Writers Week 2017

I am honored and lucky to work at Fremd High School – where great things happen every day, where students inspire with their eagerness to learn while teachers touch lives with their passions and knowledge. One particular week I feel blessed to be a part of is Writers Week. Founded twenty-three years by now retired English teachers Gary Anderson and Tony Romano, and now tirelessly run by English teachers Gina Enk and Russ Anderson, Writers Week is an annual celebration of writing during which professional writers, students and faculty share their stories to help us better understand writing and authors. It offers wonderful opportunity for students to make the connection between what we do in the classroom and the outside world they are preparing for. Writers Week always inspires my students to write more and I’m inspired write along with them!

The following is just a taste of the many, many memorable moments that stick out in my mind of Writers Week 23. For a complete video archive of each period, each day, visit the Writers Week video archive HERE. Writers Week certainly inspired me to write more, and what better way to start than with Writers Week itself!!

Students:

Months before, students are invited to submit their writing to share during Writers Week. Every year, many, many students stand bravely in front of the auditorium filled with their peers and teachers. One of my own AP Language students shared her Indian culture and passion for dance while a beautiful video of her recital played behind her as she read; and, another of my Expository Composition students shared a comical rhyming “roast,” as well as her “This I Believe” essay – two proud teacher moments for me! So many students disclosed bravely – one talked about overcoming cancer, another about getting over her grandmother’s death, another revealed she suffered from social anxiety while another shared her love for her favorite stuffed animal. Such courageous sharing going on!

I’ve never seen a more polite, supportive audience of peers through all of this. Students shared lessons learned – one talked about finding that “firework moment” in which you learn and grow, one declared that bad days make good days even better, while another told stories from teaching preschool depicting how little kids say the darnedest things. One of the co-editors of The Logue, the school newspaper I co-advise, eloquently spoke of Muslim contributions to the U.S. and the fact that many are simply scared of what they don’t know  . . to which she received a standing ovation!! Unbelievable, goose-bump moment!  I could go on . . . . over fifty students spoke throughout the course of the five days.

This year, students were lucky to here from a former student as well. Erin Dismeier, a 2009 grad and radio broadcast producer came to speak to students about writing for the radio, and how different that is. Students had a chance to hear a sampling of her actual broadcasts! It’s important for students to see the success of alumni who started out like them.

Faculty

In addition to the students, faculty takes part in the sharing. Virtually every department in the school has been represented with teachers sharing their own writing. It’s eye-opening for students to see that their science or P.E. or math teachers write too! This year, for instance, science teacher Brad Graba shared the importance of being scientifically literate, business teacher Brittany Seivers illustrated – through her own personal story – how we are all going through something but that’s what ultimately unites us, and world language teacher Andrea Fritz shared own writing inspired by her mom. And having her parents there was very touching for the students, I might add. Of course, it wouldn’t be Writers Week without English teachers writing: Eric Schaeffer shared a re-count of when he courageously took part in Running with the Bulls in Pamplona; Grant Dawson shared his two-week jury duty experience, English t.a. Torie Eldridge told about overcoming the death of her mom, Marilyn Berdick wrote a fun story about the Cubs (and sang!); Jaclyn Han recited her own versions of Encyclopedia of Me and Russ Anderson wrote about sharing his love for the Cubs with his own children. The unbelievable amount of sharing going on during this week is like at no other school.

Moreover, Fremd students have been lucky to have a chance to hear from three retired English teachers, coming back to share in the writing celebration. Gary Anderson, co-founder of Writers Week, has never missed a year of presenting. For his 23rd year, he bravely disclosed about his strained relationship with his own father. Tony Romano, co-founder of Writers Week, previewed a few chapters of his third, new book to be published, and Kevin Breuner recited one of his stories titled “Original Sin,” a story from his youth playing golf. The different perspectives the students gain about writing . . . about life . . . .  is something they will remember for a long time.

Professional Writers:

Mary Fons:  Mary Fons is a regular Writers Week favorite. She is a writer, quilter, designer and teaches a storytelling class at the University of Chicago.  Students and faculty alike adore and are inspired by her as she shares her knowledge of storytelling. I am especially impressed with her willingness to put herself out there, to write what she knows and feels and live with passion – this is fabulous for students to see! One challenge she offered students is to write lipograms, a composition in which the writer intentionally omits a particular letter of the alphabet. What a way to challenge the writing muscles! 

Rebecca Makkai: Rebecca Makkai is a fictional writer, with works including the short story collection, Music in Wartime and The Hundred-Year House, a novel about the secrets of an old-money family. She shared her own insight into storytelling and writing, pointing out that the best stories are ones in which characters change both internally and externally. Hearing a professional author talk about the story arc solidifies for the students what they practice within their own classroom writing.

Taylor Mali: Taylor Mali has been to Fremd’s Writers Week numerous times but this was my first time seeing him live – and I left inspired! We read poetry in class, we have the kids write poetry but, man, to have them hear poetry being read from the poet himself is exciting for kids. Mali orally interpreted quite a few of his poems, including “What Teachers Make” (per the request of a student in the audience), and interestingly declared that teaching is a lot like poetry – both instruct and entertain. He’s got a good point . . . we’re not just there to teach the content but to relate to students in such a way that they buy in, that they see connections, that they see want to learn.

AJ Pine: Amy Pine is a former English teacher at Fremd High School and a published new adult author of four different series of novels. As she herself indicated to her audience at WW, what we do in the classroom does connect to life outside – and what better way to see that then through the success of one of the student’s own former teachers. Amy talked about everything from the importance of digital citizenship to how to be disciplined enough to sit down and write a book.

Tyehimba Jess: Tyehimba Jess, acclaimed poet and author of Leadbelly and Ollo, shared a number of his pieces, including a concrete sonnet, a sonnet that visually conveys the meaning of the piece the graphic arrangement of the words themselves, as well as an intriguing crown of sonnets, a sequence of sonnets usually addressing one subject or person. The preceding and succeeding sonnets are linked by repeating the last line of the preceding sonnet to the first line of the succeeding. What was most fascinating about Tyehimba’s sequence is that the sequence makes complete sense no matter the order of the reading of the sonnets: up and down, left to right, diagonally. Now that is a challenge . . . one of my colleagues was so inspired, he started to write his own sonnet sequence to his wife for Valentine’d Day.

Jeremy McCarter: Jeremy McCarter enthralled students with the story of how his book Hamilton: The Revolution came into being born. As he stated at one point, ideas waiting to come out of our brains and into realization is like feeling “super pregnant” with ideas inside of us growing and waiting to become real. And while success may sometimes look fore-ordained, it’s not. What seems to come together well is only through hard work along with many trials and tribulations. McCarter recommends reading Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat for further writing inspiration. The premise of the book is “content dictates form” . . . we can’t prejudge how to achieve something until we know what we want to achieve. It is only then we can start to take the steps to achieve that something. So true.

Students running up to meet Andrew McCarty, co-author of

Students running up to meet Jeremy McCarter, co-author of Hamilton: The Revolution

G Neri : YA author G Neri, author of the popular graphic novel, Yummy, spoke of the importance of reading fiction to gain empathy. Something he said that still resonates with me is “When you start to open up to opportunities, opportunity opens up to you.” This is so very true – the more open you are, the more opportunities come your way. Students need to hear this, and hearing it from someone other than their usual teachers makes it even more impactful.

Joe Meno and Billy Lombardo: Joe Meno is Chicago fiction author and playwright; Billy Lombardo is a Chicago fiction author and educator. For two class periods, the two writers shared their writing and had a unique personal conversation about writing as they sat side-by-side on the stage. They asked each other questions before inviting students to do the same. Students thoughtful questions attested to the audience interest.

The above are just a sampling of the many, many inspiring, impactful moments of Writers Week. I did not list every presenter, just a sampling. Every period of every day brought more learning, more insight, more inspiration for students and teachers alike. Day after day, students left chatting about what they just saw on stage . . . left inspired to write a bit more and inspired to read a bit more. Bottom line, Writers Week makes us all a bit more nice to each other, a bit more glad to do what we get to do every day in the classroom – share our own passions for reading and writing with our students.

 

 

An Old Girl and The Sea -What I did over Summer 2016

We are all connected by our love of travel!

This year, my family splurged on an 8-day trip to Cuba for my mother’s birthday. I took advantage of the opportunity and planned for a unique educational exposition I would never forget!

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” ~Sir Richard Burton

It’s an eye-opening experience to visit a third-world, underdeveloped country. It puts the modernized stress we place on ourselves into much-needed perspective. Everything in Cuba is contently old-fashioned. For instance, you won’t find an American car newer than a 1962 model (one result from the 1962 U.S. embargo against Cuba).  Mind you, those cars are in pristine condition as pride in ownership runs rampant.

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As a high school English teacher, I was especially excited to visit Ernest Hemingway’s old stomping grounds and his home in Cuba, where he resided for more than 20 years. His sailboat, Pilar, that he fished on many times not unlike the protagonist in his novella The Old Man and the Sea, still sits decaying off a Caribbean coast. (Fun fact: Ernest’s widow, Mary, wanted to have it sunk so no one could use it again, but Cuban government red tape prevented that from happening). Where allowed, I took pictures to show my students. For instance, we spent quite a bit of time talking to the owner of Hemingway’s favorite restaurant, LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO, who explained how Hemingway’s family, including granddaughter Mariel, still come by when visiting Cuba. Interestingly, a Cuban resident who overheard our conversation that I’m an English teacher, proceeded to show me pictures around the restaurant of other Spanish poets who’ve frequented there. Just a great example of the congeniality of Cuba.

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on wall at LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO

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Hemingway’s grandson

Hemingway's granddaughter

Hemingway’s granddaughter

Mario Beneditti, poet

Mario Beneditti, poet

Miguel Bonasso, screenwriter

Miguel Bonasso, screenwriter

They say everything happens for a reason. Now I know why I never read  The Old Man and the Sea before. Because I had to read it in its authentic setting!!! Let me just say that lying on a serene, peaceful beach off the Caribbean coast, staring at the very sea in which Santiago’s fishing adventures take place was awe-inspiring. For the record, Hemingway did not write Old Man in Cuba – he actually wrote that in another beautiful setting, the Bahamas. Nevertheless, living for over twenty years ten miles out of Havana had an impact on Hemingway’s writing. I will never forget reading that book in that location. Imagine what an assignment it would be to require students read a book within the setting illustrated within that book!! Safe settings only, of course. One of the main benefits of reading is our ability to experience faraway cultures we may not otherwise have the chance to.

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Besides learning more about Hemingway, our trip to Cuba included visits to Museum of the Revolution, breathtaking cathedrals, baseball games and music. We also took a 3-hour bike tour for a unique perspective of the outskirts of Havana. We saw military sites, memorial monuments, the Colon Cemetery (no pictures allowed!), and dedicated parks and forest preserves.

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Obama loosened travel restrictions to Cuba in September 2015 and, in doing so he expanded for travelers who have a humanitarian or educational purpose. We have to get visas, but that extra effort is worth it. The president’s visit to Cuba in March 2016 additionally lead the way for further congenial relations.

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Plaza de la Catedral

Although the United States’ past relationship with Cuba may have been portrayed the country as being an unsafe place to travel, it is extremely safe. We talked extensively to Cuban residents and officials who reiterate that Cuba’s crime statistics indicate that it’s one of the safest countries in the world. We walked off the beaten path a few times and felt completely safe and welcome. Just brush up on your Spanish as English is not the dominant language.

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Communication outside of Cuba was a challenge. There is no cellular data. Wi-Fi is available only at certain hotels, and even that has many time and site restrictions too. Honestly, it was wonderful to see local people always socializing, always out and about, even very late into the evening . . . simply talking. No hunched shoulders behind screens!! One other small but very significant detail – travelers used to modern necessities need to bring their own of everything – and I do mean everything. Stores are far and few between, and those that exist hold limited supplies; but, the local artisans selling their handmade unique art will make you forget the “necessities” we choose to spend our money on.

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on the Prado

The food was delicious and fresh. Cubans eat well with what their Earth provides. Seafood, sweet potatoes and plantains are plentiful.

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Who knows how Cuba might change radically within the next few years. Will pro-America slogans start to emerge? Will signs of capitalism bring more goods and services? Signs point to yes but I’m blessed to have had the unique opportunity to venture forth now, to experience Cuba at its most authentic. The world is our authentic classroom.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ~Gustave Flaubert

Endearing Endings/Bright Beginnings

August 22, 2001 sounds like it was a long time ago but, in so many ways, it feels like a super short period. Last week, I completed my 13th year teaching at Palatine High School.  I earned so much invaluable experience serving as educator to the PHS students and gained so many cherished friendships with colleagues – I would not trade one day of my tenure as a Pirate.   To broaden my professional growth, however, I am excited to write that I transferred to Palatine’s sister school on the other side of town, William Fremd High School!!  As of this week, a Viking helmet takes the place of the Pirate hat on my head.

I’ve felt connections to Fremd for quite some time.  My daughter graduated in 2010 with nothing but positive academic and extra-curricular experiences that she still talks about today.  Additionally, I’ve enjoyed working with numerous Fremd colleagues – enjoyably presenting together at NCTE, sharing and networking on our PLN, and teaming up at Institute days.  Finally, Fremd’s interview is ‘the interview that never was’ back when I was seeking my first position in the district 13 years ago:   Fremd’s (then) principal called me first but Palatine’s (then) principal interviewed me first.  Being the eagerly excited new teacher, I happily took Palatine’s offer and didn’t looked back!

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Pieces of PHS Memories!

Some of the PHS memories I’ll always cherish . . .

~ Assisting in the hosting of EdCamp2014 at PHS:  This year I transformed much of my teaching to 1:1 teaching with iPads.  See my post here in regards to making that switch.  Integrating educational technology has fast become a passion of mine and attending conferences such as EdCamp continues to prove invaluable.  Moreover, assisting in organizing EdCamp 2014 at PHS this May was truly productive, memorable and fun.  If you are an educator and have not attended an EdCamp yet, you may want to check it out at some point.  They are free, informal conferences in which the participants drive the course of the day!!  Each attendee has opportunity to offer what can be presented, and each attendee has opportunity to present and/or simply drop in to each session as needed.  It’s a simple way to network and gain loads of resources in just a couple of hours.  See the PHS Technology Coordinator’s post on the latest EdCamp here.

~ Writers Day:  I was lucky to serve our school in hosting Writers Day for the past two years.  I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to see students get excited about, talk about and hear about the significance of writing in our every day world.  Modeling our purpose and format from the acclaimed Fremd High School’s Writers Week, PHS’s annual Writers Day began a few years ago as an opportunity for students to celebrate and experience writing in ways that classroom time does not allow. We have visiting authors as well as student and faculty writers share, perform and discuss their work.  Read HERE for more pictures and information about this year’s PHS Writers Day and the NCTE 2013 conference I presented with colleagues about hosting Writers Day or Week.

~ Choreographing and organizing the very first dance PHS “flash mob:”    This is an experience I will never forget!!  Stemmed from a whim idea I had one day when I saw my former French teacher’s FB post about a teacher dance at her own school, I decided to go for it!  After months of keeping the secret from students (staff did a great job with this!) with disguised emails, early morning dance sessions hidden in the wrestling room, and private YouTube how-tos for the teachers, a good majority of staff performed, shocked and wowed students!!   Feel free to check out a more detailed commentary of my experience in coordinating this right HERE. .  . .

~ Coordinating the Literacy Coaching program:  As a reading teacher, I was happy to offer my services as mentor to new teachers, offering resources and feedback on integrating best practice reading strategies within each content area.  Having the chance to mentor creative, motivated teachers outside of the English department was immensely eye-opening and educational.  I enjoyed collaborating with the Applied Technology, Art, Music, World Language, and Family & Consumer Science department during my three years as a literacy coach.  You can read more about the program in my post here.  Establishing collaborative relationships with the Applied Tech department, in particular, led to the Engineering teacher and me drafting a proposal for a district technical writing course.  Stay tuned for more information on that!

~ Designing the Freshman Study Hall program:  This goes back to my earlier years at PHS.  When we had a more traditional study hall for nearly all incoming freshmen and sophomores, I enjoyed researching and organizing study skill mini-lessons for staff throughout the building to share with the study hall students on a bi-weekly basis.  For instance, one week Media Center specialists came in to speak about research skills, another week math teachers came in to demonstrate that solving seemingly difficult math problems can be broken down into doable step-by-steps, and yet another week, our principal, talked about summer reading and what he was going to read that summer!  It was another productive way for me to get to work with many wonderful colleagues in the building.

Some things I look forward to embarking upon at Fremd . . . .

~ Assisting with the The Logue, Fremd’s school newspaper!:  This truly excites me!!  I’ve already met our student staff for the upcoming school year and canNOT wait to work with these talented souls!  These students seem earnestly eager to represent and share Viking Pride through the paper, and I’m just as earnestly eager to watch, guide, and learn as they do!  This year, District 211 is embarking on the first year of producing all-digital newspapers at all five of our schools and WORDPRESS is the platform.  With a WordPress.org, WordPress.com, and Edubogs account of my own, I can’t be more thrilled about this.  I so look forward to working with the students as they learn and refine their digital journalism skills.  One added perk for me . . . my daughter served as an editor on the paper when she was a Viking herself . . . all the more reason for me to enjoy The Logue.  🙂

~ Working with Fremd’s special education department to teach a co-taught English course!:  I am honored to utilize my reading background to serve the special needs of students at Fremd on a sophomore-level co-taught course.  I’ve already met my partnering teacher and was instantly connected.   We are in the midst of planning our curriculum and look forward to meeting our new students in August!!

~ Helping wherever I’m needed with Fremd’s fabulous Writers Week!:  I look forward to assisting my colleagues in any which way I can to promote the 21st annual Writers Week.  I’ll be honored to be teaching amongst this exciting week and serving the school during his acclaimed tradition at Fremd.  I had fine practice with coordinating Palatine’s Writers Day over the past two years and learning from Fremd’s newly retired, revered English teachers Gary Anderson and Tony Romano.

The countless learning and teachable moments, achievements and memories I know are yet to be made at Fremd!:  Dare I say it already feels like home?!!!!  It’s not even possible to yet write all of the experiences I have to look forward to at Fremd.   I’ll let my exclamation points speak for themselves!

“If you do not create change, change will create you.”  ~Unknown

Change is good.  Every great accomplishment and milestone – both professionally and personally – stems from conscious change.  We grow and learn from every small or more major change within our lives.  I look back fondly on the growth experiences I’ve gained in my educational career as I excitedly look forward to the new insights, perspectives, connections, experiences I will gain at my new school.  Go Pirates!  Go Vikings!