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Slice of Life 2013

AP Lit Lessons for the ELA Middle School Classroom

AP Lit Lessons for the ELA Middle School Classroom

This past week I had the opportunity to participate in an AP Literature & Composition Summer institute (APSI). As a middle school teacher in my district this was quite an experience and one that most teachers at my level never get to do. In my case, a high school teacher had to back out at the last minute, and I was the lucky recipient of this coveted spot. I wanted to try and capture some of the gems that I gleaned from this amazing experience so that other middle school teachers might benefit from my experience as well.

I have always been interested in what goes on in an AP class and the kinds of skills that students are expected to have once they reach that level. As a curriculum writer for my district, I had been charged with incorporating CCSS into our 7th grade curriculum and had successfully introduced more challenging texts and supporting strategies into that pacing guide.

Currently I teach 8th grade and I am in the midst of writing some new units for this grade level. I participated in the AP training class because I wanted to learn more about the content, strategies, and expectations for AP-level work in order to incorporate these strategies/skills into the new curriculum as well as apply them in my own classroom.

What I learned is that the skill of close reading is crucial for success in AP Lit. We have been teaching and reinforcing this skill over the past three years at our school. It was very gratifying to learn that this emphasis will definitely pay off for our students when they get to the high school level and beyond. AP texts include poems, prose, and book-length novels and plays. These works must have “literary merit” and in our state (NC) should include the focus of our 12th grade curriculum (16th Century literature to the present, British & American literature). All week we read AP sample texts, answered multiple choice questions, read student sample “free response” essays, and practiced scoring them based upon a rubric. The range of student writing was considerable and I was so impressed by the level of sophistication that some students were able to produce in less than an hour. On the free response section of the test, students must read an excerpt of prose text and/or a poem pairing and then formulate and write a coherent essay response in less than an hour. This is no small feat! Many of the texts were extremely difficult and I would have been challenged to do that even today, let alone when I was senior in high school!

In addition to the importance of close reading skills, students must know how to write well. Specifically, they need to know how to convey the “what” and the “how” of the piece. The “what” is the content—what is happening in the text? Does the student understand what is going on? Then, they need to be able to explain the “how”—what literary techniques/devices does the author use to convey meaning? It is not enough to know/define the literary terms; students should have internalized these meanings and be able to skillfully convey their understanding of the writer’s craft. This is where I think many students need the most support. They can pick out a metaphor or repetition or antithesis, but they struggle with explaining why the author chose these techniques to convey meaning. Provide lots of opportunities for students to practice this skill.

It would be impossible to list everything I learned  in my APSI, but here a few gems:

1)      Continue to teach students how to do a “close read” of a text. Remind them that they must read “beyond the text” and think about what the text could be saying on a symbolic or metaphoric level.

2)      Teach students about literary archetypes. This will be invaluable to them as they encounter the classics in high school/college.

3)      When writing about texts, always cite evidence to support your claims. Keep your discussions text-based. Show you know what you are talking about by citing direct evidence from the text to support your arguments. Focus on the “what” and the “how” of the text.

4)      When having students read a particularly difficult text or set of poems, have them first read/annotate the text individually. Then have students discuss their responses in a small group setting using guided questions for that text. After they have fully discussed the text in this manner, then have them write their responses. (We did this ourselves and it helped tremendously when we were writing our own free-response essays to a particularly difficult text.)

5)      The collective literary experience of reading a novel as a class is so important for so many reasons. In our district, teachers have been discouraged from reading a novel as a whole class since the implementation of CCSS. There are many reasons why this makes sense (e.g. the amount of time it takes to read through an entire novel together as a class, especially a particularly  long novel, lack of funding for books, different reading levels, etc.), but the importance of a shared literary experience cannot be downplayed. I would like to try Ariel Sack’s Whole Novels for the Whole Class approach and see if I can’t make that work this year.

6)      When students are analyzing/interpreting text, have them pay particular attention to the “tension of opposites in a text” (light/dark, good/evil), ironies, etc. All AP Lit exam free response texts will contain these contrasts on some level, and it is an excellent approach to interpreting a text. This identification of opposites/contrasts is also a great way into a text. Most students will be able to do this, and this gives all a place to start in literary analysis.

7)      You must balance the rigor with the enjoyment of the class. Always follow a particularly difficult text/novel with something more accessible/enjoyable so that students (and teacher) don’t burnout. This is so important to remember. Balancing intense analysis or writing with lighter texts will give all the fuel for the long haul.

In my classroom I have incorporated many of these techniques to help my students grapple with challenging texts. For example, we have read many of Poe’s short stories and some of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work. These texts are challenging in many ways—especially the vocabulary and syntax—but with appropriate support, my students have been successful in reading and enjoying them. I believe this practice and exposure to challenging works of literary merit will prepare them for the rigors of high school and college-level work. This early introduction familiarizes them with the language of the discipline that is so essential to their academic success. Knowing exactly what is expected of my students for AP-level work, I feel better prepared to provide the types of learning experiences they need to give them the best chance for success. This is particularly true if we are sincere about equal access to AP courses. Giving middle school students a heads-up on what to expect empowers all students to earn a spot in an AP course.

If you currently teach middle school and have an opportunity to participate in an AP Summer Institute or workshop, I encourage you to take it. This training and experience has been invaluable to me as I work to create a challenging and engaging language arts classroom experience for all.

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Counting by 11’s Blogger Challenge

Rhonda over at Mardie’s Muse invited me to participate in a meme that is circulating in the blogosphere and Twitter. Not entirely sure what the purpose is but it sure reminds me of a chain letter…you know, one of those that says “if you don’t follow these steps exactly and pass it on to X number of people, bad luck with strike!” Just kidding (sort of) but in an effort to play along (as well avoid the school work that is waiting for me), I will give it my best shot.
As Rhonda explained in her blog, the process is as follows:
• Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
• Share 11 random facts about yourself.
• Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
• List 11 bloggers that you’d like to nominate.
• Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let the bloggers you’ve nominated know that they’ve been nominated.

11 Random Facts about Me
1. I grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey and my Jersey accent rears its ugly head whenever I am around people from the NJ/NY area (especially family members). Although I haven’t lived there in 30 years, you can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey out of the girl (hence my twitter name jerseygirl_1021).
2. Both of my parents were deaf. Although I know some sign-language, my parents did lip-read and we were not encouraged to learn to sign. It is one of my deepest regrets.
3. I don’t eat chocolate. (I am considered a freak by most of my women friends for this fact).
4. I am 6 ft. 1” tall and I have never played basketball or volleyball (although I was heavily pressured in high school to join the teams). At the time, most girls did not play sports and I was definitely not “sporty” by any stretch of the imagination. I do wish that I had, as I had a definite height advantage back then (kids are bigger today!), and a basketball or volleyball scholarship would have been sweet.
5. I met my husband on the telephone. At the time I worked for a sister company of his (me in New York and he in Los Angeles) and we began chatting at work and eventually at home and the rest is history.
6. I weigh less now than I did when I was 12 years old. I lost 100 pounds between the middle of 7th grade and the start of 8th grade. I have spent the better part of my life keeping it off.
7. This is my 14th year of teaching. I taught for one year after I graduated college and left the teaching world. I re-entered it 18 years later (translated: major culture shock).
8. Although I grew up in the 60’s and early 70’s, I did not participate in my first protest until this past summer. Anyone familiar with what’s going on in my state of North Carolina has heard about “Moral Monday” protests. At the end of July, I marched with other educators from my state to protest the ongoing cuts to education in our state. Truth be told, I liked it.
9. Although I was born and raised in a city, I have become quite a “country mouse.” I live in an outlying suburb and I have grown to love the peace and quiet here. Whenever I visit the big city, I am amazed that at one time I actually worked there and enjoyed it. I like to visit the city but couldn’t live there anymore.
10. I have taught at the same middle school for the past 13 years and I have taught all three grade levels (ten years in 6th, three years in 7th, and now I am in 8th grade). I LOVE 8th Grade! I recently covered a class for a colleague who teaches 6th and I vowed “never again!”
11. I am considering getting my certification to teach high school English…just in case.

Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.

1. What 1-3 pieces of advice would you give to a newbie teacher?
1) Join Twitter and follow as many great educators you can find. 2) Never stop learning— great teachers are lifelong learners and realize that they can never know everything 3) Find a great mentor teacher and learn as much from this person as you can to apply to your own teaching.
2. You’ll be spending the afternoon outdoors. Where will you be and what will you be doing there? I will be either at the lake, taking my dog, Rosie, for a long walk OR at the dog park with her. Nothing brings me more joy than being outside on a beautiful day, watching Rosie and her dog friends play at the park.
3. Which 2-5 professional books were the most influential in molding you as a teacher? Explain.
Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle was the first professional book that helped shape who I am as a teacher. Her workshop model is one that I have tried to emulate over the years (sometimes successfully, sometimes not), but her thoughts on teaching and learning make sense to me. The 2nd most influential book has to be The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. This book absolutely transformed my approach to independent reading in the classroom and helped me to build even stronger relationships with my students through shared books. Donalyn’s 40 Book Challenge has been a staple in my classroom ever since, and I have been able to share this with many other teachers and have seen its transformative power. Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This and Deeper Reading have helped shaped my approaches to reading and writing with students, especially the concept of using mentor texts. Currently, I am reading Ariel Sack’s Whole Novels for the Whole Classroom, and although I have just started it I can tell it contains a wealth of practical ideas that I can use in my classroom. I could go on as I am reading a few others, but you only asked for 2-5.
4. You are writing. Describe the scene. Where do you write? Paper and pen, journal, notebook, or computer? Music or quiet? Office, den, living room? Desk or couch?
Depends on what I am writing. I have been journaling for around 20+ years. I write every morning using a pen, spiral notebook, at my kitchen table, with coffee in hand. For my blog, I use the computer. Although the computer is easier to use in terms of editing, I truly love the act of writing by hand. There is something about writing out my thoughts that is completely different than typing them on a computer.
5. What are the top 3 things on your bucket list? Top bucket list items: I would love to go to Europe some day. I have never been there and have always thought it would be wonderful to go to Italy or possibly Greece; I would love to actually publish my writing someday; and I would love to become a grandparent.
6. Tell about a time when you had a particularly positive influence on a student (or class of students) OR tell about a time when a student had a particularly positive influence on you. (See question 11).
7. What is one new thing you want to try in the classroom in 2014? I would like to try doing the Slice of Life blogging challenge with my students this year. I did it myself last year to try it out, and I would really like to see how it would work with students. It was a wonderful experience and I think that students would get a lot out of it.
8. You have just received a blank cheque (unlimited funds from an anonymous donor) to be used for a class field trip. Where are you taking your students? What will they learn from this field trip? That’s an easy one since we are in the middle of planning a three-day trip to our nation’s capitol, Washington, DC, for our students. The trip is scheduled for the first week of June (after our state testing is complete), and we have about half of our students signed up. The other half really need help to pay the fees and this blank check would be an awesome way to make sure 100% of our students get to go on the trip. We want to go to DC with our students to show them the historic places that represent our nation’s history and culture. So many of our kids have never been outside of Raleigh.
9. You are off to dinner and a movie? What kind of restaurant will it be? What genre of movie will you see? Dinner would probably be at either an Italian or Mexican restaurant. I absolutely love all things Italian (bread, pasta, sauce, cheese) as well as most things Mexican (chips, salsa, guacamole, fajitas, tacos). The movie would be what my husband would call “art house” (aka a weird, character-driven movie that probably is sad and/or has an unhappy ending. Don’t know why but I love these types of films.
10. What literary character are you most similar to? Explain. This is probably not a good thing, but I can really relate to Olive, in Olive Kitteridge. Don’t ask.
11. Tell about a particularly proud moment in your teaching career. Since I’ve implemented the 40-Book Challenge in my classroom over five years ago, I have had the pleasure of seeing student who started with me as non-readers, and watched them blossom into readers by the end of the school year. One student I taught in both 6th and then 7th grade, Sarah, started the year with me in that situation. She had the lowest possible end of grade scores in reading and she saw herself as a non-reader. Over the course of her 6th grade year, I was able to introduce her to books that she actually liked and she started to read on her own. By the end of 7th grade, she scored at two points away from the highest level in reading on her end of grade test. End of grade test scores aside, I know that learning to read changed this child’s life. She comes from a very poor, dysfunctional family where few people graduated from high school. I am confident that with continued support from her teachers and her firmly established love of reading that Sarah will defy the odds and find success.

11 Questions for the Bloggers on my list who choose to participate:
1. Dog or cat person? Explain.
2. What is your favorite grade to teach? Why? Least favorite? Why?
3. Many people (in the blogosphere and on Twitter) are participating in the “One Little Word” at the start of this new year. If you are doing this, what is your word? If you aren’t, what word would you choose? Why?
4. What book have you failed to read that would be embarrassing for you to admit?
5. What book have you read that you consider a “guilty pleasure?”
5. Choose 2-3 titles on your TBR list and tell why you want to read them.
6. What keeps you energized and enthusiastic about teaching in this time of testing/accountability and lack of teacher support?
7. Book or Kindle? Why?
8. What is your favorite Twitter chat? Why?
9. Snow day or delayed opening? Why?
10. Who is your favorite adult fiction author? Why?
11. What are the benefits of being a teacher who blogs?
11 Invitations to participate in this meme:
1. Stephanie Shouldis http://stephanieshouldis.blogspot.com/
2. Sarah Anderson http://yaloveblog.com/
3. Bill Ferriter http://blog.williamferriter.com/
4. Jill Barnes http://kidblog.org/BarnesA2-2013/
5. Michelle Haseltine http://1gratefulteacher.blogspot.com/
6. Christopher Bronke http://mrbronkesrandomthoughts.blogspot.com/
7. Liz McKenna http://stufflizreads.wordpress.com/
8. Andrea Payan http://mrspayanreads.blogspot.com/
9. Ben Kuhlman http://writeach.blogspot.com/
10. Cindy Minnich http://chartingbythestars.wordpress.com/
11. Sonja Schulz http://thesassybibliophile.blogspot.com/

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Slice of Life: Thank You PLN!

Slice of Life

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

On this last day of 2013 I have been busy writing most of the day, working on my Teacher of the Year portfolio that is due in early January. The portfolio consists of several different parts, with questions about my professional background, education, community involvement, philosophy of teaching, educational trends and issues, and what my message to teachers would be if I am chosen as the county teacher of the year. Working on this portfolio has made me think about the things that matter and make a difference for me as a teacher and in turn have an impact on the students in my classroom.

There has been a running theme in my responses —the importance of developing my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and taking responsibility for my own professional development.

My pre-Twitter days consisted of me reading as many professional books I could get my hands on and occasionally finding a blog or two to follow for recommendations. Through my discovery of the EC Ning I began to expand my network, and it was here that I was encouraged to try Twitter. I would have never guessed what an impact that decision would make on my professional life! Through Twitter I have been connected to smart, creative, passionate teachers and writers/readers from all over the world. Right at my fingertips I receive expert advice and suggestions on a daily basis. Twitter chats like #titletalk, #engchat, #mschat have been invaluable to me.

My goal is to try to help connect other teachers in my school and district through social media like Twitter. I have given workshops on how to use Twitter, find people to follow, participate in chats, and ultimately build your own PLN.

My online connections with other passionate teachers keep me energized and enthusiastic in the classroom. I am always reading about something that I want to try out for myself with my own students.

In fact, it was through Twitter that I first heard about the Slice of Life Challenge. This past March I participated in the daily slicing and really enjoyed it. I wanted to try it out on my own before trying it with my students. I hope to slice with students this year!

So on this last day of 2013, I would like to thank all of you who I’ve met in this space, on Twitter, in chats, blogs, and other social media spots, for your contributions to my professional development. I appreciate the ideas, suggestions, materials, and feedback that you offer, and for challenging me to be the best teacher I can be. I hope that my contributions have helped you as well.

I look forward to learning with you in 2014!

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Slice of Life October 8, 2013: The Power of Noticing

Slice of Life 

I’m participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

We were working on the scripts for the drummer boys of the Civil War research project when I first noticed Sean’s writing. Until today, I haven’t seen any real writing, or for that matter, any real work on Sean’s part. Identified as academically gifted in language arts, Sean is also on our “watch list” for those who are not performing at grade level and liable to slip through the cracks.  Sean’s presence in my classroom had been unremarkable.

Until today, Sean struck me as a quiet, non-performer, more than willing to fly under the radar and hope to eke out another year without much effort on his part nor notice on ours.

Today I held my interest meeting for Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month. For the past few Novembers, I have “sponsored” a small group of writers who were eager to take on the challenge of attempting to write a novel in one month. Some have been successful, meeting their word count goals, while others have succeeded beyond what they even thought they could do. All have had fun and forged friendships within this small circle of writers.

While I was circulating in the computer lab today, checking in with students as they wrote their scripts for the group photo story project, I stopped to see what Sean had written so far. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much.

I was wrong.

Sean had written several eloquent paragraphs about the history of the drummer boys. It was clear that he was enjoying the writing and he was anxious to perfect it. I watched him wordsmith his creation and noticed the high level of engagement he had in this task. Until now I hadn’t seen him this alive in the classroom.

I immediately thought of Nanowrimo. He had to join us!

“Do you plan to attend the interest meeting today for National Novel Writing Month?” I asked.

“What’s that?” he replied.

I gave him my best two-minute definition of the writing challenge and urged him to join us at lunch to find out more. He agreed to check it out.

The lunchtime meeting came and went and I had many students show an interest this year, more than ever before.

But no Sean.

After lunch, Sean arrived at my classroom door.

“Did you forget about the meeting, Sean?” I asked, hoping I was correct.

“No, I didn’t forget. I just don’t think I can do it,” Sean whispered, avoiding eye contact with me.

“Sean, you have to do this. You are a writer. You have a gift. You have to try!” I urged.

Sean stopped and looked at me and then he smiled. The first genuine smile I have seen on him since school started. It was as if something clicked within him and I could see a light in his eyes that had been missing before today.

“I’ll think about it,” he said as he took his seat, “I promise I will.”

 

 nano_ywp_logo_current

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Slice of Life 2013 April 9: Why Do You Write?

Slice of Life

On today’s Slice of Life posting, Stacy asked the question “Why do you write?”

I write because there is no better way to make sense of my world. Writing helps me to process, clarify, and ponder life.

I write because writing is a challenge. While I love to write, I am always intimidated by the blank page and usually feel like what I write won’t be good enough. Still, I love the creative process of crafting a piece of writing and the satisfaction I feel when I am able to produce what I set out to do.

I write to connect with others. One of the things that I most admire in writers is their ability to write words that so perfectly capture a mood or experience that I’ve had in my life, and perhaps have never been able to adequately articulate. It’s like that moment when you read a perfect line and say to yourself “yes, that’s exactly how I felt!” For example, I love this line from Elizabeth Strout’s latest novel, The Burgess Boys:

“Perhaps if she was still young she would be driving by the home of Charlie Tibbets, but there was no sap left in her. The thick sugary pull of life had gone.” (Italics are mine)

Don’t you just love that description?

The written word allows us all to connect. I feel less alone in the world when I read others’ writing. My goal is to share my experiences so that maybe someone else will realize they are not alone, either. I am drawn to the redemptive nature of writing.

I write because I have a strong desire to be heard. I grew up as a hearing child with two deaf parents. Communicating with my parents was challenging, and their ability to fully understand me and my siblings was limited. They lip-read and we spoke to them. They did not teach us sign language and we only learned basic finger-spelling. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized our inability to sign essentially created a situation where we had parents who spoke a language we didn’t fully understand. While we could communicate, we lacked depth to our conversations and much of what we discussed was surface-level, easy to share information. The deeper things like thoughts and feelings never quite made the translation. Wanting, no needing to be heard became paramount in my life. Writing fills that void for me.

When I write I feel that I am doing exactly what I was born to do.

writing

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Slice of Life 2013: The Slicing Continues…

Slice of Life

Fellow SOLC writers: I don’t know about you, but for me it was very weird not writing my daily slice yesterday. While it was nice to have a day off, I felt oddly out of sorts. This morning when I got up, I realized that I wouldn’t have any comments to read on my post.

Bummed.

It’s funny how quickly something becomes a habit. They do say that if you want to develop a habit or break a bad one, you need to give yourself 30 days. I think that’s what happened. My daily writing was becoming ingrained into my life, and without it I felt kind of lost. Writing has a way of doing that to a person. While we may struggle to find the words some days, it always feels better to write, doesn’t it?

I am on spring break this week so I have time to think, reflect, and wonder about things. I know that I want to keep up with this blog I started for the Slice of Life Challenge. I am not sure how often I will post (although I hope it is often), but I do know that it means a lot to me to keep it up.

I am so glad that SOL continues for many of us. I love reading your blogs and admire your heart and your talent. You inspire me!

P.S. For regular readers of my blog, an update on Rosie. She had her surgery yesterday and she is doing great. You would never know that she just had surgery! She has managed to chew through her “cone” on the first night, so not sure what we will do next. Life with a dog 

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Slice of Life 2013 Day 31: Easter Surprise

Slice of Life
I’m participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

Life is full of surprises, isn’t it?

We were planning on having a quiet Easter at home, just the two of us. Neither of our kids could make it home this year, and we made plans accordingly. Last night after making my orange-carrot-pineapple jello salad and ice-box cake, I settled into my chair and had just dozed off when there was a loud knock at the door. I wasn’t too alarmed as my daughter had told us that a friend of hers was going to be stopping by to pick up a pair of boots. Husband answered the door and guess who was waiting out there on the porch?

You guessed it: both of our kids!

Matt (our oldest) is a fight instructor at Embry Riddle in Florida. He had a flight student with him who had just flown from Daytona Beach to Raleigh to complete a cross-country flight for his instrument rating. They needed to fly a certain distance and they decided (at the last minute) to fly to Raleigh and surprise us. Of course Matt called Katie and convinced her that she needed to come home, too, to complete the surprise. Being the trooper that she is, Katie made the trip (again!) and met up with her big brother and a few other friends.

Within minutes, our formerly empty nest was full once again : )

Today has been a lovely day starting off with a beautiful Easter service at church (sang the first few words of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and was in tears), a delicious meal (good thing I decided to cook!), and some precious time with my little family of four. We are a tight-knit group, we are. Our time together in the past few years is so precious, as it’s rare we are all in the same state at the same time.

I have never been big on surprises, but I am learning to embrace them as gifts.

As I wrap-up this last post for the Slice of Life Challenge, how fitting that it was not what I had planned to write today. But since we are talking about surprises, it does fit in that category. It has been a delightful surprise to be a part of this writing adventure with all of you. Thank you to those who took the time to read my posts and especially those who responded to so many of them. It really means so much to me. This experience has been so much more than I ever expected and I believe has started me down a new path.

Congratulations to all of you slicers who made it to this 31st post!

Thanks again, Stacey and Ruth, for hosting this life-changing event.

 

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Slice of Life Challenge Day 28: Post Slice Pondering

Slice of Life
I’m participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

We are down to three more days of the Slice of Life Challenge. I must admit that when I started this challenge (albeit late!), I went into it thinking I would try to blog every day, but if I didn’t then it wouldn’t be a big deal. At least I gave it a shot (there I go always giving myself an easy out…).

I am happy to say that I’ve been able to post every day since I started and I have truly enjoyed every bit of it (well, everything except the posting part…my computer does not like WordPress!).

But I feel myself growing anxious about the end. What happens next? Do I keep blogging? Will anyone read my posts? Does that even matter?

I am curious to know what other slicers are thinking right now and any plans you have for the post-slice challenge.

I’ve so enjoyed reading the variety of slices, and even though I haven’t commented on all of them (believe me, I’ve tried!) I have really enjoyed getting to know you.

Thanks, Stacy & Ruth for hosting this Slice of Life Challenge! It has been a blast!

 

 

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Slice of Life 2013 Day 24: Life in a Shelter

 Slice of Life

I’m participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

I recently finished Blue Baillett’s latest novel, Hold Fast. It was a very moving story of a young family who ends up homeless and are forced to live in a city shelter. Life in a shelter is experienced through the eyes of our 11- year-old protagonist, Early Pearl.

As I mentioned in a previous post, several of my students this year are homeless. My heart goes out to them as they struggle to care about school and learning, when so much of their young lives are spent with worries and burdens no child should have to carry. Early’s story made me even more aware of what these kids deal with every day.

I wrote this found poem using a page from the novel because it deeply moved me and I think it best captured the reality of shelter life.

Life in a Shelter

A Found Poem

Unpredictable and

Bumpy

Blanket-heavy, round with

Shadows

Fast and sharp

A horizontal sting

Laced with ice

People get distracted by

Worries and sadness

Work hard to hold on to

Beauty

Hold fast to

Dreams and words

Grow more fragile with

Each passing day

Time to think about the

Hard choices

People make in life

Work hard to hold on to beauty,

To hold fast to dreams and

Words

So much beauty

Goes unseen

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Slice of Life 2013 Day 21: What Makes You Happy?

Slice of Life

I’m participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.
In my Thursday afternoon email, I received my NY Times weekly update and saw this What Makes You Happy?  It’s a student questionnaire, but I thought I would use it for my slice tonight.
From the article:
The United Nations declared March 20 the first International Day of Happiness, declaring that “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal.”

What specifically makes you happy? How do you make others happy? If your nation had a Gross National Happiness Index, as the Kingdom of Bhutan does, how happy do you think people would be? Why?

All great questions, right?
I am going to share this with my students, as I would be interested to see their responses. Would they be family, friends, fun or my iPhone, X-box, and texting?
What makes me happy?

For me, I am happiest when my family is happy. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing my children smile and knowing that for them, all is right with the world.
I’m happy when my husband gets a chance to fly his remote control airplane (his “mistress”) on a beautiful, day with a Carolina-blue sky and no wind. His joy is contagious.
I’m happy when I watch my dog, Rosie, wrestle and play with her friends at the dog park. When I watch her play, I am in the moment and I can’t help but capture her sheer joy at the freedom and fun of playing with her friends.
I’m happy when I get together with a good friend to share a meal or a cup of coffee and we have a chance to catch up and really talk. These experiences “fill my cup” like no others. I treasure them.
I’m happy when my students are so engaged in learning that they lose track of time and are shocked when the bell rings (“What? The class is over?! But we were just getting started!”).
I’m happy when I find “that book” that changes a child’s life. Whether it’s the non-reader who becomes a reader or the book that’s read at the right time, it’s the same: life changing.
I’m happy when I spend time writing and I am able to craft a piece that perfectly expresses what I feel with precisely the right words.
I’m happy when I get my daily “slice” written and posted on time. Challenge met.
How do you make others happy?

I think I make others happy by being a good listener. I genuinely care about people and try to be sensitive to their needs. I enjoy being able to give to others and serve them when they are in need.
If your nation had a Gross National Happiness Index, how happy do you think people would be? Why?
Hmmm…that’s an interesting question. My guess is that the United States would probably not rank at the top of the happiness chart. I think it might even be a 60/40 split right now in our country, due to the economy, wars, gas prices, unemployment, stressful jobs, etc. I also think that being a materialistic nation that places such a high emphasis on acquisition of things puts us at greater risk for unhappiness, because if your happiness is based upon how much stuff you have, there is always going to be someone with more stuff than you.

So what about you? What makes you happy?Rosie 5 months

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