Slice of Life: Writing A Poem about Writing a Poem About a Poem

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There’s a bit of convergence here, as I am writing poetry every day with Mary Lee over at a Year of Reading, while also keeping an eye out for the work that Chris Lehman is doing with teachers as poets, and of course, this familiar home of Slice of Life.

teacher-poets

The other day, Chris suggested that we write a poem about a “sliver,” which just seems to echo so nicely with Slice of Life. I wrote about watching one of my students writing a poem in what we call “inside this” — using figurative language to capture the essence of inanimate objects. He was struggling and then found inspiration with the assignment itself — writing a poem about the poem he was supposed to be writing about.

So, I wrote a poem about his poem about the poem. And then I made it tappable.

Peace (in the slice),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Reader’s Book of Days

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(This is part of the Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments on Tuesdays. You come, too. Write with us.)

Since January, I’ve been reading the same book, page by page, with the aim of finishing it up at the end of January. That’s right. One page a day, for the entire year. It’s so unlike me — the one who cranks through reading and writing — but The Reader’s Book of Days by Tom Nissley is designed this way, as each page is a calendar day filled with news and information about the literary world that has taken place on that single day.

I love how each page is like a message in a bottle, and I can’t help but imagine the painstaking research that went into this book by Nissley. There’s very little in terms of boring events, and his own writing style in crafting the vignettes on the page (typically, about five or six small stories) is engaging, light-hearted and enlightening on a variety of levels.

How A Reader’s Book of Days Was Made from WW Norton on Vimeo.

I’m sharing this book out because reading it is like a cousin to Slice of Life, where small portraits of writers and books and characters and intrigue from the literary world inhabit each day. It’s a wonderful book, and one that I use as a sort of nightly appetizer before digging into a novel or non-fiction book that is the main read. A Reader’s Book of Days settles me in, bringing me into the spirit of the book.

What more can you ask for?

Peace (in the book of books),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Slice of Data of the Slices of Life

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

And so, it ends.

Today is the last day of daily Slice of Life writing as part of the March Challenge (but anyone can continue to write about the small moments on a regular Tuesday basis via Two Writing Teachers throughout the year).  Each year, on this final day, I often reflect on the power of writing communities, and the connections made throughout the challenge. I notice the way that writing about moments in our lives opens up larger observations of the world in general. I pay attention to how writing remains the heart and soul of reflection.

All that still remains true, and I’ll add that the growth of the Slice of Life community is breathtaking to watch unfold, as each year, dozens more teachers spend their days writing, reflecting, sharing, connecting, and it is a joy to see happening.

Yesterday, though, I thought I might take a closer look at some of the writing and sharing that was going on during typical days of Slice of Life, gathering together some data.

First of all, a disclaimer: this is so not-scientific. But I will explain how I went about it so you can take my numbers for what they are — a slice of observation only.

  • For the average number of posts per day, I randomly chose five different days throughout the month and counted the Slicers who posted, and then averaged it out.
  • For the gender gap, I chose three different days and did the best I could to determine gender, and then tallied and averaged those numbers out.
  • For the number of comments, I took one single day and went to 10 different blogs, and tallied and averaged the number of comments at each blog.
  • And for the topics, I created a chart and used one single day to put topics in different categories, mostly based on titles of the posts, which is far from perfect.

And now, the Slice of Data, which I put into Haiku Deck to share out (and can’t figure out who some of the bottom section of letters are cut off … sorry).


Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app

For me, the most striking slide is the Gender Gap slide, which is something we have noticed in the past with Slice of Life but this year, it became very evident as the numbers increased, the number of male writers did not trend with the women writers. This is not a bad thing, per se, just an observation as one of the few male writers.

Peace (in the data),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Nacho Request

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

My son has taken to leaving sticky notes in strange places, particularly when my wife or I are working or need some quiet time. I opened up my laptop yesterday and found this note, which had me laughing. Notice how my wife circled “yes” to the request for trading a hair brushing for nachos.

Nachos

Peace (in the note),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Shifting Musical Spaces

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

For almost 17 years, every Tuesday night, I have driven over to my friend’s house on the other side of our city, walked up three flights of stairs to a converted attic space full of guitar amps, drum sets, and microphone stands, and played music. Through three different bands — the current one being Duke Rushmore, but before that it was the Sofa Kings and Big Daddy Kiljoy, along with assorted smaller configurations like The Millenium Bugs — that space has been my home-away-from-home for making music.

Alas, no more.

My friend, the rhythm guitarist and fellow songwriter, finally sold his house, as part of his larger financial plans for retirement, and the attic space where so many songs were written, arranged, played, abandoned, rediscovered, revamped and more is now empty of everything but the memories. We’ve now moved over to the basement of our bass player’s house, another town over. It’s great that we have a new space but I’m going to miss that attic.

This is a panoramic picture of the last night of practice:
John's Attic SpaceAnd this is a poem I wrote for my friend, who was so generous with his house for so many years. I framed it for him as a present.
UpontheThirdFloorElizabethStreet

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: A Little Scratch

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

In my push to experience a variety of open education programs (MOOCs and such), I signed up for the Learning Connected Learning 2 through the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten project (and via the Educator Innovator network). I’m feeling a bit lost with it, though, and I can’t tell if it my own fault (I haven’t been paying attention?) or the way the course is set up (it isn’t drawing me in as it should?).

I’m paying attention to this feeling of not quite being “there” because this coming summer, as with last summer, I am going to help to lead the Making Learning Connected MOOC for teachers (I hope you come, too!) We had a blast last summer — playing, making, connecting, reflecting — and we hope to replicate the experience and expand it this summer, too. Without pointing fingers at the LCL2 folks, who no doubt have worked hard to create a space for exploration, something seems to be lacking for me. I don’t feel connected into the experience. But it might be me, and I might need to buckle down and dive deeper in.

So, yesterday morning, I tried one of the activities: introduce yourself via Scratch. If you don’t know what Scratch is, it’s a programming tools out of MIT that allows you to do simple coding and animation. I’ve never been a huge fan of Scratch — when I have used it with students, they lose interest quickly — but I like the concept of visual programming, and you can see the influence of Scratch’s innovative ideas in many apps and programs that teach students how to program and code. Apparently, though, thousands of kids are regularly using it, and the Scratch Community is huge and very active. So, it might be the way I taught Scratch, and not the platform itself. (There’s a theme of doubt coursing this post, I realize).

Here’s what I created as a short introduction to myself in Scratch:

This is a screenshot of the editor area:
me on scratch
Peace (in the play),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Oh … Behave!

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

After spending a day with antsy 12 years olds whose outdoor activity during the day has been curtailed by a lingering winter cold front and who spent almost three hours, silent and mostly focused, while working on their state reading assessment, I was happy to see the buses roll out of the lot and head home yesterday.

First, I had to pick up my son from his after-school band rehearsal — he is a rather reluctant percussionist — and I pulled into the loop a few minutes early, thinking I would read a magazine in the quiet of the van. But outside my window, something else ensued as two mothers almost went to fisticuffs over something … so … stupid.

Let me set the stage with my journalistic hat on my head:

A few cars are in the loop. More are coming. There is car on the other side of the loop from me, parked just fine, when another car pulls up in front of it, and then reverses to get a little closer, in order to make room for other cars in front of it. I think nothing of it. We all do that — make room for others.

The woman in the first car — let’s called her Lady Z — suddenly jumps out, and raps on the window of the woman in the second car in the front — Lady Q — and says, quite loudly, “You’re too close. Move it forward.”

I look over now. Lady Q’s car is fine. There’s plenty of room for Lady Z to pull out. I go back to my magazine until I hear Lady Q get out of her car. Uh oh, I think.

“What?” Q says, now looking at the two cars. She points. “There’s plenty of room. Are you telling me you can’t turn your wheel and get out with that amount of space? What kind of driver are you?”

Lady Z pauses. “Move your car. If I pull out and hit your car, it’s all your fault. That’s what I will tell the police.”

Police?

Now I’m watching, wondering if I am going to have to jump out of the van in a minute and break it up. Really, all I want is a few minutes of quiet and my magazine.

I can see Lady Q fuming. “Move your car,” Lady Z says and heads back into her car. Lady Q goes into her car, and starts up the engine. Instead of pulling forward, though, she slowly, slowly, slowly inches backwards until her bumper is a mere half-inch from the bumper of Lady Z’s car. There’s no getting out now. Lady Q shuts down the engine, jumps out of her car and raps on Lady Z’s window.

“How about now?” she yells, a smile on her face. “Can you get out now? Don’t you dare tell me how to park my car. Don’t you dare tell me what to do,” and then she pulls out her cell phone, and makes a call to someone. She circles Lady Z’s car like a vulture, talking all the time to an invisible person.” …. I don’t know who she thinks she is …. here is her license number … let her try to call the cops on me …”

As she rounds the driver’s side of the car in her wagon circling, Lady Q glares at Lady Z, who does not leave her car. Now, I wonder, what will happen if Lady Z’s child comes out from band and they need to leave? Luckily, Lady Q’s child emerges from the school first, and they take off, leaving plenty of space for Lady Q to get the hell out of there without another word.

It was like being in the classroom, watching immature sixth graders fight over the space between their desks, and all I want to say is: Really? This is how you spend your energy? Behave.

Peace (please),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Teaching to the Test

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

Like many of you who are classroom teachers, we are in the midst of “state testing season.” Or at least, we are entering round one (round two comes in May with Math). This week, my sixth grade students will be diving into the state reading assessment in two two-hour blocks.

There was a time, years back, where I did very little to prep them, feeling that “teaching to the test” was against everything I believed in as an educator. I  changed my mind over time as I realized they needed more overt help in navigating the test. I could not ignore the data showing how much my students were struggling and how glaring some of the weaknesses were.

I felt guilty about not helping them.

So, yes, I now teach strategies all year — good, solid reading and writing strategies, I hope — with an eye towards the state testing, which will be undergoing change in the years ahead with PARCC. I still feel a bit odd about teaching a lesson with overt references to our MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) and the kids groan when I mention MCAS. But I’ve come to realize that this is now part of my job. I don’t drill and kill about it. I teach strategies for approaching unknown reading passages and questions. I frame these lessons in a real way — these are the strategies that readers use all the time. I am just making them more visible. I hope.

Literary terms

Yesterday, we did a review of literary terms, partly as a way to lodge some ideas into their heads and partly to connect these terms to the novels we have been reading all year. Still, I have to admit: the timing of that review was designed to align with this week’s testing.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that, even with all of my intellectual defenses outlined above, that this is bad teaching and is still something I don’t believe in, as something that won’t help my students become stronger readers and better writers and more engaged citizens of the world. I walk away from these kinds of lessons with tinges of guilt that I just can’t shake — a different kind of guilt than I felt in the early years after looking at test scores and realizing my silent protest was hurting my students. On any day of the week, I’d rather have them be writing what they want to write, and being creative in a variety of ways with media, technology and words. That is why I got into teaching in the first place.

And so, I still feel guilty about the strategic moves into teaching for the test, even though our scores have gotten better over the years and I now pour over data to see where weaknesses might still exist, and I wish I could in good conscious return to my days of silent refusal, to focus on teaching for learning, not teaching for testing. But I fear those days are now gone.

Peace (in the silent protest),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: More Odds than Ends

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

It seems like Mondays are good days to catch up on busy Sundays, so here is another post of little slices:

I spent part of my morning changing the theme of my blog. Partly, it was time. But also, I had noticed that my old theme looked just awful on mobile devices, so I heeded the note from my Edublog friends to find a more mobile-friendly theme. I like this new one — it’s a clean design. I’m still tinkering with some of the settings but mostly, I was able to “flick the switch” and things are running pretty smooth.

mind collage

Do you like the change?

In the other part of my morning, I was working on a writing prompt with another online writing community, where the focus was on the idea of a force field or portal. I tried to get serious and failed. So, I moved in the other direction and posted this webcomic:

Be Ready to Dance

In the afternoon, I took my youngest son and a friend to see the new Muppets movie. We’re huge Muppet fans here and I thought the movie had lots of those little giggle moments that I love, and seemed to keep my attention for most of the time. The nine year old boys? They loved it.

Finally, throughout the day, I noticed some interesting activity at the #25wordstory hashtag on Twitter where I periodically write short 140-character stories as a way to experiment with writing in short-form fiction. It’s not that easy. But I noticed a CUE group working on the hashtag, retelling fairy tales. Intriguing!

I had to add a few of my own:



Peace (in the day),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Making Music/Learning Songs

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

Some of you know I play saxophone and write songs for a rock band, Duke Rushmore. We’re in a bit of a quiet spell right now because our lead guitar player has some medical issues that are not yet resolved and our other guitar player has sold his house where we practice (that’s another slice for another day). The other night, we were working on a song that I wrote a few months ago, and which I have shared as a Slice earlier in the year.

The quality of the recording is terrible (our singer used his phone and then had trouble sending the file to me, so he recorded it off the phone with a digital recorder … and that’s never a good thing when you add a second layer of recording — you can hear it in the wavy gravy element of the sound), but you can listening in on how a new song is developing here. We’re still figuring it out, together, making changes and trying out parts. Seeing what work and what doesn’t work. As the writer of this piece, it’s such a powerful experience to be in a room with musicians who are my friends, playing and learning a song that I wrote, and having it slowly come together, section by section.

I left this practice on air, really, and I thought back to where this particular song started months ago, with me on the floor of my bedroom, an empty piece of paper and an acoustic guitar in my lap and some vague notion of lyrics.

Take a listen to Set My Anchor on You


This is a shout-out to my bandmates in Duke Rushmore.

Peace (in the song),
Kevin