There’s something satisfying about accomplishing a goal you know will be a challenge. And even though I have taken this challenge for a few years now, it really doesn’t get easier. Two Writing Teachers and their annual slice of life challenge is an amazing community of welcoming writers. There is something about writing in community that makes this daily writing and posting of writing not only something I can do, but something I want to do…with some level of competence! Many thanks to all who have read, liked, and/or commented on my slices this month. And also thanks to those of you who have written and offered your writing for comment and reading. It’s such fun to see all the different approaches writers take to accomplishing this 31 day challenge. You are appreciated!
Writing every day is humbling. Some days coming up with something worthy of posting seems impossible. I envy those early morning writers who seem to wake with ideas galore. I feel like I search all day long, and luckily when I open my computer to write, a slice somehow finds me. I love the way writing takes twists and turns. Some days I KNOW what I am going to write…and then I open my computer and the words take a new direction.
I look forward each day to reading other slicers’ offerings. I love the glimpse into lives across the country and world, across different stages of life, and seeing life from a variety of perspectives. It’s interesting to see some people dig deep with their writing, sharing grief, health concerns, and parenting dilemmas. It’s fun to read poetry, ramblings, 6-word memoirs, lists and listicles, photo essays, and everything in between. I’m reminded that there are lots of way to write and lots of approaches to developing a topic and idea.
I like that a focus on my own writing also helps me focus on teaching writing. I find myself thinking about how to help my students prime the writing pump, getting ideas flowing so they can’t wait to pick up their pencils and start getting those ideas on the page. I’m reminded to offer variety and choice, letting them follow their thoughts and ideas. Community for writers is essential. My students want to share their writing with their classmates and me and benefit from hearing each other’s writing.
And each year I remember that March is not only a month for daily writing, but also the month for writing report cards, preparing for and conducting parent conferences, and thinking about that upcoming spring break. Then it is followed by April, National Poetry Month, and I find myself tempted to keep on writing, challenging myself to another thirty days of writing–this time all in poetry (yikes!). As my spring break begins, will I also be writing and posting a poem a day? Probably.
Maybe I need to figure out what the May and June writing challenges should be. Why do I write every day for 61 days and then stop? Apparently I need the accountability of a community of writers and a daily challenge to keep my writing flowing. Guess that’s my next puzzle to figure out!
Sometimes it seems like I’m always tired. Even after a full night’s sleep, I wake up feeling like I could just stay in bed all day. It seems worse since the time change, even though I purposefully gave myself some extra down time to try to make up for the “lost” hour.
A week or so ago I read an article about seven kinds of rest that all people need. Now this is really not news–I know that sleep and rest are different, and that my mind can be whirling even when my body is resting.
Here are the 7 types of rest the article outlines:
It’s interesting to me that physical rest can include both passive (sleeping, laying down, napping, etc.) and active rest (stretching, massage, yoga). I’m pretty good at passive rest, not so good at active rest. It is definitely the mental rest and the social rest that are challenging in my line of work as an educator. Teaching is not the kind of job that is easy to leave at the office–and it’s also not easy to just take a break during the course of the work day. I think this is an area I need to make some more conscious effort to let my brain relax–and I think it explains why so many teachers hate to make decisions when they get home from work! That social rest is another challenge. We are people facing all day long, and it’s hard to be “on” all the time. Especially those of us who are introverts at heart can find the constant social interaction exhausting.
I love the idea of creative rest–which doesn’t really sound like rest at all. Taking photos is definitely a version of creative rest for me. And I often think I should pull out my watercolor paints or some other art more often. Lucky for me I do get to paint and draw with my students, which is another creative outlet.
I’ll admit it. I’m done with rain. As I may have mentioned (aka complained) before, we’ve nearly reached our annual rainfall total in the first three months of the year (I think the storm this week–some today and more forecasted for tomorrow and Wednesday–will take us over that total). As a classroom teacher, rain tends to make me grumpy. All the wet stuff, the missed recesses, the eating in the classroom, the pent up energy…ugh.
But, instead of complaining, I’m going to switch it up on myself and find some reasons to love rain–even in the classroom!
Here I go…
Super bloom! Our local plants are loving this water and we are already seeing hints of the bloom to come. It won’t be long until cactus as in full flower, trees are already dressing in their best green leaves, and the ever invasive black mustard is showing off its showy yellow best (and getting taller by the minute).
Music to my ears. The drip drop of rain is wonderfully soothing if you take the time to listen. Just last week, my students and I took a few minutes to soak in the sounds. Those few minutes of the rhythm of the rain were priceless.
No need to wash the car. With the regularly occurring rainstorms, my car is staying pretty much dust-free. A few swipes of the windshield wiper and the windows are clear. This is probably the cleanest my car has been in years!
Makes Elaine Maglioaro’s Things to do if you are Rain incredible relevant–and perfect to study tomorrow. What better activity to do when it is raining than read a poem about rain?
Quiet time with kids as they trickle in before school. Instead of playing on the playground and lining up for me to pick them up, on rainy days the kids trickle in a few at a time. I feel like I get a chance to check in with kids when things are quiet, a softer more mellow start to the day than is typical. I love the informality of it.
Raincoats and rain boots get some use! I bought a pair of colorful, fun rain boots a few years back–and wore them at most a couple of times before this year. This year, my rain boots and my cowboy boots are both getting some love. Same for my raincoats!
Drought relief. After all the misery that accompanies extreme drought, it’s nice to get a bit of relief. While we are certainly not out of the woods when it comes to adequate rainfall and enough water to meet the demands of our region, it is nice to see our state drought map begin to ease and reservoirs begins to fill. Hopefully this will also decrease some of the wild fire danger this year.
It’s cozy. Even though my ideal rainy day would be spent curled up in my own home with the fireplace blazing, a cup of tea at my elbow and a good book in hand, I do like the coziness of rain at school too. It’s fun to experience rain through the eyes of children–their pure joy at the wonders of nature as we all hunker down, enjoying the indoors is nice (on a limited basis–of course).
No recess duty. Tuesday is my day for recess duty–both before school and during our afternoon recess. But if it really rains as predicted, I will have a duty-free day. Of course, I will have my own students during those times but an occasional break from recess duty is always welcome. And it’s always great to not have to go outside and watch kids when it’s cold and windy (as tomorrow is promising, along with the rain).
Opportunities for new and different photos. A change in the weather means new opportunities for photography. What will I notice on the rain slicked streets? Where will rain drops stage themselves? What new beauty will reveal itself?
Hopefully I will be loving the rain tomorrow instead of griping about it. All my grumps will be put away for a while as I remind myself of all the reasons to love rain.
I have a colleague who shouts out an alliterative greeting to everyone she passes for each day of the week. There is no day when she utters a negative term or skips her greeting. Positivity is her way of being in the world.
Me, not so much. Some days are hard and I do think we have to face both the positive and the negative. But honestly, I weirdly like Mondays. Somehow they symbolize a new beginning each week–and who can turn down a “Magical Monday” greeting?
So today I’ll use my slice to consider some things I appreciate about Mondays.
I love our “3 words about your weekend” beginning to Mondays. It’s short enough that there’s time for each of my students (and me too) to say something about our weekend–and also creates conversation starters to lean on as the day goes on.
My students get to spend time in the garden on Monday mornings with our garden teacher. Today they combed the clover in search of 3 and 4 leaf clovers. One student found a 5 leaf clover! (Is that even a thing?) She came back convinced of her luck–even after she promptly lost it. I love first graders’ belief in the magic of things!
I read The Lion’s Share today–a book about fractions (and some selfish, not very thoughtful animals). I love when a book provokes interesting math to be done on the spot. This one goes from “halving,” back to doubling–something we had worked on last week. There’s nothing like watching the wheels turn as students strive to solve harder doubles (64+64) and (128+128)!
It’s Ability Awareness Week in our district, so we learned about a student with Cerebral Palsy who wanted to raise money to build a playground where she could play with her friends. My students immediately recognized that our playground equipment would also not be inclusive, leaving children with physical limitations out. They loved designing a playground that would be inclusive and enjoyed learning about this student who they appreciated for, in their words, “standing up for herself and for other kids.”
And after a gloomy, foggy weekend I came home to sunshine this afternoon (thank you Daylight Saving Time) for my walk around the neighborhood. And to top it off, dandelion puffs were in their full glory in the couple of grassy patches we pass along the way. They always make me smile.
Mondays really are magical when I take the time to consider all that they have to offer. What will Triumphant Tuesday have to offer?
I rolled the virtual metaphor dice inspired by Stefani over at Ethical ELA coming up with the words poetry, well worn, and brand new toy. Combined with my afternoon lagoon walk, words tumbled and fell into today’s poem.
On this last day of the Slice of Life challenge I want to thank those at Two Writing Teachers for offering this blogging challenge. I also want to thank my fellow bloggers–those I left comments for and those I read and didn’t comment, and even those I simply didn’t have time to read for engaging in this place of words, ideas, and incredible generosity. There is something about this challenge that keeps me accountable and somehow motivates me to write each and every day in March.
It’s also the perfect day for a bit of reflection and thinking about the take aways of an already busy month of teaching, report card writing, parent conferencing also spent with daily writing. Here are a few of my thoughts:
Writing begets writing. The more I write, the more I seem to have to write about. Early in the month I feel challenged to come up with writing topics and things to say with any kind of eloquence. With each successive day, I find myself mulling over writing topics as I go through the day, turning them over, considering angles I might take, and even then often surprising myself with the actual post that emerges.
A daily slice often means that I am making my teaching practice more visible. I consider the ways instruction and learning interact, often focusing on the ways writing develops with young writers. When I write about what I see my students produce, I understand it on another level. And when my colleagues comment, they also help me see if from new vantages.
Reading and commenting on others’ posts helps me see my teaching life in a larger perspective as I consider stories from other parts of the country (and the world), hearing struggles and successes and making connections in spite of differences.
I love the many stages of life expressed in slice of life posts. Stories of toddlers and teens, grandchildren and aging parents humanize us all. It helps to know that even the best teachers struggle to find the work/life balance and that writing is a way to process the curveballs that life throws.
This is a community where I feel like a dandelion. I thrive and grow where I land. Some days I might land in the crack of the sidewalk, trying to avoid the crush of feet walking over me. Other days I find myself in an open field, swaying in the breeze and soaking up the sun. I’m thankful for landing here and looking forward to next year’s challenge.
This might also be the year that I manage to write a weekly Tuesday slice. I’m making that a regular writing goal. Hope to engage with you all again soon!
I’ve been reading quite a bit lately…so this must be the perfect time for a mini book review!
I recently finished Daniel Pink’s new book, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward. As someone who is a huge proponent of reflection–for students, for teachers, and humans of any kind, Pink’s conclusions didn’t surprise me.
Without giving away anything, here’s a few highlights:
There are benefits of regret–improving decisions, boosting performance, and deepening meaning. If feeling is for thinking, and thinking is for doing, then feeling can help us think…and then take action.
There are 4 general categories of regret: Foundation regrets (decisions that have to do with stability), Boldness regrets (chances you didn’t take in life), Moral regrets (choices that compromise our beliefs or when we behave poorly), and Connection regrets (relationships with people). These categories can blur and overlap, but Pink argues that regrets fall into these 4 general categories.
I loved the opening to chapter 11 where there is a comparison between regret and photography. (The old-fashioned version of photography where film and negatives are in play.) Pink talks about how on a film negative, the light spots appear dark and the dark spots light. He then goes on to say, “The four core regrets operate as a photographic negative of a good life. If we know what people regret the most, we can reverse that image to reveal what they value the most. (p.149)
There are strategies for using regret to move forward positively. One metaphor I enjoyed was the description of self-distancing which, “…changes your role from scuba diver to oceanographer, from swimming in the murky depths of regret to piloting above the water to examine its shape and shoreline.” (p.178)
And Pink connects regret to storytelling. He says, “Open the hood of regret, and you’ll see that the engine powering it is storytelling. Our very ability to experience regret depends on our imagination’s capacity to travel backward in time, rewrite events, and fashion a happier ending than in the original draft. Our capacity to respond to regret, to mobilize it for good, depends on our narrative skills–disclosing the tale, analyzing its components, and crafting and recrafting the next chapter.” (p.208)
While the book is not earth shattering in its revelations, it is interesting and reads in a pretty typical Daniel Pink way. I personally like the connections to the power of reflection–and the way it refutes the idea of a “no regrets” approach to life.
What are you reading? I’d love to hear your recommendations!
I probably take thousands of photos in a year (I take photos every day–and some days I know I take hundreds of photos). Even though I post one each day, the photos build up in my camera roll, on my computer, and get a bit muddled in my mind. It’s sometimes hard to remember photos from last week, let alone last month. Last year after a battle with Instagram’s best 9, I curated a photo from each month of the year and wrote a “best of” post featuring 13 favorites from 2020.
So as 2021 was coming to an end, I sorted through my camera roll and picked out a favorite from each month. Some months this was an excruciatingly hard process–I had more than one that was my favorite. Other months it was a struggle to find a photo that I loved enough to be called favorite. But with some help from my hubby and some pretty strict criteria that I self-imposed, I narrowed my choices down to 12.
I probably could have done a best of in 12 birds or a best of in 12 seascapes, but I tried to include images from a variety of contexts–although you will notice that my images are heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean.
Like 2020, last year was also heavily influenced by the worldwide pandemic. The year began with most of us hunkered down, staying close to home. Vaccines were not yet available, we were still masked most of the time, and travel was limited (if it existed at all).
Finding interesting places to walk is an ongoing quest for us. Some days the tides at the beach simply don’t cooperate and there is no beach to walk at all. In January 2021 we found ourselves at our alma mater, UCSD, exploring old haunts and new construction, including the vending machines with COVID test kits that you swipe with your ID card to access. While we walked I couldn’t help but notice this gorgeous red leaf hanging on for dear life. Fall colors are neither dramatic nor timely in these parts, so this January gem seemed special and made for a beautiful harbinger for a new year.
Valentine’s Day happened to fall on the first weekend of our February break in 2021, so to celebrate we decided to be tourists in our own town! We drove downtown, masked up, and took the ferry across the bay to Coronado. The Coronado Bay Bridge is an iconic landmark here and I couldn’t resist photographing from below, especially since the third graders in my class happened to be studying bridges at that time. I love the perspective that shows some of the under-supports along with the sweeping curve of the roadway with the boats, bay, and clouds on view too.
Giant kelp, macrocystis pyrifera, is a common sight on our beaches. But bull kelp, with enormous floats the size of softballs or larger is less common. This amber algae is native to our shoreline and is home to many fish and other sea life. And when it washes up on the shore, it becomes a favorite subject for a still life photo. There are no bad months for beach walking and March just happened to be the month when I came across a bull kelp still life opportunity on my favorite walking beach.
Art takes all forms and can take you back in time. In April a short road trip to Palm Springs took us back to the time of the dinosaurs and brought us face-to-face with a life sized T-Rex. The Cabazon dinosaurs is a throwback roadside attraction with huge cement dinosaurs–some realistic like the one above and some less so, like the pepto-pink brontosaurus that also houses a gift shop. Sometimes photos feel like art and at other times they are a documentation of life experiences. What funky roadside attractions can you find nearby?
In May I headed up, climbing the stairs of another nearby beach. This place offers a vantage to watch seabirds above sea level. From this perch, pelicans come close, soaring by at eye level, bringing details into focus. The challenge is clicking that shutter at just the right time to freeze the image in sharp focus. I continue to work to achieve that ideal photo of a pelican in flight!
To celebrate our wedding anniversary in June we headed up the coast to San Clemente. If you know Southern CA, you know that June can be spectacular–sunny, clear and warm–or plagued with the infamous “June gloom” that grays out the coast, washing away color and cooling temperatures. Watching the Surfliner emerge from the foggy gloom around the bend with lights on created a mystical image. I love when the light is right and my camera is poised. You never know what may come out of the gloom!
As I write and reflect, I realize that 2021 was a year of many short road trips. July was a rough month for me and my family. After my dad died mid-month, I needed to get away. So we headed to Santa Barbara, three hours up the coast. We walked beach after beach, not thinking or planning, just feeling cool sea air, watching sherbet colored sunsets, and noticing… This family of ducks caught my eye. Mama mallard and her ducklings out for a swim in the surf was fascinating to watch. Mama urged her babies out, they tumbled in the white water then regained their footing and tried it again. I don’t know if this is normal duck behavior, but it was fun to watch and photograph.
In August we made that long, seemingly endless trek up I-5 through the central valley to visit family in the Bay Area. In the summer tomato trucks are a usual sight. These trucks always remind me of my dad–a person who loved big equipment, driving, agriculture and farming, and had this weird wish to drive tomato trucks. I have gotten in the habit of taking photos of these trucks through the window as we drive up the 5, sometimes sending them to my dad, just for fun. This year, just a few weeks after his death, taking these photos made me feel close to my dad. I would notice the rich red of the tomato haul visible in the northbound trucks, bring them into focus as we approached, and then try again as we passed truck after truck after truck. Southbound trucks were empty, heading back to pick up another load and make that round trip again.
September meant back to school and fewer crowds on our local beaches. September is a perfect month for Southern CA beach going–and I think the shore birds agree. The skies are clear, the weather and the water warm, and the parking–while not exactly plentiful–is not like searching for a needle in a haystack! I like to station myself close to the birds, waiting quietly and creeping close to capture an interesting and (hopefully) different image. If you look closely, you’ll notice this bird is standing on one leg.
A Halloween birthday means my husband has spent much of his life celebrating with costumes and trick or treaters. This year we decided to make a trip to the Channel Islands on Halloween. We boarded a boat in Ventura and were treated to an amazing play session with a humpback whale on our way out and to hundreds and hundreds of dolphins dancing around our boat on our way back near sunset. While photos do not even begin to represent the phenomenal experience, this image does capture some of the beauty and grace of these amazing mammals and takes me back to my memories of the day.
You’ve probably noticed that I seldom take photos of people, instead focusing mostly on nature with my photography. This November shot is a rare exception to my posting habit. I do take photos of some people–mostly family members and often my grandsons. But I tend not to post those on social media. We were lucky enough to have family gather with us during Thanksgiving week in 2021 and the week ended with a sunset visit to my favorite beach. I couldn’t resist this shot of my grandson mesmerized by the colorful sky as the sun sank into the sea.
And could I really tell the tale of a year without including a photo of an egret? This shot features an egret in flight above the sun cracked waters on a cloudy December day. You have to look closely to notice the egret in silhouette in the distance. I love their distinctive shape, both in flight and when they are standing.
Twelve months, twelve photos, a year in review. I selected the photos before Christmas–before we explored the redwoods at the John Muir Forest and before we visited the monarchs wintering in Santa Cruz. But I’ll still stick to these twelve–they are my “best of” for the time frame when I did the selecting.
How might you go about selecting a best of collection to represent last year or last month or even last week? I’d love to know about your curation process.
I wrote a poem a day during the month of April and challenged my students to do the same. And while not every student wrote every day, they did write a lot of poems. When you put that much effort into daily writing, it seems that something more needs to happen. I knew from past experience that drafting a poem each day is just the first step in moving my students toward seeing themselves as writers. So as the month of April wound down, my students and I started the process of curating a personal anthology of poems.
It’s not enough to simply select a poem and call it done. I had to move my students toward meaningful revision–and that meant giving them strategies and techniques to make their poems better. They re-read each poem they selected and considered how they might add a comparison (simile or metaphor), how they might personify an animal or object, how more specific details could help the reader “see” the ideas being expressed. So no matter how small the change was, each poem was revised. Because I had 16 page blank books for each student, we selected and revised ten poems and created five art pieces to go along with them.
As we worked through this intensive process, I kept asking myself, “Is it worth the time and energy–theirs and mine–to put this anthology together?” As I read poem after poem (25 students times 10 poems each), I started to see these young writers in a new way. They had gained confidence and knew what it meant to revise. I watched them own each poem, claiming their writing and making changes that satisfied each of them. I noticed some started poems from scratch. For them, the original poem was simply a pre-writing activity and a new idea emerged when faced with revision. For others, revision meant adding on to a poem, further developing the kernel of an idea that they had started earlier. Some revisions were the change of a single word–the poets were satisfied with their original effort and only went through the motions to satisfy the revision mandate.
And as we finished the last touches, gluing the final poems into place and typing up a table of contents I asked myself again…was this project worth it? There is no Open House celebration this year where families will come through and admire displays of student work products and ooh and aah the hard work done specifically for their benefit–something that has always made projects like this a necessity in the past. But still…my answer is yes, this intensive focus on poetry for more than a month has been totally worth it. Here are a few reasons why:
Students see themselves as writers. They confidently write daily and have developed both fluency and style. All those poetry techniques also make other kinds of writing better.
Revision has become ordinary. We do this routinely and resistance to going back to a piece of writing has dropped. Writers revise and we are writers.
All of our writing matters in our community of writers. Everyone will share their writing and everyone can pick out bits of excellence when they hear it in each other’s writing.
A project gives everyone a reason to persist. No one wants a half-finished book, so everyone pushed through, developing stamina as they worked through the revision of all ten poems.
250 student poems later and ten more of my own and we have created 26 individual anthologies of poetry. They are beautifully imperfect and incredibly perfect at the same time. And totally worth the time and effort.
Why commit to writing and posting for 61 days in a row? Trust me, I asked myself that question many times during the past two months. During March’s Slice of Life Challenge, once I began the challenge, it was the writing community that kept me accountable. There is something about hundreds of people writing and sharing and commenting that keeps the urgency up. And since so many are writing every day, reading their posts also creates topic possibilities and keeps the momentum moving.
Writing and posting a poem a day, especially without that dedicated writing community, is a bit more challenging. But I know me, without telling myself I will write AND POST a poem each day I simply would get lazy and not write each day. So why did I want to write a poem each day? Because I wanted my students to write a poem each day–and I know that if I am writing along with them, not only do I have more credibility, but I am also looking for ways to support them and their writing when those doldrums inevitably sneak in.
So after writing for 61 consecutive days (62 if you count today), here are some things I have learned and/or am thinking about:
Writing every day breeds more writing. When I am committed to daily writing, I write more and more often. I am in a constant search for topics, for inspiration, for meaning making.
I find myself coming up with strategies to keep myself writing. I take photographs, I pick up objects, I collect words, I listen to what others are saying. I’ve learned to put words on a page, even when i’m not sure where they are going.
I can post even when I don’t love my writing that day. This is especially true with poetry writing where I spend a of time judging myself. I tell my students that the most important part about writing is to get started, we can always make our writing better. So that commitment to write and post the poem each day means that I have to get all the way through a draft and get something that I deem post-able.
It’s okay to write short. Sometimes when I’m really stuck, I pull out a Haiku (17 syllables) or a 6-word story. Even if it’s short, I’m still writing (and posting).
Revision is important. I keep looking for ways to help my students understand the possibilities for revision–like signs along the hiking trail–pointing to techniques to try, reminding them of things that other writers do, giving them access to the power of revision.
Writing more gets me reading more and my reading changes when I am writing. I find myself looking behind the stories and poems to examine how the writer is putting their words together. I look for more variety in my reading, searching for writers who are doing fresh and interesting things and who represent viewpoints different from my own. And I find myself sharing what I am learning from my reading with my students, pointing out sentences, ideas, and strategies that I notice as I read.
And as April turns to May, for the last several years I find myself facing the same dilemma, do I continue my daily writing and posting? Will I write daily if I don’t post? I don’t know the answers to those questions for this year. What I do know is that over the previous two years when I didn’t commit to the daily writing and posting, my writing decreased (I still always write with my students) and my posting became infrequent. I’d love to be the person who can commit to posting 2 posts a week, writing daily with that goal in mind. Maybe this is the year.