Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A few kind words

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
I think I could listen to Chris Lehman talk about poetry all day. The past two Saturdays I've enjoyed taking a break from my usual morning languor to dive deep into poetry with his group of TeacherPoets. Each hour flies by, a flurry of reading, writing, listening, and tweeting. Each hour leaves me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to spark renewed vigor in our writing workshop. Each hour reminds me of the atmosphere of joy and purpose I want to create in my classroom.

Last week, Chris made my day when he tweeted me about my reflection on our first session:

Words are so powerful. Even though he's never met me, he could see my enthusiasm through my writing. And with a short reply, he made my day just as much as he claimed I'd made his.

Then, on Saturday, I almost fell out of the bed (That's right, bed. I won't pretend I'm sitting in a chair at 11:00 on a Saturday!) when this happened:

I couldn't believe it. Right there, in front of everyone, in the midst of all the talking and tweeting and reading and writing, he interjected that I "wrote an awesome blog post" and thanked me for my "energy"!!!

For that minute, I was really special. He noticed who I was. He remembered my post.
I mattered. And I wanted to work even harder. That's the power of a few kind words.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Teacher Poets: more than a workshop

at Two Writing Teachers!
Unless we have special plans, weekend mornings at our house slither slowly by. Long after Husband has snuck into the computer room, I relish curling up in the cozy covers. Whether I'm drifting in and out of sleep or playing on my iPad, I'm sure to be snuggled up with a serene smile.

But this Saturday was different. With bright eyes, I hemmed in my cozy nest with supplies: iPad, phone, notebook, pen, printed poem. As glittering sun poured in the window, I nodded and pondered as smooth ink danced across the page. Circling and smiling, marking and noticing, wondering and appreciating.

Listening to Billy Collins "workshop" his own poem sent me into ripples of giggles. This was going to be so much fun!

From deep in the words, I surfaced, peeking at the time on my phone. It was almost time! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! I wiggled with anticipation as I clicked "play" on the livestream Google Hangout on my iPad and propped it against a nearby stuffed animal, then opened Twitter on my phone. #TeacherPoets, here we go!!!

It. Was. Awesome! The immediate glimmer of excitement in Chris Lehman's eyes sparked an exhilarating hour of thinking and sharing, reading and writing, listening and responding. Even though we were all in different states and only 6 people were live on screen, we all seemed to be part of the same room. Somehow, seeing faces and hearing voices made this so much more magical than a regular Twitter chat. Chris' work became real because we could see the flush in his cheeks and the sparks in his eyes. We could watch ideas forming as he pre-wrote and follow his hand as he captured those ideas with careful words. We could hear the tears lurking in his voice and catch them hiding in his eyes as little moments reminded him of the power of writing, teaching, and learning.

Halfway through, Husband came in with a basket of clean clothes and couldn't hold in his sputtering laughter at the sight of me simultaneously watching my iPad, tweeting on my phone, scribbling in my notebook, and referring to the printed poem. "He showed two of my tweets on screen!" I squealed, and then dove back into the nascent poem pieces taking shape in my notebook.

Too soon, the hour was over. My head was spinning with writing ideas, teaching ideas, and that wonderful sizzle that comes from contributing to an inspiring, encouraging community of learners. My notebook and brain were full, my heart was recharged, and I couldn't WAIT for the next session.

That's how I want my students to feel, and now I have new ideas to help us get there.

Friday, April 11, 2014

¿Por qué la poesía?

at Latinaish!
Today is Spanish Friday, so this post is in Spanish! If you don't speak Spanish, you can try out Google Translate, but be prepared for some crazy errors! Computers don't do languages like people do!

Abril es el Mes de la Poesía en los EEUU, y esta semana Chris Lehman nos preguntó: ¿Por qué la poesía?

Hace unas semanas, me chocó leer que la poesía intimida a mi amiga Laura. Wow... pensé. Hay gente que vive sin poemas revoleando por sus cabezas... pobrecitos.

Para ellos dedico un poema hoy, aunque lo escribo también para conocer mejor a la poeta que vive dentro de mi corazón. Todos somos poetas, porque todos somos humanos.

¿Por qué la poesía?

Para mi, la respuesta es bastante sencilla:
porque la poesía soy yo,

y yo soy la poesía.

Vivo en poesía.

Vivo en un mundo de palabras que vuelan y giran,
estirándose para capturar imágenes deliciosas y remolinos de emociones.

Desde que era muy niña, los poemas me han chorreado por la mente:
antorchas radiantes en las sombras nebulosas de la madrugada,
pájaros elegantes bailando en las brisas suaves de la primavera,
chispas centelleantes rebotando en los rayos delicados del sol.

Saboreo las palabras:

A veces flotan y juguetean.
A veces chorrean como un torrente.

Se unan, se entrelazan.
Y me ayudan a ver,
                                        a entender, 
                                                                       a sentir,
                                                                                                a vivir.

En la poesía se encuentra la vida,
y la vida se expresa en poesía.

¿Por qué la poesía?
La poesía es la humanidad.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Unexpected joy

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers
11:20 (near the end of 4th period): Flicker. CLICK. Shudder. Hummm. Flicker. ZAP.


Giggles. Chatter.


Stirring. Wondering. Eyes meeting with incredulous glances.

Ruffled, restless, buzzing anticipation.

11:31 (end of 4th period): Principals appear in the dim doorways, carrying calmness like a gift.
"Go on ahead to your next class, just like normal."
Quizzical looks. Incipient complaints snuffed out before they finish forming.
A smattering of questions.
Strangely quiet people-shapes drift like ghosts through filtered sunlight, navigating new shadows.

11:35-1:00 (5th period & lunch):
Coveting her window, I move into my colleague's room.
"Phew! So glad I didn't bring a microwave lunch today!"
We accomplish a surprising amount of collaborative work, punctuated with brief bursts of "Oh wait, no Internet..." and "We'll Google that when the wireless comes back..." and "Here, I should make a copy of this for you... oh, wait..."

1:02 (beginning of 6th period): In the murky depths of our windowless cave, my smallest class huddles under the too-glaring, too-fake canopy of one brazen emergency light.
"Thank goodness we have a small class!"
"Awwww, man, my phone's dead!"
"This light feels bright."
"I heard we're getting out at 1:15!"
"Can we just do nothing?"
"I heard no such thing. But I have a great book to tell you about!"
Eager ears tune in.

1:10: The secretary comes on the loudspeaker... telling staff that the deadline for submitting grades online has been extended.
Quick gasps, bright eyes... and long sighs.
"I thought she was going to say we could go home!"
"We are NOT going home... now let's get to work!"
Quiet minds settle in.

1:15: The principal comes on the loudspeaker... summoning a student to the office.
Quick gasps, bright eyes... and exasperated exhales.
Re-start. Re-focus.
Big grins. Pencils scratching.

1:25: D. bolts upright in her chair. "My mom just texted me that we're going home at 1:30."
"Ask your mom why she's texting you during class!"
Re-settle. Re-focus.

1:30: A student enters the room, looking for a book.
Quick gasps, bright eyes... and giggles.
"Aw, I thought that was a principal!"
"Yeah, I thought someone was coming in to tell us we could leave!"
"Soooo, annnnywaaaay...  that work we were doing..."
Sheepish smiles. Pencils scratching.

1:37: An assistant principal comes on the loudspeaker... to explain which clubs and sports are canceled and which are still on.
And then he starts listing bus changes.
That's odd... 
"... And you are all... very calmly... DISMISSED!" he declares.
"VERY CALMLY!" I reiterate in the midst of a whirlwind of papers, bags, scurrying arms, and scuttling legs. "Don't forget that today is Tuesday! This would make a great Slice of Life!!!"

1:55 (should be the beginning of 7th period): As I finish checking in with a colleague about some students, my footsteps echo down the shadowy hallway. Not much to do here with no wireless... I gleefully text my parents and husband to brag.

I force myself to focus long enough to gather up the correct work to take home.

And then...

I step into the brilliant sunshine and practically float on the playful breeze.

My cheeks delight in the sunshine that spills in through the open windows and moonroof.

I guess Somebody Up There wanted us to enjoy this gorgeous day.

2:42 (should be the release bell at the end of the day): Rustling wind. Skittering leaves. Swaying branches. Dazzling sun.



Not a bad spot to end the school day, right?!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Another March

31 of 31 at Two Writing Teachers!
The first year I did the Slice of Life Challenge, I was ecstatic at the end: just completely filled with pride that I had accomplished such a monumental task.

Last year was my first as an ELL teacher and my first challenge writing alongside my students. Thus, my feelings at the end of the month were more along the lines of being relieved that I survived my part of the challenge. Thus, my reflections and pride were all about bringing the challenge to them.

This year, my head is swirling with mixed feelings. Lots of last year's exhaustion and relief are definitely prominent, but I'm also even more proud of my students and even more excited about what slicing has done for our classroom community, since I learned from last year and improved the way I implemented the classroom challenge with my students. Moreover, I brought several of my colleagues and friends into the challenge, which added another dimension of joy and pride this year.

Since swirling emotions are perfect for poetry, it seems that the ideal way to wrap up March 2014 is with a poem:

Another March

Another March,
another month of writing.

A month of thinking
of playing
of stretching.
A month of pushing
of nudging
of encouraging.
A month of connecting
 of understanding
of growing.

Another March,
another challenge vanquished.

A month of excitement,
A month of frustration, 
A month of courage,

Another March,
another month of writing                              

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The power of play

30 of 31 at Two Writing Teachers!
"Where did you learn all this?" My mom looks sideways at me with an incredulous smile. I've spent the past hour helping her set up a new blog for staff communication and providing a few mini-lessons to extend her general blogging skills.

We customized the design of her new blog and added essential widgets to the sidebar, including HTML Twitter widgets. Next, we reviewed labels/tagging, which I'd introduced her to when she started her blog last summer, but which she hadn't mastered independent use of yet. After practicing by adding some important labels to old posts, I knew I also had to reinforce why to use them.

"Do you remember why it's nice to use tags?"
"So, let's say someone wants to read all your posts about family, they can click on the 'family' tag..." I went to the public view of her blog and clicked on it, just as I do when teaching my students to tag on our class blog. "... and see, they can read all those posts with the 'family' label in one spot! Or professionally, they might want to read all your posts about PLCs..."
"Ohhh, yeah, I can see how that would be useful!"

Because I'd noticed her starting to include web images in her posts, I introduced her to PhotoPin. Like my students, she was amazed at the variety and quality of their photos. "I can't wait to tell my kids that I taught you to use PhotoPin! They'll get a big kick out of that!"

However, because PhotoPin gives you an HTML code for attribution, I knew we'd have to go into the HTML editing... and I knew that would be a big leap for her.

"Ok, so I'm going to write 'This is the caption' in the caption box so I can find it easily in the HTML. You're going to freak out when I click this button, but all we have to do is look for that note."

"OOOOH! What'd you do to my blog?!" As soon as I clicked "HTML", she shrieked melodramatically.

See where I wrote "This is the caption"?
"It's ok, we just have to look for our note. See? Here it is: 'This is the caption'. Now that I know where the caption is, we can just delete that note and paste the PhotoPin code in that spot. And then..." I clicked back on "Compose" to return to the normal WYSIWYG view... "Look how nice it looks! PhotoPin's code gave us these nice links in this nice format!"
For example:
photo credit: splorp via photopin cc
"Oooh, that does look professional... Wow... So you just pasted that code right where you wrote 'This is the caption'?"
I could hear the hesitance in her voice.
"Yeah, it's not so scary if you write yourself a note like that! ... I'll help you next time you want to do it, if you want."

"How did you learn how to do all this?!"
"Umm, I..." I paused. Where did I learn how to do "all this"? I had never really thought about it.
"I... I don't know..."  My lack of an answer shocked me. "Just playing around, I guess, and sometimes I read things online when I need to learn something new... But mostly, just playing, I guess."

I've always been glad that I learned a little bit of programming in high school and college, back when I thought I wanted to be an engineer. Even though I learned C++ and C (not HTML), simply having a little coding experience means that I can look at code and not be intimidated by it. When I look at code, I see language (even if it's one I don't really speak well), not gibberish. I can decipher meaning, instead of feeling overwhelmed. Far from being paralyzed, I'm willing to play.

And play holds the power of learning.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cozy comfort

29 of 31 at Two Writing Teachers!
I can't move.

Do you know how difficult it is to write while lying nearly horizontally on your back, with a tummy so full it's making your eyelids droop heavily?

Do you know how sluggishly the words come when you're huddled in a fleece sweatshirt while leftover snow drifts drearily outside your window?

No? Then come with me through neighborhoods so new they still surprise me...

down old country roads,

past farmhouses with peeling paint and leaning barns...

across re-frozen fields where wintry winds whip another dusting of sugar-white topping...

into a tiny downtown lined with quaint Sears & Roebuck houses and well-worn brick storefronts...

around the corner to warm fireplaces and the heavenly aroma of Amish-style bread, chicken, and noodles.

As homemade cream slowly melts into my rich hot chocolate, I break open a fluffy roll and spread velvety apple butter across it.

Then, the buffet. Chicken, pot roast, ham, stuffing, vegetables... and noodles.

Ohhhh, those noodles. I spoon pile HEAP them on my plate over a gloriously creamy serving mound MOUNTAIN of mashed potatoes. Of course, my dad's mountain is usually twice as big, and then he goes back for seconds... or thirds.

I can't move.