Sunday, April 26, 2015

Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem

Crafted by thirty different writers (can I call myself a poet?) the Kidlit Progressive Poem is hosted by poet Irene Latham. I started following Irene's writing ever since she first Skyped with my 8th grade students--something which she has done several times over the past few years. Irene has also been incredibly supportive and encouraging to me as a writer...well, as a teacher who writes.

That said...

With my lines, I wanted to bring back an earlier piece of the poem--the alluvium and the dark mica. Those textures resonated with me.

She lives without a net, walking along the alluvium of the delta.
Shoes swing over her shoulder, on her bare feet stick jeweled flecks of dark mica.

Hands faster than fish swing at the ends of bare brown arms.
Her hair flows, snows in wild wind as she digs in the indigo varnished handbag, 

pulls out her grandmother’s oval cuffed bracelet,
 strokes the turquoise stones, 
and steps through the curved doorway.

Tripping on her tail she slips hair first down the slide…splash!
She glides past glossy water hyacinth to shimmer with a school of shad,
listens to the ibises roosting in the trees of the cypress swamp
an echo of Grandmother’s words, still fresh in her windswept memory;
“Born from the oyster, expect the pearl. Reach for the rainbow reflection on the smallest dewdrop.”

The surface glistens, a shadow slips above her head, a paddle dips
she reaches, seizes. She’s electric energy and turquoise eyes.

Lifted high, she gulps strange air – stares clearly into
 Green pirogue, crawfish trap, 
startled fisherman with turquoise eyes, twins of her own, riveted on her wrist–

She’s swifter than a dolphin, slipping away,
leaving him only a handful of memories of his own grandmother’s counsel:

“Watch for her. You’ll have but one chance to 
determine—to decide. 
Garner wisdom from the water and from the pearl of the past.”

In a quicksilver flash, an arc of resolution, he leaps
into the shimmering water
where hidden sentries restrain any pursuit 
and the bitter taste of impulse rushes into his lungs.

Her flipper flutters his weathered toes – Pearl’s signal –
Stop struggling. The Sentinels will escort you

He stills, closes his eyes,
takes an uncharacteristic breath of...water!

Released, he swims, chasing the glimmer of the bracelet
Gran gave the daughter who reveled in waves.

Straining for fading incandescence, flecks of silver, his eyes and hands clasp cold silt,
flakes of sharp shale seething through fingers--crimson palms stinging. 

Ok, Jan, you're up...sorry I took so long!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Maybe we'll host our own Writing Conference

Skyping YA authors into the classroom started five years ago for me. We had some really great experiences with Kathi Appelt, Mitali Perkins, Sarah Albee, Gayle Forman, and many others. We tried hashtag chats on Twitter and engaged with Rebecca Stead, Steve Sheinken, and Laini Taylor.

In each case I found myself thinking: I wish all of my students could experience this too.
Pam Munoz Ryan and me at NCTE 2014

Over the past year I've attended two SCBWI conferences and one NCTE conference. In each case, writing was celebrated, shared, examined, and discussed. I had the opportunity to rub elbows with and learn from writers such as: Pam Munoz Ryan, David Levithan, Jack Gantos, Nikki Grimes, Kate Messener, Jacqueline Woodson, Georgia Heard, Paul Janeczko, and so on. I sat and listened to educators named Michael Smith, Jeffrey Wilhelm, and Penny Kittle.

And I found myself thinking about how enriched my life has become through these conferences that it all cycled back to one overarching thought nagging at me: I wish all of my students could experience this too. 

Along the way, I collaborated with several educators across the country to co-author a piece in English Journal. One of the collaborators, Gary Anderson, had been talking-writing-Tweeting about Writers Week at William Fremd High School in Illinois. The more I read the tweets and watched clips of their videos (they livestream the entire event--incredible) of students, faculty, and professionals celebrating writing I found myself thinking...again...

I wish all of my students could experience this too.

Recently, I proposed the idea to the 8th grade teachers--fortunately, another 8th grade teacher had been thinking of a similar project involving block scheduling. The block schedule would last one week. This would work for us because it would still allow all of the teachers to see their students the same amount of the time as they normally would in any given week. Our special area classes remain undisturbed. Our music lessons and end of the day study hall/extra help period remain status quo.

Our version of the William Fremd High School model would include all of our core subject areas: Math, Social Studies, Geography, Science, and English. Each subject area will be responsible for planning how its time will be used. Science has already speculated that they can try some unique and engaging labs that they never have the time to get to in our traditional schedule. Social Studies has kicked around bringing in guest speakers.

We are in the brainstorming phase at least seven or eight months out from the first proposed dates. We will have even more time if the week gets scheduled after the holidays.

Part of our early conversation has been about an overarching theme--something to build all of our individual blocks around. Some have offered "The Real World" and "Reaching Out" but again, we are just brainstorming. We know we need a theme, a hook, and something to help all of us come together as we plan.

As for English, this is where--in my mind--the writing conference comes into play. I'd love to set up a variety of workshops where students, faculty, and staff share and celebrate writing all week. Another colleague and I will be (soon) reaching out to the professional writing community to see who might be interested in being a part of our 8th grade Conference of Writing.

All of that said, this kind of leap only works with support, collaboration, and enthusiasm. In that, we are lucky to be surrounded by colleagues willing to take a leap and we are fortunate to work in a building and district supportive of creating innovative learning experiences for our students.