On this last day of March, we are excited to look forward to April and National Poetry Month. We are doing something fun this year — a Twitter poetry contest!
We have asked poet and author Shirley McPhillips to serve as judge for our contest and she enlisted her poet friend Drew Myron to help out. So, if you feel inspired, head over to Twitter and write a poem with 140 characters or less. Leave space for the hashtag #stenpoems so that Shirley can find and read your words. At the end of the month, we will pick one winner and three honorable mentions who will receive signed copies of Shirley’s latest book, Poem Central. The poems will also be published right here, on the Stenhouse blog. (If you are not on Twitter, you can send your poems to email@example.com with the subject line Twitter poem, or you can also leave your poems in the comments section of this blog post.)
Now, what is a Twitter poem? Shirley wrote this great post about Twitter poems — a great read before you begin to write your own. If you are a teacher, encourage your students to give it a try as well! And if you are a teacher who wants to incorporate more poetry into your classroom, here is a FREE download of poetry resources from trusted Stenhouse authors.
Up for the Count: Twitter Poems Shirley McPhillips
I have made this (letter) longer than usual because I have not had the leisure of making it shorter. Blaise Pascal, 1657
Seems like short is the new long. That’s the fun of a Twitter poem. It’s expected to be short. 140 characters or fewer (including the title, if it has one). We may ramble in the beginning, getting lists and lines down quickly. But then reality sets in. How to write something short that has the qualities of a good poem. Now that may take some leisure.
The 140-character limit has spawned waves of creativity as folks test their ability to do more with less. There’s the twaiku movement and Twitterature, a book containing major works of literature boiled down into a bouillon cube. And lest we think this is an activity for the obsessed techno-masses, four major prize-winning poets, two of them former laureates, published Twitter poems in the New York Times one year: Billy Collins, Claudia Rankine, Elizabeth Alexander and Robert Pinsky.
The New York Public Library (NYPL) sometimes sponsors a National Poetry Contest on Twitter. That’s where I met two Twitter poem contest finalists: Leslie Kenna and Liesl Dineen. Their stories about coming into the world of Twitter verse instruct and inspire.
Leslie’s “Short” Story
Leslie grew up in a New York City neighborhood that has an elevated train (the el) running through it. “For years,” she writes, “everything—eating, shopping, reading, sleeping, dental appointments, etc., was done to the beat of passing trains. I think all that shaking got into my bones.” Here is her Twitter poem:
In a waiting room under the el
each time a door closes
the collection of mysteries and tragedies
rattles and sways.
Leslie was strategic in her approach to writing “Bound.” A daydreamer and lover of words, she sat down in a comfy chair, stared out the window and remembered her relationship with books when she was a library-card-carrying New Yorker. After all, she would be submitting to a library contest. She would write about reading on the subway. Standing up. Sitting down. All jammed in, touching shoulders. An escape, making the commute go faster.
Once she had a topic in mind, she wrote down every word that came to mind—even repeating a few—looked over the list and circled words that jumped off the page for her…passengers, carry, one inch, bound, commute, straphangers, immobile, gripping, book, still room, sentence, subway, novel, plot, gripping, Delay, air oxygen, freeing nourishing filling feeding raising relaxing, excursions, expansive, colors ideas novelties trips chartreuse, amaranthine, ideas, thoughts, reach, nourish, deep within… She played around, rearranging words.
Then came crafting. “Staring up at the ceiling, reciting words over and over in my head, swapping verbs out, stepping back to gauge the effect.” Neglecting the poem for a while, “returning to it with fresh eyes and ears.” Reading it aloud for rhythm and sound. She also kept in mind that the NYPL was judging on originality, creativity and artistic qualities.
Overall, Leslie finds Twitter poems less intimidating than other forms. “No large blank sheet of paper staring at you.” Since it’s a new form, “you don’t have to be versed in 15th Century Twitter poetry to be taken seriously. You can put it out there.” If people like it, they let you know. Right away. “You can keep trying without feeling bad because no one sends you rejection letters. People can access your poems from a smart phone or computer and even contact you long after you write them.”
Liesl’s “Short” Story
One year Liesl and her husband splurged and bought lovely matching plates but never got around to matching silverware. Pondering the “mismatchedness” of things, she wondered about their future. As she thought about some serious life issues, the sorrow started to flow in. At that moment her husband came booming inside with the dogs, and the kitchen was suddenly full of noise and “this new, mismatched crazy, beautifully rhythmic, full life. John, the dogs, our family and my favorite spoon stirring in the cream of life.”
Our mismatched spoons
stir in the cream
in staccato beats to match
the clickety-clack of dogs in the kitchen.
As Liesl worked on this Twitter poem, “The mismatched spoons,” became “Our mismatched spoons.” Her ear caught the sound of the dogs and that came next. “The spoons weren’t sure what they were doing for a while.” She actually started with milk. She uses almond milk but this wouldn’t do. She was telling a story of chaos and fullness, so cream had to be there. “That word carries so much in our collective. The other words arranged themselves once that fell into place.”
Liesl takes herself to sites that nudge her to practice writing short. There she hones her skill of cutting and rearranging. Recently she worked on a #sixwordstory prompt from @WriterlyTweets. Someone meets a clown. She started with, “The girl fearlessly reached out for his nose,” the idea she wanted. Not short enough, and too dull. She changed “the girl” to “she.” “Fearlessly she reached” took her halfway to six words. Three words left to tell a story. Ah, action. She would beep his nose. A fearless girl might do that! The final six-word story: “Fearlessly she reached, beeping his nose.”
Some Tips From Writers of the Short Form
From our conversations online, Leslie, Liesl and I share some suggestions for you as you write your Twitter poems.
A Twitter poem is a little poem with a big thought. Like any poem, it is about one thing or theme. Stick to it. A small moment, a simple action, a sound, can carry a big story.
Ideas, lines, images, words, stories, come at us all the time. On the subway train, in the shower, on the treadmill, places inconvenient to writing them down at that moment. Keep a list someplace where you can revisit them and choose one when the time is right.
To be generative, to practice paring things down, create opportunities for yourself to write and/or submit lots of short poems. 5-word poems, 10-word poems. Write a Twitter-like poem every day. The more you write the better you get. Try: 14wordsforlove.com; #sixwordstory, prompts from @WriterlyTweets.
When brainstorming your topic, be generative. Words beget words.
Use words that capture an action and tell more of the story: “whispered” instead of “said;” “cream” instead of “milk” (as in Liesl’s poem).
Stay in the present tense to create immediacy and sometimes eliminate characters: stirs instead of stirred.
When trying to tighten or shorten the poem find one word to do the work of two or three. Instead of “the girl,” use “she.” Strip your lines of small words you don’t need: and, that, was, the.
Make your line endings (breaks) strong by using strong nouns and verbs.
Say your poems out loud. Hear them the way readers will, not just the way they sound inside your own head. When something snags or doesn’t sound “right,” change it.
Step away from your draft for a while. Come back to it with fresh eyes and ears. You might be surprised or enchanted. A “just right” word might slip into place. A glitch might relax.
With the right words in the right place, readers can fill in the “story.” Read this by Erel Pilo. Is there anyone who can’t imagine the story?
The title counts toward the 140 character limit. Decide if you need one. Leslie’s is integral to her poem. Liesl wants more characters in the body of her poem.
After the NYPL retweeted one of Leslie’s poems she was contacted by a beloved author with congratulatory messages. The beginning of a rich conversation. Months later, the author tweeted her the link to a poetry contest run by NASA. “Writing,” Leslie says, “doesn’t have to be a solitary affair. I can connect with people. Directly! In real time.”
“The real challenge,” Liesl says, “was going public with my voice.” Since then she’s started a blog and writes whole months of poems-a-day. “Entering contests is a great way to grow!”
We continue our series on outdooreducation with another post from Herb Broda. Now that true spring weather is surely just around the corner, he gives us some ideas on how to encourage students to be more observant of nature around them.
Although change always occurs in nature, the shift from winter to spring is for me one of the greatest shows on earth! From a curricular standpoint, this amazing spectacle of renewal provides a great backdrop for teaching the critical skill of careful observation. The process skill of observation is integral to most content areas, including literacy, science, mathematics, the social sciences and the arts.
Now is a great time to think about how the dramatic change of seasons can be woven into your literacy curriculum. For example, observing the shift from winter to spring can be incorporated into many writing genres. Descriptive and expository writing are the most obvious, but journals and poetry are easily fueled by the changes seen in nature. Even narrative and persuasive writing can be sparked by close observation of changes outside.
Teachers repeatedly mention that a primary goal of outdoor learning is to make children more observant. Improved observation skills transfer outside of the classroom also. One teacher shared how a student burst into his classroom and said, “I saw tracks on my way to school today!” Although the child had probably passed tracks dozens of times before, a lesson about tracks on the schoolyard had made this child more alert even when he wasn’t in school.
Careful observation of seasonal changes is a great introduction to the study of phenology, which Webster defines as “periodic biological phenomena that are correlated with climatic conditions.” Observing changes and the conditions that surround transitions fosters strong observation skills, and also emphasizes the interconnectedness of the natural world. The USA National Phenology Network has an excellent website that includes resources and activities for fostering observation skills through the lens of phenology. I encourage you to take a look at their material.
With the low cost of digital cameras, students can use their observations to create scrapbooks, posters and phenology wheels with pictures that they have taken. By observing a small area closely over time students become amazingly adept at detecting even slight changes. Excitement erupted at one Pennsylvania school when students saw a tiny patch of grass emerge as the winter snow began to melt. In a world dominated by computer imagery and electronic beeps, how refreshing to have students thrilled to see a few blades of grass emerging from under the snow!
In Wisconsin, Georgia Gόmez-Ibáñez helps her students become better observers of nature by creating a “phenology wheel” with her students. Each year she has the students pick a spot where they stand and take a picture each month and arrange the pictures in a circle. She also has another wheel that is divided by month and students keep track of what they notice as seasons change. To guide the observations, she has a checklist that identifies characteristic changes that can be easily spotted in each season, such as certain plants and animals that are evident at various times.
If it’s still snowy in your area, go outside to look for “track stories” after a fresh snowfall. It’s great fun and encourages careful observation, attention to detail and speculation. Tracks after a snowfall can show evidence of animal homes, feeding patterns, and even signs of predator-prey interaction. Wisconsin teacher Matt Tiller takes advantage of the “thaw” that usually occurs in snowy areas, and has students look for the mazes of little tunnels that are uncovered when snow melts in an open field. Matt calls it looking for mouse condominiums. This great sign-of-life activity is based upon a description found in Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac.
Take advantage of the enthusiasm that is sure to erupt as we emerge from a long winter and begin to see the reassuring signs of spring. Getting students to observe nature closely will never be easier or more rewarding!
Cathy and Ruth have developed incredible knowledge of the best ways to teach Number Talks with students of all grade levels. That knowledge is packed into this highly readable book.
—Jo Boaler, from the Foreword to Making Number Talks Matter
Believing that mathematics is mostly about using procedures correctly, many students have learned to focus on getting the right answer, whether or not the process makes sense to them. As a result, they disengage and lose confidence in their reasoning.
In Making Number Talks Matter, veteran math educators Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker show you how to help students take back the authority of their own reasoning through this 15‑minute daily routine. With skillful facilitation, your students will reason mentally with numbers, develop a strong sense of the meaning of quantities and operations, and gain proficiency with mathematical practices.
Teachers who are new to Number Talks will find a solid introduction, guiding principles, and tips on how to set up the routine. And teachers of all experience levels will learn new ways to extend and enhance their practice, with multiple strategies for each of the arithmetic operations; sample problems; examples of discussions and how to record student thinking; and ideas for increasingly challenging problems—including fractions, decimals, and integers.
As your students come to know that they have mathematical ideas worth listening to, as they learn to defend their ways of knowing with sound mathematical arguments, and as they learn the value of listening to one another and building on the ideas of their peers, their view of mathematics will be transformed.
Here is a quick roundup of some recent reviews of Stenhouse titles.
Midwest Book Review found Grammar Matters to be “packed with resources on homophones, mentor texts and more,” placing the book by Lynne Dorfman and Dianne Dougherty on their January Education Shelf as “a ‘must’ for any teacher looking to blend basic grammar instruction with Common Core State Standards and lessons that ‘stick’.”
In January, they reviewed In Defense of Read-Aloud by Steven Layne, “a treatise in the field of literacy education that strongly supports reading aloud to children in grades K-12”, deeming it “highly recommended for professional and college library education shelves.”
After reading Intentional Talk by Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz, Donna Boucher, author of the Math Coach’s Corner blog, found “the vignettes are the true power of the book, because you feel as if you are actually in the classroom observing a master teacher at work.” She adds, “this is a book you will use as well as read. You can’t read a chapter and not have a new strategy to try in the classroom tomorrow!”
Writing coach Jeannine Atkins posts about “writing and stuff” in her blog “Views from a Window Seat”. Her recent review of 59 Reasons to Write by Kate Messner states “the warmth in this one comes both from Kate and the generous and hard-working people she gathers around. Readers will fold over pages or put down the book with a strong sense of yes-we-can”
In her MiddleWeb review, Linda Biondi calls Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary “an easy-to-read, use, and apply vocabulary toolkit that can revolutionize the teaching of vocabulary for all students”
In his blog “Russ on Reading”, Russ Walsh asserts that inReading Wellness, “[Jan Miller] Burkins and [Kim] Yaris cut through all the Common Core standards gobbledy-gook to provide teachers with a clear eyed approach to bringing children to reading by developing both the skill and the will to read”
Sunday, March 15, 2015, for teachers around the world, a day that will live in grace, honor, and pride. Nancie Atwell of Edgecomb, Maine has won the first annual Global Teacher Award of one million dollars in recognition of her lifetime achievement as a classroom teacher. The competition attracted more than 5000 applicants from 107 countries. Ten finalists were flown to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for a conference in recognition of excellence in teaching.
Nancie will donate the entire prize to the school she founded, The Center for Teaching and Learning, in Edgecomb. As I watched the awards ceremony via live streaming on my computer, I was moved by various speakers’ memories of teachers who had been influential, teachers who had encouraged, listened, challenged, supported, and ultimately made a difference in their lives. Just by establishing such an award, which some are calling ‘The Nobel Prize for Teaching,’ the Varkey Foundation is honoring teachers everywhere, acknowledging that their work is profound, long-lasting, vital.
Surely Nancie is the quintessential teacher, the one who has touched not only the lives of thousands of students over the years, but also the lives of countless teachers who have come to the Center for Teaching and Learning as interns, who have heard her speak at conferences or studied with her on Martha’s Vineyard, and who have read her many professional books and articles. Her voice has been loud, clear, and compelling for as long as I can remember.
I first encountered Nancie’s work when I was a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, taking a research course with Donald Graves. “Do I have a book for you,” he said, handing me three manuscript chapters of the first edition of In the Middle. I was an eighth grade English teacher, like Nancie, and when I read about her way of teaching, my heart started to pound, my throat closed, and chills ran up my spine. She wrote about passion, about loving books and poems the way some people love the ocean or the sunrise. She described the vulnerability of trying to write with candor. I knew beyond a doubt I must be in the right profession, if this is what teaching could be. While most teachers I knew used literature anthologies with prescribed questions at the end of each selection, or distributed multiple copies of the same district selected classical novel to every kid in the class, Nancie invited her students to choose their own books, and before long, they fell in love with reading.
Instead of dreary writing prompts asking everyone to write on the same topic, Nancie’s kids ‘sat at the big desk’ and chose what they wanted to write about, both the subject and the genre. Nancie took her kids seriously. Their voices mattered to her. Their lives mattered – their fears, hopes, opinions, passions – all of it became the language arts curriculum. When In the Middle: New Understandings about Writing, Reading, and Learning, came out in 1987, the one with the beautiful pink cover, I was thrilled. She wrote in such concrete detail that I, like legions of others, began to see how I could emulate her.
Nancie’s way of being a teacher shook me to the core. She saw teaching as intellectually rigorous, and told us this was why she loved it so. “When I found myself in the classroom,” she said, “I knew I was home.” She described her own very literate life of reading novels, essays, newspapers, educational journals, research articles, and, most beloved of all, poems. Her reading life informed her teaching, so she decided to set up her classroom to resemble a conversation around her dining room table, each reader encouraged to share reactions and perspectives, the way Nancie and her husband and friends did all the time.
She took her writing seriously too, sharing drafts with her students and showing them how she made decisions as a writer. In this way she reminded me of Donald Murray. Like him, she celebrated discovery in the act of writing, delighted in finding new insights. It was not surprising to learn that her students were embracing writing, entering and winning contests, and using writing in their lives in authentic ways – letters to the editor, poems as gifts to their moms, book and music reviews, advocacy essays – beyond the school walls. This is what I wanted for my students.
Besides learning how to teach from looking at her own reading and writing and from keeping up with research on the art of teaching, Nancie learned from her students. “The biggest lessons I’ve learned as a teacher,” she wrote, “I’ve learned from my kids.” If we paid close enough attention, she told us, the students would show us what they needed. She was the first classroom teacher I knew who did research right in her own classroom. Action research, it came to be called, and it was empowering. If Nancie could do this, then why not us?
When she received the David Russell Award for research at NCTE in 1990, she was characteristically generous, “By giving me this award,” she said, “you are saying to classroom teachers everywhere, your work counts as real research.” Surely on that day every teacher listening sat up a bit taller and felt a bit more determined to listen carefully in the classroom, so as to learn what it was our students needed from us.
She showed generations of teachers that we too could become part of the professional conversation. By taking the details of the craft to heart, she told us it was important to share our own observations and experiences and to be specific. Being a good teacher, she believed, meant knowing reading, writing, and literature, knowing adolescent development, and knowing the specific kids in front of us. Soon other teachers were submitting articles to professional journals and even writing books of our own. She was the mentor we needed, the teacher we were proud to stand beside, shoulder to shoulder, embracing workshop teaching. I thought of her every single day I was in the classroom and every single time I sat at the writing desk. How many authors who write about their teaching to this day would say the same?
In 1990 she decided to open her own school, The Center for Teaching and Learning, to work with other teachers and families to provide excellent education from the earliest days. Now a K-8 school, CTL is a happy place, where poetry and art grace every wall, where special attention has been paid to provide comfortable spaces for reading, writing, doing science experiments, and making music. Nancie and her colleagues welcome teachers from all of the country to stay for extended periods to observe, question, and discuss what happens there every day, taking back plans to reinvigorate their own curricula. With each new book she’s written, Nancie has shared the evolution of her thinking, moving towards more direct instruction and more structure. But her priorities remain clear: student choice, time in class to read and write, and authentic, ongoing response from the more experienced reader and writer, aka THE TEACHER. She shows us again and again, what it means to be literate, what it means to care about kids, what it means to learn.
“The days that make us happy make us wise,” Nancie said in her acceptance remarks, “The ten of us on this stage know this to be true.” Typically gracious, she expressed her admiration for the other nine finalists for the Global Teacher Prize. Looking at their faces, I could tell they share her passion, her energy, and her commitment. Knowing this gives me hope for children everywhere.
Congratulations, Nancie, and thank you for sharing your insight, your experiences, and your convictions. Thank you for all you have done over the decades to challenge us, support us, and lift us up. Thank you for making us better teachers, for reminding us, again and again, this is ‘work that is real.’
We had an amazing time with all of you Wednesday night, chatting on Twitter with Steven Layne about read-aloud. It was clear that there was so much passion and appreciation for the art of read-aloud and for preserving this practice in all classrooms and in all grades. Here are some Tweet highlights, and you can see the — almost — full chat on Storify. It’s definitely worth a browse for all of the great book recommendations and for the warm memories everyone shared about what read-aloud meant for them.
A4: #readaloud is the perfect time to talk about authors craft. Use the opportunity to expose students to future skills, and reteach.
Tune in Wednesday, March 11, at 8 p.m. EST to talk about read aloud with Steven Layne! He will be on Twitter to answer your questions. The chat, hosted by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp), will build on the following questions:
Share some of what you remember about being read aloud to as a kid.
What makes a great read aloud?
How do you know a read aloud is effective?
What makes a read aloud flop?
What are some things you think about as you plan for a read aloud?
Please share some of your favorite books to read aloud.
Follow #readaloud to keep track of the conversation and join in with your own questions! We will raffle off 5 copies of Steve’s new book In Defense of Read-Aloud during the chat. Follow @stenhousepub to win! You can still order the book with code TWEET and receive 20% off plus free shipping!
Prescriptive worksheets can often cheat children out of real thinking and understanding. Read how Tracy Zager encourages her own children to explore and communicate their mathematical thinking through writing—on simple blank paper. And then hop over to her blog to read how she continually makes math a natural, fun, and important part of her family’s conversation.
A Brief Ode to Blank Paper
Maya (7) brought home a folder full of completed math worksheets yesterday, which put me in a funk. First, there was the bugs problem.
I couldn’t decide which part of this problem bothered me most. Was it the ridiculous premise? I mean, come on. Was it that the problem was, yet again, a multiple-choice question? Was it the stubborn insistence on drawing bugs with the wrong number of legs? Was it that students have no room to work, but the publisher took plenty of room for cutesie drawings? Harumph.
As awful as the bugs problem was, the page that really upset me was this one:
Sigh. A few issues:
The strategies are named wrong, and made to look more complicated than they are.
There are better and other ways to solve this problem.
Students are left with 2″ to do math on this entire page, which is barely enough room to do the standard algorithm. There’s no chance they’ll try out one of the other strategies with no space to work.
Once again, we’re turning useful, general computation strategies into prescriptive algorithms. Breaking the numbers up by place value and adding the partial sums becomes: Step 1) Add hundreds…
I’m not the first math teacher to notice that prescriptive worksheets are a problem. Kamii, the CGI group, and others have all written about it. Yesterday, though, I was upset as a parent because Maya has stellar, flexible mental math skills, and her instinct to think is being undermined by this curriculum. I asked her why she’d opted for the standard algorithm on all the problems, and she said, “Those other strategies are too confusing.” I covered up her solution to 597 + 122 and asked her to solve it mentally.
“Well, I’d give 3 to the 597 to make it 600. Then 600 + 122 is 722. I’d take the 3 back, so it’s 719.”
I did the same thing for 209 + 376:
“200 + 300 is 500. 500 + 70 is 570. 9 + 6 is 15. 570 + 15 is 585.”
I pointed to the top of the page and said, “You just used this strategy. You broke the numbers up into place value parts, and then added each part together, starting with the biggest part.”
Her jaw dropped.
And my mind clicked. She has made NO connection between the mental math strategies she uses with fluency and all this junk on the worksheets. The reason? She’s never been given the chance to record her own thinking at school.
I think I’ve decided what one of my bigger problems with this curriculum is: they never use blank paper. They never write 209 + 376 at the top of a big piece of paper and let kids have at it. The kids never get a chance to wrestle with keeping track of their thinking or figure out organizational strategies. All math problems are either on worksheets or educational technology. The kids just don’t write enough.
So now I know what to do with Maya at home. We’re going to spend some time with blank paper, where she has to work out how to write down what she does in her head. She needs to make mistakes, lose track, not be able to follow her own thinking, and then ultimately figure out ways that make sense. She needs to be able to write down her thinking so that she and her mathematical community can follow it. I’m on it.
Two hours later, after dinner, Daphne (5) got us started. Our dining room chairs have decorative nailheads, and the kids are forever running their fingers over them and counting them. Daphne said, “Someday, I’m going to get out a math journal and count all these nailheads and write it down so I know how many there are.” Before I knew it, she was off! Someday turned out to be right then. Both kids got in the game.
Daphne was incredibly excited to count AND write down her results. Check them out:
If you want to understand her notation, take a peek at the short videos:
The power of blank paper, baby.
Perhaps inspired by all of this discussion and my venting, Maya asked if she could get a piece of blank paper when she did her homework, which is truly a counter-cultural act with this curriculum. “Of course!” I nearly sang.
She created this number line and used it to solve the final problem.
When I asked her about it, I pointed out that she didn’t just answer the question by saying, “The red one.” She wrote about the problem more generally: “I used a number line and found that anything less than 350 would fit and 270 is less so red paint is less than 350!”
She said, “Well, when I wrote it myself I thought about it more.”