Storytime Club or the #SSC

Tuesday was the meeting of the Short Story Club of 7th graders.

Naming Ceremony

The first topic of discussion was the naming. They went to abbreviations and one student said it wrong and liked STC (we still don’t know what that stand might for) . The Anti Writers’ Block club was also thrown out. They decided on StoryTime Club for now. It makes me think of preschool time at the library. We can revisit the name but I think the kids will stick with STORYTIME.

Text Set Expansion

I gave them each a copy of Billy Collin’s On Turning Ten that is part of the text set we are creating with the short story Eleven. I had forgotten about it until an old copy with my notes fell out of the book I was copying a different poem from. It was Horoscopes for the Dead – talk about serendipity!

Discussion of Chuck Wendig’s story

  • What makes a good story?
  • What we learned from the first page?
  • Personal connections to the concept of “Shadow People”
  • Unusual elements
  • how the setting confined the story to one building – then wonderings about what was beyond the building
  • vocabulary
  • the author’s use of numbers and how this changed the pacing and suspense of the story
  • why big tables and glowing briefcases were used in the story

7 Minute Freewrite

The work here and after was great. Several students read aloud. There was one story that was supposed to be scary but ended up sounding like a cryptic description of the dysfunction of the hallway! It was worth a laugh – or 7.

Moving Forward

I have to do some nuts and bolts instruction on how to have a discussion. They were so excited they kept talking over each other to the point no one could hear or understand anyone’s words. I taught first graders to do it, I can do it for 7th too! In May…there is humor here…

No specific assignment was given for next week’s meeting. I met this morning with the teachers to work out the schedule and we are meeting Monday during their IMPACT time. I will also talk to them again about storyaday May and share some prompts.

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Root Where You Are Planted #SOL19

Melody Warnick wrote a book called, This Is Where You Belong. She has a great newsletter you should sign up for too!

The book is about loving the place you live in and action steps to help you if you don’t. I currently am struggling with feeling disconnected and not in the right place. I read Melody’s book awhile ago and recently recommended it to someone who was feeling displaced herself which then became a self reflection that I needed my own advice.

I asked some fellow writers how they feel about where they live since I am not really loving where I am currently.

They said:

“I have roots in this place…it is part of me.”

“I love where I live…where I live now is where I feel I am meant to be.”

Another said her family farm makes it feel like it is part of her DNA.

I do not feel this way about where I live even though my town is next the town I grew up in. That might be because I have moved too many times over the past 5 years. Or that I have only been in my house since last September. Or that I still cannot walk around in my house in the dark. Or that there are some memories of the area that torment me. I am glad my friends are rooted in their homes.

I am a woman of action, so I have pulled out Melody’s list to work through this issue and see if I can make a change.

To Become Rooted:

  1. Walk more – this I try to do as much as possible. The kids and I go for walks, we have walked downtown, and I walk and run on the local bike trail. The town does not lend itself to walking anywhere as a destination, at least from the house.
  2. Buy local – this we do. We shop at the stores that are near us. The grocery store closest to us does not have the freshest product so we had to do more of the shopping across town. The local farm markets are opening soon and we will buy veggies from them instead of planting our own garden this year. This is a future endeavor.
  3. Get to Know Neighbors – my husband is better than I am at this. We do know them, and they have helped us out.
  4. Do Fun Stuff – We have gone to the library, the local cafe and the used bookstore. We do need to explore some of the restaurants downtown.
  5. Explore nature – the bike trail..I need to research if there are more parks that I am not aware of.
  6. Volunteer – I have not done this.
  7. Eat local – we like our local pizza place but we have some more exploring to do. Once festivals start we can explore that way too.
  8. Become more political – this one I have more issue with. I am not sure how I feel about it honestly right now.
  9. Create something new – I am always writing but will have to reflect about what this means connected to my town.
  10. Stay local through hard times – it is hard to abandon the town now even though I will admit my husband and I talk about this often. I will have to stop myself.

So I was thinking, does this same list of 10 apply to schools? Can using this same list meant for living in a town provided the same feeling of rooted-ness in a school atmosphere.

  1. I can walk more and interact with teachers in the building especially ones I do not talk to as often.
  2. I can buy from fundraisers and the 8th grade t shirt and spirit wear. It shows a person plans to stay if they buy the clothing with the school name.
  3. I can get to know the people in the classrooms next to my space.
  4. DO FUN STUFF – this we do not do nearly as often as we should. I need to plan some FUN at school.
  5. Explore nature is pretty easy at my school – we have a 100 acre wood and trails!
  6. Volunteer – I need to volunteer more for sporting events next year.
  7. Eat school lunch? Hmmmm, maybe not. Break bread with co workers – much more doable. Maybe I should organize a carry in and then we hit #7 and #4.
  8. Become more political – same as above. I do believe this causes more problems than solves…
  9. I created Workshop Wednesday, Short Story Club, and Genius Hour.
  10. Stay when times get tough. No explanation needed here – it applies.

How do you feel about this list? Do you have other ideas for feeling part of your town or school?

3+ Ideas about Hope

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The word hope has come up several times this week. I have learned that if a concept keeps showing itself in different venues then I need to pay attention.

Yesterday was my last session with Jim Knight for instructional coaching training and the topic was being a Better Leader. One of the main concepts was …you guessed it…HOPE.

Shane J. Lopez is a psychologist who has written about hope extensively. His definition is “the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.”

Part of Knight’s training session yesterday was asking the question: How are you living your life? Are you spending time on the things you are passionate about? This idea is how we keep hope alive and partly how we teach ourselves to be hopeful.

At this time of the school year it is easy to dip into the valley of despair and lose hope. I have to keep reminding myself I do the work I do to provide an environment of inspiration and learning for what is best for kids. When you are worried about schedules, state testing, and getting through the day sometimes you forget.

Part of this process is to do the next right thing. If you know where you are going, this isn’t as hard as it seems. Action is what needs to happen.

Knight asked us to think of someone who we thought of as a hope mentor. A person that emanates hope who we can learn from. Having a hope mentor is partly how we can teach ourselves to be hopeful. My person is Maya Angelou. She was open, intelligent, overcame obstacles, and can command a room. She was an amazing woman and I am thankful I was able to hear her speak before she passed away.

What are you most excited about?

Hope is doing more of what makes you happy.

Hope is allowing other people to teach you being hopeful.

Hope is having a hope mentor.

Three Things about Hope

Having hope means you have a preferred future vision. You can visualize it. You have goals.

Having hope means you have the belief you can get here. There is magic here.

Having hope means you have multiple pathways to get to that preferred future.

Some questions to consider and reflect on today:

What gives you energy and therefore hope?

What is your purpose? How do you make a difference?

Am I doing what I really want to do with my time?

What is working and what do I need to modify?

What is your next right thing?

This past week was busy for me. My sleep suffered and I was starting to crash. I was not taking care of myself.

Part of what helped me was 12 hours of sleep and the life giving conversation I had yesterday with my fellow coaches. We made plans to support each other in our hope. These questions are still with me today. I will do some more journaling and thinking as the day moves forward.

I would love to hear your thoughts on HOPE! Comment below…

Short Story Club

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Yesterday I hosted the introductory meeting of the Short Story Club for my 7th graders. It is a small group that is focusing on deep conversation about stories and time to write in response to them. After listening to Daniel Bauer’s School Leadership Series podcast I may have them name themselves. I would be curious where their minds would go as a label.

I handed out a copy of the Eleven by Sandra Cisneros. Sandra is an interesting author who attended the Iowa Writers Workshop, but did not have a pleasant experience. She also sometimes calls her stories, “buttons”.

Many of the students had read this story previously so this was a revisit. I asked them to read it through the lens of a writer. I wanted them to pay attention and notice particular things for them to purposefully use later.

  • What pops out to you in feelings from reading this selection?
  • What lines do you notice that you like or wish you had written?
  • What craft moves is the author using that you would like to try?
  • What aspects of your own life does the story remind you of?

I allowed them to annotate on their copy, and I followed suit with mine.

The discussion then followed after reading time, focusing on the above questions.

Noticings from students:

  • The details. It was noticed and remarked that the story has the structure of being taken apart and then put together again with added details.
  • The metaphors. There were trite metaphors used referring to onions and rings inside a tree trunk in paragraph 3. These examples caused quite strong opinions. There were mixed feelings about using familiar metaphors as opposed to new ones. The unfamiliar seemed to unsettle several writers. They said a mix of familiar and unfamiliar was the perfect mix for them as readers. They also remarked that unsettling new metaphors were best in stories where you were trying to conjure those feelings – like in a scary story.
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I also asked them to share what they would write (if we had time). If they were to give themselves a prompt based on the story. What did it inspire them to write?

The responses were a mix of expected and not. Milestone ages were one topic for several students but not traditional in my eyes. One student talked about being old enough to ride his moped to school (15 1/2 years old). Quinceaneras at 15 were also discussed.

Not feeling the age you are was a common writing topic as well.

For next time I gave them a longer piece to read and mark with the same noticings: The Doormakers Will Make No Doors .

I also gave them the poem, Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye.

We will use these pieces to write the next time we meet. A companion poem I like to use with the Eleven story is Billy Collin’s On Turning Ten poem.

I am always looking for great short stories! Is there a suggestion you have for me? Leave the title in the comments and I would appreciate it.

Stay #SOL19

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It’s Tuesday and I’m joining the writing community over at Two Writing Teachers with a weekly Slice of Life Story.

Today’s Emily P. Freeman word is STAY.

STAY today refers to being in the present moment. You can only be in one place at a time. I suppose this is mostly true. As a writer, I am physically only in one place at a time, but mentally I am usually somewhere else. This is sometimes in one of my own story creations. Sometimes I am in a memory mining it for details that will add panache to the story I am working on.

When I am reading I am in the character’s head feeling and thinking what they are, often trying to anticipate their next move. Or I am trying to figure out the craft moves the writer made to have me feel the way I do about a character, setting, or story line so I can use it later.

I find it difficult to be in the moment. I am working on it. I know I should do one thing at a time but there is so much to learn. Everyone I meet has something I don’t know.

I have been tired lately. More tired than I should be. Last night I watched the movie The Professor and the Madman which my husband and I had been looking forward to. It did not disappoint. It is the story of how the Oxford dictionary came to be. It took extraordinary dedication and focus to have this book come to fruition. 70 years from the first conception in fact. Dr. Minor was meticulous in his mad state about the history and definition of words. He was in the moment for sure – for long stretches of time. I kept thinking of how much energy was put into this project and how many obstacles everyone had to overcome.

I am trying to find the right ratio of input vs output without driving myself mad. I love input of all sorts – deep conversation, reading, podcasts, etc. Outputs are likely interactions and writing lately. I know I have not found the right ratio when I am angry or overly tired.

Reflection and slowing down are both critical attributes for this process. I am glad that today I can breathe and think about it.

Mentor Text Monday

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Today’s Mentor Text is a picture book from Jacqueline Woodson.

Image result for this is the rope

This is the summary from Google Books:
The story of one family’s journey north during the great Migration starts with a little girl in South Carolina who finds a rope under a tree one summer. She has no idea the rope will become part of her family’s history. But for three generations, that rope is passed down, used for everything from jump rope games to tying suitcases onto the car for the big move north to New York City, and even for a family reunion where that first little girl is now a grandmother.

After I use this book for interactive read aloud the discussion leads to sharing about items in our lives that are important to us. These items have stories attached to them. The book centers around one item. This is also a good time to talk about focusing on one idea for a story if your students are trying to squeeze too much into one piece.

One of the coaching questions I am starting to use is “Which 3 stories are ones only you can tell?” Stories are important to our lives and items can be touchstones to tell those stories. I love this book to illustrate the idea of an item being a souvenir for a chapter of our own lives.

After the group discussion I have students write 3 items that are important to them on a post it note or in their writing notebook. Then the students star one item that are willing to share. I will tell the students that starring and sharing does not lock them in to writing about that one during creation time.

Then we share out. I tell students that they may add or modify their list based on the discussion. Often when writers talk new ideas spring forth. We get reminded of something important. We need to teach students to take advantage of these sunny writing moments. The shared items are written on a chart so it is accessible to students during writing time.

We also talk about what they notice about the structure of how Woodson chose to write the book. We also talk about why she chose to use the repeated phrase. Noticing author moves is important to the writing process but we also have to make sure as the teacher we lead them to make the connections back to their own writing. To understand why an author chose to use a certain craft device also eliminates the need for students to throw everything they know about craft moves into one piece. It is much more effective for them to know WHY as the author they are choosing the way to write it. Connectons to other books we have read that have repeated phrasing is good to add here as well.

Woodson uses the repeated sentence stem: This is the rope at the beginning of almost every paragraph throughout the book, which is a great structure to start with especially with reluctant writers.

Writing Springboards from this book:

  1. Use a repeated sentence stem: This is the __________ (insert important item for each student)
  2. Brainstorm stories which go along with the 3 items the student has chosen.
  3. Write a poem or their own children’s book about their most important item.

Companion book: Another book that follows a repeated pattern is The Important Book. It is written in poem form and is a good mentor text as well.

Image result for the important thing

#wellnesswednesday

The coffee is brewing and the twinkle lights are on in my office. It is the simple things that are part of my routine that make the day go smoother!

I have already made rounds talking to teachers this morning. I had to follow up with a couple people about videos that were taken of their students before we left for break. I needed to get the reflection forms to them before any more time went by!

Today I want to share a quote that I will be writing about today from one of my FAVORITE short story writers, Kelly Link.

Look. All books are weird when you think about it…It goes without saying that real life is also weird. Kelly Link

If you have never read Kelly click here for a link to her story, “The Faery Handbag.”

#happyreading #happywriting #happyday

A Good Writing Day! #SOL19

I participate in the TWOWRITINGTEACHERS.ORG Slice of Life Challenge every Tuesday.

I started the day writing my stories for Camp NaNoWriMo. I am using a plot structure for at least one of the stories and started to flesh it out around the framework I already created. It is going ok but I do not find it as exciting as my normal writing I must admit. I have two other structures I am going to play with as well for this series of stories.

I read my poem, essay, and short story for the day. The short story I listened to from the New Yorker Fiction podcast which was interesting. I liked the commentary afterwards.

I met my writing friend at a local restaurant and we wrote together. I brought a prompt and she brought a prompt. It was great fun and then we talked about what we wrote. It was surprsing what I came up with and it was fulfilling. I have a seed for another short story now.

I had my online group monthly Zoom call. There really wasn’t much talking about writing. We did some sprints. I had already written a lot so I cut out early.

What kind of writing day did you have?

My Good List #SOLC Day 28

Today’s Slice for the Two Writing Teachers Challenge is inspired by Tsh Oxendreider and her podcast.

A good THING: This fountain pen

I was writing with it this morning! It is light and perfect for my little baby hands.


A Good BIT OF FUN: LLAMAS!!!


A Good Work of INSPIRATION: Kelly Link

I have re-watched this video of Kelly Link numerous times. I think she is amazing as a person and as a writer. She always inspires me.

A Good PHILOSOPHY:
Pronoia is a worldview that says that every person, place, thing and circumstance in this Universe is actually conspiring to bless you. This idea reminds me of THE ALCHEMIST which is a book that came to me when I needed it.

It’s A Beautiful Morning! #SOLC Day 26

Running made me a morning person. I used to get up before 5am everyday and run no matter what the weather or the mood. I am not training for anything now however.

I keep hearing and reading lots about morning routines. The information centers around creativity, productivity and being a leader which I enjoy. I also like reading about routines especially when they are about the process or writing.

I like the Ninja Writers W.R.I.T.E.R. acronym: For 10 minutes each Write-READ-IDEAS-EXERCISE-REVIEW but I do not stick to it.

I have read a lot of about other people’s routines here.

I do have morning routines for home and school.

My ideal morning routine is to wake up naturally, have coffee in bed with my husband, write and read for several hours, and then run outside.

At school I try to freewrite before my official day starts. I either write what comes to mind organically or use a prompt I am feeling that day. Many times it is something that was sparked by a podcast that I listen to on my way to work.

When the day starts I look at my bullet journal and what I have for the day. I double check email to make sure that I have everything on the list. I pour a cup of hot Joe and then get started.

I feel like my mental clarity has been better the last couple of weeks which is refreshing. Throughout the day I read my Bradbury Trio. There just isn’t enough time in the morning to get that all in!

What is your morning routine?