Category Archives: writing

Teacher-Writer

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?

Poetry Teller Part 2

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

Poem:

Unusual

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

And another:

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

Poem:

Transition to Spring

Ice.

A very cold word

You see it a lot during brutal winters.

Hooves pounding on cold snow under our feet.

Cats.

Sinking their paws into the snow.

The snowy caps on mountain tops

are guarded by a forest.

There are many natural frames in the

tree tops.

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?

Tower 19

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.

Tower 19

Beacon of safety

blue of ocean, sky, and dreams

comforting way point

®Douillard

SOLC: Headlong into the Storm

I’m not sure why I need an “official” challenge to keep up the daily writing, but whatever the reason…here is day one of my entry in the Slice of Life Challenge.  Thanks to those at Two Writing Teachers for offering this annual event.

After a week of above average temperatures, the weather suddenly turned yesterday afternoon.  The wind picked up, the clouds gathered, and meteorologists are predicting winter storms.  That actually means we have a chance of rain here by the coast and there are forecasts for snow in our local mountains!  And as much as I love the summer-like mild temps and the fact that I have been venturing into open-toed shoes in the last week, we really need the rain and snow!  Drought is unfortunately too common here–and drought means the likelihood of a fierce fire season.  And that is terrifying!

I’ve been trying to walk everyday, for both my physical and mental health.  My camera is my motivation…and the beach is my favorite location.  I wasn’t sure I would squeeze my walk in today–my husband isn’t too keen in walking in the wind–and I had resigned myself to a lazy Sunday catching up on some work that got neglected during an overly busy work week last week.  I didn’t even pick up my camera today.  But as we headed out to run a couple of errands and to grab a quick lunch, conversation turned to the possibility of a walk–and I wasn’t saying no!  My camera was at home–but my phone was in my pocket.

I love the moods of the beach.  The sky and surf, the birds and wind, the sand and rocks create an ever-changing kaleidoscope of views and conditions.  I pulled my hood up against the wind and set off down the beach.  The seagulls were swirling and squawking above me as the salty wind rushed against my face and sunglasses.  The waves chased me…teasing as the tide moved the shoreline away from the cliffs with an occasional push higher, threatening to drench my shoes.  The sun played hide-and-seek, dancing with the clouds, swinging out now and then to brighten the day.  I couldn’t resist a little game of chase with the ever-present seagulls…grabbing my phone to capture a photo or two of them in motion.

Can I maintain both a daily walk and a daily slice of writing through the entire month of March?  I’m going to try!

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Collaboration: Learning from a Mentor Text

Have you ever written an etheree?  I hadn’t–and hadn’t even heard of this particular poetic form until I came across the book Thanku: Poems of Gratitude by Miranda Paul.  As I read I came across a poem–an etheree-All This by Liz Garton Scanlon.  A poem that begins with one syllable and builds one syllable at a time until it reaches ten syllables in line ten.  In All This, Scanlon shows appreciation and gratitude for a small pleasure (or maybe a collection of small pleasures)…the snow, a book, a bubble bath, a cat…

Coming back from our winter break in early January, this seemed like a perfect alternative to resolution making and would ease us all back into writing and reading and thinking and planning.  So, in #collaboration with Liz Garton Scanlon, my students and I embarked on some etheree writing…and finally…today, I got their finished Postcards to Myself up on the classroom wall!

It feels like serendipity that this culmination coincided with the #clmooc poetry port invitation #collaboration!  I love that I can celebrate my students’ poetry and the power of a mentor text…and my own poem too.

postcard to myself

And here is a a closer view of a couple of student creations (8 and 9 year olds)…the first by H:

Bone

 

Skull

Fossil

Dinosaur

Bones in the ground

Brushing off the dust

Prehistoric fossils

Putting on the soft plaster

Breaking the hard rock to find bone

T-Rex has a small name but it’s huge

Fossils are everywhere in the world.

Bones

And another by B:

The Art of Folding Origami

 

Fold

sharp ends

crisp paper.

Origami

the art of folding

take your time, be precise

make sure you use square paper.

I can fold cranes, swords, hats, and more

fold until your run out of paper

origami is hard, so keep trying.

origami

And my own:

Inhale

 

Beach

with sand

bright sunshine

cool frothy waves

and perky sea birds.

I walk and watch and shoot

camera ready, focused

helping me see the world clearly.

I have so much to be grateful for

and I breathe in: inhaling sea’s bounty.

 

®Douillard

egret with reflection

Now it’s your turn to join in the collaboration!  Will you try an etheree?

 

 

02022020: Palindrome Day

As I walked in the #warmth of the Sunday morning February sun, these numbers and their connections to Groundhog’s Day wandered through my mind.  With each step, I contemplated dates and years and those inevitable Facebook and Instagram memories that show up reminding you of a post you made a year ago, five years ago, etc.  Eventually a poem began to form and I was able to hang onto some of the pieces and write them down once I returned home.  Here’s my first draft.

02022020

On Groundhog’s Day

it’s Palindrome Day

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patterns suggest

going backwards and forwards

tripping over the same stones

social media memories

mirror life lived “on this day 5 years ago”

that sometimes feel like a snapshot of today

 

A shadow determines

the arrival of spring

Does a rodent in Philly

really understand

Southern California winters?

Stretches of spring preceding spring’s arrival

sparsely punctuated

with points of weather

months that look like other months

seasons only natives feel

deep in their bones

 

As we mark this day

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know that patterns

recognizable by their well-worn paths

by the muscle memory that leads the way

can also open possibility

inviting us to forge new trails

pick up the smooth flat stones to skip over

summer-like ocean waves

Let’s start now to create the tomorrow

we envision today

®Douillard

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Celebration: Entering Poetry Port

I awoke yesterday morning to a tweet from a #clmooc and #nwp colleague.  I was gifted a poem that celebrated my photography!  (Thanks Kevin)  I’d love to share it here, but I’m not sure how to display the video of the poem.  Right away, I was inspired to write my own poem…you might hear echoes of Kevin’s poem here.  I am also inspired to spend some daily time in the Poetry Port.

Celebrate through the Angles

 

The curveballs

are inevitable

volleys come in clusters

raining down in torrents

forcing you under

take cover

 

Celebrations are there too

waiting

hidden among the curveballs

waiting

                           for you to raise your head

to life your eyes

to open your heart

It’s all in the angles

finding the slant

that lets the confetti pour in

that lets light in through the cracks

that shifts the weight of burden

from your tired shoulders

so giggles and squeals pour out

 

Protect yourself

when the curveballs burst through

AND

stay alert

search out the diagonal

find the obtuse

embrace the acute

find the beauty

 

There’s always room

for

celebration

®Douillard

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Reflections on Writing: #whyiwrite

Each year on October 20th people from all over are invited to write, to share their writing, and to consider the prompt: #whyiwrite.  I appreciate a National Day on Writing, a day to celebrate this often unexamined practice that most of us engage in daily.  Sometimes we are confused by the word writing, considering only the writing that appears in bookstores, in magazines, or in prestigious online spaces as “real” writing.

Whatever writing we do is real.  But fear can keep us from getting those words out of our heads and onto a page.  I often find myself writing as I walk, starting a narrative or poem in my head, sparked by something I noticed, overheard, observed.  These words are easily lost, blown into the sea breeze if I don’t make a conscious effort to remember long enough to get them written or somehow recorded for later writing and elaboration.

I find that my words take flight when I turn off that internal censor.  When I stop worrying about writing the perfect essay, saying the “just right” thing that will dazzle and impress someone else.

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But why do I write?  I started blogging to hold myself accountable to regular writing.  But all I write isn’t reflected in this public space.  This space, though, offers me the opportunity to connect, to reflect on my writing, teaching, photography, and life in general.  It lets me start small as I wonder and wander through the ideas in my mind.

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A writing project meeting yesterday led us to a new room on campus, where this quote was prominent on the walls.  I don’t know that it is perfectly true for me, but I like the sentiment. That risk-taking matters.  Sometimes we have to approach an old problem in a new way to figure out a solution.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot when it comes to teaching.  There’s so much talk about how kids are different these days, how they struggle to pay attention (often blamed on our screen-centered society), and how we need to prepare them for jobs that don’t yet exist.  Most of these comments are posed as problems, difficulties to overcome instead of aspirations to reach for.  Why would we teach students today the same content in the same ways as we taught that class ten years ago?  Why is curriculum more similar to than different from what it was when I was a child oh-so-many year ago?  Is this student problem really a teaching problem (or a structures around teaching problem)?  It might just be an assessment problem, since the content that is tested is certainly prioritized in our schools!

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That ever-moving target can sometimes make us all feel like failures.  We keep reaching for THE solution, instead of enjoying each wave as we ride it.  Watching surfers from the San Clemente pier yesterday reminds me of the importance of patience, playfulness, and persistence.  (And those same traits might just apply to the photographer as well!)  I’m sure each surfer out there in the cool, salty water in the slant of light on a late fall afternoon was in search of the perfect wave, the great ride, the most fun…  What I loved as I watched was noticing the surfers spot potential waves, start and stop–sometimes bailing out of a waves at the last possible moment; lining themselves up to catch the upcoming wave–paddling, turning, jockeying with other surfers for position; playing with waves that turned out to be less than–swan-diving backwards out of the ride.  I’m reminded that there is learning and joy in the process, not just the end product. How do we help students (and teachers and parents and the public) see the learning that happens in the trying rather than in the exam or “final product?”

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So why do I write?  I write to play with words and ideas.  I write to problem-solve, to follow a line of thinking to a place where I can grapple with it.  I write to pay attention to the world around me, to inhale the joy and exhale the heaviness.  And I persist in writing even when it feels too hard, too time consuming, too frustrating, too messy.  Writing matters, each one of us has to find all the reasons why for ourselves (we just may need a little nudge from our friends, teachers, lovers, mentors).  Thanks for the nudge National Day on Writing!

Now it’s your turn, why do you write?

 

Into Negative Spaces

The paths we follow through life seem to be self-determined, crafted from deep thought and consideration.  Carefully groomed and plotted, they take use from where we are to the next destination.  We know where we are going and the most effective and efficient way to get there. Except when we don’t.

Negative space is art terminology that describes the spaces not filled in with color or design. They are the open spaces that often define those more deliberate lines, brushstrokes, carvings.

What happens when you lean into the negatives spaces?  When the spaces between become the path you follow?

I think about the ways that dandelions find the cracks in the walls, in the sidewalks, along the sides of the road, plant themselves deeply and blossom–spreading both their roots and their seeds to ensure that they thrive.

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I think about the blue that is visible through the openings in the clouds, where the sun seeps through and warms our shoulders and relaxes our minds.

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I spy the scented geraniums hiding between the spiky arms of the aloe vera, soft pink flowers intertwined with the sharp spines of the succulent.

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I notice the children who lay low, distinguishing themselves by the ways they blend in, quietly doing what they need to while others stand out, spreading their brilliant plumage like colorful peacocks.

But I know that these negative spaces are not negative, not less than, not inferior.  These are spaces waiting to be defined by the traveler, marked as the feet step on this road less traveled.  There are many paths that lead to fulfilling and successful lives…so why do so many insist that we all follow a single pre-determined path?

Let’s remember that sometimes the right path is the one that is yet to be discovered.

Influences: The Power of Audience

I wasn’t going to post today.  After 61 consecutive posts I was going to take the day off.  But today I found myself reminded of the influence and power that comes with having an audience, no matter how small.

I started the day with a twitter post from Kevin…

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And then a response on Facebook from Ronald…

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When I got home tonight, I came across a blog post from Sheri where she highlights parts of my reflections on writing (from yesterday’s post) that resonated with her.

As I think about those responses I realize another important aspect of writing that I forgot to include in yesterday’s reflection:  the importance of writing in a community of writers.  In addition to Kevin, Ronald, and Sheri, there are myriad others who influence my writing and thinking–some who respond to my writing, some who post their own writing, and some who read my writing and don’t respond but make a passing comment to make me realize they read what I write.  Some of these people I only know from our digital connections, some I know both from in-person encounters and digital forums, and others I see in person on a regular basis.

Knowing that others will read my writing helps to keep me accountable…not only to others but also to myself.  And reading the writing (and other kinds of creating) of others, inspires my writing.  This mutuality of being in a community bring sunshine, water, oxygen, and fertilizer to my thinking and my writing creating the perfect conditions for blossoming.

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