Tag Archives: writing

SOLC Day 25: Coronavirus Status

I came across a post about Jimmy Fallon the other day–where he asked people to describe their quarantine experience in 6 words. Now his was a Twitter thing…and with adults, so the results were funny. At the same time, I was thinking about ways to give my young students (8 and 9 year olds) space to express their experiences now that school is happening at home and they are mostly quarantined in their homes. So I took the loose idea from Jimmy Fallon and combined it with some ways of working that are familiar to my students.

Here was my assignment to them today:

On our 8th day of doing school from home because of the coronavirus, think about either something you are missing or something you are finding wonderful.

1. Take a photo to represent that thing. Be sure to use a photo technique. You may use minor editing on your photo.
2. Write a 6-word update. These are 6 carefully chosen words to express your feelings and communicate what you’re experience. (You can see my example) Only 6 words…try to avoid words like the, and, it… Type your 6-word update in Docs.
3. Click on the link to access the slide deck. Choose the next slide in the deck and insert your photo and copy your 6 words (you will need to insert a text box to paste) onto the slide. Be sure to include your name on the slide.
4. You may change the font if you like. Make sure it is big enough and clear enough to be easily read by others.
5. You may change the background color of your slide if you like. Please select a color from the theme (choices along the bottom)
6. Once you are done with your slide, please attach your poem and photo in Google Classroom to submit your work.
7. I can’t wait to see our slide deck develop! Be sure to be thoughtful and do quality work!
8. My slide is included so you can better understand what I am asking you to do.

And here are some of the results:

As you can see, the kids can see both the benefits and the drawbacks of their time at home. The biggest loss they are feeling is the social aspects of going to school. They miss their friends…and their teachers. And we definitely miss them too.

So my students’ 6-word coronavirus status updates are not funny, but they are honest and sweet, hopeful and very much all kid! I’ll be looking for more ways to allow for expression without being too heavy-handed.

What have you been doing to document your experience as we journey through this global pandemic? Have you done anything to facilitate the process for the young people in your lives? I’d love to borrow more ideas!

SOLC Day 14: Finding a Poem

My face-to-face meeting with directors of California Writing Project sites all over the state became a Zoom meeting in light of the Corona virus pandemic. I was not looking forward to hours in front of my computer screen, I knew I would miss all the informal opportunities for conversation and camaraderie. But I was wrong. Today’s meeting was energizing and comforting and brought much-needed connection and shared experiences with others who can relate in a world that is suddenly so filled with uncertainty.

Our rich conversations had me jotting down phrases, words I couldn’t forget. And during my beach walk this afternoon, they started to become a poem of sorts. So here’s the early draft…not quite done, found in the words of my colleagues.

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Just Wait

 

In a roiling cauldron of virus brew

we swim

blindly dodging infection

unwilling to get out

sure if we can’t see it, it’s not there

 

The pandemic spreads

morphing from fear of illness

into a pandemic of disappointment:

canceled events, weekend plans, the coveted spring break

we resist–just this once, I’ll be okay

wash your hands, pump the hand sanitizer

 

It’s time for each of us to listen loudly

to hear voices of those at risk

each of us is a single brick, interlocking, interconnected

whether we want to be or not

 

Distance physically

but not emotionally

wash your hands, cough into your elbow

cancel your plans and check on your neighbor

find ways to inject an inoculation of connection

without passing the virus

 

Write more, read more

Facetime with Grandma, phone call to Dad

and wait…

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(And an image from this afternoon’s trip to the grocery store. Empty shelves are so unexpected!)

SOLC Day 13: In the Upside Down

I could feel this day coming, but there’s still no real preparing for it. Life and all the routines that keep it steady and grounded have been disrupted.

I knew when I heard from my colleague this morning that Los Angeles Unified School District would close their schools beginning on Monday that I would get a similar message before the day was out. And it was literally only minutes later that the email arrived.

Because of my Writing Project buy-outs, I don’t teach on Thursdays and Fridays so I was working from home when the message arrived. I texted my teaching partner to learn that the principal had called a meeting during recess. I couldn’t be there by that time, but as soon as my Zoom meeting finished, I headed over to school. I knew I wanted more information, I wanted to see our students, and I wanted to support my teaching partner in getting materials and information ready to send home by the end of the day.

And while we are prepared…as prepared as possible for an impossible situation, there is no roadmap for closing schools for a global pandemic. It feels like the whole world has flipped over and we’re now living in the upside down.

So…my students will be learning remotely for at least the next two weeks. They went home with their iPads today, knowing that they will find lessons and activities to do at home beginning on Monday morning. And importantly, they know that their teachers are on the other side of their apps…planning for learning and expecting to see evidence of learning coming back to them.

So will this move flatten the curve? Tamp down the spread of the virus? Keep us all safer and healthier? I hope so. And I know I will be ready for the world to flip back upright–knowing that our routines will likely continue to be disrupted even when our schools re-open.

Let’s keep washing our hands and keeping our spirits up, the kids out there need us!

SOLC Day 10: Leaving a Trail

Rain sang me to sleep last night. And I woke to a damp morning. As I headed out the door, overloaded as usual with this bag and that one too—along with my lunch and coffee—I nearly stumbled as I spied the tiniest snail crawling near the doorstep. I just had to stop, pull out my phone and photograph the snail and the damp trail behind it.

As I thought about that snail I found myself thinking about those trails I leave, will anyone notice that I have been here? I hope I leave trails for my students. Those that they can turn to even when I am not around. Can they locate a mentor text for themselves when they have something they want or need to write? Will they remember to start with what they know when faced with an unfamiliar math problem?

Maybe those songs we sing in the morning help. Perimeter Around the Area by the Bazillions is a fun way to keep area and perimeter from crossing paths. And who doesn’t love singing the FBI (fungus, bacteria, and invertebrates) by the Banana Slug Band to learn about decomposition?

Getting to know Naomi Shihab Nye through poems like Kindness or Famous or A Valentine for Ernest Mann helps us explore the power of language. Books like Love by Matt de la Pena and Wishtree by Katherine Applegate help us see our own experiences and those that are different from ours.

Making stuff…from art to slideshows to videos to bridges made of cardboard and construction paper allow schoolwork to slip into the realm of play. Playing together and laughing and those long deep conversations about important topics just might leave those trails I’m thinking about.

And I know for sure that my students leave trails of their own, for their classmates to follow, for younger brothers and sisters and most definitely those etched deeply on my heart. They remind me that the ordinary matters, that caring is more important than any test score or report card and that if we pay attention we can find the pathways that matter most.

SOLC Day 8: When the Tide is Low…

Springing ahead this morning meant the day was already shorter…and who needs a shorter Sunday?  Luckily, the day was sunny and relatively warm…a perfect day to enjoy the negative tide promised this afternoon.

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When the tide is low the sea pulls back and offers a wide walking beach.  New geography is on display: exposed tide pools, unexpected sandbars, and slippery algae covered reefs.

Egrets feast, using their bright yellow feet to stir up tiny fish.  As still as statues, they pose and wait…until the perfect moment arrives.  And then…mealtime!  The gentle sea breeze ruffles those pure white feathers, revealing the layers of texture.  As I crouch low we come eye to eye…and understand that we are not in competition.  The egret can hunt and I can take photos without disturbing one another.

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Crabs scurry, hiding in the cracks and crevices of seaside rocks and hive like reef structures. Sensitive to the tiniest movement, I stand perfectly still and patiently watch until I get a glimpse of the sideways reach.  A fist fight between two thumbnail sized green crabs suggests that territory may be in dispute.

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Anemones comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and varieties.  Some immersed in shallow pools, others exposed in the wet sand…all adapted for the harsh conditions of the tidal zone.

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The beach is an ever-changing wonder that I explore endlessly.  For me it is my gym, my photo studio, my meditation space, my therapist.  And on days when the tide is low and my schedule is flexible, it is simply a playground filled with delight!

 

SOLC Day 6: The Power of the Invisible

I’m particularly interested in the volume of invisible work in our world.  As a teacher, I experience firsthand just how much work it takes outside the classroom to ensure that students learn, that parents are communicated with, that accountability boxes are marked.  Those school hours don’t even begin to contain the lesson plans, the emails, communication with colleagues, professional learning, and the preparation of “stuff” for students that are necessary to a successful classroom learning environment.

I’ve also been working on a National Writing Project research team with the primary goal of supporting an evaluation study of upper elementary (grades 4 and 5) argument writing.  And while an evaluation system was already in place for middle and high school students, the development of grade appropriate materials to make the system work for younger students has been an amazing learning experience–and involved hours and hours of invisible work.

Evaluating student writing is not as easy as simply checking boxes and assigning the writing a score.  In the case of this argument writing, we developed sourced-based prompts that would reflect the kinds of tasks students would experience in lessons supported by the professional development their teachers received.  We piloted the prompts to ensure that the tasks put together by adults would be relevant and accessible to students.  We refined the prompts and then sent them out into the field to be administered in pre/post situations with students who are a part of the study.

Our research partners culled writing that we then sifted to establish a set of anchor papers to be used to operationalize our scoring continuum, each anchor helping to define the range of particular score points.  These will be used to train scorers to ensure that they are calibrated to the scoring system, increasing the reliability of the scores.  Anticipating potential questions from scorers drives the development of mini lessons to clarify the scoring system, again working to ensure that scorers are calibrated to the system and reliable in their scores.

And while most of the this work is invisible to those outside our small research team, when we come together in our work, powerful collaborative learning takes place.  It’s as if this process opens the faucet that pours out words to describe all the moves that writers make. Even the most basic and underdeveloped of essays contains promising next steps, illustrates what the writer does know and can do, and fits somewhere on the continuum of what argument writing at this level looks like.

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And the camaraderie of our team turns what could be drudgery into pure joy.  We laugh, delighting in a student’s turn of phrase, unexpected use of evidence, or insightful interpretation of source material.  We argue over score points until we can agree unequivocally on the boundaries of each score–sure enough that we can convey this understanding to a team of scorers who will tackle scoring thousands of papers during a week this coming summer.

And while much of the work is invisible, it isn’t unimportant.  This groundwork will ensure that student writing will teach us about the effectiveness of professional development–and about the power of looking closely at student writing.

 

SOLC Day 5: Flight Risk

It’s eerily quiet as I approach TSA at the airport tonight. There’s no line…not in the TSA pre line or in the regular line. I zigzag through the empty lanes, making my way to the person who checks your ID without stopping. There’s a few people ahead of me once I get to the x-ray lines, but the entire process is done in minutes…single digit minutes.

Is the relative quiet because I’m flying on a Thursday evening or because of the potential risk involved in flying because of the COVID 19 virus keeping people at home? The freeways I traveled getting to the airport were packed, at one point my navigation told me that the 13 miles I had left to traverse would take 40 minutes—and it was accurate!

As I type this waiting for my flight I see the Southwest agents pull the disinfecting wipes out, swiping counters. A few minutes earlier I watched another pump the hand sanitizer, rubbing away those unseen dangers. The lady a few seats down from me just pulled out her own hand sanitizer, the smell of the alcohols wafts in my direction.

Am I putting myself at risk by getting on an airplane tonight?  I don’t think so.  In fact, with all the disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and many fewer people than usual, this flight might just be safer than other similar flights I have taken.  And the relative calm of the waiting area is allowing me space to think and write, my belongings spread around me, rather than feeling squeezed in the more typical sardine fashion that I am accustomed to.

But I do have my own hand sanitizer in my bag…and I think I will use it on that tray table before using it tonight.  I might as well keep the risk at the lowest possible levels.

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