Our students are writers, but even a few short weeks ago many didn’t see themselves that way. They were worried that they didn’t know how to spell, that their writing wasn’t “right,” that others knew something that they didn’t about this mysterious practice called writing.
Like we do every year, we’ve been working to build a community of learners and writers in our multiage class of first, second and third graders. And like Margaret Simon reminds us all in her #digilit post this week, that requires practice, patience, and persistence. Margaret was talking about the use of digital tools–but I would argue, it is the same with or without the digital tools. But I want to remind us (and myself) that practice doesn’t mean drudgery. Instead it means establishing a practice, regular opportunities to write in meaningful ways. It means low stakes opportunities to explore the possibilities of writing, to play with words, to share your attempts with others who are also trying on and experimenting. And it means knowing that your first attempt is not your only attempt, that writing takes time and multiple iterations that come from layering inspiration, mentor texts, and supportive instruction.
A week ago, we were inspired by the life and poetry of e.e.cummings. (If you have not yet read the picture book biography of cummings by Matthew Burgess, Enormous Smallness–you should. It’s quite a treat!) Burgess’s description of cummings exploring the world with “his eyes on tiptoes” made an impression on our young writers. After studying love is a place by cummings along with a few other poems by various authors as mentors, our students set out to compose a poem about something they love.
They wrote these poems in layers–a little each day over the course of a week–and in a community of other poets (including their teachers) working to express their thinking and visions about something they care about. We read our works-in-progress, noting language we loved, noticing techniques we could borrow, and learning how to “fit” something into a page already full. (A major impediment to revision for young students…we continually work to show our writers how to make changes without erasing or starting over!)
The resulting poems are magical…and incredibly varied. From the one that begins, “Shall I compare winter with a magical place…” (inspired by her own knowledge of Shakespeare and her love of snow and ice) to the one that ends, “Time doesn’t exist on a boat on the ocean when fishing,” my heart swells knowing that the power of our writing community has taken hold.
And sometimes you get the piece that feels momentous, a powerful expression from a student who previously didn’t claim writing as something he even wanted to own. But he is feeling the magic of his words and wants to share them, giving me permission to share them with other writers and learners. Surrounded by a community of writers and learners and inspired by the mentor text, Trouble, Fly by Susan Marie Swanson and the story, The Waterfall by Jonathan London, B knew he had something to say about writing that is worth sharing with others.
B’s effort shows the results of practice, patience, and persistence. But this didn’t come from a single lesson. Instead, it is the result of cumulative effort now in its third year for this student. B expects to write for many reasons and in many ways on a regular basis. That’s what we do in our learning community. On Thursday, the National Day on Writing, students put some of those reasons for writing in print to express #whyiwrite to the larger community of writers on Twitter.
As I think about myself as a writer and as a photographer, I know that practice, patience and persistence also apply to me and my own learning. I wrote last week about writing with light through my photography. This morning as I walked the beach in a light rain, I wanted to capture the quality of light and feeling of expanse I experienced. As I poured over and thought about the photos I took, my mind wandered back to one of my photographic mentors, Ansel Adams. And I found myself inspired by his words…and by his use of black and white to express nature’s powerful beauty. I took my photo and used a filter to transform it from color to black and white, capturing the mood and expansiveness…and the quiet I was looking for.
When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence. Ansel Adams
This week I’m borrowing the prompt from the folks over at the Daily Post since so many of my photos this week fit their theme: shine.
I had such a busy weekend last weekend–happily playing with my twin 7 month old grandsons. We purposely took a late flight back to maximize the precious time we have with them, getting home near midnight on Sunday. That meant that the alarm on Monday morning came sooner than I would have liked. Surprisingly, I had plenty of energy at work and set out for a beach walk afterward.
The tide was low after work this week, creating perfect conditions for long walks. Monday was cloudy–we’d had misty conditions during the school day. Not enough to keep the kids in, but enough to wet the ground and make us feel a bit soggy outdoors. When I arrived at the beach, I could see the shine of the sun in the distance, reflecting on the water, almost like there was a portal above.
Further down the beach, I came across an algae covered reef, exposed by the very low tide. I started thinking about the way the algae creates the fall colors that others usually see in the foliage of trees–this really is fall on the beach–browns and oranges along with the blues of the sky reflecting in the shine of the water.
As the week warmed up, the sun made itself more prominent. You can see its shine peeking through as I leaned in to capture this shot of the tree roots. I was thinking about how they remind me of feet and toes in the sand.
I noticed that the sun and light kept changing this week. The days are getting shorter, affecting the trajectory of the sun, making the shine feel more diffuse and muted. This shot reminds of the light of those “endless summer” surfing posters. Maybe when you can walk on the beach barefoot and in a sleeveless top in the fall, it is endless summer (if you look closely at the surfer, you’ll see he’s in trunks rather than a wetsuit)!
I love it when light shines in a way that creates a mirror-like reflection. You can see this seabird has a colorful reflection in the wet sand.
Things felt a bit less shiny when I spied this seagull with the plastic baggie. The amount of plastic that ends up in and near the beach is staggering, even when people make an effort to reduce their use and pick up trash. The beach I walk is pretty clean…and even though I got close enough to take the photo, this bird was not letting me get a hold of his treasure!
Yesterday’s walk was near sunset–that magical time when the light shines softly, creating a wonderful glow. I noticed this surfer sitting on her board watching her friend head into the water. I like the way the sun shines on her face, while everything else has a soft glow.
By the time I got back to where I began my walk, the sun was just about down, replacing the bright shine with an orange glow. And I was lucky enough to catch a green flash in the moment the sun set into the ocean…confirmed by the cheers that went up by the other sunset watchers!
So, where are things shining in your life this week? What shine catches your eye? Although my examples of shine are from outdoors, I can imagine plenty of shine indoors as well.
You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #shine for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.
Thanks Nancy Thanki and the folks at Daily Post for the inspiration this week…and feel free to share your shine with them too! I’m looking forward to seeing all the shine that catches your eye this week.
Next week, on October 20th, we have the opportunity to celebrate the beauty and power of writing through the National Day on Writing–an initiative supported by NCTE and the National Writing Project. For me, writing and photography have much in common. They are ways to compose my understanding of the world.
Sometimes it is all about paying attention to the world around me, leaning in, and looking my surroundings in the eye. It might result in the magic of an image of a seagull looking closely…at me! I find myself wondering about how it feels to float on an air current, about the social life of seagulls, about where seagulls sleep and nest. And that gets me thinking about my life and dreams and how to keep them aloft.
Both writing and photography help me appreciate my world and experiences more deeply. Documenting the beauty around me keeps me paying attention to the subtle changes in seasons, moods, colors, weather, and more. They force me out of my usual routines as I pull off the freeway on my way home to spend a few minutes gazing at the vibrant oranges of the setting sun. I slow down and breathe…and am grateful for the life I have.
I write with words and pictures to play. Just like the perfect word can transform an idea in an essay, a filter or app can transform an image in a photo. My latest favorite app has been Prisma, it applies some formula from art (like the Scream by Munsch) that recolors your photograph in interesting ways. I used it the other day on this photo of a lifeguard tower…and I love the results!
My camera and pen help me see the ordinary in new ways. Even though I see this tree in my front yard several times a day every day, through the lens of my camera I notice the blue of the sky, the lone blossom (blooming in the wrong season), the moon or the sun peeking through… The opportunity to re-vision the ordinary changes my perspective and opens up new possibilities.
Documenting learning is another reason why I write and photograph. I love to capture my students at work, and it’s especially helpful to have that documentation to help me recall the details for blog posts or articles. This week my students were designing structures out of marshmallows and toothpicks to withstand an earthquake. After testing their design on a Jello earthquake, they tried additional iterations based on the feedback from the test.
Composing gets me to pay attention to framing, light, structure…all of those choices I make as I write and photograph. I find myself looking for the way light plays with color…and I love the way the late afternoon sun shines on my dining room table. I find myself buying flowers for the table just to watch the sun play with them in the afternoon.
The word photography means writing with light…and I do love to write with light! When I head out with my camera I search for images that provoke my thinking, that please my eye, that inspire me to write and share. I also study my own images in order to improve them, to understand better the angles and light and framing that “work” and those that aren’t quite what I hoped for. I do go back to familiar places again and again with camera in hand, to revise and re-envision, to gain understanding and make meaning of the world I inhabit.
So, why do you write…with light, with pencil, on the computer, with paint or yarn or fabric (or in any other media)?
You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #whyiwrite for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.
Explore your own reasons for writing (with light) and share them with us this week as we join in with others celebrating the National Day on Writing. I can’t wait to see #whyiwrite through your lens!
Life is full of texture, the sense of depth and variation that makes it seem as if our eyes can feel the smoothness, the roughness, and the differences in surfaces that we usually notice with our fingertips.
Tonight’s sunset is a perfect example. Driving home from the Digital Media and Learning Conference (DML), I couldn’t help but notice the ways the setting sun interacted with the clouds along the coast. Luckily, the rest area right off the freeway overlooks the ocean, so a quick stop when I was almost home allowed me to catch the sunset up close and personal–the perfect opportunity to enjoy the texture of the colors of the sun and the clouds as it dipped into the sea.
Other days, the texture is apparent in the lack of color. This week was filled with low tides at times that corresponded with the end of my work day. As I walked and watched the seabirds frolic and eat along the exposed shore, my camera captured the texture of the silvery waves, bird silhouettes, and shadows, turning the photo to black and white without the use of a filter.
Last weekend the light was just right to capture the glassy smoothness of the clouds reflected on the wet sand. This photo feels smooth and shiny, like I could turn the photo over and the same image would be visible.
While in Los Angeles visiting with my grandson, I found texture in lights. I was surprised to find a chandelier hanging in the middle of a street. The layers of wires and lights create a feeling of texture–I imagine what this would look like lit up in the dark!
Nearby, at the Museum of Neon Art, I watched these lights in constant movement, creating a texture and depth that the still photo just can’t capture. I love the idea that light also creates texture.
And then there’s pomegranates. Smooth on the outside, unless you look into the star-shaped end. I love the way the macro lens allows me to see the filaments where the fruit once bloomed.
Today marks the day that I learned to knit–at a digital media conference–as a way of learning about math! In less than 40 minutes I learned how to use knitting needles to create this swatch of a yarn textile. I can’t wait to bring this back to my students!
Drought resistant plants often have an interesting texture. This tiny bloom was surrounded by the kinds of leaves that preserve moisture and are common in southern California. The actual bloom is probably the size of my pinky fingernail!
So, take a look around. What texture do your eyes detect? What looks smooth? What looks bumpy or rough? Do colors create texture? What textures do you find in an absence of color?
You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #texture for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.
Where will you find texture? Head out and investigate the textures we usually notice with our fingertips…what textures will your eyes “feel?” Be sure to snap a few photos and share the textures you notice through your lens.