"Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it, because action has magic, grace, and power in it." Goethe

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Sestina for Easter Season

I wrote this sestina during Holy Week, about the same time I assigned this form of poetry writing to a class of Comp 2 students.  

Their results and responses inspired me, and their struggles did as well. Someone would come to class and say, This is hard or I really had to think on this. One student told another: Man, don’t wait til the last minute. This thing takes some time.

So, I decided to experience again what I often ask my students to do. The attention to the form was a discipline. The words came though. And, as often happens in life and writing and art, a simple action spurs us on to a new creation. 

Easter Sestina:

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Some of my readers know that we tore down my childhood home a couple of weeks ago.
There was the surprise of a book found in the remains…and the surprises keep coming.
I asked my husband about the well out back.
Will it go, too?
No, the guy is leaving it, and the pump house.
I was comforted by that in a way I couldn’t explain… until last Friday.
Last Friday, Kimberly Willis Holt gave us a handout with the image of a well.
She talked over and over about writing about what matters: dipping into the well.
I sat in that gray university conference area, but I was home.
I was sitting inside an art studio yet to be built.
I was looking out at jonquils, Grandma’s roses, a late crepe myrtle.
Out to my well.
It’s been there forever, literally my forever days.
We used it when I was little, that one and one that was uncovered down the road at a neighbor’s house.
It’s my metaphor now. My waiting place.
It’s filled with all my thoughts and stories and things that matter.
The old house is gone and she left something for me again. The backyard well…waiting.

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Teaching Tip: Images

Bear with me as I create a list:
a Marine playing Taps
silver bugle
American flag
white gloves
wooden casket
cars stopped on the road
blue lights

Today we said goodbye to a good man: Buddy Rose. My sister-in-law’s father. A retired police chief. A Marine.
I went to visitation and heard songs, listened to stories, a little preaching.
Hugged some family.
Thought about how important it is to pay our respects. How our presence matters. How every goodbye reminds us that life is fleeting.
How images tell a story.
Students need to know this. They need to hear poignant pieces sometimes, and they need to know how to shape them. They need to think of nouns that illustrate those moments. That stay in the mind’s eye. That remind us of what matters.


Teaching Tip: Quote ‘Em

Yesterday my intern and I took our students to the cafeteria for the daily writing lesson.
There is a display of posters there, posters spotlighting famous African Americans. Each one has a quotation on it.
We chose the ones we liked best. Some kids, like me, couldn’t decide–or liked them all. So we sat and copied.
We added these quotations to an ongoing list.
We are trying to help the children build a repertoire of words to pull from when they need them to illustrate a point, to start or end a paper.
We have a long way to go, but our efforts are paying off.
The kids are serious. They want to build up their “mental warehouses” with many words…their own as well as those of others.
I have hope when we write like this. I think the kids do, too.


I Still Like Paper and Pencil Best

It’s Digital Learning Day. There’s been a lot of buzz about this through the National Writing Project as well as other education sites.
I absolutely understand the premise, and I want my students prepared for and involved in learning experiences that rely on technology.
Students at my school have access to two computer labs. We have iPads, Kindles, laptops. We have a student site, Knomi, that is similar to Facebook.
Our tutorials are technology based.
Today, though, after a particularly frustrating start to tutorials (missing headphones, slow loading websites, etc.) I asked a student to help get the issues resolved.
He moved about the room checking headsets, instructing other kids where to click to check volume, and just basically troubleshooting.
I said, Mrs. T. is just a paper and pencil kind of gal. The kids nodded and laughed.
They know me.
They know I want all the newest and best and fastest for them, but I also want it to work. Now.
And paper and pencil always does.
There is no program or site that gives me what pencil on paper does. It may be an old fashioned philosophy, but it is true for me.
So, I bow to and welcome whatever will expand my kids’ knowledge: texts, blogs, Twitter, podcasts.
But I’ll never say so long to my time sitting in rooms with journals open and pencils in hand.
There’s room for both.
I hope there’s always room for both.

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Teaching Tip: Go Slow

Teachers are in too big of a hurry. We race from one subject to another, reviewing, drilling, introducing new content…worrying that our kids just aren’t getting it.

And often, they aren’t.

It is time to slow down.

For the past few days, my students and I have devoted fifteen minutes every morning to journal writing.

There is no prompt.

If we get stuck, we write down the moments from the second we opened our eyes.

We are establishing a structure.

Our minds are adjusting and becoming ready to revisit the page at the same time every day.

It’s a good thing.

There are no bells and whistles. No worksheets. No special programs.

Just pencils and paper and a room filled with children brimming with ideas.

After we write, we don’t hurry on. We talk.

I listen to sentences that stand out for my writers, sentences they didn’t expect to write, sentences that surprised them.

We make connections. We take time.
We are getting there.

I walked through the room later today and Ashlyn handed me a paper with two poems. Her offering of thanks.
I recognize it for what it is.
Jacob touches a comic book and looks at me for approval.
These kids know they need time. They are grateful when they get it.
They will get more of it from me. I promise.

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Serendipity and Rosa Parks

My lesson was planned last week: read Nikki Giovanni’s Rosa and show the kids how one author introduces us to a character.

I reread the book, made notes about points to make: the repetition, poetic language, text references to Rumplestiltskin, to Brown vs. the Board of Education.

I was ready.

Then I open the newspaper this morning and see an editorial commemorating Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday. Today.

And I smiled.

Teachers know these kinds of things happen all of the time. There’s a force somewhere that is in our corner, leading us to find the right connection at the right time.

It happens all the time.

Happy birthday, Rosa.

Thanks for adding a whole lot to my lesson today. And for reminding me that I love this job.