fletcher has been asking us to examine how we structure and prioritize student choice in our writing workshops.  In Making Things From Scratch, he introduced the exploratory notebook and new strategies to help our students move away from the sort of formulaic nonfiction writing they tend to write and towards writing that has authentic voice and creative energy.

In Joy Write, Fletcher expands the scope of his analysis to include all aspects of writing workshop.  Having been there from the very inception of the writing process movement, he brings the force of  his institutional knowledge to this task, and the questions he poses about the way we’ve come to run our classroom writing workshops are both insightful and timely.  In my own sixth grade classroom, for instance, we follow our school’s genre based writing curriculum: we move from one genre to the next through a predictable series of steps, beginning with mentor text studies and culminating in writing celebrations.   Although I see the value of predictable routines and scaffolds in moving my kids through a year of writing in which they grow as writers, I would be the first to agree with Fletcher that hewing only to a genre based workshop saps the creative energy and “buy in” of my young writers; or, as he puts it:

Today in many classrooms we find children being taught exacting writing formulas. When format dominates the writing, there’s little wiggle room or opportunity for kids to make writing their own…They are directed to write in a particular genre in a way that’s highly structured and externally imposed.  From a student’s point of view, the writing is less about me and more about what the teacher tells me to do. (p 22)

So, what’s a teacher to do? If we’ve gotten away from the essence of writing workshop in this age of high stakes, test-oriented writing, and want to find our way back to the joy of student-driven writing within the parameters of our curriculum and state mandates, what is our path forward?  Well, Ralph Fletcher has some ideas:

In this book I am proposing a new concept: greenbelt writing. Writing that is raw, unmanicured, uncurated…I am talking about informal writing..I am talking about low-stakes writing, the kind of comfortable composing kids do when they know there’s no one looking over their shoulders.

… a wild territory where kids can rediscover the power of writing that is:

  • personal
  • passionate
  • joyful
  • whimsical
  • playful
  • infused with choice, humor, and voice
  • reflective of the quirkiness of childhood  (p39)

Greenbelt writing, as described by Fletcher, encompasses everything from blogging to Slice of Life writing to…whatever our students feel moved to write about in the form they choose.  The most important factor in this kind of writing is the fact that we (i.e. teachers) have little to no presence or influence: it’s all about what our kids feel they have to say, in the way they want to.  I loved reading through all the varieties of inspired creativity such freedom invites, and the sense of empowerment it creates:

But many students – more than we might imagine – will find their stride through greenbelt writing.  That’s where they’ll (re)discover the passion of writing, the thrill of saying exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it, savoring how it feels when you create every word, comma, exclamation point and can say with proud confidence: “This is what I wrote, and it’s all mine.”  (p.97)

In my own classroom, thanks in large part to Ralph’s words of caution every time he presents at conferences or takes to Twitter, I have found that making time for greenbelt writing has led to a much greater sense of writing partnership with my students, and (as a consequence) their own sense of personal investment.  Even when it comes to our weekly Slice of Life writing, for instance, “giving over” the platform to my students so that they can propose how they want to write changes the dynamic instantly.   Carving out the time for such endeavors is tricky, after all, do we even have time for the things we are mandated to do, let alone the things we would like to do?

Ralph Fletcher  believes we can:

What will kids remember about writing in school? I want them to remember … writing that is fun, passionate, and joyful, and reflects what matters to each student.  This is the best way I know to create writing classrooms where the student can develop the concept: I am a writer.  (p.40)

Each student as a joyful writer – now that’s something wonderful to consider and work towards.  So, even as we dive into testing season and all it brings, I would urge writing teachers everywhere to go get a copy of Joy Write, read it, and bring greenbelt writing into their classrooms. 

Poetry Friday: “Dark and Late” by Catherine Abbey Hodges

Poetry Friday is hosted by: Tabatha Yeatts: The Opposite of Indifference

Every house we’ve owned has always had a front porch, it’s my one “must have” requirement.  And every porch of every house has always become the center of family life, from the first coat free day of early Spring to the last coat free day of late Fall.  So, it was no wonder that I fell in love with this poem by Catherine Abbey Hodges:

“Dark and Late” by Catherine Abbey Hodges

This dark porch
has brimmed
with light
like a bowl with water
like a throat with laughter

afternoons of light
years of afternoons
scintillating dawns
flagrant noons
underwater-green dusks

and nights
dark and late
lit by candles, hands,
eyes with the leap
that’s the life
we’ve come for,
what we carry
down the spill of years,
what carries us, what
meets us in the end
and on the way
in each other.

SOL Tuesday: Beckoning the lovely in Room 202

Tuesday’s  Slice of Life writing community is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

It’s the story of my teaching life: I have an idea, I toss it out to my kids, and then they blow me away.  Over the years, I’ve learned to place my trust my kids in a “Field of Dreams” kind of way – if you name the idea, scaffold it a bit, and invest it with purpose, they will rise to the occasion, and often exceed the idea you had in the first place.

Two weeks ago, while thinking about the recent loss of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, I felt the need to share her with my students.  I wanted them to know of her work, her spirit, and the joyous way in which she invited her readers to consider noticing and doing lovely things.  So, I came up with this Slice of Life Assignment (we write a slice of life every Friday on our class blog):Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 1.47.49 PM

At first, my students were puzzled.  There were a hundred anxious and agitated questions: what do you mean by “lovely”? does it have to be something written down? can I sing a song? can I work with a partner?

Then they were a bit annoyed by the open endedness of the assignment (these are kids who seem to need very explicit directions: how many paragraphs? how many lines in each paragraph? – so much of my work with them this year has been to break this neediness and encourage more risk taking).

Then they got to work…and I waited.  Some of our “lovelies” came in during the week, and were cause for celebration, like Lila’s painting:

On Sunday, when the assignment was due, I logged on to Google classroom and watched lovely unfold:

  • movies about lovely moments and memories
  • planting trees in our neighborhood inspired by #ALTNPSPLANTATREE:

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  • creating a community kindness project:

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  • poetry – lots of poetry!

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  • crafting something lovely for those we love (sketching a flower for mom, delivering treats to grandma)
  • looking out of the window and celebrating the lovely that Nature has to offer (a cherry blossom in bloom):

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On Sunday, I was overwhelmed by what my kids had been able to do: they came to that metaphorical field and they brought their A game.  They imagined what kindness looks like, and they paused to notice what was lovely in their everyday.  We beckoned the lovely in room 202, and the joy of our endeavor reverberates.








Poetry Friday & #SOLC17: What’s in My Journal by William Stafford

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has the Poetry Friday Roundup today at The Poem Farm.


Here we are, the last day of another March Slice of Life writing challenge.  At the beginning of February, I began to have doubts about whether I’d participate this year.  I was in the midst of the writing doldrums; it was hard to think about what to write, and nothing I managed to write sounded pleasing or worthwhile.  By the end of February I knew for certain that I would not write, and (I’ll admit) I felt a certain relief.  The March Challenge is not for the writing faint of  heart, and I was feeling very faint of heart.

On the last day of February I shared my thoughts with my writing Voxer group.  I’ve made up my mind, I shared cheerily, but good luck and fare thee well!

They listened without passing judgement.  They expressed some regret.  And, on the first day of March, they wrote.

Driving to work that morning, I felt rather pleased with myself. I thought I’d made the right decision.  But, by lunchtime, I felt the familiar pull – the call of this writing community.  I remembered previous March Challenges: the collective cheer leading squad we became as one March day moved into another.  I remembered how our stories fed each others’  imaginations, how our ideas passed from one writer to another, blossoming and blooming into new ideas along the way.  And I remembered the sweet satisfaction of this day, the last day, and the way the community came together to celebrate the journey…weary, but proud.

So, at lunchtime, I wrote.

And something interesting happened along the way…I grew back into my writing life again.   Writers need authentic and supportive audiences, writers need the consistency of feedback, and writers need a sense of purpose.   As a writing teacher, I know that all of the above is important for my students  and I work really hard to make sure they are encompassed in our classroom writing community.  But, as a writer myself, I don’t think I work hard enough at making sure that these things are present in my own writing life. Luckily, the March Slice of Life Challenge offers all that, right here, day after day.  I didn’t know how much I counted on this community until I almost didn’t have it.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for gifting us this venue.  Thank you fellow writers for showing up, day after day, to write, read, comment, and cheer.  What’s in my writing journal these days?  Your words, and you.


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#SOLC17: Looking for a purple flower moment

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

Like many others, I have been revisiting Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s books ever since I heard the sad news of her death.  Reading Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, with its many opportunities to “text and …” or connect to the books interactive website which involve hearing Amy’s voice, is a bittersweet experience  – Amy was a joyful spirit, and her books bubble over with her whimsical ability to see  lovely in the smallest of things.

Today, I came to rest at these two pages:

So, today I went in search of a Purple flower moment:

I am sitting on the patio, warming sockless feet on the sun baked stone.  A breeze weaves its way through budding forsythia and cherry blossom trees, and it feels like the beginning of real Spring.  I can hear the wind chimes singing merrily from the front porch, our neighbor’s daughter practicing her piano, and two cardinals chirping out their afternoon news.  Both dog and cat are stretched out on the just greening grass, and the air smells earthy, clean, and cool.  I look up to spy a cardinal perched on a forsythia branch and notice that one solitary bud has opened it’s golden petals all the way.  A door slams somewhere, startling the bird who flies away. As he takes flight, so does the forsythia blossom which is caught in the palm of the breeze, lifts up,  and floats away.


It reminds me of you, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and your yellow umbrella, and the purple flower moments you called our attention to.  I wish you had had more of those…