Tag Archives: writing

National Poem in Your Pocket Day

Did you know there’s a holiday called National Poem in Your Pocket Day? Until yesterday, I had no idea. But today, I’m so glad for it. After hearing of the mini-holiday from a colleague and from this NPR story, I decided to celebrate it in my classroom. Never mind that I wore an outfit with no pockets. I still had poems.

From what I can see, the purpose of Poem in Your Pocket Day is to celebrate the joy of sharing a favorite poem. For me, the poem that first came to mind was Billy Collins’ “On Turning Ten,” which is as follows:

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Billy Collins always gets me with a surprise punch in the stomach. That last stanza just kills me!

And while “On Turning Ten” is one of my favorite poems, this video of 3-year-old Samuel Chelpka reciting Collins’ poem “Litany” will probably be my favorite poetry performance until I die. Or until I have a child of my own who willingly recites poetry. Whichever comes first.

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As a follow-up to Poem in Your Pocket Day, I’m hoping to have my students collaborate on a “Litany”-style poem. Each student will list an image or sensory experience that makes life wonderful for them — something simple such as “the bread and the knife, the crystal goblet and the wine.” From there we will arrange the students’ lines into a poem that follows the format of Collins’ “Litany.” While it won’t be the most original poem in the world, I am hoping it will be beautiful in a way that surprises students who are quick to say, “Poetry? I don’t like it.”

Related reading: “Love of words brings child, poet together

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Neighborhood Notes: Saving seeds, selling e-books

Did you know you can hand-pollinate plants with a paintbrush? Did you know that you can read e-books and support a neighborhood book store at the same time? True facts! These are things I learned when writing two new pieces for NeighborhoodNotes.com, my favorite hyper-local news site.

As of this morning, you can read this piece about small, independent booksellers who are testing the waters as online merchants and e-booksellers. I had a great time getting to know the owners of Portland’s Broadway Books, St. Johns Booksellers and Microcosm Publishing while diving into the economic and even political issues that have arisen with changes in the publishing industry. My research for this piece harkened back to the Brave New World session on publishing that I attended last year at Wordstock. Honestly, I don’t think the option of indie book stores selling e-books came up at that panel less than a year ago, so I hope this is a sign of new positive options for the industry.

For all you gardeners and locavores, check out this piece on seed saving. I’ve always wondered why anyone would do such a thing when seed packets are so cheap at big-box stores, but it turns out that seed saving can contribute mightily to the biodiversity of a region, or even a neighborhood. And if you’re looking for new ways to dig in to gardening, this story includes advice and workshop dates from experts at Portland’s Independence Gardens, Handmade Gardens, Portland Nursery and Herb’n Wisdom.

Each of these pieces was featured on The Oregonian‘s website, thanks to Neighborhood Notes’ partnership with the Oregonian News Network. The ONN (not to be confused with the Onion News Network) is a hyper-local news stream from several Portland news outlets and blogs, and it’s a good model of the collaboration and web-based innovation that’s helping journalism move forward.

Using a Dipity timeline for Shakepeare

At first glance, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice struck me as odd and fairly racist. I wondered what ole Will was going for when he wrote this play and its comic villain Shylock, with his “pound of flesh” threats, and I wondered what exactly my students were supposed to get from it in our study of Shakespeare this spring.

Then, at my mentor teacher’s nudging, I did a bit of research and found out that this play was written during a time when Jews were expelled from England. This knowledge caused a dramatic shift in my interpretation of the play and I wanted to share the history with my students in a way that wouldn’t put them to sleep.

Having heard of Dipity’s timelines, flipbooks and maps of contemporary news (such as the chronology of the Bin Laden raid or of key events in Charlie Sheen’s string of bad behavior), I created a Dipity timeline showing a brief history of persecution of the Jews in England before Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice.

Overall, Dipity was user-friendly and I was able to combine dates, info and images onto a timeline, flipbook and map in about 20 minutes. The frustrating part came when I realized that Dipity is blocked on many school computers because it’s considered social media. So I remedied this by taking screenshots of each Dipity flipbook page, then cropping them and dropping them into Keynote, and finally exporting to PDF/QuickTime.

I’m pretty new to Dipity and haven’t done much with slideshows in the classroom yet. Any success stories? Frustrations? Recommendations or cautions? The only major caution I have is that every time I look at Dipity.com I get stuck thinking of the “Doo.Da.Dipity.” line from Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours.” Which, of course, is a reminder of that bizarre hip hop hamster commercial. Be warned.

Too many stories! Too many ads! Too many pages!

Flexibility. That’s what all this comes down to.

When our student team initially took to publishing at Issuu.com this year, it was because our newspaper had lost its printing budget. Issuu provided a means of publishing when there wasn’t money for paper and ink.

In April our team used Issuu to publish a two-page tribute to a student who died this year. We remarked over and over again how nice it was to have the option to publish a mini-issue of two pages rather than the typical minimum of four required in print shops.

But in May we found that Issuu helped students solve an entirely different problem. It wasn’t that we didn’t have money for printing, or that we had too few pages to print a full issue. This time was that the students had about 22 pages of content to lay out (that’s right — 22 pages of their ideas and hard work). AND they had raised enough money through ad sales to cover the cost of printing as many as 16 pages.(Our ad sales were almost nil before the budget was cut — necessity truly is the mother of invention, and that should be a blog post in itself.)

So now the puzzle was figuring out how many pages to print (8, 12, or 16?), which pages would be published on paper and which ones would be online-only. There was also the wonderful challenge of juggling page layouts in order to accommodate last-minute ad sales. Can I just say it? These are the BEST PROBLEMS a student newspaper could ever have.

The students handled these challenges deftly, using Issuu as a cornerstone for most of their solutions. (I promise, no one is paying me to say this.) Because it gives them an online publishing option that essentially has the same production process as their print pages, and because Issuu publications aren’t bound by page quantity, students can easily shift the order of their page layouts. If a story needs more time to come together, it can be bumped to the online edition with a longer production timeline. If a page is suddenly dominated by a large new ad, students can add a new online page for the content that gets bumped by the ad.

Once again, it’s all come down to flexibility.

Our final publication of the school year will be released May 31. In the meantime, here’s a link to the newspaper’s previous editions, which have garnered more than 2,000 page views since our online launch in March.

My only complaints about Issuu at this point are that it’s difficult for viewers to post comments, and some readers find the full-screen view hard to navigate. It seems easiest to navigate with a laptop mouse, but a little awkward with a traditional mouse.

If you’re using Issuu for classroom projects or other presentations, let me know how it’s working for you, or if there are other free publishing sites you recommend.

Here’s to having wonderful problems to solve!

My student featured on Smithmag.net

I love me some memoirs. And I love brevity. So when Smith Magazine rolled out the Six-Word Memoir project, I knew it would be part of my life in some way.

Oddly, I’ve never posted my own Six-Word Memoir on SmithMag.net. But I bring it up in conversation and compose mini-memoirs in my head all the time. It’s a brilliant vehicle for sharing personal stories that are razor-sharp.

This month, as a warm-up for their writing exercises, I started asking my high school English students to write six-word memoirs at the beginning and end of our free-writing sessions. I hoped that my students would eventually find meaning in the practice, and I soon found out that one student had taken ownership of the six-word craft in a way I hadn’t expected.

“Ms. Thompson, I love six-word memoirs!” she said when she came to class one morning. “My mom grounded me from my computer, but I told her I had to log on to SmithMag.”

A week or so later, she came to class radiant.

“People are reading my six-word memoirs now!” she said. “I’m getting comments and people like what I’m writing. One of them recommended that I write posts on SheWrites.com.”

Today we were preparing for our last day of the in-class state writing test. I was trying to cross a hundred ‘t’s while dotting a thousand ‘i’s before we started our session. But my mentor teacher asked me to pause and hear some good news from this student.

“They gave me the featured memoir of the day!” our student reported.

I was about to tell her how proud I was of her when she showed me the chosen memoir. Now I’m more than proud of her. I am awed. And grateful.

Going electronic with a student newspaper

Several weeks ago, the newspaper staff at my student teaching placement site learned that they would have no allotted budget for the coming school year. To save money and to propel their newspaper into a new era of publishing, our team got innovative and put the newspaper on Issuu.com. The results (as seen here) have been fantastic:

  • The publication has the look and feel of an e-magazine.
  • Our team saved money by printing only four pages (which were distributed throughout the school) and including teasers on those pages to lead readers to an additional six pages online. (I should note that this idea came from our student team, and was a key part of moving our team in this new direction.)
  • Within a couple of days, the online publication had about 200 views. There were about 400 views within a week, equivalent to a quarter of the student body.
  • The online publication is in color, allowing for more emphasis on photography and new options for our page designers.
  • The Issuu.com account that allowed us to do all this was free.
  • The viewer statistics we receive from Issuu.com will be used in advertising sales packets. And the opportunity to publish additional pages online means there will be more room for ads.
  • We are already planning online extra issues in between our major scheduled publications. This allows us to memorialize a student who recently passed away, to provide sports updates, and to be available for other breaking news reports.

We have our current issue up online, along with two archived issues in black and white. You can see them all right here. We plan to use Issuu.com at least for the rest of the school year, hopefully in conjunction with a news website that a student is developing.

I know this blog is getting a lot of traffic from readers who are interested in classroom publishing and student journalism. Are any of you using Issuu.com? Which online resources have helped you and your students save money or reach new audiences?

Classroom Publishing: Issuu.com saves the day!

How does a student newspaper take the prospect of NO MONEY and turn it into an opportunity?

I’ll do my best to make this story short. I’m a student teacher this year at an Oregon high school that is preparing for drastic budget cuts. As such, the budget is nearly gone for production of the student newspaper that I’m helping advise. My mentor teacher and her students were trying not to succumb to doom and gloom, and we started looking for ways to turn this change into an opportunity.

So, again, how does a student newspaper take the prospect of NO MONEY and turn it into an opportunity? First, all of the students agreed to start hustling advertising sales, which is new and kind of scary for a lot of them, but puts them in a situation that is no different than any professional news publication. Second, we started considering affordable (or free!) options for developing an online presence for the newspaper, just in case there were times when we wouldn’t be able to pay for paper publication.

Two years ago a pair of students started developing a website for this paper, and it’s getting close to being ready for launch. But that process is always more complicated than anyone wants it to be. So while that’s in the works, we were looking for free online publishing options. A blog would be the first logical choice, but the school district has blocked any and all social media sites, including blogs. So that was out.

After a bit more digging, I found Issuu.com through an association of journalism teachers in Virginia. Issuu.com is a free (or $20/month for extra features) site that lets you upload just about any kind of document so it can turn into a shiny, almost magical online magazine. The results have a very iPad-y vibe, even when you’re not looking at them on an iPad.

When my mentor teacher and I showed the Issuu.com demo video to our students this week, they were absolutely enchanted. There were pockets of exclamation around the room that were so encouraging: “We could do new issues whenever we want! … We could publish photo spreads in color! … We can put hyperlinks in the stories! … We could link to it on Facebook! … It’s like Christmas morning! … It’s going to make all our dreams come true!”

So our student production manager decided to test the site by uploading files from the students’ most recent issue from December. He showed us the results yesterday and I heard gasps and “wow!” across the classroom. When he finished the demonstration, we actually burst into applause.

We’re planning to use Issuu.com while the newspaper transitions to online publishing, and it’s likely we’ll continue using it even after the paper’s full website is launched. We like it that much. I particularly like that it still leaves room for students to practice page design while incorporating web elements such as embedded video functions (hopefully this will make for a good match with our upcoming use of SchoolTube.com). The students like it because they will be able to share it in school assemblies and recruitment presentations, they will be able to link to it on their social media sites at home, their parents will be able to email it to their friends, the school will be able to link to it on its website, and the students will be able to say on their resumes and college applications that they were part of their school’s first-ever online news publication.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking of using Issuu.com for my upcoming school presentations and reports, and ideas are brewing for ways to use the site for my creative writing. I am continually excited and amazed by all of the free or low-cost tools available to us on the web. Our opportunities are nearly limitless at this point. Doom and gloom, be gone!