Tag Archives: reflection

At a Snail’s Pace

In my profession, May roars, leaving me windblown and mud spattered in the wake of the urgency to squeeze in every last bit of learning, every memorable project, and all the performances, displays, meetings, and endless, but somehow necessary, paperwork before school ends in mid June.

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And May is rich.  Students have blossomed into their most curious, creative, innovative, and independents selves.  They seem to peak as the rains ease and the skies warm, classroom routines providing the inner rhythm, the back beat, that allows imaginations and a year’s worth of learning to come together in perfect synergy.  The classroom is busy in May, with students leading the charge…both eager for school to end and reticent leave the comfortable place the classroom has become.

But there is a week in May where time crawls to a snails’ pace.  State testing, mandated in public schools, demands that my students spend hours demonstrating their learning.  During those times I hear each click of the clock reverberate against my eardrums.  The room is unnaturally quiet as students work through question after question designed to test their mastery of third grade.  The work is not too hard for my students, but it is too long…and requires them to operate very differently from our typical classroom routine.

It seems almost from birth, our students were encouraged to collaborate.  They’ve learned to work in groups, sort out misunderstandings through discussion and conversations, negotiate roles and responsibilities, turn to each other for support and critical feedback…until it’s time for the test.  Then they are asked to be quiet, to read and understand complex questions independently, write and revise without feedback, and sit for long stretches of time.

The minutes drag as I roam the room.  I check to make sure these first time test takers are progressing through their tests rather than spending inordinate amounts of time on any one question.  I search their faces, ready to intervene when signs suggest they are ready to crumble.  I remind them to use their tools, to take a breath, to stretch, and to check their work. That clock slows to a snail’s pace, each click requiring the coil of the snail’s body to snap forward, oozing its slimy self toward its destination.

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After the second day of testing I can feel the mood shift.  Novelty got us through day one and two, but day three feels heavy.  The hands of the clock are now mired in sludge.  Students need more encouragement to keep moving forward.  I need to summon some super powers to settle the boiling tummy, churning with uncertainty.  A walk and a talk helps, we are able to settle in again.

I’m proud of my students.  They did it.  All persisted, all persevered, all finished the tests in front of them.  And honestly, that is accomplishment enough at this stage of the game.  Now we can get back to the real learning–the noisy, messy, complex, interactive projects that bring joy to the classroom.  I’ll be the one who is windblown and mud spattered and reveling in the mess.

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.

 

 

Royal Terns: NPM 2019 Day 26

Though it’s still April, we’re already dealing with what will soon become May gray.  It’s that pervasive marine layer that characterizes spring and early summer here in Southern CA.  But we really can’t complain.  The weather is mild and the ocean always welcomes.

Today I noticed the royal terns hanging out on the beach.  Before I knew what they were, I called them Groucho Marx seagulls.  They have big dark eyebrows and a bright orange beak. Distinctive, distinguished, comical.

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Today poem is a Haiku…short and sweet.

Groucho Marx eyebrows

atop orange beak and white wings

shore birds entertain

©Douillard

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Malasadas Still Life: NPM 2019 Day 14

Today I took inspiration from Go Poems, and decided to try a still life poem.  I went in a little different direction than was suggested–moving away from items of regular use, and had some fun playing around with the idea of a still life poem.

Although I’m back home from my vacation, my mind is still in the islands.  So here’s a bit of island flavor in the form of a still life poem.

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Malasadas: Still Life

Nestled in a pink box

round balls of dough

rolled in sparkling crystals

of sugar wait.

Tropical creams…

mango, guava, coconut

peek out, hinting at the goodness within.

I take a bite and my mouth fills

with sweetness

that transports me to the sunfilled beaches

and the gentle breezes of tropical trade winds.

Memories of island paradise

fill my belly

all rolled up

in a delicious

Leonard’s malasada.

©Douillard

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Water Blues: NPM 2019 Day 12

How do you maximize your vacation on the day you fly out? Head to beach at the crack of dawn! The beauty of Hawaii is that the morning is warm and the beach pretty empty—perfect for that last dip in the cool blues of the sea.

And then 5 hours in the air gives quiet time for composing poetry. I’m not sure I quite got to any particular point…but maybe that is what poetry is all about. I followed the words, letting them lead me.

Day 12:

Water Blues

In the crack before dawn

morning rises fresh and new

dark becoming blue that

beckons us outdoors.

Breezes whisper nature’s secrets

in our ears

telling stories of

blow holes

and green shelled turtles

that give us reason to smile

and care.

Raindrops caress our faces

smoothing out the creases

of worry

carrying them deep

into the sea.

Stepping into the not-quite-warm

waters

where blue cools

concerns that churn

under the surface

splashing up waves

of frothy salty foam, intricate as lace.

Our eyes follow the lacy white

into a spectrum of blues:

the palest dance

along the surface

pirouetting into fine mist

keeping the air soft and moist

the darkest dive

deep

swirling with all the waters

through the ages.

Stories rise up

taking us on travels

through time and space

that skip and play like children

delighting in the unexpected

and wondrous.

Variations of blue

like a symphony

of sound and color

sing out

painting rhythms

on worry

sculpting melody

into hope

listen with all your senses

and you’ll hear the possibilities

as the sea performs

the water blues.

Reflections on SOLC 2019: Day 31

Thirty out of thirty one days in March I wrote a blog post and made it public.  (I missed a day somewhere along the way because I was sick.)  Today is the day to think about just what writing a slice of life each day has meant.

I know that writing every day makes writing every day just a bit easier.  Early in the month it felt hard to come up with topics, each day felt like a stretch.  And then, just like I tell my students, I started to live more like a writer.  Each and every experience I have during the day becomes fodder for thinking and writing.  I like that writing makes me pay more attention.  I notice details, make word associations, connect seemingly disparate parts of my life as I write and reflect.

I know that photography helps me generate writing.  It is yet another tool for paying attention to the world around me.  With my camera around my neck, the world slows down allowing me to notice what I might otherwise overlook.  When I go back later to view the images I captured, new thinking floods my brain, filling in the stories between the shots.  I re-view the things I noticed that I wasn’t able to capture through my lens and I see my experiences anew.

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I know that the Slice of Life Challenge community is a gift to me as a writer.  As I posted my permalink each day, I knew someone would read and comment on my writing. This community is accepting and generous.  Encouraging words keep a writer moving forward. As I read slices from others, I shared my thinking with them and learned from their words too.  I posted because I said I would, and because I knew that a community was there to listen.  That encouraged me to write, to revise, to push myself to continue to grow as a writer and as a responder.

And I love that writing each day creates a record of my thinking and my experiences.  I can return to my thinking later, reconsider those thoughts in light of new insights and experiences.  And as someone who tends to be an introvert, it invites others into my life in ways I don’t often make space for verbally or in casual in-person interactions.

March and my daily slices end today, but tomorrow I am taking on a new challenge.  My students and I will be taking a 30 day poem-a-day challenge for National Poetry Month. So look for a poem from me…and if things go well, poems from some of my students as well, each day of April!

 

With My Head in the Clouds: SOLC 2019 Day 18

Some days I find myself with my head in the clouds, my mind floating on thoughts of projects to be done, problems to solve, reflections on what happened before.  Like a helium balloon, I float on the air currents, directed by my inner monologue.  When my head is in the clouds I risk missing what is right in front of me.

Like most Mondays, today was a day for laying groundwork for the rest of the week.  The hours pass like minutes, the minutes like seconds and time rushes through my fingers like a waterfall…not stopping to pool at my feet as it disappears, just out of reach.  I get into the hurry up mode, chasing time ideals set in my plan book.  I get impatient with my students, wanting more from them as I feel the pinch of time.  Trying to find the perfect ratio of time to learning.

When the bell rang ending our afternoon recess, I headed out the classroom door to pick up my students from the playground.  My head was already running through all we would accomplish while still leaving time to clean up, pack up, and gather before dispersing at the dismissal bell.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a lizard, sitting on the sidewalk, soaking up the energy and warmth of this amazing almost-spring day.  I almost rushed by–feeling the tug of time.  But instead, I stopped.  I watched and noticed.  I crept closer, wondering if I would capture an image of this grounded creature.  I snapped from afar, then crept closer.  The lizard seemed to keep an eye on me, unwilling to relinquish the warmth coming up from the sidewalk and down from the sun.

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That lizard reminded me to take a breath and appreciate the moment.  And also to remember to appreciate all those moments that students need…to tell the seemingly unrelated story in the middle of my lesson, to ask question after question–and then the same question again, to need directions…again…and my patience and encouragement, even when I feel like my own well has been emptied.  I need to spread my toes and grip the ground, feel the earth beneath me grounding me, giving energy and reminding me to use those roots to connect and grow and to support my students as they connect and grow too.

I guess I have another ratio to work out…the ratio of head in the clouds to feet on the ground!