Posted on

write now

It’s 12:15 PM on November 10th. Do you know where your NaNoMo novel is? Yeah, about that. Good intentions aside, I have done everything but just sit and type. I made a video. Updated grades. Reheated a bowl of chili mac (that will come back to haunt me), and read a few Tweets.

But two things grabbed my brain this morning:

  1. The epiphany that teachers enjoy creating lessons for themselves and having agency, just like students. This has nothing to do with the rest of the post directly, just needed to remember this.
  2. We must flip reading around to writing, or balance it much better.

For some time now, my professional opinion held the research of the National Writing Project that writing helps us become better readers. Reading helps us become better writers, too, but somehow that message got lost in translation.

Summaries, Claim, Evidence and Reasoning paragraphs, Short Answer Responses, etc. are not ‘writing instruction.’ They are a form of writing, of course, living in the Land of Explanatory, formulaic, structured texts, but alas, really do not help or support writing instruction.

And, as one who prides herself on good writing instruction, it’s hard. It’s really hard.

Until it’s not.

Do you know why middle school students give up on their writing lives? Well, wouldn’t you if no one really cared to hear what you had to say? If you didn’t get the answer “right” or scrambled madly for text evidence just to get the dang assignment done? (I asked my students this week if they ever just grab text evidence randomly and every one giggled and confessed yes.) This is not any teachers’ fault –not at all. I am recommending that we teach them how to find their OWN “text evidence” first. Their own stories, insights, moments, etc.

From The Real Reasons So Many Young People Can’t Write Well Today–An English Teacher

“A 2010 study by the Carnegie Corporation called Writing to Read found ample evidence that writing can dramatically improve reading ability. The authors discovered that combining reading and writing instruction by having students write about what they read, explicitly teaching them the skills and processes that go into creating text, and increasing the amount of writing they do results in increased reading comprehension as well as improved writing skill.”

I know this so well. This message is inscribed in my heart. I passed along Writing to Read to past administrators, who’ve come and gone, and I am not sure current ones want or need it. I’ll ask. In the meantime, I’ll take a look at works and reformulate them to fit the digital instruction:

The current test focuses so much on reading, it’s true, but not all of it. Here is the brief write portion of the test, just in case anyone wants it, (even new teachers).

Here is a lesson on memoir writing:

And the parallel writing structure:

Now I’d better go write my own story.

Posted on

Saving Summer: Disconnection Connection

Aziz Ansari recently put himself on an internet diet, and maybe the rest of us should follow suit.

I bought the full-meal deal from Freedom a year ago, and it’s been buggy ever since, and the customer support is confusing, but I’ll keep trying. I’ve tried to limit myself: making jewelry again, just reading (though it is on an i-pad/Kindle), and doing other things…but it’s been tough. All I’ve succeeded in doing is making a mess. This next week I’ll focus on finishing up the computer technology curriculum and nailing down the first few weeks of ELA. My schedule next year will be a bit different, and I’m trying to be flexibly- proactive. (Whatever that means!) It was time I went through my own digital hoarding and pulled out some of the best articles/ideas.

Let’s get our brains back:

Posted on

Saving Summer: The Expert

 

My best skill, my most beloved gift,  is teaching writing.

Hold that thought.

This morning it occurred to me that my task every summer is not to just ‘take a break,’ or enjoy the nice weather, but to clean up my mental lag, too. (Notice how I used the words “task” and “break” in the same sentence? That is the paradox of teachers’ years.) Little phrases or incidents roll around in my noggin until they lose their centrifugal force and drop off of my mind. All the little slings and arrows, missteps and frustrating meetings and discussions, worrisome students, and…other stuff. Just. Other stuff. It takes awhile for it to go down my mental head drain, and then a few weeks in, right about now, I’m feeling confident again, have my sense of agency and rest, knowing in those few weeks until school begins again I’ll be refreshed and capable. And more importantly, take back some modicum of control over my responses to outside forces. That’s is what these weeks are for. That and dentist appointments.

And today, very timely, preternaturally coincidentally, a friend posted this Medium essay by Jose Vilson, “Why Teachers Need to See Themselves As Experts.”

Mr. Vilson says many wise things, strong things–but not radical things. We teachers, who spend hours searching for the best and better ways to practice our profession, do not need permission to own what we know, our expertise, and our talents.

If this happens to our most visible spokespeople, what does that say about the rest of us? We have systems that constantly bombard us with deficit modeling. I’ve sat in a billion PDs where we’re told that we’re failing our kids, even when the kids themselves say otherwise. The person saying it is usually a professional developer who isn’t worth their weight in whiteboard ink. Politicians tell us that we’re not yielding results with measures that are both inappropriate and wildly unstable. Then, they turn around and tell us they can’t alleviate and eradicate oppressions like poverty, institutional racism, gender inequity, and the prison injustice system. We’re told by any number of folks that they’d left the classroom for greener pastures but still taut the “teacher” title and get to speak on behalf of us. (Nah.) We get stacks of books from folks we love (few) and folks we have no love for (many), but the letters “Dr.” or “Ph. D” legitimized why a district spent thousands of dollars on folks who may or may not have better pedagogical knowledge than the folks being handed these books.

Can I get an “Amen?!”

He’s not suggesting bragging for bragging’s sake. The most skilled professionals know it is safe to say “I don’t know, but let’s collaborate and figure this out together…” No one knows everything, nor should they. There is no growth, no creativity, from a vacuum in professional development space. I’ve said many times that there are those who know how to naturally, seamlessly collaborate: they ask questions not assuming the answers and have the flexible thinking skills to roll new thoughts in their heads like Play-Doh and create something new.

“In our quest to demonstrate humility, we can tip over into modesty, where we don’t acknowledge the fullness of the gifts we’ve been given. We don’t have to pretend to have it all together, either. I’m more suggesting that we should be allowed to express the depth of what we do and put our strongest foot in the work we’re already doing with our students and communities.”

 

Now I am ashamed to say this is my first time knowing about Jose Vilson, and he is the real deal. Go to his page and read his bio. I’m an NBCT, too, and an NWP Fellow. And if he says I should own my expertise, then own it I shall. It’s for my students anyway, because it gives me the joy to see them grow and find their voices, too. That simple. I know how to teach writing, and help students become writers. That simple.

And I have made a promise to myself, that if I am ever at a meeting like one that occurred in December, I will respectfully, politely, leave. It won’t be an act of defiance, but self-respect, and respect for our work.

“Teachers who do the work model justice in this way. When given a platform, the best of us can look at the rest of the society eye-to-eye, feet firmly planted, and let truth sprout from within. That’s the work, and if a teacher’s already there, then they should take a mic and pump up the volume. Shake the corridors.”

Home

Posted on

Saving Summer: Hugo House and Shared Writing

 

Summer fills up fast, faster than a kiddie pool in an Orlando backyard, faster than a cup of coffee at an all-night diner, faster than…well, dang. I’m out of analogies. But, there is a remedy for lack of inspiration! One of the highlights so far included time and money well spent at Hugo House at the Write-O-Rama on July 8. Since the dismantling of the Puget Sound Writing Project, I’ve been untethered in

Since the dismantling of the Puget Sound Writing Project, I’ve been untethered in terms of having others to talk about and share writing. It’s been…well, I’ve been in a state of low mourning. I’m glad I went, and I plan on going to other events and joining now that I am aware of this deep resource.

https://hugohouse.org/blog/

The way the day was set up was simply lovely: it didn’t start too early (looking at you, Holly!) and attendees could decide well in advance which speakers they wanted to hear. I ended up going to 1. Get into Character with Bruce Holbert (charming writer!) 2. Mini-Memoirs for Podcasting–it was good, but wish I went to Movie Memoir, too…3. Revising your novel – the tip I took away was…now I don’t remember. (Just write the damn thing?!) 4. Writing for Performance: I wish Garfield Hillson could come and speak to students at my school and finally 5. Your Note to a non-person was a lovely way to end the day. This is just like RAFTS, but the creative constraint was letter writing, which added a useful boundary by which to operate.

Oh, now I remember. One tip for the Revising Novel unit was to write a movie descriptor summary. What a great idea for students! This could lead to what themes exist, etc.

Looking for something else, I came across this site, which I am going to use for writing instruction:

What’s The Logline?

Now, the spoken word section. That was humbling and wonderful –(this may sound odd, but being humbled is excruciatingly thrilling for me: it’s where I learn the most). He gave us good notes, and specifically,  he said mine was really funny but need to alter my pacing. Good to know, good to know.

This leads me to ask, “What is comedy?” -but only because, like I said, he thought my piece was funny.

 

Comedy is “a person dealing with a situation that they’re ill-equipped to handle.” —  and if I go through my rough draft of the spoken word piece, clearly the world right now is too much for me to handle.

These are my raw notes from Evernote:

Spoken word poetry
Writing as ritual
Garfield
Access
Pronouns
Name
Asked important questions first (name, preferred gender pronoun)
Writing prompts:
Blockbusters if you had one superpower what would it be
If your name is the thing you’re called the most what would your name be
Acrostic poem
Blood is thicker but water swallows best
If I had one superpower
I could understand, and speak any language in the world
Dead languages, too, like Latin
And living ones like Urdu and Navajo and Swahili
The French would be astounded when this very American middle age woman opens her mouth and says the most brilliant things with the perfect accent and they wouldn’t be suspicious at all
Spanish students saying jota and pendejo would giggle when I could give them “the look” because I know what they are saying: but more importantly, I could help Moises learn to read in English easier, and faster, so he could pass the test and make his family proud. I could speak to the moms, crying because their daughter stole 800 dollars from them, tell them it’s going to be okay, instead of with my stupid cow face nodding sympathetically
I could speak perfect German, and Russian, just like Angela Merkel, so when I become a world ambassador I could help broker peace deals that would save the world, and in the virtual worlds,  if I could speak Portuguese I could tell the World of Warcraft players from the Quel Thalas server to stop trolling.
In elevators and airports, I could understand people’s small talk, and thus understand their dreams.
On airplanes, I would travel internationally and soothe babies in their mother tongue’s lullabies.
Floating on ships, nothing would be lost in the depths of translation.
I could speak Elvish just like Tolkien imagined, and Klingon that would bring any Trekkie to tears.
And read the Russian masters in Russian, gaining insight into my son’s predilection for dark, Slavic humor.
But the language I wish I could speak most of all would be the words to stop hate: shush the distractions and liars, and whisper intelligence in the unhopeful and ignorant.
No one seems to know this language, though. It has yet to be created.
Any poem can be performed
What does the poem say?
And that is how it’s performed
What does the poem require?
Energy to the words
Emote/Speak
Don’t read flat
I wish I could bring students to this!!!
Garfield
As we edit, put in the feelings and emotional tones
Soft spots: bursts open with feelings and emotions
Locate those moments first
Get rid of lines that are just thrown in there
Purposeful and lead into experience
List poems
Of what is in there and what is not
List of frailty
List of abundance
Writing territories
Create lists
Language
Death
List of all the languages
What do I need before I go on stage?
Why is this important?
Tell students to think about what they need: nervousness, not speaking or speaking
While on stage, why are you doing what you’re doing?
Speak and be in the moment
Exit strategy
Treat yourself in order to get back to yourself
Slump
Feel as good and genuine in your body as possible
Hands
Feet
Slam intentional movements
Point and down
Be careful of “poet” hands
You are all Genius and excellent writers
Several shades of emotions
Nuances of emotions
Record the performance
Make sure not so monotone
Please listen to self
Record self!!
Record self on mute and look at what body is doing
body language and voice can send a mixed message
Be authoritative when it calls for it
What an amazing partner activity
The voice/performance makes the world
Like Shakespeare makes sense when you hear it
Posted on

Best laid plans.

We broke rain records this year, no small feat considering the Seattle area maintains a well-deserved reputation of one of the soggiest places around. Drizzles, downpours, drenching or dollops–no matter the size of the drop, it’s wet. Personally, my older son and I share the love of the gray, goopy clouds. Whenever I think of our rain, inevitably Tom Robbins’ thoughts on rain come to mind. (Some works of fiction stain a lifetime.)

“And then the rains came. They came down from the hills and up from the sound. And it rained a sickness. And it rained a fear. And it rained an odor. And it rained a murder. And it rained dangers and pale eggs of the beast. Rain poured for days, unceasing. Flooding occurred. The wells filled with reptiles. The basements filled with fossils. Mossy-haired lunatics roamed the dripping peninsulas. Moisture gleamed on the beak of the raven. Ancient Shaman’s rained from their homes in dead tree trunks, clacked their clamshell teeth in the drowned doorways of forests. Rain hissed on the freeway. It hissed at the prows of fishing boats. It ate the old warpaths, spilled the huckleberries, ran into the ditches. Soaking. Spreading. Penetrating. And it rained an omen. And it rained a poison. And it rained a pigment. And it rained a seizure.”
Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

Imagine the first clear, bright May day. A day after two days’ of testing. More days of testing to come. A moment in time–brief and elusive, but there. When we went outside for zombie tag, students felt so free they asked me to go outside again. Knowing I had hit on a currency I could use to all of our advantages, sure. In years past, we’ve gone outside for a Writing ‘rally,’ or as dubbed this year, a Walk’N’Write.

Here’s how it is supposed to work:

Students grab their composition notebooks, something to write with, a writing prompt slip (printed out and cut into strips). The ground rules are laid out clearly on the board, and repeated:

  1. Do not in any way cause any disruption. I don’t want to see my name in an email, hear from other staff members, see a passive-aggressive post on Facebook, be mentioned in ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM. Some student asked in disbelief if other teachers put other teachers “on blast” — yes, sadly. They do.
  2. Stay within earshot: I must be able to see you in the courtyard or the small field at all times.
  3. Try the prompts. Move after around ten minutes.
  4. They were allowed to take their cell phones if they wanted to take photo notes.
  5. Be prepared for an exit ticket (writing a reflection or expanding on an idea).

And, by golly, the majority of students did exactly all of these. They knew that the reason they were going outside was because they were so awesome during the zombie unit, and they earned trust to go outside again. 

Here’s how it worked:

During the first class, one student found some chalk, and one drew a penis on the ground. I don’t know who it was, and I didn’t have anything to clean it up or didn’t think quick enough to grab a cup of water and wash it away. I saw it at the end of the time outside. Middle school students draw graffiti, and genitalia is one of their common art forms. Like cave paintings of beasts and hunts, their choice of symbolism and pictographs trend toward the representation of middle school angst and Maslow’s lowest levels of the hierarchy. Watch ‘Superbad’ if you don’t believe me.

The second misstep was in not confiscating the chalk. From what I saw, there was a small piece of it, I didn’t know where it came from, and moved on. I wish I had thrown it away because other students found it and drew more…things. Pentagrams. Hearts. Butterflies. Initials. And yes, from what admin told me, more genitals. I received an email rightly advising me to make sure students did not do this in the future. But I am still not clear whose students drew all of the drawings.

So now I’m left with the unenviable task of telling my students what happened and consequences. That they have to keep themselves in check, or we can’t go outside again. Some of my fourth-period students waved in other teachers’ classrooms, and when I reminded them that that was a disruption, one argumentative young man justified it by saying the other student waved first.

Sigh.

However, there was far more positive than not. Students wrote. The noticed details, the trash, the good, ugly, and emotions tied with their surroundings. They struggled and grappled with worldly metaphors. Many saw the courtyard with new eyes. They looked up from their phones or used them to take pictures for later writing. They enjoyed the sun on their faces and breathed fresh air. It gave them one of the most important strategies for creativity: look up.

 

Just…

 

…look up.

 

PS If you look closely at the picture, there is a big white square of chalk. Someone drew over the drawing. They had better things to draw.