Category Archives: writing

On the National Day on Writing

Today is the National Day on Writing–a day to celebrate all that writing offers.  My students were excited this morning at the thought that they would get to write today.  In fact, they were already excited about the writing they had done last night in their Learning at Home notebooks. We started the day listening to a short story by a student about a leaf, a leaf personified, who travels from a tree branch to a construction site and eventually back to a leaf pile with the help of the leaf blower.  We could have spent the entire morning listening to stories written by students…but we had writing to do!

Inspired by Red Sings from the Treetops by Joyce Sidman, we began writing our own color-inspired poetry earlier this week.  Today we took those bits and starts and worked to craft them into a whole piece.  Some students were spectacularly successful, some had moments of brilliance, and others veered away from color and still wrote some interesting accounts of things they are interested in.  They wrote, read to a partner, and eventually created a short video of themselves reading their poem on Flipgrid.  And while their first attempts are not ready for “prime time,” I am proud of all they accomplished today and their enthusiastic and creative approach to our day.

Here are a few glimpses:

In winter, yellow sighs, I’m done.  None of my sunlight can peek through clouds as dark as the oceans’ most shadowy blue places.  It’s time white takes his place..

(Third grade boy)

In summer yellow shines from the sky while blue splashes .  Colorful plants explode with power and beauty.  In summer blue wraps around my ankles.  Red rises from green…

(Third grade girl)

In the morning gold wakes me up with his paws and barking, “I’m hungry.” And with his pink tongue, gold wets my face…

(Third grade boy)

At the beach, green is sly.  It slithers by surfboards, sneaks by me and ties a slippery knot around my legs…

(Third grade girl)

Students left today wanting more…begging for more opportunities to write and share.  My students remind me that writing can be playful and creative, an opportunity for social interaction and experimentation.  They remind me that there are lots of reasons #whyiwrite!

 

Paying Attention: #whyiwrite 2017

Fall is subtle in San Diego. Instead of a riotous celebration of trees dressed in their best fall colors I notice that the lifeguard towers have been moved from their strategic summer shoreline positions to a collection near the road. Instead of grabbing a sweater and drinking warm apple cider, we scan the horizon for evidence of wildfires as hot winds gust and whip the dry grasses and dust into a frenzy.

lifeguard towers

But in spite of these easy to miss markers of fall, there are seasons in San Diego. Not the two (spring and summer) that so many use to describe our temperate climate, but four distinct seasons that you might only recognize if you take the time to notice, document, and reflect.

fall colors on the ocean

It’s like that in my classroom too. As teachers (and maybe as parents and learners too) we all wish that learning came with recognizable markers of growth. That we could watch the leaves of learning change from green to yellow to brilliant crimson, celebrating new knowledge, expertise and confidence. We’d love for snowplows to mark the new pathways that allow for connections between new concepts and older understandings. But learning is often subtle. It is incremental, sneaking its way into our synapses and those of our students without fanfare.

To pay attention to these subtleties, I turn to my camera.  My camera has become my go-to tool for focusing my attention, allowing me to notice and document changes in my environment.  Through its lens, I pay attention to changes in light and shadow, notice moods and action, and see what might otherwise be overlooked.  Combined with writing, reflection becomes a daily habit with camera in hand.

black and white seagull

Writing helps me pay attention. It helps me record the small details that don’t seem to amount to much and notice how those details change, accumulate, and grow over time. And when paired with photography, writing helps me leap from concrete to abstract, considering why a photo of lifeguard towers stored for the fall and winter draws my attention to my students and their learning. Writing pushes me from the tediums of day to day, to examine the reasons I keep returning to those same topics. And even more importantly, when I write, I am reminded of the power of writing not just for myself but also for my students and that helps me search for ways to support them as they find their own reasons to write.

I write to support my students as writers, knowing that the power of the pen will open possibilities for thinking, learning, and problem solving. And when I pay close attention, I will not only learn about them but also from them. That’s why I write.

A Tiny Celebration of Writing

I aspire to a daily writing practice, following my thoughts where they lead, planting seeds of ideas that may produce something more at a later date, documenting life’s everyday events—both ordinary and extraordinary. Many days I fail to write, excusing myself mostly because the practice is not firmly established enough to be a habit that I no longer have to prioritize. But sometimes I get the opportunity to write in the course of my day…a treat that reminds me of my intention.

Last week as part of some work bringing National Writing Project (NWP) teachers and science museums together to consider ways they might partner to support students and teachers, I wrote. On my table a hotel coffee cup contained some small shells and a couple of hand lenses. We were invited to examine a shell, sketch, and write.

Here’s my beginning thinking—the result of taking about five minutes to sketch and write.

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Layers of ridges that wrap the diameter and also extend along the length give the surface a spiky texture that I can feel as I roll the shell between my fingers.

Spiraling up from a tiny sharp tip, an opening is revealed on one side of the widest part. Although I’ve seen a version of this shell many times, I don’t know who lives there or what it is called.

I imagine a tiny snail carrying its home on its back, washed with the tides without a permanent resting place. Perhaps these creatures are the original Tiny House Nation, secure, bringing their homes—intricately assembled for efficiency and functionality—with them wherever they roam.

I’m reminded again of the importance of establishing this daily practice, even if in tiny spurts—one I regularly espouse for my students and teachers I work with. Can I spare five minutes a day for writing? Of course, everyone has five minutes somewhere. Why don’t I write for five minutes every day? There are a million excuses—among them, the fear that I will need not five minutes but an hour once I get started.

So today I’ve written another five minutes or more, moving this small piece from my notebook to my blog and adding a bit of context. I hope this is a catalyst for reestablishing that daily writing habit, even if for only five minutes a day. Today I will celebrate the tiny start and be reminded that small starts are betting than not starting at all.

#haikuforhealing

It’s so easy to break a good habit, even after it has been well established. When I started this blog, I wrote daily for months on end.  Of course, I did it because I knew if I stopped (and I was afraid to stop for even one day), I would have a hard time getting back on track.

I guess I was right.

This week, my friend and colleague Kevin posted a prompt on the NWP iAnthology, inviting some short-form writing in the form of Haiku, 3 line poems, for the purpose of healing the spirit.  #haikuforhealing is a hashtag where people are sharing these poems meant to raise spirits.  I noticed Kevin writing them in December, making posters of them with inspirational images as their backdrop.  I enjoyed them…and thought about writing some of my own.

So when the prompt came up on Saturday, I decided to try my hand at it. I started with a photo I had taken and posted on Instagram.  I imported it into Canva and added my words. My first #haikuforhealing was born.

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On Sunday my schedule didn’t allow for a long photo-taking walk. Instead, I snapped a shot of the moon through the trees in the Trader Joe’s parking lot.  I messed with it a bit in prisma, amping up the color. Hmmm…a Haiku about the moon?  I could do that.

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It rained quite a bit on Monday, but it had stopped by the time I left work. Knowing rain was in the forecast later in the week, I decided to take a walk on the beach on the way home.  The clouds were sitting low, hugging the horizon, as the sun tried its best to peek through.  Inspiration for another #haikuforhealing?  Why not?

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Should I go for four days in a row?  One of the things I love about living near the coast is the proximity to the trains. I hear them as I walk on the beach, I hear them as I teach, and they frequently hold me up at intersections as the guards lower, the lights flash, and the train barrels past.Today I was walking toward my car when the rail guards dropped, giving me just enough time to snap a few shots…and think about a Haiku…

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I don’t know if I have re-established a habit of daily writing, but I am four days into daily #haikuforhealing writing.  I’m enjoying it.  I like creating the poster with my photograph and words…and sharing it on Twitter (@kd062) makes me feel accountable (at least to myself).

Join in the healing, let Haiku shift your perspective and help you find inspiration, beauty, meaning…  And if you have other ideas to keep the daily writing fresh and doable, I’d love to hear about them!

 

Playing with Postcards

It’s CLMOOC time…in fact it’s the break/brake week, meaning that without specific prompts or even general guidelines, I have been thinking about ways to make and connect.

There’s been lots of talk about the postcard project in the CLMOOC community (and by the way, if you haven’t stopped by yet, everyone is invited!) and I’ve been tempted to join the fun to send and receive (through snail mail) postcards to CLMOOC friends.  I knew I wanted to incorporate my photography into the process but hadn’t really worked that out yet. And then I saw a post on Teachers Write, a Facebook group focused on getting teachers writing in the summer, where Madelyn Rosenberg offered her version of a quick write called Postcards!

Earlier today I broke down and gave into my impulse to try out Prisma, a photo app that turns your photos into art (some of the effects are really cool!).  And then I buckled down and tried on Madelyn Rosenberg’s Postcards quick write strategy.  With words and an image, I headed over to Canva to combine the words and images.

On Sunday my husband and I stopped by the beach around 6:30pm for a pre-sunset walk and I was amazed at how many people were in the water…still.  I took a photo from above the beach to try to capture the numbers of people in the water.

Combining my words with my photo, here’s my postcard:

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And who can resist beautiful, stately palm trees?  Of course I have taken many photos of them, so it was fun to transform my photo into something that looks kind of art deco to me (also in Prisma)…here’s my palm tree postcard:

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I think the re-imagined photographs and short form writing work well as postcards, so my next step will be to transform these digital postcards into analog postcards to address and slip into the mail…to surprise…someone!

 

Making Writers

Sometimes writing feels like standing all alone in the fog–shivering in the damp–uncomfortable and vulnerable, waiting for the worst.

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But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Writers write best in a supportive community, in a place where attempts are celebrated and seeds are planted–some intentionally and carefully like those meticulously cultivated gardens and some flung far and wide like dandelion seeds floating in the wind.

dandelion seed

And writers also need to play and break the rules, find their own voice in the cacophony of others.  Occasionally they need a nudge to take those carefully stacked plates and push them over, flinging the words here and there, then gathering them again to make meaning of the shards of ideas uncovered in the process.

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Sometimes writers need to lean in close, breathe in the sweet scent of what it means to create new life as ideas emerge from words rubbed together.

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At other times, writers need to step back and take in the long view.  What new understandings reveal themselves when you look from the heights, from places you hadn’t dare stand before? Writing can be a process of discovery, exploring new territory or old territory from new perspectives.

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Writers need inspiration, sparks that send them on wild chases and deep digs.  And to be inspired, writers must open themselves–listen carefully, look widely, pay attention to the mundane, and seek out the ordinary. Nothing is too lowly to inspire words and ideas. Consider even the cat, asleep, with its head in a box.

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But mostly, writers need to trust that they have something to say–to themselves, to their neighbors, to readers and other writers.  They have to trust that words matter, thoughts matter, and the world matters.  They must want to write, and need to writer, but most of all, they actually have to do that thing that so many resist, and WRITE!

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If you want to make a writer.

***Note:  This piece was inspired by the article Hey Matt by Molly Toussant where she writes about her beliefs about teaching writing.  This piece was created as a “found photo essay” inspired by a peek at my media library as a way to think about writing and writing instruction.

 

 

The Gift of Words

Inspired by a blog post on Edutopia by a colleague of mine from the UCLA Writing Project, our class began to explore the idea of gifts.  This is a hard time for young students, this season seems to make them want everything!  There is talk of what Santa will bring, what antics and gifts the elf carries, along with lots of decorating and baking and performances and outings…

So last week we began by reading a beautiful picture book that my teaching partner found at Powell’s books in Portland called Immi’s Gift by Karin Littlewood.  This gorgeous book about an Inuit girl is perfect for setting the stage for expanding the idea of gifts beyond what can be purchased.  And honestly, our students, even before reading the book had many ideas about those “priceless” gifts…of time, nature, acts of kindness…  And this simple book is filled with beautiful language, ideas, and images.

And then we gave the students the invitation to become word-sleuths…to be on the lookout for words, phrases, sentences..that were worthy of gift status.  Words that were special to them in some way.  They collected these words on yellow stickies and then carefully wrote them on some pretty pieces of paper to hang on the “My Gift of Words” board in our classroom.

My Gift of Words

The collections are growing–and students are not only finding words others wrote, they are writing their own too!  This third grader came in on Tuesday with this line that she had written in her notebook on her way to school.  (And I suspect also influenced by another book we read, What Does Peace Feel Like? by Vladimir Radunsky.)

peace like salt water

Here’s a glimpse at some of the other word gifts hanging on our board.

And suddenly, not only are my students noticing and appreciating words everywhere, but so am I!  At a meeting at school on Monday, one of my colleagues used this Michelangelo quote to call us all to action and urge us to dream big.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.  Michelangelo

A word fairy has been leaving inspirational quotes in our mailboxes at school this week…and a friend of mine just gave me this beautiful necklace with a quote from Albert Einstein on it.  (I love the sentiment!)

necklace

And the cherry on top of all these words is that at The Writing Thief MOOC our most recent make is a scavenger hunt for mentor texts!  It feels like I have been bathed in words this week, they are falling like raindrops, gathering in puddles, splashing ideas and inspiration into my thinking and writing and living.

And I see it with my students too.  They are tuned into words, catching them in their nets, and sharing them with each other, their families, and with us.  In this season of giving, the gift of words has been spectacular…and a tradition that I hope carries on into the New Year!

What words are inspiring you this holiday season?  What words have you given and received as gifts?  What are your favorite mentor texts?  And feel free to join us over at The Writing Thief MOOC and share some of your favorite words, phrases, sentences, and books…you’re all welcome.  Come join the fun!

Playing with Constraints: Twitter Memoir

There is something about constraints that create conditions for creativity…especially when I’m just getting started with something.  Jeremy, a colleague over at the NWP iAnthology last week offered as a writing prompt an invitation to write a memoir in 140 characters…a tweet!  Here’s his directions:

One of the activities that I have my students do is something called a Twitter Memoir. It is a way for me to scaffold with my students on writing memoirs. We slowly build from 140 characters to 25 word memoirs, then 50 word memoirs. Finally they write their full blown memoir about a personal experience in their life. Many of my students are not on Twitter, but as I am introducing this exercise, I get a few to sign-up. I don’t require my students to be on Twitter because I have a Tweet board in my classroom where they can post their Twitter Memoirs.

So, I challenge you this week to write a short 140 character memoir. It does not have to be on Twitter. For the sake of simplicity let’s just write them here at the iAnthology. Also, if you want to know more about this process you can check out the book Troy Hicks and I co-authored titled Create, Compose, Connect. Have a blast doing this, my students do!

I was intrigued by the idea of a memoir in 140 characters and spent some time composing.  I was able to whittle down to 140 characters…but realized that I wouldn’t have room for hashtags if I used all the allowed characters.  So I trimmed some more hoping to get down to a point where I could include a hashtag like #ce14 (for connected educator month) or #digiwrimo (for digital writing month).  I finally posted this Twitter memoir in the iAnthology prompt space, I wasn’t able to get the characters quite small enough for the hashtags I wanted to include.

Here it is.  It includes 138 characters (spaces, punctuation, and letters)…and it happens to be exactly 25 words, so it fits two of the criteria Jeremy set out.

With phone in hand I explore my world, snapping photos, collecting thoughts & ideas, searching for new vantages. Through images I connect.

And of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a photo!  (This one is from an urban hike on Sunday…just beyond my neighborhood.)

Bare Tree

What will your Twitter memoir say about you?  Can you craft it to include a mere 140 characters?  I’d love to see yours…on your blog or on Twitter!  (You can find me @kd0602)  I’m going to tweet this post that includes my Twitter memoir…and include some of my hashtags along with the link.  I hope you’ll share yours with me too!

Write My Community

We are writers…and today we celebrated writing.

I teach in a pretty unique situation, in a multiage class of first, second, and third graders.  I co-teach this class with another amazing teacher and we keep our students for three years.  We are not merely teachers and students, we are a learning community.  We support each other, challenge each other, learning together over an extended period of time.

And this is the third year where we have celebrated the National Day on Writing by joining up with our district’s other multiage class–this one of fourth and fifth graders–many who were our students.  This time, the older kids joined us at our school starting with some shared play time on the playground…and lots of hugs as kids reconnected, siblings sought out their brothers and sisters, and older kids reminisced about their days as “little kids.”

And then the fun began…

As 80+ students headed into the auditorium, they each had a part of an animal picture to match to find their cross-age partner(s).  After spending a few minutes getting to know one another, partners were ready to begin a collaborative writing activity.

Believing that writers write best from abundance, last week students in both our classes drafted some poetry.  Our students had studied some poetry mentor texts from some of our favorite poets including Kristine O’Connell George and Valerie Worth and then, considering things they care about and know about, set off to write some poetry.  Once drafted, they separated their poems into individual lines and then cut the lines apart to store in a baggie. The other class used a similar process and came to our event today with lines of poetry in a baggie as well.

ndow protocol

After getting to know each other, students pulled three lines from their poem from the baggie to share with their partner and after reading and listening to the six lines of poetry, decided how to build on those ideas to create a collaborative poem representing the partnership.  A hush fell over the room as poets set to work negotiating and collaborating, crafting poetry together.

collaborating

And even though the room was full, it was if each partnership worked in a bubble of creativity and focus of their own.

poets at work

And it wasn’t long before drafts were prepared…and the writers were ready to go public with their poems.

poem draft

We headed out…beyond the school gate…to the sidewalk outside of our school, out into the community.  And with sidewalk chalk and their drafts in hand, our writers chalked their poems onto the sidewalk for the public to see and read: a chalk-a-bration!

making it public

It was fun to watch cars slow down to see what we were doing and people with their dogs stop to admire our handiwork.  Chalking their poem onto the sidewalk was not as easy as students first thought.  There was the dilemma of figuring out which direction to write and how much space it would take.  And then applying the right pressure to make the words readable…and even finding a comfortable position to do the writing came into play.

chalking the sidewalk

Students began to suggest that we post the written poems on the fence near the sidewalk, realizing that reading pencil on paper might be easier than chalk on sidewalk.  We’re looking into the feasibility of the possibility.

sidewalk poem

Our celebration ended with an open mic back in the auditorium.  I’m always amazed with how eager our students are to share their writing.  We could have stayed for another hour listening to the poems, but had to limit ourselves to a few random poem selections…for now!

For us, the National Day on Writing is an opportunity to publicly celebrate what we do every day…write.  And this year’s theme: write my community, was perfect for us.  We are a community of writers that extends beyond the classroom and across age and grade levels.  We write to learn, to remember, to explain, to share our knowledge, to explore, to convince, to analyze, to reflect, and to express ideas and feelings.  We write for ourselves, for each other, and for the public.

We are writers.

Happy National Day on Writing!

ndow setting

 

 

Water on the Brain

Water: beautiful, powerful, moving, treacherous, life-giving, flowing through our veins, through earth’s veins, taken for granted, precious, tenuous, unpredictable, limited, overflowing…

I feel like I have water on the brain.  I woke this morning to images of water flowing–a water main break in Los Angeles had me gasping at the waste of a precious resource.  Our drought in Southern California–in CA as a whole (and other western states)–is so severe that I feel the constant of thirst, in my throat, in my heart, for our plants and animals, for our people. Reservoirs and lakes have shrunken to show thick exposed shorelines, creeks are but a distant memory of a trickle.  And the flooding in Colorado has me wishing we could share in this bounty rather than experience the extremes of water.

Floods, like their cousins wildfires, remind us that there is much we do not and cannot control.

I spent time today on the banks of the Clark Fork River in Missoula, MT learning and thinking about the indigenous stories of this place.  The beauty of the river masks its troubled history and ancient lineage.  Indigenous and scientific knowledge swim in these waters that tourists may see as a playground, a place for floating on inner tubes and cooling off in the 90 degree temperatures.

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Inspired by the water, I wrote with others as part of a mini writing marathon at our Intersections meeting today.  The writing was rich and layered with stories of experiences with water…or no water.  And changing the lens…through the indigenous stories and science…prompted our memories and connections, letting the stories pour like the water itself.

Like water, there is power in writing.  Power to connect, to heal, to think and reflect.  We sometimes forget that writing in unexpected places, creates new urgency and agency for our writing.  So go outside, find a place by a river, on the curb, under a tree, or even sit on the car bumper and see what writing comes when you change your lens.