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.
On this 31st day of consecutive writing and posting, like so many others, I’m taking a moment to pause and reflect. I have to begin this post with thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for creating a challenge that is also an amazing community of thoughtful and welcoming writers and responders. Writing everyday is possible when there is a responsive community that makes the task feel both worthwhile and enjoyable–and keeps me accountable, if only because of my own sense of commitment.
This daily writing reminds me:
Writing begets writing: I always find myself most challenged in the first days of writing when it feels so hard to come up with anything to write about. I’m guilty of setting impossible standards for myself, paralyzing my writing brain. But I find that when I know I will write each day, I start to mine the ordinary for writing topics. This is such an important reminder for my teaching too. When my students expect to write each day, they begin to figure out what they want to write about. It’s important to establish a predictable practice.
Reading other writers is a treasure trove: I noticed tricks and structures that others used in their writing. I’m wishing I kept better notes about all the different approaches that I want to try on for myself and the ones that I want to offer to my students. And after reading some of theirs, I found myself inventing my own structures like Saturday Satisfactions.
Responses to my writing encourage more writing: I find more internal motivation to write when I know that someone else is reading it. It’s such fun to find another blogger returning to comment. And I often head off to that person’s blog to see what they are writing about…and how they are writing too.
Photography and writing (for me) are interrelated: When I find myself stuck, with nothing to say, I head out with my camera. And when photographic inspiration is not immediately evident, I have to figure out how to look in new ways. That search for an image also unlocks my blocked thinking about writing. I’ve found myself pondering a collection of photos to find a way into the day’s writing.
Writing for a public audience pushes me to find a positive slant: I don’t want to complain on my blog. I want to write my way into a more positive view of my world, my work, and the children I work with. Knowing someone else might be reading my writing pushes me to examine negative thoughts and look for potential solutions. I sometimes write myself into action.
I leave this post on the 31st worrying. Without this challenge will I write tomorrow? Luckily the Slice of Life Challenge is followed by National Poetry Month and I have already challenged my students to write a poem a day during the month of April. I know myself well enough to know that I will do it ONLY if I post the poem here, on my blog. So beginning tomorrow I will post a poem each day, continuing my writing practice for another 30 days!
Today was the last day for students to attend school in our hybrid AM/PM schedule. They will be remote for the rest of the week to allow time for parent conferences and then after a week off for spring break, the class will unite and become one whole class that attends school all 5 days together. I look forward to this coming together–and hope that the two halves of my class will complement each other.
The PM group is the half that NEEDS their fresh air break. They burst from the classroom doors when it is time, unleashing the energy that they have tried (not always successfully) to contain in the classroom. Today started no different. Most of the kids skipped eating a snack and headed straight for the playground equipment. But a couple sat on the grass to eat a bite…and before I knew it, they were chasing ladybugs.
And catching them.
Gently cupping them, they lifted them from the grass to bring them to me to photograph. (I love that they know that I will want to take photos!) They transferred these brilliant red polka-dotted beauties from the cupped palm to rest on the arm so I could get close for a clear, close up photo with my phone. Somehow they could find these tiny gems when they were not visible to others. Like jewelry, they wore these insects as they danced around the field. Sometimes the ladybugs rested patiently on the arm, other times they spread and fluttered their tiny wings in a blur of red.
These kids never stop talking. They kept up a torrent of descriptions and theories as they ran and collected these friendly insects. One theory they floated was that the number of dots was equal to the age of the bug. (Were they thinking days? Insects don’t tend to live very long lives!) Luckily I had just read an article on ladybug varieties, complete with gorgeous photos (who knew that would come in handy!), so I was able to talk to them about the large number of varieties of ladybugs that exist.
An impromptu break chasing ladybugs was the just right way to end this current mode of teaching. Moments like these remind me how much I enjoy the exuberance and energy of children–and the ways they fuel my teaching and my own learning.
I figured a listicle would be in my future sometime during 31 consecutive days of writing for the Slice of Life Challenge. And today is the day. So the following is my short list of satisfactions from this Saturday in particular.
Sleeping in. Somehow my body hasn’t quite adjusted to the “spring forward” command from weeks ago. I keep wanting to go to bed early each night and then find myself awake before my alarm clock. Even with no alarm clock set today, I found myself awake before my usual 5:30am wake up time. But it was Saturday, so after scrolling through some news on my phone I cuddled back under the covers and went back to sleep for a while. It felt heavenly!
Breakfast…with love. Most days I grab a yogurt, sprinkle a few berries and some granola on top, and voila, that’s breakfast! But today my husband made french toast–not the toaster kind–the real kind dipped in an egg mixture and topped with powdered sugar and served with a side of bacon and fresh grapefruit. Definitely a Saturday Satisfaction!
An egret sighting on the low-tide beach. I love an egret sighting anytime. I didn’t think it was going to happen today. I was more than halfway back when I noticed an egret fly in for a snack. I picked my way across the slick reef, trying to get close enough for an interesting photo. It didn’t stay long…there were too many people exploring the tide pools today…but I did get this straight on shot!
The exuberance of young people. I love watching young people on the beach. I am reminded of the verve and energy that teens bring to life…which reminds me of the importance of diving in, following my own passions, and embracing each day as it comes.
Living close enough to have the beach be my daily happy place. While I don’t go quite every day, knowing that I can access the beach with a short drive is a gift. When our beaches closed last year during the pandemic, I was heartbroken. It was hard to stay away, hard to see the ocean from a distance but not with my feet on the sand, and hard to find joy in my replacement neighborhood walks. Each day I revel in the wonders of living near the sea–and try hard not to take it for granted.
One of the things I like best about the Slice of Life Challenge is the way that the expectation of daily writing gets me thinking about what I will write each day. Something will catch my eye and I will find myself writing in my head, thinking about how to frame what I have to say.
Some days the writing comes fairly easily and I know generally where I am going with the writing. That is especially true when I’ve taken a photo that I know will guide my writing direction. Other days the writing is a struggle and I flounder around, flipping and flopping, grabbing onto this topic and that, finding it hard to land on what I want to say.
I’ve bounced from topic to topic today. I could write about interviewing an amazing group of teachers this morning for our upcoming Invitational Summer Institute. I love the way that this “work” is so energizing. There is nothing like teachers talking about what drives their instructional choices and clearly seeing their passion for students and their well-being to fill me with hope and possibility.
I thought about writing about two separate essays I read this week that serendipitously landed in my feed on consecutive days. One is an essay by Ann Patchett called How to Practice about downsizing belongings so that someone else will not have to do it after your death. This is an amazing piece weaving stories of belongings, why she has them and why she no longer needs them and the guilt that comes with getting rid of something that is still useful. The other called Marie Kondo and the Privilege of Clutter is about groups of people, particularly refugees and those immigrating because of war and danger, who do not have the luxury of having items passed down for generations, of accumulation from childhood and how that shapes their view of belongings. My mind has swirled since reading these earlier this week–thinking about the different roles that belongings play in different phases of my life and why it is so hard to let go of some things, even when they have outlived their usefulness for me.
And now I am thinking about which of these articles is a mirror for me, reflecting my experiences and which may be a window into another way of thinking. Or maybe I’m just stretching for an excuse to include this photo from today’s walk of the clouds reflected on the shiny surface of the sand.