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.

SOL 17 & Poetry Friday: Birds in the Blizzard

                           

On Tuesday, as Stella raged outside, I spent what seemed like hours at my kitchen window, marveling at the hardy birds at the feeder. Their comings and goings inspired this poem.

During the blizzard, trees and bushes
tremble as birds flit and flee.
Scoffing at the wind,
cardinals, jays, and chickadees
jockey into position.
Like planes lining up for take off,
they wait for their turn at the feeder,
for their share of suet and seed.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Please be sure to visit Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge for the Poetry Friday Roundup. (Not sure what Poetry Friday is? Find out more from Renée LaTulippe here.)

And 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: Poetry Is…

Stuck for an idea for a slice, I reached for Karen Benke’s Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing. (Read another post inspired by this book here.) On page 56, I found “Juxtaposition.” This exercise begins by folding a piece of paper in half lengthwise, then choosing ten words from one of the many word lists in the book. Next, add a descriptive word in front of each of the chosen words. Turn the paper over and follow the directions for what to write next. When you unfold the paper, write “Poetry Is” at the top. Try various combinations from the assortment of words and phrases you wrote until you find a “juxtaposition…two unlike things (side by side) to wake up your ears and make your mouth smile.” Some of these pairings aren’t really a surprise, but I liked the images they conjured.

Poetry Is…

Poetry is a blizzard of fireflies
blinking with joy
in a meadow teeming with life.
Poetry is crickets
buzzing autumn’s song.
Poetry is an iridescent peacock
strutting under the mellowing sun.
Poetry is popcorn
jumping and jittering
in a cobalt blue pot while
the grandfather clock chimes
on a Tuesday afternoon.
Poetry is the glimmer of dawn,
tip-toeing onto my pillow,
creeping through my eyelashes,
into my imagination.

© 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 Scrabble Lesson

A lesson to review syllable types and spelling patterns?

Not a problem.

When?

This was the gist of a conversation I had with two third grade teachers recently. Then I sat down to plan the lesson.

Not a problem? What was I thinking? I know my syllable types, don’t get me wrong. But where to begin? I needed a really strong connection to get this lesson off the ground.

As it happened, my son and his girlfriend had been home the weekend before. Part of our routine when they are home is a game of Scrabble. Of course. Knowing syllable types and spelling patterns makes you a better Scrabble player. (Vocabulary helps too, but that’s another post.) That’s my way in.

I grabbed the bag of letter tiles out of the box, and pulled out 7 letter tiles, just as if I was playing a real game.

A E F K R S T

Yes! An A and an E. As I played with these letters, I realized that the R was complicating my options, so I traded it for a random letter. I pulled an N. Perfect.

The rest of the lesson fell into place pretty easily. I used a sentence strip to make my Scrabble letters big enough for modeling, chose a Joyce Sidman poem that had a lot of juicy words that would build the kids vocabulary as well, and headed down to third grade.

The lesson went fine, even though it was clear immediately why the teachers had requested my help. This is ongoing work, and I’ll be heading back to third grade on a regular basis.

But this story doesn’t end there. One of the joys of teaching is that you never know what will strike a spark in kids. As it happens, a Tier 3 student I’ve been working with was in one of those classes. When I picked him up after that lesson, he said to me, “Can we play Scrabble today?”

I was shocked. The Making Words lessons (thank you, Patricia Cunningham!) we had done each week had engaged him, but interest in words, let alone enthusiasm, hadn’t appeared to be part of his personality.

“Sure,” I replied, not wanting my excitement to deter his interest. In my mind, I was frantically wondering if I even still had a Scrabble game at school. My recent move to a smaller space caused me to do some serious weeding.

Thankfully, the Scrabble board was right where it belonged. Soon, the board was out, our tiles were drawn and we were ready for the serious business of playing Scrabble.

Since I started working with this boy about two months ago, he has moaned and groaned his way through lesson after lesson.

“I read this book.”

“I’m tired.”

“My stomach hurts.”

We all know this child. But now that his cleaning my clock at Scrabble, he sits up a little taller and is full of questions about the books we read. He hasn’t had a stomach ache all week.

I’m not naive enough to think that playing Scrabble with this boy every day is the answer to all the concerns we have about him. But for now, it has captured his interest. And sometimes that is where the breakthrough begins.

 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 Pi(e) Poem

Outside my window, a blizzard is howling. What better way to spend a snowy Pi day than thinking of warm, luscious pies? Baking apple pies with my grandmother is one of my favorite memories. So here is a Pi poem (literally; the number of words in each line correspond to the digits in Pi; read more about the form here). I didn’t follow the rules exactly, but every poet and pie maker knows that it’s okay to be flexible about some ingredients.

Juicy, red apples
peeled,
coated with sugar, cinnamon,
nutmeg.
Topped with dollops of butter
and a dash of salt; layered and sealed into
your favorite
pie plate, blue with fluted edges.
Ready to bake, magically transform
into sweet memories.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

You can read last year’s Pi poem here.

 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: By the Book

Every Saturday, my day begins with the New York Times Book Review over breakfast. One of my favorite features is “By the Book.” In this column, an author with a recent or upcoming book is interviewed about his or her reading. I’m always astonished at the breadth of reading of these authors. So many books and writers I’ve never even heard of! Still, I’m fascinated by the responses and each week come away with a list of books I’ll probably never read.

I’d always thought this would be a good format for a Slice of Life, and last year, another Slicer (sorry, I don’t remember who) thought so too. Now I’m going to borrow their idea.

“The New Novel” Winslow Homer, 1877 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What books are on your night stand now?

I always have at least three books going at once. I just started Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. In another life, I might have been an astronomer. Everything about our universe fascinates me. The jacket copy states that this book “is the hidden history of the women whose contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed the understanding of the stars and our place in the universe.” Dava Sobel is an excellent writer who makes her subjects engaging and accessible. Her book Longitude is one of my favorites.

See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng, was just published by Penguin Random House. I have an ARC on NetGalley that I was hoping to read this weekend, but life got in the way of that plan. Maybe I’ll get to it on Tuesday during the blizzard.

My book discussion group is currently reading Dispatches, by Michael Herr. This first-hand account of Herr’s experiences as a war correspondent in Vietnam is brutal and unsparing, but written with the style and grace of a poet.

Speaking of poetry, I also have Billy Collins’s latest The Rain in Portugal, in the pile. Elaine Magliaro’s charming Things to Do is right underneath. I have long been a fan of Elaine’s poetry, and am thrilled for her that her first book has been published. I’m looking forward to sharing it with our Kindergarteners and writing “Things to Do” poems with them soon.

Finally, there is Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. This book is chock-full of ideas and ready to come to the rescue when I need one. There’s a section on “Getting Started,” “Character,” and more. I’ve been dipping in and out of each, and I’m sure one will show up here in the next few days.

There are at least ten more books beneath these, patiently waiting their turn. What books are on your night stand?

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 & DigiLit Sunday: Blended Learning

                                       

This post is also part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. This week’s topic is Blended Learning. Please be sure to visit Margaret’s blog to read more Digilit Sunday contributions.

“A human must turn information into intelligence.”
~ Grace Hopper ~

On an ordinary day in 1972, something very extraordinary appeared in the Resource Center of my elementary school. Two teletype computer terminals were installed, connecting our little school to the mainframe computer at the local university. A telephone receiver had to be positioned in an acoustic coupler (aka modem) to make the connection. After typing in a series of commands, the mainframe computer “ran” our program, and the result (usually a image of an animal created with Xs) was printed on yellow paper. Welcome to the computer age!

I would never, even in my wildest imaginings, have predicted that forty-five years later I would be able to sit at my kitchen table, pull up images of that miraculous machine, type these words, and then, with a single keystroke, send them instantly out into the wide world.

But here we are. And for all the news of hacking and worries about keeping our data secure, computers and technology have enhanced education in countless positive ways, and the possibilities for its use are endless.

As a literacy leader in my school, it’s essential that I keep up to date on developments in the world of literacy education. Blended learning is the most effective way for me to accomplish this. Attending a conference in real life is energizing. It’s always a thrill to meet one of my literacy heroes, and I love the being able to talk with other educators about their experiences face-to-face. But conferences are expensive and not always available.

With Slice of Life friends at ILA last summer.

However, thanks to the advent of webinars, YouTube, and TED Talks, I can attend a conference in my living room. I can usually replay key points for better understanding. Best of all, I can share with my colleagues and we can learn together. Follow up discussions often yield more insights and new ideas for application. Reading books and articles related to these topics only leads to deeper understanding.

Twitter and blogging is another key component of my blended learning life. Joining Twitter chats lets me have real-time conversations about a particular topic with other teachers. Through blogging, I’ve made connections and become friends with educators from around the world. These brilliant people enhance my learning and my teaching practice every day.

My experiences with blended learning have been essential to my growth as an educator. They have also been critical in helping teachers plan similar opportunities for their students. Opportunities that will nourish their curiosity and imagination, and give them the skills to prepare for a future we can hardly imagine.

Favorite Professional Learning Resources

  • Heinemann: A wealth of samples, webinars, podcasts, and more are available on this website
  • Stenhouse Publishers: Previews of new books, study guides, a newsletter and more are available here.
  • The Educator Collaborative: Led by Chris Lehman and many other rock star educators, this group, among other services, hosts an online Study Group series for a small fee that brings focused, topical PD into your school. (Or living room!)
  • The Two Writing Teachers Blog: In addition to hosting the March Slice of Life challenge, this blog and the incredible women and man who run it consistently post high-quality content for writing teachers at all levels.
  • Teachers College Reading and Writing Project: From weekly Twitter chats to week-long Summer Institutes and free Saturday Reunions, TCRWP is a goldmine of information and knowledge.
  • Good to Great Twitter chats are held every Thursday evening. Dr. Mary Howard and friends always have thought-provoking guests to spark the conversation.

This is just a short list of the resources available for online learning. What are your favorites?

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.