Tag Archives: reflection

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!

 

 

Team Bird: SOLC 2019 Day 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection as Archeology: SOLC 2019 Day 13

Sometimes I feel like an archeologist as I sift through artifacts, looking for the story that history has missed.  Okay, so that history is pretty recent…and I better admit that it’s almost report card time in my classroom.

I’m trying to get my students to think about their own learning.  I want them to know themselves as learners, recognizing what it feels like when they “get it,” and also when things are not making sense at all.  Over the years I have tried lots of different ways to have students reflect…in fact, I wrote my master’s thesis about reflection in my multiage (first, second, and third grade) classroom.  For the last couple of years, I’ve been playing around with the idea of “artifacts” as the provocation for reflection on learning.

I know what artifacts do for me.  They jog my memory and get me thinking.  (If you are an actual archeologist, please excuse my broad and inaccurate use of the word artifact.)  My camera is my tool of choice for documenting my experiences and seeing the world. Through my lens I find myself searching for meaning as I look closely.  A couple of days ago on a rainy beach walk, I noticed these shells up near the cliff.  I know they didn’t get their on their own, so I started wondering about the story behind them.  Who picked them up, why did they leave them behind? I recognized the familiar bits of shells native to this beach, and found myself reflecting on how much I have learned about these creatures from my frequent walks.  After taking a photo or noticing something new or unusual through my lens, I often find myself researching, adding to what I know, thinking about what I want to know, and then looking more closely.

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I want my students to experience some of that with their learning in the classroom. Sometimes I give students a broad topic–find an artifact of a success or struggle with math and then send them to sort through projects and papers, books we’ve read and tools we’ve used.  Photograph the artifact and load it into a slide show, then reflect on that success or struggle.

Today I decided was the perfect day to have all my students reflect on what they have learned about geometry.  I thought Flipgrid would be the perfect tool–they could videotape their reflection while showing the artifact(s) of their learning.  Flipgrid lets you download your video to your device…and limits your video to 90 seconds!  (Plenty of time for this purpose!)  I gave directions and showed kids the ins and outs of the app on their iPads and set them off on their reflection.  Energy was high, students were interested (novelty through a new app helps with that) and they eagerly gathered their materials, ready to get started.

But wait…I heard the murmuring, “We don’t have Flipgrid on our iPads.”  What?  How can that be?  Ugh…now what is plan B?  How do I take advantage of the momentum and not waste this precious time?  I grabbed a student iPad and saw Clips on there.  I did a quick scan of how it worked, decided it was close enough and quickly got them going again.  I also emailed our tech support, could they get Flipgrid loaded?  As students were videotaping themselves and reflecting, they also reported that Flipgrid was loading on their iPads.

After much thought, I decided that I would have students go back to their artifacts and recreate their reflections in Flipgrid.  Their Clips experience would serve as a practice round, maybe even improving their reflection.  I had less than 30 minutes for students to get this accomplished and we wouldn’t get to the second part–actually getting the reflection video into the slide with some written goal setting attached to it.  But all my students did get the video reflection completed.

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I’ve listened to most of them, and they do convince me that the artifacts help with reflection.  I like that many of my students included artifacts of their learning that I didn’t suggest and all at least summarized the basics.  I like that the individual videotaping lets me hear my quieter students and those who are reticent to risk speaking up in front of more confident peers.

My goal is to have students create a reflective slide each week…in under 30 minutes. I’m already way over time for this week…but I’m hopeful that it will get more efficient as we become more familiar with the tools and process.  But I also want to remember to keep it fresh, offer lots of choices, and allow for creativity.  Can my students become archaeologists and uncover the artifacts that will help them understand how and when they are learning?  Will their reflections help me and others hear their stories, appreciate their individual learning paths, and be better able to support their learning?

 

One Little Word 2019

Like so many others, I gave up New Year’s resolutions years ago.  I know myself well enough to know that good intentions will likely not change my behavior over the long haul.  Of course I want to eat better, exercise more, and be a kinder, more thoughtful person.  But resolutions have never gotten me there.

I few years back I became intrigued with the idea of a word guiding my year.  Choosing that word can be challenging.  I ponder a variety of ideas, trying hard not to pick a word just because others are choosing it.  I often read an array of blog posts, paying close attention to the rationale guiding the word choice, at the same time thinking about my personal goals and intentions for the new calendar year.

Here are my past words:

2014: Play

2015: Explore

2016: Expand

2017: Possibility

2018: Stretch

I notice that I seldom select my word as the year turns.  I seem to need time to mull it over–to come off the whirl of the holidays before deciding on my direction for the new year.  And this year is no different.  I’ve tried on some different words, considered revisiting some from previous years, but it wasn’t until today that I felt the pull of a word for this year.

I know myself well enough to know that I need a word that not only guides but also inspires, one that pushes me beyond what I would do without a muse word.  When I look over the past 5 years of word selections, it was my first word: play, that moved my life forward.  Play reminded me to step beyond my work responsibilities and take time out to enjoy life.  It reminded me to dig in the sand, to laugh with my family, to try things I’d never done before.

So for 2019 I’m asking make to guide me.  As I walked along the beach today, make kept finding a place in my mind.  Make time for exploration and play.  Make minutes count, appreciate all that comes my way.  Be creative, make writing, make art, make a difference. Make healthy choices and make the most of possibilities that present themselves.

I’ll be making an effort to be present and enjoy all that comes my way.

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What One Little Word will guide you this year?

Time Travel

I’ve really been feeling the pinch of time in my classroom this school year.  My new schedule has me on campus only three days a week, handing my classroom over to a partner teacher for the other two school days.  I feel super productive when I am away from school, with long stretches of time to focus on specific work, flexible hours to schedule meetings and phone calls, and the ability to arrange most of my work travel on days I am not on campus.

But…I feel like time is taunting me when I am with my students.  Each lesson and project seems to take longer than anticipated, forcing me to leave work hanging across weeks instead of days. I’ve found myself prioritizing and rethinking everything I ask students to do.

My past practice has been to use Fridays as a day of reflection and work completion, giving students long stretches of time to read and write and think.  Without new instruction, they could dig deep, revise, rethink, and get projects done.  Today, Monday became that kind of day (I no longer have Fridays with my students).  I did have to spend some time reviewing expectations, reminding students of the work we started, but then they dug in…and that beautiful thing happened.  Work began to hum, students were engaged, working at their own paces, allowing me to help individuals as needed.  Time both stopped and flowed–no one needed to use the bathroom, roll around on the floor or annoy a classmate.  I wasn’t feeling the need to rush students with my eyes glued to the clock, dolling out minutes like rationed resources (I’m thinking about the water restrictions we experience in Southern California).

The reality was that still everything didn’t get done.  I’m already reevaluating and reprioritizing my plans for tomorrow, pushing off launching that new math concept to make space for a bit more finishing time, figuring out ways to make space to confer with students over a piece of writing they’ve been working on and provide feedback on another project.  And I’m excited about some new reading and writing I have planned for tomorrow…something I’m already anticipating taking more of that precious time than I initially allotted.

Somehow I will figure out how to travel through time this year, carefully balancing new content with time to dig deep, think carefully and produce meaningful, high quality work products.  I know I’ll still find myself with unfinished student work, lessons that run short and those that run long, requiring that continual rethinking of lesson plans.

I’m hoping that this will be the year that I learn to make time jumps, those science fiction leaps of faith:  pushing time forward to see which lessons produce the best results and scrapping those that end up as a waste of time.  But…just in case that doesn’t happen, I’ll keep paying close attention to my students, adjusting to their needs and reworking my plans to make sure school is more about learning than about time.

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