Archive for Kids

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.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

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?

 

Moving Targets II?

Prior to my most recent author visit, several  classes read my Moving Targets  novel about a kid who moves to a small town and gets involved with a small group led by a bully. This is a book about growing up, about facing difficulties, solving problems, and the way animals are treated.

Several students I met with wondered when I’ll be writing the sequel to this story. The truth is, I hadn’t really thought about it. However, it’s possible I may want to write it at some point. But, what would it be about? I’d want to keep the setting the same as well as include the characters that I developed and feel that I know.

Would Paul be in juvenile detention because of what he tried to do at the end of the book? Would he be changed, or would he want revenge? What about the other characters? Would they still be hanging out together? Or would they find new friends, and who might those friends be?

What about David’s father, who we heard about but never really met? Would he come back into David’s life? And what would David’s mother do?

There’s so many options, so many possibilities. That’s what makes writing fiction exciting: you get to create your own world and decide what happens. Powerful stuff!

So, if anyone who knows the story would like to offer ideas and suggestions, I’ll be glad to take a look and give them serious consideration. The best way to share your thoughts would be to make a comment on the tab above.

Looking forward to your great ideas!

 

 

Anatomy of an Author Visit

I have been doing author visits to schools for nearly thirty years now. All have been interesting and enjoyable. Some have been memorable. My latest visit: Santiam Elementary School in Mill City, Oregon was one of them. Here’s why:

SET-UP

Great open space for large group (80) sessions. Lights were able to be dimmed when viewing images on the screen. Chairs for all. A microphone was an essential tool.

Small group sessions were used for follow-ups as well as for kindergarten and Life Skills classes.

PREPARATION

Teachers made sure students were familiar with the work I have done. Some prepared with activities.

An art project: draw the author

Ahh…gum art!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PARTICIPATION

Students were enthusiastic participants in asking questions, sharing insights, and accepting the “Chicken Challenge” (create a better name for non-fiction).

Lots of great questions!

“Lighting the ball” with cooperation. Writers help each other.

6th grader Jillian wins the “Chicken Challenge.” Winning entry: Fic-fac. Much better than non-fiction!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many thanks to the students and staff at Santiam Elementary. Special kudos to Cindy McMahan, who coordinated the visit. Hope it was worth the effort!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Visit Note

Note to Schools: Author visits can be powerful activities that can help support curriculum as well as inspire students’ curiosities and interest in writing. But, it takes some planning and effort. Before visiting with sixth grade classes at Briggs Middle School in Springfield this week, I met with teachers and we talked about how I might support their instruction during my presentations. We also communicated by e-mail prior to my visit. This was very helpful so that I could narrow my focus and make the limited time count.

Teachers made sure the kids had all read one of my books, and they invited and encouraged questions about the book as well as writing in general. The questions were great and demonstrated thinking and curiosity (Briggs kids: If I didn’t get to yours, include it as a Comment below).

I want to thank the staff at Briggs: the admin. for arranging and supporting my visits as well as the teachers and support staff for your preparation and active participation. And, of course, the students for your active engagement. Keep asking questions, and keep writing!

 

When it comes to writing, think BIG, then work small.

 

p.s. And we’re not done, either! I’ll be back next month to meet with you in library classes.

Walk Out…Then Write!

     When the students at Briggs Middle School in Springfield, Oregon walked out of class at ten o’clock this morning, I walked with them. I was at the school to do an author visit and speak to students about writing. It was near the end of my presentation when the walkout took place, and I was happy to participate. Some things are more important than writing.

     The Briggs students joined students from all cross the country in leaving their classrooms for seventeen minutes to honor and pay respect to the latest school shooting victims. I was impressed with how the walkout was handled—making an announcement that the students could choose to participate in the walkout or remain in their classrooms. Some chose to stay. Others left. Outside, some formed circles and held hands. Others stood in small groups. Most were silent. All showed reverence.

     The last time I walked out of a class was in the spring of 1970, when I was a freshman at the University of Missouri. When President Richard Nixon announced he was going to send troops into Cambodia, deepening the Vietnam War, protests were waged across the country. At my school, we walked out of classes in protest. When it looked like the protests might become violent, the school closed and we all went home. We were lucky; protesters at other schools, like Kent State and Jackson State, got shot by National Guard and police. Some died.

     What’s the point of walking out, some people wonder. As I drove home today, I listened to a talk show host belittling the students who took that action. “What a waste of time,” he said. “What are they learning by doing that?”

     They’re learning a lot. They’re learning how to organize. That’s how this country got started: organized protests. They’re learning how to make their voices heard, even in silence. And, most importantly, they’re learning to take action, to take a stand.

     We, as adults, have done little to address gun violence in this country. After each new massacre, we talk and pray and wish things were different. That’s not enough. Nothing will change until we change it. I believe more voices will help.

     I applaud the students at Briggs and at every school who took action today, and there were thousands who did. But now I invite every student to take the next step, and this involves writing. Write down your thoughts, your fears, your ideas, and include them in letters to people who make decisions about school safety and about the way guns are regulated in our country today. Send letters to your principal, your school board, your local representatives, state representatives, your Senators and Congressman.

    Your words matter. Change can happen. You can make a difference. Write on!