Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter

Every middle school and high school teacher should go out and buy Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook RIGHT NOW.  For years I have been looking for the “Ralph Fletcher” books for my middle schoolers.  I have used Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You for years but it seems that many of the primary teachers also use it, so I struggle to make it relevant to my middle schoolers. Well, my problem has been solved. I can not wait to share Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook with my 6th graders!  Potter and Mazer have put together a fantastic guide to the craft of writing that doesn’t actually feel like a guide.  There is no textbook-feel to this book.  Instead, it feels like two friends sitting down over coffee and spilling secrets.

Throughout the book, I found myself wanting to stop reading and try out some of the ideas and suggestions.  This isn’t a book that teaches grammar and conventions.  Instead, it teaches the nitty-gritty of writing, like how to actually sit down and get words on paper.  Each chapter is filled with practical advice and “dares” that push the reader to sit down and start writing.  At the same time, there is tons of practical advice.  I found myself learning things as I read without feeling like I was being hit over the head with boring writing talk.  In other words, if it worked on me, it will be awesome for my 6th graders.

Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook is an inspiring book that is perfect for aspiring writers of all ages.  I would hand this to middle schoolers, high schoolers, and their teachers.  I wouldn’t hesitate to hand it to adults looking for a little inspiration, too.  And make sure you check out thecompanion website.  It’s full of fun ideas and extensions of the book!

*ARC courtesy of the authors

Memoir Writing

This past week my class has been mining their writer’s notebooks for possible memoir ideas. Memoir is a hard concept for my kids to wrap their heads around, because it’s so different from the genres we have studied thus far this year. But as we finish reading The Giver and talking about the importance of memories, it seemed apropos.

 

I’ve been working on my own examples to share with them, too.  We’ve read examples of memoirs from Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka, Knots in My Yo-Yo String (Jerry Spinelli), and When I Was Your Age, Volume Two: Original Stories About Growing Up (various memoirs by children’s authors), but my own examples always seem to ring truer for them.  So this weekend I will be writing a few of my own memoirs to share this week when they choose their seed ideas!

Quick Writes

I spent a lot of time over the last few weeks analyzing how my students were using their writer’s notebooks. While they completed the HW I assigned in writing workshop, I wasn’t seeing a lot of enthusiasm for writing and they definitely weren’t carrying their notebooks with them outside of my classroom. After hearing about My Quick Writes: For INSIDE WRITING by Donald Graves and Penny Kittle, I decided to give quick writes a try in my classroom.

I began by introducing the idea to my students. I told them that I would be projecting some ideas for writing, but they did not have to use them. They could write about anything they wanted, as long as they wrote for ten minutes, without stopping! To my surprise, they were actually very excited. I think that a lot of my students struggle with what to write, as they have very little experience with writing workshop. They still have the feeling that writing must be about something big and important and that their lives are neither big nor important. The moment I gave them suggestions, I saw a light bulb go off in their heads.

That first day, we all wrote for 10 minutes, with the lights off (at their request). We then shared. The enthusiasm in the room grew by leaps and bounds as each child decided to share their writing. About half of the students took the ideas I gave them and used them as a starting place. The rest had their own ideas. Regardless of what they used to get started, their writing was great! I was so proud of them and they were just as proud of themselves.

The next day, they asked if we could do quick writes again. I agreed, and the results were just as enthusiastic. It seems that due to their lack of experience with a workshop setting, quick writes really help them feel comfortable with writing. Needless to say, I decided to take this idea and run with it!

I remembered that Stacey at Two Writing Teachers had mentioned giving one of her students some quick writes when they struggled with writing Slices of Life. After a quick search, I found her post and was inspired.  Knowing that winter break was coming up and wanting to keep my students writing, I decided to assign a few notebook entries over break.  As much as I hate assigning entries as “work”, I have to come to terms with the fact that I am teaching my students how to function in a workshop.  I can not teach as if they have had years of experience with writing workshop!  So, I typed up a quick packet.  And using prompts from Graves and Kittles book and very other sources, I put together what I hope will inspire my 35 students to keep writing over break,

As most of my students will be celebrating with friends and family for the holidays, I figure that quick writes are simple enough to complete during the odd moment of downtime.  While they groaned at first (homework?  over break?), most were satisfied when I pointed out that I would not allow them to spend more than 10 minutes on any quick write!  They are to complete at least four entries over break, and can use the suggestions/prompts as needed.  I know that some students won’t need the prompts and ideas at all, while others will be very grateful for the guidance and inspiration they provide.

Come January 5th, I am very interested to see the results of this.  It’s the first time I have assigned writing homework over an extended break like this and I am hopeful that it will be a success!

Living a writerly life

During Writer’s Workshop, I am always telling my students to live a writerly life.  I share my own writing with them (and this was especially successful during our poetry unit), and I even share my fear of sharing with them.  I think it models that adults aren’t always perfect and that we have fears, too.

However, I realized last year that if I really want my students to value writing then I have to show them how much I value writing.  I need to prove to them that writing isn’t something I do just to model examples for them.  So, this summer I set a goal to work on getting something published.  Thus, last week I began sending out query letters to various magazines to promote an article I am writing about my trip to Michoacan, Mexico.  When I applied for the travel fellowship, I promised to promote the Monarch Teacher Network, and one idea I contributed was to get an article published about my experiences.  Well, we are off and running!  Now it is just a matter of sitting back and waiting to hear from the editors.  Wish me luck!

It’s funny, but now I have a new experience to share- the waiting game!  What is it like to send out a manuscript and just wait for an editor to make a decision?  Hopefully, this will encourage more of my students to be brave and attempt to get their own writing published.

Summer Adventure Packets

Tonight, I finally finished the summer adventure packets for my kids! It was definitely a labor of love, but I feel like they are finally perfect. Jen Barney shared the packet she uses in her class, and I used Stacey‘s as a mentor/template and then added in my own activities. I can’t wait to see if any of my students take advantage of this….

You see, my students move on to the middle school next year, so they will be responsible for emailing or snail mailing their completed packets to me. That’s a hefty amount of responsibility in the summer! But I have some truly awesome 7th grade survival packs planned, so hopefully someone completes it!

I will also be handing out my list of amazing books, places to get books, and blogs to check out. This is the first year I will be doing this, too. This way,my kids will have a list of books I love and think they will love, even if I can’t booktalk them!

Summer Literacy Packet (6th grade)

Must-reads 2008

Memoir Monday- Stuff Yer Face

“I’ll have a baby boli combo, Corbett boli, with a salad and Italian on the side”.

This order is usually followed by a groan from whoever I happen to be eating with at the time.  Yes, I place the same order every time I go to Stuff Yer Face in New Brunswick, NJ.  The corbett boli, similar to a stromboli, is full of broccoli and mozzarella cheese, with a touch of honey mustard sauce.  The baby boli combo is a small boli with a side salad.  In other words, complete nirvana.  Delicious, warm, melt-in-your mouth heaven in a basket.  And it’s always served with a side of nostalgia.

Biting into my corbett boli immediately takes me back to college.  I began eating at Stuff Yer Face during my freshman year, when going out to eat meant it had to be a special occasion.  College students never have a lot of spare change, so going out to eat it a rare event.  Stuff Yer Face isn’t a fancy, hoity-toity restaurant.  It’s a college bar, a family restaurant, and the first place celebrity chef Mario Batali worked!  My girlfriends and I, known amongst ourselves as the Douglass girls, ate at the eatery sporadically during school, as we rarely had money.  When we did have money, we usually ended up splitting a plate of potachos (“like nachos, made out of potatoes!” as my friends say).  We would count out our singles, probably driving the servers nuts.  But it was always a great night out.

As we began to lead separate lives due to graduations, new jobs, and new families, we started meeting up at Stuff Yer Face a few times each year.  It’s centrally located in NJ, a 45 minute drive for most of us.  More importantly, it has a million memories inside the wood-paneled walls.  It’s where I celebrated my 21st birthday, where Erin and I “rushed” a sorority, where we talked through relationships and eventual weddings.  It’s where bachelorette parties started and ended.  Where the Rutgers bowl games were watched.  Where homecomings were celebrated. It’s where we are always comfortable- the food and conversation flowing like wine.  It’s home.

It’s funny how a restaurant can be so much to one group of people, and so little to another.  Stuff Yer Face will always be my special eatery.  Not because of its food or stellar service, but because of the memories that lie within the crowded rooms and the scratched and dented tables.


*Ironically, Stuff Yer Face is located 3 doors down from Stacey’s memorable eatery,Thomas Sweets! Thomas Sweets is another special place for me, and I am now craving a Thomas Sweet’s milkshake.  :)

Eco-art

Today, after a morning of standardized testing, I took my students outside to create eco-art.  In the tradition of Andy Goldsworthy we created art from the natural materials readily available around our schoolyard.  My kids were so amazing in this project!

After spending a good amount of time wandering the schoolyard, the students broke into small groups.  For the first time all year, there was no whining or fighting over working together.  Students seemed to naturally gravitate towards working alone or with a small group of friends.  They gathered materials together, brainstormed ideas, and even claimed their area without an ounce of anger or annoyance.  They quickly got to work and produced some amazing art.

Tomorrow, I will print out their artwork and we will use the pieces to inspire poetry and prose.  The words they write will then be combined with the photos before becoming a book on Shutterfly.  Through the Voices…From the Land project, we will share our book with another school and will receive one from another school.  We are very excited!

Slice of Life Challenge #21

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Sliding

in and out of lanes

like a first time ice-skater.

Horns honk t

he driver ignores them,

continuing his cell phone conversation,

oblivious to the slamming brakes

and angry shouts.

I count down the blocks as we pass them by-

58th, 57th, 56th….

how many more til Penn Station?  Will we make it?

Gripping the door handle,

I hold on for dear life,

hoping no one cuts us off

and that we stop cutting off everyone else.

The light up ahead turns amber, then red.

The oblivious driver continues forward,

not seeing the light.

Stop, stop, stop, I pray.

At the very last moment

he slams on the brakes.

We are safe at the red light.

I look up-

10 more blocks to go.

Slice of Life #20

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I love reading. If you told me I could do absolutely anything I want for an entire day, I would choose reading. I love sitting on my couch, with its chaise lounge, stretching out with a good book.

I have spent the majority of today reading the conclusion to my favorite trilogy, The Sweet Far Thing (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy), by Libba Bray. Hours have flown by as I have delved deeper into this almost-800 page tome. I have had it on my nightstand for over a month, but I held off on reading it until spring break, when I knew I would be able to give it the attention it deserved. How right I was! I have been pulled into Gemma’s world and am almost done with the book.

Granted, I haven’t left my house yet today. But who needs to leave when you have a good book?

Slice of Life Challenge #19

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“Excuse me, do you know where I could find a mystery book?”

The little old woman jerked me out my book-seeking haze. As I struggled to balance the mammoth pile of books in my arms, I glanced around the bookstore.

“Umm, I think there is a mystery section. I don’t work here, but I think it’s somewhere over the-“

The little old woman interrupted, “Oh my goodness! I am so sorry! I thought you worked here! It’s just you had that big pile of books and I thought you were putting them away……I am so sorry. I will go find an employee and ask them. Excuse me.” She looked embarrassed and quickly made her way towards the information desk at the back of the store.

Looking down at my arms, where I was trying to juggle approximately 15 new books that I needed, I laughed to myself. I definitely looked like an employee. Because seriously, who in their right mind carries that many books around a bookstore unless they are cleaning up and putting them away?

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

A list of the books I needed (aka purchased) today:

1) How to Read Literature Like a Professor
2) 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
3) Size 14 Is Not Fat Either (Heather Wells Mysteries)
4)Birds & Blooms
5) Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
6) A Northern Light

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