Where I’m From – A Writing Prompt for Everyone

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A cup of coffee and a conversation.

by: George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,

from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.

I am from the dirt under the back porch.

(Black, glistening,

it tasted like beets.)

I am from the forsythia bush

the Dutch elm

whose long-gone limbs I remember

as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,

from Imogene and Alafair.

I’m from the know-it-alls

and the pass-it-ons,

from Perk up! and Pipe down!

I’m from He restoreth my soul

with a cottonball lamb

and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,

fried corn and strong coffee.

From the finger my grandfather lost

to the auger,

the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box

spilling old pictures,

a sift of lost faces

to drift beneath my dreams.

I am from those moments —

snapped before I budded —

leaf-fall from the family tree.

I have struggled with this poem. Not the reading of it, or the understanding of it, but writing my own version.

As a teacher and a writer, I use mentor texts all the time. The inspiration and springboard to my own writing on the shoulders of a published and admired writer. This is a practice I am familiar with.

The moment of enlightenment came in a 6th grade class in a trailer in the middle of downtown Gary.

To learn about your students this activity can be done the first week of school.

Students can write their own version on their own life.

Another variation is for students to pull their favorite lines from their own and then mix them with favorite lines from the collective of the class to write a collaborative version.

Where are you from?

Where I’m From and Where I’m Not

I’m not from here
Everyone turns away from something
I’m not from here. I’m not from anywhere.
It is easier to live that way.

I am from eipanancake and brotchen
I am from “It’s your responsibility”.
I am from the broken mother daughter relationship

I am not from southern Illinois.
I am not from Ivy league.
I am not from the MFA.

I am from parents that stayed together.
I am from grandparents that nurtured me.
I am not from the mountains.
I am not from money.
I am not from Leipzig but my Oma was.

I am from the lettuce, the cucumbers and the radishes in the garden
I am from Clorox bleach
I am from desk sets and pens and stationery.

I am really from somewhere else.
There is a town I belong to, but am not on the register.

But am I really?

Tammy L. Breitweiser is currently a curriculum coach in Northwest Indiana where she is dedicated to impacting student achievement in grades 3–6. With 24 years of experience, she is a reading advocate who believes reading is the gateway to life. As an accidental inspirationalist, she is always conjuring words; usually in the form of short stories. You can connect with on Twitter @tlbreit or You can sign up for her newsletter here.

A Workshop Reflection

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Last fall I attended a workshop in Atlanta, Georgia where I was able to explore models, critique, and descriptive feedback in the context of education and a new curriculum. While I was grappling with the new information within a new philosophy I was struck with intellectual lightening bolts and I considered my own writing practice talking with my table mates.

I love it when bubbles of my life run into each other — in this case teaching, coaching, and writing.

In the workshop I learned the purpose of the feedback is to motivate, inspire, engage, and to help them become leaders of their own learning. Everyone needs a coach from ballet dancers and basketball players to writers, but there are key components about the feedback that make it more powerful.

In order to produce high quality work you need to know what high quality work looks like so models or exemplars are important. Students need to know what they are striving for in an end product.

I have used this idea for years. My go to example is to think of the last time you wrote your resume. I am certain you Googled at least one or two examples for you to reference before you wrote your own. Many teachers expect students to write pieces with no prior knowledge of the structure when as adults we would not follow the same practice.

Feedback is taught to be given as kind, helpful and specific.

Is it kind?

Is it helpful?

Is it specific?

A learner cannot make revisions to their work if they do not know what to change. Students are given feedback from teachers and peers in order to grow and to specifically improve the piece of work no matter what subject area. A fundamental piece of the puzzle is trust between the people giving and receiving feedback.

Following the rules stated above, feedback is intended to be positive so the results are improvement. People can be sensitive — and there is no reason to be unkind anyway. The process helps all parties become better at their craft.

Part of the key aspects of this area my group discussed was that it is essential for students to learn how to do this process well. It is a structured and the specific feedback needs to be given in small chunks so it is not overwhelming and changes can be made. You for instance don’t look for content, facts, statistics, and sensory details at all the same time. You do one at a time and change during each revision pass so it is done well and systematically.

“I liked it” is not helpful feedback to the writer at all.

“The prompt stated we need to provide 3 examples of evidence and you only provided 2,” is specific.

People like various delivery methods of feedback — small groups, written, pair shares, or being directly told.

Quality feedback has the ability to reshape students thinking about quality work and is a mindset shift.

Feedback is differentiated. Some students will need multiple passes of feedback from multiple readers. Other students may need just one reader. It is very individual.

This process promotes a positive culture for students. They learn to lean on each other for help with they need it and everyone becomes better.

Connection to My Writing Life

Considering the components are motivation, inspiration, engagement, and being a leader of your own learning revision is a real life practice in my life.

I find specific feedback motivating to make the story or essay better. It is exciting for me to know a reader’s perspective especially if they read something with a difference angle based on their experiences. I wrote a flash fiction story about a woman in an apartment several years ago and a fellow writer read it for me. She saw it as a woman who had been kidnapped and fell in love with her capture as a subtext because she reads a lot of horror. That was not my intention as I read it but as I reread it through her lens I could see where she was coming from. It was an interesting exercise to be able to read your own writing through someone else’s eyes.

Conversation with other writers about writing about specific pieces or just in general is inspirational to my writing.

Being a writer can be a solitary practice. I have to make an effort to seek out learning opportunities to improve my skills as a writer. One way to do this is to participate in critique circles.

As a writer I participate in several groups and the discussion and readings in the workshop paralleled with the work I do with these groups. To become a more skilled writer this is a necessary part of my process. I have to know how my writing is resonating with the reader. Sometimes as the writer I ask specific questions about things I want the partners to read for. Since I am asking for this help I am not offended when they tell me their opinion.

If there is a lot of work to be done to a certain story, I might have the group read the same piece several times for different things. As a writer I know I change tense often without realizing it. I had some critique friends read for me recently for this purpose. As a short story writer I am cryptic at times for my reader to put the puzzle pieces together in their mind. But I can be too vague and need a reader to tell me what they think happened so I can fill in the appropriate details to convey my intended meaning.

Sometimes readers specifically comment on the story lead or conclusion.

Sitting at that table in Atlanta I thought about how wonderful it is to teach young students how to give feedback in such a meaningful way that aligns with “real writers”. Years ago when I was in the classroom I rarely used writing resources specially written for teachers. The only exception would be Nancy Atwell. Otherwise it was Natalie Goldberg, Georgia Heard and Judy Reeves.

I am so glad I can share my experience with my students and fellow teachers now that I am back home. I might even talk about it with some writer friends too.

You can sign up for my newsletter here.

New Year’s Eve

Slice of Life

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New Year’s Eve is the day of straddling time.

We have one foot in the old year and one in the new year. There is time for reflection of the last 12 months and planning for the next year and beyond.

I have big plans for the new decade which center around my 2020 #oneword of MORE. My words come to me organically often at the end of November. This year was no different.

I have spent the last couple of weeks reflecting on what went well in 2019 and what I no longer want to continue, what I want more of in my life, and what my next right step is for my goals.

I want MORE walks in the woods.

I want MORE money to be able to do help people, travel, and live.

I want MORE time to help other teachers and coaches be the best they can be.

I want MORE writing.

I want MORE submissions, rejections, and acceptances.

I want MORE classes that I teach and that I take myself.

This year feels like a true fresh start. I finished my notebook yesterday and began a fresh one. There is something wonderful about a new notebook with fresh blank pages full of possibility. I woke up this morning to snow on the ground that I have been wishing for all month. I take this as a great sign that I am off in the right direction.

What are you wishing for in 2020?

What is your first next right step?

Welcome to My Blog!

Who Am I?

I am a force of nature; woman of honor; seer of nuance; ultra runner and ultra reader; keeper of the little red doors, and an accidental inspirationalist who writes.

I am a writer.

Medium: https://medium.com/@tammybreitweiser

Poetry:

The Storyteller Magazine

Flash fiction:

The Ninja Writers Monthly

Elephantsnever.com https://elephantsnever.com/ironic-honeymoon/

Essay:

“My Almost Secret Writing Life” is published in the I Wrote it Anyway anthology

I tweet @teachlikemagic

I am a podcast guest on Better Leader Better Schools Podcast appearance

Articles:

Share your Love of Books

Encourage Children to Read This Summer May 13, 2011

TeachWrite Chat Blog – Guest Blogger

Thavin and Marcob 

I am a coach and teacher.

I have training in:

6+ 1 Writing traits

Teach Like A Champion

TAP

Singapore Math

Core Knowledge

Baldridge Model

Various other programs and frameworks. 

I have been honored to work for schools that have won National and State awards and have presented about these programs at State and National conferences. 

I was the Allen Group Teacher of Excellence for October 2015. 

I have presented at the ICE conference and ISRA several times.     

+Stoking the Fires of Young Writers   

 +Powerpoint Books to Supplement Instruction   

 +Get Ready! Get Set! READ!  

I was awarded the 2015 Teacher of Excellence Award 

Features:Reading It’s In the Bag

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