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…




#SOLC17: Jedi teacher makes “the groups”

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


We are getting ready for our annual field trip to Philadelphia: all the reservations have been made, field trip T-shirts have been ordered, and chaperones have been cajoled into joining us for a day of visiting historic Philly in the company of rambunctious sixth graders.  There is only one thing left to do, the hardest thing to do…

…make the “field trip groups”…

This is middle school.  Making groups, like seating charts, is a serious business.  It can be make or break.  It can be “totally the best thing” or “oh-my-god-I’m-going-to-die- on-this-trip-I-hate-my-life”.

And, it’s all on me, the group maker – the decider of best thing vs. I-hate-my-life.

I sit at the kitchen island with day-glo colored sticky notes covered with desperately phrased messages:

“It would be great if I could be with A., and C., but NOT okay to be with B. and D.”

“L. and M. and also N. and O. It’s okay not for N. and M. but definitely L. and O.”

“I’m okay with anyone.  But NOT K., Q., R., S.,  and T. And also U. and V.  But, I’m okay with anyone.”

“I don’t want to be in any group. I’m good on my own.”

It’s getting late.  Pretty soon it won’t make any sense to go to bed at all because it will be time to get up and face the music anyway – to make the big reveal to 42 sixth graders anxious to know who is with who.  I summon my inner jedi teacher spirit – the one who can see into the future (well, as far as that day in Philadelphia at any rate) and know what will work best.  I call upon my seven months of daily observation, what I know about each child, what I’ve seen, heard, and surmised.  Then, I make my final moves. The sticky notes coalesce into six groups.  I take out six pieces of construction paper and a rainbowed assortment of markers, and transform each stack of  sticky notes into the “Philadelphia Groups!!!”.

A short while later, the first bell rings and I hear my kiddos coming up the stairs and making their way to our classroom.  “Do you think she’s done them yet?” asks one, “I dunno, let’s go check it out.”  They enter the room in twos and threes and make a beeline for the board…silence…and then they erupt in shouts and squeals:

“Oh my god, you’re in my group!”

“This is going to be the best group!”

“You’re in my group, you’re in my group!”

“This is going to be the best trip ever!”

I sip the last of one cup of coffee already feeling the need for another.  Philadelphia, here we come!


#IMWAYR & #SOLC17: Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell

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

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


The story of Mildred and Richard Loving has been very much in the news recently.  A critically acclaimed movie, a sensitively told picture book, podcasts, and the re-airing of documentaries are just some of the ways in which the Loving’s extraordinary battle to challenge Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws has been revisited and retold.

For those not familiar with the Loving’s story, here it is in a nutshell: Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving grew up in the same town, Central Point in Caroline County, Virginia. Things went awry when their friendship blossomed into love, for Richard was white and Mildred was black, and interracial marriage  was against the law in  Caroline County (anti-miscegenation laws, in fact, existed in 24 states at the time).  The young couple have to travel to Washington D.C. to be married, and are arrested immediately upon their return. It takes time in jail,  many years, and many court battles before the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Lovings, and they are allowed to live in peace and raise their children in the place they called home – Central Point, Virginia.


Patricia Hruby Powell’s Loving Vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case is a welcome addition to this collection, especially because of the way in which it tells the  story: in verse, and through the voices of Mildred and Richard.  The two perspectives allow the reader to better understand how both Richard and Mildred processed the events as they unfolded, and gives us some insight into what they thought and how they felt. 


I loved that the book included snippets of history (the Civil Rights movement, the Brown vs. Board of Education case) which allow us to put the Loving case in its historical context. Shadra Strickland’s delicate artwork adds so much to the experience of the book, as well:


Our students take so many of the advances made by the Civil Rights movement for granted today, even as many of those advancements (voting rights, for instance) are under assault. Books like Loving vs. Virginia remind us of the sacrifices made by individuals like the Lovings for such rights and for progress, and they remind us that the fight for civil rights is an ongoing struggle in which we must all participate. Loving vs. Virginia is a must have book in middle and high school classrooms, it would make for an important readaloud, especially now.

#Celebratelu & #SOLC17 & #DigiLitSunday: Experimenting with fiction

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

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

DigiLit Sunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche


I have a confession to make.  Although my sixth graders have clamored to write fiction year after year, our enthusiastic forays into  this genre have always ended with a general feeling of dissatisfaction on both sides: I feel as though I have not taught it well, and they feel as though they haven’t written well.

This March, the familiar question of “when do we get to write fiction?” sounded again.  We had just concluded a unit on essay  writing, and were about to get ready for a unit on test prep – a good time, I thought, to answer this burning question once again: can we write fiction in a meaningful, satisfying, but time conscious way?

I thought carefully about all the things that had led to derailment in the past:

*diving into writing fantasy, which often became convoluted storylines that went on, and on, and on…

*not creating clear parameters for my students, so that some were “all done” quickly and others were unable to conclude because their stories had become so complicated

*not setting up a defined timeframe, so that our “creativity” kept stretching on and on (i.e. story lines were going nowhere, and new characters kept popping up for no rhyme or reason).

And I used those lessons to tighten up the plans for this year:

*we would stick to realistic fiction

*we would think about our storylines in a more limited way:

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*we would spend more time planning before writing:

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*we would have three weeks: two to plan, draft, confer, and peer review, and one to revise and publish.

Last Wednesday was publishing day and our writing celebration.  My kiddos created covers for their short stories, and then sat back and enjoyed each others’ creations:

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And I sat back to reflect upon the initial burning question that had set this particular writing into motion: can we write fiction in a meaningful, satisfying, but time conscious way?  The answer, I thought, was a qualified “yes!”.    Here’s what we learned in the process:

*writing fiction is a lot harder than it looks (some were able to develop their storylines well, and some didn’t quite reach the mark – hence the above “qualified”).

*having a plan of action is really important in writing fiction, because it’s so easy to go off on tangents (new characters! sudden happenings!) and so hard to get back on track.

*working within a time frame helps us stick to our plans (more or less).

*we could use our reading strategies (Notice and Note signposts) as writing strategies.

*we will take what we’ve learned and keep experimenting – who knows, but that some of these short stories will one day morph into the long novels that some of my kiddos long to write. I celebrate that!





Poetry Friday & #SOLC17: A Dog by the Sea by David Salner

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

Poetry Friday is hosted by Catherine at Reading to the Core

Yesterday was #NationalPuppyDay, so the Twitter universe was flooded with photographs of puppies of all sizes and shapes with one thing in common: adorableness. This was my favorite Tweet of the day, of Congressman John Lewis and two versions of one thing – puppy cuteness:

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Our Sophie is no longer a puppy, which she is inclined to forget from time to time, especially early in the morning when we take her on her first walk of the day.  It’s a daily chore that we enjoy when the weather is not freezing cold, and we have time to take in all that surrounds us: the way the breeze blows, the tint of the sky, the sounds of leaves rustling, and the comfort of holding hands.

A Dog by the Sea by David Salner

Just after dawn, we get up,
without coffee, and let the dog lead us
through a grove of wind-stunted trees,
spiked succulents, red-berried holly,
and over the dune ridge out of the gray
of still sleeping minds. A line of pink
from the not yet risen sun
reminds me of the lilac shadows
caught in the radial grooves of shells.
I take up your hand and feel the blood
warming your fingers, as the dog bounds off
dragging her leash through wet sand.
She’s after gulls and a line of waves
that repeat themselves, she seems to think,
because they want to play.
A morning breeze
stirs the now turning tide, breathing over it,
sighing toward bayside. As the waves come in
whorls of light unfold on the sand. How I want
for us to repeat ourselves, on and on,
you holding the leash of a silly dog, me
feeling the beat, the blood in your hand.

#SOLC17: Maker Day – a new take on learning

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

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Today was Maker Day in our middle school.  A dedicated and talented group of our faculty acquired a range of materials for our students for our students to explore, learn, and make all kinds of “stuff” with: creating circuits, building race courses, programming animation, and learning how 3D printers work – there was chance to work with all of this and more.

My own learning and teaching world is steeped in reading and writing workshop, and even though I’ve read and heard a lot about MakerSpaces and the remarkable learning that goes on when kids get their hands on all kinds of cool tools, I’d never seen one in action.  More importantly, I’d never seen own  my students working in such a space – and doing so was quite a revelation.

I learned that some of the greatest risk avoiders in my classroom, the ones who want to know exactly how many lines to every paragraph and how many paragraphs there needed to be in whatever it was that we were writing, were the biggest risk takers in this new setting.  They approached each new maker space with enthusiasm and often did not bother to read the directions, preferring to dive right in and figure their way through. I was surprised to see that these students, the ones who want very explicit directions (ones that are repeated many times) in my classes, felt such a degree of freedom in this space.

I learned that students who were the first to say “I’m done!” in reading and writing workshop, were often the ones who just kept going in our maker spaces.  They kept reaching for new pieces to try out, new combinations to manipulate together, and new limits to test.

And I paid close attention to the vocabulary of this new learning space:

“I wonder what would happen if…?”

“How about if I tried it this way instead of what the diagram says to do?”

“What if I flipped the whole circuit around?”

“Well, it didn’t work that way so I’m going to try this way.”

“I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m gonna  keep trying new combinations.”

“This started out being one thing, but I thought ‘why stop there?’ and kept adding stuff – and look, I made this, which is way cool!”

This is the vocabulary of curiosity, wonder, perseverance, and risk taking: the vocabulary of growth mindset.  How to bring all of that, or some of that, into my classroom? Well, that is what I have been thinking about all day…and will be thinking about for days to come.