“Hello! Is Anyone There?” Answering Inspiration’s Calls

My sun room beckons as a perfectly lovely place to read a newly released teaching book.  I finish the first section of the book and move on to part two.  Suddenly, a completely unrelated thought enters my mind.  A thought that is more of a story idea, really, and along with this idea I feel a sense of urgency to do something with it.  I recognize this.  It is inspiration’s signature calling card.  I need to answer the call.

I leave my book open and go to the notebook dedicated to capturing these ideas when they visit me.  I know if I ignore it and continue with what I am doing, the idea will completely leave me.  I grab a pen, open to a clean page, and begin writing.

Sometimes when this happens, I write a lot.  Other times, I only write a small amount.  Quantity does not matter as much as simply writing whatever it is that inspiration sees fit to bring to me.

At times, I walk away from these episodes puzzled, because what I have written makes absolutely no sense.  I have learned, though, that if I wait long enough, inspiration will add to it or the pieces I have written here and there will begin to fit together in some way.

Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, says inspiration’s ideas are like “disembodied, energetic life forms” which she says are “driven to be made manifest.”  All I know is that it does not happen all of the time.  I spend many writing sessions staring at blank pages.  However, when inspiration does call, I have learned it is best to answer it and give it my undivided attention.

My Happy Place

One of the joys of summer is spending time in my backyard.  My backyard space offers relaxation, peace, joy, and inspiration.  It is a gathering space for family and friends.  Its quiet beauty makes it a perfect spot to read, write, take naps, or as you can see below, snap lots of pictures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nature Therapy

“Into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.”- John Muir

When the stress of life (or the end of the school year) becomes too much, I make my way to the woods. Nature, in all its beauty and vibrancy, always puts everything in perspective.
With all of the rain in the area this spring, everything is especially lush and full of new life.

 I love the colors and textures of spring and summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Strawberry

Evidence of animal life is everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pond and wetland areas are also teaming with life.

Tadpoles of various stages of development are everywhere in this small pond!

 

This lone turtle is enjoying the late morning on the log. Usually this log is covered with turtles.

 

Look closely.  Do you see what I see?

This little guy is well-hidden!

There is so much beauty in the woods.

Fern

 

Trillium

 

May Apple

 

Bald Cypress Tree with Knees

 

Beautiful reflection even with the breeze!

My spirit is light and happy.  I look forward to visiting again soon and seeing what changes have taken place since my last visit!

Revision: A Little Like Pulling off the Band-Aid

A recent teacher conference with a 4th grade author in my classroom:

Me: (after reading through her literary essay) C____, how do you feel about your essay?

C: It is confusing.  My thoughts seem to be all over the place.

Me: Okay.  What is your main message?

C: The little firefly had friends all along. He didn’t give up, and he finally found them.

Me: Okay.  Where would be the best place to introduce your opinion?

C: In the beginning?

Me: That sounds good.  Do you think we could move some things around?

C: (hesitantly) Okay…

The best part of her essay begins in the middle, so I highlight the top half and press “cut.”

C: (concerned gasp) What did you do?  Where did it go?

Me: Don’t panic.  Let’s paste this part at the bottom and move the rest up.   Remember, revision isn’t about checking capitals and punctuation.

C: That’s editing.

Me: Yes.  Revising means moving things, adding things, or deleting things until your message is focused and clear.

C: Yes, but it feels like pulling off a band-aid.

Me: (chuckling) Yes, I suppose it does.  Good simile, C.

She works through what to keep, where to put it, and what to completely remove.  C finishes and is visibly pleased with her work. 

C: This is so much better because everything was all over the place and wasn’t all relating to the first thing I said.  Thanks, Mrs. V., for pulling off the band-aid.  It is much better.  I like it!

Me: You are welcome, C.  I like it, too.

Finishing May Strong

Steaming coffee mug in hand, I pause to greet the day as it begins to greet me with its lovely pinks and shades of light and dark.  I stop for a moment-just a moment-to notice the calm and quiet of a still slumbering neighborhood and acknowledge the promise of this new day.  I inhale deeply and exhale slowly.  I lift my mug and shut my eyes to fully savor the aroma and taste of the coffee and the way this peaceful moment feels.  I take one more deep inhale and slow exhale.  I offer a little word of gratitude for this moment of quiet and centering before the chaos of the school day begins.

May and December are the toughest months for me.  These months are so chaotically busy.  I feel whipped this way and that with no break in between.  By the time each month comes to an end, I am utterly exhausted and often have an upper respiratory infection or other illness.

So I have been doing what I can to build up my defenses to finish this May strong and positive.

  • I seek and savor small moments of quiet, solitude, and beauty.
  • I try to be mindful to eat more plants and less salty or sugary junk, although when stressed this is difficult.
  • I look for ways to get a few extra steps in each day.  It helps.
  • I keep a gratitude journal.
  • I strive to make time for things that matter most, like family and writing.
  • Finally, I tell myself, “This, too, shall pass.”

It’s May, and I want to finish the school year strong.  With some extra attention to self-care, I think I can.

 

 

 

 

The Power of a Mentor Sentence

A fourth grader crafted this amazing lead sentence after studying the mentor text Fox by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks.

There is tremendous power in mentor sentences to influence writing and help students see authentic purposes for learning grammar and mechanics.  Jeff Anderson’s work on teaching writing and grammar through mentor texts shapes the way I use mentor sentences.  

Each week I introduce a sentence selected from a picture book or a student.  When choosing a mentor sentence, I look for sentences that demonstrate a focus skill (e.g. comma usage), author’s craft (figurative language, etc.), and/or model a particular writing structure.  In the sentence above, we were learning about introductory clauses.

My learners do all of their weekly work in their grammar notebooks.

My learners study the sentence for different purposes throughout the week.

Day 1: We identify the strong points of the sentence.  See what they noticed in Aven’s sentence:

  •  Introductory phrases can change the fluency of the text.  The expression is different than if the sentence read, “Dog awoke in the glistening light of the morning sun.”
  • Glistening is an adjective that not only describes but also helps with fluency.
  • Morning tells us the time and that the glistening is likely dew.
  • The introductory phrase contains two prepositional phrases that help set the scene.
  • The independent clause is only two words.  
  • “Awoke” sounds better for this sentence than “woke up.”

Day 2: The students work together to label the parts of speech, type of sentence, and subject and predicate.  We discuss how knowledge of the parts of speech, etc. helps an author write with clarity.  This activity takes the most time. We typically spend 10-15 minutes per day on mentor sentence work, but on this day, we spend closer to 20-25 minutes.

Day 3: My learners look for ways to revise the original sentence by deleting/adding/changing adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, and/or swapping out verbs.  This is a great place to discuss simplicity, changes in meaning, etc. 

Day 4: This is their favorite day! They imitate the structure of the sentence to create and share their own sentences.  This also provides me with an informal way to assess their understanding of the week’s concepts.  

 

 

I notice several benefits from teaching grammar, mechanics, and writing in this interconnected way.

  1. The students can explain how grammar and mechanics apply to writing.  They no longer see them as isolated subjects.
  2. They have much better retention of the material.
  3. Their writing and confidence as writers improve as they apply what they are learning to their own writing.

Finally, there is the joy on their faces when I select a student’s sentence for the weekly mentor sentence. By choosing their sentences, I send the message that their writing is worthy and a model for others. A model sentence can come from any writer in your class. Imagine the confidence boost you can give to your reluctant writers when you select one of their sentences as a model text.

Mentor sentences take a brief amount of time to implement each day, yet their impact as a powerful and authentic learning tool is deep and lasting.  I can’t imagine teaching writing and grammar any other way.

When they imitate, they have a lot of fun. This is okay. I want them to experience the joy of writing and making meaning.

The Vast Expanse

There is no sky above-
only billowing clouds in browns, grays, and blacks
from tall belching towers that press my spirit into the ground.
Lost is the blue with white puffy clouds,
the purply/pink/red setting the horizon on fire,
and the endless black dotted with diamonds.
Gone is gazing at the vast expanse,
watching my soul soar free from its binding chains-
I weep.

My own sobs wake me-
free from the grip of a nightmarish vision,
a glance at the window eases my stress.
I bow my head in thankful silence and
move to the porch to rest my eyes on
miles of endless blue.
Join me, won’t you, to gaze at the vast expanse and
watch our souls soar free from their binding chains-
we appreciate.

The Lie of Perfect

Elusive, hiding, just out of reach,
chasing the wind,
impossible dream.

Painful, stressful, maker of angst,
never worth it,
abandon it-now.

Hidden, anxious, fearful of risk,
unless perfect,
time to step away.

Relax, accept, leaper of faith,
it will be fine,
see re-a-li-ty.

Joyful, happy, liver of dreams,
mistakes enrich,
trust in what will be.

The Moments of My Day

Here is a list of moments
that carried me through my day.
Some happy, some sad,
Some caused my nerves to fray.

Let’s start at the beginning
as the morn I groggily greet.
My daily dose of caffeine, yoga, and routine,
then to school I hastily speed.

I slid into my Wednesday a.m. meeting
just as the principal began to speak.
Next, my students came in quietly
and got to work without a squeak.

Next was art for the kiddos
and a parent meeting for me.
I hope she does what she says she’ll do.
Fingers crossed; I’ll wait and see.

Back to class with fifth grade
then fourth was next to teach.
They are learning to write literary essays.
For many, this is a reach.

Lunch, recess, then fourth grade again.
They worked well today.
Next, third grade, oh me, oh my!
A challenge-what can I say!

I helped with Crochet Club after school.
What a fun way to unwind.
I enjoyed watching them create
and seeing the satisfaction they find.

Now here I am-Home at last.
Online with my #TeachWrite friends.
Happily crafting poetry (or making an attempt)
as this day comes to an end.

2019 Tracy Vogelgesang

The Best Part of Me

The best part of me
believes the best is yet to come!
Each day that passes
I grow wiser,
love more deeply,
and find more joy in simple things.

The best part of me
shines brighter with my heart’s companion.
As we age together
we grow closer,
strengthen our bond,
and cherish the moments we have together.

The best part of me
thrills when I spend time with my children.
Adulting suits them well.
I grow prouder,
enjoy their company,
and know they make this world better.

The best part of me
giggles and squeals as we run through the house.
With tiny curls bouncing
she grows quickly,
calls me Mom-mom,
and builds precious, precious memories with Papa and me.

The best part of me
adjusts her headphones to hear me as I greet her.
With sketchbook beside her
she grows wiser,
dreams future dreams,
and treats Papa and me with much love and respect.

Yes, the best part of me
gets better as time passes day by day!
Each day that passes
I grow wiser,
love more deeply,
and find more joy in simple things.

2019 Tracy Vogelgesang