SOLSC – March 31,2016: Gratitude


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Here we are, writing friends, on the last day of another March Slice of Life writing challenge.  We made it!

There were some writing days that went well…there were some that were rocky…and then there was one that just did not go.  Writing is like that.

With each March Challenge, I learn something important about myself as a writer and (more importantly) as a writing teacher.  I learn something about “having to write” – which is, let’s face it, what I ask my students to do every day they walk into my classroom. I learn something about putting something “on the page” and working to craft it into something readable, something meaningful.  I learn that sometimes the words I write don’t quite measure up to what I’d hoped, but I can always return someday to revise.

And I learn about the importance of the constant and encouraging support of a writing community.  Each day, you were here to read, leave words to show you’d read, and in doing so you left hope for tomorrow as another writing day.

So, on this last day of our March Challenge…I thank you, the Slice of Life writing community.  You kept me going, you really did.  And for that, I am abundantly grateful.

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SOLSC – March 30,2016: Paying attention to stories everywhere


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After 30 days of storytelling for the Slice of Life March Challenge…I am feeling my storytelling well run dry.

After 30 days of being part of a community of writers dedicated to the idea that writing teachers must write their stories, too, I am proud of having supported this community…but weary of the effort, too.

On Tuesday afternoon, I stepped back  from reading slice of life stories, and plunged into my world of podcasts – my library of stories from the world:

I listened to voices sharing stories of grief, humor, triumph and sacrifice.  Each story unravelled some new wrinkle of human experience, exposed soft shadows of sorrow, and brought light to this mysterious endeavor  we are all engaged in: living life as best we can.

Stories from the world, asking to be honored and heard.

The last podcast I listened to featured a daughter trying to understand her mother’s story. Much had not been said in the years before, and so the interview was like watching an onion being peeled – layer upon layer of story and the meaning of the story…what it was then, what it means now.  At the end, the mother is glad to have begun to share her story with her daughter – there was discovery on both ends of the conversation.  “I am a person,” the mother says; “Yes, but for a long time I didn’t think so,” the daughter replies.

Stories. Connections. Bonds.  Slices of our lives…


SOLSC – March 29,2016: Back to school



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I trudge up the stairs early this Tuesday morning, backpack and bags loaded down for the week.  We’ve been on Easter Break since Thursday – four days ago, which is a long time, really, in the lives of my sixth graders.

As I make my way down the long sixth grade hallway and to our room, my thoughts are crowded and harum-scarum.  Will they remember where we last left off in our read aloud? or our Social Studies unit on the Industrial Revolution?  Will they remember that we are to begin our Argument Writing unit, and be as excited about the prospect as they were the week before?

The hallway is still, the classroom dark, and I turn the key.  In the cool grey light of early morning, our room is in shadows, it is quiet and waiting.  Soon, they will be here, my children…they will jostle and shout, they will yawn and complain about having to wake up early again, they will be bursting with stories about what they did and who they saw and why they are sad to be back.

It will be noisy today.  It will be a day to call on the angels of patience and understanding. It will be a day of: “I can’t believe I am here!”, “Man, I wish we had another day to relax!”, “I am so tired already!”, and “I wish we’d had another day!”.

“Did you miss us?” someone will ask, and they will smile and guffaw in disbelief when I say, “Yes, actually, I did.”

And I will look out at my classroom full of sixth graders, in all their uncontainable exuberance, their exasperating and unpredictable ways,  and I will be the only one in Room 202 to know the truth of this: I missed them, and this is why I teach.





SOLSC – March 28,2016: Choices


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Back in the days when my kids were very young, I had some strict kitchen rules which were constructed mainly to save my sanity.   The chief among these rules were: meals were served when meals were served (“I am not running a restaurant here!”), and although menu ideas were always appreciated, I got to choose what was ultimately served (“You get what you get, and you don’t get upset!”).   Some of my kids’ friends had moms who offered many choices and didn’t seem to mind fixing special meals for each of their special kids, but that wasn’t my way.   The way I rationalized this strictness was this: I’d rather that all of us were out of the kitchen and doing other things (like the play ground or the library). There was some bitter grumbling, I have to admit, but the rules stuck.

Until…my kids moved out of the house, into their own apartments, and showed up for meals once in a great while.   This Easter weekend, for example, Ben woke up first and ambled into the kitchen looking for breakfast.  My husband and I had already eaten hours earlier, but I volunteered to make him exactly the kind of breakfast his heart most desired:


which was much appreciated.   Ben ate with great gusto, and remarked (more than once) how different this was from times past, when kitchen rules ruled.

Two hours later, Elizabeth shuffled downstairs in search of coffee and something to eat…voila!  Breakfast #2!:

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Both kids agreed how lovely it was to have  these newer and kinder kitchen rules.  And for the moment, I am going along.

SOLSC and DigiLit Sunday – March 27,2016: Trust


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digilit sunday

Join Margaret Simon for today’s DigiLit Sunday posts where Margaret invites us to continue the conversation about digital literacy and trust.

Yesterday, our writing group exchanged many Voxer messages about the issue of trust in digital literacy in general, and writing in particular.  It reminded me of the many occasions in which my students and I had to tussle over difficult issues all arising from one thing: trust.

We have to learn how to trust our writing voice, so that we can write about things that matter most to us.  This is often a hard thing to learn how to do, especially for my students who worry so much about how their peers will respond to their blog posts and digital writing pieces.  Sometimes, this means writing about a topic which is uncomfortable or painful: a death in the family, divorce, bullying, or racism and how to respond.  Very often, writing about any of these topics is a way to sort through our own ideas and find clarity by exploring our thoughts and listening to the voices of our classmates as they respond.  This kind of trust is built slowly and needs constant praise and encouragement.  It requires tending to.

But, we also have to cultivate an environment in which students learn how to formulate good judgement about what they will write about.  This is where it gets tricky, for the basis of this is often the trust built between teachers and their students.  A few years ago, a student asked me if he could write a slice of life  about his parents’ divorce.  As we talked it over, it became clear that he was most upset about the economic disparity between his executive father and his homemaker mother which led to situations in which “Mom always loses”.  Clearly, I understood that this was not the best SOL topic for my student to write about – it was too deeply personal, it would put him in an awkward position with his parents who were having difficulties enough, and it would put his classmates in an awkward situation, too: what could they say? what should they say?  Perhaps this would be a topic best saved for a writer’s notebook entry, a poem,  or a research based argument piece, I suggested, you can still write about this topic but just in a different format?  In as much as we must teach our students to write about the things they care about, then, we must also help them to know that they can trust us to help them figure out where and how to write.

As Margaret’s post illustrates, the thing about digital writing and blogging is that most of the issues we face are often as unpredictable as our students themselves.  In this constantly shifting landscape, one thing must remain ever present: trust.  Thank you, Margaret, for leading us in this important conversation  today.



SOLSC: March 26, 2016 & Celebrate This Week:A different landscape


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

We are on the edge of Spring in New Jersey, and all the early signs of the season are already much in evidence: crocuses and pushing through, the dogwoods are budding, and the forsythia bushes are showing hints of their golden glory.

But, in Washington County, NY, where we are for Easter weekend, winter has yet to shed its grey cloak.  We closed on our farm early last July, and my memory is still suffused with lush green landscapes of meadows, hills and cornfields of the Summer, and their Fall wardrobe of vivid reds and gold.   But, this grey, beige and sage landscape is lovely, and quietly soothing, too.

We can see the contours of the hills and valleys around us, and Vermont’s Green Mountains seem much closer.  Everywhere, the cornfields are being prepared and their mazelike furrows and ridges extend for acres and acres.  There is a stillness when we walk in the woods, and  the snow sodden leaves have lost their crunch.

Winter lets go much more reluctantly up here in the North Country…but there is much to celebrate in its grey splendor, none the less:

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All the photographs above were taken by my friend Sue Clary, whose art and antique gallery I treasure year round.

SOLSC & Poetry Friday: March 25, 2016 – “Home”


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Poetry Friday round-up with Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe.

Poetry Friday round-up with Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe.

When my son was in first grade, he authored a series about a mighty mouse who stood for justice and defending those who could not do so themselves.   Bazooka Bill, he was called, and he was (apart from being strong and fair-minded) also hilarious.  The series was a big hit both at home and at school, earning him praise from family and friends alike.  The only problem was, well…the bazooka.  I remember a few conversations about alternate means of bringing justice to the world: magic wand? light saber?  But, no, Ben thought the bazooka was integral to his story, and so bazooka it was.

Every author night, and there were quite a few, I would sit through stories about Disney World, and fun at the beach…and then Ben would get up in front of his friends and their parents and read his latest Bazooka Bill installment.  His friends were delighted, their parents less so.  “Keep that kid away from Lisa, would you?” one father whispered to his wife, as I pretended not to hear.  It pretty much always went like that, but Ben was on a writing roll…and I was a happy mom for that.

Ben went on, thankfully, to write about many other things.  He is a gifted writer today, and can turn his hand at humor, serious journalism and literary  criticism with equal passion and precision, but I remain fondest of his grade school writing, where it all started.  The annals of Bazooka Bill live in the book case of my study, and I have just to look at their cardboard bindings to smile.  I also love looking at this poem he wrote in fourth grade, which does not feature any weapons…just his love for his family and our home: