Slice of Life: A Gift of Words

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

Never Give Up

“This is for you,” she said, finishing up the last bit of art on the page. I had been wondering what she was doing. As the rest of the class had moved on to another activity, she had been hard at work. “Because this is what you always tell us.”

And with that, this sixth grader handed me this beautiful hand-drawn sign, which I immediately put up in the classroom. Sometimes, it’s nice to hear that the message is getting through. Always, it’s humbling to receive a gift of your words coming right back, amplified through the art of a student.

Peace (persevere),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Texting Amy(Bot)

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity on Tuesdays through the year. Hosted by Two Writing Teachers, we look for the small things in life to write about. You write, too.)

I can’t help but think of Slice of Life when I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal. In fact, someone in Slice of Life may have recommended her first book – Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life — and if that was you (was it you?), thank you, you. I love that book, and have read it more than a few times (which is not something I often do with books. I am a one-and-done kind of reader, unless something resonates, and then I am loathe to lose that book or lend it out to anyone).

So, imagine my happy surprise to be wandering through our city library and there before me was a brand new book by Amy. It’s called Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Just like her other book for grown ups (she writes children’s picture books, too), this one is a gem, filled with wonder of small moments and an underlying sense that this Amy is one warm and endearing person who sees the world through a lens of insight and humor. (She’s the kind of writing who bakes an apple pie and ships it FedEx .. just for being the 100th person to respond to a prompt … that’s a writer who cares about her audience).

Check out her talk about her rather impromptu collaborative project The Beckoning of Lovely

The gimmick of this book is that is a “textbook” — sections are set to resemble those college tomes of yore, titled “history” and “science” and “math” — but the writing is focused on life itself (one math equation is all about love), and Amy’s life (her remembrance of an uncle beloved by many brought me nearly to tears), and the shared essence of all our lives. Oh, and the other part of the gimmick? There are moments in the book where you are invited to “text message” with a bot set up by Amy and her friend. Really.

Texting RoboAmy

I know it’s weird but I found myself enjoying my texting with the AmyBot very much. Part of me wondered, will Amy read these texts some day? Does it matter? The responses were whimsical and lovely, and some led me to her website where I could hear her reading or see images of other readers or take a poll (I chose Curly) or … listen to her selected music as I read the last section of the book, which ended on the theme of endings, with a very creative assortment of endings of other novels.

In the midst of the CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Cycle for Digital Writing Month, this kind of book – the ones that offer an invitation to the reader to engage in digital media — makes me wonder: is THIS digital writing? Even though her book is paper and bound (in my version anyway), the author’s extension and invitation to engage with our phones and on the web as we read her words, to add to a collective gathering of other readers in a community setting and to be part of the “story” that Amy is telling … that seems to have many of the hallmarks of what I consider Digital Writing. I’d love to know what you think. You can leave a comment at this post. I don’t have a KevinBot set up for this.

Here at Slice of Life, we try to do what Amy does. We see small but envision big. The moments that too often slip past our vision — those are the ones I try to write about when I write my Slice. Others do, too. What you realize that only when you start to actively notice the world, in all of its smallest pieces curving in an arc around all of us, is the point when you realize how consequential everything really is. Nothing deserves to be forgotten, but we forget so much. So much of our lives gets lost.

Amy’s books can feel at times like short-attention-theater. She brings us into a moment, and then it is gone. Poof. But the outline of her moments are small works of art, painted with a sense of kindness and wonder and generosity. How lovely is that? How much do we all need more of that? Much. We need much much more.

Thank you, AmyBot. Thank you, Amy.

Peace (it’s me, world),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Dreams May Come (but perhaps not sleep)

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments of our day. You are invited to write, too.)

You still have no idea why … but Sunday night turned into Monday morning … and there was no sleep to be had. You drifted in and out of that strange stasis – not quite dreaming and not quite awake. You were somewhere in the middle of the real world and the imaginary world, and your mind would not easily shake free from one or the other. It was stasis.

You didn’t worry at 11 p.m. There was time. At midnight, you still thought: sleep will come. At 1 a.m., you wondered if something is nagging you (it’s not the election anymore .. that’s your daytime worry now), and you come up short with an explanation for the sleeplessness. Thinking only worsened the sense that you were awake instead of in slumber.

Staring into darkness at 3 a.m., you realize how much you really, really miss the depths of REM sleep, and how long the day before you is likely going to be …. a day back with classrooms full of kids gearing up for the holidays, after three days off the following week for a teaching conference, and there is just no way you are calling in sick today … and then, your mind drifted a bit.

You closed your eyes, hopeful.

You fool, you.

And yet, somewhere between 4 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., you did disappear for a time. Or you thought you had. At that point, your tired brain was no longer sure of anything. It’s possible you just couldn’t remember what happened the minute before this one, and it felt like sleep. You didn’t wake up refreshed. How could you? But you were thankful that there was some lost memory respite from the foggy shadows of the long night, where all you were doing was wondering.

Peace (the next day),
Kevin

PS — Last night, you were fine.

Slice of Life: And there it is …

sol16

(This is a post for Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments of our day. You are invited to write, too.)

We were at the end of our staff meeting yesterday, discussing moves to make our school’s behavior management more systematic across the board. The administrators passed out an incident sheet, showing where things happened and how many incidents there were in our school last year. Talk turned to the difficulty of monitoring bus rides.

And then the principal informed us of a recent post-election incident in which a group of students (I teach elementary, so kindergarten through sixth graders) began chanting and shouting “Clinton Sucks” on the bus.

And there it is.

I know the principal and vice-principal dealt with the incident, but as I wrote last week, this election has brought to light, in ways nothing else has before, the political make-up of the small suburban community in which I teach. Nearly half of the voters here went with the new president, and some of the lawn signs during the election season were brazen enough to make me wonder who would put such language on their lawn.

I have this vision in my mind, of all of these very young children smiling, laughing and joining in with the chanting, no doubt caught up in the excitement of the crowd and the moment, and of the thrill of doing something a bit rowdy and unplanned. I can see the bus driver, trying to get the bus quiet. I can see the students who join in but don’t want to join in, for fear of peer pressure. I can feel the disconnect that comes when the energy of the crowd sweeps you up into its arms, even if you don’t want to be there.

The core students who were chanting on the bus no doubt reflect what is being talked about at home, as we all know young children will echo what they hear their parents say and think (at least, for now). I’m afraid to ask if the leaders were my students. I need to ask but I don’t want to know. You know? So much for being a Peacebuilder school in which we daily pledge to be open and kind to others, or having staff using Responsive Classroom techniques as a way to build community that respects all views.

Or maybe, there is only so much we can do in the school to promote tolerance and reasoned argument. I know I need to keep my own students and my own classroom in my sights. But I wonder, how much of our classroom exploration and talk of social justice in the world, as well as topics of racial equity and tolerance and historical imbalance of power, hit a wall when my students go home?

This election continues to drain me.

Peace (everywhere, for everyone),
Kevin

PS — I would feel exactly the same way if the chanting was reversed, and Trump was the target.

 

Slice of Life: Virtual and Collaborative Peer Review

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are invited to notice the small moments. You write, too.)

Peer editing

There’s always an edge of chaos when I introduce something new and technology-related to our writing process. We’ve been working for about two weeks on a small research/writing project in which my sixth graders are composing Letters to the Next President based on a topic of choice. I wrote about it yesterday.

Last Friday, I put students across my four classes into Virtual Writing Groups. They “invited” other students from their groups into their documents in comment mode. Then yesterday, after a mini-lesson on Warm and Cool Feedback and how to comment in Google Docs, they spent about 30 minutes reading other students’ letters, using the comment tool to offer support and suggestions for improvements.

Letter to Prez Collab Peer Editing

For most, this is the first time they have used the commenting feature as collaboration and the first time they found themselves in a single document with other students, sometimes in the same document at the same time (since all groups had at least one or two other students from the same class as well as students from others).

letteredit1

If you’ve ever been with young writers then they suddenly discover the power and potential of commenting into Google Docs, as well as its potential collaborative features, you know what the room suddenly becomes. A scream out loud, a laugh across the room, a shout to someone else, a burst of confusion. We had it all, in each of the sixth grade classes yesterday.

Peer editing

My role, as teacher, was to allow those moments to happen, put what they were finding out into context (“Now, imagine if we extended your Writing Group to students beyond our own sixth grade in our own school ….”) and then guide them forward to keep actively reading and offering suggestions for improvement.

I asked that they NOT yet read the comments on their own letters, as we will be doing that today in a lesson around accepting/rejecting feedback from others while acknowledging the authority of the “outside reader.” I wasn’t strict on that point, but most were fully engaged in reading what others had written and offering comments.

Next up? Final editing/revision of the Letters in today’s classes, printing them off and mailing them to the White House in the coming weeks. It’s a nice bit of symmetry that our letter project comes to an end on the day of the election.

Peace (it’s collaborative),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Time Gone Wild

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a weekly writing share hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We look at the small moments. You write, too.)

I noticed something amiss the fourth or fifth time I looked at the wall clock. It was still 7:40 a.m. Or so said the clock. It wasn’t. It was 8:25 a.m. and students would be arriving soon.

The clock was dead and I was nearly out of time.

I scrambled to see if it was just my clock. It was. Time had stopped on me. I notified the custodians, who promised to replace it, and finished up my morning message for students. I was thankful for my Saxophone Clock at the back room (although it was interesting when some students who have been with me for two months now only noticed it now, when the school wall clock was busted. So much for being observant.)

Later, while my students were at Physical Education and I was working on plans for the day’s writing, the custodians did indeed come in. They took down the old clock and put up a new one, and then told me that it would take a day to settle into the automated system.

Time Gone Wild

Ten minutes later (I think), I looked up and time, as they say, was flying. The seconds hand looked like it had a jolt of caffeine and the minutes hand was doing its steady dance around the hours. By 3:45 p.m., after school had ended, the clock read 5:20.

It was time for me to head home.

Peace (ticking away),
Kevin

Slice of Life: They Should Be Bursting With Stories

sol16(This is part of Slice of Life, a regular writing activity designed to look at the small moments of life. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You are invited to write, too.)

The paraprofessional who works alongside me with my sixth graders — she’s someone for whom I have tremendous respect and admiration and gratitude for, on so many levels —  pulled me aside yesterday.

“They’re so afraid that they will be wrong that they don’t even know where to start,” she whispered. I nodded. Like her, I too had noticed a sense of reluctance in the room. Many students were staring off, empty page in front of them.

“That’s because there is no right or wrong answer here. That confuses them,” I responded. She agreed. We both were saddened by that insight.

What we were doing was writing short stories as a daily writing prompt. Now, this is not the first time we have done writing into the day, but it was the first time that I pulled out Chris Van Allsberg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick as a story generator. If you don’t know what this picture book is all about, check out this video I found by a high school student on YouTube. This YouTuber does a pretty decent job of explaining it.

I had featured four of the 15 mysterious illustrations from the book (I have a portfolio version), instructed my students to choose one of the images (which have a title and caption but no story), and use it as inspiration for 15 minutes of short story writing in their writing notebooks. My only stipulation was that they had to write in First Person Narrative Point of View. Other than that, they were free to use the illustration anyway they wanted.

“There is no wrong way to do this,” I instructed. “The story is yours to write.”

But for some, this open-ended instruction stopped them dead in their tracks. They didn’t know how to begin or where to begin. They didn’t know what I was looking for. How could they write “the story that had gone missing” if they didn’t have the story in front of them?

It saddens me that we have to wrestle creativity like this out of sixth graders. At age 11 and 12, they should always be brimming with ideas, bursting with stories. But their response raises questions: Is this what standardized testing is doing to our students? Has the right/wrong dichotomy immobilized our students into inaction? Is this what the Common Core push away from narrative/poetry writing is doing to our classrooms?

Yes. It is.

In all of our edu-talk about “inquiry”, the question remains: how do we best help our young people see the rich possibilities in the blank slate before them if we don’t give them more opportunities, more freedom, more chances to explore their ideas on the page? Perhaps this happens more in your school than it does in mine. I get them at the end of their time at our school. I notice the echoes of past lessons. I can sense the shift in instructional practices.

Let me end on a positive note: when it came time to share the stories they had written (and we always build in sharing time), there were so many amazing pieces of writing. Stories told from the strangest perspectives. Dialogue-rich and thought-rich stories of characters struggling against the oddity of the world. Stories told in the present, the past, the future. Descriptive language that brought us deep into the landscape of the imagination.

They had it in them. Of course, they had it in them. They needed permission to write the way they wanted to write. Let’s provide them with more of those opportunities, and understand, as teachers, that this kind of creative writing pays dividends in the future.

Writing stories just for the sake of writing stories — no assessment, no grades — is a small gift we can give to our students in this time of data points and standardized testing. Give it, freely, won’t you?

Peace (don’t be afraid to make it happen),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Cool Collaboration

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing feature hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about moments. You write, too.)

I wish I could embed the media piece I want to write about today, but you will have to go to Mariana’s blog to see and hear it. Then, come on back!

<… we pause here for a blog break … musical interlude … >

Are you back?

Isn’t that nifty and cool?

Mariana shared out the final version of this impromptu collaboration yesterday and I was so excited about it for a many reasons. This all began in the DS106/Daily Create ecosystem, as Mariana and Vivian are both regulars in my DS106 Twitter stream.

The other day, for a Daily Create assignment to create an animated gif, I took that saxophone player image and layered an animation of notes on top of it.

Mariana saw it, and wondered if she could take it a step further. She wanted to split the original image and tie them back together in a gif format called Stereogram. I had included Viv in a tweet back to Mariana because I know Viv is also a saxophone player. Viv suggested adding a layer of saxophone music to the gif.

Viv recorded her part and then put it on Soundcloud. I grabbed the file off Soundcloud, pulled it into Soundtrap and then realized that my tenor saxophone was at my bandmate’s house,. So I dusted off my soprano sax, and proceeded to riff off the top of Viv’s part, as best as I could.

That file was soon up in Soundcloud so that Mariana could grab it and layer it on her gif … and that’s what she shared out yesterday. It was very cool.

So, a few things to reflect upon: collaborative creativity like this always gets me curious and energized. I know Mariana and Viv via social media circles (mostly DS106) but the passing around of media was rather seamless. We created together, collaboratively.  We shared, downloaded, added, uploaded, shared again. We live in different parts of the world but that didn’t matter. We were working together.

Second, Viv and I have periodically thought: we should figure out a way to accompany ourselves on saxophone. I don’t know many other sax players in my online circles. Viv is one of the few. So, finally getting a chance to “jam” with her was great. The gif was a perfect opportunity.

Third, this was all fun. Thanks, Mariana. Thanks, Viv.

Peace (sounds like music),
Kevin

Slice of Life: #IMMOOC Quotes of Note

(This is for Slice of Life, a weekly writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

path of idea

We’re somewhere in the middle of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC, but I am not sure where things are because I keep forgetting to pay attention to what chapter I am on. I am pretty sure I have read ahead in George Couros’ book — The Innovator’s Mindset. I don’t think it matters. It’s a MOOC, after all.

From Innovator's Mindset

Yesterday, I followed a digital path from the Kindle app on iPad (where I am reading The Innovator’s Mindset book) … to the Amazon Kindle website where my highlighted annotations are housed on the Web … to the Pablo visual quote-making site so that I could “visualize” some of the highlights … to Flickr to host the quote images and then … back here to share the quotes. I’ll be hitting the “share” button one more time, pushing the post into my social media networks with a mouse-click.

From Innovator's MindsetThat’s quite a path across platforms just to share a few words I didn’t even write, and yet, it did seem rather seamless. It’s true that while one BIG APP would be helpful for accomplishing all that (read-highlight-quote-share), we adapt to what is available to us and use it as we need. And I have been walking this path of sharing from one platform to another for some time.

From Innovator's Mindset

The quotes sprinkled here in this post center on ideas that I want to hold on to, as best as I can. And if you look closely at the quotes I am sharing, you will see the message in them (exploration, reflection, possibilities) dovetails quite nicely with the message I am writing here for Slice of Life.

From Innovator's Mindset

Peace (make it work for you),
Kevin

Visual Slice of Life: Up On the Wires

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing feature of Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. Come write with us.)

High ropes

This image neatly captures our day yesterday, as we spent the entire day outdoors at a facility that helps with team-building and community-building.

The central activity is the “high ropes course,” a series of challenges for our sixth graders, and an opportunity to talk about anxiety and reaction to stress, support of your community and individual accomplishments.

It was a great day. The weather held out (we thought rain was coming but it never did) and the energy of the day was overwhelmingly positive.

Peace (high and low),
Kevin