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.

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12 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Unlocking Possiblities

  1. It is amazing when thoughts and ideas hit us. It is important to have something handy that we can jot things down on when an idea hits. This is something students need ot know as well.

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  2. Ha, yes, the shower is the best place for thinking! I think it’s because I can’t write down what I’m thinking about!
    I love the analogy of the break through being like buying that hard to buy for person gift!

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  3. Ha! So much to comment on in this post, Catherine. First, I’m so happy that you are writing your story!!! And, I completely agree with you that kids need to write and that’s how they learn to write. They also need to find moments of celebration that seem mundane but aren’t. Great post, so full of wise words and reflection.

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  4. This line (and others) hit me: “the tumblers in the lock aligned and I saw a possible path.” That is such a good feeling. Just perfect. I am so impressed with your story writing.

    It is hard to keep the writing going in ourselves and in the classroom. Even when we make the time, it is hard for students maintain momentum. The one place I notice they keep going is on the blog. Only a few cherish the notebook. Trying to figure this out!

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  5. Terrific post, Catherine. Right now, in the throes of re-orienting this new classroom, I’ll need to instill that writing “habit”. You’ve already given me a beginning, your “good old days” Fletcher poem. I’ve done this with him before too, & had forgotten. Love that you found new strength for your story! I had a student a long time ago who wrote poems in the shower. Her mother bought her some of those soap crayons!

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