Tag Archives: learning

Learning from Writing: Reflections on the Poem-a-Day Challenge 2019

After 60 days of daily writing, it’s time to reflect on all I’ve learned from writing every day.  My first 30 days were entries classified as “slice of life,” vignettes and stories from life as I lived it. The second 30 days were poems, one each day of April as part of my classroom poem-a-day challenge.

The first and most important lesson learned is that daily writing makes daily writing easier. The more I write, the more I have to say.  That is not to say that writing is easy.  In fact, writing is work.  Every. Single. Day.  I have my share of “writer’s block,” but when I expect to write every day, I look for strategies to push through it.  Throughout my day I find myself paying attention to words, images, interactions…everything I encounter is potential fodder for my writing.

A tiny, furry caterpillar scurrying across the sidewalk grabs my attention and I stop to take a photo or two, knowing that there’s a story or a poem or a musing about life somewhere in that fuzzy body.  I’m reminded that attention to tiny, perfect things primes me for daily writing.

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I’ve also learned that my students need me to give them tips, techniques, and inspiring mentor texts to nurture them as writers.  They need to see me as not just their teacher, but as a fellow writer who also experiences challenges and successes, who starts and stops, and even stalls sometimes during the composing process.  My scribbles and scratch throughs show that writing takes effort and that it is worth the effort.  Being a writer in a community of writer breathes wind beneath our writerly wings.

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I’ve learned to see revision as a gift rather than a chore.  Writing doesn’t have to be perfect as you lay the words on the page.  Revision invites opportunities to revisit and re-see, allowing for new ideas to reshape that thinking on the page.  I especially love what revision offers my students.  Once they push past the idea that “done” is the goal, they are willing to rework their writing, especially when they have specific techniques to experiment with and concrete feedback to focus the reworking.

The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say a brain surgeon.  You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.  Robert Cormier

I leave this post saying now what?  60 days of blogging challenges have kept me accountable to my daily writing.  Will I write tomorrow without a challenge to motivate me?  Will I invent a new challenge to keep myself going?  Can I keep up a daily writing practice without posting publicly?  And what will keep my students writing?  They will spend time over the next week or two curating their poems: selecting and revising to create a book that showcases ten of the poems written in April.

Habits are hard to form and easy to break, so I’ll be working to keep this writing habit alive…for myself and for my students.

 

 

Something Fishy: SOLC 2019 Day 27

Just when we thought the week couldn’t get any fishier, it did!  You already know about the angle fish and the wire fish…today was all about real fish.

Wednesdays are our science lab day and our science teacher always goes to great lengths to make things relevant and hands-on for the kids.  I knew that she’d gone to a grunion run last weekend…and the grunion were running.  If you’re not from coastal southern California, you may not know about grunion.  They are small silver fish, about the length of a dollar bill…and they’re pretty special.  They are the only fish who come onshore to lay their eggs in the sand and they are found only along our coast from northern Baja to southern Santa Barbara.  They spawn from March to June, riding high tides onto the shore to lay their eggs.  A couple weeks later, at the next high tide, the eggs are washed back into the ocean, requiring the wave motion to hatch.

I remember grunion runs from my own teenaged days.  Since grunion only surf onto the beach late at night, it was the perfect opportunity for groups of preteens to head to the beach, hanging out in the moonlight, trying not to scare off the grunion.  (I don’t know who talked the adult drivers into that duty!)  If you’re under 16 you don’t need a fishing license to pick up the fish…not that I can ever remember wanting to pick them up!  Lucky for us, our science teacher was able to collect some grunion (and eggs) on her grunion run last weekend for our students to study.

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Students were able to touch the fish (yeah, they were dead), measure them to determine their age, and gently squeeze them to determine whether they were female (if reddish eggs came out) or male (if a milky liquid came out).

As you can see, they were eager to handle them, some with gloves and some with their bare hands.

We also took the opportunity to present our science teacher with a gift of fish from us. Each student contributed one of their wire fish (Calder inspired) to our collective fish mobile.  The best part was that each student figured out their own fish’s balancing point, tied a piece of fishing line to that point, and then small groups hung their fish together.  We tied each string of fish from a piece of drift wood that I found on one of my beach walks. The result was stunning!  I’m including a photo–although it doesn’t begin to do it justice!

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Next week students will string their own individual fish mobiles…and continue their study of grunion.  If we’re lucky, we will be able to get some of those grunion eggs to hatch…right in front of our eyes!

With a Twist: SOLC 2019 Day 25

School has a reputation for being routine, dull even.  Students learn through reading, writing and repetition.  Take in information, lather, rinse, repeat.

But does learning have to be like washing your hair?

I’ve learned over my many years of teaching that novelty and doing are essential to learning, but both need to have a purpose integral to the goals of the learning.

Today was all about the wire.

We’ve learned some fish basics in preparation for a deeper inquiry into grunion–a very special fish native to our area that depends on the pull of the moon for the signal to lay their eggs on our sandy beaches.  We studied about angles, creating fish from the 360 degrees of a circle, then cut a mouth and caudal fin measured with a protractor to understand categories of angles.  And, inspired by Alexander Calder and his circus (have you read Sandy’s Circus?) as well as his magnificent mobiles and stabiles, we made wire fish.

My favorite kinds of projects are those that people can’t believe are possible for kids. Long strands of pokey wire and pinchy pliers are not the usual fare of an elementary classroom.  And yet, students couldn’t wait to handle these materials.  Equipped with floral wire and pliers, students turned and molded.  They twisted and pulled, curved and bent, all the while telling the story of their emerging fish.  Buttons became eyes and scales, even the lighted appendage of an angler fish.  I coached and encouraged, pushing students to elaborate on their basic ideas–to push past my example and envision new possibilities.

Students also encouraged and informed each other as I watched new ideas take hold.  I noticed confidence in students who are sometimes tentative, the challenges of the intricacies of wire.  We commiserated about the problems that come with sweaty hands. Eventually, little hands, emerging stories, and big ideas twisted together with  buttons and colorful wires became a school of fish.

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The next twist is still to come as we assembly each small collection of wire fish into a fishy mobile swimming from a piece of driftwood.  There’s a special surprise as well…but I’m not ready to tell about that yet.

 

 

 

 

Team Bird: SOLC 2019 Day 15

Today’s walk had me watching pelicans.  And as I observed their precision maneuvers, I started to think about how birds compare to sports and their athletes.  Pelicans are like synchronized swimmers, matching their moves and depending on the precise movements of each to create the desired formations as a group.  I sometimes see one peel off, slowing down or heading off in a different direction, but most of the time they are working the V, adjusting position and speed to ensure that the entire group gets where it is going with speed and efficiency.

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Seagulls are more like that pick up game of basketball or soccer.  They have shared interests, but there is always plenty of squabbling and trash talk.  There are definitely leaders and followers and lots of jockeying for position (and food).  Seagulls seem to laugh a lot (at least in my mind), they love to play in the wind currents and hang out together on the beach.

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Osprey are those elite individual athletes–the Mikaela Shiffrins or Serena Williams of the bird world.  They are strong and independent and ferociously focused on their goals.  Osprey are beauty in motion, each muscle toned, each movement made with grace that makes the nearly impossible seem easy.

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Egrets are steady, patient and observant.  They wait for the perfect opportunity, a lot like the utility players in football or basketball.  They have that grace of movement, but they don’t draw your attention until you look away from the shining stars of the game.  But when you do look…oh la la, they are poetry in motion!

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Sandpipers are team players all the way.  They move together, eat together, and watch out for each other.  Like a finely honed World Cup soccer team, they seem to read each others’ minds, moving separately almost like one.

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I’m always encouraging my students to be a team, reminding them that we need to support each other and create a space where we all can learn.  But after watching the birds, I’m wondering if I need to refine my language.  What kind of team do I want them to be?

What to do on a Rainy Day?: SOLC 2019 Day 2

What to do on a rainy day?  If I’d had my druthers, as I woke I would have snuggled back down into my covers and listened to the melodic drip drop pattering of raindrops on the roof until I was lulled back into a decadent lazy rainy day sleep.

Instead, when my alarm went off at 5:30 am, I got out of bed, heard the rain–with a bit of dread–and got myself ready to head out.  This is the day of the San Diego Area Writing Project annual Spring Conference!  We don’t do rain well in San Diego, so when my husband said my phone was buzzing as I emerged from the shower, I worried that people were contacted me to let me know that they wouldn’t be attending.  (That wasn’t the case.)  I made my way through the raindrops and occasional imprudent rainy day drivers to the university.

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And as is always the case…there is amazing energy in teachers coming together to learn on a Saturday morning!  Close to 150 educators dodged the raindrops for continental breakfast, coffee, and comradery…along with opportunities to learn together.  And we were in for a treat!  The hardest part of the morning was choosing which sessions to sit in, there were so many good choices!

Storytelling strategies, using mentor text to improve student writing, inserting craft in non fiction writing, amplifying student voice (with students sharing their process and outcomes), harnessing the power of technology to support young writers, and employing thinking routines for social justice in the classroom were all options this morning.  And thirty years into my teaching career and with almost as many years with the writing project I continue to learn and be inspired in this community of educators.

As always, Christine inspired the audience in her opening, reminding us that it is wholehearted connections that make the biggest difference in learning.  I am grateful for the opportunity to spend a rainy Saturday morning in the company of dedicated professionals.

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I didn’t get to sleep in this morning, but I am refreshed and inspired by a morning spent learning with colleagues.

Bubbles

There’s a bubble man that regularly shows up at the beach where I walk.  He concocts a bubble mixture, pours it into a bowl that is fitted onto a one-legged stand that he plunges into the sand, and then starts working his magic.  

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Two bamboo poles are his wands, and they are attached by long stretches of rope that serve as the point of bubble creation.  He dips, lifts, opens and swirls using the natural sea breezes to create enormous bubbles that drift along the shore.

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Like the Pied Piper, the bubble man attracts children.  They flock to him, chasing the bubbles, hands reaching, eager to pop these ephemeral jewels.  He teases them with a cluster of low, small bubbles, sending them out in a flurry, then lifts his wand high above their heads, coaxing another bubble to grow.  A snake evolves into a dragon, expanding and twisting as it nuzzles the sunset. The kids look up, arms stretched, running beneath the giant as it floats out of reach.  

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When the conditions are right, bubbles become corridors to another world.  Immersed in briny ocean water, the brave enter the bubble, seeing the world from inside its colorful coating.  For those who are patient and move with elegance and ease, the bubble stays, moving with them in a watery dance of soap and salt and air.  

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There’s something freeing about the temporary nature of bubbles.  You can almost catch them, but never quite possess them. In some ways it’s like learning.  For a moment, you can stop time and hold it in your hand and then, pop! It has become part of the air again, you breathe it in and it is a part of you.  

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Don’t stop, blow a new bubble today. Try some small ones to get started, share them with others. Now reach. Higher. Open your arms wide, catch the breeze.  Pop! It’s gone before the bubble formed. Try again and again until the light catches and the colors unfold into a rainbow of possibility.

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Take Action and Keep Reaching

One of the things I love most about photography is its complexity.  There is a pretty low floor, everybody can participate in the experience of taking photos–just point and shoot–and you’ll have a reminder of the moment you just experienced.

Because I’ve been posting a photo every day for almost five years now on Instagram (August 1, 2012 was my start date), I can track my progress as a photographer.  I can see how my choices in subject, framing, light, and overall composition continue to improve.  I can see where I have experimented with different techniques–a summer spent with a focus on my version of street photography that I called “Beach People” –and pushed my creativity and skill development.   (See #beachpeople: a documentary) I give myself new challenges to keep my photography fresh and energizing, especially since I take pictures as part of my everyday life, meaning a lot of the photos I take are at places I frequent regularly.  For me, many photos are taken at Moonlight Beach, a place where I love to walk.

Today, on our nation’s Independence Day, I was immediately drawn to the volleyball courts.  The American flags were waving, lots of people were gathering, and volleyball players were in action.  At first I wanted to capture the flags waving with the beach in the background, but then I started shooting.  My goal immediately changed and I wanted to capture a shot that showed the intensity of the play in action.  I could see that I needed to time my shot to catch the ball in play right over the net.  After a few tries, I was pretty sure I had at least one shot with the action.  Here is my resulting shot.

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The flag, the ball, the arms, and feet…and the bonus: the puffs of sand under the feet.  This image has not been edited or filtered, this is how I shot it.

Last week I was intent on capturing surfers in action during a surfing contest.  You can see my photo of Rob Machado here.  I was using my zoom lens, which makes it hard to focus and “see” the just right spot in the distance.  But I persisted and got a few nice action shots of surfers at their best.

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Leaving the beach today, we noticed some low-rider cars pulling through the beach drop off.  I started taking photos before they started showing off their hydraulics and bouncing the cars.  I was fascinated with the dance of the cars…a sort of call and response…with bobbing. popping, and even turns up on one wheel.

My camera gave me the time and focus to appreciate what these cars and drivers were offering.  I could see the complexity of the art of the low rider as I watched them maneuver their cars into position, “posture” with the hydraulics, and play with the crowd.

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I love that photography has a low floor, I was able to get started with very few skills and only minimal equipment.  My first several years of photos were taken with my phone camera.  But I also love that photography has a high ceiling.  As much as I learn, there is so much more to learn and reach for.  I still take photos with my phone and I also now use a Sony a6000 (a light, mirrorless, DSLR-like camera).  I take most of my photos in the automatic mode, knowing that there are also endless possibilities for manual adjustments.  Even in the automatic mode there are many choices that I make, from the focal distance to the framing and light.  I can see years of learning and improvement ahead of me.

Through my camera lens I am reminded that learners need both entry points and opportunity to stretch.  And that reminder carries over to my work as both a teacher of students and a facilitator of professional development for teachers too.  Let your learners in…and keep them interested in pushing themselves, in challenging “good enough” by reaching for possibility–not just completing assignments.  Just as I know there is no end to learning about photography…I also know there is no end to learning about teaching and learning.  And the goal of lifelong learning is not just my personal goal, but a goal I hold for all the learners I touch as well.