Slice of Life: A Month of Learning

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“With words at your disposal, you can see more clearly.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer 

Last week, We Are Teachers shared this on Twitter:

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I printed it out to share with teachers right away. I love the visual message that learning is so much more than memorizing facts or formulas. As I considered how to write my final post for this month-long challenge, it occurred to me that these words were a perfect way to organize my thoughts about the experience of blogging every day.

Reflecting has the double benefit of giving me insights into my writing, but also processing and learning from whatever event I’m writing about. The frustrating part about reflecting is that you think of a better way to handle a situation after the event. Of course, this learning can be tucked away for the next time a similar situation arises. Similarly, with writing, a better word or sentence construction occurs to me after I hit “publish.” Still, I’ve become more aware of words and sentence structures I overuse. In my never-ending effort to improve my writing, I’ve tried to use them less often.

Writing daily has made me more attentive to the world in general. This has helped me solve some problems I’ve been struggling with in a story I’ve been working on for the past year.

Creating is the whole purpose of this challenge. Each day has brought forth a new piece of writing. Some posts have been more successful than others, but the very act of creating them has helped me become a more confident writer.

Which brings me to the word grow. Over the past month, I’ve tried writing in new ways, ways that haven’t always been comfortable. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, I’m pushing myself out of “the suffocating insulation of personal safety and into the frontiers of the beautiful and the unexpected.”

Finally, this has been a month filled with thinking. Thinking of a topic to write about. Thinking about just the right word or phrase for a poem. Thinking about all the beautiful, heart-felt writing I’ve read on other blogs.  Thinking about how lucky I am to be part of this inspiring, nurturing community.  Thank you for helping me see things more clearly.

And a very special thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for their Herculean effort to provide this space for teachers and others to share their every day during this month. Your hard work is truly appreciated! Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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Slice of Life: An Unobserved Slice

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Three hours are left before the last day of March, and I still don’t know what to write about today. Was there a slice hidden somewhere in my day? If there was, I didn’t notice it, maybe because I was preoccupied by something.

Was it that moment when a third grade student came up with the perfect metaphor for a poem she’s writing?

It could have been when a first grade student sat up a little straighter after figuring out a word he didn’t know.

Was it hiding in the emails I wrote?

Maybe it was when a kindergarten student hugged me in the hallway just because she felt like it.

Did I miss it while I was planning for tomorrow?

Or was it when I got home after a late meeting and my husband had dinner ready and waiting?

Whenever it happened, it went by unobserved. Some days are like this.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday throughout the year and every day during the month of March. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: Playing with Haiku

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“Attentiveness is your main tool in life.”
~ Jim Harrison ~

There is a kaleidoscope sitting on my desk this afternoon. When I saw it in the store, it reminded   me of one my grandmother had at her house when I was little. So I bought it. I also thought my nephews would have fun with it when they visit.

When I got it home, I held it up to the light to watch the colorful patterns unfold. The plastic beads reminded me of snowflakes, but because they’re colorful, they also reminded me of flowers. This seemed like the spark of a poem to me.

I wrote several drafts, but wasn’t happy with them. Sometimes when I’m stuck, I read a few poems or flip through books about writing to clarify my thoughts. In her book Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way (Heinemann, 1995), Georgia Heard writes “the beauty of haiku is its brevity; it teaches you to use words more clearly and truthfully.

Here is my attempt to “spin [my] observations…as quickly and accurately as possible.”

Colorful snowflakes
blossom like flowers inside
my kaleidoscope.

This does capture my impression pretty accurately. Haiku isn’t my favorite form, but once I start thinking about them, they pop into my head. Here are a few more:

White birds swoop and swerve
over the river at dawn,
eyes peeled for a meal.

Warmed by bright sunshine
lilac buds grow fat and green,
chasing gray away.

By photo taken by H. Pellikka (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By photo taken by H. Pellikka (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I originally wrote this final haiku two years ago, but I wanted to share it again:

Slices of life:
Pieces of hearts on the page.
Stories connect us.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday throughout the year and every day during the month of March. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: Broken Glasses

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Have you seen those videos of babies hearing their mother’s voice for the first time? Imagine what it must be like to have the mute button turned off and all of a sudden hearing the soothing sound of a human voice.

I experienced this in reverse after I broke my glasses yesterday. I wore them gingerly until my husband took them to try to fix them. It was astonishing to me how utterly dependent I am on them. I could navigate my house, and thanks to 40 years of typing, was able to write this and have it be relatively error free, but not much else. I could listen to a podcast because I knew the icon’s  color and general design. But I couldn’t stop typing in the middle of a sentence, because I couldn’t go back and reread. If I lost my train of thought, well, it’s lost. (It wouldn’t be the first time!) 

As I typed these words I realized what it must be like for students in our classrooms with learning differences that aren’t being addressed. When we don’t differentiate for these children, we’re essentially asking them to work without their glasses.

We insist that they read this book, do this math, write this story.

And, oh by the way, do it with one sense missing and hardly any experience to fall back on to help you.

Then we’re back in five minutes and wonder why they haven’t gotten more done.

Now we’re exasperated because they don’t know who the main character is because, well, it’s right there in front of them! How do they not see that?

My husband had my glasses for about fifteen minutes. I quickly became bored and frustrated. I was ready to go find something, anything, I could do without my glasses, even if it was only folding clothes.

I can’t imagine how I would feel after six hours of this. I also had a splitting headache, not because I was trying to read this, but because it was impossible not to look at the screen while I typed.

Learning to see by losing one’s sight is a literary device as old as literature itself. I’ve always thought I did my best to differentiate and make accommodations and modifications so students will be able to learn. After this experience, though, I wonder if I’m doing enough. From now on I’ll be much more aware of ensuring that every student can see (and hear!) exactly what they need to. I want to see that smile of joy and understanding spread across the faces of all my students.

 Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday throughout the year and every day during the month of March. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: Poetry Collections I Love

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“Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings.”
United Nations website
World Poetry Day announcement

Last week I shared a list of my favorite read-alouds. I realized, though, that there was no poetry on that list! Because poetry is meant to be read aloud, and because National Poetry Month is right around the corner, I decided poetry deserved its own list.

Early in my teaching career, my poetry collection consisted of Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, Jack Prelutsky’s The New Kid on the Block, and The Random House Book of Poetry. Thanks to the Scholastic book order, my collection started expanding to include collections by individual poets. My choices tended toward poetry about animals and nature, and Kristine O’Connell George and Marilyn Singer quickly became favorites.

Today my poetry collection takes up two long shelves in my bookcase. Here are a few of my favorites, both old and new.

Edited anthologies with selections by many poets:

Piping Down the Valleys Wild, edited by Nancy Larrick
Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young, edited by Jack Prelutsky
National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis
National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis
Another Jar of Tiny Stars: Poems by More NCTE Award Winning Poets, edited by Beatrice Cullinan & Deborah Wooten
Knock at a Star: A Child’s Introduction to Poetry, edited by X.J. Kennedy
A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms, edited by Paul B. Janeczko
The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination, edited by Mary Ann Hoberman
A Pet for Me: Poems, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (any collection edited by Hopkins is a treasure; Don’t miss Renée LaTulippe’s wonderful spotlight on him here.)
Any of the Poetry Friday Anthologies, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

Collections by individual poets:

A Writing Kind of Day, by Ralph Fletcher
Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, by Paul Fleischman
Hailstones and Halibut Bones, by Mary O’Neill
A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play, by Marilyn Singer (Marilyn’s collections of reversos are also not to be missed!)
A Maze Me: Poems for Girls, by Naomi Shihab Nye
An Egret’s Day, by Jane Yolen
In the Spin of Things: Poetry of Motion, by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You, by Mary Ann Hoberman (any book in this series)
Everything is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis, by J. Patrick Lewis
Handsprings, by Douglas Florian
When the Sun Shines of Antarctica, by Irene Latham

This list just scratches the surface of the multitudes of wonderful poetry collections available from these poets and more. My 2015 Picture Book 10 for 10 post features more of my favorites.

Books for teachers and students about poetry:

Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, by Georgia Heard
For the Good of the Sun and the Earth: Teaching Poetry, by Georgia Heard
Poetry Matters, by Ralph Fletcher
Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, edited by Paul B. Janeczko
Pass the Poetry, Please!, by Lee Bennett Hopkins 

There are also many websites that feature poets, poetry, and ideas for teaching poetry. A Year of Reading, Mary Lee Hahn and Franki Sibberson’s must-read blog, lists links to the weekly Poetry Friday Roundup. This is a great place to begin learning more about all things poetic.

(Edited to add) Here’s another great resource from Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s top-notch blog, The Poem Farm: NCTE’s 2016 Notable Poetry List

What are your favorite poetry collections and resources?

 Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday throughout the year and every day during the month of March. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: Paying Attention

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“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
~ Mary Oliver ~

Yesterday while I was out walking, I came across a fallen bird nest. It’s been pretty windy lately, so it must have been blown out of the tree. It looked forlorn and out of place on the ground. There were no signs of any eggs, but I wondered if there were any in it when it fell. Maybe a hungry fox or raccoon stumbled upon it at just the right moment and gobbled up the feast waiting at their feet.

I wanted to take the nest. My students would love looking at the odd collection of material the mother used to build a home for her babies. The nest was made mostly of dried grass, with a few dead leaves and twigs. She’d also tucked in a fair amount of what at first I thought were feathers, but after looking more closely, I saw was fiberfill from a coat or a sleeping bag. A strip of blue plastic, maybe from a shopping bag, was also woven in.

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Then I began to wonder about this mama bird. What went through her mind when she discovered her nest was missing? Did she look for it? Did she grieve for her hard work and her missing eggs?

I left the nest undisturbed. While I realize the bird can’t pick the nest up and put it back, she might be able to reassemble it bit by bit. I hope she will and that it will soon be filled with new eggs.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time writing and thinking about this nest in the past twenty-four hours. Many people would say that surely I have better things to do with my time. But I don’t think so. I’m working on two projects where these thoughts and observations might be useful. So I’ll tuck these thoughts away. I’ll know when the time is right to take them out again and weave them into a story or poem.

 Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday throughout the year and every day during the month of March. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Another Poetry Friday Slice of Life: A Galaxy of Seed Pods

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“The world will freely offer itself to you unasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
~ Franz Kafka ~

On Monday, I shared images and ideas I had gathered during a walk. Today I’m sharing a poem inspired by one of the sights nature offered to me.

A galaxy of seed pods,
barbed, earthy brown orbs,
shiver in the morning breeze.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

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In my notebook, I have two pages of drafts and lists of words about these sweet gum seed pods. Nothing was working until I asked myself what it was about this tree caught my attention in the first place. Although you can’t tell from the photo, it was quite breezy and these little balls were dancing in the wind. I immediately thought they looked like little suns, even though the color was wrong. Most of the drafts were much longer, but when I came back to them to write this post, these lines stood out. They captured the essence of that tree at that moment.

 Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday throughout the year and every day during the month of March. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts. Also be sure to visit Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe for the Poetry Friday Roundup.