A writing challenge…

Don’t we all love challenges! I’ve recently signed up for the 100 Day Challenge (Instagram#100DayProject) where you choose something to “make” and repeat the making for 100 days straight. Since I love photography, have zillions of photos of the natural world, and I love the simple beauty of Haiku I am challenging myself to 100 days of seeing my natural word through 17 syllables and visually representing with photography. Each day I will upload my PhotoPoem to the 100 day instagram site, where I will also enjoy the creative challenges of others who join the project. I will upload some, as well, to my HaikuNorth blog site.

So…why this post? As I’ve commented in previous entries on this blog, I love the challenge of numbers. Some of my published writer’s notebook entries are number challenges…Home in 6 sentences…My life in 7 stories….Writing small in 50 words….20 observations….10 observations a day…6 word memoirs…The challenge of a number is exciting and setting a number limit helps one drive to cross the finish line.

Students love the challenge, as well. Years of reading the amazing writer’s notebooks of college students confirms this—-to a student, they grab the number challenge invitations. I think that creating a 100 day challenge in writing classrooms would not only be great fun, but writers would discover their voices, as well. If not 100 days, then lower the limit—make it a monthly challenge, or 20 days, or 50…whatever works.

Imagine the possibilities of writing on the same topic, or in the same genre each day—“making” something “anew” with words and visuals if desired, for a set number of days. The challenge lies in making 100 (or whatever the limit) of “something,” so why not with writing?? For several years when I taught 6th graders, we did the Moon Journal project (just google it—it is still ongoing everywhere and I did this back in the mid-90’s), for the month of October, where they kept a Moon Journal and each evening at relatively the same time, they went outdoors, viewed the moon, captured noticings about the qualities in the natural world—air, sounds, sky; they wrote in the journal and sketched what they saw. Many turned their words and sketches into watercolors. The Moon Journal project was much like the 100 Day Challenge—it was both finite and creative. And, they loved it and discovered that they could look at that same old moon each night and find new words with which to describe both what they saw and what they felt.

Writing is thinking. It is living, experiencing. Any way, any path you choose to get creative juices flowing and imaginations widening is a good thing.

I know the end of the school year is nearly here, but wouldn’t it be great to “challenge” your students to a summer project, to keep writing juices flowing?

The #100DayProject started yesterday, April 19th. Here are my posts for days 1 and 2. I’m already loving this!


Day 1  A walk along the icy pier on a frigid day rewarded us with this beautiful image. Note the bird feathers ruffling in the wind. It was so cold!

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Day 2 The one clinging oak leaf on the bare-branched tree and near perfectly centered, as if posing for my camera. The bluest sky on this mid-April day as a backdrop to the beautiful trees–Spring gifts.

Brown Girl Dreaming…


..catching up on some blog entries….

Brown Girl Dreaming, the award-winning novel by Jacqueline Woodson, is so many things to me. As a teacher, I see the countless possibilities for deep discussion, thoughtspots for writing, endless possibilities for visual and emotional expression. As a writer, I am invited into the genre of memoir in powerful ways.

I had recently purchased BGD when I was coincidentally asked to visit an Encountering Cultures class at the college, to share my thoughts on keeping writer’s notebooks. I’ve been writing snippets for several years about my two grandmothers; BGD quenched my thirst to continue my memoir piece on my grandmothers. I shared snippets of my memoir with the Encountering Cultures class and invited them to choose a powerful place in BGD and write. They did; their sharings were amazing. BGD is memoir at its best.

I assigned BGD to my preservice literacy students last semester. They met in book club groups to share the novel. They brought responses to their groups—an open-ended assignment for which I encouraged their imaginations to soar.

While you cannot enjoy their descriptions (so compelling) of their responses, you can view them below. Without question, they were as captivated by this wonderful novel as I.


Brown Girl Dreaming Animoto

Amazing fun with Animoto

Each semester I have my preservice teachers create book trailers using Animoto software. (Animoto is tagged on this site) While Animoto offers FREE accounts to all, if you are an educator you get a FREE account for up to 50 students and you can renew it every six months. No trouble to you at all–they send you a renewal notification. I’ve used other slideshow software but none compare with the ease of use as Animoto. The educator FREE account allows your students up to six shows, each up to 10 mins in length. My book trailer assignment resembles a “book talk,” where the speaker invites a reader into the book without giving away the ending. Following our class presentations we talk about the educational possibilities of digital software such as Animoto. Here are some ideas this class suggested:

Teachers–you can create an Animoto to introduce a new content topic or theme–be original–hook them!!

Students–you can summarize content, reflect on content, create original responses to content.

Teachers–NO subject content area is left out–Animoto is not just for reading teachers–imagine the following:

Students write poetry and attach images and music…students react to historical events, summarize historical events, or current events….students create Animotos to introduce or summarize Science content…etc!!

As promised to my students, the following book titles were Animoto-ed by the class:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Becoming a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

The Short Bus by Jonathon Mooney

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Trouble by Gary D Schmidt

Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff

Bridge to Terabithia by Katharine Paterson

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Bird Child by Nan Forler

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

…The Book Trailers follow…

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Hatchet (1)

Hatchet (2)

Trouble by Gary D Schmidt

Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff

Bridge to Terabithia by Katharine Paterson

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Bird Child by Nan Forler

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Becoming a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Becasue of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

The Short Bus by Jonathon Mooney


When words aren’t enough….visual response

As in past semesters, I had my preservice teachers work together to create visual responses to one of two short texts by Sandra Cisneros  (check Authors tagline on this blog). They worked as small groups to draft ideas and then got busy. The sharing at the end of class session was powerful. As often as I have read the two texts: Salvador, Late or Early and Eleven, I am still amazed at how much more I know from their visual responses. The middle grades are so verbal-linguistic-heavy, yet visual response can also reveal deep comprehension of text. In past blog entries for this assignment I haven’t provided captions for the posters; I decided to do so at this time, as well as my own brief synopses of the two Cisneros texts.

The texts:

Salvador, Late or Early Is the story of a young, impoverished boy with adult-like responsibilities (sibling care). Shy and harboring untold grief, Salvador is the story of a boy you won’t forget.

Eleven is the story of Rachel, whose birthday is missing the “happy” part. It’s her birthday, but it’s hard to let go of the sadness and tears that are the result of being unfairly accused of leaving an ugly red sweater in the class cloakroom.


Salvador’s–late or early, but always whipping around from one responsibility to the next–taking care of young siblings, helping out with the baby at home with Mom. Facing the schoolyard gate, Salvador is gray, unnoticed and weathered. His younger siblings have yet to become “adults” at such young ages; they can still smile and be children.


Salvador as two people–the sad, forgotten, boy with adult responsibilities on his fragile shoulders, and the boy who enters another colorful world of school each day, a world in which he does not belong.


Rachel is eleven years old today; she wears the ages on sleeves of the ugly red sweater she’s accused of owning; and 1. The happiness that should come with a birthday is unraveling….


Her family celebration is supposed to be happy, and they will sing to her and shower her with presents, but her birthday cake has layers of happy and sad.


Even at home with a family who loves her, Rachel is alone and broken.

when words aren’t enough, visuals reveal deep comprehension, and texts that bring out heavy emotional responses are the best choices for letting images reveal thinking. My quick summaries above don’t come close to the fabulous share sessions we enjoyed following this work.

More “cake baking” with Synthesis strategy…

For my post of last semester, check out Baking a Synthesis Cake… on this blog.

This week my current group of preservice teachers revisited familiar texts to synthesize meanings they created from close, deep reading. Following the cake baking strategy, which requires the cook to know what kind of cake is desired before s/he can compile the ingredients, the teachers did the same with their meaning creations. They had rich discussions and decided as small groups at least one powerful meaning created from their chosen text–that was the “cake,”–and the “ingredients” became significant pieces lifted from the text that helped them create meaning. As always, the group work and the opportunity to “create” visuals added to the powerful engagement in the project. Here are their visuals and a list of the texts from which they chose.

“The Flowers,” by Alice Walker          “Salvador, Late or Early,” by Sandra Cisneros       “Eleven,” by Sandra Cisneros

IMG_1062 IMG_1063 IMG_1064 IMG_1065 IMG_1066 IMG_1067 IMG_1068 IMG_1069 IMG_1070


Visual/Emotional Responses x 2

Again, I had my preservice teachers collaborate to create visuals that portrayed emotional connections to “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros–a short text about a young girl who experiences her eleventh birthday with hurt and pain as she is wrongly accused (by the teacher and a few classmates) of leaving a raggedy red sweater too long in the cloakroom. The short story is powerful–so much so that invariably a few of my students choose to use this short text with various strategic teaching lessons in their field classrooms.

Here are the visuals they created from “Eleven,” and the link below is to my post of last spring–amazing how art can reveal what words cannot.

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When Visuals are Just Right…

The text, “Eleven,” can be found in the following collection of short stories by Sandra Cisneros..available on Amazon or BN, or your favorite online resource: Unknown

She also has a fabulous website http://www.sandracisneros.com


What likes what, when Autumn comes…?

What likes What?  is an observational writing strategy that I have done for years (see my scratch what likes what notes on my writer’s notebook page)…In the novel Cold Mountain, Ruby tells Ada,  in trying to describe how she knows so much about plants, herbs, the natural world: Well, you just have to know what likes what…”...that line spoke to me. So, I have lists, still compiling them and some have become small works of art. This is a good observational suggestion for students–to notice what likes what throughout their day. If you have students do this exercise it will open their eyes to really noticing the world. The world is full of beauty–beauty in the simplest of sights and moments. Here are a few examples of my recent photo shots, to which I have added What likes What jots…Ask your students–What likes What when Autumn comes?

DSCN2792golden dune-lined path likes solitary companion

IMG_4621...shades-of-blue-lake like November day whitecaps

Dec 3 sun e…Autumn leaves like surprise of early snowfall

IMG_1117…yellow maple leaves like shadow and light

IMG_1137..November lake likes lingering kiss of sunset

IMG_1133…weathered dune pine likes view from above

IMG_1124…brown forest floor likes nature’s brilliant contrast

IMG_1709…downy woodpecker likes calm Autumn morning

Around the World in Nine Photos

This is the second set of ‘Round the World Photos I have reblogged. What writing possibilities they offer!! ENJOY!

The WordPress.com Blog

Do you love stories from around the world? Check out the work of the following nine photographers on WordPress.com and allow your imagination to take you away…

Nathanael‘s monochrome photo of the Star Lite Motel in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, conjures images of wayward romances and clandestine meetings. We loved the marquee’s message, “Forgive and forget its human to err.” (sic) which offers an almost haunting absolution. For more of Nathanael’s work, check out his blog, G’Nat’s Eye View.

Photo by Nathanael Photo by P. Nathanael Gough

The image below, by UK photographer Andy Hooker, had us at hello. We love how the sign matches the woman’s red coat and how her right leg is in crisp focus just as her stride reaches the “h” above her head. Check out more of Andy’s work at LensScaper.

Photo by Andy Hooker Photo by Andy Hooker

Bao Pham‘s photo of this

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YES to Arts Integration!

Arts Integration

Great article (located on a cool resource website The Edvocate) on the how’s and why’s for integrating the arts across the K-12 curriculum, a topic of passion for me. I especially love this statement from the article:

Why does art integration work?

The science behind arts integration is solid. Simply put, more of the brain is at work when the arts are part of the learning process, strengthening attentiveness, reaction time and comprehension. There is also plenty of research to suggest that arts education methods improve long-term retention. In other words, what the students learn through arts integration will stay in their memories for longer than that year’s standardized test. When students are allowed academic expression through artistic means, like drawing a picture or writing a song, the information is embedded in their minds. Long-term learning and practical application of knowledge are both supported when the arts are integrated.  (Matthew Lynch, 2014)




..and this is why I write, why I sketch, why I play with words and images

…a quote from a mentor who inspires me. Her book, A Trail Through Leaves (a gift to me from a treasured friend) is one I revisit from time to time, and upon each visit am startled by wonderings and images new to me, though I have held this book closely for so many years…



“A long-running journal is an invaluable document, because it records something other than the time-and-goal-dominated anxiety that drives us through our days. We can tease out of it evolving evidence of sub-lives, parallel existences, omens of shifts that won’t be realized for decades, recurrences of themes glimpsed periodically through the years….The trail of words and pictures that I am leaving is more complete than most people’s, but it is still a trail of tips and ice bergs, little slices of light and color that are all I can capture of the big masses moving underneath. But threading through are moments of the ordinary-made-extraordinary by the simple act of choosing and isolating them.”

                                                                                                Hannah Hinchman

                                                                                           A Trail Through Leaves: The  Journal As a Path to Place