#TeachersWrite: The Best. Summer. Camp. EVER.

Greetings, Campers!! Well, I’m working reaaalllyyyy hard to take my own advice about getting off my butt and writing. Like Yoda said: “Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.” 

So. I am going to put my keyboard where my mouth is. I’ve been writing this week, not as much as I shoulda coulda woulda, but I’ve actually put words on paper. As in complete sentences and paragraphs! And that feels really good. I’ve also been talking shop this week with other writers on Twitter, Facebook, and right here on Micki’s Musings which has done wonders for me in terms of motivation and encouragement to get going and keep going.

Which brings me to something VERY exciting that came together this week as a result of a few casual conversations among some fellow teacher/writers I follow on Twitter. These teachers were talking about the very thing I was talking about in my previous post: finding more time to write and how our writing time as teachers always seems to get pushed off until those glorious months of summer.

Well, the fabulous Kate Messner, who is a well-established author of numerous books for kids, put some feelers out on Twitter to see if any of us teacher or librarian types (who also write) would be interested in participating in a virtual summer writing workshop. Several of us who follow Kate, enthusiastically said, “YES!!!!!” and off she went, planning away. She created this lovely little summer writing workshop she named #TeachersWrite.

Long story short, those of us who were interested took off with it, too. We retweeted on Twitter and shared links on Facebook. At last count, there were 570+ participants signed up. Kate was astonished. I was only a little surprised at that number, as I know there are many, many others out there like me who want to learn the secrets of balance. I will be sharing my progress on my current work in progress (WIP) as #TeachersWrite gets into full swing.

Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this because there are LOTS of folks out there who, like me (and maybe even you), need a little nudge to get on the right writing track. I think it’s an amazing thing Kate is doing for us in helping us form our own writing communities and to help us become better writers and teachers of writing. I’m also sharing this with you because that’s what writers do: we support each other and promote each other. And I am, after all, a writer.

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My Week in a Nutshell

Is it just me, or was this one of the looooonnnnngggggeeeeessssssst weeks ever? My week started out in the usual way, on Sunday in complete denial that I would have to return to my classroom full of squirrelly seventh graders who, like their teachers, have summer on the brain.

I was, however, unusually excited for this particular Monday because it happened to be World Book Night, and I was a designated book giver. The purpose of World Book Night is for avid readers to share their love of books with reluctant readers, non-readers, or those who may not have easy access to books. In a period of 24 hours, one million books (or more) would be given away in an effort to focus on literacy and the hope that our love of books is contagious enough to ignite a spark in potential readers. Sometimes all that’s needed is to get the right book into the right hands, and voila! you have a reader where there wasn’t one before.

I was lucky enough to get twenty copies of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which I gave away to students at my school. I love the story of Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a young Spokane Indian who has to figure out to navigate life on and off the “rez,” and I couldn’t wait to share this book with twenty reluctant readers that I come in contact with on a near daily basis. It was an amazing experience to share my love for this book and to see the delight in their faces as they realized the book I gave them was theirs to keep. The truly beautiful thing about it is the fact that most of them are actually READING the book!

Speaking of reluctant readers, my beautiful, blond-headed former reluctant reader turned 18 on Tuesday of this week. It’s not enough that he’ll be graduating from high school in a few weeks, but he had to go and get all grown up to boot. I don’t think he received the memo that outlaws that type of double-whamy thing. No matter. I’ll probably always see him like this

  instead of this     no matter how much he protests.

On Tuesday, my seventh graders and I finished reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, and they were quite shocked and angry about the ending of the book. This led to an incredible discussion that was continued on Friday when we finished watching the movie. I’ve never seen my kiddos at such a loss for words. It was a very powerful experience for all of us, and I am glad to have shared it with them.

On Wednesday, I introduced my students to Spine Poetry and they loved it! Here is one I showed them to give them the idea

  and then they took it from there and created these:  

      

 

Well, that’s about it. We had a busy and productive week, and it’s hard to believe we only have three and a half weeks of school left. The count-down has begun…

 

 

A Color Poem

Teaching poetry can be a bit of a challenge, especially when students are highly resistant. I think one of the biggest challenges is getting students to realize how accessible poetry is and not all poetry is cryptic and needs to be analyzed to establish meaning.

With my seventh graders, not only do I have to convince them that poetry isn’t scary; I also have to convince them they are capable of writing poetry. As in more than one poem. As in more than one kind of poem.

I’ve found that easing them in with poetry patterns can give them the confidence they need to tackle poetry forms that take a little more finessing.

One of my favorite poetry patterns to help loosen them up and warm up to writing poetry is the color poem. Students choose the colors they wish to represent (I tell them they must choose at least four colors and each color must have at least two lines) and they must describe their colors in an interesting way. Plus, having students write poetry is a great way to have them practice using literary devices, particularly figurative language.

Here is an example of a color poem I wrote:

The Nature of Color

Green is the color of spring and
the promise of a new beginning.
It blankets the ground and climbs the trees.

Purple kisses the tulips and violets;
it flutters in the wind on the wings of butterflies.
It streaks across the sky and peeks
around the clouds at sunset.

Yellow is the warmth of the sun that gently
embraces the flowers in the spring and
warms the ground and inspires the plants to grow.
It makes us shimmer as we bask in its glow.

Blue is the sky; it hugs the universe
as it stretches beyond the mountains.
It is the perfect canvas that hangs above the horizon.

You should try it, too!

 

How I Became a Reader

My love for reading began with Max and his line, “Let the wild rumpus start!” I remember listening to my favorite story Where the Wild Things Are and classic Dr. Seuss: “I will not eat them, Sam I am. I do not like green eggs and ham!” and Horton Hears a Who. I only hear faint whispers of the childhood voices who read to me now as they have been replaced by my own as I read to my own children and to my students.

Growing up though, we never had book cases in our house.  Well, that’s not true.  We had them, they were just called knick-knack shelves, but there were always books in the house.  They were in stacks, though, and didn’t seem to warrant enough importance to be prominently displayed like the knick-knacks.  My mom was usually reading what she referred to as “trashy” Harlequin Romance or a novel by Stephen King. I read Salem’s Lot when I was twelve and had nightmares for weeks, but I loved scary stories. After Salem, I met It, and he scared the hell out of me. Now that I think about it, that super creepy clown is probably why clowns still creep me out today. But Cujo didn’t make me hate dogs. Huh. I may have to ponder that for a moment…

I loved reading—it was my refuge, it helped me escape a home-life that was not always pleasant. Truth be told, my home-life absolutely sucked much of the time. Reading, and later writing, probably saved my life; I was able to delve into other people’s lives and escape my own. Through books I was able to see that things would get better—eventually. This is precisely why I am such an advocate for the active use of YA lit in the classroom.

In my early adulthood, I didn’t do much reading beyond Glamour magazine, Sunday funnies, or my daily horoscope (I’m a Scorpio in case you were wondering). When I started college, my reading was basically limited to required college texts. I did, however, LOVE the Intro to Literature class I took at Emporia State when I was still an Elementary Education major in the early 90s. I didn’t start reading again on a regular basis until my first child was born, and then it was limited to baby books and parenting magazines.

As my family grew and my kids grew, I exposed them (and me) to books that matched their various stages of reading readiness. Even though I was reading these wonderful books with my kids, I still wasn’t reading for the sake of reading. Before I started teaching, I spent about eight years working in the mental health field. I was working with adolescents, and in an effort to connect with them, I started reading what they were reading—young adult fiction. During this time, I met Harry Potter and fell in love with books all over again, because these were books that appealed to me. Since that time, I have built quite an extensive library at home and in my classroom. Books surround my children and have an impressive presence in their lives and mine.

I have taken a stab at books written for adults and have found Jodi Picoult to be a skilled writer, but many of the books I read seemed fairly repetitious, so I moved on. I did really like The Pact (which I would argue is YA), and I do intend to read My Sister’s Keeper, The Tenth Circle, and Ninteen Minutes someday. For now, my focus remains on young adult fiction. Some of my favorite “modern” YA authors are Laurie Halse Anderson, Neal Shusterman, and Chris Crutcher. These seasoned authors write novels that resonate with me in ways that adult novels can’t.

In the past couple of years, I have read some remarkable and not so remarkable YA lit. I loved The Hunger Games trilogy and consumed them in about a week and a half. I read the Twilight Saga and proudly pledge my allegiance to Team Edward (no judgments, please). I have discovered that I like Science Fiction, as long as it’s not of the Star Wars variety. I read Crank by Ellen Hopkins, and she just may be a new favorite. I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and it is one of the best books I have ever read. EVER. Wonder by R.J. Palacio and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green moved me to tears. I am currently reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.

My “to read” list is VERY long, and I fear I may never reach the end. But that’s okay. I’ll just keep reading until I can’t read anymore.

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