Tag Archives: community

The Power of Community

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Exploring My Community

When people think of the beach, first thoughts usually go to sunny days, warm sand, and frothy waves crashing on the shore.

And for those of us who live in the beach community and see the ocean in all its glory every day, it can be easy to take this natural beauty for granted.

As I work to grow my photographic eye, I have been paying attention to conditions that will produce photos that are different than those I have taken before.

Today was a rainy day with a dark sky filled with ominous clouds.  Sun broke through periodically…and as I was driving through rush hour traffic to an appointment this afternoon, I decided to stop by the beach to see if I could capture the ocean against the dark sky.

Traffic was worse than usual–a typical side effect of rain in our community–and I missed many beautiful photo opportunities as I drove through the heavy traffic towards my destination (and convenient parking).  When I did park, I wanted to capture darkness…with the light peeking through.

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This is an unedited photo as the sun was sinking behind the thick clouds.  You can see the gray rain clouds above…and the spot of clearing lighting up the sea.

As I was enjoying the dusky beach, I noticed what appeared to be a bride in the distance at the water’s edge.  iPhone photography is not great for distance shots…but I shot anyway, hoping to capture a glimpse of the bride (and her groom) in the distance.  I used Camera+ to crop the photo and the clarify filter to bring the bride into view.

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It’s a bit pixilated…but I kind of like the effect.  (Can you spot the bride in the distance?)

And after I stopped for a cup of coffee (a favorite evening habit), I noticed these palm trees against the darkening sky.  I stopped in the parking lot, set my coffee down on the ground and snapped this view.

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This is another unedited photo.  I love the way the wet roads reflect the street lights and traffic lights and the palms stand tall, an iconic beach symbol.

Paying attention to the nuances of this beach community where I live helps me to appreciate its unique qualities in deeper and more thoughtful ways.

What nuances make your community home for you?

Stamina for Writing

Over at the NWP iAnthology, Janet Ilko has invited teachers to consider, “How do you build writers with stamina?”  As a middle school teacher, she talks about how daily journaling is a way to build stamina in her young writers.  (She works to build her own writing stamina through her blog, Writing in My Hand, as well.)

Stamina and fluency are important characteristics of writers.  Fluency allows for the words to flow onto the page and stamina means working through the hard parts of writing to keep on writing, to rework writing, to improve writing, to understand the importance of writing to learning and thinking and communicating.

One of the ways we build stamina in our classroom is by creating a culture where writing is the norm.  It’s no big deal…we write all the time.  We write to explain our mathematical thinking as we explore math concepts.  We write to describe what we are learning through our science labs.  We write to learn about spelling patterns and grammatical concepts.  We write stories, poems, arguments, and to share information with others.  We write to plan, to remember, and we write to reflect.

This week we asked students to do some reflective writing in preparation for student-led conferences next week.  We asked them to think about their learning in math, reading, writing, science, and with our iPads.  And what I notice is that these students have stamina for writing.  They know that writing gives voice to their learning.  It matters to them, to us as their teachers, to their parents…and to each other.

We are a community of writers.  And writers write.  They write because writing helps them think, and remember, and communicate.  And sometimes they publish too.  But mostly they write because writing matters in our community of learners.

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I hope it lasts a lifetime.  How do you build stamina in your writers?  How do you build your own writing stamina?