7th Graders Prepare to Meet Irene Latham and Charles Waters!

This week guest poets Irene Latham and Charles Waters will be visiting East Grand Rapids Middle School to share their new book Can I Touch Your Hair? — Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship.  Anticipating conversations around these truly honest poems, I wasn’t sure how best to prepare middle school students.  I wanted to expose students to the poets’ work, but I’ll admit, I was concerned about how the poems would affect certain students in my classes.  My school has a predominately white population with a smaller group of minority students.  I did not want to create any discomfort for students, particularly those of minority backgrounds.  But of course if it is our belief as human beings, and especially teachers, to prioritize comfort over dialogue, we will never hold open discussions about difficult topics.  After all, I told myself, it was the opportunity for this exchange which had prompted my grant proposal  to invite Irene and Charles.

Deeply aware of the discussions I had taken part in at NCTE in November, my head was full of thoughts. During session, a diverse group of teachers had the opportunity to meet Irene and Charles and take a peek at, Can I Touch Your Hair?

“What is the age group the book targets?” some wondered,  “Which point of view feels validated?” inquired another.  “Should we introduce some of the topics which our students have not been exposed to, or should we wait?”.  In other words, teachers felt they needed to be prepared to share this book.

Rather than attempting to solve all of these questions in advance, I decided to have some fun introducing the book  with my students.  Instead of reading the work aloud myself, I split students into partners and gave each pair a set of poems to present to the class.  (For teachers unfamiliar with the book’s format, the poems are presented in groups of two, one written in Irene’s voice, and the other in Charles’ voice.) My seventh grade students began by re-reading the poems they had been given,  looking through a particular lens each day.   For example, one day students were asked to discuss the settings of their set of poems, another day they looked for connections they had with the poems.  Each day they practiced how they would present to classmates at the end of the week.

At times we may underestimate the quality of “openness”  our students are capable of, even middle schoolers, but as Irene reminded me through email after I’d shared the picture below:  “Poetry is fun.” There is so much power in laughter.  I watched my students’ faces as they observed one another performing.  Every student was engaged and smilingWhile we as teachers might be uncomfortable approaching these challenging topics, when we let the kids enter the poems, they prove able to both acknowledge the weight of the subject matter while also having fun.  I am looking forward to seeing what further layers Irene and Charles will add to this conversation this week.


Please notice “Irene”  in the blond wig!

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“Shake the Dust” by my 7th Graders

flower-1360468_960_720Some years ago I participated in a poetry reading activity with literacy leader, Penny Kittle, in which she shared the spoken word poem, “Shake the Dust,” by Anis Mojgani.   Penny asked us to respond to the performance by adding our own lines to the poem.  Participants formed a circle and took turns reading their lines.  I remember the closeness I felt after sharing a piece of my heart and listening to everyone around sharing as well.  I loved the warmth that permeated head to toe and the connectedness I felt, not only to the present group, but to the larger world.

I am currently teaching seventh grade English students and I wanted to see if this activity would create the same warmth and connectedness I remember feeling.  Realizing opening your heart honestly among peers is not something most middle schoolers seek to do, I carefully constructed the activity as a celebration to our comparative literary essay.  Some of the texts students had read or watched, were as follows:  “The Queen of Katwe,” by Mira Nair, “Wings,” by Macklemore, “Fish Cheeks,” by Amy Tan,  What do fish have to do with Anything?” by Avi, Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary Schmidt, Those Shoes, by Maribeth Bolts, Each Kindness , by Jacqueline Woodson, “White Privilege,” by Mackelmoore, “The Treasure of Lemon Brown,” by Walter Dean Myers,  “The Power of the Dinner Table,” by Douglas Brooks,  “The Undefeated,” by Kwame Alexander, “Famous,” by Naomi Shihab Nye, and various news articles.

After my students accepted the fact that celebrations do not always involve food, we began by watching  Anis perform “Shake the Dust.”  The second time we watched,  I provided copies of the text so students could follow along.  Next, it was time for students to respond by writing their own lines.  A few students hesitated but after glancing around the room at peers scribbling fiercely in notebooks, they bent their heads and began to write as well.  I explained the next part of the activity would be sharing one or more of their lines.  I added that after every fifth student read their lines, we would all join in with, “Shake the dust.”  Not one student asked to “opt out’ of sharing and the class poems were both honest and heartbreaking. (Listen to a class poem below.)  Some of the lines reflected texts the class had read and some of the lines shared were like peering deep inside a flower blossom, seeing the fragile stamen and tiny flicks of pollen dust.  The fragile voice of the student who was homeless this fall, the student who deals with attentional issues, the student who wishes to meet her birth mother, the student who struggles to fit in.  The response of the students was overwhelmingly positive.  “Can we do it again?”  “Can we record ourselves?”  “Can we hang our poems in the hall!”  (Sample poem)

Middle schoolers want to be recognized and listened to. . . They are finding their voices.  Poetry allows their voices a channel to be heard . . . when they feel ready to be known.  When asked if this was a good way to celebrate the end of our unit, the answer was, “Yes, but next time bring cookies.”   (Click to listen to a sample.)

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Progressive Poem 2016

2016 Kidlit Progressive Poem


Here is the poem so far with my line at the bottom in bold.

A squall of hawk wings stirs the sky.
A hummingbird holds and then hies.
If I could fly, I’d choose to be
Sailing through a forest of poet-trees.

A cast of crabs engraves the sand
Delighting a child’s outstretched hand.
If I could breathe under the sea,
I’d dive, I’d dip, I’d dance with glee.

A clump of crocuses crave the sun.
Kites soar while joyful dogs run.
I sing to spring, to budding green,
to all of life— seen and unseen.

Wee whispers drift from cloud to ear
and finally reach one divining seer
who looks up from her perch and beams—

Golden wings open and gleam

Irene is up next and I think she may have an idea who the divining seer might be…



2 Joy at Joy Acey
3 Doraine at Dori Reads
4 Diane at Random Noodling
8 Janet F. at Live Your Poem
11 Buffy at Buffy’s Blog
12 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
13 Linda atTeacherDance
14 Jone at Deo Writer
16 Violet at Violet Nesdoly
17 Kim at Flukeprints
18 Irene at Live Your Poem
19 Charles at Poetry Time
24 Amy at The Poem Farm
25 Mark at Jackett Writes
26 Renee at No Water River
27 Mary Lee atPoetrepository
29 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
30 Donna at Mainely Write
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Living Wild


Hello Irene,

Congratulations on your 10 year Blogiversary!  Ten years!  WOW!  That is something to celebrate.  Here is my wild offering to you.

I have had a wild dream to swim with whales. . . well, for most of my life.  Not long ago, I awoke to find this video sent to me by my daughter:


“Mom, this is you isn’t it?”  “This is what you’d love to do!”  She’s right.  She knows.  I watched this video over and over.  Trying to feel how this surfer felt during this encounter.

It’s wild.  I know.  But it truly is something I long to experience.  This poem is in response to the video and also in response to your wild request.  You will also find my OLW tucked inside of the poem.  I’m looking forward to seeing your collection of wild posts!

            Living Wild

Filled with whispers of hope

I paddle through clear blue 

pulling hard against white breakers which

lead to clear blue, once again.


Ripples of fear keep feet in tact with board,

Keep tremulous fingers gripping the paddle.

I am in company with the rarest of all whales,

Right Whale, once hunted to the brink of


I encounter 55 feet of gliding, endless black,

60 tons next to me until

a crusty bonnet head slides by and 

an inquisitive eye meets mine.


We exhale and breathe.

Bulbous flippers steer its bounty

Flukes tip and bend, 

tip and bend,

living wild.                                                        -Love to a wild woman who lives her dreams!

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State Test Prep with Poetry? Yes, Really!

It’s the last Friday of National Poetry month and we have been swimming in poetry all month, and loving it!   We are also three weeks away from taking the M-STEP test in Michigan.  I’m not ready to give up our poetry fun —yet.  However, there is a nagging little voice beginning to whisper things like, “I hope you can defend this poetry fun, while you are using valuable language arts test preparation time.”

Of course, I can!  Here is a poetry practice I tried this week with great success!  Thursday I used a lesson from Georgia Heard’s book, “Awakening the Heart” which focused on “Word
Choice.”  Georgia suggests students use a t-chart as a revision tool when looking for boring old words and choosing strong bold words to replace them.  Here is how I approached the work.                                                                                                                              61UK3x-uGvL._SL500_AA300_

I chose two poems to share during writing workshop, from a couple of our favorite poets.  I used the poem, “Dust Bath at Dusk” from Irene Latham’s collection, Dear Wandering  Wildebeest, Poems From the Waterhole and “Snail in Moonlight” from Joyce Sidman’s book Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night.  The poems were selected for a couple of important reasons.  The first reason is that both of these poetry collections pair poems with a passage of informational  text.  The second reason is that these poems contain many strong images of unfamiliar scenes to my third grade students; the strangeness allowing us opportunity for great discussion.

We read and reread the poems many times exploring the meanings of curious words and recreating scenes in our minds.   We talked about the importance of the strong words each poet had chosen to help us picture what they were trying to teach us.  I then suggested we might look back at some of the poems we had written during the month to see if there were words we might want to replace in some of our poems.  I passed out copies of the t-chart created by Georgia Heard and the students began rereading their own work.  After about ten minutes we did a quick share of some of our findings.  Some students noticed you can’t see the word “be” and quite possibly a stronger verb was needed.  Other students noticed words like “dream” and “color”  which they could replace with words to create a stronger image.  The students continued working with this revision tool and actually groaned when it was time to stop for recess.

We returned to this work on Friday and reread the two poems, focusing on the informational passages accompanying each poem, noticing how the poets had included bits of this information in their poems.  They exclaimed excitedly as they appreciated the factual information tucked into the poems.  I suggested it might be fun for us to try working with some informational passages to create poems.  When I mentioned they might begin with a Wonder from Wonderopolis, the room fell into action.  My third graders love Wonderopolis!  Chrome books and notebooks in hand, they spread out around the room and began reading.

Each student chose a wonder of personal interest.  The challenge was to create a poem including some of the vocabulary and information from the Wonder article, to teach us about the topic, much the same as the poets Irene Latham and Joyce Sidman had effected with their poems.  In minutes my third graders were watching Wonder videos and reading their chosen articles.  Upon finishing they began writing their poems.  I conferred with individual students urging them to consider which images and information they wanted to include in their poems and then jotting a list of possible words they might want to include.

I feel the students were much more intentional about their word choice and also paid closer attention to the heart of each article, extracting the most valuable information to include in their poems.  The conciseness and exactness poets work to achieve is just the work we were practicing.  Thinking to illicit  such purposeful moves in writing poetry transfers to any genre of writing. Activities such as this help to prepare students for the types of reading and writing expected on our state test, where they will be asked to read and respond to short passages, comparing and using what they have learned to write informational, opinion, and narrative responses.

Here’s the best part of this practice…. my students LOVED the work.  One student suggested, “Let’s do this every Poetry Friday!”  The response was overwhelming positive.  I have included some our work below.

Wonder #720  “What Badger Has a Sweet Tooth?”

Don’t be Fooled

By Drew

Don’t be fooled
by a Honey Badger
It may be cute
but not pleasant.
It is a fearsome foe
that conquers and battles
with venomous vipers.
Then snacks on snakes.

Wonder #1437 “What is the Color of Fire?”


By Walter

Hot, Hot, hot!
Red, orange, white,
Can get up to 1,800 degrees F.
Orange range
2,000 degrees F. to 2,200 degrees F.
I’ll back away a
White light
2,400 degrees F. to 2,700 degrees F.
Blue fire
2,600 degrees F. to 3,000 degrees F.
I need a break
I’m jumping in the


By Sydney

Exploding out of wood

Orange, yellow, red, white, and blue flowers

pop out in the fire pit.

Caused by temperature.

Get a pod of friends

and watch the flames

dance about.


Wonder 1426 “Are you Double Jointed?”

by Mo

Are you double jointed?
Joint hypermobility
People can
flip and twirl,
Make impossible shapes
like a pretzel.
Some suffer through
chronic pain.

Wonder #1409 “How do Arctic Animals Survive in the Cold?”

White Wonder
By Millie

Camouflaged creatures
defend themselves
against the cold,
Predators hunting for prey,
miserable wind trapping them.
Hares huddle together,
Lemmings bunch in underground
depending on mother nature


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Day 11 of the 2015 Progressive Poem and an Introduction to a New Poet

Thank you to Irene Latham for inviting me to participate in the Progressive poem this year.  I stand in awe of all of you and I’ll admit, I’m a bit nervous to add my line.  I have watched the poem changing every morning and tried to anticipate what my contribution might be.  At first was thinking I might possibly add something about the water, or maybe seabirds but then MaryLee added “ibises roosting in the trees.”  So next I began wondering what the woman in the poem was thinking and how if we knew, it might help us understand her actions.  Yesterday morning I opened the poem to find her grandmother would be speaking to her.  Ahhh, perfect I thought.  Now we’ll know a little bit more about her but, Oh, my!  That means me!

I love water, the sounds, the colors, the feel of it.  I love floating, boating, and body surfing but what I especially love is escaping to the world beneath the water by snorkeling or diving.  I feel like the woman in this poem needs an escape and that possibly her grandmother knows this.  The bracelet allows her the gift of escape.  Here is the poem so far and the words I have chosen to add from her grandmother:


She lives without a net, walking along the alluvium of the delta.
Shoes swing over her shoulder, on her bare feet stick jeweled flecks of dark mica. 

Hands faster than fish swing at the ends of bare brown arms. Her hair flows,
snows in wild wind as she digs in the indigo varnished handbag, 

pulls out her grandmother’s oval cuffed bracelet,
strokes the turquoise stones, and steps through the curved doorway.

Tripping on her tail she slips hair first down the slide… splash!
She glides past glossy water hyacinth to shimmer with a school of shad,

listens to the ibises roosting in the trees of the cypress swamp–
an echo of Grandmother’s words, still fresh in her windswept memory.

  Born from the oyster, expect the pearl.  


Next up is Margaret at Reflections on the Teche .

2015 Kidlitosphere

Progressive Poem

1 Jone at Check it Out

2 Joy at Poetry for Kids Joy

3 Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe

4 Laura at Writing the World for Kids

5 Charles at Poetry Time Blog

6 Ramona at Pleasures from the Page

7 Catherine at Catherine Johnson

8 Irene at Live Your Poem

9 MaryLee at Poetrepository

10 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty

11 Kim at Flukeprints

12 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche

13 Doraine at DoriReads

14 Renee at No Water River

15 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge

16 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town

17 Buffy at Buffy’s Blog

18 Sheila at Sheila Renfro

19 Linda at Teacher Dance

20 Penny at A Penny and her Jots

21 Tara at A Teaching Life

22 Pat at Writer on a Horse

23 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy

24 Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect

25 Tabatha at The Opposite of indifference

26 Brian at Walk the Walk

27 Jan at Bookseedstudio

28 Amy at The Poem Farm

29 Donna at Mainely Write

30 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Today I met with Linda Nemec Foster who was our first Grand Rapids Poet Laureate,  The meeting was arranged by our Education Art Museum coordinator Christopher Bruce, who knew I was interested in writing poetry with children.  We had talked earlier in the school year about the possibility of bringing my Poetry Club to the museum to write.   I was anticipating  the upcoming exhibits and watching for one which would lend itself well to writing.  Christopher contacted me a few weeks ago suggesting a meeting with poet Linda Nemec Foster, explaining that he thought we should meet.  Lucky me!

Linda arrived with a bulging bag of her work- books, chapbooks, music CDs inspired by her poetry and one jointly produced collection of poems and photographs by a local artist. Her poetry work is  written with an adult audience in mind but her poetry spirit spans all ages.  I am anxious to share many of her poems with my students.  She has worked as a poet in residence in many schools and for many years.  Again, lucky me to have the opportunity to meet her.

Christopher told us about an upcoming exhibit called, “In the Air” which will be coming to the Grand Rapids Art Museum from the Whitney Museum.  He described it as a massive circular view, interactive piece.  Visuals of New York City told with vignettes are played while the viewer slips under the screen and watches from within the circle.  We are planning a visit  for the students to learn about the artist’s purpose for the piece and to write poetry from a circle of their own world– their backyard.  It’s a plan to dream about and work through, and by May we will be ready to have some fun with poetry and art.  I am grateful to those creative souls in the art world who believe in connecting other creative souls.

Here is a Haiku poem by Linda Nemec Foster from her book titled ” Listen to the Landscape,”  Images by Dianne Carroll Burdick.

  The Dream of Trees

                              To walk like the scarves

                              Of clouds, to abandon land

                              And never return



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Bursting With Poetry Teaching Ideas!

I am excited by all that is going on in the poetry world this month!  I am bursting with teaching ideas and since I love teaching poetry…. I want to try them ALL.  I am in awe reading the many poetry challenges and goals poets have set for themselves.  I am devouring them each day so far and have decided my goal is to try as many of them as I can with my students and of course myself.

April arrived and as we ended our last week of school before spring break, I set up as many National Poetry activities as I could so we would be ready to dive when we return.  My Poetry Club announced an opportunity for the whole school to take part in a school poetry anthology.  We will begin collecting submissions after break.  We hung signs in the stairwells, gym, lobby, and even the bathrooms!  The club also left me with a beautiful collection of poems to deliver to our neighborhood library to display during National Poetry Month.

My third grade class made poetry pockets and hung them in the classroom, ready to receive poems from classmates during the month.  I created teams of “Star Poets” to take turns creating poetry displays in our classroom for the rest of the school year.  They will also be in charge of poems and props for our Poetry Suitcase each Friday.  I created special blank Poetry Notebooks for all three sections of third graders as upon our return, I will be teaching a Unit of Study on Poetry.  Yay!  I can’t wait to incorporate all of the ideas you poetry friends are sharing!  Amy’s singing, Linda’s Haiku, Mary Lee’s emotions, National Art poems with Irene, singing with Amy, clothing prompts from Laura, videos with Sylvia, tips from Laura P.S …. and more I have yet to discover.  I’m feeling a little like spring break got in the way (but I’ll take it).

Today I am late with my post but it’s a good thing because while having lunch with my good friend and her two granddaughters, I found a poem.  I will lean on Amy Ludwig VanDerwater from the Poem Farm for a singing poem, although I will not be singing it.  I will suggest that you may try singing it to  the tune of, “You Are My Sunshine.”  The videos I had hoped to share would hint at my lunchtime meal but this is something I will need to learn how to do.  Hopefully I have created the scene for you.

Sisters                                                              FullSizeRender

Sis-ter run ca-fe

Alpha-bet soup plate

Lemon-ade tea-cup

Cookies baked new

Ser-vers in tu tus

and wearing jam-mies

I see a fu-ture here

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This is Just to Say

Thank you Maya and thank you to Dana for this last day inspiration.  This is the earliest post I will have written all month.  Thank you to all at the Two Writing Teachers for your passion and  dedication, and for providing this opportunity for all of us to grow as writers.

Here is my poem borrowed from the WC Williams poem “This is Just to Say”

This is Just to Say                                                                                             

I have written every day

some posts

I will admit 

were written out of


Some shine brightly

Forgive me

for questioning


Why slice?

I did it!

It was delicious

New friends

a writing habit

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Habit or Inspiration?

Writing the date on my classroom whiteboard today, I paused… only two more days of slicing left.  It hit me how quickly March had flown by.  It wasn’t too many days ago that I had hit a slump looking for ideas and a panic trying to fit writing into some very busy days.

Now I have two slices left for SOL15 and well, I feel ecstatic that I have written everyday but I also find myself feeling a little sad.  I have grow into this habit of writing and thinking about writing.  I walk around paying a little closer attention to my world, noticing stories I could write, collecting poetry ideas to try.  Will I continue this practice now that March has disappeared?

I came across an article this evening which made me pause and realize that building a writing habit is up to me.  As much as I love the slicers I’ve met and those comments I have waiting to  read with my coffee in the morning,  the writing is mine, my job, up to me. The article mentioned that J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen have been know to say that inspiration is overated-that success comes from the “BIC” rule (Butt In Chair).  Meaning you need to sit down and get writing.  There was also a quote from the the writer Olivia Butler who said, “Habit is more important than inspiration.”  “We write to find out what we don’t know.”

It seems to me that they are each right.  Just LOOK at all of us writing each day.  Forcing ourselves to squeeze in writing during our school lunch break, setting an alarm to get up earlier before work to write (knowing that’s the only way it will happen today).  There have also been a couple of nights when after 11:00 we pushed ourselves to beat the clock and raced to post before midnight.

Thank you to those who offered inspiration and shared clever ideas to spur us on, and also for all of the kind words you have shared.   You nudged me along.  It was fun!  Now, if as Olivia Butler says, “Habit is more important than inspiration,” well fellow slicers, we are on our way!  Thank you for inspiring me to build a habit!

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Top Ten List for the MRA Conference

I attended the Michigan Reading Association Conference this weekend and I will return to school tomorrow brimming with new ideas and tips to try, while possibly feeling a tiny bit tired.  Here is my Top Ten List for the Conference:

1. Hearing Spoken Word Poet Malcolm London (Find his Ted Talk)

2.  Listening to author Carrie Pearson’s presentation The Intersection of Fiction and Non-         Fiction.  Very smart work!

3.   Lunch with two long time friends, Liz and Pam

4.  Purchased a beautiful new picture book on the life of e. e. cummings- think April …

5. Went to a Poetry session with Georgia Heard!  Love her!

6.  Author Peter Brown shared his writing/illustrating process and career path.  So much           fun!

7.  A second session with Georgia Heard on Revision!!!  Can’t wait to try a couple of new           ideas.

8.  I presented a session on Teaching Poetry Throughout the School Year and….

had an interactive audience and functioning technology!

9.  Went all out and splurged on valet parking (My suitcase of poetry books, although on            wheels, was too heavy to lift into the trunk. Certainly had fun with the books though!

10.  Went to a local theater tonight to see an interview with Christopher Paul Curtis and a           special MRA showing of “The Watsons Go to Birmingham.”  I left feeling sad but so               glad I had  gone.

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