Macungie, Pennsylvania is home, and ONE WAY TO THINK ABOUT IT is a blog by Catherine Gehman, educator. Her posts are designed to energize and inspire teachers in all stages of their career by simply giving - giving ideas that work for her, and by bringing attention to past and current expert voices in education.

Slice and My Writing Life Lessons

Slice and My Writing Life Lessons

Have you ever started a life journey with one destination in mind, but in the end you realize it was far more amazing than you had planned?  Did it have profound lessons you never expected? Were the benefits greater and more numerous than you could have imagined? I’ve definitely experienced this.  Sometimes the life journey was big, like a decision to get a graduate degree. Other times it was smaller like creating a healthy routine for myself. My writing is one of these journeys.

When I made the last minute decision to sign up for the Slice of Life Story Challenge, I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into.  I had no doubt it would be good for me. How could it not? I did not forsee, however, the many different ways I would grow and change. Today’s post is both a reflection and celebration of this growth for me personally and how my students have been impacted.

I begin with this quote I read on Two Writing Teachers when I signed up:

"Teachers who write regularly can better support the students they teach in writing workshops daily."

Stamina Muscles Get Flexed and Strengthened

I go to the gym because I want my muscles to get stronger. Each time I go, I can stay on the elliptical machine a little longer, and I know I’m slowly getting stronger.  We build muscle in writing, too. We practice writing so we can write faster, longer, and stronger. That’s pretty straightforward, but it’s really hard, especially for those of us who have perfectionistic bents or feel we need great inspiration just to get started.  The best advice to build writing stamina is this: WRITE and KEEP WRITING!

Over the past nineteen days I’ve had to give myself lots of pep talks and remind myself that whatever comes out on the paper is good enough.  Worry can be one of the biggest obstacles to practicing our writing and to building stamina. “Just keep the fingers moving on the keyboard or pen gliding on the paper.” and  “I can go back and revise later.” is what I remind myself.

Yesterday, I gave this advice my students as they prepared to write:

  • Take a deep breath and don’t be afraid of the blank page.

  • Write from your heart.  That’s where the best stories live.

  • Keep the pen moving and don’t let it stop too often.

  • Write everyday no matter what!

Together we’re writing longer and stronger than we ever have.

Choice! We Need Choice!

If anything is confirmed over and over by experts like Donald Graves, it’s that writers need choice. It’s one thing to know it intellectually, but when I realized that in this challenge I could write whatever is on my mind or in my heart, I felt free and excited to write.  There is exhilaration that comes with being the writing driver’s seat.

Kids desperately need choice, and not only do I understand this, but I’m making even more space in our school day. Unfortunately, the way things are designed, choice gets a bit suffocated. The past few weeks have caused me to reflect, and I’ve been intentional about creating more space in our week for writing choice.  The result? Eager, motivated, writers. Every. Single. One.

The Increased Value of My Writer’s Notebook

Writer’s notebooks are worth their weight in gold.  They’re treasure troves of ideas. We jot an idea that comes to mind, tape in a ticket stub from a memorable night at the theatre, or make lists of whatever comes to mind.  Ask any writer, and they’ll tell you how important it is to have some kind of notebook to store valuable memories and ideas.

I’ve been in the habit of carrying my writer’s notebook with me most of the time.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve been relying on it more than ever. I need it with me to jot ideas so I can go home and write my post for the day.  Recently, I was so focused on making sure I had my notebook packed in my purse that I got into my car and realized I didn’t have my keys and wallet. I never forget keys and wallet. That’s how important the notebook has become.

I told my students about this, and we laughed together, but it’s one more way of letting them know how valuable their writer’s notebooks are.

Those Meaningful Mentors

I asked myself, “Why am I reading so much when I’m supposed to be writing?” Simply answered it’s that we need mentors, and texts are great mentors.  When we write, we look at how others have approached the same kind of writing. I have been reading a wide range of stories, poems, and articles to see how others -- those who are experts -- craft their work.  I look for structure and style, and even how they use punctuation so I can learn from them. Lynne Dorfman has been a wonderful mentor both in person and in her writing. I often go to her blog posts first. Then, I find others who inspire me, many of whom I've never heard of or met.

I have found that I’ve been talking more to my students about using mentor texts.  I was also inspired by Carl Anderson's workshop this past weekend at Teachers College Saturday Reunion to keep a predictable repertoire of mentor texts - articles and books, at your fingertips for students as they conference with you. While I have plenty of mentor texts for kids, I started a personal accordion file this week where I can keep the best of the best articles, and that special page from a great book. This way I don’t have to go looking and I don’t have to worry about space when I’m helping kids.  

Free Flowing Fountain of Fabulous Ideas

Is there anything quite as mesmerizing than a beautiful lighted fountain?  I’ve seen them at Longwood Gardens, and it’s thrilling. Water flows and brings joy.  Free flowing ideas, like water fountains, make our writing and equally thrilling experience.

Writing every day has uncapped a pipeline of stories that are not just floating to the surface, but freely flowing out of me.  I actually have to supress the urge to sit down and keep writing stories because they're begging me to put them in print. I’ve really never experienced this before.  

I have read some of the stories and poems I’ve recently written to my students.  The first question I usually get is, “Can we try that?” Of course they can!

Volume Increase

The amount we write has direct correlation with our writing success.  This thoughtful piece explains well: Two Writing Teachers: Volume Matters.

Students are producing and sharing their writing like never before. They're eager to print it out and hang it on the wall or place it in a community basket for others to read. As a result, I'm getting to see more of their writing, and not having to coax anyone.  My eyes are constantly on their stories, poems, and articles.

The Power of an Audience

There’s no question about it.  When writers have an authentic audience in mind, writing takes on a clear purpose.  Educator and author, Grant Wiggins makes the point, “... In the real world, Audience and Purpose matter in ways that school often shields writers from. ‘Purpose’ in school is usually completely absent...”

As I’ve been posting my work to Slice of Life Story, I've felt firsthand the incredible power in knowing someone in the world is reading and appreciating my work.  I also know I feel a strong sense of responsibility to make sure my facts are reliable and the piece is appropriate to share.

Slice of Life Story Challenge has stretched me, resulting in a deep appreciation for stamina, choice, writer’s notebooks, mentor texts, a joyful flow of ideas and writing, volume, and the power of audience.  The benefits of writing every day for the past nineteen days have been numerous, unexpected, and most welcome.

What has the challenge done for you?

Nuthin' Left

Nuthin' Left

When Deer Hill Crosses Sigmund Road

When Deer Hill Crosses Sigmund Road