Blogstitute 2016: Wide Awake to Stories

June 14th, 2016

We are excited to kick off #blogstitute16 with a post by Katie Egan Cunningham, author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning. What will you do this summer to be open and awake to the stories around you? Katie shares her ideas. Tweet about her post using #blogstitute16 or leave a comment for a chance to win 10 brand new Stenhouse books!



Wide Awake to Stories
Katie Egan Cunningham

Recently I was driving in the car with my family when my seven-year-old asked us to turn up the radio. The song “Seven Years” by Lukas Graham was playing. As a seven-year-old the lyrics likely caught his attention when he heard his own age affirmed as something important. After all, being seven is really important. We all listened more closely, drawn in by the singer’s voice, the resounding beat, and the urgent message of the song to “Remember life, and then your life becomes a better one.” The song describes a life story told in stages that include friendship, family, and dreams. The word lonely is repeated over and over across the verses as a constant presence at every life stage. Perhaps Graham is reminding us that part of what binds us as humans is that we are forever seeking to belong—no matter who we are or where we’re from. As the song wound down, Jack declared a bit mournfully that the song was really sad but that he still liked it. I remain grateful that the song gave him the opportunity to really feel something that great songs, works of art, poetry, and literature all offer us.

This moment of soul searching and shared wisdom driving down the parkway was immediately followed up by a lighthearted family singalong to DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean.” I dare you to listen to that song and not loudly join in on the chorus of “ah ya ya ya ya ya.” It’s the catchiest song of the season and justly so; it’s the counter-story to Graham’s song. Rather than engage in deep questions about the meaning of life, sometimes we have to hope for the ridiculous, the unusual—cake by the ocean, perhaps.

This summer, I will attend literacy conferences and I plan on digging into a pile of books and articles to reenergize my literacy life and be inspired by the work and wisdom of others. Yet I also think we fuel our literacy souls, especially in the summer, by attending to the stories that surround us every day in all of their forms, ranging from the deep to the somewhat absurd. To be wide awake to stories may be the best form of self-development we can give ourselves. This summer, I want to notice what catches my eyes, ears, and attention. I want to encourage my children to do the same—to be wide awake. Most of all, I want us to share those noticings with one another as a family.

How do we do that for ourselves?

Be wide-awake to the stories you see. Sit in the grass. Take notice of the sun at dusk. Watch children invent games and fictional worlds on the playground. Observe the life of city streets, full of new energy after a long winter and cool spring. Notice your friends’ facial expressions as they tell stories at barbecues and summer gatherings.

Be wide awake to the stories you hear. Tune in to song lyrics and sounds that make you feel something—allow yourself the chance to feel something strongly even if it evokes buried emotions or makes you laugh out loud in a crowd of people. Listen to the night song of crickets, frogs, and owls in the country. Hear the hum of the subway beneath the street grates. Be inspired by the voices of others through outlets like Storycorps. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while and decide to listen more than speak.

Be wide awake to the stories that grab your attention. View the summer film that makes you gasp or well up or hang on the edge of your seat. Notice the media post that makes you think more deeply or that leaves you full of questions. Read blog entries that urge readers not only to notice but to take action.

Be willing to dig up stories worthy of your time and attention. Take the time this summer to scroll through old family photos and postcards. Who are those people? What did they care about? What are the family stories to be shared that you don’t know yet? Who should you ask about those stories now, because there is no better time? Start a summer journal as a place to reflect on your past, present, and future. My favorite is the Five-Minute Journal for its simplicity and its consistent approach to self-reflection. Find out things about yourself and your loved ones you never knew before.

Finally, create new stories. Savor the moment. Capture it or decide not to. Share your stories with the people you love. Most of all, be wide awake, open, and willing to attend to the stories around you. Then consider how to tap into the power of stories in your classroom next year. You may find yourself more wide awake to your students and their stories when you take the time this summer to notice the stories in your own life. It will be time well spent.

Entry Filed under: Blogstitute

24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mary Behrenwald  |  June 14th, 2016 at 8:36 am

    What a great inspirational reminder to listen to and interact with those around us this summer…I teach kindergarten, and I always need a reminder to take time and listen to the stories of my young learners. Katie Cunningham’s blog was a good “kick-off” to my summer!

  • 2. Diane Anderson  |  June 14th, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Looking for and finding, then writing and sharing our stories enriches our lives.

  • 3. Xineiraly Villalongo  |  June 14th, 2016 at 9:34 am

    Wow! Thanks! Great giveaway!

  • 4. Heather Hollands  |  June 14th, 2016 at 9:41 am

    I definitely want to spend the summer paying attention to the stories in my life and finding new ways to draw stories out of students during the school year. I would welcome some new summer reading to prepare for the upcoming year!

  • 5. Jan Burkins  |  June 14th, 2016 at 11:28 am

    Katie, you’ve managed to pull of both beautiful and substantive in your post. What an eloquent kick-off for the 2016 blogstitute! Thank you for the early-summer inspiration.

  • 6. Shari Daniels  |  June 14th, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    This is a lovely post – especially the detail in the drive with your son and how a song can influence our lives. Summer is definitely the time to be present to to the world around us and fill our notebooks with stories. Along with jotting those stories down, I plan on art journaling them into my notebooks as well. Hopping around the road and taking photos are a wonderful source of inspiration.

  • 7. Sherry Jordan  |  June 14th, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    I loved this refreshing post focused on being aware and tuned in to all of the stories being told around me. I love the idea of listening to imaginative stories of kids on the playground…I will be there many times this summer and will soak in many new seeds for stories to share in my writing with students this coming school year!!!

  • 8. PaulaBourque  |  June 14th, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Katie, This is such a great blog to kick off the summer. I strive to be present, to be in tune, to be alive in the moment and your words resonate so personally! Summer is the perfect time to awaken our attention to the stories around us because they are often so festive or so enjoyable. I am sharing this with everyone I know! I hope we can connect at ILA!

  • 9. Stacey Shubitz  |  June 14th, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    I think being wide-awake to the stories you see is some of the best advice you can give an adult or a child. IMHO, no one needs story starters or prompts when they live a wide-awake life.

  • 10. Lisa Keeler  |  June 14th, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    These are great reminders for all of us to stay alert to the stories all around us.

  • 11. Vicki Blalock  |  June 14th, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    I will be starting my summer vacation next week and plan on catching up on all the great books that I have collected this past year. After reading your post, I am reminded of the stories around us waiting to be told. An afternoon in my backyard, lunch with my grandma and staying up all night with my girls. These memories are the ones new stories will be created from.

  • 12. LeAnn Carpenter  |  June 15th, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Stories slip past us if we don’t write them down. I need to write more of my stories. Thanks for the link to Five Minute Journal.

  • 13. Tracy Mailloux  |  June 19th, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    Beautiful reminder to stop and really take in what is going on around us. Love the idea of the Five Minute Journal, what a nice way to reflect and set goals.

  • 14. Autumn Vavoso  |  June 20th, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    Katie, what an inspiring way to remind us to be present. Yesterday we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, something we have done as a family many times. Your reminder to be awake to the stories we see sparked a memorable conversation. We looked up at the expansive towers and shared our memories of the first time we crossed this bridge seven years ago. Our family will remember this trip over the bridge yesterday because of the stories we shared. I’m excited to continue my summer noticing stories with my family and enjoying every moment together. What a great way to kick off vacation. I think that this will also be the perfect way to start the school year and set the tone for my students; the importance of noticing our world and our stories,

  • 15. Lisa Maucione  |  June 21st, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    It is so easy to go through the summer (or life, for that matter) without noticing the important stories. I think this is a good reminder to slow down and take the time to listen.

  • 16. Elisa Waingort  |  June 23rd, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Thank you for this post. I am inspired by your suggestions. It’s a great lead up to #TeachersWrite16 starting at the beginning of July.

  • 17. Julie O'Neill  |  June 23rd, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Hi Katie! Your post is so refreshing In the midst of angry politics, data driven teaching, and emphasis on getting kids ready for what’s next. Mindfulness, noticing, and connecting through stories matter most.

  • 18. Christie  |  June 28th, 2016 at 5:49 am

    Katie — Lovely, subtly powerful post. I’ve only been out of school for one week, but snippets of summer have been rushing through my consciousness — screen doors slamming, mosquitos buzzing in my ear, the still of the early morning, the gradual building of human voice from inside homes as the morning progresses, birds squabbling over perches at the feeder. Perhaps they are poetry? Stories to be told. Worth noting in a journal somewhere, and I’ve never been a journal keeper. Ideas can come from anywhere at anytime. We just have to notice them.

  • 19. Pamela Martin  |  June 29th, 2016 at 7:11 am

    This a great reminder that will not only help us as teachers, but is also an an encouragement to live Our lives more fully. I do think that stories are the heart of learning, across all curriculums.

  • 20. Shelly Surridge  |  June 29th, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    In reflecting on your post I was reminded of at least stories I could write about just today. Thanks for the inspiration!!

  • 21. Diane Griggs  |  June 29th, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    My classroom teacher neighbor gave me a tiny yellow notebook to make note of story ideas.Having the right tool handy has let me capture 3 ideas that might have slipped away. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • 22. Tom GIlbert  |  June 29th, 2016 at 10:21 pm


    Very insightful and good tips. I am a big believer in the power of story, both for our personal and family history, but also because we learn best through storytelling. It is one of the reasons I love to read to my 5th grade students, but I also know setting up lessons with an intriguing storyline captures their attention.

    Thanks for article and suggestions!

  • 23. Susan Kennedy  |  June 30th, 2016 at 6:00 am

    I was drawn late to this post by a recommendation to read, Story. What a wonderful message. It’s my summer goal to work on stories and narrative writing after devoting so much of my energy to information writing over the past few years. I needed a push to help me connect to stores around me.

  • 24. Beth Wilson  |  July 22nd, 2016 at 6:31 am

    I am changing my reading and writing next year and Craft Moves is a perfect fit for what I want to do.

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