Voice

Today: I was purging and deleting from my blog post DRAFTS, dozens inadvertently abandoned over the years. I found something, though, that I stopped to read. It was last edited November 13, 2011, but I thought this one still deserves attention. Did we change anything in the form of grading in those last ten years? The importance of student voice has been emphasized more lately, but do grades continue to get in the way of our young people being able to fully use their voices?  The questions at the end are still apt today. Here is the post I wrote then:

November 2011: Another one of those “ah ha” moments occurred this week when I gave a writing assignment– a “This I Believe” essay.

I gave a mini lesson on VOICE–the ability to connect emotionally with the reader, to put one’s special mark on the writing. Papers with great voice will sound like the author really is.

We talked of ways to help their voice come out in this piece: speaking in the first person, telling a specific story that illustrates a belief they have, and keeping the writing in the present–not about dreams they believe will happen in the future.

We listened to lots of examples and got started writing. The only thing I would be grading on this assignment, I explained, was the writing trait of VOICE.

When I read the first drafts, I was amazed at the range of success in writing with voice in this assignment. Some were rich and personal, authentic and fresh. Others were banal and bland.

I know it’s not easy for any of us to open ourselves and share our beliefs, so I didn’t have great expectations for our first attempt. However, what surprised me is, in general, is that the best VOICE papers were by the students who don’t typically get the best grades. Are they more willing to take risks?

The opposite was true for the typically “A” students. Many of those who care most about doing well grade-wise were the ones who played it safe, struggling to express themselves with a personal story so they could convince the reader they really believed anything. Theirs were well-written and organized, with meticulous conventions, but so lacking in VOICE, passion, heart.

Just another reason why my heart breaks when we have to give grades.

Are we snuffing out the creativity of our students who feel a need to get it “right”?

How can we reach students who seem overly-enamored with getting A’s?

“We’re all gonna die!”

Today’s Slice of Life at TwoWritingTeachers.org 15 June 2021

We had just been married a few weeks. Keith was on a camping trip with the youth group. On Friday morning, my only day off of the campout, I drove the two-hour trip to enjoy the day with them at the state park.

It had rained the night before, and everything was damp. We spent part of the day dealing with wet camping gear, but also swimming, hiking and other fun.

When dinner time approached, my husband tried to start a campfire for the hotdogs and s’mores. He had a metal can of Kingsford Charcoal Lighter Fluid, the kind you squeeze onto the wood. He tried to start a fire with this damp wood and kindling, throwing matches on that would not fully catch on fire. He doused it some more, then threw another match.

The lit match-squirt pattern continued until finally the fire took hold and shot up during the squirt phase. Our previously non-existent fire leapt from the ground up to become a flame thrower’s masterpiece–a flaming river flowing up from the ground. He instinctively threw the flaming bottle up and out of his hand. “We’re all gonna die!” he yelled. In that split second he pictured the metal can had sucked the fire into the fuel and became a bomb ready to explode (as we had seen on recent news warnings).

Being the brave fool I was, I grabbed not a handful of dirt, but someone’s sleeping bag that had been drying on a makeshift clothesline. I smothered the fire, which had spread out of the fire ring.

I don’t recall where or if it was spreading really; it was damp there in this forest and obviously not a fire tinder box ready to create a forest fire. Fortunately the charcoal fluid bomb fizzled, but the scorched and ruined sleeping bag now needed to be replaced. So, instead of sitting around the campfire, I drove to Target in the nearest town and bought a new sleeping bag so the teenager could sleep that night.

Fast forward 38 years. Last week was our anniversary, and we reminisced about some early memories, this one included. At the time he yelled “We’re all gonna die!” I wondered what I had gotten myself into. He may have wondered about me too.

Today Keith is known in meetings and groups as the non-anxious presence–a wise leader, looked to for surety and strength.

It’s good to not look too soon for the final person another will become–this wisdom is not just for children, but for partners, as well. Thanks be to God that we have hung onto each other through all kinds of exposing behaviors, and I am so grateful.

Image by LUM3N from Pixabay

Inspiration today was from The Isolation Journals, Prompt 151, by Ashley C. Ford taken from a portion of her memoir Somebody’s Daughter, which is a beautiful memoir and this month’s Book Club Pick.

“Think of a memory related to fire. How did it impact you then? What meaning do you forge from it now?”

Week 2 – 8 Weeks of Summer Blogging Challenge

Decorative image about the

This post is week 2 of 8 in the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge for educators. It’s not too late to join us! Click to check out the challenge.

Collaboration has become easier this year than in previous years. For one thing, at our school teachers used to be in our own classrooms. We sometimes could be there all day with children coming and going, but very little time to see or collaborate with peers. This year, the pandemic required a different arrangement for the classrooms. The children were divided into small groups of 8-10 and each had their own space. The students stayed in their classroom all day; the teachers would move into the rooms when it was their turn to teach them.

For the teachers, since we didn’t have our own room, each department was assigned a room. After five years of being in our own rooms and traveling up or down stairs and through the hallways to be able to talk to each other, this was a delightful new development. It was  a breeze to get consensus on something or to teach each other new little technology insights we figured out in our Google Classroom and Zoom programs, which were new for us this year. That set-up really improved collaboration for us.

In addition, having meetings became so easy from home or school, with Zoom. It didn’t matter where people were working. It was simple to attend or call a meeting. I noticed people tended to be more on time and there are fewer disruptions in Zoom meetings.

Of course, I miss the maskless laughter, dates, chocolates and Arabic coffee from in person meetings!

Week 1 – 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge

Hotlunchtray.com presents Week 1 of 8 - 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge with prompt on tropical island background
This post is week 1 of 8 in the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge for educators. Starting this week, we will reflect on the unusual nature of the last school year. The challenge is a way to share our reflections, debrief a difficult year. As Penny wrote: “Let’s share the experiences that many of us struggled with and triumphed over. Let’s consider what to retain from this year and what to let go together!”

This week’s prompt is to describe relationships with those you taught this year.

I had an unusual year in more ways than one. Besides the pandemic, I did not have a contract last year, but I was still part of my school. I taught the first quarter for the person who would eventually take my place, but was stuck in the U.S. due to Covid. I was a long-term sub for a sociology class. I screened children in three grades with the DIBELS assessment. I had small groups of children on Zoom practicing (and hopefully having fun with) phonological awareness and phonics.

I continued to be with the same department, helping and encouraging them through difficult times when I could do something. They had the Ministry of Education come for their every three year evaluation, this time looking at how we were coping with “special circumstances.” I was there for finding things and remembering how we’ve done it in the past, since I was the English coordinator for the past five years.

My teammates are amazing, and I have great relationships with them. It has been weird though. When they were stressed out and feeling over the edge, I was not. I have tried to help my old department, but at the end of the day, I did not have the myriad of stressors that happen when you are a full time teacher. Much less also add that it was happening through a pandemic, with virtual and blended learning, the Ministry visit, and all the other crazy!

Most of my work this year, though, was under the direction of the learning inclusion department. I went to those department meetings and worked under the LI coordinator. It was very rewarding because added to the small department of two teachers were two volunteers–myself and a parent who is trained in special education. We made a great team. There was so much more we were able to do, especially helping the struggling students who not part of the special needs program.

We also had time to work with the gifted students. We held a virtual spelling bee, which was a great success, and some of the  children who needed more challenge did a semester-long genius hour project.

The relationships with my colleagues at school are precious to me, and this year was such a nice way to leave gradually. My husband’s contract ends in December, so I will once again volunteer for the first term next year. Then I will have to say good-bye to them.

 

 

Poetry Friday – A Golden Shovel and da DUM, da DUMs

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Carol Wilcox. Have you read Carol’s beautiful 30 days of poems about Raising Rooney? During April this year, Carol wrote a poem each day about the service dog she has raised from a puppy–starting with “Beginnings” to when she realized “I’ve Got Rooney All Over Me,” as she had to say goodbye. Each poem tells a story, helps us get to know the ins and outs of raising a service dog, and touched my heart as a reader. This collection will be a lovely gift to the person who is blessed to receive Rooney as their service dog.

Last week Ruth Hersey’s post was so bittersweet and beautiful. I’ve been thinking of it all week. It inspired me to notice the birds (and people) here in Bahrain all week long. Thank you, Ruth, for the inspiration. Using a Maya Angelou quote that has been on my mind, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”, I wrote a Golden Shovel poem:

Pigeons Well-Tended

we have birds here, like they do
in detroit and haiti and all over the
world. we know birds are best
in their wild brilliance and you
will do well to realize these birds can
exist in this blasted heat, up until
their feet melt into the pavement. you
can measure this desert against what you know,
thinking your birds are better,
but linger here, savoring their coos and vision. then
take your cue from the birds who know when
and how their next meal will come. Do you?
they don’t farm or collect salaries, but they know
their father in heaven better
than I often do.
rain of mercy, fall on us so we receive better

After I wrote a rambling “narrative” sestina, I wanted to try to learn more about meter, so I went to Bruce Lansky. He’s the king of da-DUM-da-DUMs, in my opinion, as he really knows how to write in that sing-song rhythm:

Confession
By Bruce Lansky
I have a brief confession
that I would like to make.
If I don’t get it off my chest
I’m sure my heart will break.
continued…

Many years ago, I would teach this lesson from Bruce Lansky–“New Version of Shel Silverstein’s ‘Sick'”–to junior highers. For a while during those years I understood meter much better, so this week I revisited this lesson. (Even though I had to go to the Way Back Machine archives to do so.)

I began to collect lists of words, seeing which syllable in the word is stressed. I’m not sure why I made these lists–perhaps looking for support, inspiration, patterns, or what-have-you. This week I’ve played a bit with using the words to make  equations, a menu of sorts, perusing the lists and thinking of better words. (e.g., da DUM da + DUM da + DUM da + DUM + da DUM = iambic pentameter.) Is that right? I have been playing with rhythm in my waking and sleeping. I’m not sure how successfully. Here is a sampler of couplet sizes I tried out this week.

Iambic dimeter (2 iambs)
Beyond all hope
Afraid to cope

Iambic trimeter (3 iambs)
The Light of God aglow
And Evil takes a blow

Iambic tetrameter (4 iambs) (Inspired by a real conversation I had with a student this week after we watched this video.)
We have a pup and no hedgehog,
but not no more; she’s now a dog.

Iambic pentameter (5 iambs) (Pigeons on my window sill)
Their cooing comes in waves of ease and whim
Alive and free, no cage can stop their hymn

Iambic hexameter (6 iambs)
I am alive in sweet embrace, a lovely scene
Of morning quiet during spring, so fresh, so clean

Iambic heptameter (7 iambs) (Two lines rewritten from my sestina)
We battle systems over people, country’s soul is near;
Our hope portrayed in Kamala brightens every dappled fear.

Do you have additional suggestions for writing iambs? I would welcome any advice!