Summer Reading, Writing, and Renovation

This is the 11th year for the Brookwood Cluster Children's Reading and Writing Inititative in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and I got to participate this year -- yesterday, as a matter of fact.

I have long been skeptical about my teaching-writing abilities with kindergartners. I'm great in assembly -- we sing, we dance, we talk about how stories have beginnings, middles, ends, and I use ONE WIDE SKY and my back yard as an example of telling a story -- a personal narrative -- that comes from what you know, feel, and can imagine. But the actual teaching of writing... that's another animal, and one I am not trained for with Ks and first graders... and they were my first group yesterday.

And... they surprised me! What sponges they are (this never surprises me), and what they connected to! Here they are, getting ready to write after a scintillating talk by me, and a singing/dancing together of ONE WIDE SKY.

These Ks were full of enthusiasm, ideas, and scribbles -- "One thing I can feel and see in my yard, but only early in the morning, is the dew on the grass."

Whoa! Write that down immediately! What memory do you have of that dew? Did it surprise you when you first saw it, stepped on it? That's a story! And a teacher followed up with, "Have you ever seen dew on a spider web?" to which another K answered, "Oh, that is so beautiful -- shimmery!"

Write that down! And on we went.

Here are first graders (rising second graders) on the floor with their notebooks -- I have students bring their notebooks to assembly now, all the time. They doodle, they write down connections, and I am very directive now -- "Write that down! Put it in your notebook!"

Yesterday went so well -- and I could see that teachers were enthusiastic and skilled and ready to take the nuggets their students had started and help those writers turn those nuggets into stories. Still, I know my teaching strength (and my training) lies in grades 3 and above -- and my sweet spot is grades 4 and 5.

So when I moved on to grades 2-5, I felt even more at home. In this photo, if you squint, you can see Kathy McKinzey in the background. Kathy organized this Institute, and hired me to come work yesterday. Thank you Kathy, and thank you, teachers, for your students!

In the foreground with moi is one of the Institute teachers, Debra Ferguson, smiling and wearing that stunning yellow headband. Turns out she was Flannery Williams's third-grade teacher, and Flannery is my friend, too, the daughter of Jim Williams, who is doing the fabulous remodeling at my house.

You can see Jim Williams on the left, peering out the window openings he has just cut in the new basement room, where we will eventually have a sewing room and husband Jim's renovated studio.

Husband Jim is on the right, holding a drill. Says Jim Williams, laughing, "He's trying to pass!" Yeah, he is -- we all laughed. But Jim didn't try long. He went back to his piano, where he doesn't have to pass -- he's king. Each to his own talents, I say. Thank goodness there are so many of us with such varied talents and passions. Yesterday's young writers had a passion for story, which helps so much when it comes to writing. How many of us have to "pass" with writing? It's not everyone's "thing," is it? One reason I have students bring notebooks and tell them to feel free to doodle, is because I know some of them need to do this. Some need to sing -- so let's sing in assembly. Some need to move, so let's move in assembly. Etc. I'm still learning, always learning, and every time I stand in front of students and teach, I am humbled. I learn more.

So. Each to his or her talents -- hooray for discovering what we love and developing that talent.

Here's Jim Williams, installing the windows. Notice the mother of all hydrangea bushes taking over my back yard!

Finished. Beautiful good work.

On to the bamboo floors in Jim's studio. We've already got so much more light in the basement. Light is good. Work is good. Dew is good. Stories are good. Ways to tell stories are important. Pictures tell a story. Jim Williams's renovation is a story, happening right before our eyes.

And you are stories -- thank you so much for your check-ins! Thanks for all the lovely congrats on my book news -- I'm still reveling in it. And thanks for telling me what you're up to: travel and study and family and nothingness figure largely in your plans this summer. Cool. Writing, too! I'm so glad. I'm sitting here at Mighty Joe Espresso, finishing this blog entry, and now turning my attentions to a new chapter one for Book One of the Sixties Trilogy. I need a new beginning. Sigh. SIGH.

S'okay. Will do. Each ending is a new beginning, as I tell my students, as I told the K-5 kids yesterday in their writing institute. I will practice what I preach, and get to work this morning.

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