Slice of Life: Just a Sentence

This weekend, Margaret Simon read this excerpt from Elizabeth Strout’s book, My Name is Lucy Barton:

At times these days I think of the way the sun would set on the farmland around our small house in the autumn. A view of tne horizon, the whole entire circle of it, if you turned, the sun setting behind you, the sky in front becoming pink and soft, then slightly blue again, as though it could not stop going on in its beauty, then the land closest to the setting sun would get dark, almost black against the orange line of horizon, but if you turn around, the land is still available to the eye with such softness, the few trees, the quitet fields of cover crops already turned, and the sky lingering, lingering, then finally dark. As though the soul can be quiet for those moments.

Afterward, she said, “I’ve got a writing assignment for you. Take the first line, ‘At times these days I think of the way…’ and write your really long sentence. I think you can handle that.”

And then she said, “Here’s mine.”

She proceeded to read. Beautiful. Poetic. A reflection on her world inside and out, offering a vision I could see and feel.

Sure. I can handle that. One long sentence. I grabbed my notebook and wrote. And revised. Couldn’t read my writing. Tore out the page. Tried again. Interesting parts but still not what I wanted. The writing was clumsy, forced.  I wanted my computer but wasn’t sure if that was ok. Was I cheating? I re-listened to the assignment. Nothing said about how I write, just that I write. I thought of asking, but knowing Margaret, I turned to what works for me.

My computer. Opened a doc and typed. It flowed. I could see it; hold on to some parts and let go of others. Revision (was that ok?) was possible. The keyboard is my writing space. I can’t compose or think in longhand. I’ve lost that ability.

After a few minutes, I looked at my sentence. Was it long enough? Good enough? I studied the mentors. Mine was less than, but it is me, now.

Sharing writing is scary. Always. Scary.

But, I felt I was in a caring space. Fear diminished just enough to get me to post this:

At times these days I think about the ways the ocean invites my attention, as the cliff rises up to meet the road, looking down I feel as if I could reach out and touch the blue stillness, and yet below the surface the cold Pacific digs and pulls showing an endless uncontrollable power calling me towards its vast space that was, is, and will be, long after I am gone.

After, I thought about my process.

I was worried. Was I following the assignment correctly?

I wasn’t good enough.

I was expected to try. I needed to show up.

But, now they’d know.

Still, my teacher believed in me.

I felt, whatever I offered would meet caring hearts.

It was just a sentence. Shared among friends. Still I was nervous.  Exposed.

In the end, the rewards were huge. Shared writing brought us closer. It grew trust and opened the door for more. But it took a teacher who believed I could and other contributors who cared.

I wasn’t much of a prompt fan before this experience. Perhaps because I’ve never had the right prompt or the right teacher or the right community.

Now, I’m looking for prompts for my students, imagining how we can experience this work together. And build on it.

What fascinates me is not the result, but the process. The conditions necessary for meaningful writing work.

This is why teachers need to write. Together. For ourselves. For our students.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hThank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog Slice of Life Tuesdays. For providing and supporting a community of caring writers. Read more slices here.



Celebrate: Values vs. Practice

This week I got interim scores from a district assessment. The unstated but very real message in this was: where do you rank and what can you do to pull up those scores. That evening I looked at questions on the test. I thought about them. I spent time and energy in that direction. And then I stopped. And asked, what is best for my students right now? And, how do I want them to leave my classroom in June?

That same evening, I picked up Katherine Bomer’s essay in The Teacher You Want to Be titled, “With and Air of Expectancy.” In it, she compares the word expectant, as in an expectant mother, to expectations, as in what students are to meet in the form of standards.

img_3100-1The word expectant connotes all of the wonderful possible that can be; it celebrates the impending joy. Expectant has an I-can’t-wait-till-you-get-there feeling, and it embraces the I-know-you-will-get-there belief.

Bomer reminded me of what I value, of why I spend so many of my waking moments caught up in my profession, of what I need to do tomorrow and every day after that.

I believe that learning is rooted in engagement and that engagement can only flourish in an environment that is joyful and responsive to the learner’s interest.

Now for the hard part. Where does that value exist in my daily practice?

Today, I’m looking back on the week to celebrate the places where my values showed up. The moments where I practice what I preach.

First: Daily commitment to 15 minutes of choice reading, writing, blogging, commenting, or wondering on Wonderopolis

Second: Daily blogging requirement none; daily average of 20 posts and 50 comments

Third: Twice daily book club talks before and after reading

Fourth: Daily commitment to Read Aloud with the focus on growing our community’s thinking and building the joy of reading

Fifth: Student choice of research topics, books, and partnerships

I believe these moments, these structures put learner interests alongside literacy practice. Each brings a bit of joy, a bit of engagement, and a bit of silly into the classroom. Each puts me on the sidelines, coaching in towards literacy expectations, on their terms. Each has me meeting them where they are. Each provides an opportunity to learn through reading and writing.

At the end of the day, the end of the year, students exceed, meet and approximate the expectations. Bit by bit, each student edges forward. 

The worry I have is not the percentage that will meet the expectation this year. The worry I have is the learner who looks at coming up short as a reason to think they can’t or they won’t. The worry I have is that it’s not about this year. It’s about all that is to come.

Next week, I’ll sit down with families to look at student progress. If a student is less than, it could quite naturally slip into feelings of panic, judgment, failure.

These conferences will be an exercise in expectancy: of what is possible and how we can build towards that goal.  It will be a reminder that learning is a constant state; that the future is full of possibility, that we are expectant. We know you will get there and beyond.

Thank you, Ruth, for your Celebration link up. Read more celebrations and post your own here.





Slice of Life: Book Love

About 15 years ago, I said goodbye to my personal reading life. Consumed by middle-grade fiction and professional teaching books, there just wasn’t any time. The teaching texts became my best friends, holding my hand through lessons. The satisfaction of reading a middle-grade fiction in a day filled my need for story. I came to believe I was doing my best thinking work in the UVW band of text complexity.

I was busy and happy in my new reading space.

This summer, my old reading life snuck up on me with one short read. I didn’t plan for it to stay. I thought it just came for the summer and would go back to where it came from once the school year began. But just this week, I’ve noticed it’s put down roots on my nightstand, in my book bag and in the back seat of my car. Tugging at me to give it just a little more time. Pulling me away from what I should be doing. Saying, take a break, just a few pages.  Distracting me from the papers I need to grade, the phone calls I need to make, the dishes I need to load, the sleep I need to get.

It’s got me in its clutches.  As I finish one book, the next Amazon box appears on the porch.  The beautiful covers suck me in and pull me under another’s spell, speaking just to me. Tailor-made, refusing to let go.

It’s luscious.

Thank you, Two Writing Teacher Blog for Slice of Life Tuesdays. A day to write and share the bits of our lives. Read more slices here.