Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Pretty new journals

I’m not sure why I bought them. I have more than enough empty journals already. But they were on display by the checkout line in Borders on Sunday. I know they were placed solely for the impulse buyer. But I just loved the colors and they have a nifty elastic band to keep your place. It’s not like someone would come in to the store and say, “Hmmm I need a new journal. I’m going to look by the checkout line.” Of course not. They want people to go far into the store to find their treasured empty book. No, I’m sure there was a whole display of different journals somewhere else in the store – or at least what was left of the journal display. But these lovely items caught my eye as I balanced my stack of books.

Aren’t they pretty? The color combinations were all so fabulous, I couldn’t pick just one. And I’ve learned from experience that if you find a journal that suits you – binding, textures, colors, paper – inevitably you will never find it again. And these books actually lay flat. It is absolutely impossible for me to write in a book that does not lay flat, which is why I typically use spiral journals rather than bound ones.

Considering I did not need another journal, I could’ve limited my  indulgence purchase to one. But I knew I would just love writing in this journal and once it was filled up I would want another one. And with Borders closing where was I going to find another? Plus they were 50% off!

So now I have three new, very pretty, empty journals. I’m not quite sure how I will use them. In addition to my blank screen everyday, now I am faced with three blank books. Lately I’ve been doing much more writing on the computer.  Evernote is fabulous – I keep notes, blogs, websites, recipes and more – all in nifty, easily organized digital notebooks.

But not everything can be kept on my computer. I write notes about my students in a spiral notebook. Despite my attempts to put all To Do lists (school and home) on the computer with Wunderlist, I find myself preferring notebooks. Crossing things off a list is much more satisfying than tapping a box on my iPod Touch. And yes, I am one of those people who adds things to my list that I’ve already done just to cross them off.

These journals are a little too pretty to fill with plain old To Do lists. For now the littlest book has found a place in my purse for the sole purpose of keeping myself sane. I always find that ideas pop into my head when I am out of the house – ideas about blog posts or something for my classroom – and I have to write them down immediately or I know I will forget them.

I’m sure I’ll figure how to fill them. For now, I’m just going to enjoy my pretty new journals.


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One blustery but sunny afternoon this summer we made plans to go to a small beach that was easily accessible for my in-laws. The boys, my sister-in-law, and I arrived first. Our first warning should have been the ease with which we found a parking space. We hauled all our paraphernalia out onto the beach fighting against the wind that was quite fierce. We figured once we sat next to the beach club fence we’d be OK. No such luck.

The wind was coming from the north and the sand by the water was being blown straight at us. As my son said, it felt like millions of needles being thrown at us. After about 10 seconds of this torture we headed back to the car.

With only a few days left on the island, I was not willing to miss a day at the beach no matter how strong the wind blew. We had to be smart. We decided to go to the south side of the island figuring the dunes would protect us and we’d still be able to sit in the sand and face the water. That’s all I wanted. And to read my book of course.

We went to a public beach – one with a lifeguard and a concession stand. Normally, we avoid the public beaches because of the crowds but on this day there was almost no one at the beach due to the wind.

The four of us had the most amazing day. My sister-in-law took a much needed nap. The boys and I went for a glorious swim watched over by lifeguards.  The kids found a dead shark that had washed ashore.  And the best part was our walk. The boys and I walked on a beach we had never been to before.

Just beyond the public beach but before the beach where those with 4-wheel drive vehicles and oversand permits go was a stretch of beach covered in quahog shells and moon shells. Having never seen so many in one place we gathered as many as we could carry. We thought a jar of moon shells would be pretty. And one can never have too many quahog shells.

Back from our walk I settled into my chair to read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s (AML) Gift from the Sea. I was feeling her connection to the sea so strongly that day, which isn’t difficult since the ocean fills my soul like no other part of nature. And then I came upon her second chapter, Moon Shell. How appropriate after our discovery. Moon shells remind AML of solitude. She goes on to address the desperate need for quiet and solitude in a busy world – especially for women who are always giving of themselves to others in the day to day requirements of being a wife and mother. Her words are more than relevant 56 years later when so many women work outside of the home as well.

But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves: that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships. She must find that inner stillness which Charles Morgan describes as “the stilling of the soul within the activities of the mind and body so that it might be still as the axis of a revolving wheel is still (p. 45).”

The quest for quiet and solitude. Oh what joys they are when they are found. How difficult to squeeze them in amongst family life and teaching.

AML goes on to describe how modern conveniences freed up so much of a women’s time, yet eliminated time for contemplation and creativity which feed the soul.

Their very seclusion in the home gave them time alone. Many of their duties were conducive to a quiet contemplative drawing together of the self. They had more creative task to perform. Nothing feeds the center so much as creative work..(p.46).”

While I would never want to wash my clothes by hand and my lack of green thumbs precludes growing my own vegetables, I have found joy in baking my own bread or creating a quilt or scrapbook. Recently I have found writing this blog to be a contemplative and creative outlet. At least I had until this week.

I have started and stopped a bunch of posts this week without publishing one. I have been busy with school and my mind was not on writing but preparing for Thursday when students arrive. I know I need to keep writing. Writing provides time for quiet and contemplation, for clearing my head. I think writing will help keep me focused and centered when the demands of family life, teaching, and the boys’ after school activities take precedence.

Moon shell, who named you? Some intuitive woman I like to think. I shall give you another name-Island shell. I cannot live forever on my island. But I can take you back to my desk in Connecticut. You will sit there and fasten your single eye upon me. You will make me think, with your smooth circles winding inward to the tiny core, of the island I lived on for a few weeks. You will say to me “solitude.” You will remind me that I must try to be alone for part of each year, even a week or a few days; and for part of each day, even for an hour or a few minutes in order to keep my core, my center, my island-quality. You will remind me that unless I keep the island-quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give my husband, my children, my friends or the world at large (p. 51-52).

So like AML, I too will keep a moon shell on my desk. There it will sit to remind me of beautiful blustery day with my boys. It will remind me to find quiet and solitude even for a brief moment every day. And it will remind me to make time to write every day.

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The blank screen

I began writing this blog because I feel it’s important that teachers – especially those who teach writing – should be comfortable putting words on paper. As I’ve mentioned before, I have never been one of those people who is comfortable writing. In fact, until I started this blog I avoided writing as much as I could. I majored in math to avoid writing intensive subjects. I use a form letter for thank you notes. I have my husband or kids write the Christmas letter the years when we actually send one out. And despite all my avoidance techniques, I will record our family happenings because I think it’s important to preserve memories.  I jot down something funny the boys have said or done. I record the daily details of a trip – where we went, what we saw, what we learned. I journal simple entries in the scrapbooks I make filled with hundreds of pictures -after all a picture is worth a thousand words (that I don’t have to write).

Ironically, I’ve always wanted to keep a journal. I love perusing the shelves of blank books at bookstores.  A book of lists. A diary. A trip journal. A memory keeper. A sketch book. A reader’s record. The bindings are sewn, glued or spiral. The paper is lined, blank, or has a grid. The covers are solid colors, flowered, feature a picture, cite a quote, or are simply beautiful leather. All these wonderful choices there for me to find the perfect journal. I pick up my favorites and feel the various textures of the covers and paper. I open them, longing to fill the pages with scribblings and stories. But then I have nothing to say. Or I think, what if I write my most secret thoughts and then I’m hit by a bus. Someone is going to read those pages and laugh. Or what if someone’s feelings are hurt because I was venting my anger on that page. I can’t bear to think of it! The few times I have tried to keep a journal, I wrote a few entries then ripped them up into tiny pieces.

I’ve started other types of journals – ones that are not so personal. Notes about teaching and learning. A list of books I’ve read. Excerpts and quotations from books. A collection of poems and prayers. But these journals were really records of what other people said or wrote.  These journals were not my words, they were someone else’s words.

I wanted to become comfortable with my own words and I began to write this blog. Thus far it’s been a great deal of fun and therapeutic at times. I’ve written entries about teaching, my dog, Cool Whip, Nantucket and books.  I was beginning to think writing on the computer isn’t as overwhelming as writing on paper. The ease with which I type (and self-correct) seems to help overcome any anxiety I’ve had with physically putting my words on paper in just the right way.

Today, however, I opened up a new post and this blank white screen stared back at me. I had nothing to say. I had nothing to write. I searched my brain. Nope, nothing. I looked at my recent photos. Nothing jumped out at me. I started innumerable sentences only to delete them. I said to myself, “UGH! This is why I hate writing.” I was so frustrated! There is no difference between a blank page and a blank screen!

Then I began to write about how I had nothing in particular to write and all of a sudden I had my blog entry for today.

When my Kindergarteners tell me they are done writing after five minutes I say in my best Dory voice, “Just keep writing. Just keep writing. Just keep writing, writing, writing.” And that’s exactly what I did today.

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Comfort zones

One of the reasons I began writing this blog is to force myself out of my comfort zone.  I’m an avid reader and always have been.  I am comfortable with a book in hand, but I have never felt comfortable writing which I explained in an earlier post, I Hate Writing.

Recently I read a book about teaching writing that mentioned  – if teachers are going to teach writing then they should be writers themselves.  Not published writers per se, but people who are comfortable putting words on paper. So here I am writing!
My goal is to write every day, just like I have my students do.   Some days I will probably write a lot and other days just a few sentences.  I may or may not post everything I write.  I will have to see what happens (and what comes out).

So far I’ve discovered that writing allows me to see things from a different perspective.  Focusing on the words I type frees up the problem solving area of my brain to do some creative thinking.  It’s similar to my days as a math major.  There was always that problem who’s solution evaded me no matter how many times I tackled it.  Frustrated and annoyed I wold go to bed.   While I slept, my brain would figure out how to solve the problem and I’d wake up with one of those EUREKA moments!

I’m not sure I’ll have a eureka moment about writing, but I do know that one of the best ways to improve as a writer is to write.  As an educator and a parent I rely heavily on Lev Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development.  Not much learning occurs when a child completes a task that is too easy.  Nor will the child learn much when a task is way beyond his/her ability.  Vygotsky’s zone defines those tasks in between  – the ones that are a little too hard for the child to complete independently but with a little help the child is successful.  It is during these guided activities when learning occurs.

Students won’t grow and develop unless they venture past their comfort zone and neither will their teachers.

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I hate writing!

I am a self proclaimed bookworm.  This year I’ve already finished 36 books – classics, contemporary fiction, nonfiction.  I love to read, but I struggle with writing. Always have.  I loved reading the assigned books in my high school English classes, but completely froze when asked to write about what I read.  I had constant writer’s block.  I went off to college and perused the course catalogs with longing.  I yearned to be an English or a history major, but the 10 page papers and essays on exams intimidated me (I still shudder at the thought of a blank blue book).

While I don’t remember learning to read (according to my mother I was in Kindergarten), I have vague recollections of reading groups in elementary school.  As for writing, I don’t remember writing in class.  Sure there was the token “What I did on my summer vacation” essays and the occasional research project or book report, but we never wrote in class.  Middle school English classes focused on diagramming sentences (at which I excelled), but I truly never understood how making these carefully constructed diagrams would help me get my thoughts on paper in a coherent manner.  High school required more writing, but there was very little instruction or opportunities to become comfortable with the writing process.

My Kindergartners write in class every day.  Through writing they learn about letters, sounds, how words on a page have meaning, and more importantly how to approach a blank sheet of paper.  My students write about themselves, what we’ve learned in class, stories we’ve read, field trips, and more.  Since they are only Kindergarteners, my instruction is pretty basic and focuses on how to think of a sentence, sound out words, and put spaces between words.  By October they are writing independently and when May rolls around most of my students are writing 3-5 sentences on a topic.

More often than not, I provide a general idea for their writing (see Teaching Writing in Kindergarten by Randee Bergen).  I provide topics for two reasons.  One, most Kindergartners will rely on I like my mom and dad or I like transformers and spiderman when left to choose their own topic.  Instead, my Kinders write wonderful, varied responses that are a joy to read.  Occasionally a student will ask to alter the topic to something that is more meaningful for them – Mrs. Roberts, can I write about the part I didn’t like because dogs scare me? Yes!  Once in a while a student is having a bad day or an exceptionally good day and they ask to write about that.  Of course!

The second reason I provide a topic for students is because the idea of free-writing always terrified me (still does) and I see how it terrifies some students.  Students will stare at their blank piece of paper and say, “But I don’t have anything to write about.”  If I’ve asked them to respond to the story we just read, then I can easily coax them if they do have a hard time thinking of what to write.  More often than not, my students will write more than what is expected – they have a lot to say.  And that is my purpose in having them write every day.  I want them to feel confident when writing and not terrified of a blank paper.  I want them to have something to write about.  I never want to hear my students say, “I hate writing.”

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