Tag Archives: writing

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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SOLC Day 3: Writing Under the Influence

Yesterday’s photography foray into the garden was still on students’ minds today.  I always seem to be living (and teaching) on borrowed time, so after finishing up some other work I was able to give students time to go back and look through the photographs they took yesterday.  I asked them to select their three “best” photos…thinking about the categories/compositional strategies they had tried yesterday.  Then of the three, figure out which one would be best as a black and white image.  I showed my own process, talking through the three photos I selected and showing my black and white image (you can see it on yesterday’s post). They were excited…eager to select, eager to edit, and I smartly limited the time to minutes in the single digits.  I called them together, iPads in hand, and had them all hold up their images.  Stunning, striking, interesting, and sometimes surprising…all words that described those photographs.

And with a few minutes until recess, I reminded students about the poem we had read and studied yesterday: Peeling an Orange  by Eve Merriam.  I started my own poem in front of my students, thinking aloud as I talked through what I saw in this mentor text and writing my poem’s first lines.  I knew they were ready as they suggested ideas for my writing, questioned my decisions, and started asking questions about their own writing-to-be.

There is something magical about writing under the influence.  EVERY SINGLE STUDENT in my class had a title and an path forward for their poem in less than 5 minutes…and were asking when they would have time to return to this writing as we walked out to recess.

Just enough structure and lots choice meant students took photos of what caught their eyes. Being outdoors, wandering through the garden felt more like play than work–offering opportunities for creativity and exploration.  Selecting meant making some intentional choices–but choices again.  And nothing makes my students happier than messing with filters in editing mode!

We read and study a poem each week, so my students are familiar with poetry as a mentor text.  They know me well, expecting to write any time we do something creative and artistic. And there is something wonderful about writing short.  Small poems invite students to try something new, explore language, and still know the end is in sight.  The lift is somehow just right.

Here’s a tiny taste:

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And on some crazy whim, I decided to have my students create a slide deck of their small poems and photographs this afternoon.  (Reminiscent of something we did for #writeout and #clmooc)  So here they are:  first draft small poems and Ansel Adam-inspired photos from the garden.  We were definitely under the influence:  of nature, of photography, of freedom and choice, of a mentor text, and of a community of writers composing together.

 

 

 

 

SOLC Day 2: Garden Inspiration

I’m fortunate to teach at a school with a garden.  No, I really don’t have a green thumb–and I love the idea of gardening much more than the practice of gardening.  So, lucky for me, we have a garden teacher who directs a lunchtime club that gets things growing…and then I can take my students out to use the garden as inspiration for photography, art, and writing!

Today I started to teach my students about photography by reading them the book Antsy Ansel by Cindy Jenson-Elliott.  (I’m fortunate to know Cindy and have her as part of our local writing project too!)  My recent trip to Yosemite further inspired my teaching about Ansel Adams and appreciation for the natural beauty around us.  Below is photo of El Capitan with the sun setting and casting its glow on these impressive granite slopes.  If you look closely you can see a heron in the foreground who decided to hang out and watch the light change from its vantage in the Merced River.

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I like to show students that photography can be more than just taking pretty pictures.  Photography can be a form of activism–another way of expressing your views and spreading information to others.  Adams’ photography played a role in the establishment of our National Park system, something I am grateful for!

So today after a quick lesson on a variety of composition techniques (rule of thirds, leading lines, bug’s eye view…), we headed out to the garden to take some photos.  With iPads in hand, students explored through their camera lens.  They got low, looked closely, climbed slopes, scrambled under bushes…all in search of an interesting photo.  I haven’t yet gotten a look at their images…we barely made it back into the classroom in time to head out for lunch! Tomorrow will bring next steps…and some inspiration from Dorothea Lange.

And of course, I had to take a few shots along with my students.  Here’s one of some students in action.

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And another experimenting with black and white…something I will ask my students to do tomorrow to help them see the world through Ansel Adams’ lens.  This is a bright yellow flower I found blooming in the garden.

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We’ll be doing some writing tomorrow as well…hopefully we’ll get far enough that I can share a slice of student results soon!

Reflections on Writing: #whyiwrite

Each year on October 20th people from all over are invited to write, to share their writing, and to consider the prompt: #whyiwrite.  I appreciate a National Day on Writing, a day to celebrate this often unexamined practice that most of us engage in daily.  Sometimes we are confused by the word writing, considering only the writing that appears in bookstores, in magazines, or in prestigious online spaces as “real” writing.

Whatever writing we do is real.  But fear can keep us from getting those words out of our heads and onto a page.  I often find myself writing as I walk, starting a narrative or poem in my head, sparked by something I noticed, overheard, observed.  These words are easily lost, blown into the sea breeze if I don’t make a conscious effort to remember long enough to get them written or somehow recorded for later writing and elaboration.

I find that my words take flight when I turn off that internal censor.  When I stop worrying about writing the perfect essay, saying the “just right” thing that will dazzle and impress someone else.

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But why do I write?  I started blogging to hold myself accountable to regular writing.  But all I write isn’t reflected in this public space.  This space, though, offers me the opportunity to connect, to reflect on my writing, teaching, photography, and life in general.  It lets me start small as I wonder and wander through the ideas in my mind.

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A writing project meeting yesterday led us to a new room on campus, where this quote was prominent on the walls.  I don’t know that it is perfectly true for me, but I like the sentiment. That risk-taking matters.  Sometimes we have to approach an old problem in a new way to figure out a solution.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot when it comes to teaching.  There’s so much talk about how kids are different these days, how they struggle to pay attention (often blamed on our screen-centered society), and how we need to prepare them for jobs that don’t yet exist.  Most of these comments are posed as problems, difficulties to overcome instead of aspirations to reach for.  Why would we teach students today the same content in the same ways as we taught that class ten years ago?  Why is curriculum more similar to than different from what it was when I was a child oh-so-many year ago?  Is this student problem really a teaching problem (or a structures around teaching problem)?  It might just be an assessment problem, since the content that is tested is certainly prioritized in our schools!

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That ever-moving target can sometimes make us all feel like failures.  We keep reaching for THE solution, instead of enjoying each wave as we ride it.  Watching surfers from the San Clemente pier yesterday reminds me of the importance of patience, playfulness, and persistence.  (And those same traits might just apply to the photographer as well!)  I’m sure each surfer out there in the cool, salty water in the slant of light on a late fall afternoon was in search of the perfect wave, the great ride, the most fun…  What I loved as I watched was noticing the surfers spot potential waves, start and stop–sometimes bailing out of a waves at the last possible moment; lining themselves up to catch the upcoming wave–paddling, turning, jockeying with other surfers for position; playing with waves that turned out to be less than–swan-diving backwards out of the ride.  I’m reminded that there is learning and joy in the process, not just the end product. How do we help students (and teachers and parents and the public) see the learning that happens in the trying rather than in the exam or “final product?”

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So why do I write?  I write to play with words and ideas.  I write to problem-solve, to follow a line of thinking to a place where I can grapple with it.  I write to pay attention to the world around me, to inhale the joy and exhale the heaviness.  And I persist in writing even when it feels too hard, too time consuming, too frustrating, too messy.  Writing matters, each one of us has to find all the reasons why for ourselves (we just may need a little nudge from our friends, teachers, lovers, mentors).  Thanks for the nudge National Day on Writing!

Now it’s your turn, why do you write?

 

Change in View: #writeout

I walked out of school with the sun shining brightly on my shoulders.  I peeled my lightweight jacket off before getting into the car to head down the hill toward the beach for my after school walk.

In the less than two miles from school to the beach, the sun dimmed, shuttered by a thick veil of fog.  Palm trees became shadowy pillars as I steered toward the beach parking lot. As I walked down the long steep ramp to the sandy beach, it was like walking into another world. Colors were swallowed by the damp blanket, the view disappeared,  I could see only 20 or 30 yards in front of me.

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My mind filled with stories, the stuff of Halloween and horror movies.  What was around the corner? What evil might that shadowy figure in front of me bring? What about the sea itself, was the tide actually as low as I expected?

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Luckily, my feet know this beach.  They followed the path worn by my frequent walks, recognizing the curve of the beach, the squish of the sand under my soles.  Familiar birds whistled hello, giant kelp caressed my toes and a huge piece of bull kelp appeared from the shadows.

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As I neared the end of my walk, a crowd of children appeared from the mist.  And with them, the bubble man, the pied piper of the beach, casting a spell with his magic wand.  The thick mist didn’t dampen their spirits, instead the dampness of the air helped them catch bubbles–holding them in their hands and allowing them to slip into the bubble tunnels the bubble man created.

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Stories continue to swirl, wrapping me in their damp, shadowy chapters.  My imagination is already hard at work, making connections, creating movies in my mind.  I can only hope they don’t become the stuff of nightmares as I drift off to sleep.

 

 

 

Inanimate Objects: Students #writeout

Some days in the classroom are just right.  Students are productive, interesting learning is visible, and it seems that we all grow closer as a result.  Today was one of those days.

As promised in a previous post, my students used the poem Pencils by Barbara Esbensen to inspire their writing about an inanimate object.  They picked topics as varied as ropes/knots, french toast and pancakes.  (There are also poems about gravestones, oil pastels, basketballs, and erasers…they are just not quite all the way finished yet!)  And then, to take the writing just another step further, we explored the Adobe Spark Video app to make a video to amplify their voices and extend their ideas.  Spark video is friendly for my students, offering a number of high quality photos for them to use in their videos.

So…here’s a few of the videos.  (I’ve included a screen shot of the video with a link to view/listen to the poem.)

Khloe’s pancake poem

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Shea’s french toast poem

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and Bodhi’s rope/knots poem

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As always, my students would love comments.  And I’d love to know what you are doing to celebrate writing this month with your students!  #writeout

 

What Students Love: #writeout

As promised, here are some of my students’ poetry inspired by Lee Bennett Hopkins’ City I Love.  (For more details, check out this previous post.)

Even before pulling out City I Love, I launched the idea of writing about place by reading All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan and Where Am I From by Yamile Saied Mendez.  Students then created heart maps of the places they love (ala Georgia Heard).  By this time students were excited about the places they love, eager to tell each other and me all about them.  But instead of diving right into the writing, I asked students to “map” themselves.  I tried to keep this direction pretty broad, letting students take it in any direction they wanted.  These watercolor and black sharpie marker masterpieces are the result!

This map is a wonderful map creature by H.

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And his poem:

Morro Rock I love

Looking at the dormant volcano 

The fish swarm in the water 

The sound of the sea gulls

The smell of the salty sea.

Casting a line

Getting the bait 

catching the fish.

It’s just sitting in place

Day after day

Year after year

For hundred of years.

Walking on the beach

looking at the fish and crabs

and looking at the ocean scenery

Sitting on a dock waiting for a fish

like waiting for a train.

 

And a pineapple map by I.

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And her poem about a very special bench that honors her grandmother:

The Bench I Love

 On the bench I sit at

      Bench I love 

I watch the flowers flowers flow 

As the birds glide slow as they pass by their home

Through the palm tree garden I go 

Past the great sun’s glow

On the bench I sit at

Bench I love 

I sit down and watch the tide curl 

Up & down it will go 

On the bench I sit at 

bench I love

The breeze flies past my hair 

And chases the ocean’s salty waves

On the bench I sit at

 bench I love

I sit down and inhale

Look up and exhale

And a horse map by S.

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Accompanied by a barn poem:

Barn I Love

Barn I go to

barn I love.

Horse smelling wonder beyond city.

Gallops of emotion. Races of hearts.

Barn I go to 

barn I love.

Each morning a sweet smell of hay .

Each night a thankful nay.

Barn I go to 

barn I love.

Morning wet covers the arena.

Full of playful horses running.

Barn I go to 

barn I love.

Stardust black mares galloping in the cold moon.

 Sunset colored  butterflies leave at the end of the day.

I told my students that I would use my blog to amplify their voices (our vocabulary word from last week!).  I know they will appreciate your comments.  And know that these are just a glimpse of what my students created as they thought about the places and activities that matter to them.

How are you celebrating writing in your classroom, in your home, in your life?  #writeout

                      

Things and Places: #writeout

An email subscription led me to a podcast called Everything is Alivewhere inanimate objects are interviewed.  (Full disclosure, I only listened to a few minutes of one podcast–but did read the transcript linked above.)  But, this idea of the personality and alive-ness of inanimate objects got me thinking about inspiration for writing.  And, in the serendipity sort of way I often experience when thinking and writing and lesson planning, I came across an old favorite poem I have used with students called Pencils by Barbara Esbensen.  (You can read Esbensen’s poem linked above.)

I have this idea that students will pick an object that matters to them and create their own inanimate object poetry inspired by Pencils.  Should I have them write about pencils?  No…let them choose something that matters to each of them.  What would I pick? My camera, of course.  So, here’s my try:

Cameras

The rooms in a camera

are a tight fit

but forests seascapes classrooms

crowd right in

 

In a camera

nature’s colors riot, drawing your eye

and dim light shifts the world

to black and white

 

From a photographer (experienced or not)

an unexplained photo may emerge

framed by the untold story

living in the stillness, frozen in time

 

Every image in your camera

is ready to

dance on rays of light

ready

to focus and expose

ready to come right out

and save that moment

so that you can explore

and experience it again and again

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Will my third graders be able to animate their inanimate objects?  I think so…and I also think that the objects will connect them to places they love and spend time at…so #writeout it is!  I’ll share the results later in the week!

Here are some of my favorite places that crowd right into the rooms in my camera!

sand art

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A Place I Love: #writeout

When I learned that the National Day on Writing, the National Park Service, and the National Writing Project would join forces to celebrate writing through #writeout in October, I was all in.  #writeout is meant to help writers focus on stories of place…particularly if there is a national park nearby.  I don’t happen to live near a national park, but I do live by spectacular outdoor spaces where I spend lots of time walking…and that inspire my writing.

As October began, students read and studied the poem, City I Love by Lee Bennett Hopkins.  The rhythms and patterns of the poem were friendly to students, they were able to notice many techniques Hopkins employed.  And better yet, they were eager and ready to write their own versions using this poem as their mentor text.

City I Love by Lee Bennett Hopkins

 

In the city

I live in—

city I love—

mornings wake

to swishes, swashes,

sputters

of sweepers

swooshing litter

from gutters.

 

In the city

I live in—

city I love—

afternoons pulse

with people hurrying,

scurrying—

races of faces

pacing to

must-get-there

places.

 

In the city

I live in—

city I love—

nights shimmer

with lights

competing

with stars

above

unknown heights.

  

In the city

I live in—

city I love—

as dreams

start to creep

my city

of senses

lulls

me

to

sleep.

With this poem as a mentor text, I wrote my own version, focusing on a favorite place of mine.  Of course, I had to write about walking on the beach!

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Beach I Love

 

At the beach

I walk on

The beach I love

Seagulls hover

Squawking and flapping

Searching for treats

In unattended 

Beach bags. 

 

At the beach 

I walk on

The beach I love

Salty waves

Curl and break

Tossing swimmers 

And tempting surfers

Into the cool, refreshing

Depths. 

 

At the beach 

I walk on

The beach I love

Squishy sand

Sucks at my toes

Tiny grains sanding 

My soles smooth

And sheltering 

Tiny frisky crabs and 

Multitudes of bean clams. 

 

At the beach 

I walk on

The beach I love

Rhythmic seas

Slow my breath

Warm my heart

And clear my mind. 

 

Kim Douillard 

So in honor of the National Day on Writing and #writeout, I let the outdoors inspire my writing.  I will include my students’ writing in days to come!