Pandemic Podcast Audio Diary (July 2020)

This is the latest in short audio reflective posts I have been making periodically since the Pandemic hit in March. This one follows a decision about re-opening by our School Committee.

Others in the series:

Peace (and safety),

Poetry: Chewing on Words

Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within.... Alfred Lord Tennyson
Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within…. Alfred Lord Tennyson flickr photo by Nick Kenrick.. shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I wrote this poem for the #ds106 Daily Create, which asked about unusual food combinations, and I went with words instead …

Chewing on words

a poem’s rough edges
cuts the tongue, barbed
irony abounds, jagged with
reminders to go slow or
pay the price

the script informs
how one must speak the words
dense, disturbed, distant,
a mixed emotional concoction
of removal

this prose tastes abandoned,
a story from one age eaten
more than morsel, if one cuts
the edges off to find the center
often hidden

Swallowing these lines

Peace (and poems),

Revisiting: On Tyranny (Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century)

I read and recommended this small but important book near the start of this lunacy/presidency and I have pulled it out to re-read (yet again) and recommend (yet again) at what I hope is the nearing end times of this lunacy/presidency.

I’ve sent this book as gifts to friends and family. I still highly recommend it. What’s happening in Portland and other cities with federal agents is another resonation of Snyder’s points here — that government tyranny happens slowly and then quickly, and it must be combatted at every turn.

Remember to vote.

Peace (fight for it),

WMWP: Stepping Back but Not Stepping Away

I’ve written many times in this space and others about my first year of teaching – 19 years ago — when the Western Massachusetts Writing Project was a necessary lifeline of sorts, providing me with mentor teachers and ideas for engaging students through writing, and more.

My participation in our Summer Institute my first summer after my first year led to me being invited to an increased role in the writing project site, and then through my interest in technology and the classroom, to rich opportunities within the National Writing Project (connections that remain to this day) that have included CLMOOC and WriteOut and more.

I spent many of my years on the WMWP Leadership Team, mostly as  the technology liaison and then as the co-director for technology, and finally, for the last few years, I took on the role of the co-director of outreach, allowing me to oversee initiatives like social media and partnerships with local news organizations to feature our teachers as writers.

Last month, after a year of transition with an incoming co-director of outreach (Samantha Briggs), I stepped away from the WMWP leadership team. This is all planned and part of the leadership structure of WMWP — intentional transitioning to bring in new people as leaders (like Samantha). Although it feels strange to not call myself a co-director of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project anymore, it also feels a bit freeing. This morning, I started to edit my online profiles, changing my status back to “teacher consultant” and not “co-director of outreach.”

I’m still involved with WMWP, of course, and I continue to facilitate a partnership with the Springfield Armory National Historic Site and will be involved in youth writing programs and teacher outreach, and more through a larger network partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I also aim, after a breather of time, to offer to be part of the WMWP Technology Team again, but as a member and not the leader (that would be Tom Fanning, who replaced me for that position, as planned).

WMWP has long been my home as a teacher, and remains so. I value my writing project colleagues and the programs and support it offers, and the vision for how best to support teachers and students through opportunities and meaningful professional development. WMWP is still my home, even as my role shifts a bit.

Peace (in transition),

Five Poems Walk Into a Blog

I’ve been enjoying the monthly poetry writing at Ethical ELA’s 5-Day Open Write project — mainly because it comes in five-day bursts, only once a month. A morning email update reminds me to write there. But I also appreciate it because the site is a lively writing community. There’s a lot of writing posted but also a lot of feedback and discussion threads, all spurred on by poetry.

This month of July, the five days of prompts were built around specific forms of poetry. I am a free-verse poet, for the most part, so it was a challenge. But again, it was interesting and fun, and forced me to slow down with my writing (and break the rules when I needed).

Here are my five poems:

Day One: Rondeau

Someone wrapped me up in Rondeau
Told me the rules, then let me go
But I’m not a poet like that
I see a rule; I break it, for laughs
Add a syllable or a line to the old weathered crow
and return to the rhyme when I want, like so

But now I think maybe I know
the path these words of poem must flow
I start at the top and end, last;
Words in motion

For what is a poem but a show
walker on wire; fallen domino;
or a rabbit pulled from a hat
form and function and all of that
I push myself in, take it slow,
consider constraints, let go;
Words in motion

Day Two: Ode

Ode to an Empty School Hallway

Hallway, I still remember you
as you left me, as I left you,
all bustle and chatter, and
dropped books and erasers,
my door opening into shared space
on the lost Friday afternoon

Oh, Hallway, how much silence
you have swallowed, since
then, since March, when the last of
the metal doors slammed shut;
there’s something close to sound
still reverberating

They tell me they’ve adorned you
with arrows, directions, paths,
signs for our feet to follow,
movement we must take,
and in my mind, at times,
we’re all masked wanderers now,
anxious passengers
on a train with walls barren of art

Hallway, someday, you will shout
again, and I promise to stand
at the end, like a fly on the telescope,
yelling one thing but holding the other;
my heart remembers

Day Three: Ghazal


Power switch conductor brings me ’round,
I’m awake again, midnight listening in surround sound

to music from the window fan, such noise
in the soft signal of deep summer, around sound

like faint music, and if this were the wire,
the Net, the stream, the dream, what found sound

would you be, in the night, with me
as my mind’s making melody, unbound sound

Day Four: Monotetra

It’s not too much, unions demand,
to review options in the plan,
even if we don’t understand
the twist turns of this fragile land

I am ready/ I’m not ready

of masking up, of space between,
of anxious teachers, broken dreams,
of quiet fret; we’re not machines;
the unknown becoming routine

I am ready/ I’m not ready

Day Five: Praise

All praise
to the shortened pencil,
the powerless point
with which to write,
scratching small poems and
stories, essays and plays,
sticking words on white

All praise
to the worn eraser,
telling time of thoughts,
such lost angles and false
prophets of ideas, shifting
compass of directions;
reconvene, writer, when lost

All praise
to the empty page,
playground of the possible,
and pause before its wonder,
for where nothing was
now something is,
move the rock to find what’s under

Peace (flows through poems),


Reflections on Facilitation of a Summer Youth Writing Program

WMWP Summer Youth Writing Program 2020: Interactive Fiction

Some observations and reflections 

Positives of shift to online

  • Youth participants were all ready to write every day (opting in to a writing program)
  • No geographic limitations for participation (one from China, with connection to local school)
  • Opportunity for guest presenters (National Park Service Ranger Scott Gausen did a presentation on NPS that led into writing activity)
  • Technology possibilities (different sites, platforms, collaboration, etc.)
  • Combination of (offline) writing notebooks, Zoom chat, and other sites (and media)
  • Mentor texts and tutorials seemed most helpful
  • Lots of Icebreaker activities 
  • The theme of the program (Interactive Fiction) took advantage of technology and distance situation (lots of room for supported, but independent work)
  • Regular email messaging (short information daily) with parents and youth writers together was seen as appreciated by families

Challenges of shift to online

  • Not knowing kids beforehand, meeting only via video, was odd
  • Technological hurdles (nothing we could not overcome) — but mobile vs computer, access/sharing links to sites, slow Internet speeds, helping a student work through an issue from afar (zoom), protected school Chromebooks, etc.
  • Creating the right pacing (over-prepare) of writing activities
  • Hard to read the Zoom room (some kept video off, for Internet reasons, or from typical camp shyness)
  • Two hours each day seemed a lot (even with breaks and offline writing)

What I’d Do Different

  • More use of Break Out Rooms for small group (or individual conferencing)
  • More use of daily Exit Slips to get a sense of my pacing (too fast/too slow/just right)
  • How to better encourage sharing of writing with people you don’t know
  • Ask for student emails (with parent permission) during registration process to make setting up programs/sites easier
  • Mail something (prompt or maybe even a Flat Stanley-ish thing) to each person beforehand with a fun activity to bring in on day one

Typical Day Format

  • Icebreaker/Brainstorming activity
  • Writing into the Day (prompts) and sharing
  • Technology Lesson
  • Playing around time with Tech
  • Break
  • Focus on a larger project (writing process)
  • Sharing
  • Writing out of the Day (if time)

Peace (reflecting to remember),

Interactive Fiction with Young Writers (a resource site)

Interactive Fiction Resource SiteLast week, I was immersed in an online summer youth writing program for middle school writers through the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. My topic: Interactive Fiction (with a focus on ‘choose your own ending’ formats). I had 12 young writers with me on a daily journey via Zoom of writing, exploring, creating and sharing.

I created this online resource site with tutorials on the three main platforms that we used: Inklewriter, Twine and Google Slides.  There are also some student examples at the top. Feel free to use and share anything that might be helpful. I’ll share out some reflections of running an online summer writing program in a few days.

Go to Interactive Fiction resource site

I’d also like to give a huge shout-out to my thinking partner on designing this online program (an offshoot of a project I do in the classroom with my own students ) to Bryan Coyle, a teacher-consultant with the Minnesota Writing Project.

I had learned through the National Writing Project network (via Twitter) that Bryan was also doing an Interactive Fiction summer program, in the weeks before me, and so he and I chatted via email about program design. Bryan was so generous in sharing his resources, and I was able to adapt some of his work for my own program. He also wrote me a lengthy email after his program ended, reflecting on what worked for him and what didn’t, offering advice on how to proceed in an online environment with young writers one has never met. I am most grateful for the connection.

Peace (make a choice),

Taking a Blogging Break

I am going away for a few days with friends and I could use a little blogging downtime anyway, so I won’t be doing any writing here for most of July.  I’ll probably be poking around the Interwebz here and there (mostly doing the Daily Creates with DS106). Thanks for visiting.

Peace (and rest and rejuvenation),