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LEARNING STUFF…everyday and all the time: learning, teaching, living

Don’t forget the details October 1, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ms.M @ 9:37 am

It seems that every year I’m reteaching the art of using details. There seems to be something ingrained in all young writers, one of those learned fallacies, that any reader can understand exactly what they are thinking, and with just a few vague jottings a reader will know exactly what it is being referred to in a few sentences. They will know exactly why that quote was dropped in, without explanation or course. They will know which character is being talked about or is doing the talking even if  all that is written is “he,” or “she,” or my favorite, “they”. A reader will marvel at those one sentence critical responses like they do a zen koan. When my students say something is “fun,” or “awesome,” or “tasted really great,”(no, scratch that “scrumptious” is a better word). The assumption is that everyone, everywhere, will have experienced exactly the same, so why go into any greater detail about what it is you thought or truly experienced.  And partly I can’t help but think that we all carry this idea within us, that everyone must surely know what it is that we are thinking, feeling, experiencing. No explanation required.

But writing is all about communicating this thinking, and all about those details.

So every year I have to start chiseling, hoping to find those nuggets of details hidden out of sight. I have to put a spotlight on details so they don’t seem like such a minor aspect of writing, but one of the most important parts.


Anomaly? September 24, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ms.M @ 8:55 am

I never think my students are listening. I assume that three quarters of what I say gets washed away in less than five minutes time into some vortex of inattention/distraction/brain-clutter and other such things. It becomes all the more impressive then, when well past the point in which I shared some tidbit of information, it comes flying back at me most unexpectedly and often from the least likely sources. It tends to catch me off guard a bit actually.

I had two such instances last week, and both in regards to my writing territories, something I spent maybe twenty minutes sharing with my students more than a week and a half ago. I have heard that we tend to remember things more readily in story form, so maybe that’s one reason for it. Another possibility may just be that opportunities for teachers to share real-life narratives of themselves has become so rare that it peaked their interest.

The first time it came up was when students were doing a quick write modeled after Cynthia Rylant’s “When I was young at the ocean”  A student mentioned that I could write my poem about the “helicopter” bush I used to play in when I was little. So I did. And I thanked her for reminding me of one of the special childhood places that I had written in my writing territories.

I thought that was an anomaly, and it wouldn’t ever happen again.

But just yesterday, when students were writing about a superpower that they wished they could have, and what they would do with it if they actually had it, it happened again. I was busily writing the whole time myself, trying to model for students the process of continuous writing. After students shared with one another what they had come up with, one student asked what I had been writing about. I encouraged them to guess. After a few guesses, most having to do with intelligence or strength, one boy guessed that I would want to go back in time and have super speed, so I could finally beat my cousins in our bike races around the block. It made me smile when he said that. Another writing territory reference and with a different class this time.

I guess I will have to rework some of my earlier theories, especially if this comes up again in a month or two.




Oh, the places you’ll go! September 18, 2011

Filed under: Books — Ms.M @ 6:11 pm

I reread “Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss today. I was planning to share  with my classes a handful of books that each in it’s own way has had an impact on me. It’s always interesting to hear from kids the books that have had an impact on them. It’s significant, I realize now, for students to go back to their first reactions to literature. For the most part, those first books were the most powerful and meaningful to them, and the ones they enjoyed the most. For some it’s the book that was read to them over and over by mom and/or dad. For others it’s the first book their teacher read aloud to them that they could not wait to hear again. For some it’s a librarian that introduced them to their first meaningful moments with a book. Whatever book it may have been, whatever person it may have been who read it, it’s good to look back. Let’s go back to those moments, well before books were about answering comprehension questions or finding a theme, when books were about enjoying a story and getting fully immersed into a character’s life.

That happened again with me today.

I got this Dr. Seuss book when I was graduating from high school, as I’m sure many others do. Inside is a note from a guidance counselor, the director of the leadership program I was involved in then, saying I should continue to make a difference. One way or another that’s been the heart-beat of my life. When I read this book today, I was amazed by how much more meaning the words on the page had for me. When I look back on that time between high school and now: all the roads I went down; all the dead ends; all the high times and lonely times. Even the times when I was left with decisions I wasn’t sure how to make, or the times when I thought I for sure would never succeed one way or another, it’s all there in that simple book. And that book has been with me for so long, sitting in a bookcase, waiting for me to pick it up again today.

The books that have an impact on us, are the books that, like this one, hold more than just their own story. They hold our story, too.


Look again September 15, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ms.M @ 4:51 pm

Revision is such a foreign concept to so many. Why go back and re-look at something you just spent all that time looking at not too long ago? Why add words or rearrange ideas. Why oh why would you ever start from scratch? (Isn’t that going backwards!) Revision is the hardest thing to teach and the hardest thing to learn.

I should mention perhaps that I have a hard time with revision myself. I love playing with words, of course, and I love looking at things in a poetic way, it’s the cutting things out completely that’s my biggest struggle. I tend to say in 100 words what I could probably have said in 50.  When it comes to teaching revision, I’ve tended to emphasize that creative side of revision more so than the tedious side (and then I wonder why my students are so quick to add, add, add, and so hesitant to cut).

I love the idea, though, that writers have a million chances to get it right. That’s my favorite part of revision. You don’t really find that sort of thinking in many places.  There’s a freedom that comes with knowing that your first attempts at writing are really only beginnings, but the hardest part seems to be keeping this spirit alive while at the same time not falling into the ever present trap of never, ever finishing anything.

But that’s not the mindset that most students walk in with. The mindset I see most often is write everything down that happens to pop into your head in that moment of time, then walk away and never look back. I’m sure that mindset comes from somewhere, and schools probably carry much of the blame. Writing assignments that have to be completed in a day, and no real authentic writing taking place either at school or at home, are part of the problem, too.

It’s a struggle to unlearn the thinking that the first thing that comes out of your head is the best or that only you are the genius that can pen a novel in one day. In much the same way that so many don’t reflect on their experiences or their actions, so many don’t reflect on their writing.

P.S Of course this blog is unrevised and therefore perfect ;0)




September is a slow reading month September 12, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ms.M @ 7:12 pm

Every September I’m reminded of how hard it is to be a teacher and a reader at the same time. What was a book read every few days becomes a book read every other week or so. What was over 15 books in a month becomes a handful. And every year I tell myself that I am capable of doing it all, that I can read and teach and write and teach, or even that I can be a better teacher if I read and wrote more regularly. (Although those teachers that manage to write whole books amaze me!) But I always fail miserably. It all hits me in September.

Once again, I beguile students with all my summer reads only to fall short as a teacher-reader for most of the rest of the school year (minus breaks of course). Once again I have to set a reading routine otherwise I would probably read hardly any books of all (minus professional resources, of course). At least this year I’ve amassed such a collection of  summer reads that I could feasibly get a free pass until October. (Just kidding)



Sharing stories September 8, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ms.M @ 6:18 pm

Stories. That’s really what I love. My day can sometimes seem chaotic, my brain overfull of to-do lists. It’s nice to get a bit of a pause from the handouts, procedures, expectations, etc. that come with the start of a school year. It’s nice to start to find out about the lives, minds and hearts, of those who will travel through at least this year with me.

My writer’s notebook made its debut today as I shared my writing territories with my class before they made a list of their own. I added childhood memories I thought I’d forgotten: the hollowed bush where my cousins and I could imagine ourselves pilots; the candy at the corner store. I added favorite objects, places, people. I added experiences and worries and pet peeves. As I pointed out a few of the things on my list, each naturally became a narrative for me to share. The bare bones of a narrative, but still a narrative. I learned so much about my students today, and they learned a great deal about each other, I hope.


August Reading List August 29, 2011

Filed under: Books — Ms.M @ 6:56 pm

A continuation of my summer reading list. I starred my favorites again. I dabbled in picture books and graphic novels, both pretty new to me. I also included some of my professional reading in this list.

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

Scumble by Ingrid Law*

The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco

Just Kidding by Trudy Ludwig

Say Something by Trudy Ludwig

Hereville: How Minka got her Sword by Barry Deutsch

The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier

No Talking by Andrew Clements

The Lemonade Crime by Jacqueline Davies

Illegal by Bettina Restrepo

The Misfits by James Howe*

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli*

Slob by Ellen Potter

Lessons that Change Writers by Nancie Atwell

Ghost Boy by Iain Lawrence

Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words by Ralph Fletcher*

Four Against the Odds: The Struggle to Save Our Environment by Stephen Krensky