Posts filed under 'Writing'
We are excited to again celebrate National Poetry Month with the help of poet Shirley McPhillips, author of Poem Central. She introduces us to “word sketches” as a way of slowing down, noticing details, finding the wonder if everyday details. She offers some ideas for trying out word sketches in the classroom.
A Sketch in Time: Poets Painting the Moment
By Shirley McPhillips
The poet, in the novelty of his images, is always the origin of language.
—Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
One morning this fall, I found myself walking in circles—this time by design. A teen’s Boy Scout project resulted in fashioning a labyrinth on the lush green lawn of his church. A labyrinth—not a maze intended to confuse, but a circular pathway for thoughtful or meditative walking, intended to soothe and heal. At first it was hard to quiet my mind. Walking the labyrinth over time, however, my feet found a rhythm. My mind centered as if following a heartbeat.
Yet still, the rattling times we live in can knock attention, rapid fire, from one matter to the next. Even nature seems to join in with erratic weather patterns—disorienting record heat in February followed by epic arctic blasts. But the lesson of the labyrinth becomes a touchstone: allow the quiet voice inside you to speak; put your attention to the mysteries of a moment, find the surprise, feel the wonder.
Writing “word sketches” is one way teacher-writers and their students can practice finding the wonder in moments of their daily lives. Anyone can train the eye by frequent sketching—slowing the gaze to follow the lines of an object. A simple sketch a day (a coffee cup, a candle, a pear, a chair), even done quickly, can result over time in “seeing” of a different kind—noticing the drama of light and dark, the intricacy of detail and design, the subtle vigor of white space. Writing short word sketches holds the same promise.
The sophistication of the word sketches will, of course, depend upon the experience of the writers and will vary one from another. But, we can start with paying attention: jotting in our notebooks, making lists of what we see—on a walk to school, driving to work, looking out the window.
-a wet street
-an old plate
As we go, we find our “noticings” becoming more particular and nuanced, especially if we share them, chart them, join others in finding things intriguing.
Next, we’ll want to get some language around what we notice. What else? Where? Doing what? Make a picture.
-the wet street streaked with colors
-a sparrow peeking out of a drainpipe
-two white chairs at the beach
-a plate with cracks in it
Zoom in closer. Enter the moment as if it were a painting. Look around with all your senses. Find the uniqueness. Get out the paints. Don’t be afraid to find unusual words to paint with.
Jack pictures himself walking along a wet side street in his boots. Colors from the buildings are reflected in the rain. His elaborated sketch has the tone and brevity of haiku.
On a narrow street
rain paints a watercolor—
boots brush a slick design.
Shuyi imagines the sparrow working tirelessly to make a home in such an ignoble place. We know, without any mention of a nest. A true poet.
has built its palace
in a drainpipe.
Mr. Vitturi writes a pure image. Then, like Shuyi, pushes himself to imagine something surprising.
Two white chairs, sunwashed,
sit side by side at the beachfront—
a seat for seagulls.
Sometimes word sketches can be the start of a longer image. Or they can find their way into an elaborated poem. Often, looking back through my notebook, I find lines that seem right in a new poem. Lila pushes past the “cracked plate” observation to find the heart of a longer poem based on a personal story. She sticks very close to the image, revealing “the poem within the poem.” We can see how her practice with observation and detail, her sense of image, sticks with her as she composes “The Cracked Plate.”
Afternoon tea, with tea things spread out
on a lace scarf she made
when she was an English girl,
thin now like the skin of her hands,
lifting the delicate pot to pour.
We sit and talk about different things,
like the cookies on the cracked plate
with the castle scene and the gold rim,
some of this and some of that.
The way we lift our cups and our cookies
to our lips. The way she says, “Do have another,
my dear,” lifting up the cracked plate that holds
so much of what we love.
April 4th, 2017
The Tenth Annual Slice of Life Challenge kicks of March 1 and in this guest blog post Stacey Shubitz, cofounder of the Two Writing Teachers website, argues that to become an effective writing teacher, teachers need to be writers themselves. Stacey is the author of Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts.
Empower your teaching by being a teacher-writer
My daughter is adjusting to full-day kindergarten this year. Like many kids her age, she is exhausted when she comes home. As a result, we pulled her out of ballet and tap classes—she wanted to chill after a seven-and-a-half-hour school day rather than attend dance classes.
My husband and I searched for a Sunday afternoon activity because we wanted her to have an extracurricular interest. A friend suggested aerial arts class. The idea of my daughter hanging upside down and swinging from a piece of fabric scared me. The first thing I did was check the instructor’s qualifications. Upon researching, I learned the instructor had been performing and teaching aerial arts for nearly a decade. I wasn’t convinced I’d keep our daughter enrolled past the trial class, but the teacher’s experience was enough to let my daughter try it.
Once we arrived at the trial course, the teacher demonstrated everything she wanted the children to do before they did it. She talked about what might be challenging. She spotted the kids as they tried different poses in the fabric. She repositioned their hands, supported their bodies (when necessary), and encouraged them with supportive words. As a result of her expertise as an aerial artist and a teacher, I enrolled my daughter in weekly classes.
Just as teachers of aerials need to be proficient aerial artists, teachers who lead writing workshops should be writers themselves. I never would have enrolled my daughter in the aerials class if the instructor wasn’t a proficient aerial artist herself. Similarly, I believe writing regularly plays a role in becoming an exemplary writing teacher.
If you want to be the best teacher of writing you can possibly be, there are a few things you must do: read high-quality professional books, attend professional development about writing, surround yourself with colleagues who will study student writing alongside you, and do a lot of your own writing. If you’re not sure how to get started with your own writing, please join my colleagues and me for the 10th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge on Two Writing Teachers.
The Slice of Life Story Challenge began on Two Writing Teachers in 2008. The online challenge’s mission is to support teachers who want to develop and sustain a daily writing habit. Over the years, the challenge has created a community of teacher-writers who are better able to support the students they serve in writing workshops. Teachers are invited to write a slice of life story—an anecdotal piece of writing about a small part of one’s day—on their own blogs and then share the link to their story on our blog. Each person who leaves a link to his or her own blog visits at least three other people’s blogs to comment on their slice-of-life writing.
I believe being a writer is one of the biggest gifts you can give to your students. Being a teacher-writer means you can confer with your students and feel a special kind of camaraderie. Being a teacher-writer means you understand the struggles and frustrations as well as the triumphs and the beauty. Being a teacher-writer means you will transform your students’ lives because you believe in the power of words. It is my hope that all children who take part in writing workshops will have teacher-writers.
I hope you’ll join us for the 10th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge this March. We are a welcoming community of teacher-writers—at varying points in our careers—who come together to share blog posts about the ordinary moments in our lives. Click here to find out how to join our community of writers.
Stacey Shubitz is an independent literacy consultant, an adjunct professor, and a former elementary school teacher. She’s the author of Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts and the coauthor of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. She blogs at Two Writing Teachers and can be found on Twitter @sshubitz.
February 15th, 2017
Today’s guest post by Vicki Meigs-Kahlenberg might sound a bit ambitious — even crazy: write an entire novel with your students during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). But Vicki, author of the new book The Author’s Apprentice, has some practical advice as you gear up for this challenging, rewarding, and possibly life-changing writing exercise with your students. Good luck and let us know how it’s going in your classroom!
Get your students writing for NaNoWriMo
October is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the sweater-weather, the changing leaves, and the pumpkin spice everything. But my absolute favorite thing about this time of year is gearing up for NaNoWriMo! During National Novel Writing Month teachers, students and folks from around the globe take part in the challenge to write an entire novel in the thirty days of November. It sounds crazy for anyone, so why on earth would you ever attempt to write novels with a class of heterogeneously grouped students who don’t even particularly care for writing in school at all?
Because it’s magical.
Much like the changing leaves, exploding with vibrant colors, so too will your students’ attitudes and efforts in writing change and explode with possibilities that even they had never imagined. I have been a middle school teacher for more than 20 years, and I can honestly say that nothing compares to writing novels together as a class. It is arguably the single most impactful academic experience that a student can share with his classmates. It builds confidence and motivation for students (in writing and in other areas of life), it reinforces what we are already teaching and makes it meaningful to our students, and it helps them to feel like they are a part of something that matters for real out in the world.
Here are a few tips for a successful dip into Lake NaNo:
- Integrate it into your existing curriculum to give authenticity, meaning and purpose to what you already do in your classroom.
Participating in NaNoWriMo presents obvious benefits for our students by connecting the writing work that authors do in the real world with the writing work that we do within our classrooms. It provides validation and a wonderfully authentic opportunity for students to apply the literary elements you are already teaching such as characterization, plot, setting, and conflict in their own writing. And they get to demonstrate their knowledge of literary devices such as flashback, symbolism, imagery, and irony throughout the month in the same way that real authors do.
Additionally, something unexpected occurs inside every student who takes part in this ridiculous challenge. After writing their novels, students will never read another story or novel without knowing the work that went into developing each character and his or her actions. They will no longer casually breeze by vivid details, deliberate word choices, or imbedded symbols. Learning the skills in the reading portion of the curriculum, and then fearlessly crafting and applying them in their own writing makes an impression. This synthesis of knowledge bridges the gap between reading and writing and brings new meaning and a heightened awareness into their everyday reading and writing lives.
- Write with your students.
C’mon, admit it. If you teach English or language arts, you know that somewhere deep down inside you have this dream of writing “The Great American Novel” one day. Carpe this Diem. If you truly want to make an impact with your students, you can’t just teach novel writing; you have to get in there and get your hands on that keyboard and experience novel writing side-by-side with your students. You have a writer’s voice. And the world needs to hear it.
- Build a true community of writers within the classroom.
Out in the real world, writing communities serve to hold its members accountable, to provide support and encouragement when needed, and to offer feedback at all steps in the writing process. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our students could come to expect this same kind of support system within our classrooms? Now they can at www.ywp.NaNoWriMo.org . Here, teachers can create a virtual classroom so that everyone can stay connected whether they are writing at school or at home. Teachers can post announcements, assignments, and even writing challenges (such as: “Find a way to include green Jello into your next scene. Go!”) to keep everyone excited and on their toes. Many of my students will also ask for support and feedback directly in the message feed. Sometimes it’s to help them move past writer’s block, sometimes it’s to test out a line or two for audience feedback, and sometimes it’s to help their characters make tough decisions. It is so comforting to know that even when we are writing on our own at home, we are never alone. And that makes all of the difference.
- Build a true community of writers out in the community.
You already know you are crazy for taking on this insane challenge with your classroom, so why not spread the word out there in your community? I’m serious; share with your community what you are setting out to accomplish for the month, and get them to join you in your efforts. Contact your local newspaper and news station to see if they’d be interested in reporting this story of your class taking on insurmountable odds to write novels in 30 days! Share your idea with local businesses and see if they’d be willing to donate goods or gift certificates for the students who meet their word count goals. (Our local ice cream parlor gave us free ice cream cone certificates as awards!) Host “write-outs” around town for your students to get together and write in the evenings or on the weekends in coffee shops, book stores, and even the mall food court! Don’t be shy. The more people see you and hear about what you are doing with your class, the more the excitement builds. No doubt that everyone you talk to will be amazed by your enthusiasm and dedication to your students.
- Celebrate a job well-done.
Participating in National Novel Writing Month shows our students that we believe in them, even when they think that what we are asking is impossible. Novel writing is both messy and empowering. Through the process, students develop writing fluency and stamina, and the ability to produce higher-quality on-demand writing. And that is worth celebrating.
October 19th, 2016
Kristin and Jennifer have a deeply rooted personal philosophy that children don’t have to fall into the categories of either “good writers” or “not‑so‑good writers.” With their approachable and down-to-earth style, they provide the specific ideas and strategies to help us become more confident and successful when conferring with writers.
—Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, The 2 Sisters
If you’ve ever sat down to confer with a child and felt at a loss for what to say or how to help move him or her forward as a writer, this book is for you. If you are a strong teacher of writing but are not seeing results from your students, this book is for you.
Authors Kristin Ackerman and Jennifer McDonough have been teaching writing for several years and know that conferring can be a murky and messy process—perhaps the hardest component of writing instruction. Conferring with Young Writers is based on what Kristin and Jen call the “three Fs”: frequency, focus, and follow‑up. They’ve created a classroom management system that offers routine and structure for giving the most effective feedback in a writing conference.
This book will help writing teachers—and their students—learn to break down and utilize the qualities that enable good writing: elaboration, voice, structure, conventions, and focus.
Preview the book online in its entirety!
August 31st, 2016
What are you working on this summer? During the school year, it’s easy to get bogged down in our day-to-day to-do lists. Big ideas, big projects languish in desk drawers for months — maybe forever. In this guest post, author Dave Somoza shares how a summer writing institute helped him focus on his big ideas, connect with like-minded colleagues, and helped him write a professional development book, Writing to Explore.
How a Summer Writing Institute Inspired a Book for Teachers
By Dave Somoza
It was a crazy time in my life. I had two small kids at home, I had recently started a new teaching job, and I was returning to school at night to complete my master’s degree. I was talking with my graduate advisor on a spring afternoon when I asked about class opportunities for the summer. I told him how much I loved teaching writing and how I’d wanted to find a way to steer my classes in that direction. He jumped up and grabbed a flyer from his secretary’s desk. He told me excitedly about a summer writing institute that I could still join, which would allow me to write about what I was discovering in my teaching, meet with many other enthusiastic teachers, and become part of a writing community. Oh, and I’d receive graduate credits too! It sounded perfect. When I told my friends about it, they thought I was crazy—why would you go to class in the summer to meet with other teachers and write? It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made, for my teaching and for myself. And it led to a book on writing for teachers, something I never thought I’d do.
Around that time my friend and author/college professor Pete Lourie visited often—his daughter was attending college in the town where I lived. We would get together for coffee and talk for hours about writing and teaching, and the more we talked the more we found we had in common. One morning Pete said, “Dave, we have to write a book together!” I remember laughing and explaining that I wasn’t a writer and never would be. But that idea came up again when I started the summer writing institute. I was spending time with incredible teachers from around the area who were all so passionate about writing and had so much to write about. I began to focus on how I teach writing and on the beautiful ideas that the kids were coming up with in my classes. So I wrote—not a lot, just some small chunks—bits of ideas that seemed to explain my thinking. Later, I would compile these bits into larger sections and eventually even chapters. But it was sitting with this group of dedicated teachers at the institute and listening to their ideas about teaching and writing that inspired me. At first it was just fun to get a few of these ideas, which had long been floating around in my head, down on paper. Eventually I decided that maybe Pete was right; maybe we could actually write a book together in two voices—the teacher and the professional writer.
Now when I think back on the summer institute and why it worked so well, I realize that teachers—all teachers—have so many great ideas, big ideas, and teaching philosophies. But the way that we work often forces us to focus on the small details, the to-do list of insignificant items we have to complete in order to make it through the day: call John’s mom about upcoming IEP meeting, meet with Sarah at recess to go over subtracting mixed numerals, e-mail colleagues to confirm field trip, eat lunch while checking e-mail, pee. It’s crazy how busy we get. It’s an insane job, and it’s the hectic schedule that tends to suppress our best ideas. Yet all of these great ideas are mulling around just behind the to-do list. Often it’s not until we put ourselves in a new situation, purposely, with really interesting people that our best ideas come to the surface. Sometimes, if we take the time to sit alone and think and write, these ideas can blossom.
A summer writing institute is exactly that kind of place. When mine started I walked in slowly, feeling a bit like an imposter for even being there. Who was I kidding? I wasn’t a writer, like all the others. I was just there for the credits. The room filled up, and I imagined that the other attendees were all brilliant teachers who knew exactly what they were there to do: hone their skills. I started thinking this may have been a bad idea. But a cool thing happened that first day. Our instructors, who were wonderful and bright and down-to-earth people, were able to somehow draw us all out of our selves. They started group discussions about the teaching of writing, which we could all relate to, and pretty soon all of those ideas and philosophies that we had about teaching and learning and living and writing began to bubble up and flow out of us. Then we broke into small working groups, which was another great idea. Here we talked more privately and more openly about ourselves, about our work, just getting to know one another. I learned that we were all in the same boat, trying to figure out what we hoped to get out of this experience.
It’s been almost ten years now, and I still remember every member of that group. We met every day, bounced ideas around, and shared our writing, which we were all self-conscious about at first. Every day we also had time to ourselves to think and write alone, knowing that the next morning we’d be back together and we’d need to have something to share. The range of topics our group wrote about was beautifully varied, from personal narratives about childhood experiences to more philosophical ideas about life and learning. I focused on how I teach writing. Between the talks about writing we shared ideas about teaching—things that had worked and things that hadn’t. I realized something else while I was there: teachers are so open. They want to share ideas, and they want to listen and learn from others. It’s such a non-competitive field where we can all imagine ourselves in the other’s place and can work together to help one another. By the end of the summer, our group had a powerful connection. By sharing ideas that were personal and professional, we had opened up to one another in a way that usually takes years between friends, and here we had done it in weeks between strangers. I’ll never forget those teachers, and I’m so grateful to have joined in.
After the institute, I was on fire. I now had a great start on my writing, and the ideas just kept flowing. I wanted to write each day, which I often did before work—just a bit at a time, one idea, one lesson, one student’s writing that had inspired me. Pete and I talked almost daily, and he was working like mad too, describing what his life was like as an adventure writer who travels the world turning his detailed journals into published books. We e-mailed ideas back and forth, edited each other’s writing, and inspired each other to continue. This was collaboration, too, somewhat similar to the group work at the institute. When we felt we had a clear idea of where we wanted to go, we started looking for a publisher.
Our book, Writing to Explore, is written in two voices and talks about the writing projects we’ve done with our students, how students have responded over the years, how teachers can incorporate research and technology into the writing process, and how adventure writing can become a vehicle for exploration in both fiction and nonfiction writing. We both still teach and write, but we also travel to conferences and summer institutes across the country, talking to teachers about writing. It has been an incredible ride!
As summer arrives, some of you may be attending summer writing institutes. I’m sure you’ll have a great experience too. Sometimes summer institutes don’t fill up right away, so there may still be time to get into one. And if you feel passionate about an idea that you’re doing with your students and have considered writing a book, reach out to Stenhouse.
June 22nd, 2016
If you want to help your students improve the quality of their writing—and who doesn’t?—you’ll find Craft Moves a must-have resource.
In Craft Moves, Stacey Shubitz, cofounder of the Two Writing Teachers website, does the heavy lifting of choosing mentor texts and mining them for craft lessons you want your students to learn.
Using 20 recently published picture books, she creates more than 180 lessons to teach various craft moves that will help your students become better writers.
Each of the lessons in the book includes a publisher’s summary, a rationale or explanation of the craft move demonstrated in the book, and a procedure that takes teachers and students back into the mentor text to deepen their understanding of the selected craft move. A step-by-step guide demonstrates how to analyze a picture book for multiple craft moves.
Stacey discusses picture books as teaching tools and offers ways to integrate them into your curriculum and classroom discussions. She also shares routines and classroom procedures to help students focus on their writing during the independent portion of writing workshop and helps teachers prepare for small-group instruction.
Preview the book online now!
June 1st, 2016
Poet and author Shirley McPhillips is back today with a post on how to harvest students’ interest around a specific topic so that it opens up writing possibilities. For more tips on poetry in the classroom, head over to the Stenhouse website to preview Shirley’s book Poem Central.
All I Want to Write About is ——: Poems Around a Theme
By Shirley McPhillips
What to do about Jerome. “All he wants to do is write about dogs.” Mandy’s a head-scratcher. “She draws stars and spaceships all over everything.” Lawrence is exasperating sometimes. “He’s been scribbling for two months with one topic to show for it. Basketball.”
I read somewhere that writers have only one or two seminal themes in their lives. That everything they write comes out of those. I have no data but I think that’s probably true for many writers. The ideas, situations, experiences, beliefs that infuse and fuel what we think, what we do.
So why not share this notion with Jerome and Mandy and Lawrence? That it’s okay, even grand, to pull different types of writing out of the same writing well. Get them making a collection around a theme. Many poets do.
I’ve given Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs to so many friends for one dog reason or another over the past couple of years. For these folks, one dog poem is not enough. It’s about that special human-canine relationship. It’s also sharing what that relationship reveals about the meaning of our own lives. If I could locate Jerome, I’d put a copy of Dog Songs in the mail.
A few years ago, Tess Gallagher wrote a serious, playful, sassy book called Portable Kisses. “There are as many nuances and inflections for kisses as there are lips to kiss,” she said.
Swirl by Swirl, Joyce Sidman’s nonfiction poems celebrate the elegance and usefulness of spiral shapes in the natural world and across galaxies. Mandy could have used this for inspiration.
Lawrence’s passion for basketball might have been greatly validated as a force for writing if he could have read the 2015 Newbery Medal Winner: The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. In this coming-of-age novel in verse, we come to know something of the lives of two brothers, both on and off the court. Also, imagine Lawrence being inspired by another sports enthusiast, poet and anthologist Paul B. Janeczko. That Sweet Diamond, a collection of his own baseball poems, shows all the magic, grace and grit of the game from “Prayer for the Umpires” to “How to Spit.”
As we’ve said, collecting around a theme of one’s own poems is an instructive and rewarding project. So is making an anthology around a theme of other poets’ work.* Imagine Jerome getting to read lots of dog poems by other poets. And him, as editor, deciding what poems he would include in this collection. Why this poem? Why would I put these poems together in a collection? Do they fit together in some way? Do I want a variety of style? Length? Tone? In what order will I arrange them? What’s a good poem to begin? To end? What title will reflect this collection as a whole?
Recently, I was asked to submit a poem to a future anthology called Amore: Love Poems being edited by Johnny M. Tucker, Jr. Such an engaging project for me to peruse some of my poems asking: Is this a love poem? What makes this a love poem? Can love lost, or love denied, be considered a love poem? Can it be a love poem without reference to a person? Looking through the lens of “love,” poems took on new meaning. A couple were obviously love poems from the title on—“Love, Off Guard.” Others, like “Selfies of Autumn,” may not be as obvious to a reader until the epigram is considered and the story beneath the text blooms.
This poem appears in a new book, Acrylic Angel of Fate (2016, Finishing Line Press, KY).
Selfies of Autumn
(for Barbara Caldwell)
The day drips with the elixir
of autumn—a dark honey
of orange, a sadness of red,
the steadfastness of green.
A rainpool of birds slap
the summer’s heat from their wings;
beaks strip their feathers as if
to neaten up for a brave new day.
In the garden, I pose with the ghosts
of spring peonies. I can still breathe
their ambrosia heavy as wine, still feel
their heads lean.
Along the woodpath, squirrels
tear and leap, leap and tear, delirious
with an onset of primal intuition.
Above them the bittersweet vine,
blood-burned, still wants to reach,
A windburst stirs the leaves
to the gripping point. One golden
soul, all lightness and fluttering heart,
twists and soars.
But time just won’t, I think,
allow for drift. I’ll snap a picture
for eternity, I say. You and me
against the starry cold.
(Turn to p. 278 of Shirl’s book Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers for a list called “Gathering of Flowers: Anthologies of Poetry.”)
April 19th, 2016
We are happy to celebrate National Poetry Month with Stenhouse’s resident poet and author, Shirley McPhillips. In this guest post, Shirl talks about finding connections between paintings and poems, about creating “art from art.” At the end of her post, be sure to look at her paintings and try your hand at writing a few lines inspired by the images. Share it in the comments section for a chance to win a copy of Shirley’s book, Poem Central.
A picture and a poem: An intimate connection
By Shirley McPhillips
I’m growing more and more to believe that our fundamental task as human beings is to seek out connections—to exercise our imaginations.
—Katherine Paterson, The Spying Heart
It’s all about making connections, both in learning and in life. When objects and activities of the outside world meet an inner world of consciousness and imagination, there is a chance for new perspective, new possibility. In this exchange we develop a sense of self, an anticipation of finding new ideas.
Recently my friend Molly and I had the opportunity to set up an exhibit of our art work for a month in a local library: watercolor, acrylic, found-wood sculptures. Being poets as well, we wanted viewers to find connections between the visual and the word.
We mounted some of our original poems along with one or two established and student poems and placed them among the paintings. The content of poem and art may have suggested a direct alliance—e.g., “Birdhouse on the Old Outhouse” next to a watercolor of that scene. Or a loose connection like a sound poem next to the abstract “Rooster Ruckus.” Or a random juxtaposition with no obvious connection. Better, we thought, for reaching. Or head scratching.
Poems and art together on display
As an added opportunity to interact with the art work, we set up a “Poet’s Corner.” A place for viewers to invite the muse. To sit in a quiet place, contemplate what they were observing and reading and to compose a short poem of their own. They could write off things around them in their lives, or think off a mounted poem or work of art in the exhibit. If the muse was busy right then, folks could compose at home and put the poem in the book later.
It was important for us to make the “corner” writer-friendly:
-A framed invitation to write, with a quote from Seamus Heaney:
“Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests. / I’ll dig with it;
–a small bistro table;
-a Tibetan bench:
-a blue, glass pen holder for pencils (If any disappeared, we imagined they were greatly needed elsewhere, and just replaced them.);
-various types of Post-It notes and paper;
And most importantly, an elegant, flat-lying, “guest book” for poems and art with a photo of a George Bellows painting we mounted on front.
As the book opens, Jack’s hand-printed poem graces page one. He writes of a painting by Eli Rosenthal. His poem encourages those who come after, eliminating “first page shock.”
On Poetry Night, visitors browsed the exhibit, chatted with one another about the art, the poems (and the “nuance” of the Pinot Noir), then settled down for an evening of presentation. Presenters responded in various ways: Expressive readings, movement inspired by a painting or poem, a reading with shamanic drum interpretation, telling a memory connected with a painting, and so on.
At the end of the evening, a few folks who had contributed to the “Guest Book” read their poems and told about connections they had made which resulted in this work.
People who participated in “A Picture and a Poem: An Intimate Connection” said it best:
Ted: The painting of the birdhouse on the old outhouse cast me right back to my grandmother. Visiting her in the summer.. The weathered boards. Wasps’ nests inside! Her standing outside humming a tune so I wouldn’t be scared. A big hug afterwards. I haven’t felt that safe since.
Marley: “Ah sunflower weary of time.” Blake’s poem. We had to memorize it in high school. I went up to that painting first. Sunflowers are my favorite flowers. I wanted to think about why. Their faces. The connection to the sun. The casting off of so many seeds.
For lots more ideas about making art from art, you might refer to “Poets Facing Art: Ekphrastic Poems,” on page 196 in Shirley’s book Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers.
Take up the pen. “Dig with it.”
We invite you to look at Shirley’s paintings below. (Or choose an artwork you like.) What do you notice? What does that make you say? Ask? Remember? Pretend you are sitting or standing somewhere inside this painting. Look around. Write a short poem and leave it in the comments section or e-mail it to email@example.com. Have fun with it!
April 11th, 2016
We continue to reflect on the role of stories today with an examination of the stories that surround us every day. At the end of her post, follow Katie’s tips on bringing stories to the forefront of your teaching. And then tell us on Twitter: What is your story today?
Investing in Stories
Katie Egan Cunningham
These days it seems like every industry is talking about the power of stories. Want your advertisement’s message to stick? Tell a story. Want your shareholders to keep investing? Tell a story. Want to bring in more customers? Tell a story.
In fact, if we want students to be college, career, and life ready, an investment in stories looks to be one of the most important investments we can make. Here are a few examples across industries that caught my attention.
In the December 2015 issue of Inc. magazine Thomas Goetz, CEO of Iodine, a digital health startup, says, “The story, it turns out, is the most important thing. It can’t just review what we’ve done; it must also excite the imagination about what the world will look like once we do more. It won’t be enough to present a plausible, worthy case for our future—our story must convince people that it’s worth millions of their dollars to see that future happen.”
At the online health hub HospitalityNet, consultants in the hospitality industry advise business leaders to use the structure of fiction to improve their forecasting and strategic thinking: “A good fictional storyline may seem like a whirlwind of characters and events, but for exactly that reason it can captivate and motivate an audience to grasp real issues and see different possibilities, all within a framework that everyone understands could plausibly evolve from the world as it actually exists today.”
The streets of New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood have a new retail store that changes the shopping experience—including the store’s layout and merchandise—every few months. The name of the store? Story. The driving idea is that the store is a place for discovery and maybe even reinvention. What is your story? What do you want it to be? Come in, look around, and find a new story for yourself.
Audible, the audiobook giant, advertises finding “stories that surround you.” Folding laundry? Surround yourself with a romance novel. Eating cereal? Surround yourself with the French Revolution. Sitting on the beach? Surround yourself with a noirish thriller.
Finally, the world’s biggest media brands now trust the “social media evangelists” at Storyful to “discover, verify, and acquire social media for their storytelling.” Businesses want to know which stories are worth telling.
All of this points to what, I believe, we as educators have always known—that humans are addicted to stories. That when we listen to someone else’s story we encourage a sense of belonging and make change possible. That stories are a pathway to connection.
As teachers, this gives us even more justification that time spent on powerful stories is time well spent. Here are some simple and joyful ways to keep stories at the forefront of your teaching:
- Make read-aloud a daily ritual, without exception. Create space for discussion before, during, and after reading.
- Vary the kinds of stories you share to highlight different perspectives and life experiences.
- Explore the structural elements of narratives as both readers and writers.
- Zoom in on craft techniques storywriters use to hook readers.
- Listen to songs and have students rewrite the lyrics as a narrative.
- View print and media advertisements, noticing how they tell stories to persuade their market.
- Listen to audiobooks as a class to “surround” yourselves in stories.
- Make it a year-long goal to build a classroom culture of story every day.
Where do you notice other industries spotlighting stories? How do you build a world of story in your classroom?
March 8th, 2016
We are excited to kick off this week with Katie Egan Cunningham, author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning. We invite you to read her post below and then think about the role of stories in your classroom. What is your story today? Share with us here on the blog or on Twitter using this template and #Story.
Each Day Should Be a Story-Worthy Day
Katie Egan Cunningham
We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.
― Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
Each morning I wake up to the human alarm clock that is the sound of my children’s feet climbing out of bed, letting me know it’s time to get up. Once my eyes are open, I grab my five-minute journal and jot down three thoughts about what would make today great, three things I am grateful for, and an affirmation of who I am. Before I close my eyes at night, I grab my journal once more to process the day—to remember three amazing things that happened that day and how I could have made the day better. This journaling ritual in my life began as a Valentine’s Day gift from my husband. Better than flowers or chocolate, he somehow knew that envisioning the story of my day before it happened and remembering storied moments at its end would be a simple way to bring me happiness every day. He was right. For a year now, I have been hooked.
When my children hop on the bus or walk through the doors of their schools, I envision their day, knowing that there will be story-worthy moments. I wonder what amazing things will happen to them. What stories will they hear that inspire them to be kind or to take new risks? What will friends say that make them laugh or make them cry? Will they bravely share an idea out loud? How will it be received? I know there will be Morning Meeting stories. Talking in the hallway stories. Monkey bars stories. Roaming in the library stacks stories. P.E. team-picking stories. Bus riding stories.
In my work with teachers and students, I’ve started to adopt the five-minute journal philosophy—that is, that envisioning and remembering the stories of our days in a few simple words and phrases is a way of building a story-worthy attitude about every day.
I also believe that, as teachers, we have the power to be story changers for our students. Every Monday, I work in an afterschool program supervising soon-to-be literacy specialists working with fourth and fifth graders. I tell my graduate students that their primary role is to learn as much as they can about the students’ stories—what matters most to them—and to use that information to drive their decisions as teachers.
One day, during the afterschool program, I read aloud The Best Story by Eileen Spinelli. With each turn of the page, children nodded their heads in agreement—oh yeah, lots of action makes the best stories. Plenty of humor makes the best stories. Stories that make people cry are actually the best. Rather than go along with the chorus of agreement, a boy named Andrew talked back to every page, letting us know he was resisting this particular story and maybe even the story of our time together. We needed to show Andrew that he had choice and challenge in our time together, and that what mattered to him was valuable to us. As the weeks went on, Andrew became the first student to arrive and the last one to leave. He stayed to work on his new comic book, to write about Yo-Kai Watch characters in their fantasy world, to talk to me about his soccer match and what he wanted to read next. His identity in the afterschool program changed from resistor to most passionate contributor. Andrew unknowingly convinced me each week that what we were doing together as readers, writers, and thinkers mattered, and that as teachers we have the power to change the narratives we tell ourselves about our students.
I am convinced that human connection is the pathway to knowing each other’s stories, so I decided to use heart mapping in my work with teachers last fall. Through the process of jotting and sharing, I learned that one teacher was battling throat cancer as she tearfully explained the cancer ribbon drawing she made on her map. I learned that I grew up in the same small New Jersey town as someone sitting across from me. I learned that other teachers also had two sons. Our relationships to one another changed. We came to know more of one another’s stories.
To help your students (and yourself) take note of the story that happens each day, try starting with these simple methods:
1. Take time at the start of the school day to jot down what would make today great.
2. Take time at the end of the school day to jot down three amazing things that happened and one thing you could have done to make the day better.
3. Build in time for students to share their interests through heart mapping, community mapping, and hopes and dreams mapping.
4. Provide time for partner talk, emphasizing the importance of listening as much as speaking.
5. Tap into students’ interests to support their book shopping—what connections do they have to characters, real-life figures, and settings?
6. Step back and observe your students, both in and out of the classroom. Notice and jot down the storied moments you see, and share them with students as fuel for their writing.
7. Share your own jottings about the story of your day.
8. Remind students that every day is a story-worthy day.
What are the stories you are grateful for each day in your classroom? When have you been a story changer in a student’s life? When have students changed your story?
March 7th, 2016