Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Be Strong Students Need You

Visit Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life!
                       Find a second helping by searching #slice2013 on Twitter! 

Thanks to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna, and Elisabeth for all the work you're doing! It was a delight meeting so many slicers for breakfast Saturday --definitely an NCTE highlight!

It is the last day of the ALAN Workshop, an amazing two days after NCTE that is filled with authors and books and book lovers. Here is where I sat to listen. See my jourmal and colored pencils?

This entire conference has been a blessing and a merry Christmas, but ALAN. Ending the conference week with ALAN  with my son, Collin, priceless memory making. Today's slice of life is a short list of quotes from authors presenting at at ALAN that are speaking to my heart right now.

"The me that's me right now,  loves you."-@rainbowrowell, Eleanor and Park, Fangirl

"Never let a child walk away thinking he is the wrong age for a book." -Walter Mayes @waltergiant

"We have to be aware and we have to acknowledge the suffering that's gone on in the past,"
says Ken Setterington speaking about Branded by the Pink Triangle. "The information is true and the stories matter."

"Make my day. Give it your best shot because I glow in the dark. HOPE is a game changer!"
-Joan Bauer, Hope Was Here

"Nature is the stuff that we are." -Cal Armistead, Being Henry David

"Good books build strong resilient souls, open heart hearts, save lives and change generations." 
-Laurie Halse Anderson, The Impossible Knife of Memory

"This is my life--whatever it is--I will embrace it! When you are young you don't know that as short as life is, it is yet long. You can have another life that you choose where you can have love." -Nancy Werlin, Unthinkable 

"I'm a writer because I NEED to be a writer. It's like air. I breathe writing." -Benjamin Saenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

BRAVE  the WORLD.     TAKE EVERY CHANCE.     DROP EVERY FEAR.     -Laurie Halse Anderson

Friday, November 22, 2013

Teach with and to the Times

I am sitting in an awesome session by Sarah Gross (@thereadingzone) and The Learning Network editor, Katherine Schulten titled "Ripped from the Headlines." The room is packed. We're nearing the end of our time together. It's been a drive across times and topics touring the paper and how to put it to use in our classrooms. The herd has started to get restless.  At the culminating turn and talk task we are looking at the paper and making connections to what we teach. Four ladies to my left rustle about, get up and walk out. I hear the herd behind me shifting and packing. I want to still them--the wrangler in me sees their movement too early as (mis)behavior that could  endanger the herd.  I want to turn and talk about the paper and what we teach! Two ladies to my right indulge my desire to complete the task and talk, briefly. With a nod they angle themselves away from me and talk to each other about something else. It's nearing the end of the conference day. Brains full. Backs stiff.

I turn back to the paper and lose myself in the headlines, words and images. How could they--these particular two pages-- connect to what I'm teaching right now? I get excited about the 14-year-old gypsy bride and start thinking about child brides and Juliet and what the image says about youth, love and power.

Then I flip to the back of my page to find the "Inside the Times" piece and realize I could use this in a variety of ways. As a teacher, I could use this feature to preview, plan and connect to curriculum. Scanning this list I see "A Diet Fit for a President" (page A16) which I'm going to pull to add to our Are You What You Eat? unit in January; "Putting Robots to Work" would dance well with the Kapek's Rossum's Universal Robots

So many ways I could use and systematize how I use the New York Times in my classroom. I'm thinking about habits. How to cultivate and maintain my own curricular habits and how to build nonfiction reading habits in the teens I serve. 

Now to dig deeper into the paper's features--features  I did not even know about! I've got my eye on the Tupac Topic Page  Katherine demonstrated on the spot in response to a participant's inquiry. Oh the graceful timing delights me. Our school-wide, lunch time book club (Chat and Chew) will read and discuss Tupac's The Rose that Grew from Concrete in April. The Times Topic page will be a good starting place and resource share for teachers.   I'm singing inside--so glad I didn't rush back to the barn! What a perfect session this has been for me.  Energize, refreshed, excited--don't you love NCTE? Now to get lost in the idea world for a bit. Time to head down the rabbit hole!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Making a List and Checking It Twice

Visit Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life!
                       Find a second helping by searching #slice2013 on Twitter! 
Thanks to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna, and Elisabeth for all the work you're doing!

I leave for NCTE in less than 48 hours. I got to school early this morning to get plans written out for the substitute and files uploaded for students. A few students join me early and we visit over breakfast.

"Are you nervous about your trip?" Nidhi asks me this morning.
"No, not nervous, but it feels like I have  2, 317 things to do before I get on that airplane Thursday morning," I replied as I set up teaching station early this morning.
"Make a list. That always helps," she advised.
"I do. I have several lists going right now," I admit.
"Make one list. One long list will tell you all that you to do without worrying."

Wise teenager that Nidhi is.

My one list is in the works.   With so much to do it's easy for my Rider to let the Elephant take the lead. In class, we're hip deep in This I Believe projects this week. Students should finish their recording and share finished drafts by the end of the day tomorrow. Then I need to publish the pieces to the wiki site, so that students and their families can listen to their youth's voice during our Thanksgiving  break. I love this project, but this week I'm questioning my timing. The room is a hive of activity.

After school, I promised youth poets virtual open mic time. We connected with Cindy Minnich and Sara Holbrook today. Cindy is working on a piece in response to Secretary Arne Duncan. Duncan, as her poem notes, sees deficits. She sees potential. So do I. Students have a vacation week next week, so attendance at Poetry Club was lighter than usual. Still, there is promise in poetry, theirs and ours.

Brianna shares her poem and gets encouragement from
Sara and Cindy. 

That promise was a good reminder to me as I looked back on today. Our wireless went up and down and our desktops crashed and rebooted. Sometimes learning is messy and we have work around the glitches. There is so much potential in students. So much that recording, publishing, sharing and connecting around student work offers me as a teacher and learner. Remembering that helps me problem solve when the technology seas get rough.

At home, we're getting ready to pack. We're searching for warm clothes. My son told me this morning that he has a hoodie to wear as a jacket. I nearly shot coffee out of my nose. What?  I thought I had him covered with new pants that covered his ankles. No winter coat that fits? My heart sped up at the thought. It may be eighty-five here but it's in the thirties in Boston! He doesn't take off until Sunday, so he and his Dad can organize a winter coat. By the time he arrives for his visit to winter, and writers, and ALAN, and family, he'll be set.

There is time enough for everything.

I am over the moon at the thought of seeing friends and learning from colleagues. I can't wait for the conversations, the ideas--the buzz and hum of books shared.  It is going to be a fantastic conference.

Hope to see you in Boston!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Take a Turn at the Mic

Visit Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life!
                       Find a second helping by searching #slice2013 on Twitter! 
Thanks to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna, and Elisabeth for all the work you're doing!

Today students in Poetry Club talked about last month's virtual open mic. They are busy preparing for another one next week, so were practiced pieces during today's weekly meeting and talked about how to slow down and speak up. As Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger say, we worked our P.I.P.E.S. (projection, inflection, pacing, and eye-contact).

We also worked the schedule. We talked about contacting poets to join us.  Last month Kwame Alexander said yes, but a scheduling conflict derailed him, so he didn't get to hangout. Students also want to connect with local poets, some who go to schools who compete in our spring slam. Creating those connections takes time and relationship,  but I am encouraged that students want to, ask to and are looking to connect outside of school. We have a lot on our poetry wish list and a lot to practice before slam season.  But you know what ? It's worth it. I could power a small city with the electricity students generate when they stand up and perform their own work. It is energizing, emotional, and powerful writing work they do.

Last month we used Skype and Google Hangout simultaneously to connect because one of the participating groups could only use Skype. There was a little fumbling on my end trying to set up laptops--one of which crashed before it booted, but we had back up devices waiting just in case. We ended up Skyping with youth poets from a military academy in St. Petersburg, Florida on an iPad and "hanging out" with Cindy Minnich and her youth poets from Pennsylvania from a laptop station. We made it work, no excuses or apologies. My student poets cared less about the technology. They wanted to hear other students perform and they wanted to perform too. Poetry craves audience. 

As with most learning, things start out messy. We were figuring out how to "pass the microphone" how to shift screens (Skype to Hangout, to Skype), how to maintain the wifi and really tune it to listen as poets from elsewhere took the mic. Then there I was accidently broadcasting live minute after minute of precious on-air time of me on camera fiddling with settings to connect or reconnect. Nerdfighters would certainly punish me for that one.
Next week there will be much less of me and more poetry!
A friend who watch the video as aired encouraged me. She said  it's amazing to see a teacher learning, doing--right there, live--she could see the  edge of the curve as I skated it --she was being nice, but I am learning and I ams all in, committed to giving the youth poets air time and an audience. They loved it, they didn't mind that we had a bit of set up. They didn't mind that I broadcast the raw footage. Even they know that the process will get smoother with practice; I do too, but I'm glad they see me learning in front of them. I glad they see that reaching out takes all kinds of work. 

Junior, Cherry is experimenting with spoken word and song--she has an amazing voice.

Poetry Club decided to make the virtual open mic a monthly event. We need inspiration and we need practice. Audiences give us both, virtual or in person. We're aiming for third Tuesdays from 2:30 -3:30 p.m. (EST). I would love for you to join us.

Next week will be open mic session number two.  I am hoping that you know someone who might know someone who might know a teenager who writes poetry and would be inspired by or needs  an audience. It is as easy as answering a "call" on your computer or device. If you are unsure about the technology, I'd be happy to do a trial call and we could talk through it.

We need poetry and the community that forms around it when we have the courage to stand up and speak.  We learn so much when we share our work with others. Last month, we talked about being off of the page--memorizing our pieces-- so that we could make virtual eye contact. We talked about presence on camera and how it is different from having or feeling a poet's presence on stage. We talked about pacing and pitch and projecting--all lessons these youth poets need to get ready for our the spring Poetry Slam stage. Won't you join us? We want to listen to your poetry. We want to hear what you have to share. 
Senior, Juan was the first to take the mic from our team last month.
If you are a poet or poetry coach or a poetry club sponsor or a teacher with a group of poetry-minded students that would like to share the microphone next Tuesday, reach out in the comments or email me at spillarke[at]gmail[dot]com. You could also add your information to this spreadsheet; dates are tabbed across the bottom if you'd like to plan ahead. I'll use your email to send you details and to invite you to the hangout on Tuesday. 

Hope to "see" you next week!
Lee Ann


Holbrook, Sara and Michael Salinger. Outspoken: How to Improve Writing and Speaking Skills Through Poetry Performance. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006.