Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Clutter Clean Up

Ten trash bags are dump-ready. My son and I are reorganizing our studio-office space. The last few weeks away have inspired me to get creating but there's no way in this over stuff-cluttered space. It's due a deep clean. Today I give you a photo slice documenting the messy wreck of the room.  Consider these our before photos. 

First we moved most of the books out to the birthday shelves my husband built in the front room.

The books are not in any order yet, but they are single shelves! Big improvement.

Next to move the bric-a-brac so that we could clear and clean. The art table became a landing zone. 

Oh the binders of workshop overheads! Had to go.

My assistant took a computer break.  There are so many stories on this table: meeting Nikki Giovanni, meeting my cousin Lynn, finding new and old book favorites. There are programs from Vid Con and book quilt squares and Goodwill box finds, now sorted or filed or discarded.

Art cards and acrylic mediums, a roll of cork, a spool of copper wire now shifted off shelf to desk top.

Bottom shelves cleared and cleaned. Six shelves left to go (then maybe we'll think about the closet). Notebooks (these are full) dusted and soldiered across the shelf. 

I've got room for fezzes and yearbook finds. This section nearly done. Poetry and art books and all the little Knicks knacks need arranging still. The top two shelves are in a holding pattern.

We made a lot of progress. We've got lots of bags to haul away.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Celebrating Highlights

Author, educator, and inspiration,  Ruth Ayres hosts Celebrate this week.
Join the celebration. Link up Ruth Ayres Writes.
In March I won a writing retreat at the Highlights Foundation.  It was a grand prize for a commenting challenge run one weekend during the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I could pick any workshop I wanted. I chose Writing from the Heart.

The workshop focuses on writing for children and writing for Highlights, both dreams of mine. While some came with finished manuscripts and drafts, I came to the workshop hungry for ideas and ready to begin again--to write. I write for myself and for teachers. I've written for my family, for my friends, for my son when he was young and as an Auntie, I write to my nieces. I am celebrating new beginnings and the will to learn.  Fiction is not my typical writing home, but I knew coming to Highlights would teach me a lot about craft.

It has.

Days begin (if you're up early and so inclined) with Yoga, then breakfast, fresh cooked from scratch muffins and quiches and cinnamon spicy things. Oh, the kitchen and staff! Martha and Joe, Roxy and Amanda, so gracious and kind. The tables they fill are eye-feasts, laden with delights.

Next time I come I will be able to eat! I'm on a doctor supervised fast for health reasons this time around, but even
without eating it,  the food, the smells , the art of the tables as they are set--sumptious. 
Then we workshop with Jillian and Suzanne.

A session to warm us up, a bit of writing and then critiques before lunch. Afternoons are much the same with doing and writing and talking and sharing. Oh the book feasts!

During the workshop we have been asked to bring a lot to the writing table: memory, art, music and mood. Today we got to the hear of setting with Clara Gillow Clark. She asked us to embrace our sense and to write from our childhood wounds. The writing--especially the last painful memories we wrote--felt full of pointy parts, but good.

Her talk today made me think of how I build community in my classroom and how just six days ago I could not have shared what I wrote today. Community, relationships, take time and trust to grow.

Today I am celebrating all  of it! All, I have learned and all I will take home: the writing practice, the woodsy trails, the walks to the creek, and corn field explores.

I am celebrating Molly the dog who treed the Bear on Wednesday,

and the couple that will get married under the twinkle lights tonight. 

 I'm celebrating Love's "it is so ordered" WIN and going home. What a grand week it has been.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Play and Practice

Many of the activities we've done during the Writing from the Heart workshop at the Highlights Foundation  have enabled us to play. In my life as a teacher, with building and district do-now lists it's easy to forget to take time out for a good explore with students much less for ourselves. I am much more comfortable writing about teaching than I am writing fiction or poetry, so this week's play has been good for my creative spirit.

 Jillian Sullivan gave us many ways to play with words through "writing without stopping." She's gotten us talking with and to our characters in fresh, engaging ways.

Teachers may know this practice as quick writes (Graves, Kittle, Rief) or as free writing (Elbow).

The only rule, of course, is to keep your pen moving until time is called. Jillian's prompts have been fantastic. We've all gotten some good writing done when she says, "start your page with 'You must tell them...'" and pretend your character is talking to you."

Jillian led us in journey play, reviewing stages in the hero's journey.  Ellen Yeomans delighted us with a title share related to books' structures (more on that later). Playing with the structure of a piece reveals possibilities the writer may not have imagined.

Ellen was talking about picture book structure. Her ideas around structure play with fiction reminded me of Kelly Gallagher's topic's chart, a tool I use with young writers in school (13). When you play with structure, expect surprise.

Productive play, playing with words is good for writers.

Suzanne Bloom had us playing with sounds this morning. She gave us a word list a true sesquipedalian would love. The list included the likes of: dragoon, gallinaceous, tarboosh; and my father's favorite, puscilanimous.  We discarded meaning and dug into sound. We wrote lullabies and admonishments with these polysyllabic wonders, what fun on the tongue it was.

Play matters. Play strengths brains. Play encourages creativity. It matters as much for adults and high school students as it does for the very young.

One of my favorite play experiences this week was painting. We used crayon, chalk, post its, tempura, Suzanne Bloom had a quite a treasure trove of art supplies. She had us paint to the edges of a large sheet of eighty-pound drawing paper: lovely. Something about abstracts sets minds free.

Play more. When I get home, that is at the top of the list (well, just after reorganizing the studio-office and moving books onto the new shelves in the front room).

My week here at Highlights reminds me to keep fun in front. Let students play with words and language and sentences and structures.  There will be time enough for my teacher-self to connect that play to ideas and books and writing and art.

Play comes first.

Works Cited

Elbow, Peter. Writing without teachers. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Gallagher, Kelly. Write like this: Teaching real-world writing through modeling & mentor texts. Stenhouse Publishers, 2011.

Graves, Donald H., and Penny Kittle. My Quick Writes. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005.

Rief, Linda. Seeking diversity: Language arts with adolescents. Heinemann, 1992.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mysterious Characters

Yesterday, I wrote about the writing magic discovered in objects and props. Today it's time for the mystery.

People are mysterious. Characters even more so.

On Tuesday during our Write from the Heart workshop at the Highlights Foundation, author-facilitator, Jillian Sullivan led us in dialogue and character work.

A brief page of notes, a slice from the session.
To create characters we quickly chose a character's name, birthday and traits: two positive character traits and one challenging character traits. She told us to take one trait from your BFF, one trait from your mother and just make up the last.

 I created Ellie O'Flanagan, born January 24, 1972. In my mind she is energetic, artistic, and inconsiderate.

Next we had to create an opposing character--someone older, opposite natured or opposite gendered. I imagined Ellie as an eleven year-old and I decided to make my opposite character a  grandmother figure. We talked about different ways to generate character names: from family history, from famous folks, from the phone book. I love Jillian's suggestion: use your first pet's name and the first street you lived on. With that I came up with gracious and generous, Lilly Darcey. She is a disciplinarian and was born Feb 12, 1916.

I left myself a lot of writing room to explore in year choices.

As writers we need to flesh out characters. At the beginning there is a lot of mystery. To solve the mystery, to generate ideas and detail, Jillian did an astrological reading of several of our characters. She read us snippets from The Chinese Astrology Book. We marveled at the rich descriptions and got to researching our own characters.

Lilly is a dragon, a fire dragon: "Bigger and bright than any other dragon, this one is also very entertaining, amusing, friendly, witty, social and warm-hearted. It does possess a temper though." Perfect for the disciplinarian I imagined her to be; dragons do breathe fire after all.

Ellie is born in the year of the rat.
Illustration from: The Chinese Astrology Handbook
She is a water rat: "This intuitive, adventurous rat likes to travel, but once it finds a safe haven, it will settle and won't be shifted. The water rat is creative, enjoys literature, and is a good diplomat (Craze)."

How fun is that?

Works Cited

Craze, Richard. The Chinese Astrology Handbook: A Complete guide to the Chinese Horoscope. London: Hermes House, 2002.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


There is Incredible corn growing across the street from the Highlights Foundation family home. It's a small plot, maybe twenty rows tilled and planted on the thirtieth of May. Not even a month in the ground and the stalks are almost knee-high.

Ideas grow quickly here too. I imagine it's the climate or the perfumed air, the buzz of the woods-- the writing with friends old and new. All of it gets the gears going in good, productive ways.

Yesterday we began the Writing from the Heart workshop and I want to share two of my favorite activities from the day. These are pieces I will take into my writing room and back to my classroom come August. 

First the magic, then tomorrow, the mystery. 

Suzanne Bloom, one of our author-facilitators, brought out her make up case. I hadn't seen one of those since the seventies when my mother was packing her golden one for a family trip to Denver, Colorado.

Suzanne's case was not filled with any sort of ordinary make up like Clinque, Estee Lauder or dusty mineral containers or the Mary Kay my mother sometimes wore. Instead it was filled things we had to make up stories about.

She started with a simple green jellyfish ball. We writers had two jobs, catch the green glob when it was thrown your way and then say what it was --make it up, play. The second prop was a electric gold scarf. We threw the scarf around our U-shaped table and said who owned it and what magical properties it had. Quick, less than eight minutes this warm up took.

Then we work in groups of threes. Are you seeing the gradual release model in our workshop days? I am.

Suzanne had an assortment of mystery packed into tiny boxes: metal boxes, cardboard boxes, long boxes, jewelry boxes, cloth boxes, wooden boxes, soap boxes and small boxes.

We had two questions to guide our group talk:

  1. Who was the owner of the box? 
  2. How did what is inside the box transform him or her? 
I chose the wooden box with shells inside.

Who owned the box?
How did what's inside transform her? 
My threesome talked through several scenarios some involved Atlantis or breathing underwater.
Each group shared out their story ideas. With our individual pumps primed, we then got to stick with the box we had or choose another. I kept the shell box and listened for its whispers.

We wrote and wrote.I wrote about a young girl who found her grandmother's box of shells and heard the sea's whispers. When she picked up the Pink Calico it worked like a ticket to another world.

I've already started scouring eBay and Goodwill.com for boxes and tins. Can you imagine the magic this activity will make in the first weeks of school?

I can.

On a different note, can you Slicers believe that I am hear claiming my commenting prize and Stacey and Michelle are for some unworkshop writing time too?! 
Such a delightful surprise this week.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Writing from the Outside In

I am surrounded by birdsong and light. Birch rustle their leaves and the sun streams through deciduous green. The leaf canopy is alive with magic.  The air smells different here. Gloriously rich and crisp, cool like late February in Florida when the strawberries are ready for picking and the robins have arrived to feast.

Of course, I realize that for my northern friends and family this is what summer must be: light and green, crisp and cool, blue skies and high-topped, cumulus clouds, the burn and rub of crickets.

No wonder you want to be outside!

For me summer, the weather at least, is like eating burnt toast  (unless I'm swimming in springs or waist deep in ocean water): flowers wilt midday, birds sleep early, people stay in air conditioned spaces. Here summer seems how its meant to be.
A poetry stone garden is going to be a must add to my dream-planned,
backyard patio, pizza oven, fire pit and kitchen garden plan! 

I am spending the week at the Highlights Foundation in Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania. I won the workshop week during the Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL) hosted by Two Writing Teachers in March. I love the slicing community--teachers and writers from all over who share moments (slices) from their daily lives in the classroom or at home on their blogs every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year.  The Slice of Life community encourages and supports. They lift up others and lean in when needed. We meet up at conferences to share a table, a meal, some stories and time. In the four years that I've been writing in that community, I've seen such changes in my writing and my teaching of writing. I am so grateful for the friends I've made in this community. In March the prize for participating in a weekend commenting challenge was a chance to win a retreat at the Highlights Foundation.  Stacey Shubitz has enjoyed time here and here, so has my friend Linda Baie. She wrote about her Highlights experiences here and here. Kent Brown once told me at a conference that this was a spot I needed. He sure was right.

So, when I saw the chance, I took the challenge.  I commented, commented, commented. And on my birthday, I won the drawing for the retreat. What a birthday gift from God! I wrote about the winning and the slice community here.
I had to take pictures from the passenger seat along the main street of Honesdale and the open woods and fields of Boyds Mills.

After dinner and a short talk with Jillian Sullivan and Suzanne Bloom, our writers in residence and workshop facilitators, we went for a walk along the road. 

We had Maxfield Parrish skies at sunset. 

And glorious birdsong at dawn.

I took a quick walk this morning after writing a few morning pages and thinking about birds. I ended up in the poetry stone garden.

be still now 
in the wood magic 
sip the sun, shine--
love the water, wind, 
happy-- precious flowers,

Thursday, June 18, 2015

To the Table

Tomorrow we spend time sharing presentations and a meal at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. We will showcase what we've learned and written. So many stories I've heard while here. Artists, writers, teachers, we bring it all to the tables in our classrooms.  Here are a few pictures of our tables, of our work in progress. I am sure that you will see stories of your own reflected here:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Third Down

Tonight feels like the third down against an aggressive team like Miami. Luckily my center lineman is strong. Built to hold off distractions, so that I can run from the pocket. I know it's summer and football is months away, but one of the artists has been working through this marching band idea and she has football fields and yard lines and diagrams and I've been listening to Emilyn Brodsky's Band Camp and thinking about number thirty-eight and number sixty-three and well, it feels like I'm stuck at the twenty-yard line with just two downs left in the game.

I need to get my final presentation finished. I am having difficulty figuring out how to present 100 panoramic photographs of artists' tables. The animation I tried using Power Point didn't span the table like I wanted it too and I broke up with Prezi. She wants to get back together and says she'll let me map the path through the pictures, but I'm not so sure I believe her. Slide show with poem voice-over, sounds so easy. Why has it been so hard? You know, I want the Ken Burns effect along the table tops and a smooth transition that shows the artists' and writers' progress. I want my voice and maybe a jingle-jangle, nostalgic track to play behind it. My purposes are not complicated. I just need to find the right tool. Suggestions welcome.

We have several assignments to work on during this writing institute. One professor who facilitates the sessions talked about accountability and finished products and the other professor said get started, write away and don't worry if you don't finish. I know I want to create finished pieces, even if they are in draft form.

I've been productive here and the one good thing about leaving on Friday afternoon is that I get to go be productive at the Highlights' Foundation camp in Pennsylvania on Sunday. There idea that there is more to come comforts me.
We meet around the conference table in the museum each day to draw, share and write.

Here's what I've done at the table each in the woods at the Atlantic Center for the Arts:

  1. 1 piece of 3-D art imitating Britto to use a model in class next year
  2. a mixed-media (maybe mobile) piece of folk art assembled from 25 individual pieces: Schooled (working title)
  3. one finished altered poem, Collins' "Introduction to Poetry"
  4. several pages prepped in an altered journal, 
  5. more than 300 photographs (though only 150 or so have been edited and examined so far)
  6. a screencast on Google Scholar
  7. Two narratives (comments received as a writing student and comments shared from a student)
  8. two days of sustained studio work with a sister
  9. 8 blog posts
  10. a revised unit/project plan for the Art of Analysis (in the format school requires)
  11. a focused two-week Image Grammar a la Noden (action verbs) plan
  12. an explanation of a problem of practice
  13. a date-night with my husband
  14. An argument piece on testing
  15. a spoken word poem (third draft) 
  16. a recording of said spoken word poem ( I don't like how I've read it, and it's too long...)
  17. a series of artists' #table pictures I've been curating with Twitter and on Dropbox
  18. 6 research documents downloaded and read
  19. a volume of poetry consumed for dinner each night
  20. a re-read of Gardner's Art, Mind, and Brain
  21. thinking, a lot,  with the Lowell Nesbit (in the Writer's Studio loft)
If I number things and list them I won't have to pay attention to packing and leaving. The writing institute has been my sun and moon, my all in all, my daybreak and dusk. This experience, this place, the Atlantic Center for the Arts has filled me with light and given me energy to create.

I love it here. 

Just this afternoon, one of the artists I've been following said, "Well, you know this is not the end. We ARE going to exchange emails and numbers and all of that once we've finished this work, right?"

"Absolutely. We will."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Into the Wild

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I've planned to be a writer since fourth grade. I didn't realize then that I'd be a writer in so many different ways and that being a writer is not so much (for me anyway) about earning a living. Instead, writing and being a writer is connecting to my authentic self and the wide, wide world.

I have many writing selves. I have the writing self that worked with Janet Allen for more than a decade to write curriculum and write professional development and write reflections from inside of the classroom that she included in her own writing. We were literally and figuratively, On the Same Page.

I have the writing self that wrote Reading Amplified, a transmedia book for teachers, and I have the writing self who teaches full time and writes about her practice. Sometimes that writer, writes poetry.

I am confident about many of my writing selves, but my inner poet is shy.

That writing or creating self is not so confidant. In fact, sometimes she is annoyingly insecure. Sometimes, she hides behind the clothes in closets like the one in the upper left corner of this morning's literacy quadrant work. Today was my sixth day as a participant in the writing institute at the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

I drew several of my writing selves in this morning's work, but I am going to step out as the poet while I am surrounded by support and encouragement of this writing table, this community of artists.

I need your help too with this poem.

We are working on presentation pieces for our final day of this two-week institute--and though it can be a work in progress, I want to squeeze another draft out of what I have so far. I have been working on a series of tables. I've been photographing tables for many months.  Some of the tables I'm seeing here, I've curated on twitter with the #table hashtag (search #table +spillarke on Twitter if you want to see them). I've written a poem that weaves in things participants (artists and writers) have shared.

In terms of this draft, I'm not sure about my image strings, line breaks or my ending. If you have a few minutes, I would appreciate feedback.  Tell me what you think.

To the Table

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
                                                                                                        -Franz Kafka

Bring it all to the table,
bring your bags,
plastic bags or rectangled recycle bags,
canvas Totes or Vera Bradley,
bring everything you carry
pens, pencils, paper, journals,
joy at the news he’s coming home
happy bubbles when babies
like new ideas are born
The table can sit in shadow,
reclining in a hidden corner
the paint-splattered utility topped slab
can bear the weight
of the black pit, the weight
of the heavy executioner’s hood
the … wait.

Bring the gun, the pills, the drugs, the alcohol
the modern distractions to the table
Hands up, don’t shoot
Pull the chair in to table’s edge
Sit straight. 


So often in our hallways, on our sidewalks,
down the wooden-paths, through the woods
around the wilds of this life
we grind the bones of our closet skeletons
to dust and mix them into drinks
quickly gulped to stop the urgent diarrhea
of mind, body, colon.
or we scatter that bone-dust to the winds
on the point of the peninsula where ocean
meets river and pirates sell ice cream from pontoon boats.

Take them instead to the table to be reconciled.
Take the diagnosis your doctor delivered
over the phone as you crossed
the causeway, bridge
Take the dementia of aging parents
and the acne of the middle passage,
take the broken wrists and wrap them like birds’ wings
in gauze and guests’ good wishes for quick healing.

Don’t shove those old bones under the table.

Lay them out. Lay out the wounds
the scraped knees and shattered elbows.
The extra thirty pounds and the pre-diabetes,
the hypertension and the high cholesterol,
the gasping heart attack and the voracious tumor.
Don’t drive them to North Carolina
to hide in cabin in the woods. Don’t sail them
along the intercostal for a sunset finale.
Bring them to the table and invite the guests.

Bring your vigor and health too
your spandex and sports bras,
your green juice and protein shakes,
bring your sneakered feet and Fit Bits
bring your boot camp trainer and Yoga coach.
let them be your guest.

Let the guests  gorge on
the heart break of broken crystal,
and poor choices. Let the guests
eat chunks of cheddar off the china shards
abandoned in the empty nest
of a failed marriage.

Make conversation about hooch and hospice,
and health care and the fault in our stars
that would send us so.
Make conversation about the color of
his eyes, and golden hairs curled around the radius
of his wrist. Talk about the seven colors of the sea
at sunrise and bring out all of the mixed-matched
dishes. Dine on the joy of company, roll in the ecstasy of creation.

Use the good napkins and

set each place with slivers of hope.

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers.
Link up your slice on Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays. Thanks, Stacey, TaraDanaBetsyAnna and Beth.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Write for Change

A fractured writing table from my tables series #workinprogress. 

The writing institute at the Atlantic Center for the Arts picked up again this morning. Today change came to the table. We had a change in facilitators. Today, soon to be Doctor Frankie Huff, led us through our drawing, writing and thinking sessions. The writers and artists working here had the weekend to create (no classes/workshop)--I was gloriously productive, but that is another post. We got back to the writing work this morning with another literacy quadrant.

Here's my drawing:

We shared our drawings with partners, then each pair shared out with the whole group. Then we wrote.

Here's what I wrote first:

After lunch we were asked to revisit our drafts with these five questions in mind: 
  1. Why is this issue important to you?
  2. Why is this problem worthy of exploration on a personal or professional level? 
  3. How can you frame the issue as a question? 
  4. Why do you think there has been no reasonable solution?
  5. What solutions have been offered that may not have worked well enough or at all? 
We were tasked with researching our issue and rewriting our drafts. I dove in. Searched and clicked and wrote. Here's what I've woven together for a second draft of this piece.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Create in Community

During the residential writing institute at the Atlantic Center for the Arts we are charged with observing an artist's creation process and writing about that process. We were told on the first day that we could choose one (or more) of the ten art who are here with Dr. Brewer from the Unversity of Central Florida. I chose one, but I have love for them all.

I love watching artists at work. I love being immersed in the creative process. I love seeing art being made. One thing that struck me this week was the idea that we create in community.

It's not a new idea. It's not new to artists or writers or educators or even me, but it struck me a new this week. We are not supposed to talk to our artists when we are observing them--that part is a challenge--but we are supposed to listen, take pictures, document, that sort of thing. I've been listening and, as some may imagine, taking a lot of pictures.

I've heard stories. I've heard artists share ideas and questions. I've heard artists ask each other about their weekend plans (today) and share the process of providing and cooking a meal for each other (yesterday). So many things, I've heard.

I have not heard "that's mine."

I've seen the community coming together. I've seen artists (and writers) help one another. In the sculpture studio two artists manned the table saw together--each taking a side to guide the one's board across smoothly.

In the painting studio, I've seen artists cluster together in one of the cubby corners to listen and talk through ideas for a work in progress. I've seen them lend each other supplies: tubes of paint, t-squares, clear tape, books, a hand-held sander.  I've seen them really listen to each other. I've heard them thank and welcome and praise one another too even when the critique is critique not just rote praise.

Today my take away is the importance of community--a community where a creator, an artist, a writer, a thinker, a learner, feels safe enough to take risks in order to innovate.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Drawing to Review

During the Slice of Life Story Challenge, my friend, Erin, blogged about using visual images as a means to reflection, I've been thinking about how the arts affect thinking and learning.  You can read her post here. One strategy we've practiced each day during the writing institute at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA) is drawing in literacy quadrants to brainstorm, connect or review.

Lara Zielinsky, a workshop participant last year, reflects on her own experience at ACA using the quadrants to visually process during last year's writing institute here. At first the literacy quadrant strategy work Dr. Elsie Olan and Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan reminded me of a strategy I used to use with readers I called four square. I used the tool to rehearse reading strategies that proficient reader research revealed: visualizing, connecting, predicting, etc. (Pearson). I used it assess readers and to review shared text before moving on.

One of the differences in the two strategies is visual. We draw in each square on the literacy quadrant. Earlier in the week Jeff said, "we draw in this class because I want you to remember what it's like to be a kid...if you remember them [students] as kids, you won't get lost." Our kids come to many things for the first time in our classes, even in high school. There is something about drawing that brings us back to those first times and our own approximations.

Drawing, like writing, is thinking made visual. Our quadrants become  nonlinguistic representations of our ideas and much like young writers--or as Steve Moline would say, "visual thinking." Thinkers become composers when they use their visualizations to tell the stories. 

Today we used our visualizations to reflect on our assignment. Our assignment--submitted digitally--for the ten-day writing institute includes: 
  1. a memorable writing moment (narrative)
  2. a procedure (how to, technical writing)
  3. a lesson or unit plan that addresses a problem of practice
  4. an argument that connects to our chosen problem of practice
  5. an informative piece (the argument topic recast in different genre)
  6. an experiential piece of writing based on our observations of art students at work
  7. a 6-10 minute showcase presentation (done in person, not digital)

To review and plan for the writing, we drew four of our ideas on today's quadrants. After we drew, volunteers shared out with the whole group. I've noticed, in my own classroom that if I maintain the pattern of share with a partner and then share out, students say more.  We did share with partners first today and I noticed I missed that additional rehearsal.   Here are my drawings: 

I am focusing on the Art of Analysis project I did with students this past year. In students' final letters to me many students wrote about missing the connection between our curriculum and the project. My intent was to teach students about art movements and grow their background knowledge and continue to work on writing analysis of poetry. Both would prepare students for further work in IB as they will learn about literary movements and be expected to compose commentaries--oral and written-- about poetic texts. But, and that's a big one, the project won't prepare (or engage them) if they do not understand the goals and the purpose. So, I'm working on clarifying both in ways I hope students will better understand.

The six pieces of writing do not have to be connected. In fact, the personal narrative I planned isn't. It also isn't the narrative I now know I need to write. The narrative that connects is a piece I blog briefly about two students who visited my classroom on a day that we were discussion Pop Art in preparation for our next pieces in our altered art books. I wrote "Art Engagements" a couple of months ago; find it here

The procedural piece I've completed; it's a screencast on how to use Google Scholar. I posted it to Screencast-o-matic here

The lesson plan, analyzing word choice, with all of it's pieces is in revision. 

The argument idea, the lower-right quadrant on my drawing,  came from something my friend, Donalyn Miller, wrote about this fall on her blog. Her post "No More Language Arts and Crafts" articulates in a real and authentic way the frustration of a teacher-parent who sees instructional practice gone awry. It is a piece of writing that has resonated with me all year. It will inspire my argument piece, but my argument is not Miller's. 

I want to write the case for infusing the visual arts in language arts. I want to write about how arts integration, purposeful arts integration--not crafting kleenex boxes in a incomplete and misguided attempt to build community-- builds cognitive capacity and achievement. I want to take a walk with Eliot Eisner and have a cup of coffee with Ruth Hubbard and Karen Ernst. 

Works Cited

Eisner, Elliot. "Art and knowledge." Handbook of the arts in qualitative research(2008): 3-12.

Eisner, Elliot W. The arts and the creation of mind. Yale University Press, 2002.

Hubbard, Ruth Shagoury, and Karen Ernst. New Entries: Learning by Writing and Drawing. Heinemann, 361 Hanover St., Portsmouth, NH 03801-3912, 1996.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

G.R.R. at A.C.A.

My  P.Y.P.s are on a journey to T.A.G. problems on practice that plague them. Some of M.Y.P.eeps speak the language of water. A.T.L.ases of knowledge, they are afloat on a R.A.F.T. in a "sea of talk" (Britton). As we pass the Policy Cruise bedecked with slogans and snappy music we see a shadow behind the D.R.A.P.E.S. in the control room. G.R.R., if only they would come out from behind the shade and see us, rescue us, reel us in...

During the writing institute today we talk about acronyms. We talked speaking up and looking down. We talked instruction and assignments. We talked about following "our artists" -- observing them work, documenting their process and writing about the experience. Art students who are also here at the Atlantic Center for the Arts working to create pieces over the ten day institute.

The specifics of our assignment was revealed and we talked about strategies we could use to accomplish the work of writing. Two strategies took center stage today: Carol Santa's R.A.F.T. and P. David Pearson's Gradual Release of Responsibility G.R.R..

I love using R.A.F.T. for writing, but you know what I love most about Dr. Carol Santa? She has wilderness experiences (including horses and a barn and kids and mountains) every day. When she spoke there might have been mention of llamas too. She co-founded a school in the wilderness! She and Dr. John Santa founded the Montana Academy, a therapeutic school with an integration of services and curriculum, in 1997. The campus addresses the needs of whole children, whole teenagers. These needs including fitness, friendships, academics, therapeutic and medical. After listening to her talk about the academy at NCTE one year, I put it on my bucket list. What a gift, the spark that brought be back to that teaching dream today.

Another back in time moment came during the discussion around the gradual release model. This one sent me back to my classroom, to the day my district came out to video tape me teaching. I wrote about the model and the video taping here.

For all learners, initiate and veteran, kid and adult, apprentice and master, learning is a process. It is a moving forward and a moving back. It is remembering and constructing.  What we bring to the table sustains us. It nourishes us and engages us. What we bring to the table, our attitudes, our experiences, our hopes, our expectations, our dreams, our supplies-- the ephemera of process and product--matters.

I've been taking pictures of tables for a few months now--still exploring the idea, but here are a few of the artists' tables from our time spent hovering on the edges of creation today.


P.Y.P. - Primary Years Program of the International Baccalaureate
T.A.G.- talented and gifted
M.Y.P - Middle Years Program of the International Baccalaureate
A.T.L.- approaches to learning
R.A.F.T.- role, audience, format and topic, a writing strategy developed by Carol Santa
D.R.A.P.E.S.- dialogue, rhetorical questions, analogies, personal experience, examples and statistics,             a writing strategy developed by Barry Lane

Works Cited
Barnes, D., Britton, J., & Rosen, H. (1971). Lan-guage, the learner, and the school (rev. ed). Har-mondsworth, England: Penguin.

Lane, Barry, and Gretchen S. Bernabei. Why We Must Run with Scissors: Voice Lessons in Persuasive Writing 3-12. Discover Writing Press, 2001.

Santa, Carol Minnick. Content Reading Including Study Systems: Reading, Writing and Studying across the Curriculum. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 4050 Westmark Drive, Dubuque, IA 52002., 1988.