I wrote a poem a day during the month of April and challenged my students to do the same. And while not every student wrote every day, they did write a lot of poems. When you put that much effort into daily writing, it seems that something more needs to happen. I knew from past experience that drafting a poem each day is just the first step in moving my students toward seeing themselves as writers. So as the month of April wound down, my students and I started the process of curating a personal anthology of poems.
It’s not enough to simply select a poem and call it done. I had to move my students toward meaningful revision–and that meant giving them strategies and techniques to make their poems better. They re-read each poem they selected and considered how they might add a comparison (simile or metaphor), how they might personify an animal or object, how more specific details could help the reader “see” the ideas being expressed. So no matter how small the change was, each poem was revised. Because I had 16 page blank books for each student, we selected and revised ten poems and created five art pieces to go along with them.
As we worked through this intensive process, I kept asking myself, “Is it worth the time and energy–theirs and mine–to put this anthology together?” As I read poem after poem (25 students times 10 poems each), I started to see these young writers in a new way. They had gained confidence and knew what it meant to revise. I watched them own each poem, claiming their writing and making changes that satisfied each of them. I noticed some started poems from scratch. For them, the original poem was simply a pre-writing activity and a new idea emerged when faced with revision. For others, revision meant adding on to a poem, further developing the kernel of an idea that they had started earlier. Some revisions were the change of a single word–the poets were satisfied with their original effort and only went through the motions to satisfy the revision mandate.
And as we finished the last touches, gluing the final poems into place and typing up a table of contents I asked myself again…was this project worth it? There is no Open House celebration this year where families will come through and admire displays of student work products and ooh and aah the hard work done specifically for their benefit–something that has always made projects like this a necessity in the past. But still…my answer is yes, this intensive focus on poetry for more than a month has been totally worth it. Here are a few reasons why:
- Students see themselves as writers. They confidently write daily and have developed both fluency and style. All those poetry techniques also make other kinds of writing better.
- Revision has become ordinary. We do this routinely and resistance to going back to a piece of writing has dropped. Writers revise and we are writers.
- All of our writing matters in our community of writers. Everyone will share their writing and everyone can pick out bits of excellence when they hear it in each other’s writing.
- A project gives everyone a reason to persist. No one wants a half-finished book, so everyone pushed through, developing stamina as they worked through the revision of all ten poems.
250 student poems later and ten more of my own and we have created 26 individual anthologies of poetry. They are beautifully imperfect and incredibly perfect at the same time. And totally worth the time and effort.
What does it mean to identify as teacher-writer?
I write with my students, I write for my students, I write to understand my students, I write to understand my teaching and my students’ learning. That’s probably the definition of teacher-writer.
Today I experimented with a writing provocation I found in a Teachers and Writers Magazine article. It attracted my attention because it began with doing–actually with a blind contour drawing. I love to have students do something as a provocation for writing–probably because I like to DO as a way to instigate my own writing.
So, following the directions in the article, I used my non-dominant hand to draw my hand, keeping my eyes on my hand and not on the drawing. I tried not to lift my pen, keeping my pen following all the lines and shapes I saw on my hand.
After drawing I opened my notebook and began a list of words evoked by my examination of my hand. then I came up with some metaphors. I thought back to memories about what my hands had touched or done, capturing some of those thoughts in my notebook. I went on to express my gratitude to my hands.
The next step was to write about my hand, using the ideas generated before–or not–for about 7 minutes (my favorite writing time!).
Finally, using a different colored pen, I added words to my blind contour drawing of my hand, creating a collage of sorts. I didn’t directly copy my writing, just added some of the words and phrases I had generated.
Students could go on to write an essay or ode about their hands, having generated a plethora of ideas.
Having tried this writing on as a writer myself helps me identify how it might or might not work for my students. My young students might do better studying their non-dominant hand and using their dominant hand for drawing. I know they will worry about how the drawing might come out–I’ll have to show them some strategies and perhaps do a practice or two before we start for real. We may brainstorm words about their hands as a group before they begin their individual lists. But, I think I’ll try this project with my students. I love the blind contour aspect, the close examination, and the way that careful attention leads to more interesting writing.
What strategies do you use to keep the writerly part of yourself sharp? How do you hone your skills as a teacher-writer? Does anyone know a great picture book that focuses on one body part that is not about hands?
We did it! I wrote last week about my experimentation with a poetry teller, a way for my students to go back through their own poetry and then play around with remixing their poetry with a classmate.
So this morning, students folded their way into their collaborative game. Some students were familiar with classic fortune tellers and were eager to put their fingers into the folds and start moving the teller around. And no one seemed to think it was one bit strange to make this into a poetry tool. They found colors, they located interesting nouns, and pinpointed some poetic phrases–all from their cache of poems written during April. In partners they played with their poetry tellers, collecting words and phrases that they knew they would use soon for some poetry writing.
I set the parameters: use the words you collected (it’s okay if there is a word you decide not to use), you can add extra words of your choice, make the poem make sense, and have fun! We used that magical 7 minute timer and students’ pencils flew across the page. When the chime sounded, hands shot up. They had poems to share!
Here’s a couple (these are third graders, 8 and 9 years old):
Words collected: blood orange, green, snow, lamp, the sun is cotton candy, the puddles of the ditch
The sky is blood orange
the lamp is green
the trees are snow
the sun is cotton candy
the puddles of the ditch are rainbow
there’s something fishy today
Words collected: ice, profusion, cats, frame, the sunlight bounces into my eyes, illumination, snowy caps, sister, hooves, the cloud is as soft and big, it covers the sky like a blanket
Transition to Spring
A very cold word
You see it a lot during brutal winters.
Hooves pounding on cold snow under our feet.
Sinking their paws into the snow.
The snowy caps on mountain tops
are guarded by a forest.
There are many natural frames in the
Then the snow is illuminated by the sun.
I step outside and the sunlight bounces into my eyes.
My sister’s snowman melts away.
The clouds are so soft and big.
They cover the sky like a blanket.
It is spring now.
Making games out of writing definitely infuses playfulness into the process for kids. They loved manipulating their poetry tellers and would have played with them much longer than I had time for today. I count this as a win–and as a great way to have students remix poems. I’d love to hear what you would do with a tool/toy like this one. How would you modify it to support writers and learners?
I so appreciate the community of writers and makers that take the time to read my posts and provide supportive feedback. And it’s because of them that I took the time to write this lazy Sunday. It was dreary and gray today, the perfect weather for staying inside to read and relax. Luckily, before we even realized it was damp and chilly, we headed to the beach for a low-tide walk. The mist dampened my cheeks and hair, but not my spirits as I explored the familiar shoreline. And the reward: breakfast out at the local diner just a short walk from the beach!
And thanks to Ronald who encouraged me to use the daily create suggestion as inspiration…I actually went back a day, inspired by “create a collage of a loved one,” I created a photo collage of lifeguard tower 19–the landmark I frequently walk to as my turn around point. I realize I frequently take a photo of tower 19: on gray days, on cloudy days, on brilliant blue sky days, looking up at the steps, facing north, facing east… And thanks for Margaret who offered a #poemsofpresence challenge in May, which today I took as an invitation to write a Haiku expressing an appreciation of Tower 19.
Beacon of safety
blue of ocean, sky, and dreams
comforting way point
Why commit to writing and posting for 61 days in a row? Trust me, I asked myself that question many times during the past two months. During March’s Slice of Life Challenge, once I began the challenge, it was the writing community that kept me accountable. There is something about hundreds of people writing and sharing and commenting that keeps the urgency up. And since so many are writing every day, reading their posts also creates topic possibilities and keeps the momentum moving.
Writing and posting a poem a day, especially without that dedicated writing community, is a bit more challenging. But I know me, without telling myself I will write AND POST a poem each day I simply would get lazy and not write each day. So why did I want to write a poem each day? Because I wanted my students to write a poem each day–and I know that if I am writing along with them, not only do I have more credibility, but I am also looking for ways to support them and their writing when those doldrums inevitably sneak in.
So after writing for 61 consecutive days (62 if you count today), here are some things I have learned and/or am thinking about:
- Writing every day breeds more writing. When I am committed to daily writing, I write more and more often. I am in a constant search for topics, for inspiration, for meaning making.
- I find myself coming up with strategies to keep myself writing. I take photographs, I pick up objects, I collect words, I listen to what others are saying. I’ve learned to put words on a page, even when i’m not sure where they are going.
- I can post even when I don’t love my writing that day. This is especially true with poetry writing where I spend a of time judging myself. I tell my students that the most important part about writing is to get started, we can always make our writing better. So that commitment to write and post the poem each day means that I have to get all the way through a draft and get something that I deem post-able.
- It’s okay to write short. Sometimes when I’m really stuck, I pull out a Haiku (17 syllables) or a 6-word story. Even if it’s short, I’m still writing (and posting).
- Revision is important. I keep looking for ways to help my students understand the possibilities for revision–like signs along the hiking trail–pointing to techniques to try, reminding them of things that other writers do, giving them access to the power of revision.
- Writing more gets me reading more and my reading changes when I am writing. I find myself looking behind the stories and poems to examine how the writer is putting their words together. I look for more variety in my reading, searching for writers who are doing fresh and interesting things and who represent viewpoints different from my own. And I find myself sharing what I am learning from my reading with my students, pointing out sentences, ideas, and strategies that I notice as I read.
And as April turns to May, for the last several years I find myself facing the same dilemma, do I continue my daily writing and posting? Will I write daily if I don’t post? I don’t know the answers to those questions for this year. What I do know is that over the previous two years when I didn’t commit to the daily writing and posting, my writing decreased (I still always write with my students) and my posting became infrequent. I’d love to be the person who can commit to posting 2 posts a week, writing daily with that goal in mind. Maybe this is the year.