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Tools of the Trade: Poetic Inspirations

by Kelly Virgin

At Continuity this past weekend we began our thinking by reading and reflecting on poetry. After looking at several poems, we were given a few minutes to write about whatever came to mind. The last stanza of “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye instantly inspired me to write. I borrowed her last lines and continued with my own:


Famous.JPGI want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.

I can give first-class belly rubs and meandering, sun-filled walks that bring the wag of a tail and a tongue-filled smile.

I can wake up five minutes first to fill the house with the scent of brewed coffee and to present a steaming mug to my groggy but appreciative partner.

I can help a student believe in herself as a writer by praising her creativity and giving her space for voice and choice in my classroom.

Like the pulley and the buttonhole, my purposes are small and intimate, but in those moments, I become famous.

This brief spurt of inspiration and the thoughtful discussion that followed reminded me how vital poetry is as a writing tool. Since poetry packs so much meaning into so few words, it works well as a seed to spark ideas for personal writing. I have found that even my most hesitant writers find success when writing in response to poetry. Read more

Books on The Blog: Digital Photography and Young Poets

by Linda Walker

New Year’s Eve 2016 my husband and I enjoyed the company of our two young grandchildren. My granddaughter brought along her digital camera to document the evening. She snapped photos of balloons, streamers, noise makers and Grandad wearing a silly hat and an even sillier expression. While driving to the local pizza parlor for our dinner, she and I stopped at several places to snap some more pictures: the local high school her mom attended, the water tower, and several nighttime shots of the Domino pizza sign just to verify that yes, we did eat something other than chips and dip. Later we talked about how much fun it was to go back and relive the night through her photos. Days after I began to think about how those captured digital moments could become the springboard for poetry writing. This idea led me to search for poetry books with photographs as a medium. And that is how I discovered April Pulley Sayre. Read more

Teacher to Teacher: Welcome to Poetry Month!

By Janice Ewing

As we ease into April, also known as “Poetry Month,” we are thrilled to welcome a pair of poetry ambassadors to our blog – Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger. This duo has been writing and performing poetry around the world for many years, as well as inspiring others to find their own identities as poets. In our Teacher-to-Teacher spot this month, Sara and Michael dispel some common misconceptions about poetry, and then go on to make a convincing case for how it fits into and enriches any curriculum. We hope you enjoy this ‘visit’ with Sara and Michael, and we invite you to share your connections to this post, as well as your experiences with reading/listening to, writing, and teaching poetry.

Why Poetry?
by Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger

The list of arguments not to teach poetry writing is long.

Confusing. Not rigorous enough. Not for the boys. Not aligned to the standards. Not non-fiction. And, what can I put in that grade book yawning open on the desktop? Is it fair to put a grade on kids’ feelings?

The list of reasons to lock poetry up in permanent confinement in those dangling weeks in the spring after everything else is done is even longer. School has requirements after all, assessments to be recorded, evaluations to be made. What does poetry have to do with 21st century literacy? Read more

Status of the Heart, Mind, and Pen: Formative Assessments for Lengthy Research Projects

By Mary Buckelew

Looking for ways to support and sustain the momentum and commitment needed to complete lengthy research projects in my secondary and college classes, I adapted Nancie Atwell’s “Status of the Class” method, which she describes in her book In the Middle (3rd Edition 2015). Atwell uses Status of the Class as a way to keep track of independent reading and writing. At the start of an independent reading or writing session, Atwell rapidly asks each student to state her or his plan for the session. She records student intentions in her own shorthand so that she can assist students in achieving their goals. She also wants “kids to hear what other students are writing about. Status-of-the-class responses are important sources of inspiration for new topics and genres” (Atwell, 2015, p.46).

I adapted Atwell’s strategy so that everyone in the classroom becomes involved in the Status of the Class. I use Status of the Class three times during the research process. The dialogic nature of Status of the Class that I’ve incorporated reinforces that we are a collaborative, creative, and supportive Think Tank.

I’ve implemented the following three (3) status of the class assessments throughout major research projects: Status of the Heart, Mind, and Pen.

Each “Status of the Class” occurs at different points in the research process, moving students along and giving me an idea of who may need more assistance – all the while reinforcing that we are a community of researchers.

Prior to each “Status of the Class,” we form a circle and I have my clipboard ready ala Atwell to record each student’s status.

General Protocol
I remind students of the protocol for sharing during Status of the Class:
1. Each student has one minute or less to share.
2. Other students may offer suggestions/answer questions in one minute or less.
3. Students may follow-up with each other after the initial “Status of the Class” is finished. Read more

Sketch and Write

By Gaetan Pappalardo

“Rigor without pleasure is usually a losing proposition; it runs against human nature.”
—Thomas Newkirk

I credit the hours of diagraming sentences to the yellow sweat stains on my catholic boy Oxford. Uncomfortable and sweaty, I trudged through worksheet after worksheet under the iron fist of the nuns. Some students learn to write in this environment.  I didn’t. However, it taught me discipline. Thirteen years of catholic school taught me to persevere through boredom, academic distraught and catholic guilt. And that discipline waited in my subconscious for a long time. It waited for a partner. It waited for love.

Tennis.  Writing.  Guitar. Teaching.

These “loves” came later in life. I loved them so much that I was willing to suffer in order to succeed (That’s called grit –– The new buzz word that teachers are supposed implant in kids. I know, right?).  Discipline collided with love and the end result was/is success.

Here’s my formula–– Discipline + Love = Grit = Success Read more

Embracing New Ideas

I guess you might say I continue to compile a book pile of ideas which I dip in and out of each week according to the needs of my students. In some ways, my professional book pile feels alive and responsive to where this group of students is today.

Read more