Slice of Life: NCTE 2014

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As I flew home from the NCTE Convention last night, my mind was full of all I had learned over the past three days. I was also grateful that I had the chance to meet so many of my Slice of Life and Twitter friends. This online community is still a marvel to me. At one point, I glanced out the window and realized a large chunk of the eastern seaboard was spread out beneath me. Millions of lights clustered in cities and stretched into the distance, following roads that seemed to go on forever. They looked like a dew-drenched web, illuminated by the moon.

I was mesmerized by the sight, and my book lay forgotten on my lap. Kate DiCamillo’s words immediately came to mind: “Stories connect us.” The web of lights seemed like the perfect metaphor for the web of stories that were spun out by teachers, storytellers and poets throughout the vast Gaylord National Resort during the convention, connecting educators from all over the country and around the world. These dedicated people had all come to Washington seeking ways to help their students learn.

In his new book, Minds Made For Stories (Heinemann, 2014), Tom Newkirk says “When we strip human motives from our teaching, I suspect we make learning harder, not easier.” (p. 17) The stories shared at NCTE were full of the very human motives of passion and curiosity, and it will take me weeks to sort out and internalize them. Inspired and enlightened by people I admire and feel so lucky to know, I went to school today with one goal in mind: to share this passion with my students and colleagues. I can’t wait to help them, in the words of Paul Hankins, “be wonder bound.” I can’t wait to see them deepen their connections with the world and find their stories.

Thank you, StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

 

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Slice of Life: Unlocking Possiblities

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I do a lot of my best thinking in the shower. One morning last week as I was washing my hair, I was thinking about “The Good Old Days,” a poem Ralph Fletcher shared at the Connecticut Reading Conference. Later that morning, I would be facilitating a meeting with ELA teachers and I wanted to share the poem with them. Fletcher had us use this poem as a mentor text, taking the first and last stanzas from his poem and filling in the middle with our own “good old days” memories. As I lathered my hair, I thought about what I had written. I realized I hadn’t focused on any one memory. Instead, I had more of a list of special people and objects. While I was rinsing out the shampoo, it occurred to me that students could use this poem as a way to gather seed stories.

Then my thoughts returned to my poem. One line was about climbing a favorite apple tree in my grandmother’s yard. This made me think of a story I’ve been working on, but have been stumped by about where to go next. Suddenly, the tumblers in the lock aligned and I saw a possible path. Now I was rushing to finish my shower so I could write down my idea. Since that morning, I’ve been steadily working on this story, writing a little each day.

For me, these aha! moments of insight are like finding the perfect gift for someone who is notoriously hard to buy for. They give me immense satisfaction. But they don’t happen unless I’m writing regularly. When I’m writing each day, something is different in my brain. I see the world differently. I see possibilities. Donald Murray said, “The daily practice of craft sharpens the writer’s vision and tunes the writer’s voice. Habit makes writing easy.” I don’t think any amount of writing will ever make writing easy for me. Easier, maybe. But never easy.

Which brings me to students. Many students find writing the most difficult part of their day. Teachers often tell me they find it hard to make time for writing. That writing time is the first thing to go when time is short. Maybe this is because writing is difficult for them, too. This makes me sad. It is only by writing that we build our writing muscle. It is only by writing that we begin to see the world with what Maxine Greene called “wide awake eyes.” I’m constantly amazed by the metaphors children use for everyday objects when we ask them to be observant.

In order to cultivate this kind of awareness, we have to ensure that children have what Penny Kittle calls “time to count on,” time they know they’ll have so “if something occurs to [them] during the day, [they’ll] store it away, knowing [they’ll] have time to write soon, and the idea will resurface then.”  Children deserve this time to write about things that matter to them. Every. Single. Day. Nothing in our curriculum matters more than this. After all, who knows what they’ll think of while they’re in the shower!

Thank you, StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for the gift of this space for teachers and others to share their writing each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.