Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just deserts...

Phoenix Arizona was amazingly green
relatively speaking – compared to other summertime trips to the state. We have just returned from the International Reading Association conference where we signed books and ran the Poetry Olio. The Poetry Olio is an evening of poetry and sometimes song which happens one evening each conference. Sara and I have been involved with this event for quite a few years, acting as some of the principle ringleaders the last couple.

We had a stellar line up this year thanks to the efforts of Dr. Jim Blasingame – full time young adult literature expert (and part-time cowboy poet) from Arizona State University. Our performers included – Simon Ortiz, Alberto Rios, Laura Tobe, and Kyle Wilson. Our featured poet was the ever enjoyable Nikki Grimes – winner of a pickup truck’s worth of awards for her many books. Sara and I were also on stage. I’ve got to say – of all the Olios I have attended this one took the tamale for sheer literary power.

Debbie uncharacteristically standing still.

Luckily for us though, the time in Arizona was not all work – we managed to squeeze some hikes into the mountains in as well thanks to our very good friends Debbie and Guy – who fed, watered, and sheltered us during our visit.

Sara and Debbie


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Moose Goosing - Texas Style

Just back from a visit
to the Highland Park School district which hugs the city limits of Dallas Texas – We visited both the intermediate and the middle school which are joined at the hip in a state of the art complex.

Everything about the visit was great – the hotel, our poet wranglers Leesa and Sally couldn’t have been more on top of things and the students were attentive, lively and engaged. It would be easy to just gush about how peachy keen everything was – so let’s suffice to say the visit was top notch.

While there, we presented an impromptu teacher session for a rather diverse group from the district schools. We had high school English teachers, third grade classroom teachers, Spanish teachers and even some folks from the front office sit in on the session.

We talked about strategies using poetry as a tool for literacy and comprehension in the classrooms and then we ran a quick demonstration poetry slam with a handful of the attendees. Now since we hadn’t given any prior instructions to those attending the session, we provided the poems for the contestants to perform – in a real slam the participator would be performing their own material – but as we are modeling how to run one of these we give the teachers work to stage. We use verse by authors like Marge Piercy, Billy Collins, Marc Smith, Langston Hughes and our ringer Mason Williams.

The subject matter of the pieces range from rivers, bonsai trees, teaching poetry, paternal relationships to moose goosing – that’s Mason’s contribution – a humorous piece about well, sticking your thumb in a moose’s hiney. Invariably the piece about moose goosing will win the slam and we use this as a teaching moment – explaining that the chance of actually picking your best poet via a poetry slam is pretty slim. But, what we do advocate as the real benefit of using slam in schools is the fun and excitement that surrounds the whole event – making writing and sharing a playful activity rather than a source of anxiety.

So as usual – Mason’s piece won the slam and the woman who performed it had the rest of the audience shrieking with laughter and stomping their feet. Then, something very interesting happened. From what I gathered later, this participant held some sort of authority position in the school – her job required her to expedite tasks required of the rest of the teachers so she spent a lot of her day asking co-workers where this bit of info was, when will I get this, have you finished that yet…

This is the persona that the others in the room knew her by. They had no idea that she could belt out a piece about sticking an umbrella into a moose’s bottom with such gusto. It was reported to me that one teacher commented that they had no idea this person was so much fun, since all previous interactions were task expediting centered – this person even went on to say – “I think I’d like to go out for lunch with her sometime.”

THIS is what bringing the arts into the forefront of a school can do. It can change relationships, open eyes, give people the opportunity to show another side of their personality. I can really empathize with our moose-gooser. I have organized innumerable events and been the task master on many occasions. It is a lonely job at times and never garners the appreciation equal to the effort expended. We moose-goosers have to learn to be satisfied with the awareness of a job well done whether we receive public accolades or not (or in the worst case scenario – watch as others claim the glory for our efforts.)

So this post is for all those moose-goosers out there, you know who you are – the ones who make things happen on time – see that the check is in the mail – cross the T’s and dot the I’s – feed the visiting author - make those calls to the procrastinators and are general pains in the butt for the greater good. Wipe off your thumbs and point them to the sky!

Thanks for a job well done!

photos by Leesa Cole

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Plano Texas - Teaching Teachers

Had a long
but successful day leading a couple professional development sessions here in Plano. Two three hour sessions with 75 Language Arts teachers in each. Special thanks to Lisa for all her help making us feel welcome and seeing that we had all the supplies needed, feeding and watering us as well as taking these pics.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cleveland Montessori High School

Just received these pics from the Cleveland Montessori High School. I visited there a couple weeks back...

Another good bunch of kids – we talked imagery and metaphor – read some poems out loud and laughed quite a bit. I‘m not really sure what the paper moustache was all about though.

Thanks to the students and staff of a really cool school.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Well Defined Vocabulary in Rhyme.

It's official!

Actually it came out at the beginning of the week - I was hoping the publisher would have the Spring catalog up @ their website, but that is still coming. I know it's not really spring out there - but the publishing industry is always a couple months ahead of the calendar I just received my April issue of Bicyling magazine.

Anyway - I think the book came out really well. Well Defined that is - the April issue of Bicyling magazine isn't too shabby either - but I really don't have a vested interest in that publication...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Another side of ice fishing

The sun came out yesterday so we did a little sledding...

Then we made the traditional Ice Koi Sculpture in the front yard!