Poetry Friday: Dirge Without Music

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Dirge Without Music

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.

So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:

Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned

With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.

Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.

A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,

A formula, a phrase remains, –but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love–

They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled

Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.

More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave

Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;

Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.

I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Yellow Roses in a Vase, 1882 Gustave Caillebotte Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., via Wikimedia

Yellow Roses in a Vase, 1882
Gustave Caillebotte
Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., via Wikimedia

Please be sure to visit Linda at Write Time for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

 

Slice of Life: Cultivating Creativity

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I am not an artist. But over the past year or so, drawing has been nudging its way into my brain. At NCTE, Linda Rief spoke about incorporating several different art techniques into a poetry project. Linda’s presentation inspired Vicki Vinton to invite readers of her blog, To Make A Prairie, to do “something creative” in response to a poem they love. So when I was offered the opportunity to attend an art “camp” for adults, I jumped at the chance. For the past two days, I have been sketching and painting and making collages.  This experience has been everything I hoped it would be and more.

One of yesterday’s activities found us out in the garden, gathering images. It was a classic summer day: bright blue sky, puffy white clouds, insects buzzing from flower to flower, birds chirping from the tree tops. It was lovely just to sit and soak in the beauty of the moment. Our teacher instructed us to do just that, but to write and/or sketch the images surrounding us.

Back in the studio, we were given time to turn our thoughts into haiku, then time to capture the image in watercolor or colored pencil.

I drafted two poems based on my observations:

1.

serene summer day

breezes whisper through pine boughs

lilies trumpet joy

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First try–tiger lilies are hard to draw!

2.

hidden sweetness

clover blossoms pink as dawn

bees hover and buzz

This experience has been quite an eye-opener, and I’ve had some interesting insights into my writing process through drawing. Driving to the studio yesterday, I was filled with anxiety about this experience. Now I wish I had more than four days to continue to forge what Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way, calls “pathways into [my] consciousness through which creative forces can operate.”

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Time to Stop and…Sniff?

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Some of my most productive thinking is done while I’m walking my dog, Lucy. She was up to her usual tricks as we walked along this morning, taking her time to sniff what seemed like every inch of our route. Her pokiness made me think of this post from very early in my blogging life. So I decided to repost it for Throwback Thursday. Hope you make time to let your mind meander today!

Originally posted on Reading to the Core:

It occurred to me recently as I was urging my dog on for a brisk, calorie-burning walk that she had no desire to burn any calories. Her purpose, utterly opposed to mine, was to meander along in a general forward direction, stopping whenever she felt like it to examine and savor a scent left behind by some creature. As I had this thought, I also realized that if I continued to pull her along, I would spoil a glorious morning by rushing through it. So I let Lucy wander along and sniff, pausing while she was rooting around in a particularly delectable odor. During these breaks in the action, so to speak, I began to think that what she was doing was exactly what I want my students to do: become so thoroughly engaged in the text that they lose sight of everything around them, that they focus on one…

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Slice of Life: Opening Our Imagination

Last week, I spent two days working with middle school teachers on curriculum revisions. We got a lot accomplished and had some very productive discussions. But on Monday, one teacher commented about how sorry she was that she couldn’t do any creative writing anymore. This surprised me, because in my mind, creative writing and narrative writing go hand-in-hand. 

When I asked her why she felt this way, she had difficulty explaining. “It’s just not the same. We just don’t have time.” She went on to explain a project that she had done in the past, but skipped this year. In previous years, she had displayed an assortment of pictures she’d gathered from magazines. Each kid chose one that intrigued him or her, then wrote a story to go along with the picture. The finished story was shared with the class, and the students had to guess which photo inspired the story. 

This really upset me. This is exactly the kind of writing kids should be doing more of, not less! So the next morning, I rounded up a collection of post cards from art museums and clippings from magazines and newspapers. These were laid out on the table when the teachers arrived. The teacher laughed when she saw them because she knew exactly what I was thinking. 

Everyone chose a picture and wrote for ten minutes, telling the story they imagined their picture contained. We each got right to work and stayed completely engaged with our writing the entire time. In fact, I think everyone could have kept writing.

We shared, complimenting specific writing moves others had tried. The variety of techniques was impressive, considering the size of our small group.

After this, I read the CCSS narrative writing standards for grade 8. Our work touched on them all except “Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events,” and that was because we had only worked for a short time. I pointed out that we now had writing that could also be used to address the language and vocabulary standards. 

My colleague still didn’t seem convinced. “This will take too long,” she said.

“This only took about 15 minutes,” I said.

“Why don’t you start class with this? You know, do it as a warm up,” another teacher suggested.

“They don’t have to finish it, it doesn’t have to become a polished piece,” added a third teacher.

Those were the words she needed to hear. The words that helped her realize that any writing time is better than no writing time. Her students could return to these pieces if they choose to, or not.

Coincidentally, Vicki Vinton had just written a lovely tribute to Maxine Greene, “a champion of the imagination and the arts in education,” on her blog To Make a Prairie. In it she, shared these wise words of Greene’s:

“Opening ourselves to encounters with the arts awakens us, prepares us for deeper living because our imagination is at work, and with imagination, a possibility of our transformation.”

I shared these words with my colleagues when we finished our writing. Everyone agreed that their imagination had been sparked in some unexpected way, and that this was an activity they would turn to again and again. The possibilities are endless.

Young Woman with Ibis, by Edgar Degas Metropolitan Museum of Art

Young Woman with Ibis, by Edgar Degas
Metropolitan Museum of Art

This is the painting I chose to write about. I want to know why this woman looks so wistful, and I want to know more about the birds by her side. Whatever the answers turn out to be, I know my life will be richer because I opened myself to these questions.

Please be sure to visit the Two Writing Teachers blog to read more Slices of Life. (This is my first attempt to post by phone. My apologies for any errors.)

Poetry Friday: Walt Whitman’s “Miracles”

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Before I began student teaching, my cooperating teacher invited me to the class Christmas party so I could meet the kids. One boy wanted to know what was my favorite holiday. I didn’t hesitate a minute. “Summer,” I replied.

So even though the solstice isn’t until tomorrow, here’s to the miracle that is summer!

Miracles

by Walt Whitman

Why, who makes much of a miracle?

As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,

Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,

Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,

Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of

   the water,

Or stand under trees in the woods,

Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night

   with any one I love,

Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,

Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,

Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer 

   forenoon,

Or animals feeding in the fields,

Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,

Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so

   quiet and bright,

Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;

These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,

The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,

Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,

Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with 

   the same,

Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,

The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—

   the ships with men in them,

What stranger miracles are there?

Don’t miss this gorgeous video inspired by Whitman’s words:

Be sure to visit Jone at Check It Out for the Poetry Friday Round Up. Happy summer, everyone!

Slice of Life: My Last Class

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Seven years ago, I said goodbye to the classroom and stepped into the role of literacy specialist. This position challenges me every day and has allowed me to grow as an educator in ways I could not have imagined. 

But I miss being a classroom teacher. I miss the hum of a classroom hard at work. I miss those moments when a hush falls over the room because we are all mesmerized by the final pages of our read aloud. I miss listening to young writers share their heart-felt stories. I miss seeing the joy on a child’s face when she sees a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, or the furrowed brow of a child who is determined to solve a math problem. I miss a child trusting me so much and feeling so comfortable with me that he says “mom” when he has a question.

My last first grade class will graduate from eighth grade later this week. I have loved watching them grow into caring, capable young adults, but not as much as I loved spending one precious year with them.

Being their first grade teacher was a privilege I am thankful to have had. As they head off to high school, I hope they have the courage and opportunity to follow their dreams. I wish them love and joy and happiness in the years ahead.

Godspeed, my young friends.

last class

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Summer Reading Edition

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Every teacher knows that the last weeks of school are the most hectic of the year. I haven’t been very successful carving out time for reading anything other than the newspaper and a few blogs lately, but I have been thinking about summer reading. So in lieu of writing about what I have been reading, here are stacks of what I plan to read over the next few months.

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Professional books

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Middle grade & YA books

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Adult books

What’s in your summer reading stack? Happy reading!

Don’t forget to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!

A Saturday Celebration

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Thank you, Ruth, for providing this space and giving us the opportunity to pause and celebrate the joys from our week.

June can be a bittersweet time for teachers as we let go of children we have grown to love. This week, I want to celebrate one of these students.

I began working with this second grade girl at the end of November. She had struggled with reading in first grade, but by last September it was clear that she wasn’t making progress. Her parents consented to testing to see if she was eligible for special education, but these revealed that she had average skills and abilities, and therefore not eligible. But she was eligible for the Tier 3 reading support I provide.

When we began working together, she was reading at a level about a year behind where most second graders are in November. She came to our lessons eager to to her best, and began to make slow but steady progress.  

As I wrote earlier in the week, I usually have a short read-aloud time during my intervention lessons. About a month ago, I began reading Firefly July (Candlewick Press, 2014), Paul B. Janeczko’s wonderful collection of short poems, to this little girl. She was entranced by Melissa Sweet’s whimsical illustrations and several of the poems quickly became favorites. This line from Robert Wallace’s “In the Field Forever” even inspired her to write her own poem:

Sometimes the moon’s a scythe, sometimes a silver flower.

Here is her poem:

The Colors of the Moon

Sometimes the moon looks like a golden banana.

Sometimes it looks like a white hammock.

Sometimes it looks like a ripe orange.

Sometimes the moon looks like a cookie with a splash of milk.

Sometimes it looks like a red apple.

Isn’t that lovely?

All her hard work has paid off. She is leaving second grade only one level below our end-of-year expectation, and she is no longer mixing up lowercase “b” and “d”. But best of all, she is leaving second grade a poet and a much more confident and enthusiastic reader. Hooray for her!

Slice of Life: Read Alouds for Everyone

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Last night’s #readingjoy Twitter chat, led by Jennifer Seravallo, got me thinking about read alouds. Much has been written about the importance of parents reading aloud to children from the very start and making read alouds part of every classroom routine. I agree with every bit of this advice. I read to my own children from the day we came home from the hospital, and we never skipped read aloud time in my classroom. But I’ve also come to realize the importance of read alouds in my intervention lessons.

I left the classroom seven years ago to become our school’s literacy specialist. Because I work in a small district, this role includes many duties. One of these is working with tier 3 students. The children I work with are our youngest, most at-risk students who are typically non-readers when we begin working together. One of the biggest challenges they face is understanding why they should bother with reading at all. Usually this is because reading isn’t a priority at home. I meet with their parents to discuss the importance of reading to and with their children. I also give them pamphlets and links to websites with tips and information about how to make reading part of their routine at home. I send books home that children can keep. And yet, they still don’t read at home.

By the time these children arrive in my room, they’re convinced that I’m going to torture them. So I start by chatting with them about their pets, hobbies, and places they like to visit, just to break the ice. Once they are comfortable, I start asking about favorite books or subjects. Then I bring out my secret weapon. A book. I offer it as something I like, not as something I think they should like. Usually they ask for their own copy by the end of the week.

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One of my first students was a first grade boy with a host of issues. (He was diagnosed with Autism during the time I worked with him.) He had no interest in anything other than Legos and hated school because he had to leave his Legos at home. He knew most of the letters and sounds, but didn’t know how to pull them apart or put them together to make words. For some reason, he took a shine to Emily Gravett’s Orange Pear Apple Bear (Simon & Schuster, 2007). I must have read that book to him a hundred times. Soon, he was reading it with me. And before long, he was reading lots of other books, too.

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Another boy was adamant that he hated letters and wouldn’t learn to read. I told him that was his choice but that I was going to read to him. His “breakthrough book” was in fact a poem from Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peter’s excellent collection Here’s a Little Poem: A First Book of Poetry (Candlewick, 2007). Peter’s own poem, “The No-No Bird,” introduced this child to a boy who liked the word “no” as much as he did. Maybe it was this flash of recognition that finally brought him around. Or maybe it was simply the fact that he could read the word “no.”

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Last year I had a student who was so shy and quiet he barely spoke above a whisper. To break the ice, I began reading Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson to the Rescue (Candlewick, 2005). He loved Mercy and her silly antics! Soon he was reading with me, asking questions, and thinking of further adventures for Mercy. Over the course of the year, we read every Mercy Watson book we could get our hands on. My heart was filled with joy at the look on his face when I presented him with his own copy of Mercy Watson at the end of the school year.

Do I know what it was about each of these books that made them the right books for these children? No. What I do know is that each child heard or saw something in them that made him happy. Something in these books helped him feel connected to another person and let him know he wasn’t alone. And that is, after all, why we read.

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Friday: “Carentan O Carentan”

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Normandy_American_Cemetery_and_Memorial_(6032771638) “What happened on this day?” my father would often ask as we sat down to dinner. Today, of course, the answer would be D-Day. The invasion of Normandy. The beginning of the end on World War II. Even if we knew the answer to these questions, an impromptu history lesson usually followed. My father wasn’t a scholar or historian, but he had been a small boy during the war, and he revered the soldiers who fought it. And although he never said as much, I think these supper-time history lessons were his way of ensuring my sister and I shared his reverence.

My father isn’t here to ask that question today. But if he were, I know he would be honoring the brave men who landed on the beaches and parachuted into the French countryside seventy years ago.

One of those soldiers, Louis Simpson, captured the horrors endured and the sacrifices made by the courageous souls who fought to liberate “Fortress Europe” in “Carentan O Carentan.”

“Carentan O Carentan”

by Louis Simpson

Trees in the old days used to stand

And shape a shady lane

Where lovers wandered hand in hand

Who came from Carentan.

This was the shining green canal

Where we came two by two

Walking at combat-interval.

Such trees we never knew.

The day was early June, the ground

Was soft and bright with dew.

Far away the guns did sound,

But here the sky was blue.

The sky was blue, but there a smoke

Hung still above the sea

Where the ships together spoke 

To towns we could not see.

Read the rest of the poem here or listen to actor Charles Durning recite the poem:

To read more about D-Day and see photos of Omaha Beach today, visit Remember D-Day by walking the beaches of Normandy by John Hanc.

Please be sure to visit Carol at Carol’s Corner for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

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