Tag Archives: writing

Puzzling Times

I don’t play games.  I’m a pretty reluctant participant to those ice breaking activities we all experience in professional development, the days we head back to school in the fall, and now even on the ever-constant Zoom meetings.  And I don’t own any jigzaw puzzles.

At least I didn’t.  Until last week when the constant sameness of the stay-at-home, work-at-home, play-at-home routine drove me in search of novelty–in the form of a jigsaw puzzle.

As a disclaimer, I did play games as a kid.  I did puzzles as a kid.  My own children played games and put puzzles together.  But game playing, as a family activity–as an adult activity is really not a part of my everyday life.

But there was a puzzle to purchasing a puzzle.  They are obviously in demand right now.  Amazon is delivering puzzles in July.  Target had none in stock.  But I did find one that I could order online at Barnes and Noble and pick up in the store near my house.  My husband thought I was crazy when I came home with the puzzle–but he’s a good sport so we cleared some space on the table (we each have a table as our home offices) and opened the box.

There’s something oddly soothing about looking through hundreds of tiny interlocking pieces in search of a straight edge.  It’s both mindless and intentional.  Stimulating and calming.  Purposeful and aimless.  We found ourselves shifting roles, one of us searching, one of us building and then trading.  Patterns began to emerge and all those bits of color, pieces of words, and abstract shapes began to take on meaning and become recognizable as parts of a bigger whole.

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I’m looking for that same sense of recognition to make sense of the disparate pieces that now constitute work and life during a global pandemic.  Shutting down and sheltering in place has been scary and stressful, but began with a sense of temporary.  As we stretch into the third month and looking to the future feels like looking into the brand new box of a 1000 random pieces, “normal” and whole feels so far away.

It was hard to grasp finishing the school year without being face to face with my students.  It’s harder still to imagine starting a new school year meeting my students through a computer screen.  Or teaching students in shifts and keeping them at arm’s length.  And maybe hardest of all, just not knowing what the next day, the next week, the next month will mean for all of us as we navigate so much unknown…with the threat of disease and death attached to all we don’t know.

So for now, I’m making sense of jigsaw puzzles while I am not able to make sense of the world.  We finished that first puzzle today, enjoying the satisfaction of setting those final pieces into place to complete the picture.

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New puzzles have been ordered and we’ll take this one apart tomorrow, careful to make sure that all the pieces get back into the box.  And we’ll offer it up to family and friends, giving someone else a chance to make sense of 1,000 pieces.

In these puzzling time, I’ll be doing some more puzzling.

Slant: NPM20 Day 24

Slant

It’s all on the slant

slippery and sliding

out of balance

out of whack

 

Vision limited

window views

front door views

only in the neighborhood views

 

Living small

the world in a box

screen eyes, screens eyed

encircled by a 6 foot bubble

 

Waiting to connect

reconnect, person-to-person

straightening slowly

until the slant

tips upright

into place

and balance

is restored.

 

®Douillard

 

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Haiku for Healing: NPM20 Day 23

My students and I are 23 days into our poem-a-day challenge.  While not all have stayed caught up…many have.  It’s such fun to watch their knowledge and skills with poetry and writing grow as they engage with written language  and ideas every day.

Yesterday I invited students to create some Haiku focused on gratitude–something I had experienced through #haikuforhealing a while back.  This seemed like a good time for some healing Haiku.

It was such fun to see what my student came up with.  They posted their Haiku along with a photo on our class padlet.  Here is a small collection of just the poetry–and notice how many students focused on family members as the subject of their poems.

And my own:

Neighborhood Nature
wind brushing my face
dappled light bouncing off trees
nature brings me peace
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With a Repeated Refrain: NPM20 Day 22

Today we used a poem by Julie Fogliano called When Green Becomes Tomatoes, from a book by the same name, as our mentor for poetry writing in our virtual classroom.  Two defining features of the poem are the repeated refrain of when green becomes tomatoes” and the use of parentheses to bring in some extra information.

My students came at this poem from some different directions, some picking up on the structural refrain, others on the description of a season or time, while others played with the use of parentheses.  Here are a couple of examples.

Max created this gorgeous piece of digital art and composed a science poem with the repeated refrain:

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E’s poem captures his (and our) sense of this moment when solitude and staying home are our current reality and “busy’ness” is starting to sound good!

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My own poem was inspired by watching some small birds on the tree in my front yard…and then borrowing from Julie Fogliano’s structure to make sense of my thoughts.

Spring’s Song

When chirps become spring’s song

sunlight will flood the sky

and energy will sprout

like greet shoots emerging from rich, damp soil

when chirps become spring’s song

days will stretch

and we will itch

for beaches, parks, and winding mountain paths

when chirps become spring’s song

gentle breezes

will tickle the tree tops

and leaves will dance with the colorful blossoms

when chirps become spring’s song

birds will perch

watching over nests of wide-open mouths

singing songs of promise:

there will be tomorrows

(more happy than sad)

(more future than past)

when the world reopens (even just a tiny bit)

and chirps become spring’s song

 

®Douillard

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Science Poems: NPM20 Day 17

Today my students revisited the poem, Go Fly a Kite by Laura Purdie Salas.  The poem combines kite flying and some science of flight.  After reading and studying the poem, students were challenged to write their own science-based poem.  And they did!

Here’s a couple of student examples.  The first is D’s poem about the egg drop experience that kids were working on before school closed.  They ended up completing this experiment at home.

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And I’m not surprised that P managed to get basketball into his science poem!  (Everything is about basketball in P’s mind!)

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You may notice that the mentor poem was both a rhyming poem and a concrete (shape) poem–and there is evidence of the concrete shape in D’s poem and the rhyme (even when it’s a stretch) in P’s.  It’s a good reminder to me to think those aspects through when I am selecting mentor poems for writing.

My own poem was inspired by the sky when I headed out for my walk this morning and was immediately drawn to look up at the sky.

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Read the Future

 

Look up

and read the future

in that freckled sky

 

blue skies veiled

by layers of stratus

where water molecules

gather and condense

 

will they release

the promised precipitation?

will raindrops

race down our already saturated hills?

 

Apply pressure

to keep the sky blue

pushing back against clouds

pressing

the rain away

 

Look up

that freckled sky

might be a crystal ball

predicting

weekend rain

 

®Douillard

What science concepts might you include in a poem today?

Time for Revision: NPM20 Day 15

On day 15 of our poem-a-day challenge I invited my students to revise.  In this remote learning environment my usual revision strategies–class brainstorming, working with peer partners, individual conferring–were not in play.

I spent some time thinking about ways to help my students understand HOW to revise, what concrete steps they might take to improve a poem written earlier this month.  So I started by thinking about some characteristics of effective poetry.  The use of simile and metaphor, sensory images, the use of vivid verbs and carefully selected details, personification, sound words…you get the idea.  I create a chart of these poetry elements for my students to select from as they considered a revision.  And I videotaped myself giving some directions…and thinking aloud about my own revision.

I reminded students to pick a poem they cared about–but not the one they love the best.  I wanted them to want to make changes!  Then I asked them to pick one or two elements from the chart to use for their revision.  I demonstrated with my own poem–stopping the video to do my own revisions–and then reading the new version at the end.  And because we revise when we have a reason, the point of this revision was to use the revised poem in our project…to make a narrated version of the revised poem using Adobe Spark Video.  I also asked for students to submit the “before” and “after” versions of the poem in our Google Classroom.

I selected my poem Waterworks to revise:

Waterworks

In this place where skies
are desert dry and sapphire blue

water pours
rushing down streets pooling on lawns

snails skate
down sidewalks worms
rise up
birds duck and cover

and I walk soaking up
sky tears breathing in water-saturated air

fully submerged in today’s
waterworks

®Douillard

I thought about how I might incorporate sound into my poem and a simile.  As I revised, I found that my ending wanted to change, making myself a part of the waterworks I was describing.  (I did have a student tell me he liked my original better than the revision!)

Waterworks (revision)

In this place
where skies are often
dry
and as blue as the jeans I wear walking in my neighborhood

water pours

sploosh-shushing down sloping streets

pooling like soup bowls on once dry lawns

snails skateboard
down slippery sidewalks
worms
rise up
bird—sensing danger—duck and cover

and I keep walking

soaking up sky tears

that mix with my own

and I become a part of today’s
waterworks

®Douillard

 

In our remote learning environment, my students worked at their own pace.  They decided when to work on revision, when to work on math…  After a while I started to notice the revisions coming in.

I love it when my students get it!  And even more so, when this complex task works out in this remote learning environment.  I picked a few to share with you.  Here is K’s revision:

Kylies revision

R’s revision resulted in a slightly new…and musical focus:

Remys revision

And P’s revision brings an interesting new simile into play:

Patricks revision

Now the challenge will be to keep both the poetry writing and the revision going as we continue through the month.  I’ll be thinking up some more reasons to revise…at least one poem each week to keep practicing revision, and hopefully internalize more poetry elements as well.

I’d love to hear your revision stories.  How does revision work in your classroom?  With your writing?  In this remote learning environment?  And the snail is to remind myself that writing can be a slow process…that you have to stick with it, stay on the path…and that you carry all you need on your back and in your heart!

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Ode to Decaf: NPM20 Day 14

I’m definitely feeling the poetic struggle as I reach mid-month.  My mind is on my students and figuring out how to support them in this distance learning emergency.  I’m housebound with little outside inspiration.  My neighborhood is nice–but it really isn’t evoking poetic thoughts right now.

So instead…I turn to thoughts of the coffee I drink every morning.  The coffee I crave…want…need…  And I know it’s not about a caffeine addiction, I switched to decaf more than a decade ago.  So today’s poem is an ode…to decaf.

Ode to my Decaf

 

I swim in its depths

the warm, dark steamy whirls

of decaffeinated comfort

 

earthy aroma

that spirals

from my mug directly

into my nostrils

 

steaming open my brain

loosening thoughts

opening the doors

to today

 

the whir of the bean grinder

echoes

the drip drip drip

a tympanic symphony

within the glass carafe

 

I come up for breath

wrapping my hands

around the ceramic

warming

from the inside out

 

for me

it’s not the caffeine

it’s the coffee

 

®Douillard

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A Poetry Game: NPM20 Day 13

Spring Break is over (sigh) and we’re back at our distance learning.  It’s still National Poetry Month and we’re deep into the poem-a-day challenge in my classroom.  To change things up a bit, today we played a poetry game.

At school I have some different versions of poetry dice (or writing dice).  You know, those cubes with words printed on them.  To create a virtual version of rolling word dice, I found a cube template online, pulled together a poetry word list, made a video of myself explaining how to make poetry dice…and then what to do with them once they had their own versions of the dice in front of them.

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Using an old favorite, the poetry book I am Writing a Poem About…A Game of Poetry edited by Myra Cohn Livingston, I asked my students to roll their dice 3 times, collecting 3 words that they would craft into a poem.  (I used all nouns on the dice, trusting students would be able to come up with other words to create their poems…following the book’s lead.)

In the book, the 3-word version of the game uses the words: ring, drum, blanket.  I used the poem Grizzly by Madeleine Comora (from the book) as an example text.  Students could use the poem as a mentor poem or not.

 

I rolled the words purple, basket, and waves.  I was immediately drawn into my poem thinking about the song America the Beautiful…at first having purple waves of grain in my head.  After a bit of revision, I realized I had written an #USvsHate poem.

America

 

In this place we know

with purple mountains majesty

and amber waves of grain

 

there are some

who carry baskets

that are empty

 

let’s fill those spaces

with love and compassion

opportunity and freedom from oppression

 

when the gaps close

and all can thrive

that’s when

we’ll truly have

brotherhood

sisterhood

personhood

from sea to shining sea

#USvsHate

 

®Douillard

Here are a couple of early student examples:

E was excited to roll night, mountain and egret…he said it was the best combination ever.  (When I questioned the missing word mountain, he said that he thought volcano was a good substitution since mountains can be volcanos.)

 No Light On Dreadnaught Island

 

South West from Moon Island I’m told,

A haunted island lies.

No sailor roams there freely and bold,

No egrets fly in the skies,

From the volcanoes belching their lava out,

Evil creatures of magma come,

In one big lava spout.

With all their arrogance, they even defy the very Sun.

And ruling the island, throwing everything in sight, is the great Magma Golem,

He’s rude, impatient, and very solemn.

Here it always seems to be night,

And there’s not a thing that doesn’t bite.

R rolled cactus, stoplight, and rock

Desert

 

A desert

of thirsty

dry rocks

 goes tumbling 

down sand biomes.

The spiny cactus

as a bright 

stoplight reminding

the earth to stay still.

It’s your turn.  What can you do with 3 randomly rolled (or selected) words?  You’re welcome to borrow ours and try your hand at a poem or two!  We’d love to know what you come up with!

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Blackout Poetry: NPM20 Day 11

Thanks goodness for the National Writing Project…just when my inspiration was beginning to lag and a poem every day started to feel like a chore, this post arrived in my Twitter Feed. Blackout poetry–why hadn’t I thought of that?

So I grabbed the newspaper that arrives only on the weekend and was immediately drawn into an article about the only school in California that has not closed due to the coronavirus. I selected words that drew my attention, not really paying much attention to anything other than the fact that they called to me.

I started to arrange the words, grabbing one here, another there, combining others into phrases until I had a poem in front of me. And then I wondered…had I broken the rules of blackout poetry by rearranged the words rather than taking them in the order they appeared?

So I tried again–this time only using space as my poetic license. I haven’t taken the time to actually black out the rest of the text as I’ve seen done before…and I did doodle a laptop…a connection to the now of schooling with no schools.

So here’s the photo of the blackout process…and both versions of the poetry. Does one speak to you louder than the other? What meaning emerges from these selected words?

Holdout  (version 1)

Virus accelerates

U.S. now closed

 

10,520 schools

shuttered education

disinfected

sanitized

students stay home

 

Essential

social distancing

tangled clusters

walnut trees

 

generations

shelter-in-place

Civil War

 

None of us knows when

school will resume

®Douillard

 

10,520 Holdout (version 2)

accelerates

stay home

essential schools

students shuttered

 

Civil War

walnut trees

education

 

generations

shelter-in-place

 

virus

disinfected

sanitized

 

social distancing

tangled clusters

 

none of us knows when

U.S.

now closed

 

school will resume

®Douillard

 

Raindrop Rooms: NPM20 Day 8

In these parts we’re known for being fickle about the weather. We want some–until we have it–and then we complain that it arrived. A heavy downpour delayed my walk this morning, but also inspired me later, when the sun peeked from behind the clouds so I could head out into the backyard in search of water drop photos…and a poem.


The mentor poem I left for my students today was Pencils by Barbara Esbensen. We studied this poem earlier in the year and I wrote about it here. And here are some examples of their poems as videos written in October.

Midway through our spring break, I haven’t seen what my students have come up with as they encountered this poem again. But I am looking forward to seeing their writing as their poetic skills continue to evolve.

So with raindrops on my mind, I wrote again with Pencils as my mentor text.

Raindrops

The rooms in a raindrop

are round

filled with reverses

upside downs

mirror image

reflections

of the world outside

In a raindrop

molecules hold hands

gripping tightly

to the moisture within

How do they balance

on the tip of a leaf?

Who wipes their tears

when they fall?

From a drop of water

gardens of color emerge

blossoming into stories

of hope and possibility

Raindrops, teardrops, skydrops

wash down the page

blurring and

brightening

making space

for new beginnings

®Douillard