SOL 17 & It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?: See You in the Cosmos

                                   

Over two hundred years ago, William Wordsworth advised writers and artists to “fill your page with the breathings of your heart.” And while I doubt Wordsworth imagined that rockets would one day send those breathings into the cosmos, there’s no question that Jack Cheng’s new middle grade novel, See You in The Cosmos (Dial Books, 2017), is full of heart.

Written as a series of iPod recordings, See You in The Cosmos is an epistolary novel for our digital age. Alex Petroski is a “rocket enthusiast” from Colorado who is planning on launching a rocket at the SHARF festival in nearby New Mexico. With his faithful dog, Carl Sagan, at his side, Alex sets out for the festival. This trip marks the beginning of an odyssey that takes him from Albuquerque to Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Along the way, Alex learns valuable lessons about loyalty, trust, and the truth about his family.

Alex’s vivid narration through the iPod recordings immediately draws readers into the mysteries at the core of his life. With a mother who has “quite days,” a father who died when Alex was three, and a 24-year old brother who lives in Los Angeles, eleven year old Alex has learned to be remarkably self-sufficient. And while getting to the rocket festival is the original purpose of Alex’s journey, it soon becomes a quest to find out the truth about his father. Throughout his trip, Alex meets an eclectic assortment of characters who help him reach his goal.

Cheng richly layered novel reminded me of Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. Like Sal, Alex’s search leads him to undiscovered truths about his family and himself. Readers will be cheering Alex on every step of the way. They may even discover a truth or two about themselves.

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. Also, please be sure to visit Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers for more book recommendations.

SOL 17: Book Spine Poetry

I’ve been thinking about poetry today. I’ve been noticing images and words, playing with different combinations, following ideas, sometimes to dead ends. Creating book spine poems sometimes helps me get “unstuck” with my own ideas. Here are a few that emerged today.

Small wonder
Spirals in time
Gift from the sea

Look! Look! Look!
Flutter & hum.
Words with Wings
Soar

The comet seekers,
knocking on heaven’s door:
finding wonders.

 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: In the Canyon

American Rivers is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by petitioning Congress to protect 5,000 new miles of wild rivers. They’re asking people to “share your stories, share your love of wild rivers” as part of this campaign.

For over 30 years, my family and I have spent vacations and weekends kayaking on rivers throughout the northeast. When my boys were teenagers, it felt like our lives revolved around paddling. We all have favorite memories of these trips. Even, or especially, the near-disasters become epic stories that are told again and again. (You can read one here.)

But not every minute on the river is filled with roller-coaster whitewater. In fact, rivers are mostly flat water. Thrill-seeking paddlers like my boys tolerate these stretches. But I enjoy the peace of these sections of the river more than the danger-filled rapids. One such moment took place on quiet section of the Colorado River during a trip through the Grand Canyon. Ten years later, it’s still vivid in my mind.

Deep in the canyon there is a beach where, at five am, long before the sun reaches over the eastern rim, long before the cook yells, “Hot coffee,” you can sit on a rock and watch a secret chapter of life at the bottom of the world.

Before dawn, the river is a ribbon of dark ink, a constant, rippling presence. Oblivious to you, it pours downstream from distant mountains, is churned up from the depths of Lake Powell before being let loose from the bottom of the Glen Canyon Dam.

Above, dense clusters of stars in the Milky Way begin to fade to pinpricks of light. Bats flit and dive around the feathery branches of a tamarisk, feasting on midges and flies. At first they are just shapes in the moonlight. As the sky brightens, they continue filling up before returning to their roosts in crevices in the soaring cliffs. Even when the sky turns blue and clouds become streaked with pink, they linger.

Yellow flowers that look like four-o’clocks cling to the rocky shore, still folded in sleep. The river begins to lighten, shimmering silver, not waking exactly, but turning to a new day in its timeless journey. Just as it has for millions of years.

 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 & the Poetry Friday Roundup: “Out of Wonder”

                                        

“Writing is a tool to carve out our dreams”
~Kwame Alexander ~

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! (Not sure what Poetry Friday is? Find out more from Renée LaTulippe here.) I’m happy you’re here because I have a stunning new collection to share today. Just in time for National Poetry Month, Newbery-Medal winning poet Kwame Alexander has teamed up with Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth, and Ekua Holmes to create a spectacular gift to poetry lovers of all ages, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets (Candlewick Press, 2017).

In the Preface to Out of Wonder, Alexander explains his mission for this book is introduce readers to “…twenty of my favorite poets. Poets who have inspired me and my co-authors with their words and lives.” He and his co-authors also hope readers will see these poems “as stepping-stones to wonder” about the poets, poetry in general, and the poetry within themselves.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I, “Got Style,” includes poems written in the style of Naomi Shihab Nye and e.e. cummings, among others. “In Your Shoes” includes poems written about favorite topics of celebrated poets. Emily Dickinson’s love of flowers, Walter Dean Myers love of basketball, and Judith Wright’s love of the earth are just a few of the themes used to inspire new poems. The final section, “Thank You,” pays tribute to beloved poets themselves, including Gwendolyn Brooks, William Carols Williams, and Sandra Cisneros.

Ekua Holmes’s mixed media collages explode off the page, adding another layer of beauty to these pages. Her color schemes are perfectly suited to the poems. Subtle, muted hues create the winter woods of Robert Frost, while bold primary colors give wing to Maya Angelou’s “free bird.”

A brief biography of each celebrated poet is included at the end of the book, as well as a chronological listing of the poets and their country of origin. This section is a jumping off point for teachers and students who want to learn more about these poets.

In an interview with Rachel Martin on NPR, Alexander stated that he had “three aims for the book — to encourage kids to read poetry, to introduce them to great poets, and to inspire them to write poems of their own.” He goes on to say “It’s a lofty goal.” Lofty yes, but one he and his collaborators exceed in this joyful book.

Want to know more about Kwame Alexander’s thoughts about poetry? Read his conversation with Nikki Grimes here, and his article with co-author Chris Colderley about why poetry matters at the Poetry Foundation. In addition, Poetry Friday’s own Mary Lee Hahn wrote a terrific Teacher’s Guide that is chock-full of suggestions for sharing Out of Wonder to inspire your students.

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.

And now for the Roundup! Please click to add your link and read more poetic offerings.

SOL 17: “Making Notebooks Live Everyday in Writing Workshop”

Eric Hand began his session “Making Notebooks Live Everyday in Writing Workshop,” at Teachers College Saturday Reunion last weekend by sharing this quote from friend and fellow slicer, Michelle Haseltine:

Yes, a notebook is all of that, and more. Eric’s presentation focused on the “place to take risks” portion of Michelle’s quote. How, he wondered, “can we make our writing notebooks more than just a place for generating ideas?”

Eric structured his session to reflect the stages of the writing process to uncover opportunities where we, and our students, can return to our writing notebooks to take those risks.

We all have some tried and true techniques for generating ideas, and Eric shared a few of his favorites. For narrative pieces, he suggested this: “What do you do every Saturday?” A small moment might be hiding in the resulting list. You could substitute Saturday for any day of the week, or any month, season, or holiday. This is a prompt that has endless variations and possibilities.

For the rehearsal and planning stage of writing, Eric suggested trying out different formats or organizational structures. Another idea is to “write the blurb for your story using the “somebody/wanted/but/so” summary structure. This can be added to by including details about the main character’s feelings, the setting, and so on. This allows writers to think more deeply about their stories and will help as they begin drafting.

When working on informational pieces, Eric provided these “Prompts to Write Long.” Thinking about these sections of informational essays can help kids ensure they know enough about a topic before they begin writing. This process could also be used to try out different topics.

The drafting phase is done outside of the writing notebook for many reasons, including

  • helping students understand the concrete steps of the writing process
  • creating a sense of momentum
  • helping writers stay focused on one piece
  • making revision easier
  • helping kids stay organized and find the piece they’re working on

Notebooks are a valuable tool during the revision process. Eric outlined four levels of revision and explained the role of the notebook at each level.

Small revisions include adding a word or phrase. This can be done right on the draft with the  use of a carat.

Medium revisions might entail adding a sentence or two to clarify or elaborate. Spider legs are an easy way to accomplish this. (see photo below)

Large revisions may involve rewriting the opening, whole scenes, or the ending. Notebooks are the perfect place to play with different options until the writer is happy with the result. When large revisions are needed, flaps can be attached to the original draft. This allows the writer to hang onto the original version and gives her flexibility with her choices.

MEGA revision is redrafting the whole piece. The notebook is ideal for this type of revision. Again, writers can approach their piece in a completely different style or format.

 Each of these revision options “helps kids be purposeful…and gives them control over decisions” about their writing.

Eric also suggested using mentor texts to support revision. To demonstrate, he displayed the opening scene in Cynthia Lord’s Half  A Chance (Scholastic, 2014). After studying Lord’s craft moves in this scene, Eric shared a piece of student writing and had us revise the piece trying out one or more of the techniques from Half  A Chance. Again, this is exactly the kind of work the notebook is for: a risk-free space to play with new ideas.

When revising informational pieces, Eric suggested using the notebook as a place to sketch layout options. He also noted that students can try different types of text features in their notebooks. This will help them be more purposeful with their use of text features. “Effective use of text features is a craft move,” Eric reminded us.

Audience is a major focus in opinion writing, and can be the focus of revision also. Asking students to consider different audiences, then think about how their writing would change based on a specific audience, is authentic revision at its best.

Editing for conventions and spelling is usually done on the draft itself. But this could be an opportunity to “lift the level of language” used in a piece. There is a fine line here between editing and revision; the point is that the writer is polishing his piece to the best of his ability. The notebook offers a place to try out different possibilities, such as adding figurative language, without committing to major changes.

Writing notebooks can play a role in publishing also. Students could write an author bio in their notebook, or revise the blurb they wrote in the planning stage to match their finished piece. Brainstorming places to publish their writing is another possibility.

I left this session excited to share these options with my colleagues and students. Bravo, Eric, for packing so many ideas and suggestions into one hour!

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: No Yelling!

I love my job. I love my colleagues as well as the challenge of working with such a diverse grade range (K-8). I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I really love working with our Kindergarten teachers. They are enthusiastic, have embraced the reading and writing units of study, and are incredibly creative. And, because I moved into a new room over the summer, I see them and their amazing students every day. Some mornings I stand by my door just to say hello.

Last Friday, I received this email from Ms. M.:

Of course I went down to see them as soon as I had a minute. I found the K2 writers hard at work on their persuasive pieces. One student had turned hers into a song. During music that morning, the music teacher set her words to a simple tune, and they recorded a video of them singing “No Yelling!”

Screenshot of a few K2 singers.

Unfortunately, I don’t have permission to share the video so you can hear them, but here are the lyrics:

No Yelling!
by M.

No, no yelling!
No, no yelling!
Be…because
you,
you,
you,
can disturb,
can disturb
other people.
Yes, it’s true!

Don’t you love her use of repetition to make her point?

Take it from me. If you’re having a bad day or just need a smile, head to the nearest Kindergarten classroom. You’ll feel better the minute you walk in the door. Just remember, no yelling!

Proud author!

 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: 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.