Tell A Teacher

I met up with a former student the other day. She had traveled from one coast to the other to attend her son’s college graduation. I live nearby.

Tara was a bright kid. Curious. An enthusiastic learner. She was in my reading class 42 years ago. The fact that she even remembered me is amazing.

Back then I was in the early stages of my teaching life, trying hard to navigate an educational system that I wasn’t sure had a place for me. My memory of that time mainly focuses on my struggles.

When Tara shared her memories —novels that we read, engaging activities, outdoor adventures—I suddenly recalled them as well. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Maybe I had made some kind of difference.

That’s what we all want, isn’t it? To make a difference in another person’s life. And it’s very gratifying to know you have. Thank you to Tara, and to the others who have shared their experiences with me over the years. It really means a lot.

Several years ago, on a trip to the east coast, I visited my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Domovich. I shouldn’t have been surprised at how old she looked given the number of years since I had been her student. She appeared to be having some serious physical challenges as well. Despite it all, she remembered me. I sat in her living room and shared memories of her class, and of her as my teacher. She beamed, and I floated. Within a year, she died.

If you ever had a teacher who made a difference for you, I encourage you to share that with them. It will mean a lot to them. And to you, too. I know from both sides.

 

Stop the Summer Writing Slide!

Greetings Teachers!

Hope your year has been rich with discovery and learning. As summer approaches, here’s something to consider:

“Use it or lose it” the old saying goes. And we know it’s true. That’s one of the reasons we develop summer reading programs: to reduce the “summer slide” that takes place when kids don’t read. It works, too. (www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/summer/research.htm)

Why can’t we stop the “summer slide” in writing as well by developing summer writing programs? We can. The program you create can be as simple or complex as you want. I prefer simple.

In a simple summer writing program, kids will need three things:

  1. Something in which to write (writing logs)
  2. Something to write
  3. An opportunity to celebrate their writing

Do you have your students bring in notebooks at the start of the year? If so, have you used them all? If not, there’s your summer writing logs. If notebooks are not available, you can create writing logs by simply stapling lined paper together and adding covers of construction paper. Or, of course, you can use any other bookmaking method you know about.

Provide students with options of things to write. What areas did you cover? You can make a list of them in the front of the logs, and add directions and/or samples. Some examples of writing areas include:

  • Poetry (include specific types, e.g. acrostic, free verse, haiku, etc.)
  • Letters (create a class sample to show format)
  • Slice of Life stories (personal narratives)
  • How-Tos (directions for doing something)
  • Curiosities (questions about the world)
  • Research (answering questions, providing information)
  • Fiction (stories, plays, scripts)
  • Journaling (day-to-day happenings)

Celebrate the efforts your young writers make. Invite them to bring their writing logs to school when it starts in the fall. At that time, provide them with class opportunities to share what they have done.

But wait, more than likely, you won’t have the same students again. That’s why it’s important to collaborate with your colleagues. Do it together with the colleagues who teach a grade level above and a grade level below you. Better yet, make it a school-wide program. Create a writing culture that extends beyond your classroom and the walls of your school.

Imagine this: It’s the first day of school and your new students, in addition to their class supplies, bring their summer writing logs. Over the next week or so, students share some of their work—a story, some poems, questions they had and the answers they found, letters they wrote (and the responses received)—with the class.

Communication is important for this to work: communication with colleagues, with the kids, and with their parents. Send a note home at the end of the year explaining what you’re doing. Encourage parents to write with their kids, and to make sure the writing logs are returned in the fall.

Will all the kids participate? Hardly. But if you can get a few, or even one, then you can show by sharing the value and the fun of writing. The next year there will be more, and the next year even more. You will be creating a true writing community.

Good luck!

What’s in a Name?

I carry curiosity with me wherever I go. It’s not heavy and it fits easily into my pocket, where I can take it out at a moment’s notice.

I often pull it out when visiting schools. There’s lots to wonder about when you’re at a school: the displays, the kids, the design of the building, and, of course, the school name. How did the name come about? Who named it? Is it named after a real person? Why?

Douglas Gardens Elementary is a school I visited recently. Hmmm…I wondered…Was there really a “Douglas” that the school was named for? Was it a first name, or last name? Was there really a “garden” there? What kind of garden was it?

Sharing curiosity at Douglas Gardens

There were so many questions, and so little time that I wasn’t able to get my questions answered. I’m hoping that some brave souls, willing to accept a challenge, will find out how the name came to be and share it.

Good luck in your search!

 

 

 

 

Gilham Editors

Gilham friends,

I had a great time visiting with you last week and enjoyed your comments, questions, and stories. Some of you took the opportunity to be editors (helpers) for my personal narrative draft. Now, all of you can!

Remember what good editors do: compliment, ask questions, and make suggestions. Take a look at the draft below and try out your editing skills. All you have to do is click the Comment button above and type away. I look forward to your feedback to help make my writing better.

 

My family moved into this neighborhood in 1985 the local school Gilham was surrounded by fields. It looked alot different then.

In a few years my son, Tyler, was ready for kindergarten. I took him on his first day. I’ll remember that day forever.

The school was alive with activity. Busses and cars streamed through the parking lot. Kids parents filled the sidewalks, voices buzzing with excitement. I took Tyler’s hand and walked him to his portable classroom.

When we got close he pulled me to the side and dropped to his knees. I followed him to the ground. “What’s the matter Tyler” I asked him. “I’m a little scared, he said his voice a whisper.

He looked over into my eyes. “Me too” I said.

Tyler got up, let go of my hand, walked past the teacher at the door, and in the classroom. He didn’t look back.

 

Goodbye Frank

Hall of Fame baseball player Frank Robinson died last week. I first saw him play in the late 50s at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. It was the first major league baseball game I ever attended. The Phillies played the Cincinnati Reds, Frank’s team. He played right field.

The magic of my first game—the lights, the green, green grass, the smell of hotdogs and popcorn—was topped by watching Frank play, his fluidity in the field, his power at the plate. By the end of the game, I was a Reds fan. Frank and his outfield teammate Vada Pinson were my new favorite players.

I followed the Reds for the next several years, loyal despite their mediocrity. Frank, however, was superb during that time. He won Rookie of the Year as well as the National; League’s Most Valuable Player. Surprisingly, though, the Reds traded Frank to the Baltimore Orioles after the 1965 season. My allegiance switched to the Orioles.

The following season, Frank got his revenge for being traded. He won both Triple Crown (best average, most home runs, most RBIs) and the Most Valuable Player in the American League. The Orioles won the World Series. Frank played with the Orioles for a few more years, then a few other ball clubs before becoming manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1975. He was the first black manager of a major league team.

Fast-forward twenty years to when I crossed paths with Frank Robinson. Researching a book about baseball, I visited the Orioles’ spring training facility in Florida. Despite the MLB strike by players, the preseason was going ahead with replacement players.

When I arrived at the training facility, I checked in at the small team office. Two men sat in the office, chatting amiably. One of them had a face made familiar by the countless baseball cards I had collected over the years. It was Frank Robinson. I introduced myself, and the man with Frank—the public relations director—recalled our correspondence and proceeded to issue me credential for the facility so I could interview the team staff.

After I left the office, I immediately had one of those “moments,” the ones where you say to yourself, “Should I reveal myself to Frank, tell him how I had followed his career, share that he had been one of my favorites?  In my briefcase, among my notepads and recorders, I even had a brand-new baseball. I decided I wouldn’t have another opportunity like this.

When I returned to the office, I addressed Frank, telling him how much I enjoyed watching him play. He smiled, and we talked a few minutes. And then I pulled out the ball. Talk stopped and his smile disappeared. In an instant I had become one more in the legion of people who wanted something from him. His dour expression and silence made it clear that he was tired of it. I didn’t blame him a bit.

Still, I knew this moment would never come again, so I asked him if he would please sign the ball for my son, Tyler. It’d be a present for his 16th birthday. I held my breath as Frank scribbled who-knows-what on the ball. When he handed the ball back, he looked past me. I thanked him, stuffed the ball back into my briefcase, and made for the door.

Outside, I walked awhile in the bright Florida sunshine. When I couldn’t stand it another second, I opened the briefcase and grabbed the baseball. On the sweet spot, in neatly crafted cursive, it read: “Tyler, Happy 16th birthday. Frank Robinson.

 

Opinions from Maple Elementary

Had a great visit with the 4th grade writers at Maple Elementary in Springfield yesterday. It’s enjoyable to spend time with kids who are interested, engaged, and respectful of each other. Their questions were awesome, and you know I LOVE questions!

The classes have been working on opinion writing, an important foundation for argument (make-a-case) writing. I offered a challenge, to share an opinion that they feel strongly about and to include reasons. Here’s my contribution:

Maples are the best kind of trees! They can grow huge (up to 145 feet), live long (up to 300 years), and they give us so much. In the heat of the summer their leaves provide us a cool, shady place to sit. In the fall they transform into colorful works of art. I love making helicopters from their seeds, and watching them whirl to the ground. Our world is a better place because of maple trees.

I’m looking forward to reading other opinions. Just click on the Comment area and write on!

 

 

 

 

You Never Know

You never know when it comes to writing. Words appear in your mind, some stick, and no matter what you do, you can’t get rid of them. So, you write them down, hoping that will ease the burden these words have imposed.

I’ve had certain words and phrases hanging around for a couple years. When I finally started writing them down, it became clear their presence would not be in the form of a essay or article or short story or screenplay, but in the form of a poem. The more I worked on them, the more it seemed they could be lyrics for a song. Hmm.

The little I know about music is best summed up as: I really don’t know much about music. A few chords, a couple songs, a little bit of rhythm. But I like music, especially blues and rock. And I could picture the words I wrote being sung in one of these genres, most likely blues.

It was apparent that if I ever wanted to see these words put into music, I’d need help. I thought about who these words might fit, and could sing them. It didn’t take long to come up with the name of Eric Burdon, whose music I have enjoyed since the 1960s. I’ve watched him perform on many occasions and even had a chance to meet and interview him for an article I was writing. By looking at Eric’s CDs, I learned that he wrote some of his music and collaborated with others. So, unaware of the ways of the profession, I sent a query to him, describing my lyrics and asking him if he’d like to supply the music part. I wasn’t optimistic about getting a response, so I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t hear from him after a year.

Still, I wasn’t giving up either. I thought my words had value and that someone else might agree. So, I looked on some of Eric’s later CDs and noted the other people who write with him. When I narrowed the field down to my favorite songs, there was a common denominator: Terry Wilson. I did some research on Terry and was very impressed at his background and experiences.

When I contacted Terry with my idea, I heard back within a couple weeks. “Sure,” he said, “send along what you have. It sounds interesting.” Now that in itself would have been good for me, but it got better. When I sent the lyrics to him, he told me he would like to collaborate on the music. He also said that he was really busy with other projects, but he’d get to it when he could. He encouraged me to stay in touch.

Hey, no problem. I could do that. So, for the next six months I sent him an e-mail checking-in. His responses were polite and encouraging. The spring passed, then the summer. When I wrote to him in November, he said he was actually working on the song. And then on Thanksgiving (of all days!), he sent his first run at the song, or whatever you call a rough draft in music. I was blown away!

There they were, my words, being sung by a talented and respected musician. And the music, it was awesome! And it’s only the start, the first draft. What happens next, and where does this go? I have no idea. I just know how fortunate I feel, and grateful too, that Terry has seen the value in my words and is willing to spend some of his hectic life in helping develop them. You just never know…

Terry Wilson, songwriter and bass player extraordinaire

While We Wait

So, the way things operate in the world of publishing is that you work, work, work, on a book, then you research to determine which publishers would be the best fit for your finished treasure, and finally you send it off with high hopes of receiving a letter/e-mail of acceptance. The problem is, it takes time to hear back from publishers: weeks at the earliest, more likely months. Most of the time, to be honest, you never hear anything at all.

So, what do you do while you’re waiting? At first, you might glow in the aftermath of finishing a project you have worked on for a long time. I enjoy the relief of being done, but that doesn’t last too long. While I wait, I keep track of other manuscripts (there are several) I’ve sent out and figure out where I’ll be sending them next. If I don’t hear back from a publisher within a year, I assume they’re not interested so I send the manuscript elsewhere. And yes, I’ll send it to more than one place at a time.

What do I do then, while I’m waiting? I wash the car and weed the garden. I walk the dog and ride my bike. I read. A lot. I paint the handrail on my porch. I visit my ninety-six year old mother and reminisce about times long ago. I talk to friends, old and new. I travel.

This summer I visited Ireland, a country I’ve never been to, and one I’d like to revisit. It’s beautiful countryside, rich history, and friendly people have made it one of my favorite places. Travel brings new experiences and can often lead to book ideas.

 

Trim Castle, completed in the 13th century, and used in the filming of “Braveheart.”

 

And, of course, while I’m waiting I’m writing. Not necessarily my next project, but some kind of writing. Maybe a letter or e-mail, maybe a review of a place I went or a business I used. It might be a memory or recollection, or just jotting down words that sound good together.

That’s what I do when I’m waiting. Lots of things, especially writing. It’s good to remember the things I don’t send to a publisher can never be rejected and can always be enjoyed.

 

 

A Good Run

Another school year has come to an end, and with it, another ending of sorts: my work as a writing consultant. I have been consulting with schools since 2000, doing trainings, teaching classes, modeling lessons, and providing other professional development activities to teachers. I have done this through our local education service district as well as privately.

During these 18 years I’ve had the pleasure of working with teachers in all 16 school districts in the county—Lane—where I live. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in various states from Vermont to California and in epic towns, from Burlington, home of the International Rotten Sneaker Contest to Victorville, the residence of my cowboy hero, Roy Rogers. On several occasions, I traveled to Buenos Aires to work with teachers at the Lincoln International School. These trips led to great adventures in Argentina, Uruguay, and Peru.

Doing this work has been a blast! I have immensely enjoyed working with people committed to teaching kids. Based on the feedback I’ve gotten over the years, I believe I have added value to their teaching lives and to the lives of their students. That’s very gratifying.

It hasn’t always been a smooth road, though. “Forced trainings,” in which administrators require all teachers to attend, can be problematic. My suggestion has always been to make attendance voluntary. The challenge, however, is that often the people who need it most, won’t show up. Thus, one of the many dilemmas administrators face, and another reason I have never had any interest—zero—in working that gig. My choice: work with
“the willing,” the people who are interested in professional growth.

And, that’s what I’ve been able to do these last few years. I’ve been a part of the STELLAR grant at the University of Oregon, which taught participants visual thinking strategies. I was the writing resource person, accessible to any and all participating. This past year I also worked as a consultant for the Pleasant Hill School District, assisting teachers who wanted to enhance their writing programs. Both experiences combined to make this an ideal conclusion to my consulting days (I’ve even been able to place my professional books and materials with enthusiastic recipients!).

So, what happens now? What’s next on the life agenda? Well, for one, there will be writing. Projects to finish, ideas to develop, words to play with. And, of course, I’ll keep visiting classrooms to share with students the joys and challenges of writing.  But beyond that, who knows. Maybe I’ll do the things retired people do. Travel sounds good. So do photography, painting, and guitar playing. And, I’ll make sure to devote some time to investigating life’s many mysteries, like why people post No Trespassing signs on their homes and why slow drivers speed up when they come to passing lanes.

It’s been a good run. A darn good one. I’m excited to see what happens next.

 

A good run on the Nile River.

Author Experiences

I’m visiting classes this week in Creswell and Oakridge, talking with students about informative writing, the kind of writing you do to share information. Note: This type of writing does not have to be dull and bland, like an encyclopedia or Wikipedia. It can contain interesting words and devices like metaphors, alliterations, and more. Remember to keep your audience in mind; they want to be engaged in your text. So, engage them!

Click the Comment tab above to make a comment or ask a question.

How are you going to engage these people in your writing?