#Celebratelu & #SOLC17:Getting it done…

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.

We had a different sort of week this week: a blizzard on Tuesday, a half-day on Wednesday, and basketball March Madness which seems to have hijacked the attention span of my sixth grade boys.  It was also a week in which I’d hoped to wrap up projects and units in every subject area.  With all the distractions afoot, I remember driving to school on Wednesday and telling myself to relax and be prepared for getting very little done: it was a half day, after all, we could focus on one thing instead of many, and … que sera, sera (as the old song goes).

I asked my kiddos what that “one thing” should be, and just about everyone voted to finish our book club literary essays.  This surprised me, being that this was intense work – we’d worked through mapping out our thesis and supporting evidence the previous Friday, and moved through the introduction and first evidence paragraph on Monday.  I thought it made more sense to return to finishing up this work (two more evidence paragraphs and the conclusion) on Thursday, but my students had ideas of their own.

“I feel like we’re on a roll,”  Trevor said, “let’s just write it today.”  I looked around at other heads nodding in agreement, and decided to go for it.  We gathered at the reading rug for our minilesson and mentor text study first, and then dispersed to various desks and corners of the classroom to write.  For the next hour and fifteen minutes, our room was silent save for the sounds of rustling pages, writing, and the low hum of individual conferences.

By the time the dismissal bell had rung, a stack of reading journals had been piled high on our conference desk,and all of us (myself included) felt that our half day had been well spent…in spite of snow, a day off, and a half day to work with.  I celebrate that!

And here’s something else to celebrate – the delightful song that came to mind while I was writing this:

Poetry Friday and #SOLSC17:Insomnia by Jane Kenyon

Poetry Friday is hosted by Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge

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

More than with any other poet, I feel a deep connection with Jane Kenyon.  She loved a farm and came into herself there. She struggled with depression and found her art there. She battled insomnia and found a form of magic even in those exasperating  hours.  She felt an abiding bond with Nature in every one of her seasonal iterations and she noticed and delighted in even the smallest of her gifts.

Her books can be found in just about every room of our house in New Jersey, and, of course our beloved farm which is snowed under at the moment.  Spring and clearing the garden beds seems a very long way away, but  in reading Kenyon I can taste it…I feel my farm calling, and soon I will be there.

 

The Clearing by Jane Kenyon

The dog and I push through the ring
of dripping junipers
to enter the open space high on the hill
where I let him off the leash.

He vaults, snuffling, between tufts of moss;
twigs snap beneath his weight; he rolls
and rubs his jowls on the aromatic earth;
his pink tongue lolls.

I look for sticks of proper heft
to throw for him, while he sits, prim
and earnest in his love, if it is love.

All night a soaking rain, and now the hill
exhales relief, and the fragrance
of warm earth. . . . The sedges
have grown an inch since yesterday,
and ferns unfurled, and even if they try
the lilacs by the barn can’t
keep from opening today.

I longed for spring’s thousand tender greens,
and the white-throated sparrow’s call
that borders on rudeness. Do you know—
since you went away
all I can do
is wait for you to come back to me.

#SOLC17: I like you better now, too…

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

Image result for i like you

The bell had already rung to signal the end of lunch recess, but a crowd of  kiddos still hung about my desk, joshing and jostling in the high spirited way of sixth graders.  I had not intended to be a part of any of these hijinks, but my kids had drifted my way anyway and just stayed.  Our conversations circled around all kinds of topics, swooping here and swerving there, with bouts of laughter and the occasional back thumping and elbowing among each other.  As everyone began to drift back to their seats and get ready for writing workshop, Tim turned to me and said, “You’re different than you were in September. I like you better now…”.  As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he looked mortified.  Before he could say anything, though, I shot back, “That’s okay, I like you better now, too.”  And then we, in sixth grade parlance, cracked up.

I thought about that little scene as I was driving home from work.  It made me smile, but it also got me thinking…because it was true!

In those first months of the school year, even as we lay the groundwork for reading and writing workshop, we set the tone for expected behavior.  It’s a quid pro quo, a mutual understanding of the give and take that will come to define our year together: we will listen to each other, we will work as hard as we can, we will respect our learning space, we will understand that mistakes will be made and that forgiveness and moving on will be essential.  We don’t have a long list of class rules, but the few we have are grounded in trust and good will.

This sounds good, of course, but takes time and patience to see through.  In the early days of the school year, all learning comes to a halt when someone calls out, interrupts, or steps over the line in the sand – that boundary we have created between what we aspire to and what we know to avoid.  There are a lot of coming to a halt moments in those early months.  This is sixth grade, after all, and sixth graders are rule benders – they live for such opportunities, even though they feel instant regret as soon as the words have been uttered, the act completed.  It’s in that instant, of course, that I feel compelled to react. Wait,  and the moment is lost; defer, and it will come back again in the next half hour.

Through these fits and starts we journey, my kids and I, in those early months.  It’s hard work, dreary work, but must-do work.  Some days, the difficult and mostly “coming to a halt” ones, we are all weary of each other.  You may even say that we don’t particularly like each other.

And then, sometime in December, you begin to realize that it’s been days since you’ve had one of “those” days.  And then, sometime in January, you begin to realize that you can’t even remember the last time you’ve had one of “those” days.  You may even say that we’ve come to really like each other.

It takes a long time to build a classroom community; and even at its best, it is never quite perfect and smoothly running every moment of every day.  They are children, still learning about what makes them tick, and I am just a person, too, with many flaws I am trying to rise above.  Together, we still make mistakes, still have our moments of regret.  But it’s different now that we have learned to like each other, to have earned each others’ affection and respect.

It’s a lovely thought, now,  that we have until the end of June to build on this affection and respect…until that last group hug, when we want to hang on most to our sixth grade year together  just when it has come to an end.

 

 

 

#SOLC17: A winter memory

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

We had a delayed opening today due to Stella, the what-we-hope-is-the-last winter storm of the season.  The roads were still icy, and everyone was having trouble getting to where they needed to be on time.  I had that feeling of dread every time I rounded a bend on the way to school, and the parking lot was still a treacherous glass of ice everywhere I needed to put one foot in front of the other on my way the school house door.

The halls seemed subdued when students finally began to file in.  Parkas crinkled and swished, boots squeaked, puddles began to form by lockers where students grumpily stacked and removed the items they needed, the hallways were marked up with trails and tracks of salt and snow .

We began our day as we usually do, reading.  For a time, a blissful time, the only sounds in our classroom were of pages turning, some sniffly breathing, and the radiator blowing gusts of hot air up into the clothesline display of  our Lewis and Clark  projects.  I glanced around at my kids sprawled around the room in their “reading zones” and was transported back in time, momentarily…

…to 1967, a classroom in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was spending a year while my parents taught at MIT.  Coming from India, I had seen traces of snow only at a great distance – from the windows of trains traveling up to the hill country of Simla and Darjeeling.  And there was so much snow that Boston winter!  I never tired of touching it, tasting delicate snowflakes, building snow men, fashioning snow balls, and just gazing out windows at the white expanse that changed with every phase of sunlight and moonlight.

I especially loved reading at my wooden school desk, which was (oh so happily!) right next to the great big radiator and the window.  The radiator ran the length of the window – and we lined up our woolen mittens and scarves every morning and after every recess on its perpetually gurgling ridges.  I loved the woolly smell that emanated, something so quintessentially wintery, and every once in a while I’d look up to see if delicate plumes of steam were still rising from this winter army assembled in a haphazard jumble of pink, green and blue.  I loved reading time in that comfortable old classroom, winter outside and the warmth of our reading community inside.

In my classroom this morning, my kids were in their  favorite spots and positions, lost in their books.   I wonder what memories they will have of their  snowy reading days in school.

#SOLC17: When lovely beckoned…

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

2008 was a tricky year, it was actually (unbeknownst to me at the time, thank goodness) the opening salvo to a series of tricky years.  Sometime in the Fall of that year, scrolling through YouTube in search of videos for a lesson plan, I discovered Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s The Beckoning of Lovely.

I remember that it was very late at night, that the clocks had already moved into the next day.  It was hard to focus on the lesson planning at hand, and I found myself thinking in circles, spiralling from one concern to the next in an ever tightening loop of despair and confusion.

Then, lovely beckoned:

Something within in me found comfort instantly.  Perhaps it was the fact that everyone else gathering at “the bean” shared the same yearning for something lovely that I was feeling at that moment.  Perhaps it was that although they gathered, they were uncertain about what they were gathering for: we don’t always know what we need, do we? Sometimes it’s just about showing up and hoping to be shown the way.  Perhaps it was that gentle spirit of being open and welcoming the gifts of the moment – each person who gathered was grateful to be there, and willing to participate with childlike trust and joy. Or, perhaps it was Amy herself, the embodiment of lovely, orchestrating this collective of spirits in a celebration of lovely.

Whatever it was that first drew me in, I found myself returning to The Beckoning of Lovely time and time again.  Each time, I felt my spirit settling into peace, I found myself a bit more ready to receive whatever was coming my way with great equanimity.   That was the gift of lovely, Amy’s gift.  It saved me.

Time marches on, as they say, and life settled down.  It’s been a while since I had watched that magical gathering, until I read Amy’s New York Times article, wept, and felt that I needed to watch it again…and again.

 

The world is full of selfish, useless to anyone else people – and then there are beautiful souls who remind us of what it means to be good, to beckon the lovely every day.  Thank you, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, thank you.

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#IMWAYR & #SOLC17: The Boy In The Black Suit

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

Yes, even though it’s the March Slice of Life Challenge and I am a writing maniac this month, I managed to read this fabulous book:

boy in the black suit

Jason Reynolds’ The Boy In The Black Suit is a brilliant book about coming to terms with death and grief.  Matt Miller begins eleventh grade weighed down with sorrow: his mother, the rock of  his young life, has just died, and his father seems to be drifting away in a grief cloud of his own.  Unmoored and feeling very alone, Matt is at first conflicted when he is offered a part time job at  the funeral home where his mother’s service had been held. Mr. Ray, its suave but kindly director takes Matt under his wing, stepping into the role of surrogate father when Matt’s own father stumbles into the street in a drunken stupor and is badly hurt.

At first, Matt is embarrassed about his new job and having to wear the black suit necessary for work to school every day.  Matt is secretly drawn to funerals – some deep and unknown part of his soul seems to need to see how others grieve, how others cope with their grief, since he himself is struggling so much with it.  Then he meets Lovey, who speaks at her grandmother’s funeral and seems to know the secret of how to handle grief and how to to be strong.  

Reynolds does a beautiful job of writing this story from Matt’s perspective in such a real way: he misses his mother, he mourns the way his father seems to be falling apart, he appreciates the stability and support of Mr. Ray, and he enjoys strategizing about flirting with Lovey.  He embodies all the deep feelings, confusions and contradictions of young adulthood.  I especially loved the character of Mr. Ray – the embodiment of that one adult who can make a difference at a crucial time in a young person’s life.  At one point early in the book, Mr. Ray senses that Matt is lost and searching for answers to his loss: why his mother? why now? how to keep going on?  Mr. Ray compares life to  the card game ‘I Declare War’: “I can lose and lose and lose and I don’t know why. But there’s nothing I can do but just keep flipping the cards. Eventually, I’ll win again. As long as you got cards to keep turning, you’re fine. Now, that’s life.”

This is definitely a book for 8th. grade and up – Matt is in high school, and some of the language and references in the story reflects that.  It is a hopeful story, one of the resilience of youth, and the healing power of community and love.

Here’s the author speaking about The Boy in the Black Suit:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#SOLC17:Sharing a SOL once a week really does build a writing community

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

My sixth graders write a slice of life once a week from September through June. These SOLs are posted by Friday with comments due by Sunday, which gives me my Saturday afternoon ritual: read and comment on all student slices, making suggestions and offering compliments as I go along.  It’s one of my favorite teacher chores, for it allows me to see our morning and afternoon classes grow as a writing community across the span of a whole year.  My kiddos spread their writing wings and try new things, they become more confident about their writing voices, they enjoy reading each others’ work and leaving encouraging comments.

Yesterday was an exceptional SOL day for me.  I loved reading through each slice of life, of course, but half way through I discovered that we’d had a class reunion in the process of sharing our SOLs.  Here’s a taste of what that felt like:

A’s post made me smile because of its connection to our Social Studies work:

It was a long 4 hour drive in the car. Hours passing by, doing nothing and the only thing to see, is trees. All I heard was my sister snoring in the back, while I was trying to read my book. After all those boring long hours in the car, we finally made it to Boston.

I had told my dad that we were learning about the USS Constitution in Social Studies, and since our hotel was like five minutes away from the USS constitution my Dad took my sister and I to go see the USS Constitution. We were really close to where the boat was, and I could already see part of it. Unfortunately, the last tour of the ship was at 3:30, but we still got to see the inside of museum and parts of the boat.

In the museum they had a station where you could engrave your name in copper, because since they are repairing the boat they are going add copper sheeting to the outside of the boat. Now once they place the copper onto the boat my name will be on the boat. The boat’s finished model is really detailed and nice. I really liked going to see the boat in person since we have learned some much about it in class and now I can said that I saw this magnificent ship with my own eyes!

A’s post had me laughing out loud with its wry sense of humor, it was also a glimpse into how kids feel about being over scheduled:

Finally! I raced out of an annoying study skills class I had to attend every Thursday. I pushed open the doors of the school and inhaled deeply. Freedom! We learn nothing in the class, which really annoys me. I only really doodle the whole time, unless it somehow magically gets interesting. I walked down the steps and sighed. Now to go from one prison to another. I now had to go to… *dun dun daaaaaa!* HEBREW SCHOOL! I sit there for two hours learning prayers which I don’t even know what they mean. I would be fine with it if I did, but if you’re going to teach me something, I have to know what it means, right? I said goodbye to my friend who also had to endure the class with me, and then, with my head down, set out for the Hebrew School. Sadly, it was only two blocks away, so I didn’t have to walk that far. The only good thing about the class I had to attend was that I got to miss 30 minutes of Hebrew School. I will take what I can get.

Each step closer brought pain to me. Then I realized I had been walking the wrong way, which I guess my mind did intentionally, because by the time I got back to my normal route, I had successfully wasted another 10 minutes. Thank you mind. I stopped when I first saw the school. I sighed deeply, and started walking as slowly as possible, taking the long route around the parking lot.

Then, all too soon, the doors were right in front of me. I looked at them, and they seemed to look back saying: “Mwah ha ha! You will never get out alive! Surrender or prepare to die!!! Mwah ha ha!” Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a tiny bit.

But, that is my tale of walking to Hebrew School. Now you feel my pain. Then, once I walked into the classroom, I remembered we were making Hamentashens! I sighed in relief. I looked at the clock, and saw we had an hour left. I could deal with that.

O’s ending had me laughing out loud again:

Squeak! Squeak! Basketball shoes on the court. I reach in to get the ball, Crack! I heard my thumb loud and clear. “It’s broken,” I thought, but then I looked at it, a little red and very painful thumb. Phew! I was relieved it wasn’t broken, but then the wave of pain came back like a tsunami hitting the shore. I walked to the bench in agonizing pain. “Is it broken?” Mr. Stewart my coach asked. “I don’t know,” I replied. I showed him my thumb. “We need to cut off your hand and get a prosthetic one,” he joked, and I laughed a little. It was getting really swollen now, and very, very painful. “Here’s some ice,” my dad said, running from the bleachers around the court. He got it from my mom, who ran to the front desk, got a bag and scooped ice out of the freezer with her bare hands. I wrapped it around my thumb. It was freezing, but it felt so good. I watched the game for the whole 4th quarter, which was so boring, but I knew I couldn’t risk hurting it again.

Later that night, my dad said I sprained my thumb. He made me soak my whole hand in freezing ice water for 5 minutes. I couldn’t feel my hand.  “Where did you get this idea?” I questioned. “The internet,” he replied.

The internet: how to get false information to almost give your kids frostbite. My thumb has been getting better and it will be fully healed soon, I hope.

E’s post was thoughtful and serious, reflective of what she is like.  E thinks about the world and her place in it, just as her sister had done when she was in my class many years ago:

Last weekend,  I saw the movie “Hidden Figures”. It’s about three real African-American women, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who worked at NASA during the launch of John Glenn. The women face struggles with race and gender, like when Johnson has to travel half a mile to go to the colored women’s restroom. Jackson wants to become an engineer, but in order to become one she has to take extra college courses while everyone else does not. Jackson petitions and wins her case so she can integrate the evening classes at a white-only high school. Vaughan is constantly passed over for promotions, and she nearly loses her job, when NASA gets an early computer that can do complicated math problems faster than a room full of humans. Many of these problems may seem like history, but in reality they are still issues today.

For example, the bathroom problem is extremely important right now, because a lot of transgender students can’t use the bathroom of the gender they identify as. It can be very humiliating for them. And in some countries, girls can’t go to school because there is no bathroom for them at their schools. This sounds like such an odd reason not to go to school. We take it for granted, but the truth is, having a safe place to go to the bathroom everyday can make a huge difference.

This movie also shows that women are smart and can work equally as well as men. Women are often expected to stay home and take care of the kids, and are criticized for “not being good mothers” or “not being there for their kids”. This happened in history, and is still happening today.“Hidden Figures” also made me wonder who else was skipped over throughout history. People who changed the world are sometimes are forgotten, especially if they are women or people of color. Why?

And then, this, an impromptu class reunion among the comments (Heeseong moved back to Korea in January, we have not heard from him, but he apparently still checks into our writing blog…for there he suddenly appeared!):

E:I like how you said “All of that hard work for nothing”. It made it seem really important because you put it at the end.

Lauren:I like the ending

 

Heeseong:What is going on? Did you lose passing time?

J:HEESONG!HEESONG!HEESONG!

R:Heeseong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

R:HEESONG HEESONG!

M:Heesong!!!!!!!

O:Heesong!!!!! 😮

 

 

S:HEESONG SPOTTING, I REPEAT…….. HEESONG SPOTTING!!!!!!!!!!

R:HEESONG ROBBIE THINKS YOUR STUCK IN YOUR OLD LOCKER

A:Heesong! I miss you soooooooo much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

S:Heesong tell us all about your new home!!!

M:Make a S.O.L Heesong!

How exciting!  I could just hear my kids’ voices shrieking over the ether space in delight as they felt some small connection with their old friend now so far away.  We write in writing workshop, true, but best of all we connect and build a community.