Writing Is…Totally NOT School!

As the days grow shorter I find myself reflecting on my summer work at UNH and for sure, the Writer’s Academy is always a highlight.  It is that one time in the year where I have a group of students for more than just an hour or two.  They are with me and my co-teacher and for an entire week and in that week we get to focus on just one subject, writing.  As a teacher this is a form of nirvana.  No grades, no homework, no behavior problems…just a bunch of shy, crazy, outgoing, creative, interesting, motivated, goofy, enthusiastic and yes sometimes even awkward writers coming together to write.  Or as defined by one 6th grader when asked to sum up their week in 3 words wrote on his poster “totally not school.”

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Giggling girls writing.

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Writing in nature’s classroom

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Writing Rocks!

Writing is a passion for all of us, instructors included and our camaraderie is palpable as we talk about what we tried at lunch and laugh at the different events of the morning and we share these stories while the kids gather to eat and get to know each other and make friends.

The kids who show up  are writers, they want to write, they want to improve their writing, they are giving up a week of summer and dedicating it to their craft and because of this a community of writers is quickly formed.

This year in thinking about these young writers, from 5th grade through High School, I wondered how they saw writing or would define writing in their own words.  So I stole an idea from an amazing artist and friend, Laura Gaffke who created a similar public art installation that focused on the idea of beauty. (You can find her on Facebook as well as on her blog, http://lauratwotina.com/)  I decided I would create our own version and ask students or anyone walking by to write to the idea of “writing is…”

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Our Public Art Installation. Writing Is…

My co-teacher, Karen Atherton provided the materials for my vision as she lugged in a 20 pound crock with sand in it to keep the tree up that she had her husband cut down from her back yard.  She also showed up complete with lights for the tree and these were no ordinary lights, no, they were pink flamingoes and green palm tree lights.  So we set it up in the hallway and asked that all of the different groups at one point add to the installation.  Tags and markers were left by the tree for anyone to write to at their own convenience.

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And while our installation was not quite as pretty as Laura’s, it was quite interesting in it’s own right. Reading through all of the tags after they were removed it seemed as though there were 3 distinct categories that these definitions fell within.  There was the “one word” club where writing was summed up in one word including writing is…art, powerful, cathartic, individuality, fun, history, truth, freedom, understanding, translation, happy, love and supermegafoxyswesomehot!  Writing is…Life!

ImageThen there was the therapeutic genre where many students poured their hearts out about what writing was to them in terms of healing, expressing emotions, revealing secrets and discovering self- awareness.  Some of these are hauntingly beautiful including,

“Writing is a therapeutic; a way to escape one’s own mind.  It is creating your own little world where you get to be in control.  Writing is awesome”

“Writing is a discovery of yourself.”

“Writing is putting your mind on paper.”

“Writing is how I stay alive.  If my thoughts stayed in my mind they would overrun the senses and I would think too much and then I would be gone.”

“Writing is a way to…release the feeling I hold in that my friends wouldn’t understand about.”

“Writing is a way to create a deeper self.”

“Writing is the most intimate for of self-expression.”

“Writing is a way to cope with pain/problems for me.  Everything leaves my mind, and stains the paper instead of me.  And that’s why I’ve grown so close to writing.”

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Writers gather around guest author, Lisa Luedeke

The third category was more about how it was an act of creative expression and use of imagination, imagery, poetry and voice.  Here are some of these:

“Writing is indescribable.  An experience.  An image painted with words.”

“Writing is a struggle against silence.”

“Writing is the way the moonlight touches the silky ocean in the middle of twilight.”

“Writing is the spouse of music.”

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“Writing is a way to entwine souls, so we can touch each other through distance and time and language.”

“Writing is your own adventure.  Your own world.  A place were you have freedom to do whatever you want and make anything happen.”

 I end with this one intentionally because I believe on many levels this also defines the writer’s academy in general.  We recently received a letter from a former student who wrote us to let us know what the writer’s academy was to her.  Here are her words.

My name is Kimberley and I am writing to thank you for a particular summer of the Writers Academy.  Nine years ago, in 2004, I met a classroom of middle schoolers like me, who would rather write stories and keep journals than play wiffle ball in the middle of July. In this class, I met fellow student Haley, and we instantly became friends.  We continued attending Writers Academy every summer until we were too old, going to the Dairy Bar and people-watching in the MUB and inventing their ludicrous backstories.  

Haley and I didn’t live in the same town, and attended rival high schools.  The only interaction we would have ever had is from opposite sides of the football field. Without Writers Academy, we would have never crossed paths, but I’m extremely fortunate we did.  We remain best friends to this day, and we just returned from a two week cross-country road trip, driving out to Los Angeles.  Of course, because we didn’t meet at Writers Academy for nothing, we kept meticulous journals the entire way, and are currently working on a screenplay based on our adventures. When we make it big, we’ll credit Writers Academy for bringing us together.

Thank you again for the wonderful program!

Kimberly

At the risk of sounding boastful I agree, it is a wonderful program.  One that continues to grow and thrive as more and more writers come to us, but at the same time there is a sadness that comes as well because everything I teach at the Writer’s Academy is grounded in how I teach and taught as a teacher in the public school system.  THIS WAS SCHOOL!!  Freedom, choice, adventure, passion, play and life were all part of our everyday curriculum and yet this is no longer the case.  And while it keeps us in business I still long for classrooms to honor choice, time and genuine response where learning is “totally not school.”

Honoring Space and Time

I walked out on the back deck this morning and to my horrors of horrors there were leaves strewn about. The first leaves fallen, physical evidence that slowly but surely the seasons are and will be changing.  And with that change I hear all of my teacher friends talk about going into their classrooms with excitement and anticipation at the prospect of a new year.  How will they set up their classrooms this year?  What kinds of “areas” can be created in this space where they will live with their students over this next year?

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Photo Credit: catchingreaders.com

This time of year seems to get earlier and earlier every year though.  It used to be that none of this was even contemplated until the official “end” of summer, Labor Day.  But no more.  College students are out shopping everywhere you go.  Sons and daughters with Mothers seeking out that perfect comforter and wall hangings to create their own sense of space, the home away from home.  My son, a senior, just out the door for his official soccer tryouts.  And yet…it is ONLY August 19th!  Much too early!

Space matters.  I find myself wanting to nest in my own home as I wake each morning with the urge to move furniture around and make things a new.  I stop myself though, reminding myself that it IS still summer and that my summer arrangements must stay as long as possible for it is, after all, our shortest season of all.

And this summer I found myself not writing at all.  This blog was unintentionally left to have it’s own summer vacation and that gets me thinking about what I need as a writer and one of the major things I need is space.  And while that may seem incredibly obvious, with 2 kids in the house it is quite difficult to come by.  And while I realize I could create the space and time and get up really early with the birds and get to my keyboard, the truth is that when I am up early I am out tending my gardens.  You see there is so little weather here in New Hampshire that is conducive to early mornings outside.  My routine is to water my plants and survey each garden to see what has happened over night.  And things do happen.

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Photo Credit: reelswellblog.com

I tried roses this year though.  They are tough little buggers and as soon as we got them into the ground they up and died.  Not really, but they looked as though they were dead.  And so I left them.  I pruned them here and there, gave them food and water and just waited.  Not until yesterday did I start to see 2 tiny roses on one of the plants.  Why now?  I wondered?  Perhaps they just needed time to adjust to the new soil.  Perhaps the food finally kicked in.  Perhaps they got just the right amount of sunshine and water for a few days in a row.  Who knows!  Maybe all they needed was a bit of space.

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My roses FINALLY bloom on one bush!!

How often do we hold these spaces for our students?  Our teachers?  Spaces where they can be who they are, take the time that they need and figure out how to write or grow or bloom on their own?  We talked a lot about this “holding of space” in my summer course (last entry!) on Passion, Purpose and Play:  Creating Real Readers and Writers.  EVERY day during our 2 weeks together these students, made up of teachers and interns had the time and space they needed to do their work. We devoted the last chunk of our day to “workshop”.  Time where  students could choose what it was they wanted to work on and how.  They could choose to read or write anything they wanted.  It might be reading for the next day in class, a novel or magazine they were interested in, or the writing they were working on.  They could go to the library, go outside to read and write.  They could confer in their triads, in partners or with me.  They could write in notebooks, on their laptops or even on the floor if they so chose!  They could choose to use this time to express themselves artistically with watercolors and other art supplies provided.

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Christian and Lexe during Workshop Time, Summer 2013

I loved this time every day as it gave me time to sit with individuals and confer on their processes on what was working and what was not.  IF the work, the homework, is so important, then why don’t we ever provide the time and space for that work to begin to happen in class?  It seems so obvious and yet on my evaluations there was a resounding appreciation for that time given.  Respect.  That is what happened.  There was a great respect for the work when there was a place for that work to happen.  Many left each afternoon with clearly defined goals on where they wanted to take their reading and writing that night.

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Maria reading Poetry, Summer 2013

And while the cliché of students blooming has been used ad naseum, I am going to bring this back around to those damned roses.  The ones that refused to just blossom.  The ones, that given the time and space eventually did bloom!  Next to it though, is the other rose.  You know the one.  The one that no matter what you do, it just stays the same.  No buds, no roses, no sign of color.  The scrawny little plant next to the blooming phlox that are going to bloom and shine no matter what I do or don’t do.  But it is there….and nothing I did changed that plant for the better.  In fact it looks much worse than when we brought it home.  When first planted it it had gorgeous pale yellow and pink roses and now it simply stands alone, no flowers, no color.  Lifeless.  And yet it is not.  And so I will wait and be patient and hope and try some new things and hope and wait that perhaps one day…maybe even next summer that it will again yield a beautiful bloom or two, but you just never know.

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Sad little rosebush..no buds!

And that is the imprecision of teaching and learning in a nutshell.  We can do all we can and still there may be those roses that will never bloom, at least not while you are around.  And that is ok.  Maybe it is not their time.  Maybe what is happening on the inside is more important than the product.  It is not always what we “see” that matters in the long haul.

And so we begin a new year…and I do so love the feeling of new beginnings.   It is what makes me a true New Englander.  As much as I hate the seasons I need the seasons. So little leaves on the back deck, I welcome you, but not entirely as I sweep you off and honor the space of summer as long as I can!

THINKING is Passionate, Purposeful and Playful

 Lately I have been thinking about what creates real readers and writers.  Much of this thinking comes out of the work I am doing in creating and planning a graduate course I am teaching this summer called:  Passion, Purpose and Play: Creating Real Readers and Writers. 

(See here if you are interested in one of our UNH Summer Literacy Institute courses as we still have some openings.) http://www.unh.edu/english/media/pdfs/Archive%20NHLiteracy/2013SummerInstbrochure.pdf

 I think back…what made me a reader?  A writer?  And there are sharp moments in time  that changed my thinking and the way that I saw myself forever.  One of those moments was when I was a sophomore in High School and my teacher was Mr. Dave Krauss.  We were reading Lord of the Flies.  Nothing revolutionary as many high schools today are still doing the same thing and reading many of these same classics some 30 years later.  But something in this experience for me was different.

I recall heated class discussions and at one point I even remember my face flushing to a bright crimson red as I stood up and shouted out,   “That is NOT fair!”  The entire class stopped and looked back at me and Mr. Krauss said, “Tomasen, I need to see you after class.”  I was mortified.  As a resident “good girl”, always sitting in the back of the class, don’t make any trouble kind of student, I felt as if my face might pop as it got even redder and my eyes begin to sting with tears.

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Photo Credit: esioh.com

 

After class I walked up to Mr. Krauss’s desk full of shame and defeat he asked me to sit down and asked me what was so upsetting.  Our discussion started with the idea of fairness and he assured me that “nothing in life was fair”.  I argued that life should be.  He did not disagree but talked about how there would be merit to thinking about things not in terms of fairness, but in terms of how each individual person is in this world.  He didn’t yell at me.  I didn’t get in trouble.  In fact, it was the opposite.  He encouraged me to speak my mind more frequently and the he welcomed my thoughts and ideas just like everyone else’s.  For the first time in my life I realized that perhaps I had something to say “in class”.  This was huge for me.  My thinking mattered for the first time in my entire school career.

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Photo Credit: Facebook

Fast forward 30 plus years to where I am planning for this course and out of nowhere jumps into my hands the original copy of Lord of the Flies that I read in High School.  For the life of me I didn’t remember ever even having it, and yet here it was.  The cover looked outdated and as I opened the book the spine cracked with a pop as the old book cardboard smell wafted into my head.  What was revealed inside was sheer magic. 

 Marked in red pen and some pencil and then some blue pen was MY thinking as a sophomore in High School.  Words and phrases were underlined and in the margins were the words, authority, changes in attitude, role of society rules?  It had never dawned on me that perhaps the reason this book stuck with me, that this experience was one of great magnitude might also have been because I was able to actually WRITE in this book and keep track of my thinking.

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I wish I could remember the circumstances around this annotating.  Was the school getting a new set because these were worn out?  Was this common practice?  Not that I remembered.  What did Krauss know that nobody else did?  And as I looked at the red ink I was instantly transferred back to remembering the actual red pen, the one that I used to use in my practice teaching in my bedroom.  “The” red pen of authority.  It was old and clear and the ink was clotty.  As I looked at my own handwriting I could recall moments of writing in this book and feeling so “grown up”.  Grown up in a way that made me feel smart.  I recall writing things just because I could even if they were not great thinking.  I loved the act of writing in this book!!  I don’t remember doing this again until college and again the nostalgia of marking and writing in between and around the lines makes me feel giddy! 

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So could it be that something as simple as annotating a text is playful and inspires passion and great purpose?  These words, in our schools, are not in vogue.  It is rare we talk about the passions, the purposes or the play anymore.  And while I have always hated the red pen as a student and teacher of writing, it was this old crimson  that recorded my thinking and allowed me to participate in discussions that made me a real reader with authority.

 It was during this course that I decided I would be an English major.  I wonder if Mr. Krauss understood the power of what he was creating for me as a student in the name of passion, purpose and play?  And underlying all of these “p” is thinking.  Thinking is fun!  It promotes passion, creates purpose and is playful and discovering one’s own thinking is priceless.

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Photo Credit: jackgallery.wordpress.com

 

I would love to find Mr. Krauss.  The last I heard of him he was working at the Admissions office at UNH and when I was a student I visited him.  He has long been gone and I have no idea where he ended up.  As a fellow educator I wish he could read this and understand just what he did for me and how it created the path that I am still on…one that is still seeking equality.  One who still stands up, turns bright red and shouts, “That’s NOT fair” regardless of the lessons learned years ago that we live in an unfair world.

Somebody’s gotta do it!

It’s only fair.

Think about it.

 

Let’s Simplify, Not Justify: In Defense of the ART of Teaching

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit. “

                                                                                                 John Steinbeck

What is the art of teaching??

In the children’s book of the Three Questions, a retelling of the original story by Leo Tolstoy, a young boy is on a quest to find the answers to these three questions:

  1. When is the best time to do things?

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    Photo Credit: kellykorenek.wordpress.com

  2. Who is the most important one?
  3. What is the right thing to do?

As Nikolai goes off to meet with the wise old tortoise to find the answers to his questions he discovers that when he is not searching for the answers, he actually finds them.   He rescues a mother panda bear and her baby from a terrible storm as the tortoise looks on and observes the boys actions.

Nikolai is still disappointed at the end of this ordeal because he is frustrated that he has not been given the answers.  The tortoise wisely tells him that his questions were answered through his actions.  He ends the story reminding the boy.

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Photo Credit: bookimagecollective.blogspot.com

 “Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now.  The most important one is always the one you are with.  And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.  For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world.  This is why we are here.”

 

This is why we are here and this is why I love to teach in a workshop because this kind of teaching and learning requires us all to be present.   These are the essential questions that matter in my teaching in the moment, an essential part of the “art” of teaching.   Keeping true to this art of teaching requires careful listening, intuition and improvisation on the part of every person in the workshop; most importantly, the teacher.  There is no guidebook to where you can check off what you are going to do because the truth is that you don’t know what you are going to teach until you are in that moment with that child.   Terry Moher, in her work on conferring refers to this as “teaching not knowing.”

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Photo Credit: wondergressive.com

 One problem is that there is so much noise and distraction in schools right now .  I would love for every person, administrator, parent, citizen and politician to go and just shadow a teacher for a day.  Yes, one whole day so that they can see first hand just what is being asked of teachers.  So much of what is deemed necessary is done so by others, it has become more about justifying every action, each student, their numbers, their percentages, their scores and less about “who” that student is and what is is they might need.

The distractions away from the simplicity of teaching our students are more numerous than you can even imagine.  There is a hurried frenzy that seems to buzz through so many schools.  Lost is the feeling of nurturing, slowness and taking each moment at a time.  Disappearing from early childhood classrooms are blocks, dress-up centers, imaginative play areas, sand tables and any element of play.  Teachers are more frazzled and students, if they buy in to this system, are as well.  The pressure to perform is on and yet…to what end?

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Photo Credit: magazine.byu.edu

When I model lessons in classrooms one of the most common responses is, “that was great, BUT, I don’t have that kind of time to allow kids to think things through.”.  I would argue that we don’t have time NOT to let them think!!  And in this I believe that we all must make choices and for me it is as simple as asking myself and grounding my teaching in these 3 questions, When is the most important time?  Now.  Who is the most important one?  The one I am with.  And what is the right thing to do?   It is to do good for the one at my side.  What if we just made it that simple?  What if that was at the very CORE of what we were doing in all of our schools with all of our kids?

More time to simplify.  Less time to justify.

It just simply makes sense to me.

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Photo Credit: http://www.etsy.com

Reflections on Drama, Drama Worlds and the Land of Misfit Kids

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.  They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in him time plays many parts.”  William Shakespeare, As You Like It.

 I have always been a great fan of using drama and movement in the classroom.  Here I look at the dramas that unfold regardless of what we do or don’t do.

As I enter the room I look around.  Who is here?  Who is not here?  Who is talking to whom and who is not talking to anyone?  What is the “pulse” of the group today?  Is the energy high?  Low?  Medium?  Do I read stress, playfulness, and exhaustion?  What does this group hold today?  What dramas are unfolding before my eyes?  What will happen in this class today? 

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Photo Credit: hobbinol.wordpress.com

 By observing drama worlds within our classrooms we then invite our students to “read” the drama actions going on in their worlds with a heightened sense of awareness, reflection and learning.  Each classroom is unique just as each individual within each classroom is unique.  Understanding one’s self, the group and being able to “see” from someone else’s point of view allows us to teach empathy and real life skills that will be forever invaluable for our students.  We can call this “dramatic consciousness” where we ask of our students and ourselves to be aware of what is happening in and around us, within the books we read, the characters we create and the meaning that we ultimately make for ourselves.

 “Dramatic consciousness means bring aware that there is dramatic action taking place in one’s life, in one’s work, in the lives of the people who make up the school community.  It implies being present to that drama, engaged in its passions, struggles and adventures, rather than being psychologically distant, removed from the action.”

                                             Robert J. Starratt, The Drama of Schooling: The Schooling of Drama

One year, my first year at a new school I had the privilege of getting a class of “misfits”.  I say this with love for each of these children, but the truth of the matter was that I had gotten all of the students whose parents had not made requests for other teachers.  I was new, the unknown and the keeper of all of the students whose parents did not know to make requests or were just not interested in doing so.  This group of kids was one of the most challenging and consequently rewarding groups I have ever worked with.  We spent much of the year working on group dynamics and accepting people for who they were.  When I say misfits I am talking about all of those kids who had something incredibly special about them that had yet to be nurtured.  They were a group for whom school was not a comfortable stage.  They were a group, who by the end of the year became the tightest knit group of students I have ever had.

 “And so faith is closing your eyes and following the breath of your own soul down to the bottom of life, where existence and non-existence have merged into relevance.  All that matters is the little part you play in the vast drama.”             

                                  -Anonymous

 As individuals they were as different as they were talented.  The everyday work of school, sitting at one’s desk and performing a series of tasks was not going to work for not just a couple of them, but literally for none of them.  If they were not coded then they were labeled with some kind of something that supposedly hindered their ability to learn.  They were also the group that took to drama more than any other.  It was a way for them to be and to show their learning through movement.  It was what eventually made this group do things that were beyond comprehension.  Every day was filled with dramatic activities and chances for kids to “become” someone other than themselves.  Puppetry, theater, role-playing, Picture Book Dramas, Joke – Telling, Songs, Poet’s Theater were parts of every day often inspired by the students themselves.

 One beautiful spring day I was called to the principal’s office to discuss an upcoming “fight” that was to take place the very next day.  The rumor was that many of the kids in my class were involved.  Involved?  That was putting it mildly.  They had all gotten together as a class for each recess for weeks and worked on the planning and execution of this upcoming “event”.  It was to be a showdown between two boys in our class who had agreed to “fight”.  There was a marketing committee who went around at each recess talking up the upcoming event.  There was a sales committee that created and sold tickets to the event.  There were judges, participants and even prizes to be donated by various other students in the class.  There were flyers made, and all of the the other third grade classes were buying the tickets and oh yes, did I mention, they were also placing bets on who would be the winner?  In their own time they had created an entire drama world where each of them were the stars.  The organization, thoughtfulness and planning that went into this event was amazing.  But, we were at school and what were we going to do about this?  The fight was cancelled, much to the relief of the contenders and monies were returned to the rightful owners.  Letters of apology were written and yet, through it all there was a part of me that was actually proud of these kids and what they had almost pulled off.

“I love acting.  It is so much more real than life.” 

                                  -Oscar Wilde

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Photo Credit: http://www.tumblr.com

So, I took the pulse of the group and ran with it.  We broke down the drama of the event they had planned, unpacked it and gathered on the carpet and discussed all of the skills they used to plan and eventually execute such an event.  After mapping them out I proposed that we use all of these skills in order to plan an event that might actually help someone or a cause.  The thinking began and the ideas started to flow.  What would we do?  At the time we were studying the rainforest and after careful consideration it was decided that we, as a class, would buy a portion of a rainforest.  The efforts to raise money began as the kids headed up different committees and the money was eventually earned and we purchased an acre of a rainforest that would never be destroyed.  We received a picture and a document stating it had been saved and the best part was that out of this planning and execution nobody got hurt and even better part of the world was saved.

“Life is like an overlong drama through which we sit being nagged by the vague memories of having read the reviews.”

                              John Updike

 It seems to me that too often in our school worlds we see things in black and white.  Sure, what they planned was inappropriate for school, but as a group it was an amazing feat.  Here was a group of kids who lingered on the outskirts of the popular kids, who became, as a group, the focus of the third grade recess.  They had planned an event that every other third grader wanted to be a part of.  As a group these students created and made a drama world where they were center stage and not behind the scenes where most of them had been most of their school careers.  And even as I write this I realize that this is not completely true because many of those kids were front and center, but not in a place that was helping them.  Many were in trouble with the “law” for numerous accounts and even in this we need to ask, what is the drama action that is happening and what need is it fulfilling?  Attention.  Working together they were able to get this attention in a positive way.

 We spend a great deal of time focusing on everything that is wrong.  What is right?    These kids were brilliant….but school was never a place where their genius was discovered.  I just think we can do better.  And part of better is helping kids to see their roles in life, in school and as individuals.  Lights, Camera…ACTION!

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Photo Credit: shakespeareinaction.wordpress.com

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.  They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in him time plays many parts.”  William Shakespeare, As You Like It.

 

 

 

 

 

The Joke is on You

“Humor, like hope, permits one to focus upon and to bear what is too terrible to bear,” Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant, writes in “The Wisdom of the Ego.”

“Why did the cookie go to the doctor’s office?”

“Because she was feeling crummy!”

“Do you get it?”

My 4 year old daughter, Emma loved to tell this joke when she found herself in new strange hospital situations.  Humor is one of those incredible gifts that we all have for making human connections.  This was her way of taking some kind of control over her illness and she loved to tell this joke over and over.  The delight in her eyes in seeing who “got it” was sheer heaven, thinking she was so clever and loving the joke over and over herself.  There was something in this joke  she could see that made her enjoy it every time she told it.  She “got” it and was always sure to ask, “Do you get it?”

The getting it is like the ultimate secret that she is privy to; the delight is making sure that everyone is able to enjoy the magic of the punch line in the same way as the teller.  And there is an art to telling a good joke and the feedback is instant…did you get a laugh or not?  You can always tell those who get it as an expression of knowing crosses their faces, and then there are those that laugh to be polite and those who are laughing as they are still trying to figure it out.  We have all been there, at one end or the other and of course the worst place to be is to be the jokester that gets no laughs at all.  It is a tough lesson, but one that you can do something about right away.

In the classroom one part of our morning meeting was joke telling. There were some rules surrounding the telling.  First the joke had to be appropriate for school.  Yes, of course there were those who pushed the limit, but for the most part kids were able to discriminate between those that would be acceptable and those that would not.  Just trusting them allowed them the freedom and the responsibility to make good choices. 

The second rule was that you had to practice the joke at least three times and that you had to get a laugh at least one or two of those times before volunteering for morning meeting.  This was for two reasons; one was to work on the delivery and to work on making it funny.  We would talk about what made a good joke and what didn’t.  We talked about the emphasis being on the punch line and how to deliver an effective punch line.  These could be classified in our  under reading with expression, the importance of audience and comprehension studies.  (How is that for meeting standards?)  It was a clear test of whether the child understood the joke or not based on the reaction of the audience.  If it was not funny we worked together as a group to think about what could be done with the joke to make it funnier.  This is revision in real life.  Then the child would take his or her newly revised joke out into the world and wait until it was funny enough to bring it back to the class. 

Everyone had ownership of the joke by then and often there would be many versions of the same joke told over and over again.  This gave us time to talk about the fact that authors do this all the time.  Once someone has a great idea then other authors try to take the basic idea and make it their own.  We talked about how this often happened with jokes and that jokes changed regularly in their details because joke-telling is typically an oral form of literacy that is passed on from person to person.  The game of telephone is a great way to show how things change based on the oral telling and that people all hear things differently.  

I would always begin the year telling a joke to model how to tell a joke.  I would overemphasize the telling in order to be able to point out to the class just what it was I was doing and that there are things that you can do to tell a good joke.  The joke I told was about a chicken that goes into the library to get a book.  He goes up to the librarian and says, “Book, book book”.  This is said like a chicken saying bok, bok, bok with a high voice.  (This is hard to put into writing!)  The chicken takes the book and returns within 10 minutes shouting the same thing to the librarian, “Book, book, book”.  The librarian thinks this is strange but gives the chicken another book.  Sure enough if you have heard enough jokes you know that this chicken is going to be back in no time.  This structure allows us to look at it closely and see there is predictability in jokes and that if you wanted to make up your own joke then like fairy tales, the magic number of 3 often appears.  Well, the chicken magically does show up again but this time the librarian wants to know what is going on, knowing the chicken could not have read either of those books so quickly.   She gets on her coat and decides, after giving the chicken yet another book, to find out what is going on by following the chicken.  The chicken leaves the library, heads up a big hill, out into a field and through the forest to a clearing.  (Again here is a way a leading the audience into what we know is going to be the punch line.  I talk about slowing down here and that when I do the audience almost leans in waiting, waiting, waiting and thinking get to the punch line already!)  At the edge of the clearing is a pond.  The chicken walks over to the edge of the pond where a frog is sitting.  The chicken pulls out the book and shows it to the frog.  The frog looks at it and promptly replies, “READ IT. READ IT”.  Of course this is said like a frog instead of ribbit it is read it.  These slight changes in voice are very important because without them the joke is just not funny!  So, okay you are thinking this is a dumb joke, and it is.  It is also, however an excellent model for kids because it is clean and it contains so many elements of a good joke.  This gets kids thinking about their own jokes and jokes they have heard in the past.  Often one of the hardest things to do is to just remember the joke.  I tell the kids that having one or two good jokes in your pocket is a great way to be in a new crowd.  Everyone loves a good joke.  But is has to be a GOOD joke.  A bad joke won’t get you very far.  This also encourages kids to think about themselves in social settings and to think about when it is appropriate to tell a joke and when it is not.

“Jokes compact the elements of storytelling into bite-sized mini-narratives. They are not just funny. For writers and editors, they are models that can help teach storytelling” Chip Scanlon, the Poynter Institute.

 Joke telling is a form of storytelling; something that we can use to help our young  readers and writer’s to see the elements of a story in a very compact version.  To tell a good joke the teller must prepare the reader by setting the stage introducing main characters and setting, the chicken, the librarian and the library.

Next is to provide some kind of background for the reader, in knowing the structure of many jokes, one is sure that the chicken will be coming back at least a couple more times.  Also using the voices allows for the characters to know more about them.  She is a female chicken with a high voice; the librarian is suspicious about a reading chicken from the beginning.

The joke relies heavily on creating scenes that the reader can follow.  The chicken comes and goes, comes and goes and does these actions very quickly, leading the librarian to become even more suspicious.

A good joke creates suspense, engaging the reader as they sit and listen, leaning in to find out what in the world is going to happen next and often this is done through conflict.  The conflict here is for the librarian who is miffed that this chicken keeps on coming back without having read a book!

Next it builds to a climax and a clear resolution.  We know that when the chicken leaves and the librarian follows that we are going with her and that we will find out instantly just what the chicken is up to.

Finally, is that wonderful element of surprise, the “aha” moment where we wonder how we didn’t get it all along.  It is funny that the chicken is trying to get the frog a new book and so we laugh with this quick resolution and twist that we can visualize as being very funny.

Derek was a small fourth grader who had a hard time fitting in.  Not only was he smaller than all of his classmates, but also he was somewhat goofy looking and gangly.  He had a hard time finding his place in the world and was often seen getting into it with kids.  If there was trouble, then Derek was in the middle of it.   In the classroom he struggled.  As a reader he struggled the most.  For Derek, this opportunity to tell jokes, this place where being the class clown was encouraged was his place to shine.  By the end of the year he had found every joke book in his local area.  I will never forget the day he showed up with a book the size of Webster’s heaved up under his arm.  It was titles “A Million and One Jokes.”  Derek would sit for hours pouring over this book in search of the perfect joke.   It was a ridiculous book for him as it was laden with jokes that were so out there that I didn’t get a lot of them.  Many of them politically motivated from cultures all over the world.  The schema one would have to have for many of these jokes would put Google to shame!  The print was as small as anyone could imagine, but he continued to read over it, searching for that one joke that he did get!  And he would know when he would get it.  You want to talk about serious close reading.  He was getting to know himself as a reader through this insurmountable task he had set for himself.  He would carry that book everywhere…and did I mention it must have weighed 25 pounds??

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Photo Credit: blogs.women24.com

 At first he would tell jokes that none of us got.  Eventually, though he was able to work on finding a good one, practice it and in no time Derek became one of the classes favorite joke tellers.  This was his forte’.  This was his place to find comfort and acceptance for who he was.  This also gave him a very real reason to read and to read for meaning and with purpose.  It also gave him a real reason to write as he then went on to write his own jokes.  At morning meeting it would be Derek that everyone wanted to tell a joke.  Each day we had time for three jokes.  On days when nobody else would volunteer, they would all chant Derek’s name and he would get up and do his own version of a Leno monologue telling joke after joke.  He was good.  I don’t know where Derek is today, but I have a hunch that someday I may see him on stage at the Laugh Factory!

 We need to value children, for who they are, not who we want them to be.  We need to look at each child and find the strength inside of him.  Derek could also easily have dropped out of school.  It was not a place that he “typically” succeeded and joke telling allowed him to have a place in our classroom community for who he was.   Don’t get me wrong.  This was not that all magical cure and Derek continued to struggle each and every day in the classroom and on the playground, but offering this as an option allowed for Derek and other kids to use their humor in an effective and constructive way.  It also allowed Derek to take some of the painful anger in his life and poke fun at that as well.  Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in Team of Rivals, a study of Abraham Lincoln where she focused on “the vital role humor and storytelling played in Lincoln’s melancholy personality.”  , “He laughed, so he did not weep.  He saw laughter as the ‘joyous, universal evergreen of life.’  His stories were intended ‘to whistle off sadness.’” 

 We should each laugh as many times in the day as we can.  I remember reading somewhere that we use so many more facial muscles to frown than to laugh…therefore frowning causes more lines in the wrinkles of life.  So heck, let’s laugh or in the end…the joke is on you!!

 

 

The Power of Modeling, Connection, Trust and Play

When my daughter Emma was three, she was playing happily in her corner of the kitchen where I had created her own little “house” complete with a wooden hutch, oven, highchair and cradle for her own dolls.  She spent hours creating her own reality of being a Mom.  One day I was about to wander in when I stopped and peered around the corner (yes mothers do spy!) and as I watched her rock her baby and look into her eyes adoringly, one of those warm washes of love and perfection poured over me.  It was a moment that I wanted to sink into and enjoy.

Emma took her baby, placed her into the high chair and began feeding her and gently said,   “Eat, dammit.  Eat your food, dammit.”

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Emma

I stood there in horror, unable to move and continued to watch.  After the lovely meal, Emma placed her baby into the cradle and in a very nurturing way, covered her up with the blanket and said, “Now time to go to sleep, dammit.”

Again, that word hit me, smacked me right across the face and left a sting.  What had happened to my perfect mother moment?

“Emma”, I asked, “What are you doing?”

“Putting my baby to bed.  She is tired.”

“I see that.  I heard you use a “D” word that I was wondering about.”

“A D word?” she contemplated.  “Oh, Dammit?”

“Yes that is the one.”

“Oh, that is my baby’s name Momma.”

Silenced again.

The power of modeling…

I have been known to tell this story when working with teachers to show how modeling is one of the most powerful tools we have and that we can use it to show our literate lives for our students every day.  It is what we do, not just what we say.  We need to talk about what we read, write and wonder; to show them first hand that literacy is not about school, it is about life and how we choose to live  this life.  When students see that we are interested in writing, reading books, articles, blogs, on-line periodicals, newspapers etc., they can “see” how we live each literate day.  When we talk about a great book we found at a used bookstore or bring in our favorite children’s book, they can catch a glimpse of our lives beyond the four walls of school.  And they begin to consider theirs as well.

Bridging the gap between “school” reading and “life” reading is critical.  As an instructor in the English Department at the University of New Hampshire’s Learning Through Teaching professional development program, I have the privilege of going into classrooms and supporting teachers in their coursework.  Every time I enter a classroom I have my Writer’s Notebook and other sundry of books with me.  It could be a couple of children’s picture books, the current novel I am reading, or more recently my Ipad.   Kids ask me about the ever-present essentials (appendages?) that I carry with me.  They are curious and I can open them up and share small pieces of myself with them.  It is an entry point for conversations about reading and writing.

When I am modeling a lesson for a teacher or group of teachers, I start by talking to the class about my passion for reading and writing; my excitement over a new author I have found, what I am working on myself in writing or how a word looks or sounds.   And it is authentic.  I love words.  I love to read and write and when kids feel that from me, they too want to be a part of that energy.  It is infectious and it is not hard to get them to buy in as I ask them to repeat a word with me, a nice long juicy word like onomatopoeia, that they can take home with them and share with their families. “There is a world in a word,” Lev Vygotsky wrote and it’s up to us to open up those worlds.

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Toting Libba Moore Grey’s, My Momma Had a Dancin’ Heart under my arm, I entered Emily Spear’s wonderful and familiar first grade classroom where I was greeted with hugs and an offer for one of those famous birthday cupcake that are handed to you with great love and grey grubby hands.  I received the confection’s love, knowing it would never get eaten and smiling at the gesture.

I settled into the comfy rocker and had a brief time to reconnect as they told me about their latest ventures in writing. Voices rang all around me as they shared their latest “sound” words.   Three little girls got closer and asked about the pink necklace I was wearing twirling it in their hands and marveling when I told them it was a crystal.  “ooooh…you must be rich!”.  I explained it was a gift from my sister and that SHE was the rich one because she had ME for a sister.  They giggled.

Taking this time to connect with these kids is a critical part of the modeling process.  It only took a few minutes, but in that time my words and actions showed them I was interested in THEM.  This gives me an advantage because I have re-established our working relationship and can then move into our writing time together.  I am reconnecting and we are exchanging trust in these small moments.

I read aloud, knowing that I wanted to model Moore’s use of playfully hyphenated words as a craft the kids could name and experiment with.  I stopped and wrote some examples on the white board:

tip-tapping

song-singing

finger-snapping

We talked about these words and wondered why the author would use the hyphen.  They quickly identified that it made it into one word, made the reader say the word more quickly and created rhythm.  For each dance in the book I asked for a volunteer to get up and “perform” each season’s ballet.  They were eager to move and the movement brought this story to life for all.

We then brainstormed a name for these words and the list consisted of

1.describing words

2. two words in one

3. DASH-ing words.

It was democratically decided that DASH-ing words described them most accurately because of the dash (hyphen) and use of the suffix ”ing” on the end of each word.  And while some may be thinking this is not correct it is playful and something the kids will remember.  Let’s just call it poetic license!  Next, I asked them to go and try out some of the DASH-ing words in their own writing.

And the play began.  Some kids came up with what we called Double DASH-ing words such as tweet-tweet-tweeting. Morgan, who I thought was struggling was left to her own thinking for some time and arrived at my side with this incredible poem:

Swish-swash

Slush-sliding

Icicles-banging

Against the long

White world

But the world

Is not always white

Wow!  I just love the image of the long white world…

We all came back to the carpet, shared our DASH-ing words and created a chart with all of the examples the kids had come up with, creating a classroom “model” that they could refer back to and add to.

I left the room, again humbled at the brilliance of these kids and just what they can do if given the time, space, place and a  model of what is possible.   Trusting our students.  What a concept and something we can all do, Dammit!!

The Goody Bag Generation: Conformity, Performance and Privileges in State Testing

These past 7 months have been some of the craziest of my life in a long time.  This past fall my daughter became depressed while away at school in Ohio.   Helping her through her difficult time from 800 miles away via the telephone was challenging…to say the least.  Then my father, now 84 became very ill and almost passed away at Christmas in the midst of their trying to sell their condo and buy a new house.  Then February 1st, I get a frantic phone call from my Dad telling me they are across the river watching their condo burn up in flames.  That night they moved in and stayed for 6 weeks.  The day after my parents moved out my son crashed my new car and it has been in the shop ever since.   And then my dear friend Karen lost her son, Jimmy to cancer.

And yet here I am 7 months later and my daughter has made some very difficult and adult decisions to improve her life and is doing fabulously.  My Dad recovered miraculously and is doing better than ever.  My parents have moved to their little house up north and although my car is in the shop, it is all good.  What is not so good is my friend Karen.  How does one even begin to live after losing a child?  I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.

 It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.   

~Epictetus

And so here I find myself evaluating what really matters in life when I receive a letter from my son’s High School punctuating, yet again what really matters in our public school systems.

The first paragraph states that several years ago our 11th grade students were not performing well on the State Test, NECAP.  It goes on to say that the “Data Strategies Team” (don’t even get me started here!!)  investigated and interviewed students to understand their lack of motivation.  This study revealed that our students got smart and stopped performing on state tests because they realized these tests had nothing to do with their futures because they did not have anything to do with their class ranks or GPA’s.   (I was on the school board at this point in time and remember celebrating these students and how smart and courageous they were!)

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The second paragraph goes on to say that after these findings they decided to create a big fat carrot in the name of senior privileges for those juniors who achieved a score of “proficient”  or above in all three areas of reading, math and writing on these state tests.

The third paragraph tells me “You are receiving this letter because your son or daughter will be allowed Junior Privileges beginning April 29th”.  This means that my son can leave campus during unassigned periods and it allows him the freedom to “go to various destinations within in the building.”  It is his get out of jail card and all because he was able to perform FOR them.

I am outraged by this…what are we doing hanging out carrots for a one time test?  What about those kids who may not test well?  What if those same kids who bombed the test are stellar students working hard each and every day?  What about students with Special Needs?  WHAT are we rewarding here?   And why?

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Why?  I will tell you why…because these tests have nothing to do with our kids, how they learn or  their futures…it is all about feeding the big number crunching machine to demonstrate that our schools are not failing.

Well…I would argue the opposite.  School is failing my son miserably and yet he gets these privileges because he conformed and performed and did what was expected of him…NOT because he was learning, thinking, creating, wondering, exploring and discovering the joy of learning.  What is the greater message we are sending here?

Is it just me?  I am sure that some parents might be celebrating his or her child’s ability to test well and “earn” these special privileges.  The letter is written on beautiful school stationary to be framed and hung on the wall.  Another badge of honor to be worn by parents to show their child measures up.  But not me.

It is just another reminder that it is not about our kids and their learning.  What matters is that our students consistently conform, perform and then get a goody bag for doing so.

Photo Credits: www.visual-learners.comdouglasemerson.blogs.com,

The Joys of Teaching: Bringing Back the Poetry, the Puppetry and the People

“Imagination is more important than knowledge”

~Einstein

Sometimes life it just too much.  Things come flying at you faster than you can handle and the goal becomes to just get through each and every day and to do the best that you can.  In the midst of great busyness you check things of the list and move on.  But at some point you stop and realize that you are not living as much as creating a record of living.  I may be “doing”all of the mechanical movements to get through a day, but the mundane checks on the list mean very little in my life.

ImageI believe that we get what we give, you know, karma and all of that great stuff.  And as I read through my blog posts I realize how much power and energy I myself have given to the Common Core State Standards.  So I decided to devote one entire class with my graduate students of teachers and devote it to the joys of teaching.  I asked each teacher in my group to think about and come to class with a unit, an idea, collaboration, a lesson that they loved.

And I wish you could have felt the energy, the laughter, and yes even the tears that came out of this discussion.  One teacher talked about how she had her students make toothpaste. Students would bring in ingredients that they then combined with baking soda and water. One teacher chimed in talking about how her daughter was in that class and how they brought in chocolate extract and how disgusting chocolate toothpaste was.  She laughed at the great messiness and engagement and sheer joy in this experiment.Image

Others talked about great units they had planned with colleagues and how those units moved children.  Another spoke of her grand puppet making and how those puppets were then used to create and show meaning within a social studies unit.  I wish I could have bottled that energy…but there is no way to measure that energy so it is deemed useless.  But at the same time it was the excitement behind the thinking that went into the planning and execution of these lessons, units and projects.  And if these teachers were this excited just talking about them they you know the execution of them was the same…and that energy then becomes the energy of the classroom!

I talked about one of my all time favorite units when I was a third grade teacher in Barrington, NH.  Our team created the most incredible unit on the history of Barrington.  It included storytelling as we brought in the Calef’s and their descendents and neighbors who told great tales of the grist mills and the endless springs walking to school in feet of mud. And what incredible storytellers these elders were!   Students would hear these stories and then research and read stories of their own to tell at a celebratory tea where parents and townspeople were invited to hear their stories.  They were also asked to interview someone in the community and we compiled these interviews into books to be shared with the town.  Every day was filled with Barrington history as I read through the town history book and uncovered more great tales to tell.  The month long unit ended with the great town tour.  This was more of a scavenger hunt really where we handed out riddle books with clues and questions.  This book was their guide and they had to think to figure out where they were going.  Small groups would pile into parents cars and off they would go to the Isinglass Riverbanks to the old schoolhouses, where they would be invited in and given a brief history.  I can’t even tell you how much the townspeople welcomed our kids into their homes; some even made snacks and drinks in preparation for their day of visitors.

I have heard that parts of that unit actually still exist in Barrington Elementary, but that the big parts, like the town tour are no longer allowed because of liability.  How sad that litigation gets in the way of good learning?  Once again it is the checks that matter…no more unsafe driving conditions for kids.  (Ironic if you have ever ridden on a school bus with no seatbelts really!)   Never mind how beneficial that town tour was and how it connected the taxpayers to the students and was a starting point in bringing the town together, creating connections and community between the young and the old.   What matters are the details (the devil lives there doesn’t he?) and all of the other minutiae that clog up each and every day.

And so after each teacher had a chance to talk about their joyful teaching we gathered into small groups and I asked these teachers to go through the Common Core State Standards and begin to plug in the standards that were actually covered in those units.  In no time at all they were listing standard after standard.  There is very little that is new in these standards but we are coming at it from the wrong direction.  Why?  Because there is money to be made by large corporations (Pearson) and why consult the experts in the field when you can have people who have nothing to do with education create what you need?

And so I ask, why don’t we spend more time in these joyful spaces talking about what we DO DO instead of always what we don’t do?  Why can’t we bring back poetry, and puppetry and create spaces where people want to be?  Why can’t we create thematic units where students look forward to 3rd grade and the town tour almost as a right of passage?  What is missing in the efforts to implement these standards is the whole.  We are so concerned with each little increment and how to “cover” that small piece that we are not doing anything that is connected to anything else…the whole is gone…and without the whole there are just a bunch of pieces floating about randomly in space never to be connected.

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And so I am going to attempt to remain in a place of joy through National Poetry Month. My goal is to read and write poetry each and every day of April.  I will start today and each day I am with students, children and teachers I will have a poem in my pocket to share.  Not so that I can check something off the list, but just for the sheer enJOYment of it.

I will leave you with one of my all time favorites:

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Miss-Interpretations of The Common Core and Teaching Writing: Dumbing Down with Ridiculous Rules, Mortifying Myths and Loquacious Lies

I am just home after meeting with some very talented and knowledgeable 6th grade teachers.  Our goal, to discuss the Common Core standards and get a feel for where they were in planning for their upcoming insurgence.

Part of the discussion was that in writing a persuasive piece of writing that the use of “I” is forbidden.  I asked by whom it was forbidden and they both looked at me like, “everyone” knows this.  And in walks the infamous “They” that makes these rules.  Who is the “they” in this arena?  And while you can find that in certain places the use of “I” is frowned upon it is not in others.  What about the fact that some of the best persuasive pieces ever written have a very capital and strong sense of I!! 

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For instance, if you read through my blog entries, how would you classify (for lack of a better word) what kind of writing it is?  What box would you put it in? Persuasive?  Argument?  Narrative? Informational?  Fiction?  Non-Fiction? Opinion?  Or is it a brand new genre called blogging? Or are there strands of each and all of these?

Or is it just ranting from a girl who lives in the grey areas of life navigating through a world of black and white…forever bumping into the boundaries set by others; hard and fast rules that become the letter of the law lacking any theory to back it up.

I envision it as writing my own newspaper column each week.  Where would that fit in?

I see it as a place where I gather my thoughts, opinions, and ideas and then attempt to support them with the thoughts and ideas and opinions of others.  Sometimes they are simply ideas of my own that I attempt to connect to begin to make sense of what I am thinking about. I write for the surprise that Donald Murray always wrote about.   Does this change what “kind” of writing I am writing on each and every attempt?  Or does it even matter what “kind” of writing is if my readers are reading it and it is making them think and wonder and respond?

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Donald Murray

And why do we insist on creating “new” kinds of writing that only exist in the world of school?  Have you ever seen or read a book report in the “real” world?  What about the whopper of a 5-paragraph essay?  When is the last time your boss came to you and said you need to write up a 5-paragraph essay, due on my desk by Monday?  NO, you have not because the idea of 5 paragraphs is another myth created in the world of education in an attempt to dumb down the process of writing.

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These teachers showed me a template for a persuasive (yes 5 paragraphs in this one too) where the students could essentially fill in the blanks and create a piece of writing that would fulfill the requirements of the Common Core Standards.  I have to SHOUT out here that I really don’t believe these are the intentions behind the CCSS.  This narrow thinking goes back to what Don Graves speaks about as teaching writing in terms of painting by number.  All of the writing in these mythical genres look the same, feels the same, reads the same.  BORING!!!  BUT, as the teachers respond, if we do this then all of the standards will be met and we will be able to point out specifically in different colored pens which parts fulfill which standard.  This leaves teachers in an impossible stance.  They have to choose whether or not to do what they are told or to teach what they know is good writing.  Wouldn’t you think they would be the same thing?

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Donald Graves

Our car is making a horrible noise.  (Using a story/narrative strand here to make my point)  There is a screeching sound that just makes your ears quiver when you turn the wheel.  We need to take it to the mechanic to get it fixed.  When it arrives he will listen to it, diagnose it and make the necessary changes.  Imagine another world, say the world where school meets auto repair and instead of relying on the mechanic there is a checklist that says he must add some simile, a bit of metaphor as well as a heave dose of dialogue to fix and complete this engine repair.  When done he can return it to us with all the things he can check off the list, but still with a broken car.

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Taking the person OUT of the process only creates nonsensical ridiculous and completely absurd moves.  There is NO sense in it and yet this is exactly the response I am seeing to the CCSS.   It is about coverage and covering one’s ass, if I may be so blunt…but who cares if your ass is covered if you are turning out broken down cars and students?  Taking the writer, the “I” out of the process is not going to create confident writers who know and understand when and where to use a writerly move if they have never had the opportunity as writers to make those decisions.  (Using compare and contrast to drive my point home)

I do not start writing thinking; I will use metaphor, simile and dialogue in this piece.  I start out with an idea and then as I write there are opportunities where these moves may or may not be useful to make my writing what I envision it to be.  I may even remove my car metaphor before this piece is formally posted on my blog.  The point it that these decisions are made my ME, the writer, so that I can create something that makes sense and that will engage my readers (hopefully) and allow them to think about something in a way that maybe they had not thought about it before.

My daughter sent me a link the other day about some middle schoolers involved in inquiry projects and created controlled experiment and then wrote it up and submitted it to various scientific journals to share their findings.  Many of the journals, while they praised the work of the students and it’s originality were not open to accepting the work of these student because their report started with “Once upon a time”, in other words it did not follow the “rules” of the scientific genre.

And yet, you can see here on this link to TED that the work of these students was eventually published and is now one of the most read scientific reports on the Internet. http://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_amy_o_toole_science_is_for_everyone_kids_included.html

And here is a link to the actual paper that was published. http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2010/12/18/rsbl.2010.1056.full

So why are so many people reading this and watching this TED talk?  I would argue (making this an argument piece now!) that they are reading it and listening to it because it is original and interesting and shows us what our kids CAN do if given the opportunity.

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So what are we doing?  In our efforts to do what is “right” we are forgetting to think about how kids learn, why kids learn and why they don’t.  Why are kids so totally removed from their own educations, their own thinking, their processes of discovery and wonder and curiosity?  Why?  Why?  Because that is exactly what we are asking of them.  To fill in the blank, not to think about what they are writing, check it off the list and move onto the next genre.  And the beat goes on…

Photo Credits: BLG Consulting Group, communicationissuccess.blogspot.com, http://unhmagazine.unh.edu, UNH Alumni, http://theclimatescepticsparty.blogspot.com/