Real Men Write (Perceptions of Gender)

The first page of Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog cuts to the heart of this post in many ways. Jack, a young student, is doing a poetry assignment in class, and he writes: ... boys don’t write poetry. Girls Do.


As Jack learns over the course of exploring something traumatic, writing can become the key to unlock his understanding and writing can help him come to grips with the world, at large, in all of its unfairness and potential. Creech’s free verse novel is an important read on so many levels, including puncturing the perceptions that boys don’t write poetry, or about feelings.

They do. We do.

Greg A. —  over at his blog, Dash: Life Between the Numbers — wrote a very powerful post for Slice of Life the other day that has stuck with me for days and had me writing this post as a sort of response.

In a very eloquent way, Greg circled around the idea of what a “real man” is in this world of gender expectations. It was the reading of a short story with his students that got Greg moving in this direction, wondering how it is that we put ourselves in such confined gender boxes, and then he ended his post with these lines:

Dash: On Men

I wrote a comment for him, suggesting in a half-joking way that a social media campaign about what “real men” were in the world of writing and sharing might be appropriate. That’s the image below here — my meme attempt to celebrate men as writers. Of course, there are plenty of male writers in the world, but there are still many boys in my classroom who fall into the gender trap of males as athletes, not as poets; of men as leaders, not as collaborators; and on and on.

Real Men Write

We teachers often dispel those myths as soon as they pop up (I hope), as learning moments, although sometimes (too often?), you can feel the invisible pull of the views from home informing and constructing our young people’s views of the world.

I am very sensitive to this situation, and never openly disparage conflicting points of view, particularly if influenced by parents. Instead, I seek to provide alternative views of the world, where balance and equity prevail. We talk. We write. We try to understand.

And, as Greg suggests, I try to show what I believe a man can be in this world by my own example. This idea that writing, particularly emotional writing, is just for the girls and not for the boys, does an injustice to the power of the writing to dig deep, to gather ourselves into reflection, and to write about the world so that we can better understand the inner landscapes of who we are when no one else is looking. I wonder if this perception originates in the elementary years, when so many of our teaching colleagues are women, and not men. (In our sixth grade, three of the four of us are men, but I know that is a rare occurrence, indeed)

So, I write with them. I share with them. I am careful not to share too much, of course, but I am deliberate in showing how my writing expresses myself, and how young writers of any gender can accomplish great things. I show I care.

Yet, even in my own writing life, I see this gender split. I can’t help but notice that our Slice of Life community, which Greg and I are part of, is mostly composed of women. I am being careful here, because I am not putting blame on anyone for this disparity. They are wonderful women in the Slice of Life world. I am just noticing, as I have in other years, that the disparity is there. The gender balance in Slice of Life is out of balance, although that has always been very anecdotal.

This year, however, we were given access to a database of Slicers, as a way to create “writing pods” (great idea, although I am wary of making “male writer” pods as a solution to this post for fear of further isolation, right? And Two Writing Teacher folks are not suggesting we gather by gender, anyway). I wondered if I could discern gender by looking at the more than 300 people in the database who signed up as Slicers looking for Writing Pods.

Mostly, I could indeed get a sense after some analysis, although my data chart should not be considered scientifically accurate (some usernames and blogs had no discernible gender, and others are blogging without filling out the form, and so on).

But, I think this chart, and its wide gender disparity, does capture my sense of the Slice of Life community. Maybe it captures the teaching profession itself. (And a whole other range of questions around race would no doubt fill many more blog posts).

The numbers generate a few ideas I have that you are invited to dispute, as they are my own general observations only:

  • The “Two Writing Teachers” group are all women, with many connections to female educators and writers;
  • Many women educators, more than male educators, seem to seek a safe and supportive online writing community to share ideas and solicit feedback;
  • Men are reluctant to share personal details and emotional insights in a public space for fear, as Greg notes, of the Man Card gender issues.

And now I have to say this again and be clear: I have only ever felt nothing but supported and invited in the Slice of Life and Two Writing Teachers‘ communities, and there has never been a single practice of exclusionary invitation to anything I have seen. Ever. Not once.

So why aren’t more men writing in the Slice of Life? Why aren’t they taking part in rich discussions about writing and teaching and connections? I don’t know. They should. You should.

sol16Consider yourself invited to the Slice of Life, a daily writing activity through March and then every Tuesday throughout the year. Find your small moments. Write your experiences.

Real men write. They really do.

Peace (in equity and understanding),



Slice of Life: Endless Youth on the Stage

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16It seems like each year in March, we get a chance to see a preview of a musical production by our regional high school. Some years, they come to our school. Most years, we go to them. Yesterday, we went to the high school and watched with wonder as these talented high school students put on a preview of Peter Pan.

P pan

About two-thirds of the theater group are former students, so part of the game for us teachers is trying to remember names and faces, and look beyond costumes to remember their time in sixth grade. It’s not easy, and we laugh about it at lunch later on, but we sit there in our seats, so proud of them anyway. We remember Captain Hook as the kid with incredible musical talent, even early on, and Peter Pan as the girl with a dreamy look in her eye. We see the “lost boys” and shake our heads. We watch the dance routines and remember Talent Show nights.

The Peter Pan production was lavish, even though we could not witness the “flying” that will happen in the three days of the run of the musical play this weekend. Apparently, that involves some intricate systems and contraptions and lots of adult supervision that was not available for us.

At the end, they left time for questions from the audience of younger students, and the range of questions — from auditioning for parts (everyone who auditions gets a part) to rehearsing (since January) to the backstage coordination — showed a high interest from the audience. Again, I was reminded of how important the Arts are for so many students, and how dreadful it is when the Arts get cut or curtailed due to funding or the push into standardized testing.

Peace (off the stage),

Slice of Life: One Reader, Many Texts

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16One of the more significant “shifts” in any version of Common Core-aligned curriculum in the upper grades (and maybe even some lower grades) is having students reach across varied texts and then synthesize what they have read in a piece of developed writing. I am trying to do more of that with my sixth graders, but still find the coordination of texts, graphic organizers and thoughtful writing components is a lot to ask of many of my students.

We did some work with this ‘reading across texts’ yesterday in class. It was one of those “teacher-led, think-aloud” days, where we worked together with the reading (the passages were about zoos and animals, so there was high interest by many), the annotated highlighting of passages, the breaking apart of the inquiry question (compare/contrast), building on graphic organization strategies from the whole year to adjust to more than one text, citing evidence from the three passages in a single piece of writing,  and then talking through the writing piece.

It was fruitful but exhausting, in many ways, and some students still had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look in their eyes. We’ll be doing this more than a few times this year, of course, and normally I go deeper into multiple texts and synthesis writing later in spring as we move more into argumentative writing. But our state is moving some of the PARCC style components into our state test this month, and waiting for my curriculum map to catch up to us would be an injustice to students who likely will be confronted with these multiple-text questions (we saw some last year, too, but this year, the state has told us there will be PARCC components).

I’m not saying being able to read and comprehend, and write about, varied text is not a good skill to have. It is. I just know I, as teacher, need to keep learning more varied and better ways to teach it because even after what I think was some pretty decent teaching (if I do say so myself), I know it was not enough. And I have been thinking and working with this for quite some time now. I even led some PD with my colleagues a few years back.

But we always can learn more …

Peace (here, there, everywhere),

Slice of Life: The Face on the Floor

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16One of the best things about Slice of Life (there are many, of course) is that writing about moments every single day focuses your attention on things otherwise forgotten or ignored. You are always on the look-out for something you missed.

I was walking down the school hallway yesterday morning, taking a break from an early morning of filling out report cards, when I saw a face that I see every day, and think: I should take a picture of that.

So, I did, knowing that I would be writing about it this morning. This Face on the fFloor, shaped by the construction of the floor tiles — and a chip in the tiles that has expanded into a sort of mouth — and the emergency door system, is just a wonderful surprise, and sometimes, I try to imagine what it is thinking all day long. (Heck, that just might be a Daily Create suggestion in the future).

Face in the Floor

The Face seems contemplative about the world around it, doesn’t it? Almost … amused. 

We all see the world in different ways and I never asked students, How many of you have noticed the Face in the Floor? They pass over it and by it a dozen times a day. They are more likely to be chatting with friends, or thinking of lunch, or juggling books and binders, or looking at the artwork on the walls.

This might be a good writing prompt in my classroom …

Peace (on all of our faces),

Slice of Life: Hanging Out With Teachers

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16Our students had a half-day yesterday because of teacher professional development session, but the presenter for our afternoon session on literacy was sick so a collection of us teachers in grades four through six spent the afternoon talking about writing in the content areas.

It was fruitful, if only to have time to meet and talk with colleagues in other grades about teaching. We only rarely have time to collaborate with colleagues outside of our grade areas these days, given schedules and district priorities and such. To be honest, we also all have report cards on our mind (they go out on Monday).

After my school day ended, I zoomed off to the second session of a course I am co-facilitating with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project around using the Library of Congress digital archives for primary source and student inquiry projects. It was another great session, even though everyone was tired after a long day in the classroom. We spent a lot of time working on creating primary source text sets and developing lesson plans, as they will be teaching a lesson with primary sources and bringing student work back to our last session in three weeks.

I wrote about this professional development course and the work we are doing with the Library of Congress at Middleweb, if you are interested.

In both cases — at my school and at the PD session — the level of discussions, questions and sharing reminded me of the power of teachers coming together. While the impromptu session at my school could have used more structure, the conversations were valuable. In the evening session, the exploration of something new with student inquiry as the focus remains a spark of celebration. I am grateful to have been part of both.

Peace (and connect),

Slice of Life: Of Zooks and Yooks

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16This is a sort of deja vu slice, since I think I have likely written about what I do for Dr. Seuss Day and Read Across America Day (they were both yesterday) at least once or twice in past Slice of Life. But I still enjoy digging out my Seuss The Butter Battle Book to share with my sixth graders on that day.

The real lesson for literature is Allegory (a term none were familiar with) and history (The Cold War) but any reason to bring out a Dr. Seuss book is fine by me. Not many have had The Butter Battle Book read to them (a few had watched the video version at some point) and I made sure my reading style projected both the absurdity of the tale (butter? bread? Yooks? Zooks?) with the sharp political commentary of the Cold War’s nuclear arms race.

I even found a great chart online that connected the symbolism of the book with geopolitics of the Cold War age, which led to long discussions in each class about the Berlin Wall, for example, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

You can’t go wrong with Seuss.

Peace (let is be now and into the future),

Words They Invented: 2016 Edition of the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary

Invented Words 2016

Each year, my students invent new words as part of our Word Origins unit. As we explore the many ways words come into the English Language (with a heavy emphasis on roots, prefix and suffix to support vocabulary acquisition), they invent some new words and then choose one of their words to donate.


Yes, they donate their word to an ongoing endeavor called The Crazy Collaborative Dictionary Project. Now in its 11th year, and more than 800 words strong, the dictionary project collects invented words each year. I can’t believe we are still doing it but we are, and each year, the students are intrigued by the project.

The word cloud above is the crop of words from this year’s classes that will be added to the dictionary in the coming week or two. Students also record themselves, saying their words and definitions, so that their voice becomes part of the dictionary project.

Peace (in the word),

PS .. and of course, there is Frindle as our inspiration …

Frindle: Words from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

At MiddleWeb: Science-themed Research Projects

ncle brief

(My piece was the lead-off in this education newsletter, which is pretty neat)

I wrote my latest column at MiddleWeb about our science-based research project, in which I tried to balance an openness for students to choose topics while digging into elements of research itself. I think the results from students were pretty strong in terms of writing and researching. Plus, they did media projects as extension activities.

Come read Enter the Research at MiddleWeb

Peace (in the sharing),

Bob: Weird Al, Dylan and Palindromes

semordnilaP htiw yaD sdrawkcaB detarbeleC eW

Yesterday, our school celebrated Backwards Day as part of a Spirit Week event planned by our Student Council (of which I am the advisor). Lots of kids had clothes on backwards but I struggled myself on how to demonstrate Backwards Day.

My co-teacher came to the rescue with a brilliant idea: “Let’s do palindromes today.”

Only one or two students in my four classes knew what a palindrome even was, so it was a fun lesson but also gave them some other ways to think about playful language (and comes right after our unit on Word Origins ends).

To show palindromes, we shared this Weird Al video, called Bob, which is full of palindromes in a fun way that only Weird Al can pull off, and as with most of his videos, it is also an homage to music.

In this case, the video references almost completely the famous Bob Dylan video for Subterranean Homesick Blues from the early 1960s. There were even fewer hands in the room when I asked, who knows who Bob Dylan is? So, I gave them a Dose of Bob, with this video and some discussion of his impact on music as a songwriter/poet/lyricist, and talked, too, about the Remix Culture, of riffing off the original to make something new and entertaining.

Then, they illustrated a bunch of palindromes (Taco Cat remained a fan favorite) and tried their hand at coming up with their own (a very difficult task for many). So, they got some writing, some music history, some remix concepts and had fun. All in the name of being backwards.

Peace (ecaeP),

Book Review: Book (My Autobiography)

You know those moments when serendipity hits?

I had one of those moments yesterday, as I brought my son to the library and stumbled, just as I was thinking of creative non-fiction that would make sense in my classroom, on Book: My Autobiography by John Agard (illustrations by Neil Packer). There the book was, just sitting on a bookcase, with the word “Book” facing me. I picked it up and was immediately lost in the story. Took it home. Kept on reading. Kept on thinking.

Book tells the story of the book, in a very creative narrative style, bringing us Book as the narrator of the book through the ages. It begins with:

My name is BOOK and I’ll tell you the story of my life.”

And from there, it moves briskly through ancient times of writing across cultures, through the refinement of paper, to moveable type to the Age of eBooks. The voice is poetic, and funny, with enough research behind the story of Book to provide multiple in-roads for discussions about various cultural advancements (Egypt, China, India, Sumar, etc.). The text is also complimented with rich illustrations and a handful of poems about reading and writing and books as physical objective manifested with imagination.

Book is my kind of book.

As I was reading, I was remembering an old unit I used to do around the printing press and newspapers (it was a Student Teacher project). I had this activity where students created their own moveable press device for printing text. And as I read further, I could see timeline constructions, argumentative writing, and mapping activities and more as I read this story. Mapping the changes of how we write and how we read … that’s a perfect text for the kinds of discussions we have in our classroom on a regular basis, to be honest.

As it happens, this year’s class parents are asking about how they can give a “gift” to our grade from fundraising money they have, and they wondered if a book set might be possible … so I see this as one possibility. (Cost might be prohibitive, though, as it is only in hardcover right now).

It also has been reminding of me this cute video from a few years ago (which is a version of the picture book). The video is a trailer for It’s a Book by Lane Smith:

Peace (in the love of books),