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),

March Book Madness: Just Kids

Just Kids (trade paperback)

The brackets for basketball are out, but I am still plugging away at my own March Book Madness, where I am featuring book reviews and posters from myself and from my students.  Today, I am writing about Just Kids, the memoir by rocker/poet Patti Smith. This book won the National Book Award and I was very curious to see what the fuss was about. Although I am a musician and I write songs, I don’t know all that much about Smith, other than bits of her music here and there.

Just Kids covers the early years of Smith’s entry into the art world of New York City and it centers its heart around her relationship with photographer/artist Robert Mapplethorpe. I know of Mapplethorpe from my time living in Connecticut, when his photography show generated significant (negative) publicity at the Wadsworth Atheneum art museum in Hartford. The images were strong, and unsettling, and the show sparked controversy over whether or not they were pornographic or not.

Smith and Maplethorpe lived together and they were each other’s muse for much of their time in New York as they tried to find a foothold in creating art for a living while barely surviving from day to day. He helped her, and she helped him. The memoir captures this time together, and Smith is indeed a lovely poet. This book has so many beautiful lines about love, friendship, music and art — particularly the ending, where she writes about Maplethorpe slowly dying of AIDS as she is carrying her second child into the world. Her remembrance is moving and touching, and her connection to Maplethorpe is so strong, the reader can’t help but feel the loss, too.

What I found so interesting, too, is Smith’s world as an emerging artist before she found rock and roll. Her paths crossed with all sorts of folks, from Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, to William Boroughs, to poet Allen Ginsberg, to others whose names meant little to me but I have a feeling they were influential to many. She lived for some time at the famed Chelsea Hotel, where artists scratched out a living. Her neighbor was the famed Harry Smith, whose recordings and collection of Americana music in the deep south are still looked at as an important archive of music in our country.

I felt jealous, even with all the turmoil. You can just sense the possibilities for art in the world around her, and her writing captures the spirit — both the highs and the lows — of something emerging during that time, as if it were a wave that she was desperately trying to catch as an artist, and then, she does, and everything (including her relationship with Maplethorpe) changes.

Just Kids is a gem.

Peace (in the art),

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),

March Book Madness: The Body

This is part of my ongoing March Book Madness series, in which I am featuring book reviews and posters from students and myself, and my own family. I have quite a number of advanced readers this year. Here, this student chose a book of short stories from Stephen King, and focused on the novella of “The Body,” which was turned into a fantastic movie called Stand By Me.

I was a bit worried about him reading King, but our discussions assured me that he was ready for it and completely immersed in the books (this is not the first King book he has been carrying around.) He may run into this book again in high school, as I know it is taught in some schools.

Here is his report of “The Body.”

Peace (in the journey),

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),

March Book Madness: The Maze Runner

The Maze RunnerThis is part of my March Book Madness feature, where I am sharing out ideas about books all month from my sixth graders and my own bit of reading. The Maze Runner by James Daschner has hit some gold with my students this year, and there are quite a few who have soared through the sequel and are now waiting for the third book (and pining for a movie version).

This particular student is a strong reader, and he found the book just OK. He mentions that some parts drag on too long and that it needed a bit of humor to lighten up the mood of the story. It’s interesting because his reading journal was much more critical of the book than his poster project. I suppose that points to writing for an audience.

I had started to read The Maze Runner with my 10 year old son, and he said the same thing, and then abandoned it.

I guess it all depends on your taste.  Books with themes of teenagers surviving in some wasteland environment are all the rage these days. I guess young readers feel some affinity for a place where they have little control and need to use wits to survive. (school). I thought the concept of the book was good — a mysterious place, loss of memories and danger lurking outside a sanctuary that is always shifting. I might need to go back and try The Maze Runner again myself.

Peace (in the maze),

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),

March Book Madness: Sent

This is another in my daily sharing of book reviews and projects from my students (and sometimes, from me and my family) throughout this March Book Madness of mine.

This is another student who was not all that thrilled with using Glogster and chose instead to do a poster. It’s on the book Sent by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I have not read this series. Her poster is interesting because it has a 3D element to the castle, which sticks out from the poster board.
Peace (in the books),

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),