Friday, November 27, 2015

NCTE/ALAN 2015: Failing to Find the Words

Every year I come back from the NCTE Annual Convention with an inability to properly articulate what a transformative experience it is. This year was no different. So rather than try to find the words, I decided to create a video. To all of my NCTE/ALAN friends, this is for you as much as it is for me. I picked the song very intentionally. There's a line in the song that says, "I try to picture me without you but I can't" and just know that I mean that with my whole heart. I hold firm in my conviction that I wouldn't still be a teacher today if it weren't for my NCTE family.

If you want more from NCTE and ALAN, check out my Storify archives:

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Celebrate Student Writers and Generous Authors

This has been a difficult past few days for me. With deadlines looming and NCTE convention fast approaching, I'm starting to feel like I can't get it all done. My to-do list feels like a fast moving Twitter feed that I can't keep up with. Truth be told, I really shouldn't be writing this blog post. I should be tackling my miles-long to-do list instead.

Students writing -- on their lunch period!
But there has been a shining beacon in my overwhelmed state of being right now and I feel like I need to celebrate that: my students. The entire 8th grade is participating in NaNoWriMo this year. Their fear and trepidation was palpable when I told them in October about the writing project we would be immersing ourselves in for the month of November. I mean, a WHOLE NOVEL? In 30 days? How is that even possible?

But now as I help guide them through the process and show them that writing a novel doesn't have to be as intimidating as it first appears, they are embracing their new identities as writers. Nothing was further proof of that than watching students voluntarily coming and giving of their lunch periods to write their novels. On Thursday I had 16 students come work on their novels. On Friday I had 25. I only have 27 computers. If this keeps up I'm going to have to start turning students away. That is a good dilemma to have.

In addition to motivated students, I also have wonderfully generous authors who have given and will be giving of their time to help my students with the writing process during NaNoWriMo. My friend Marquin Parks, author of the Wrinkles Wallace series (Knights of Night School and Fighters of Foreclosure), sent along some words of wisdom for my students via video message:

Not only did I have an author send a video message, but Gae Polisner, author of The Pull of Gravity and The Summer of Letting Go, Skyped with all three of my classes yesterday and offered her writerly words of wisdom along with a quick writing exercise.

Skyping with Gae Polisner
One of the best things about the day was that even though I didn't tell my students they had to take notes on Gae's advice, most of them were totally taking notes. And when Gae asked my first hour class if anyone had any questions, one of my more vocal students said, "Can we write our novels now?" I couldn't help but grin.

My favorite nuggets of wisdom Gae gave my students yesterday were as follows:
  • Don't care about sucking. First drafts aren't supposed to be good. Writers call first drafts vomit drafts because they just need to get it out.
  • Sucking at writing is hard to do because you're probably so used to writing for a grade that it's hard to write freely, so it's great that you have this opportunity to write and not worry about if it's organized, outlined, well-worded, or even makes any sense. That's what revision is for. 
  • She shared her writing process with my students and told them that even though it was contrary to what they probably learn in school and somewhat contrary to the advice Marquin gave my students, she doesn't like to outline. It stifles her creativity and so she showed them a productive way that she gets out all the things she wants to put in her book without outlining.It actually excites me when writers share contrary bits of advice to students because it proves to them that there is no one writing process. Everyone's process is unique to them.
  • The thing that drives your story even more than plot is being able to answer these two questions: 1) What does my character want? 2) What's getting in their way?

And with that, dear students, go forth and write!

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

This is 36

Birthdays no longer feel like a big deal to me. I used to love it when people fawned all over me on my birthday but now I just want it go by without much notice or fanfare. A nice dinner and a stroll through my favorite bookstore in Ann Arbor was all I needed tonight to feel content and relaxed. It was a much-needed respite from the stress I've been feeling from school, work, and the upcoming NCTE convention next week. All of these things are good sources of stress, but sometimes even good sources of stress can overwhelm you when they show up all at once. So tonight I put everything aside, enjoyed my dinner, enjoyed the quality time with my husband, and I especially enjoyed walking into my favorite bookstore where the owner knows me by name and I can strike up conversations with random strangers about the books on display. Celebrations don't always have to shout. Sometimes instead they speak in low, languid tones. I've decided that's how I like my birthdays. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Celebrate This Week: Provoking Dialogue and Debate

I've been reeling since I heard (and saw) the news of the student in South Carolina who was thrown from her desk and the classroom by a student resource officer. I've tried to stay on the DL about my feelings regarding race on Facebook, at least with regard to initiating conversations in my own space. I've remained comfortably silent because I didn't want to get into the social media equivalent of a screaming match with friends and family who hold differing viewpoints than mine and might suddenly find myself with contentious feelings both from and about me.

But that's a coward's way of thinking.

And my One Little Word this year is Brave.

So I need to be brave and have these hard conversations and pose difficult questions, otherwise I'm not being a positive agent for change. My blog's title IS Use Your Outside Voice, after all. I'm a hypocrite if I don't speak up for my own beliefs.

So I posted something provocative on Facebook about what happened at Spring Valley High in South Carolina and sure enough, it raised some ire. But it was also done in a mostly respectful and productive way despite the differing and sometimes heated viewpoints.

In the end though, we need to welcome that kind of dialogue and debate. If our social media spaces are just echo chambers of our own views and we unfriend everyone who disagrees with us, then that is going to be a rude awakening for you when you leave the comfort of your electronic devices and have to interact with real people in the real world who believe and behave differently than you.

I want us to talk ABOUT these things. We can't do that if we're talking AT each other or we're afraid to speak up because we fear confrontation so we just unfriend people who don't agree with our way of thinking. So as long as it stays respectful, I'm going to keep talking about tough topics and posing hard questions. And we can all stay friends... even when we disagree sometimes.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

When words fail me, I seek the words of others

On October 26, 2015, an officer assaulted a defiant yet peaceful student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. The shocking encounter was captured on video and immediately spread across social media. When I watched the video last night, I felt physically ill. I cried. How can anyone justify treating a child like that, defiant or not? But as I struggle to find my words, luckily, someone else managed to find them for me. In this series of 6 tweets, high school teacher and friend, Mitch Nobis, gets to the heart of a whole lot of systemic violence and hatred towards African Americans. THIS, this moment right here is why everyone needs to stop countering #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter. Because actions speak louder than words, my friends. And right now (or EVER for that matter) The System isn't behaving in a way that can make those words true.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

All the things I want to say....

I have fallen off the blogging habit recently. I have been focused on finishing my last semester of grad school, dealing with anxiety issues, and frantically wrapping up the first quarter of the school year.

I have so much to write and no time to do it.

So here are all the things I want to say right now but don't have the time:

President Obama's admission about standardized testing this week feels like both a victory and a slap in the face. I worry with only one year left of his presidency, we're just going to have to go through the same rigmarole when a new president comes into office.

Yesterday was an amazing day of learning at #EdCampEMWP. I can't wait to do it again next year! Check out the Facebook photo album.

This coming week I'll be getting my students primed for National Novel Writing Month. All of my 8th graders will be doing this in class. Last year was the first time I did NaNoWriMo with my entire class. I fully expected it to be a complete disaster. What I discovered was that my students yearned to come to class to write every day.

A year ago today my shiny black baby grand piano was delivered. I haven't played it in weeks. I've been so busy. I think I need to take some time today and go sit down and tickle her keys.

I have so much more to write, but I must attend to other things...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why I Write

October 20th is National Day on Writing. This year the theme is Why I Write. I spent some time contemplating that very thing. Here are just some of the many reasons why I write: