Slice of Life: Habits of Mind and Writing

“Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it.”
~ Horace Mann ~

One of the professional books I’m reading this summer is Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind, by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick. Published in 2008, this book outlines “a set of behaviors that discipline intellectual processes” and provides teachers with strategies to integrate them into “instruction in every school subject.” (p. 12-13) These habits “are dispositions that empower creative and critical thinking.” Costa and Kallick’s work begins with the same premise behind Carol Dweck’s work with growth mindset. That is, “intelligence is a set of teachable, learnable behaviors that all human beings can continue to develop and improve throughout their lifetimes.” (p. 12) During the coming school year, my colleagues and I will be working to incorporate these habits into our daily work with children. This, of course, will include modeling.

This tweet from Jane Yolen last week instantly provided a modeling strategy for three of the sixteen habits of mind:

* Gathering Data Through All the Senses

* Creating, Imagining, Innovating

* Responding with Wonderment and Awe

Writers won’t get far without these three habits, but we all know we have plenty of students who tell us “I don’t know what to write about.” Kids are so distracted by the world available to them through the myriad of devices to choose from, they can’t concentrate on any one topic for long. By modeling these habits in particular I think we can help our students focus on the world right in front of them. When they do that, they will find plenty to write about.

All of this was swirling around in my head when I went for a walk this morning. As usual, I had my phone with me because, for me, taking pictures is a form of prewriting. It didn’t take long to find five new ideas for writing.

  1. How could you not respond to this view with wonderment and awe? I was reminded of the way the sun streams through the trees at the cabin in Maine where my family spent many summers. My boys canoed to an island in the middle of the lake and spent entire days being wild in the woods. I could write a story about their adventures.

2. Again, a scene of wonderment and awe. This could inspire a poem or be woven into a scene in a middle grade story idea I’ve been playing with.

3. I was truly shocked to see this heron land on the road right in front of me! This is destined to be a poem, I think. It could also inspire a nonfiction piece about herons or birds of the neighborhood. 

4. This is my cat Noodles. He likes to be included and often follows me to the end of the driveway when I leave the yard. Doesn’t he look sad at being left behind? This could inspire a small moment story or a series of adventures Noodles might have throughout the day.

5. This swallowtail butterfly was trying desperately to fly, but appeared to be injured and couldn’t get off the ground. I gently moved him into the grass. When I went back to check on him, he was gone. I hope he was able to fly away after resting.

After sharing these images with my students, I will take them outside so they can respond with wonderment and awe as they gather their images that will inspire them to create, imagine and innovate. I’ve used similar strategies with students in the past with mixed success. Part of the reason for this may have been because we didn’t do this kind of activity often enough. Consistent trips outside to gather ideas will help students develop these behaviors into unbreakable habits. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

 

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It’s a Great Morning! Poetry Friday Is Here! (Plus a Giveaway!)

“Poetry is a lovely gift we give to children that appreciates in value
and lasts throughout their lifetimes.”
~ Maria Brountas ~

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! I am thrilled to be hosting today because I’m celebrating the book birthday of Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud, the newest member of Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong‘s Poetry Friday Anthology® Series. What kind of celebration would this be without gifts? Thanks to Sylvia and Janet’s generosity, three lucky readers will receive a copy of Great Morning! just in time for the beginning of the new school year! Everyone who leaves a comment before midnight, July 31st will be entered in the drawing.

For many years, the assistant principal and I have read poems during morning announcements. Usually we’d read poems to celebrate the arrival of a new season, or a fun “National (fill in the blank) Day.” I have dozens (and dozens) of poetry books that are full of wonderful poems that we’ve read over the years, including all of Sylvia and Janet’s previous Poetry Friday® books. And, like all of the Poetry Friday books, Great Morning! is full of poems perfect for sharing.

What makes this book so special is that these poems are tailor-made for every imaginable school occasion. Did you just have a fire drill? Read Janet Wong’s “We’ll Keep Safe” to reassure kids that everything is okay. Starting a recycling campaign? Sharing Susan Blackaby’s “Recycling” is the perfect way to kick off this effort. There’s even a poem, “Testing Blues” by Xelena Gonzalez, to lift everyone’s spirit during those dreaded assessment weeks. There are also poems to celebrate all the people who work so hard to keep schools running smoothly: secretaries, nurses, custodial staff, even volunteers.

Great Morning! is divided into two main sections. The first section includes 39 poems organized by topic. Each poem in this section includes a brief “Did You Know” paragraph that can be read to introduce the poem, as well as a “Follow Up” that encourages teachers and children to think more deeply about the poem and topic. There is also a “Poetry Plus” tip that offers suggestions of appropriate times to share each poem.

The second section of Great Morning! includes a second poem that is linked thematically to each poem in the first section. Also included in this section is a “Poetry Bonus” for every poem. This provides links to many additional resources, including audio versions of some poems, digital postcards, and more.

Finally, as if all this weren’t enough, there are almost 30 pages of ideas and tips for using poetry throughout the day, as well as information to share with parents. There are also lists with a plethora of additional resources.

This book, like all of the Poetry Friday® books, is a treasure. Great Morning! is unique because it’s aimed directly at school leaders. In the introduction, Sylvia and Janet write “our goal is to provide support for those who might be unfamiliar with today’s poetry for young people and might need guidance in how to begin.” By supporting school leaders in this way, this book will help send the message to students that they are valued so much we want to share the gift of poetry with them each and every day.

I love this book for all these reasons, but I am also extremely honored that a poem of mine is included. “Walking For a Cause” is especially meaningful for me because our school has held several 5Ks to raise money for a foundation started in memory of a beloved student who lost her battle with aplastic anemia.

“Walking For A Cause”

Hey, kids! Have you heard?
We are walking for a cause.
Ask your parents, neighbors, too,
if they would like to share.
Dollars, quarters, nickels, dimes,
every penny shows we care.

We’re spreading hope with every step,
supporting friends in need.
So lace your sneakers, tie them tight.
Come and help our walk succeed!

© Catherine Flynn, 2018

Mr. Schoefer and I getting ready to read “How to Make a Friend.”

I am excited to read these poems throughout the year with my enthusiastic Assistant Principal, Andy Schoefer, during our morning announcements. Here is the poem we’ve chosen for the first day of school, “How to Make a Friend,” by Jane Heitman Healy:

“How to Make a Friend”

You start by saying Hi there,
Hello, Aloha, Ciao–
If someone answers back to you,
Smile and nod and bow.

You might try saying Hola,
Salut, Goddag, Shalom.
If someone answers back to you,
They might be far from home.

A friend begins by greeting
Those they meet along the way
To make them feel welcome
At home, at school, at play.

© Jane Heitman Healy, 2018

Thank you, Jane, for allowing me to share your poem today. I think it is perfect for letting all students know they are welcomed and valued in our school. Poet Elizabeth Alexander calls poems “handbooks for human decency and understanding.” Thank you, Janet and Sylvia, for creating Great Morning! and all the Poetry Friday Anthology® anthologies and filling our schools with volumes and volumes of “decency and understanding.”

Want to know more? Read this post about Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud at Sylvia’s website, Poetry for Children.

Thank you for stopping by to help celebrate Great Morning! Please leave your link below. Don’t forget to comment if you’d like to be entered in the giveaway.

Slice of Life: A Better View

A few weeks ago, I happened to notice a hummingbird perched near the top of a tree in our yard. I hurried for my camera. Of course she had flown away by the time I settled myself in front of an open upstairs window. But I’d seen her near this tree several times during the week, so I waited, hoping she’d return.

My patience was rewarded and she posed for me at the top of a branch. Unfortunately, the photos weren’t great. Only the bird’s silhouette was visible. So I moved over to the other window. Bingo. Now her colors were clearly visible. She even hovered for a moment, showing off her delicate wings.

           

As I looked at the pictures after she flew off, I was grateful I’d moved to the other window. Shifting myself a few feet, changing my perspective just slightly, gave me not just a clearer view, but a more complete image. I recalled the wisdom of Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan in their book, Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers (Stenhouse, 2013). If you have any questions about literacy assessment, this book is a must read. But more importantly, Clare and Tammy explain in detail the importance of “triangulating …multiple sources of [assessment] data to illuminate, confirm, or dispute what you learned from an initial analysis of one piece of data. (Italics added.) How often does a child’s performance in the classroom not match data we have gathered through an assessment? Too often.

The key is to gather information from multiple vantage points, including informal and/or qualitative data gathered through observation. Pulling all this information together provides a much clearer image of who our students are as learners, as readers, as people. When we have this deep understanding, or what Clare and Tammy call “the stories of our readers,” we can plan and provide instruction that is responsive to their needs.

As July turns to August, I’ll be spending time thinking critically about which assessments I use to gather the information I need to get a clear, complete image of my students. Only then will I be well equipped to do the most important work of all: to help my students grow as readers, as thinkers, as people.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: “First Men on the Moon”

Forty-Nine years ago, my family sat in front of our television and watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. This was, for me, one of the most thrilling event of my life. When I stood in front of the Apollo 11 command module at the Air & Space Museum thirty years later, I felt the same awe and excitement. So it felt appropriate to commemorate this day here.

J. Patrick Lewis memorialized the event in his poem, “First Men on the Moon.”

“The Eagle has landed!” —Apollo II Commander Neil A. Armstrong
“A magnificent desolation!” — Air Force Colonel Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr.
July 20, 1969

That afternoon in mid-July,
Two pilgrims watched from distant space
The moon ballooning in the sky.
They rose to meet it face-to-face.

Their spidery spaceship, Eagle, dropped
Down gently on the lunar sand.
And when the module’s engines stopped,
Rapt silence fell across the land.

The first man down the ladder, Neil,
Spoke words that we remember now–
“One small step…” It made us feel
As if we were there too, somehow.

When Neil planted the flag and Buzz
Collected lunar rocks and dust,
They hopped like kangaroos because
Of gravity. Or wanderlust?

Read the rest of the poem here.

In addition to the front page news articles, which you can read here, The New York Times also included a poem, “Voyage to the Moon,” by Archibald MacLeish.

Wanderer in our skies,
dazzle of silver in our leaves and on our
waters silver, O
silver evasion in our farthest thought–
“the visiting moon,” “the glimpses of the moon,”

and we have found her.

From the first of time,
before the first of time, before the
first men tasted time, we sought for her.
She was a wonder to us, unattainable,
a longing past the reach of longing,
a light beyond our lights, our lives–perhaps
a meaning to us–O, a meaning!

Now we have found her in her nest of night.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Apollo 11
View of Earth rising over Moon’s horizon taken from Apollo 11 spacecraft
Credit: NASA
Please be sure to visit Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe for the Poetry Friday Roundup!

Slice of Life: Dumped in Dimples

 

Each week during Kate Messner’s Teachers Write summer writing camp, Jo Knowles posts a Monday Morning Warm Up. This week, Jo urged us to write about a “favorite summer memory from your teen years.” I’m not sure this is my favorite summer memory, but it is definitely the most vivid!

You hear the roar of the water before you see it. Then you face thousands of gallons of water cascading twenty feet down the face of a rock ledge, creating a foaming, turbulent froth just above where your raft is about to launch for a trek down-river.

Crazy paddlers, including my kids, running Youghiogheny Falls in 2010.

In July of 1976, when the rest of the country was swept up in Bicentennial celebrations, I gazed up at this waterfall in awe and relief that no similar falls waited downstream. The river that stretched in front of me was strewn with boulders. Little riffles of whitewater danced around them and clouds billowed in the sky above. Dense stands of pine and oak lined both banks of the river. I was ready for an adventure!

Little did I know what a ride I was in for.

The first two rapids were easy. Our raft bobbed up and down like a cork over the gentle, rolling waves. The splashes of cold water were refreshing after an hour in the hot July sun. By the time we got to Lunch Rock, I felt like a pro. I inhaled my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the favored lunch of paddlers everywhere. Soon we were back on our way.

My future mother-in-law, was paddling at the front of the raft, showing me the ropes. “We’re coming up to Dimples,” she said. “We have to head straight for a boulder, then paddle hard right to miss hitting it. “Big Jeff out of Baltimore,” an old family friend, was steering at the back of the raft. “Don’t you dare dump us in this rapid!” she warned him.

“Never!” he laughed.

Again, I heard the roar of the water before I could see what was ahead. This sounded as loud as the waterfall at the put-in. “We’ll be fine,” Jeff reassured me.

The once meandering current picked up speed and swept us into a ribbon of waves. A boulder as big as an elephant loomed up before us. “Paddle!” Jeff screamed. I dug my paddle into the water and pulled with all my might. But it was too late. The raft hit the massive rock head on.

Before I really knew what was happening, I was in the rushing water, beneath the raft. Gasping, but trying to stay calm, I got myself out from under the boat. Somehow, I maneuvered myself and the capsized raft into and eddy at the bottom of the rapid. Dripping and paddle-less, I managed to turn the boat right side up.

But now I was on the other side of the river from where my mother-in-law-to-be and Big Jeff had washed up. The rest of our crew had gone ahead to “play” in the next rapid and were unaware of our plight. Miraculously, my paddle washed up next to me. With a whole two hours of rafting experience, I climbed back into the raft and guided it safely across the river.

Someone always gets dumped in Dimples! (This isn’t the raft I was in. If there are any pictures from that day, I don’t know where they are.)

By this time, the other paddlers (including my boyfriend!) had realized we were in trouble and came to our rescue. Fortunately, no one was really hurt. Shaken up? Absolutely! But aside from rubbery arms and scraped shins, I was fine.

After a rest on the rocks, we piled back into the raft and made it to the take out without any more mishaps. I survived my white-water rafting initiation! But “Big Jeff out of Baltimore” never heard the end of dumping me in Dimples!

Years later, I was able to make my way down the river on my own. And I’ve never flipped in Dimples again!

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: My Great Escape

This draft is my response to the Teachers Write mini lesson that Kate Messner posted on Monday.  In it, she asked writers to consider “how might different elements of [a] story look different to different characters?”

To inspire us, Kate shared the story of a king cobra that escaped from a Florida home a few years ago. Despite my irrational fear of snakes, I knew I wanted to write from the cobra’s perspective.

Kate’s new novel, Breakout, is a fictional version of the real-life drama of two inmates escaping from a prison near her home in upstate New York. Three characters tell the story from different points of view, giving readers a more complete picture of events. One character, Lizzie, often manages to find humor in this serious situation. The article about the escaped snake also included humorous Twitter and Facebook posts people wrote at the time, imagining where in the world the snake might be. But I found nothing humorous about the situation. I felt sorry for the poor woman who found the snake, and I really felt sorry for the snake. 

My Great Escape

Stolen from my jungle home,
stuffed into a barren box:
no royal treatment for me.
My days were spent in misery.

Desperate to stretch,
uncoil my sleek brown body
I watched for my chance,
bolted from that ranch.

I slithered through suburbia,
searching for a place to settle:
a bamboo thicket or a fallen tree
where I would be free.

But my dream was not to be…

I was found behind a dryer.
Hissing, hood flared in warning,
I rose up as if on a throne:
Leave me alone!

I put up quite a fight
before Animal Control officers
caught me, ended my spree
and returned me to captivity.

draft © Catherine Flynn, 2018

Please be sure to visit Poetry for Children, where Sylvia Vardell has some exciting news and the Poetry Friday Roundup!

Slice of Life: Know Where You’re Going

Yesterday, Jo Knowles shared a writing warm up as part of the Teachers Write summer writing camp urging writers to “know where you’re going.” She also observed that “most general advice, if you think about it long enough, can be applied to writing.”

Jo’s words were still echoing in my brain as I headed out for my morning walk. When I paused to check the progress of the rebuilding of my neighbor’s stone wall, I thought, “Of course! Writing is like building a wall.” Not advice really, but certainly a useful metaphor.

These talented stone masons have a direction, they know where they’re going. You can’t see them in these photos, but there are two strings precisely positioned on either side of this trench to guide construction. What else can we learn from these stone masons about writing (and teaching writing)?

Notice the huge rocks forming the foundation of the wall. This will stabilize the wall against the forces of weather and time and prevent it from crumbling. Without a strong foundation, our writing often falls apart. More worrisome to me, though, is how writing workshops can crumble if we don’t take the time to establish the rituals and routines that are the bedrock of any successful workshop.

                    

Look how many rocks they have! They will never use them all in this wall. Just as these craftsman need multiple rocks so they can choose exactly the right one for the right spot, writers need to write and write and write. This will ensure they have plenty of material on hand as they craft personal, meaningful writing.

The men building this wall clearly know what they’re doing. They have a valuable skill, honed through years of hard work (see above). We also have skills. One of them is to help students view themselves as writers with stories to tell and ideas to share. Without this vision, writing is just a task to complete (or not). Students have to share our vision of what is possible through writing—or at least see its potential: providing the opportunity to “write something personal and powerful.” (Gallagher & Kittle, 2018, p. XV)

These ideas aren’t new or groundbreaking (pun intended!) But it’s important to revisit them. During these long summer days, when the demands on our time are different, take a few moments to consider the importance of laying down this bedrock, of building this foundation, layer by layer. Reflect on the year that was and use those insights to refine a vision for the coming year. Without it, we won’t know where we’re going.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.