Celebrate Found Poetry at Catalina

For me, teaching as a very close cousin to researching. It’s a natural next step to ask students what they think after or before or during any teaching experience. I do this for the same reasons anyone does research: to understand, to validate, to improve our world.

Friday, we came home from a three day, two night trip to Catalina Island. On the boat ride home, I asked each student two questions: What did you learn and what did you love about Catalina.

Some response were factual; others shared big ideas. Realizations about themselves and the world. Sometimes the answers to loved and learned were indistinguishable. Filled with facts, ideas, and emotions, each child told what they valued most. Where they are right now.  The poem below is my analysis of the data.

Found at Catalina

a lot in a little pinch.
Shape affects how they move
hydrostatic skeletons made from the water.

depend on algae
our food, the water.

Fifty percent of the shark species is smaller than an adult human.
Sharks die every day because of human actions.
Sharks aren’t that dangerous.

The bottom of the ocean is dark, lonely, and cold
big eyes or not at all they
use senses to find their way

stars at night
glow in the dark.
There is nothing to be scared of.
I can float.


Slice of Life: The Power of Questioning

Every Tuesday, Two Writing Teachers blog hosts a place for bloggers to post a slice of their life . It is a wonderful, supportive community. Join in as a contributor or read more slices  here. Thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth for providing this space for our writing.11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

Today, after testing, we started the read aloud “What Do Fish Have to Do With Anything?” a short  story by Avi. In the story, the main character,Willie, is a sixth grader who asks a lot of questions. His recently single, overworked mother responds to one of his particularly difficult questions with, “Questions that have no answers shouldn’t be asked.”

With that thought in our minds, we move to the idea of questioning:  the who, what, why and how of questioning in school. Guided by Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana, we started a new line of thinking: How to ask questions.  As members of the Right Question Institute, the authors’ work is not just about teaching students how to question for academic gains,  but  for social justice and self advocacy purposes.


This is just a step toward teaching the Question Formulation Technique developed in the book. A step toward hearing more student voices, student thinking and creating student agency.

Before we started the work,  students had to be clear on the ground rules.

  1. Ask as many questions as you can.
  2. Do not stop to discuss, judge or answer the questions.
  3. Write down every question exactly as it is stated.
  4. Change any statement into a question.

Seems simple? Maybe. Would they just look at me when they saw the idea. Would they be able to make questions out of statements. Could they not argue and criticize ideas of their classmates, We talked a little about each rule and students had to be honest about what would be a challenge.

The talkers, the ones who love debate, admitted #2 would be their biggest challenge. Students who tend to be know-it-alls (other students gave them meaningful looks) decided to be the ones to write the questions they heard to keep themselves quiet.

Some didn’t understand the idea of asking questions.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t get it.”

So I modeled a tiny bit.
“Let’s say the topic is shoes. So questions I could ask might be: Why are shoes important? or How are shoes made?” That quick general example gave those who found the idea of coming up with questions completely foreign, a tiny idea of what the heck I was talking about.

My only criteria for each group was that it  have a scribe and contain 3 to 4 students.

Then I gave them the statement to develop questions about:

Our differences separate us.

I hoped the statement showed no bias on my part, was something that could generate interest and open-ended questions. We have been reading books (Wonder, Out of My Mind, The One and Only Ivan, A Long Walk to Water) that highlight the struggles of those who are different, the outcasts. Those who either don’t fit in or aren’t wanted.  This theme runs through our lives and can cause some of our biggest life challenges. So I was hoping the background knowledge was strong enough to make some connections, although not necessarily from the reading.

They looked at the words on the board.


I worry.

S  asks,  “Do you mean in our books?”

I respond, “Your job is to generate as many questions as you can.”

Then talk. Finally.

They were bursting with questions.



How come….

Is it ok if..


I heard a little bit of, “That’s not a good one.” To which I added, “No judgement.”

And a little of, “That’s because…” To which I mentioned, “No discussion.”

I also heard, “How do you do that? You have so many questions!”

Mostly I heard questions that fit the idea.

In about five minutes most had a page of questions.

One group member came to me and admitted they had nothing because two group members “played around.” (classic) The group was dismantled, distributed among the groups with only three and informed of the questions they had come up with.

As we walked to lunch J said to me, “I’m so glad we are asking questions. I am always asking questions.” I wasn’t surprised to hear this from her. She is someone who asks all the time and it shows in her reading and writing.

Questions are the road to thought, to asserting your ideas, to wondering about why things are they way they are, to how they could be better, to change. All students need a healthy dose of why, when, where, how come in their daily school routine. Questions that come from them, not a teacher or a test. Questioning empowers us.

The scribes filed away their questions and saved them for tomorrow’s next steps: improving and and categorizing  them as open- or closed-ended. Just understanding the difference will be huge.

Excited for tomorrow.


Slice of Life Day 28: Hearing Student Voices

During the month of March I am blogging daily with others in the Slice of Life Daily Challenge. Thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth at Two Writing Teachers for providing and supporting this place to learn and grow. Read more slices here.


Today. What to write? Lots of thoughts. Overloaded brain. Things aren’t completely thought out. I may misspeak. That’s a difficult place to be when you are putting your words into the world. It happens. Just keep writing. That is the goal I told my students. That is your goal for today. So that’s what I’m telling myself on day 28 of the March Slice of Life Challenge.

Write don’t stop. Just write. It’s about fluency, I tell my students and myself. You must be fearless when you know someone might judge your writing. When students write they are judged. They are assessed as to what they need as a writer. What a vulnerable place to be. If someone was out there taking notes on my writing, categorizing my needs as a writer, designing a teaching point for me, would I feel good or bad about this? What would make me feel privileged to get their input. What would make me feel less than and want to hide and never write another word.

I remember one time when I was in a Teachers College workshop with Colleen Cruz, I was stuck. She walked up to me asked me a simple question. With my answer I knew where to go next.  It was magic. She just asked a question and opened my eyes to what was right there. I just wasn’t looking.  I’ll never forget that feeling. It was empowering. Nothing about it made me feel less than. It made me realize what I needed to reach for as a writer and a teacher of writing.

That magic aha moment is hard to give to students. What I am starting to see though, after years of doing this work, is that my mission is to nudge writers, ever so slightly in the direction that they are leaning that approximates forward. Pushing too hard will just result in a fall.

Hearing  what student writers are saying has taken time. Hearing what they are saying versus  hearing my thinking of where I’m trying to take them, is my challenge. What they think and say makes sense, perfect sense to them. Just like understanding phonetic writing, a teacher’s ear needs to be fine tuned to the nuance of what they say and see and how it relates to what they are attempting to do. With that understanding, I can nudge them on from where they are sitting. It takes patience and time of both teacher and  student. I’m just acquiring the ear for this work. Student voices seep in  when I stop myself  and just listen to what they are saying. Then I have the huge aha moment.


You my dear readers have put up with my meanderings over the last 26 days. Thank you. I do appreciate it. To those who continue to visit and take the time to comment. I can only hope I give back a little of what you all have given to  me.

A few slices ago I mentioned a podcast I was doing on twitter and blogging. if you have the time check this out. Listen for my lovely student voices. Unfortunately there isn’t enough of them in this podcast.