SOL 17 & the Poetry Friday Roundup: “Out of Wonder”

                                        

“Writing is a tool to carve out our dreams”
~Kwame Alexander ~

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! (Not sure what Poetry Friday is? Find out more from Renée LaTulippe here.) I’m happy you’re here because I have a stunning new collection to share today. Just in time for National Poetry Month, Newbery-Medal winning poet Kwame Alexander has teamed up with Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth, and Ekua Holmes to create a spectacular gift to poetry lovers of all ages, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets (Candlewick Press, 2017).

In the Preface to Out of Wonder, Alexander explains his mission for this book is introduce readers to “…twenty of my favorite poets. Poets who have inspired me and my co-authors with their words and lives.” He and his co-authors also hope readers will see these poems “as stepping-stones to wonder” about the poets, poetry in general, and the poetry within themselves.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I, “Got Style,” includes poems written in the style of Naomi Shihab Nye and e.e. cummings, among others. “In Your Shoes” includes poems written about favorite topics of celebrated poets. Emily Dickinson’s love of flowers, Walter Dean Myers love of basketball, and Judith Wright’s love of the earth are just a few of the themes used to inspire new poems. The final section, “Thank You,” pays tribute to beloved poets themselves, including Gwendolyn Brooks, William Carols Williams, and Sandra Cisneros.

Ekua Holmes’s mixed media collages explode off the page, adding another layer of beauty to these pages. Her color schemes are perfectly suited to the poems. Subtle, muted hues create the winter woods of Robert Frost, while bold primary colors give wing to Maya Angelou’s “free bird.”

A brief biography of each celebrated poet is included at the end of the book, as well as a chronological listing of the poets and their country of origin. This section is a jumping off point for teachers and students who want to learn more about these poets.

In an interview with Rachel Martin on NPR, Alexander stated that he had “three aims for the book — to encourage kids to read poetry, to introduce them to great poets, and to inspire them to write poems of their own.” He goes on to say “It’s a lofty goal.” Lofty yes, but one he and his collaborators exceed in this joyful book.

Want to know more about Kwame Alexander’s thoughts about poetry? Read his conversation with Nikki Grimes here, and his article with co-author Chris Colderley about why poetry matters at the Poetry Foundation. In addition, Poetry Friday’s own Mary Lee Hahn wrote a terrific Teacher’s Guide that is chock-full of suggestions for sharing Out of Wonder to inspire your students.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

And now for the Roundup! Please click to add your link and read more poetic offerings.

SOL 17: “Making Notebooks Live Everyday in Writing Workshop”

Eric Hand began his session “Making Notebooks Live Everyday in Writing Workshop,” at Teachers College Saturday Reunion last weekend by sharing this quote from friend and fellow slicer, Michelle Haseltine:

Yes, a notebook is all of that, and more. Eric’s presentation focused on the “place to take risks” portion of Michelle’s quote. How, he wondered, “can we make our writing notebooks more than just a place for generating ideas?”

Eric structured his session to reflect the stages of the writing process to uncover opportunities where we, and our students, can return to our writing notebooks to take those risks.

We all have some tried and true techniques for generating ideas, and Eric shared a few of his favorites. For narrative pieces, he suggested this: “What do you do every Saturday?” A small moment might be hiding in the resulting list. You could substitute Saturday for any day of the week, or any month, season, or holiday. This is a prompt that has endless variations and possibilities.

For the rehearsal and planning stage of writing, Eric suggested trying out different formats or organizational structures. Another idea is to “write the blurb for your story using the “somebody/wanted/but/so” summary structure. This can be added to by including details about the main character’s feelings, the setting, and so on. This allows writers to think more deeply about their stories and will help as they begin drafting.

When working on informational pieces, Eric provided these “Prompts to Write Long.” Thinking about these sections of informational essays can help kids ensure they know enough about a topic before they begin writing. This process could also be used to try out different topics.

The drafting phase is done outside of the writing notebook for many reasons, including

  • helping students understand the concrete steps of the writing process
  • creating a sense of momentum
  • helping writers stay focused on one piece
  • making revision easier
  • helping kids stay organized and find the piece they’re working on

Notebooks are a valuable tool during the revision process. Eric outlined four levels of revision and explained the role of the notebook at each level.

Small revisions include adding a word or phrase. This can be done right on the draft with the  use of a carat.

Medium revisions might entail adding a sentence or two to clarify or elaborate. Spider legs are an easy way to accomplish this. (see photo below)

Large revisions may involve rewriting the opening, whole scenes, or the ending. Notebooks are the perfect place to play with different options until the writer is happy with the result. When large revisions are needed, flaps can be attached to the original draft. This allows the writer to hang onto the original version and gives her flexibility with her choices.

MEGA revision is redrafting the whole piece. The notebook is ideal for this type of revision. Again, writers can approach their piece in a completely different style or format.

 Each of these revision options “helps kids be purposeful…and gives them control over decisions” about their writing.

Eric also suggested using mentor texts to support revision. To demonstrate, he displayed the opening scene in Cynthia Lord’s Half  A Chance (Scholastic, 2014). After studying Lord’s craft moves in this scene, Eric shared a piece of student writing and had us revise the piece trying out one or more of the techniques from Half  A Chance. Again, this is exactly the kind of work the notebook is for: a risk-free space to play with new ideas.

When revising informational pieces, Eric suggested using the notebook as a place to sketch layout options. He also noted that students can try different types of text features in their notebooks. This will help them be more purposeful with their use of text features. “Effective use of text features is a craft move,” Eric reminded us.

Audience is a major focus in opinion writing, and can be the focus of revision also. Asking students to consider different audiences, then think about how their writing would change based on a specific audience, is authentic revision at its best.

Editing for conventions and spelling is usually done on the draft itself. But this could be an opportunity to “lift the level of language” used in a piece. There is a fine line here between editing and revision; the point is that the writer is polishing his piece to the best of his ability. The notebook offers a place to try out different possibilities, such as adding figurative language, without committing to major changes.

Writing notebooks can play a role in publishing also. Students could write an author bio in their notebook, or revise the blurb they wrote in the planning stage to match their finished piece. Brainstorming places to publish their writing is another possibility.

I left this session excited to share these options with my colleagues and students. Bravo, Eric, for packing so many ideas and suggestions into one hour!

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: No Yelling!

I love my job. I love my colleagues as well as the challenge of working with such a diverse grade range (K-8). I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I really love working with our Kindergarten teachers. They are enthusiastic, have embraced the reading and writing units of study, and are incredibly creative. And, because I moved into a new room over the summer, I see them and their amazing students every day. Some mornings I stand by my door just to say hello.

Last Friday, I received this email from Ms. M.:

Of course I went down to see them as soon as I had a minute. I found the K2 writers hard at work on their persuasive pieces. One student had turned hers into a song. During music that morning, the music teacher set her words to a simple tune, and they recorded a video of them singing “No Yelling!”

Screenshot of a few K2 singers.

Unfortunately, I don’t have permission to share the video so you can hear them, but here are the lyrics:

No Yelling!
by M.

No, no yelling!
No, no yelling!
Be…because
you,
you,
you,
can disturb,
can disturb
other people.
Yes, it’s true!

Don’t you love her use of repetition to make her point?

Take it from me. If you’re having a bad day or just need a smile, head to the nearest Kindergarten classroom. You’ll feel better the minute you walk in the door. Just remember, no yelling!

Proud author!

 Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: Seasons on the Brink

One of the most satisfying benefits of joining fellow writers in this month of Slicing is the cross pollination of ideas. One person’s writing sparks and idea in another and so on. The chain is really never ending. This morning, my friend Margaret Simon was inspired by Naomi Shihab Nye’s statement that “nothing is to small to notice.” She noticed the light of spring and wrote a stunning poem full of “the slant of light.” This reminded me of a quick glimpse of shadows I had the other day as I drove past a patch of woods. Here, in honor of the first full day of spring and World Poetry Day, is the poem my noticing inspired.

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com

Season on the Brink

Shadows lumber,
crisscrossing soft winter snow,
a maze of light and dark.
Patches of soil emerge,
inhaling a deep breath of
waking,
exhaling the rich scent
of earth,
full of life
stirring and squirming,
restless for
spring.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

 Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: A List Saves the Day

Today I’ve spent most of the day in bed with a full-blown sinus infection. I haven’t been able to  read or think or write. But my medication must be working, because I feel a bit better at the moment. Well enough to attempt a Slice. For help, I turned to Listography: Your Life in Lists. Created by Lisa Nola, this book “is designed to help you create your autobiography through list making.” This book contains over sixty different possible lists, with everything from “Places You’ve Lived” to “Favorite Records” and “Your Life’s To Do List.” I choose “Famous People You’ve Encountered.” I didn’t include all the rock-star educators and authors I’ve met at readings and conferences because, as thrilling as it is to meet my heroes in real life, those encounters aren’t really random.

Martin Sheen—I grew up (and still live) in a very small town in northwestern Connecticut. Our neighbors were mostly farmers, with a variety of business owners and professionals mixed in. But there were also many weekenders; people up from New York City enjoying the countryside. Each year, the firemen in our town hold a country fair to raise money. A parade filled with firemen and trucks from neighboring towns kicks off the weekend. When I was 13 or so, my friends and I were walking along the parade route when we noticed Martin Sheen standing at the edge of the crowd. We boldly walked right up to him and asked him for his autograph, which he gave to us. I don’t remember him actually saying much. This was in the early 70s, and he was in his brooding bad-boy phase. He was so handsome. He looked like he’d just walked off the set of Badlands. I can’t imagine he came to Bridgewater for our fair, but he might have been visiting any one of the movie stars who live in my neck of the woods.

Mia Farrow—She has lived in town for as long as I can remember. She keeps a low profile, but also is out and about like everyone else. I’ve run into her at the local store and the post office. She’s always friendly and says hello.

Caroline Kennedy—One year during Christmas break, my sister and I went to New York for a “girls day.” Our first stop was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There was most likely a special exhibit we wanted to see, but I don’t remember what it was. After we left the museum, we were walking down Fifth Avenue debating about getting a cab when we noticed a family leaving the park after a sledding adventure. One of the children was crying hysterically about going home; she wanted to keep sledding. I smiled sympathetically at the girl’s mother, who was calmly explaining why it was time to go. My sister, afraid I would embarrass her, pulled my arm and hissed at me to “just keep walking.” I was surprised at her vehemence. The wind was whipping in our faces and I had no intention of stopping. It was only when the woman looked up and smiled back at me that I realized who she was. I was comforted to know that Caroline Kennedy’s kids gave her just as much of a hard time as my own.

Dustin Hoffman owns a home in a neighboring town and for years I longed to bump into him. Lately though, I’ve heard that Daniel Day-Lewis loves a certain restaurant nearby. Is it a coincidence I always want to go there for dinner? I don’t think so.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: A Strange Experience in a Car

I am officially stuck. I spent a good chunk of time this morning trying to process my notes from yesterday’s Saturday Reunion at TCRWP. I had an idea about how I could demonstrate a suggestion from one of the staff developers using Margaret’s innovation theme for DigiLit Sunday, but I ended up with a tangled mess that needs more work.

My cold has gotten worse, which may be part of the reason I couldn’t get my other idea to come together. I did get some rest this afternoon, but then had some family obligations that had to be addressed.

Those tasks have been crossed off my to-do list and here I am. It’s 9:39 and I have no slice. I have ideas. I always have ideas. It’s just getting them to work that’s the problem. So I turned to Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston, which I wrote about here. As I knew I would, I’m resorting to a prompt from this book’s last chapter, “Daily Warm-Ups.” It contains lists with titles like “Spend five minutes describing…” or “Spend five minutes listing…”

The first item in the “five minutes describing” list is “A strange experience in a car.” At first I thought, “Keep reading.” But then I remembered an afternoon drive home from a doctor’s appointment many years ago that had a surreal moment to it.

I was living in Orono, Maine, home to the University of Maine where I was a student. Orono is a small town with a huge university. The downtown consists (or it did almost 40 years ago) of a main street a few shops and Pat’s Pizza. For everything else, we headed to Bangor. 

The highway was the quickest way to get to Bangor, and this is the way I went if I was going to the mall. But on this day, I’d been to the hospital for some tests. The hospital was (is) on Rt. 2 , right by the river. It was a beautiful spring day, so I decided to take the scenic route home.

I hadn’t driven this way very often, and I was still quite an inexperienced driver. I don’t remember if I even realized the train tracks ran parallel to the road, between it and the river. As I rounded a curve, a train came into view, heading south. For a moment, it seemed like the train was headed straight toward me. “That train has gone off the tracks,” I thought as panic rose in me. “I’m directly in the path of an oncoming freight train!” Pressing my foot on the gas pedal, I tried to speed away. At that moment, the road veered away from the river, and the tracks curved back toward the river.

Of course the train wasn’t off the tracks at all, it was just an illusion caused by the bend in the road and the track. But in the split second before we both steered in opposite directions, I was sure I was going to be crushed by that train. “What an idiot,” I admonished myself.

I’m sure I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about this when I arrived back in Orono. I’m not sure I ever told anyone about this experience.

Sometimes I worry that what I’m writing doesn’t have a bigger purpose or some aha moment. This feels like one of those pieces. But maybe its about perspective and that things aren’t always what they seem. Or maybe it’s about staying calm (I really wasn’t calm, though) in the face of something frightening. It could be about becoming more empathetic when students’ tell me they’re stuck. Or maybe it’s about spending five minutes writing about a strange experience in a car.

 Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: A Literary Feast: TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion

Today I was immersed in words. Powerful words. Poignant words. Inspiring words. This is what happens when you attend a Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion.

This day-long celebration of literacy is a veritable feast of learning and professional development. Educators travel from around the world to be part of this amazing experience. As I have for more than ten years, I left my house before dawn this morning to join them. By the end of the day, my head was spinning with all I had learned. I need time to process by notes and clarify my thoughts. In the meantime, here is a peek into my day.

Made it to the station in time!

 

This thought-provoking interview in the current issue of the Horn Book kept me company on the train.

 

“Subway” by Billy Collins was the Poetry in Motion poster on the shuttle from Grand Central.

 

Alfred Tatum urged us to ensure that meaningful literacy exchanges that move our humanity and that of our students forward are always part of our literacy instruction.

 

Eric Hand opened his session on writers notebooks with the wise words of friend and fellow Slicer, Michelle Haseltine.

 

Emily Butler Smith shared these quotes as an option for using literacy skills to support work in social studies.

 

Annie Taranto shared ideas for making writing goals public.

 

I met Slicer and TWT co-author Lanny Ball at Mike Ochs’s session on grammar and vocabulary instruction. (The bottom line? Read. Read more.)

By the end of this session, my cold was getting the best of me and I reluctantly decided to miss Lucy’s closing keynote. Thanks to the wonder of Twitter, I was able to tune in to Lucy’s moving words as she remembered Kathleen Tolan: “It is an enormous act of love to see potential.”

My thanks to everyone at TCRWP who makes these Saturday Reunions possible. Your words of guidance, support, and encouragement help me see my students with new eyes. Your words help me see their potential.

A fitting view from the train as I headed home.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.