Category Archives: writing

About that Face to Face Book Group: On Reading and Writing

I live on the edge of a very small town in Sussex County, Virginia. It is the home of those staples: peanuts and bacon. I moved here about five years ago and have spent most of that time working rather than getting involved in community life. This year, I decided I needed more non-work interaction in my life, so I joined the book group at my local library branch. I read A LOT so getting the homework done wasn’t going to be a problem. And the group meets one hour, once a month, five minutes from my house. (It’s actually close enough that even I could ride my bike and may do so in the spring.)

We met Tuesday and talked about We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. It is a story told from the perspective of mother and son, complicated by poverty and hope and love. We learn about what it is like to be undocumented but integrated in America. And, even more importantly, it reminds us of the terrible tragedy of the impact of zip code on education and thus opportunity. I can recommend it and you can read my full review at my book blog.

I’m really posting this blog to celebrate the book group and some ideas about writing: SO much fun to sit around a table with thoughtful people and just talk about a book for an hour. One woman provided several interpretations that had never occurred to me and expanded the possible understandings of the book. I haven’t dug this deep into a book for awhile.

As for writing…what struck me most out of the whole book was a comment from the author in the Q & A at the end. The interviewer asked her about writing her second novel, and she talked about the fear of disappointing her readers. This fear tainted her writing:

I was so worried about writing a “good” book that I ended up writing a carefully polished book with absolutely no heart.

She owes her freeing herself from that fear to a friend in her writers’ group who reminded her that she didn’t have anything to prove:

Somehow, those word set me free. I stopped trying to be good and just started to write–and the book improved dramatically from that moment on.

Two lessons leap out here for writing teachers, or indeed teachers anywhere: let them write (read/learn/share) without worrying about meeting a rubric or impressing someone else and give them community in which to do it. In my writing workshop, students produced fascinating pieces of writing when I gave them a chance to record their lives and stories. They wrote letters and stories and poems. And they wanted to read what their classmates wrote because they were so different.

I understand the concern with impressing people. The need to be profound. I wrote about it here and discovered Tim Owens shared a similar issue on his own blog.

I’m just decided that I am going to keep writing anyway.

Finding the Flow

Inspired by Donna Donner’s post 12 Month Human at Four O’Clock Faculty which I found on Twitter via Tamara Letter:

I write a fair amount about living a life outside the traditional workforce. One lesson I continue to learn about living this life is that it flows and living in rather than fighting the flow is the way to move smoothly and calmly even through the rapids.

I was the road warrior in June: just take a look at my reading log. I hit a high of 13 books because I discovered The 39 Clues series on Audible. Each book takes about 4-1/2 hours of listening, which just happened to be the average length of each of my car trips. Every day was planned to the minute as each task had to be completed on time if events and trips were going to be successful. There was no time for procrastination. Within that strict regimen there was “work” and “life” as even my garden was part of the to do list. Weeding had to be done before I was gone for ten days. That meant a daylong marathon with shovel and cart. My husband shepherded me inside at dusk, handing me two ibuprofen as I walked up the steps.

And now…it’s July, and for the first time in many years, I am home. No traveling, no training, even very little “work.” My mother was worried that I was going to be bored and suggested I could use the free time to house clean. I’m thinking more Scratch programming and Raspberry Pi exploration along with early morning hours in the garden and long afternoons floating in the pool with a book.

Donna Donna got to the heart of my life when she wrote that her teaching life is “entwined with all the other cycles of my life.” She goes on:

As my summer rolls on I will honor my love of learning, my love for my family, my love for my profession and my curiosity of the world. My life cycle flows with this balance all year long. You see, I am a 12-month mother. I am a 12-month wife. I am a 12-month friend.  I am a 12-month teacher. I am a 12-month human. I never take a vacation from any of those parts of me. Some parts just come out a little stronger at times but all contribute to balancing me as a whole.

I think the struggle is figuring out which part is stronger at any time as I tend to want to always focus on the work I do for others first. I resonated with Donna sitting on the porch with her hummingbirds–mine are at their height right now, buzzing me as I head out to fill the feeders–reviewing her notes from a summer workshop. For me, it would be planning ahead for my fall courses and events.

Then, I sat down at the laptop this morning prepared to put in a full morning of work and realized I didn’t have to…I could browse Twitter and that led to Tamara’s tweet and Donna’s post and some writing. It’s a different kind of work this personal reflection and community connection, and who knows where it might lead. The emails will wait; the preparation for an October workshop will wait; it’s time for the focus to be on my own learning and growing and flowing.

 

 

What Was I Thinking?

Yesterday was Sunday…a quiet Sunday and I was perusing Twitter. I discovered that Tom Barrett had started the #28daysofwriting challenge. Since I had had a blog post lingering in my brain for several days, it seemed like a good way to make posting it a priority. So, I posted and then tweeted that I was in on the challenge. I even signed the form.

Then, Monday rolled around and with it the usual Monday chores: a newsletter, online course checkins and feedback, a few extra issues that had come up and, did I mention, I was still sick with the hacking cough I have had since last week. It wasn’t until about 2 PM that I even thought about the challenge. And, I’ll admit, pretty quickly dismissed it with the thought that maybe before bed I could manage a couple minutes.

But then, there were the emails from Tom reminding me of my commitment. And, my tweet had been retweeted so lots more people had seen the commitment. I felt a little more committed with a community behind me. Now what?

I folded up the laptop and walked away for a bit. Took a cold pill to help silence the hack. Changed the sheets on the bed. Solved one of the extra issues that had come up. And then set the timer on my phone, opened up a new post, and started writing.

One of Tom’s suggestions for the challenge was to create a list of possible topics so that seemed like a good post idea. It will help you understand the kinds of things going on in my life and work that might make it onto the page in the next month:

Teaching: I am teaching A LOT this semester, from full blown college courses to shorter workshops. Most are online but I have taken on a face to face course for the first time in nearly three years and I am loving it! The course is a ftf version of an online course I teach for a different university and there are lots of possibilities for reflecting on the affordances and constraints of both formats. In addition, I incorporate a fair amount of social media in these courses in, I hope, meaningful ways. I’m working on a presentation for an online conference next week about how I do this and a blog entry or two will help flesh out that presentation.

Building Community: I retweeted Sylvia Duckworth’s graphic version of George Couros’s blog post about 8 things to look for in today’s class with the comment that I try to incorporate all 8 in the courses I teach for adults:

There are lots of opportunities for blog posts here in terms of reflecting on how I do this.

Stuff I Read: Yesterday’s post was a reading roundup of sorts, with short reflections on a couple articles that had caught my attention on Feedly. I’m making my students use Feedly this semester and they have had some good suggestions for new feeds. I’ve suggested they can use Feedly for their own writing fodder so I should be doing the same. In his challenge post, Tom writes about “not posting perfection,” a topic I addressed in the recent past myself. Twenty-eight minutes is enough time to get something in place but certainly not the epic post. Just enough time to think out loud, make a point, or share a sentiment. Reading and writing go hand in hand and I think I read more critically if I think I’m going to write about what I’ve read.

Finally, with just five minutes to go today, I’m wondering on the nature of writing blog posts. I have not been typing non stop for 28 minutes. I had to look up a couple links and copy the embed code for the tweet. Tom isn’t making a whole lot of restrictions so I’m including that bit of research and code into the writing process. Perhaps, as I dive deeper into the commitment, I shall have those links ready to go prior to setting the timer and “write” for the full time. But linking and embedding are indeed what make blog posts a bit different from journal entries as they tie the posts to the greater world, one of the original goals of the blogging platform. Linking and commenting were a way of making a community of writers who were also linking and commenting.

The last topic that has been floating around in my brain is about errant pigs as an analogy for those things we wish we could control but we can’t. I have a few real world errant pigs wandering around my farm right now. According to my husband, unlike the other pigs, they have no respect for the fence. That seems to me to be a pretty powerful idea for thinking about our students and ourselves. Where are the fences in our lives? And should we respect them? If we don’t, who is there with the stick to prod us back in?

A minute to go…I’m feeling good. A great thanks to Tom not just for the idea but the willingness to follow through and send those emails today. They helped, Tom. I’ve written and I’m pressing publish now. See you tomorrow!

GREAT Writing Ideas…But A Little Sad

My reading this morning has been all about writing: from the rules from writers at Brain Pickings to Pernille Ripp’s ideas for making writing fun again.

I was a little saddened, though, when Pernille mentioned that she could only afford 5 minutes of free writing and 10 minutes of free reading in her tight 45-minute class. I am grateful that I taught in the heady days before standardized testing when I could afford to have 30 minutes of free reading 3 days a week in my language arts class. Plus, doing all that reading meant that everyone had something they could write about, too.

Getting Started Yet Again

In a way, I envy Tim Stahmer. He *has* a blogging process to change. Meanwhile, I struggle to even develop a blogging practice. I am taking his idea to heart: just write something even if it’s a question or idea to consider over time.

So, here’s my observation for today: if you stick around long enough in education, ideas come around again. And, sometimes, it makes me feel old. This time, it was this tweet:

It’s a pedagogical approach I used way back in 1988 when I was a beginning English teacher. Except instead of taking a picture of my student writing, I ran it through the copier to create an overhead transparency and then wrote on it with markers. Remember, student writing in those days was actual handwriting and the overhead projector was my only way to project an image to the whole group.

The affordance of the digital technology is that it is easier to save the changes and share them with the student. I don’t remember ever sending the overhead home with the student. Our collaborative editing was much more ephemeral even as the writing itself was more ephemeral, shared only with me and the class, rather than with the world. Digital technology makes the pedagogy more powerful, I think.

And makes me feel a little old.