Why Write?

I’ve been reading some professional books about stories lately; the idea of collecting stories and sharing them in different formats.  It made me think about why I love writing so much, and where that love came from.  I narrowed it down to three reasons:

  1. My Grandfather
Granddad
My grandfather, George Kutz

Here he is, in all his news reporter glory (this is sometime in the early 1940s).  Based on the picture, you can see that he is burning the midnight oil in order to finish a story.  Perhaps that’s why he looks rather annoyed that someone is taking his picture.  He was always a storyteller- he told me bedtime stories, read stories to me, and always made time to sit and write with me.  I have hazy memories of sitting on his lap while he was receiving chemo treatments for colon cancer and listening to him tell me stories about growing up during the Depression.  He passed away when I was 8, so I think some of that love of writing came from him and honoring his memory.

 

2. Little Women- Jo March

Jo March

My grandparents gave me a copy of this book when I was in second grade.  At that time I needed a lot of help reading the text, so my grandfather would read it aloud to me.  I felt very drawn to the character of Jo, who was always scribbling on paper and writing in notebooks.  That was me. I wrote or drew on any paper I could get my hands on.  The anger I felt towards Amy after she burned Jo’s book stayed with me for days.  It still makes me scowl whenever I reread that part.  I just loved Jo’s spirit and her desire to write and be published, even though it was more difficult for her as a woman.  I admired her determination and wanted to emulate it.

 

3. Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy

My original copy of this book had so much masking tape holding the covers on because I  read it so many times.  Pretending to be Harriet and spying on imaginary neighbors (and sometimes real ones…Eeek!) was how I spent many a Saturday.  I loved that Harriet wrote all of her observations and questions about the world around her….even if they did sometimes hurt her friends’ feelings.  It is so important to keep that sense of wonder, and maybe use your powers for good and not evil, but still….I don’t think we take the time to notice and wonder about what we see.

 

Is it any surprise that my love of writing came from stories?  From family and from books?  This seems to be a common thread that can connect us on a more human level.  So feel free to tell your story, share your story, write your story- you never know who might need to hear it.

 

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PCTELA Conference Recap

One of my favorite things to do is attend (and present at) conferences.  There’s just something restorative about being surrounded by a tribe of people who want to learn as much as you do.  As teachers we often have to seek out our own professional learning opportunities, outside of our workplace, and conferences are amazing places to get new ideas and broaden your PLN.

Recently I attended the PCTELA (PA Council of Teachers of English Language Arts) conference in Harrisburg.  The beauty of this conference was that it was only two days, so it limited the amount of time spent out of the classroom.  The theme of the conference was The Stories of our Lives and there were SO MANY great speakers and presentations.

Here are some highlights/big takeaways from the weekend:

  1. From the Capital Area Writing Project:  Empowering teachers (what a concept!) by thinking about what makes “good” PD. Many districts determine the schedule for all PD days, and offer little to no choice in what would best meet your learning needs. What if we allowed teachers to decide what would empower them to teach more effectively? And then design a learning opportunity that aligned with those needs?
  2. From author A.S. King (amazing YA novelist): “Book spoke to me at a time that I needed to be spoken to.”  Reminder to find a place where your weird fits- look up and find your shooting star.  Bring more writing into the classroom.  “Trauma blocks the learning.” Allow students to write- to say something!
  3. From motivational speaker and mindfulness expert Lisa Lucas: Find presence and clarity in the moment.  The heart of education is buried under all of the “other” stuff we have to do.  How can we make the execution match the good intention behind the theory? (This is especially critical to ask when it comes to data-driven tasks).
  4. From gift to the universe, Ruth Ayers, author/teacher/general ray of sunshine: As teachers we need to be the light so our kids can shine.  We don’t see the stories because of the behaviors…focus on the heart instead. Trade what is good for what is best. (That one gives me chills). 
  5. From Brian Kelley and Diane Dougherty:  Conferences matter.  Rethink the possibilities for conferring both teacher-student and peer-peer.  This is a way to build a community of writers who have resilience, hope, and stamina.
  6. From amazing authors and humans Shawna Coppola and Katie Egan CunninghamWhat do our practices tell our students? Do they reflect what we want them to hear? Are we overusing certain practices and sending our students a message that their story has to fit a certain mold? How can we take the millions of stories we have at our fingertips (mostly due to technology) and share them authentically with the world (hint: it doesn’t involve planning them out with a graphic organizer)?
  7. From author Kelly Starling Lyons: Write the story only you can tell. All kids need to see themselves as writers….all kids need to see themselves in books. Change the narrative, write what’s not yet been written.  REPRESENTATION MATTERS!
  8. And from Matthew Kay, author of Not Light, but Fire, when it comes to race conversations, who are our students’ role models? You can’t define someone else’s reality for them.  Turn talk into movement….it is not light, but fire that is needed.  How?  Be honest, listen, seek complexity, and lead with love. 

 

If I could sum up the conference in one phrase, it would be kids first, curriculum last.  The kids in our classrooms have stories to tell, but we need to stop worrying about tests and reading levels and data entry, and LISTEN to what they are trying to tell us.

#WhyIWrite

Yesterday was the National Day on Writing sponsored by NCTE.  I had the pleasure of being at the PCTELA conference on Friday and Saturday, so I was surrounded by teacher-writers.  More on that joy in a different post.

NCTE asks you to use the hashtag #WhyIWrite and post your reasons for writing on social media.  I wrote mine in the form of a poem in my notebook and tweeted it out.  Here is what I wrote:

I write to remember

I write to forget

I write from joy

I write from regret

My voice, my story, the things that I feel

I write so that my heart can heal

I write because there’s only one me

I write because it helps me to be

Writing has helped me to grow, to heal, and to discover who I am.  I am grateful to the writers I read who inspire me with their words.  Much love and respect to you all. 

 

Building a Community Through Identities

The start of any school year means getting to know the new students in your classroom.  In my opinion, the sooner you start to establish a community where everyone sees and respects each other, the smoother your school year will go (hopefully).

At the end of last school year I read Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed.  If you haven’t read this book, do yourself a favor and order it immediately!  There are so many important lessons to use with your students, regardless of the level you teach.   Many of the lessons at the start of the book involve discovering and embracing your identity.  What a great way to build your classroom community!  Students can share who they are with their classmates and everyone can start to appreciate what each classmate brings to the table.

Being the Change

I am a huge proponent of using mentor texts at any level, and use them extensively with my second graders.  To start things off on the first two days of school we read two great books about names.  I wanted each student to a) teach our class the correct pronunciation of his/her name and b) to honor the different cultures and traditions that may have resulted in those names.  The first book I read was Alma by Juana Martinez-Neal:

Alma  This is a beautifully written book about a little girl who has a long list of names and initially she is frustrated about how long it takes to write them all out.  Her father sits her down and explains where each name came from (spoiler alert: from members of her family) and why it is important.  Alma sees herself in each person who contributed to her name and changes her mind about having so many long names.  Reading this book led to great discussions with my students about where their names came from; I was surprised at how many knew the story behind their own names!  For those who didn’t feel that their name was “special” I shared that I wasn’t named after anyone, and that a lot of people share my name (it was the most popular name of the 80s, so there were always at least 3 other Jennifer’s in my class).  I explained that you can look up what a name means, and Jennifer means “white wave” which is perfect for me because I love the ocean waves.

Other options to share the importance of names are The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi and My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits.

Two new books I added to my collection this summer were I am Enough by Grace Byers and The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson.

 

Both of these books encourage students to embrace the person they were meant to be, even when it is scary or you feel like no one understands you.  These books really helped my students look at each other in a new light- that different doesn’t mean weird and that together we are all part of the same community of learners.

After a few days exploring these texts together, we each (including me) created an identity web to show how we see ourselves- as sons, daughters, athletes, writers, mad scientists, and dog lovers.  Just 12 days into the school year and we are learning to count in Greek, execute Taekwondo moves, and perfect millions of Fortnite dances.

Taking the time to invest in sharing our identities has also opened up new possibilities for reading and writing.  Students can recommend books to each other because they know who loves soccer, the Titanic, and dinosaurs.  We have so many seed ideas for our writer’s notebooks because each item on our identity webs is an opportunity to write what’s in our hearts.

While there is a lot that needs to happen at the beginning of the year (assessments, assessments, and more assessments), I really believe that taking the time to invest in identity building helps create a sense of camaraderie in the classroom, it also extends into other areas of the curriculum.  It is a valuable investment- one from which your students are sure to profit.

Happy New School Year!

Enjoy Writing

This post was originally written for the TeachWrite chat blog.  A great resource and virtual community for teachers who write.  They are a major inspiration behind creating this blog in the first place-  definitely check them out:  https://teachwritechat.blogspot.com/

A new school year is about to begin and teachers are going to be inundated with all the beginning of the year chaos.  It is easy for your personal writing time to fly out the window.  Here is a way to make some time and perhaps motivate yourself to keep writing.
Motivation is a challenge. If you’re like me, you think of a million other things to avoid the task at hand. The simple reminder to enjoy writing motivates me; perhaps you’ll find it helpful too.

E- Environment. Create an environment where ideas feel safe to emerge. My environment includes a hot beverage, fancy pens, and a good notebook. It ranges from a table tucked away in the corner of Starbucks to a park or beach.. When your mind is calm and peaceful, inspiration follows.

N- Notebooks. Never underestimate the motivational powers of a blank notebook begging to be filled! I have notebooks for specific types of writing. Looking back through past entries serves as motivation.

cropped-image

J- Just write. If I don’t have a specific assignment, I just write. I let a stream of consciousness move the pen across my paper. It isn’t always profound thoughts. It might start out as a grocery list. I can always go back and cross out. I can always go back and add more. But I cannot do anything to a blank page. Don’t overthink- just write.

O- One Little Word. This is a great source of inspiration. It might be the word of the day suggested by #DWHabit. Maybe it’s a random one that pops into your head. Go with it and see where it takes you.

Y- Yoda, find yours you must. If you are stuck in a rut, find your “Yoda-vation”. He might be a friend, family member, a pet. Maybe Yoda is your critique group, a blog you follow, a Twitter chat. My Yoda is often my students. They motivate me because they constantly want to see my writing. I can’t very well tell them I’m not writing anything, I’d better have something to share!

ENJOY writing!

The Courage to Hit “Publish”

This blog has been percolating in my brain for some time now.  I have a lot of thoughts.  I write them down.   Why would anyone want to read them?  Who really cares what I have to say? What does it matter?

I struggle with self-esteem and feeling judged.  Perhaps it’s the nature of my job, where a wide audience of critics is watching my every move.  Maybe it’s rooted deeper than that….whatever the reason I hem and haw and hesitate to share my ideas with others.  Plus, I worry about grammatical and syntactical errors (and fear that syntactical isn’t even a word, although it doesn’t have a squiggly line under it so it must be).

Through extremely supportive encouragement via my virtual PLN families, in particular the #teachwrite chatters, I’ve decided to just do the dang thing already-  put my thoughts out there and actually hit “publish”.

I agonized over the name of this blog, probably as a way to further procrastinate- you can’t have a blog without a name, right? I knew for sure that I needed my last name in the title.  It’s something I am proud of, it connects me to my late father, around whom a lot of my writing is centered.  The intention behind this blog is to share some of my thoughts-  about teaching, about reading and writing, about great books that I think everyone should read.  Hence the “lit” part in the title refers to literacy, not the hip slang “lit”, though if you prefer to think this blog is indeed lit, so be it 🙂  It also made me think about when a project gets the green light-  the go ahead to proceed to production.  I’ve finally given myself permission to go ahead and proceed with this blog.

Thanks to the kind words and gentle nudging of friends (some of whom I’ve never actually met in real life), I’m ready to take the plunge. So without further ado, I’m green lighting this project and finally being courageous enough to hit publish.