Bunk Bed Fills the Room

Find more Poetry Friday with Becky at Tapestry of Words.

Find more Poetry Friday with Becky at Tapestry of Words.

A few weeks ago I attended a poetry writing workshop with our Louisiana state poet laureate, Ava Leavell Haymon. I posted about one of the exercises here. The second exercise she led us through began with an image. We were to remember a room, kitchen or bedroom. Then we drew it, recognizing that this was a prompt for writing and no great work of art.

I thought of my daughters’ bedroom, the one two of them shared growing up. The room was small. My husband had built a bunk bed for them. He is a good carpenter, but he doesn’t make anything halfway. This bed filled up the small room. In fact, when we moved, we left the bed. We could not get it out of the room.

Bunk Bed Fills the Room

That is the bedroom where
I looked at the mess,
sheets unmade,
the angry child
red with fury.

Her bunk bed filled the small space.
No room for my approval.

I could only see
the mess,
the wild squealing.

I forgot to look
under the sheets,
under the pile of toys,
under the dirty clothes
to see her child-heart.

–Margaret Simon

Mary Cassatt Young Mother Sewing

Click here to read more #spiritualjourney posts.  Thanks Holly for hosting this roundup!

Click here to read more #spiritualjourney posts. Thanks Holly for hosting this roundup!

Every week Holly posts a theme on Twitter for our #spiritualjourney posts. Every week it seems to be the most appropriate theme. This week is gratitude. I am posting my acceptance speech for the Donald H. Graves Award. I will give this speech this afternoon at the NCTE Elementary Section Get Together. Reading it aloud makes me cry. I am praying I will be able to get through it without croaking up.

Emily snuck our class lemur, Jack, into my bag.  He is helping me write my speech.

Emily snuck our class lemur, Jack, into my bag. He is helping me write my speech.

Thank you, Detra Price-Dennis, and the Elementary Section Steering Committee for this honor. I am overwhelmed and humbled. Writing drives my work with students and my interactions with the world.

Kate DiCamillo, our National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and one of my favorite children’s authors, says that stories connect us. “When we learn someone else’s story, it shifts the fabric of our being. We are more open. And when we are open, we connect.”

My One Little Word for 2014 is Open, so when I saw the call for submissions to the Donald H. Graves Award, I thought, never in a million years, and why not?

I was encouraged when I saw that Julie Johnson was the 2010 winner. I know her! I read her blog! That is how I have connected to so many wonderful authors and educators. These connections, their stories, have given me courage to be open to new adventures. My fellow blogging teachers have also given me confidence in my own voice through their comments. My small world has grown.

These wider connections have not only enriched my life, but they have affected my students’ lives. Earlier this fall, my 4th grader Emily lost her mother. This should not happen to anyone, let alone to a nine-year-old girl. Of course, I wrote about this profound experience on my blog. Amy Ludwig Vanderwater read it and wrote a poem for Emily. She didn’t say that the poem was for Emily but I knew that she had read my blog.


Amy became that someone for Emily. When Emily wrote a poem about clouds, she made an Animoto video, so I said to her, “Would you like to dedicate this poem to someone?” Her eyes lowered. I know she thought I meant her mother. But when I said, “Amy Vanderwater,” her eyes danced. We tweeted the poem-movie to Amy. For Poetry Friday the next week, Amy posted it on her blog along with some writing tips from my 4th grader. These connections, these stories, strengthen us when we need it most. Emily feels like a real poet. She will always have that gift, and Amy recognized her and honored her.

I began this journey when I attended the summer institute of the National Writing Project of Acadiana. There, Ann Dobie, director at the time and an important mentor ever since, introduced me to the work of Donald Graves. His philosophy that a teacher of writing must be a writer has entered my heart and soul.

I am grateful to the National Writing Project for supporting my desire to be a writer. I am grateful to the works of mentors like Ralph Fletcher and Aimee Buckner. I am grateful to the Two Writing Teachers, all 6 of them, who support the Slice of Life challenge and hold each teacher/writer in their gentle and wise hands. My family and my colleagues back home in New Iberia give me love, confidence, and the freedom to write and teach in way I believe is right and true.

Our stories connect us and make us partners on this journey of life. I encourage you to be Open, open to the lives of your students and to the lives of others. Write your life and, as Amy Vanderwater reminds us, Be the someone.

My view of the National Harbor from my hotel room at NCTE.  What a beautiful day!

My view of the National Harbor from my hotel room at NCTE. What a beautiful day!


  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

NCTE Presentation Flier

Anticipation is building for the 2014 NCTE Convention. I’ve gotten the catalog and my badge. My bag is waiting to be packed. And I have laryngitis. Yes, you heard me. I am nursing it with hot tea and rest. I hope I will have a voice by Thursday when I accept the Donald Graves Award and on Friday when I present with my friends from the National Writing Project Professional Writing Retreat. If you are there, I’d love to meet you. The Two Writing Teachers Blog writers are having a Slicers dinner on Saturday night. I look forward to meeting many fellow bloggers there.

Sunset at Lake Martin, Breaux Bridge, LA.

Sunset at Lake Martin, Breaux Bridge, LA.

This weekend a group from our church went on a canoe trip on Lake Martin. Lake Martin is a beautiful wildlife preserve where cypress woods grow and birds nest. We even saw two bald eagles high in matching trees. It was an overcast cool day around 54 degrees, but welcomed with no mosquitoes or humidity.

We paddled around the lake to the edge of the bird sanctuary where white ibis were nesting. Thousands dotted the trees with snow white wings. When we got close enough to see them, they took off. I made a quick video of this (It’s a bit shaky; I was in a canoe.) In the background you can hear my husband explaining the Cajun French word for Ibis, “bec croche,” means crooked beak.

On the road to Lake Martin, we passed a burning cane field. The field of sugarcane is traditionally burned before harvesting to make it easier to transport. There is controversy over whether this is harmful to the environment. To me, it is the scent of fall, smokey and sweet. Take a moment to listen to the burning of the cane field.

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Last week there were posts in response to a well-known and respected educator, Nanci Atwell, about the question of using technology in the lower grades. I have long admired Nanci Atwell as the author of In the Middle. Her theories and ideas have guided my teaching for many years. The comment that garnered so much attention was this:

I do think classrooms in grades four or five and up should have computers, so kids can experience and experiment with word processing, but I have concerns about them in the younger grades. In fact, I think the trend of iPads in the primary classroom is a mistake. –Nancie Atwell

I understand her thinking. When children are young, their brains are still growing and developing. I tell my students often that video games are OK in moderation, but hours can harm their brains. I offer them choices in the classroom for writing and composing. Personally, I do not want to take time from actual writing to teach handwriting, so I would rather their final drafts be typed. I think this is real world application. My students have balance. The right balance is important in many aspects of life, eating, exercise, and technology use.

Cutting a papaya, fruit from Vietnam.

Cutting a papaya, fruit from Vietnam.

This week, my mother-in-law visited my classes to teach about Vietnam. She recently went on a trip there and brought back many pictures and ideas for teaching my young students. She was worried about what they would and would not understand. I put together an Emaze presentation with some of her pictures. She did not think it included enough. I told her the Emaze was background to her presence. The kids would pay more attention to her. And I was right about that! She brought in fruits and vegetables from the Asian market. She bought them all bamboo hats. They each had a taste of peanut candy. And they touched an actual silk worm cocoon. There is nothing better than the real thing.

Technology, however, allowed some of my students to process her visit even further as they wrote a Slice of Life story. You can read Tyler’s, Vannisa’s , and Kielan’s. As she wrote, I watched Kielan refer back to the Emaze presentation. It helped her remember everything that she saw.

I believe this process is the best for teaching. I will continually advocate for hands on experience through guest speakers and field trips. The technology serves as a means for processing and communicating that is here to stay and is a necessary part of the balance in education.

Children are fascinated by money from other countries.

Children are fascinated by money from other countries.

**Note: Due to NCTE and Thanksgiving holiday, there will be a two week break from DigiLit Sunday posts.

Link up your Digital Literacy posts.

Celebrate Small Moments

Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

celebrate small moments
There has been a tragedy this week, a severe car accident that has sent my good friend Ellen’s daughter and her friend into ICU. They are both stable but have a long road ahead. Please pray for Glenae and Chris, for the wisdom of their doctors, and for their renewal to health.

Amidst tragedy, it is sometimes hard to celebrate. But Ruth asks us to dig deep each Saturday and try to find those little moments (or big ones) to celebrate.

This morning I am sipping coffee in my big red bathrobe. Three things I love: a quiet Saturday morning, my big red bathrobe (the polar blast made it down south), and coffee.

My stack of children's poetry books for judging.

My stack of children’s poetry books for judging.

Cybils judging: I am a round one judge for the Cybils award in children’s poetry. Cybils is the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Award. What a privilege to be a judge. I love all things poetry. I have been receiving books at my doorstep every day. What fun!

Spanish Festival: Last night I volunteered at the gala for this year’s Spanish Festival. New Iberia was founded by Spain, unlike most of the towns around Acadiana that were settled by Acadians. We began celebrating this origin only a few years ago. Last night, I watched some amazing flamenco dancers. My husband is off to run in the “Running of the Bulls,” a fundraising race. He is dressed in all white with red scarf and tie. We fashioned a handle-bar mustache with a black face crayon. Last year he came home with a medal and a trophy.

2013 Running of the Bulls, Spanish Festival.

2013 Running of the Bulls, Spanish Festival.

Prayer Shawl Ministry: I am enjoying crocheting again. We started a small group of women at our church. This week we sat together and prayed for Glenae and Chris and others who are suffering. Because of the intention of our ministry, I find this group easy to be with and to talk to about my spiritual life. I did not expect this. And I celebrate this ministry. However small, it means a lot.

Brenda shows Jayne some crochet stitches.

Brenda shows Jayne some crochet stitches.

What are you celebrating this week? Join the Saturday tradition of celebrating even the small moments.

Finding Fall

Find more Poetry Friday at Keri Recommends.

Find more Poetry Friday at Keri Recommends.

A few weeks into fall Carol Varsalona put out a call for submissions to her Finding Fall Gallery. I wanted my students to try some fall poetry writing. I pulled up an image gallery from NBC news. I think images make for richer, image-filled poetry. Many of the images were striking, and we had a hard time choosing just one to write to. So I allowed some students to keep their favorite frozen on the Promethean while others found the gallery on other computers. Kielan captured a list poem from different images and made a poem movie on Animoto. Emily remains the Zeno master with her Fall Zeno.

Sergei Grits / AP

Sergei Grits / AP

yellow,orange,peach,red,and brown

leaves are falling

this fall


rainy weather

scares the


because it melts

in fear


Making a Difference

Click here to read more #spiritualjourney posts.  Thanks Holly for hosting this roundup!

Click here to read more #spiritualjourney posts. Thanks Holly for hosting this roundup!

do it anyway

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
–Mary Oliver

Can we really make a difference? Can one person plant a seed?
Will it grow? How will we know?

I got a phone call today from a former student. She felt brave enough to enter a writing contest, the Scholastic Mockingjay Change the World Contest. She called to tell me she placed in the top ten and will receive prizes. I was thrilled! Her essay speaks of world hunger as the biggest problem we face today. Her experience volunteering at Solomon House with me and some of her classmates influenced her greatly.

An excerpt from her essay:

Though super powers are the quickest way to saving the hungry, there are still things you and I can do to help. During the Hunger Games, gracious sponsors donate food to dying tributes. This often saves them. Think of Katniss! She wouldn’t be alive if not for the kind-hearted people that gave her a chance. We should be the sponsors of this world…the ones that say, “I made a difference.” We can be those people. Today.
–Kaylie B. Read the entire essay here.

I do what I do in order to make a difference, to mean something to someone. But the tree does not bear fruit quickly, usually after years of growth. Even so, I should do the best I can with each precious life I hold. This is my responsibility. This is my vocation. Congratulations to Kaylie! I am so proud to be a part of her life as a writer and as a person who makes a difference.


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