Tag Archives: National Day on Writing

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?

 

Things and Places: #writeout

An email subscription led me to a podcast called Everything is Alivewhere inanimate objects are interviewed.  (Full disclosure, I only listened to a few minutes of one podcast–but did read the transcript linked above.)  But, this idea of the personality and alive-ness of inanimate objects got me thinking about inspiration for writing.  And, in the serendipity sort of way I often experience when thinking and writing and lesson planning, I came across an old favorite poem I have used with students called Pencils by Barbara Esbensen.  (You can read Esbensen’s poem linked above.)

I have this idea that students will pick an object that matters to them and create their own inanimate object poetry inspired by Pencils.  Should I have them write about pencils?  No…let them choose something that matters to each of them.  What would I pick? My camera, of course.  So, here’s my try:

Cameras

The rooms in a camera

are a tight fit

but forests seascapes classrooms

crowd right in

 

In a camera

nature’s colors riot, drawing your eye

and dim light shifts the world

to black and white

 

From a photographer (experienced or not)

an unexplained photo may emerge

framed by the untold story

living in the stillness, frozen in time

 

Every image in your camera

is ready to

dance on rays of light

ready

to focus and expose

ready to come right out

and save that moment

so that you can explore

and experience it again and again

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Will my third graders be able to animate their inanimate objects?  I think so…and I also think that the objects will connect them to places they love and spend time at…so #writeout it is!  I’ll share the results later in the week!

Here are some of my favorite places that crowd right into the rooms in my camera!

sand art

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A Place I Love: #writeout

When I learned that the National Day on Writing, the National Park Service, and the National Writing Project would join forces to celebrate writing through #writeout in October, I was all in.  #writeout is meant to help writers focus on stories of place…particularly if there is a national park nearby.  I don’t happen to live near a national park, but I do live by spectacular outdoor spaces where I spend lots of time walking…and that inspire my writing.

As October began, students read and studied the poem, City I Love by Lee Bennett Hopkins.  The rhythms and patterns of the poem were friendly to students, they were able to notice many techniques Hopkins employed.  And better yet, they were eager and ready to write their own versions using this poem as their mentor text.

City I Love by Lee Bennett Hopkins

 

In the city

I live in—

city I love—

mornings wake

to swishes, swashes,

sputters

of sweepers

swooshing litter

from gutters.

 

In the city

I live in—

city I love—

afternoons pulse

with people hurrying,

scurrying—

races of faces

pacing to

must-get-there

places.

 

In the city

I live in—

city I love—

nights shimmer

with lights

competing

with stars

above

unknown heights.

  

In the city

I live in—

city I love—

as dreams

start to creep

my city

of senses

lulls

me

to

sleep.

With this poem as a mentor text, I wrote my own version, focusing on a favorite place of mine.  Of course, I had to write about walking on the beach!

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Beach I Love

 

At the beach

I walk on

The beach I love

Seagulls hover

Squawking and flapping

Searching for treats

In unattended 

Beach bags. 

 

At the beach 

I walk on

The beach I love

Salty waves

Curl and break

Tossing swimmers 

And tempting surfers

Into the cool, refreshing

Depths. 

 

At the beach 

I walk on

The beach I love

Squishy sand

Sucks at my toes

Tiny grains sanding 

My soles smooth

And sheltering 

Tiny frisky crabs and 

Multitudes of bean clams. 

 

At the beach 

I walk on

The beach I love

Rhythmic seas

Slow my breath

Warm my heart

And clear my mind. 

 

Kim Douillard 

So in honor of the National Day on Writing and #writeout, I let the outdoors inspire my writing.  I will include my students’ writing in days to come!

 

 

 

#whyiwrite: October 20, 2018

I should probably title this post, All the Reasons I Don’t Write, instead of using the National Day on Writing hashtag #whyiwrite.  But instead of enumerating a list of excuses, I will use this occasion as an opportunity to write.

I’ve established a regular walking practice.  I’ve learned to carry my walking shoes (and my flip flops) with me in my car, leaving me ready for unexpected opportunities–and no excuses for not walking because I don’t have the right shoes.  My camera is also a motivator for my walking–I love to take those daily photos and walking gets me to interesting locations where I find the fodder for my photography habit.

My writing practice fares better when I have an external expectation keeping me on track.  I wrote and posted daily during the month of April when my students and I took on a 30-day poetry challenge.  And I posted weekly photography challenges for years when the iAnthology was my audience.  So now, I know I need to create some reasons for establishing a regular writing practice–one that takes me beyond the more work-related writing that always happens–you know, the lesson plans, the emails, the proposals and reports.

So I will begin today with some thoughts about birds.  If you’ve visited here before, you have probably noticed my obsessions with egrets, including the post I wrote about the egret being my spirit animal.  But yesterday and today, it was a different kind of bird that was called to my attention.

Birds of prey are difficult to photograph–and even to get a close look at without a camera.  They tend to soar high above our heads, their sharp eyes on the lookout for prey.  Yesterday I spied a hawk perched on a sign along the beach-side cliff.  It sat, overseeing the beach and was not at all bothered by me approaching from below to photograph.  Somehow it seemed appropriate that the sign it was perched on said, “Pack Your Trash!”  While I’m not entirely sure, I’m thinking it’s either a red tailed hawk or a red shouldered hawk.  I thought at first it might have been an osprey–I’ve seen them before in this area, but this was clearly a hawk of some sort.

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And today, not far from this same spot along the cliffside, I noticed a man looking intently high up on the cliff.  When I looked up, he drew my attention to the large bird of prey sitting on some bare branches above us.  I knew immediately that it was an osprey (I had done a bit of research when I got home yesterday).  He pointed out the fish beneath the bird, which he had been watching for a bit.  I stood under the branch, trying to capture a photo of this beautiful bird.  Other people came by, commenting on the beauty of this elegant sea eagle.

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I found myself thinking about this coincidence of spotting two birds of prey on my walks on two consecutive days.  When I watch egrets, I think of their patience, their calm and regal manner as they stand knee-deep in the ocean water.  They seem solitary–in great contrast to the seagulls and smaller shore birds that ofter hang out in groups, running with the tide.  When I think of birds of prey, I think of fierceness and independence.  They seem to take control of their environment, taking the long view of the resources below.  They are brutal and efficient, moving sharply as they take their prey, gripping firmly with sharp talons and sharper beaks.

Do I have something to learn from birds of prey right now?  Is this a call to be more decisive, to be more fierce and determined?  I know these beautiful birds have me thinking…and writing.

I know that I write to think, to better understand myself and the world around me.  I write to reflect and to express, to slow down and pay attention.  On this National Day on Writing I renew my commitment to daily writing…and to more frequent posting here.  How will you celebrate the National Day on Writing?  Why do you write?

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.

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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