Slice of Life: A Whole Lot of Words

Slice of Life 2011


This is the number that reflects the grading I have been doing for the past five days in between sports events with my sons, lesson plans for school, teaching, eating, sleeping, talking to my wife, petting the dog and doing all of the things that people do when not working.

2,964 is the number of Parts of Speech words I have been looking at through my teaching lens, examining and, in some cases, explaining in writing why “to” is a verb in that case and not a preposition. I have 78 students, who each had to color code Parts of Speech words in a project (identifying words in their own writing). There were 38 Parts of Speech that had to be identified for each student.
Partof Speech Projects 2011
Here’s the break down of the words I read:

  • 790 nouns
  • 790 verbs
  • 395 adjectives
  • 395 adverbs
  • 234 prepositions
  • 234 pronouns
  • 78 conjunctions
  • 78 interjections

And overall? They did great. I am very impressed by the effort and hard work that went into this project. I’ve written before about how odd it is to have kids pick apart writing to get to the word level, but I was most impressed by the writing itself. They had to write a narrative about themselves to use as text for color coding. It’s nice to see how far so many have come from where they were as writers at the start of the year.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was sick of Parts of Speech right now. (so are my students).

Peace (that’s a noun, right?),

Slice of Life Video: Inside the Pyramids

Slice of Life 2011(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers)

I normally get to school a bit earlier than most of my colleagues — it’s that time to get my head ready for teaching — and I was wandering down the hallways, looking at this recent social studies project that my teaching colleague does with our kids. The students create pyramids of what they would bring into the afterlife with them, and then they put the pyramids on top of their lockers.

Here’s a brief video tour of a few of them.

Hallway Lockers from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (in the inside look),

Slice of Life: The Rubber Stamp Collection for Teachers

Slice of Life 2011Yesterday, I got inspired by a piece I read at McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies humor site about potential rubber stamps that writing teachers would want to have handy when correcting student papers. It cracked me up. And then, on Twitter, I started to create and share my own over the course of the day. So, here I present to you, my collection of possible Writing Rubber Stamps for Teachers:

“Remind me when I said you could use a bright pink gel pen for final projects? You owe me a pair of glasses.”

“Lovely. Beautiful. Stunning. Don’t Stop”

“Remember that graphic organizer we used? Did you use it?”

“I hope someday to walk in a bookstore and see your book on display. You’re an amazing young writer.”

“Do you really know where this story is going? ‘Cause I don’t.”

“I wish the standardized test knew you were such a poet. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. “

“i before e except after c. Or better yet, why not use that spellcheck on the computer you used to type this thing.”

“You flip tense so much I don’t know if I am in the future, present or past. I’m gonna barf.”

“Your character in your story was just perfect. I felt as if he/she were walking into the room as I read.”

“I know you love animated clip art. But dancing bears and exploding pigeons have no place in this essay.”

“In the future, if the eraser shreds the paper, please get a new paper. We have plenty.”

“You know that second paragraph? The one with words you can’t pronounce? Should I Google it?”

“I’m a little worried about your imitation of ee cummings in this college application letter.”

“Kindly inform your parents that their work on your paper resulted in a solid B grade.”

“I believe you once again confused your math project with your writing project.”

“Misspelling your own name on a final paper will ALWAYS result in some lost points. Try to practice.”

“Coincidence is magic. You and your girlfriend/boyfriend’s exact answers on the test is pure kismet.”

“The joy you put into this is assignment is the joy I will have reading it. The pain, too.”

If you have any rubber stamp ideas, let me know.

Peace (on the stamp),

Slice of Life: Counting Cars; Supporting Writing

Slice of Life 2011

(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers)

“Blue one.”

“Yellow one.”

Driving. Driving. My eyes are on the road.

“Black one.”

My ears are on the kids, who are scanning the roadway like vultures for fallen prey.

“Black one.”

“It’s not. It’s a Mercedes.”


Driving, driving.


“You can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a dealership.”


“Yellow one.”



Somewhere, someone in the VW company is smiling. Talk about a viral advertising campaign. “Punch Buggy” is perfectly suited for adolescent boys, isn’t it? They’re usually bored on the drive. They love cars. And punching each other on the arm is just a perfect way to score a point.

Given the recent financial difficulties of the National Writing Project, it occurred to me as I was writing this post that we need something similar for times when we see any kind of writing that has been inspired by a teacher.¬† It would raise the profile of writing and teaching, right? We could call it “Word Tap.” When you see the writing, you tap someone one the shoulder.

“Creative one!”

“Poetic one!”

“Informational one!”



Peace (in the game),

Slice of Life: The Unexpected Verb Video

Slice of Life 2011(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers) As we were nearing the end of our Parts of Speech unit, my students and I were talking about Schoolhouse Rock and how using music and video can add a little spice to an otherwise sort-of-dull topic.
Yesterday, a student came up to me and said she and a friend had created a music video about Verbs. It’s pretty neat, but what was better was after showing it to the class, the two talked about how they did it. They used MovieMaker, with animated clip art, and then downloaded an Auto-tune App (ahhh — I’ve railed against Auto-tune before in this space, but given it helped my students be creative, I will step back) that allowed them to record their voice, email the file to themselves and then download and upload into Moviemaker.

The video itself is simple enough, but the fact that they did it just to do it, and then shared it with me …. I love that kind of learning. It went beyond parts of speech, and into media production, publishing (the video is now at our classroom blog site) and reflecting. I bet they didn’t know they were learning, though. They were just having fun.

I wonder if any of their classmates will get inspired ..

Peace (in the verb),

Slice of Life: Writing with my students

Slice of Life 2011(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers) We were able to sneak in a bit of freewriting in class yesterday. For about 15 minutes, the room was mostly quiet as my students worked on stories, poems, letters, comics and whatever it was that they decided to write about. My only condition for freewrite is that they are writing and they are quiet. The condition I set for myself is that I write along with them.

Yesterday, I had an image in my mind from last weekend, when some thick fog rolled into our area as the warm weather hit the cold earth. It was an eerie experience, like something out of Stephen King. My son and I noticed an old tobacco barn that had fallen down over the winter (there was a lot of that around here), and that scene of slow destruction amid thick fog was pretty amazing.

I tried to capture that in this poem.

Abandoned Barn
(listen to the podcast)

Soft light flickers through
the veil of fog,
Shimmering off the old barn
and seeping into my mind.

Boards, beams
and advertising banners announcing the sale
of tomatoes, turnips
and summertimes along the roadway

lay scattered on the ground,
a graveyard of wood and iron
and seeds.

The shotgun blast of rubble
instills in us a sense of fear, awe,
and curiosity.

I lean against the weight of winter –
the remnants of snow, sleet
and falling rains –

but it’s an illusion, too,
in this cloud cover that is as empty
as mist.

Spring warmth wrestles winter’s fury
and then, beneath the stillborn chaos,
a flower blooms:
slow, sturdy and strong.

Peace (in the poetry),

Slice of Life: A Roald Dahl-ish Day

Slice of Life 2011Yesterday was World Read Aloud Day. I had never heard of it until Donalyn Miller tweeted about it. How can you go wrong with reading out loud to students? I carved out some time our day yesterday with all four of my classes and pulled out a Roald Dahl collection. From there, I entertained my students with some craziness that only Dahl could conjure up.

I read out parts of The Twits, and then James and the Giant Peach, and then The BFG and finally, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My kids loved it, and the section from The BFG went over the best — it’s the part where he is telling the girl about how he collects dreams in glass bottles and then blows them gently into people’s heads at night.

At home, I read aloud a lot to my kids, although the oldest has mostly lost interest (except for when he pretends to be petting the dog but is really listening) and the middle son comes and goes on the couch. But the six year old is now at the perfect age. We just finished up, as fate would have it, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (see my review and a review by a student of mine), and have now moved on to a Spiderwick Chronicle book.

I love the closeness of the experience of reading a book out loud. I love how he reads me chapter titles now (which he couldn’t do just a few months ago), how we both get excited about the story, and how telling him stories is activating all sorts of things in his brain. I’m already feeling wistful that he will be last one in the house to sit for long spells with me. But I have a few more years with him, and I have my kids at school, too, who still love to hear a good story read out loud.

Peace (in the book),

Slice of Life: Microloans, the World and Me

Slice of Life 2011

This morning, I realized that today was International Women’s Day, a way to celebrate the amazing role that women play in our world and the struggles that so many still face in so many places. I also realized that I had some credit in my Kiva Microloan account – money which had been paid back from previous loans.

The two ideas are connected this morning because a good percentage of the organizations that I have donated to via Kiva over the past two years have been either women-run businesses or women collaborative projects. I remember reading in Three Cups of Tea a statement that Greg Mortenson makes about the importance of supporting women, as they are more likely to use donations and other forms of assistance to raise up the family rather than use it for themselves. It’s a sad fact, perhaps, but I believe there is truth in that idea.

(my loans on the map)
kiva loans 2011

So, this morning, I added my $25 credit to a project to support a restaurant in a part of Africa (Uganda) and I tallied up my donation into the Kiva Group called Shift Happens, which is made up of educators. That group of teachers has collectively donated out more than 400 microloans to the tune of $13,000.

The funny thing about microloans is that it seems so small, but I always feel good about doing a small part of something larger. If you have never tried Kiva, give it a look. It will make you feel good about yourself, and when that one loan gets paid back, you turn it around and help someone else. And on today, when we pay attention to the success and plight of women in the world, perhaps Kiva is one option to reach out beyond your bubble and impact the world. And be sure to join our Shift Happens group, and add to the shift.

Peace (in the change),

Slice of Life: The End of Bassman

Slice of Life 2011Last year, in a bit of a hiatus between the collapse of my longtime band (The Sofa Kings) and the start of a new band (no name yet), I started to tap into the world of rock and roll bands with a webcomic called Bassman. I have always wanted to play bass in a band (even though I am only so-so — my main instruments are the sax and rhythm guitar) and the comic allowed me to explore this interest.

I worked on about 20 comic strips and then lost interest. The other day, I stumbled on Bassman again (and sent the link off to our new bass player, who is so incredibly talented) and realized that I needed to bring the comic to an end, and what better way to end the story than with the band falling apart and the members wondering what is next.

Yesterday morning, with the gift of a two-hour delay in my school (but not in my sons’ schools), I wrote out and then created the final comic strips in the Bassman series. If you know any musicians in a rock band (or if you are one yourself), you may recognize something in the characters.

Peace (in the dissonance),

Slice of Life: At the Movies with Rango

Slice of Life 2011It was a rainy post-winter/pre-spring day yesterday, so I grabbed my middle son and a friend and went to the movies. The place was mobbed. I suspect they were all feeling as we were: get out of the house.

The movie we chose was Rango (with voice by Johnny Depp as Rango the lizard) and I have to say it had to have been one of the oddest animated movies I have seen in quite some time. I’m not sure if it is was for kids, or for the parents. The story opens in a way that brought me right back to college, when I was completely taken by the Carlos Castaneda series of Shaman Philosophy books about finding oneself by metaphorically exploring inward (peyote apparently helps).

“A man can’t walk out of his own story.” (or something like that)

This quote came and went throughout the movie as the protagonist (who calls himself that at the start of his adventure in a sort of meta-nod to the audience watching) is thrust into an Western adventure where water is a commodity in short supply. And it rambled around  in my head.

Rango is filled with references to many movies and books that completely escaped the kids. Here are some that stuck out with me:

  • Greek drama (some birds sing out the Greek Chorus)
  • Chinatown (“control the water”)
  • Wizard of Oz (the hawk/witch gets killed)
  • The No-Name Westerns of Clint Eastwood
  • Shane
  • Any old-time Western movie you have ever seen

I’m not saying Rango was great. It was interesting. My son and his friends didn’t like it. I tried to explain that what I liked was how it didn’t feel like a Disney movie — it had a different style.

“It’s not Disney, dad, it’s Nickleodean,” my son grumbled.

Peace (in the hot sun),