Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Slice of Life: Providing Learning Opportunities for High School Volunteers

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

The week of our annual Summer Writing Academy is upon me, and although I don't love giving up a week of summer to work, I am excited to watch how a week of poetry unfolds. I am also looking forward to working with the four high school students who are volunteering. The first year I ran the program, one of the high school students gave me feedback that she wished she learned more about teaching. Since then, I have carved out time each day to meet with the volunteers and give them an easily explainable teaching move to try out as they work in the program. This morning, I am thinking about what those sessions will be this year. 

As of right now, I am thinking that today I will go over the structure of a conference, giving each of them some of my pink cards that have places to write compliments, teaching points, and challenges. Tomorrow, I will use Responsive Classroom to teach them about morning meetings and then encourage their teachers to allow them to run an activity. Thursday will be a quick review of growth mindset principles and key language using some key pages from Opening Minds by Peter Johnston (one of my favorite all-time professional books), and Friday will be about reading both published and student work with love and respect. I love the work of Valerie Worth for teaching them to read words with emotion and admiration. 

 I'm never sure of the highest leverage teaching points for my high school volunteers or of the correct sequence for them. As with teaching in a writing classroom, I find myself wanting to teach everything all at once, and I know that this is not good practice. 

If anyone out in my wonderful slicing world has other suggestions that high school volunteers who are interested in education could absorb, practice, and appreciate, please share! This part of our program tends to get underemphasized, but I love encouraging their interest in children and teaching. 

Happy Slicing,

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Slice of LIfe: Writing about what we know, what matters, and what inspires

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

On Sunday, I accepted an invitation to go into New York City for a Challenged Athlete Foundation event. For the last two years, I have been working on a middle grade fiction book about a girl with osteosarcoma who has to overcome a leg amputation. My story is based on a child in our town who has lived this experience. She and her family have been incredibly generous about sharing their story with me, and her mother knew that attending this clinic would both help me as a writer and be something I would truly enjoy. She was so right!

 If I had any doubt about the importance of this story, it's gone after watching these amazing people overcome pain, adversity, and challenges. In a park on the upper east side, about fifty amputees of all ages worked together with therapists, prosthetists, and volunteers. Until Sunday, I didn't think as much about  the complexities that amputees live with, even long after their surgery when it appears that they are functioning well. Because they all understood each other and could relate to the issues they face, they talked about the skin irritations,  fitting challenges,  maneuvering challenges, the pros and cons of various prosthetic limbs, and self-conscious moments. One of the teenagers spends days at a time traveling across the country to have the premier prosthetist in the country fit her with a silicone liner that wouldn't irritate her residual limb. 

One of the most important aspects of the clinic was the support and guidance everyone offers each other. There were all different levels of functioning since there was such a variation in people's time since their surgeries. The people who were more experienced worked hard to teach and show others techniques and strategies for maneuvering. In front of our eyes, in a two hour clinic, we watched people go from an awkward walk to a smooth jog. If something hurt or irritated anyone, there were adjustments made right there by experts with tools and equipment. One little boy was the recipient of a donated running leg. With everyone cheering, he put it on, and got to run on a specially built leg. Another girl has struggled with prosthetic challenges. On Sunday, she participated in the relay, running through narrow stretches, hula hoops, and backwards through a designated stretch. Up until then, she had only walked. There was so much emotion when she finished the course that I am welling up as I write. 

These people come long distances to be together and support each other. In a world that emphasizes and values resilience, courage, empathy, perseverance, cooperation, and generosity, they are models of inspiration for all of us. 

We write best when we write about what we know, and on Sunday I learned so much about the struggles and celebrations, courage and bravery of amputees. 

We also write best when we write what matters and what inspires us. I can't wait to get back to my book!

Happy Writing!