Friday, July 29, 2011

New books!

So, if you've read a little bit about me you already know I LOVE to buy books, shoes, and journals.  I am honest and up front about my proclivities. :)  And, with the start of school here for my district, it is just the right time to pour over some new professional titles for bits and bobs I can try on for size with staff and students.  My teaching, writing, and conversations will be richer with thinking, expanded.

Right now, here's my shopping list: 
  • Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way - Georgia Heard
  • Thinking Through Genre: Units of Study in Reading and Writing Workshops Grades 4-12 - Heather Lattimer
  • The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (And They're All Hard Parts) - Katie Wood Ray
  • Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop - Jeff Anderson
  • Everyday Editing - Jeff Anderson 
  • My Quick Writes: Everyday Writing - Donald Graves and Penny Kittle
  • Writing Places: The Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher - William Zinsser
  • Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices - Ralph Fletcher
  • Pyrotechnics on the Page: Playful Craft That Sparks Writing - Ralph Fletcher

I'd love your input, too.  Please post your picks for any or all of the following categories...
  • Which sturdy books do you lean upon when considering writing instruction?
  • Do you have go-to titles, easily accessible for a chapter here and there?
  • If you could only recommend one book that strengthened your own writing or writing instruction, what would it be?

If you were close by, I'd definitely ask to have a coffee date so we could chat more about your favorites.   (Good conversation is the perfect accompaniment to a spicy chai latte!)   

Thanks a million for sharing...I love that we can all learn from each other electronically!

Write on,

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    My fifth slice-of-life story...

    One more day of summer break...

    I will



    I think
    p l a y

    Write on,

    Friday, July 22, 2011

    Song lyrics speak to me... Second Edition

    I won't lie; my greatest music teacher was never someone my alma mater employed.  It was my dad. 

    He didn't show me the ropes with major and minor keys, line and space notes, or time signatures.  He simply shared what he loves.  The music, the sound, the feeling it brings, the thoughts behind the lyrics, the heart.  And, it transferred.  We both enjoy late-60s rock like Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Neil Young, Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, and Jimi Hendrix.  We listen loudly when no one's around.  We sing.  We go to concerts.  We create fabulous Pandora radio stations.  The artists are like real people in our lives (right down to his beloved David Crosby walrus mustache --- it's admiration or an enterprising way to push my mom's buttons.)

    This spring, my parents and I sat glued to Morgan Neville's documentary "The Troubadour: Rise of the Singer-Songwriter" based on the intertwined careers of James Taylor and Carole King.  One song, so lovingly performed, echoed through me as if traveling toward home.

    I used to sing that for you before bed, my dad gently offered.

    Inspired, I learned the song.  I know Carole's harmony and James' melody and we always listen two times through so I can sing both with my son. (Reading teachers, I'm employing the neurological impress method!)  It is our bedtime routine's encore number.

    Sing our song, Mommy, he pleads.

    You Can Close Your Eyes
    James Taylor. _Mud Slide Slim_. Warner Bros., 1971

    Well the sun is surely sinking down
    But the moon is slowly rising
    So this old world must still be spinning 'round
    And I still love you

    So close your eyes
    You can close your eyes, it's all right
    I don't know no love songs
    And I can't sing the blues anymore
    But I can sing this song
    And you can sing this song
    When I'm gone

    It won't be long before another day
    We're gonna have a good time
    And no one's gonna take that time away
    You can stay as long as you like

    So close your eyes
    You can close your eyes, it's all right
    I don't know no love songs
    And I can't sing the blues anymore
    But I can sing this song
    And you can sing this song
    When I'm gone

    Because of my dad, I do know love songs...their depth, breadth, and soul.  Someday because of me, Reid will too.

    Write on,

    {To enjoy our song, visit mckays videos on You Tube.  Start the clip around 1:00; finish around 3:30.}

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Petting sharks?!?

    "Pet the sharks?!?"  My mind reeled that this could really be as we walked into the exhibit for the first time last summer.  A virtuous zoo actually puts dangerous animals away in a secure fashion...not invites visitors to touch them.  Then, my baby reclined comfortably in his travel stroller with snacks as we canvassed our surroundings for potential risk. 

    Fast-forward a year later.  Now, I have a two-year-old teetering on the shark-petting pool barrier splashing, reaching, singing, and practically beckoning these sea creatures to our (hopefully) safe little area of the exhibit.  My son can't get enough, much to my chagrin.

    While I love "Oceans" because the building is air-conditioned and there are awesome wildlife specimens at which to take a gander, I still can't bring myself to pet the sharks.  Their toothy grins are my first detractor, followed in no particular order by their smmmoooooooth, veiny flesh and menacing fins that glimmer just slightly above the water's surface. 

    Shark-petting and writing...a common thread?   

    Recent blog posts by Ruth Ayres, Stacey Shubitz, and myself have explored different ways to generate lists of writing topics.  Whether it's a bone map, heart map, hand list, or another extraordinarily personal way to organize subjects about which we're able to write, we should.  We owe this sort of thought work not only to ourselves as writers, but also to the endless supply of fabulous stories from our lives just waiting to shine. These bits and bobs are what make us who we are. 

    In Notebook Know-How, Aimee Buckner offers the idea of constructing Best and Worst lists off which to write.  Around the shark pool I got to thinking, "What kind of list would I add shark-petting to?"  Is it something I am scared of?  Is it something that defies reason?  Is it a concept that just seems unnatural?
    The latter two lists intrigue me --- they sound much more thought-provoking and multidimensional than the blanket term 'scary'.  Writing now, I'm already starting to mentally scan my files of topic ideas and everyday noticings for items I could quantify these two ways.  I'm thinking about how I could construct the collection in a meaningful way.  I'm also thinking about other non-traditional lists I could create.

    Types of list-making may seem mundane to some, or as Ruth Ayres remarked, maybe even perceived as a creative indulgence to others.  But, as writing teachers, we understand that taking the time to actually think through and do the kinesthetic work of drawing and organizing presents an invaluable space for these ideas to percolate.

    What would be on your list with shark-petting?
    Any ingenious list categories you'd like to share?

    I'm percolating... :)

    Write on,

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    My fourth slice-of-life story...


    I'm not sure if I can find a font large enough for the way these two little words make me feel today.

    Last night, we got the message --- the back and forth is finally done over dollars, (lack of) sense, deadlines, and dreams.  It's been an intense week of bargaining.  And, like a new notebook that opens in all its splendor for the next page to be written, here we stand peering off a precipice just waiting to jump.  The sizable question is, "Where will we land?"

    Sure, we've done our share of internet research, Sunday open houses, generic neighborhood drive-throughs, and we've chatted with friends who live in other parts of town.  Our intent and investment level skyrockets today.

    August 23 = closing.
    September 12 = possession ends.
    Meanwhile =  life, school, projects.


    Having our house on the market intermittently for the past year, my inner odds-maker was betting on selling over summer break from school and the numerous naptimes I'd have to reorganize our lives in a new space.  Now, this task will be relegated to sandwich times --- between our son's bedtime and ours, between getting home from school and making dinner, between getting up and leaving for the day.

    I'm overjoyed, even if this piece is tinged with anxiety.
    I'm excited, even if my Outlook calendar is nearing capacity.
    I'm eager, even if I haven't a clue how it will all turn out.

    I'm peaceful because it just will.
    Somehow, someway. 
    And, perfectly.

    Write on,

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Song lyrics speak to me...

    I'm the quiet type who takes it all in.  Song lyrics are no exception.  Listening to music in the car or working on school projects with my iPod, I love figuring out what singer-songwriters are really trying to eloquently, so passionately, so personally.  To me lyrics often express ideas I cannot, will not, or haven't yet named.  They speak to memories of feast and members...and overcoming fears.  To faith and to love.

    With my parents last week, I watched a TV special on how Simon & Garfunkel constructed the album "Bridge Over Troubled Water".  Like old friends from my childhood, their songs were revealed one by one..."America," "Only Living Boy in New York," "Cecilia."  Then, "Old Friends/Bookends" particularly poignant lyrics again drew me in; my mom lovingly connected them to her father she so misses.  I couldn't help but marvel at their masterful writing while listening now as a grown-up.  The unmistakable imagery.  The beautiful painting these words produce.       

    Old Friends/Bookends lyrics

    Old friends
    Old friends
    Sat on their park bench
    Like bookends
    A newspaper blown through the grass
    Falls on the round toes
    On the high shoes
    Of the old friends
    Old friends
    Winter companions
    The old men
    Lost in their overcoats
    Waiting for the sunset
    The sounds of the city
    Sifting through trees
    Settle like dust
    On the shoulders
    Of the old friends
    Can you imagine us
    Years from today
    Sharing a park bench quietly?
    How terribly strange
    To be seventy
    Old friends
    Memory brushes the same years
    Silently sharing the same fear
    Time it was,
    And what a time it was
    It was . . .
    A time of innocence
    A time of confidences
    Long ago . . . it must be . . .
    I have a photograph
    Preserve your memories
    They’re all that’s left you

    If you don't know it already, give this song a listen.  The music perfectly complements the writing, creating a well rounded, deep experience; a complete picture of a moment in time captured magnificently.  As writers, isn't that what we're all about---the complete experience?  Studying lyrics can take our work to the next level.

    Now, teacher-writers, how could a piece like this glimmer in your writing workshop?  What lyrics speak to you?

    Write on,

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    My third slice-of-life story...

    15 days until school begins...

    Wide-eyed, I glimpse at my calendar each morning.  Only 15 more days of summer vacation!  My new iPhone taunts me with each finger-slide, showcasing the date in LARGE, bold numerals.

    Neil Young says in "On the Way Home" ---  though we rush ahead to save our time, we are only what we feel.  My current game plan is to not rush over the next two weeks (even though my list grows by the hour to prep for school's start at home and in my room), but instead to feel and enjoy my favorite things like... 

    15. Homemade macaroni and cheese for lunch
    14. Mall walks at non-peak hours
    13. My chambray sundress with flip-flops
    12. Morning trips to Super Target with my little shopper
    11. Cooking real food instead of bagged meals (sorry P.F. Chang's)
    10. HGTV
     9. A catalog skim
     8. Naptime projects (most are born out of randomness around 2 p.m.)
     7. Morning strolls around our sleepy neighborhood
     6. Storytime cuddles
     5. Reid's pretend cooking...Kitty wants some fruit, right...?
     4. Cookie-baking forays
     3. Time to dream...
     2. Thursday dates with my mom canvassing town for bargains and a tasty lunch
     1. Coffee breaks at Starbucks with my son; chai latte and fruit twists, please :)

    15 days; 15 objectives;  350 hours to feel before the rush.

    Then, again, maybe feeling could last a whole lot longer...

    Write on,

    Friday, July 8, 2011


    My son's new birthday tricycle...see how he rolls :).

    This summer, my two-year-old received a retro Radio Flyer trike as a birthday present from my parents.  He LOVES it and insists we ride around our driveway, taking a special detour down the bumpy sidewalk leading to our front door.  Everyday; same routine.

    The funniest part --- he doesn't use the pedals like we may expect.  His bruised, reddened shins bear testament to his improvisation.  A couple weeks ago when the trike magically appeared at the birthday party, Reid had never taken a ride.  So, in days since, he has figured out a way to make it go where he wants.  You see, earlier this spring he landed a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe (which is basically a big, plastic version of Fred Flintstone's car) from a family member and he quickly pounds the pavement to travel around our house.  I love that he applies what he's already experienced to his radiant red tricycle.  He moves his feet; he sits on the seat; he holds onto the handlebars; he steers; he approximates.

    Trailing behind him this summer on the aforementioned route, I've had mountains of minutes to think about how his riding relates to writing.  And, it does.  In so many ways...

    As writers ourselves, we are always approximating.  If I love the way Stephen Stills writes his song lyrics and want to take a leaf from his book, I can.  I can come near in degree, nature, or quality (as the Yahoo dictionary suggests!).  If I love the way Cynthia Rylant shows passage of time, I can emulate her work in The Relatives Came and share it with my students.  But, another way I am considering approximation on our daily trike rides is this --- as a teacher of writing, how am I approximating the genres, craft moves, etc. in which I am expecting my students to excel?

    One of my goals this summer is to travel as a writer through the units of study my students will experience.  I want to understand where the tricky parts will be (and if they're tricky for us as can we portion them out for our students in ways that make sense?).  I want to understand stamina from the inside out.  I want to own a nuanced sense of anticipation for text features...minilesson topics...unit goals...and appropriate exemplar pieces.

    If I were teaching a reading unit on mysteries, I would have traveled through my school's library with sticky fingers before heading home for the summer.  If I were teaching a unit on the French-Indian War, you bet I would've done the same thing (because right now, I can't think of a solitary tidbit I know about that topic...excepting who participated).  So, why is teaching writing any different?

    In a sense, I am approximating writing in each genre.  Yes, I bring an educated background to my notebook each day; but (and this is a big but), I don't remember being taught to write explicitly in any genre other than research papers...and even that instruction was meager by today's clarity standards.  In my toolkit are reading experiences, professional institutes/workshops, past teaching topics, an analytical, thoughtful eye, and samples of writing that speak to me.  I parlay these treasures into pieces of writing worthy of my wide-eyed, malleable students.

    Sometimes, I feel like I'm just pushing my way around on a tricycle like Reid does.  However, I know just as he will soon discover the pedals and their power, I will continue to gain strength and confidence putting myself in print for my students and colleagues.  I will approach my teaching as a writer first...experience: my true north.

    The magical quality of approximation is its fleeting nature...

    Write on,

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    My second slice-of-life story...

    Bang, boom, (booooom, booommmm), wahhhhh. 
    Bang, boom, (booooom, booommmm), wahhhhh.
    It’s 9:30 p.m. on July husband and I are downstairs, awaiting the sleep of our 24-month-old son. 

    Before Reid’s arrival, we OF COURSE included a fireworks display in our annual holiday routine. Afterward, not so much.  Like a true teacher, I like routine --- our days go more smoothly this way.  Milk and bath at 8:00 p.m.

    But, last night after lights out, our little entertainer offered a nursery rhyme concert and a recount of the day’s events.  Then, against the deepening tie-dyed sky, distant fireworks began with subtle booms and rhythmic rumbles.  Hopes that dreamland would be +1 at the point --- dashed.

    (Our downstairs conversation) 
    “Ooooh.  What will he do with all this noise?  Will it upset him?” 
    “Not sureguess we’ll find out!?!”

    And, then, tears unleashed.  “Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!”
    (Philosophical question du jour: If you’ve never been to a fireworks show on July 4th…do you really know what you’re missing?)

    Enter (pronto) Mom and Dad.  “What’s the matter?” I inquire.  More tears.  My husband tries… “Hey, buddy, it’s just…” (I shoot him a dirty look across the crib railing)... “some booms and rumbles” I neatly finish.

    “Fireworks, yes.” Reid offers confidently.  “Like at the hotel.”

    (Um, yeah, sure --- two weeks ago during vacation, our hotel hosted fireworks on Tuesday nights. We stayed up that time because we were off schedule anyway.  However, Reid was far more interested in pushing his stroller around than watching the show’s twinkling blooms.)

    Completely taken aback, we bestowed a final night-night kiss, a high-quality tuck-in, and compliment for smarts.  Nursery door closed and downstairs relaxing again, our twinkling eyes caught each other silently searching…

    Were we just out-smarted?

    Friday, July 1, 2011


    If you've visited my blog before, you'll notice today's refresh in background, labeling, and title badge.  It's always an adventure to take something you already know and change it up a little.  I hope you enjoy the formatting as much as I do --- now it looks more like me :) --- and it's functionality is increased!

    My blog's improvements mirror how we strengthen, deepen, and alter writing instruction by adding a more personalized dimension and/or beefing up teaching points.  In conspiring with a colleague today about ideas for next year's writing workshop, a familiar strategy for mining writing territories showed up with a facelift.  Most everyone is acquainted with Carl Anderson's work helping students dig up writing topics they know and care about (more details available in his conferring bundle---awesome!) and then listing off these territories to provide writing inspiration.  Well, here's a facelift...Katie Wood Ray-style!

    On a crisp, new writer's notebook page students outline his/her hand.  Inside, on fingers and palms, students list special memories about significant things they've touched.  Hmmmm.  What a great visual support for young writers...and, it's sticky's purpose and usefulness will long remain!

    I really want to put myself in students' shoes when teaching new strategies.  My teaching is more authentic and nuanced that way.  So, here it goes --- I'll give it a try.  Here are the contents of my hand list:
    • The first time I touched my sweet newborn son in the hospital...
    • The first time I felt my baby kick from within me...
    • When I gave my hand in marriage...
    • When I super-glued my thumb and pointer finger together (accidentally!)...
    • When I hand-mix my family's favorite meatloaf...
    How about you --- What would show up on your hand list?  Get out your writer's notebook and generate some potential writing topics using this strategy.

    Then...are there other strategies you could extend and/or update with a facelift?  Maybe add a personalized spin?  Maybe update for functionality's sake?  Look back through your teaching repertoire and try out a few high-utility strategies.  Feel free to share what you create in the comments section!! :)

    Write on,