Posts Tagged 'writing'

Making a Comeback


Graduation Day at UGA

So, it’s been a while since I posted here.

It’s not for lack of things to talk about. Actually, there’s been quite a bit going on in my life over the past year.  Most notably, I completed my doctoral research project and wrote (and wrote and wrote and rewrote) my 296-page dissertation about literacies and a middle school library media program. I defended my paper in May and graduated from the University of Georgia in August, 2012. In between my dissertation defense and graduation, I participated in the Red Clay Writing Project Summer Institute at the University of Georgia.

Both of these experiences, the dissertation and Red Clay, seem like they would provide many insights to blog about, and they did. But, as my major professor told me, there comes a point in the Ph.D. process where even some of the important things have to be set aside in order to get the work done. I’m happy to  agree with that statement from the other side of the fancy-letters-after-my-last-name milestone.

Slowly but surely, I’m regaining many of those important things that had to wait for a while, including blogging. I’m sure I’ll revisit all that’s happened in the past year as time goes on. I’m also anxious to share some of my new experiences teaching master’s students, and working in local K-8 schools in various roles.

For now, I’m hoping my comeback will be like one of those rare and cherished friendships: the kind where six months, a year, even two years can go by, but the moment you get back together, it’s just like you’d never been apart. So, I’m back, hoping to pick up where we left off. Enough about me. How have you all been?

Adding it up: Writing another semester

It has been so long since I shared on this blog!  The second half of the semester has been hectic.  I’ve started my on-site dissertation research, which is exciting and will figure in to future posts. I’ve also been busy enjoying my daughter’s first lacrosse season, track season, some task force work, and various other obligations both personal and professional.

But, for the moment, I am thinking about the courses I taught this semester. I had the privilege of teaching two groups of college seniors at the University of Georgia (59 in all), all on their way to certification in teaching elementary aged students. I taught two sections of Language and Literacy P-5, where we explore our ideas about writing and language arts and develop a vision for writing pedagogy.  One of the key parts of the class is, unsurprisingly, a LOT of writing.  We write all kinds of things in this course, in large amounts.  As a way of wrapping up this semester, I wanted to do a rough calculation of the massive amount of writing these students created since January.

472 blog posts (plus quite a few extras)

59 narratives, both imaginative and personal

108 maps to fuel our ideas (heart maps, place maps, and so on)

22 piclits

59 persuasive pieces, from commercials to letters to essays

40 (or more) wordles and tagxedos

59 informational pieces, about everything from vacation spots to the history of M&Ms

25 recipes

50 concrete poems

177 lesson plans

59 stories of our writing identities

40 sets of writing mentor texts

108 reflection papers

180 genres for our multigenre project, including everything from collages to diary entries, stories to brochures, birth announcements to wall maps, menus to videos, tickets to medical bracelets, paintings to poetry

countless drafts on the way to final pieces

endless to do lists (that have now, finally, ended!)

scores of emails

and more!

This accounting is all the more impressive given that many of these students walked into class fearing, hating, or feeling downright bad at writing.  They each challenged themselves and accomplished wonderful things. I am honored to have read every word of their work. I feel as if, as the semester added up, my own teaching and gratitude multiplied many-fold.

So, as I wrap up this semester, I just wanted to publicly share this wonderful experience. It is especially bittersweet because about a week ago I learned that I will not be teaching next year as I had planned. In an unexpected turn of events, I received a Dissertation Completion Award which allows me to focus my attention on completing my research and my degree.  Although it is a wonderful honor, and a gift for a researcher to have this devoted time, I confess I was a bit sad when I thought about not teaching again.  I have to think of it as a brief break from formal teaching, knowing that I will be back working with and learning from students very soon.

Hopefully I’ll be back to blogging a bit more regularly in the coming weeks.  I want to share the latest batch of multigenre projects, a bit about my research, and a whole list of other things I’ve been thinking about.  Thanks for staying tuned. Congrats to all my students!  You give me hope that the future will be better and brighter. Take care, be well, keep writing, and keep in touch.

Celebrating Poetry Month

Yes, Poetry Month is here.

I’m kicking off my celebration by sharing my most recent poem, which I created as part of my ongoing commitment to writing along with my students. I challenged myself to write a narrative, a genre I struggle with as a writer.  This poem is an amalgam of many childhood memories, all wound together around  one particular event.  I hope you find your own way to celebrate poetry this month, and every month.

South Haven Summer, Remembered

As soon as we built it
it melted away
made of sugar sand and

In the heat of summer, the time came.
Loading the blue and white van, the
envy of the neighborhood,
for the hours and hours ride to South Haven.

Pestered by brothers, “don’t cross the center line” in the back seat,
Navigating for Dad from the pages of Rand McNalley’s Atlas,
“don’t take us on anything less than 4 lanes…”
sleeping on the floor of the van, with the crumbs and wrappers and smelly socks
to listen to the hypnotizing hum of the
Tires as they motored across miles and miles

We pulled into the parking lot,
and from the first step out of the car we knew.
Sand sticking to the soles of our feet,
mixed with the painful asphalt gravel.
Walking on tiptoes through mazes of close houses
‘til we saw the wraparound porch,
smelled bowls of pasta with Uncle Bill’s homemade pesto,
heard sounds of grandparents laughing,
the new baby cousin’s cries,
splashes from the outdoor shower,
clinking cold bottles of Rolling Rock toasting another summer together at
The Old Kentucky Home, once a boarding house, numbers on the bedroom doors,
We gathered.

We traveled there every year, around Blueberry Festival time.
Countless cousins bring their pinky Irish skin to the Michigan shore.
Family dinners, sandy sandwiches, Belgian Waffles on Sunday morning,
the blueberry fun run, the blueberry hunt, blueberry pie eating contests,
find, wear, cook and eat any thing blue
and our own sports too: tennis tournaments, Marathon shopping afternoons for the ladies,
staring at the boats in amazement,
Then, after dinner, ice cream at that little place out on highway 73, the one with lines so
long they stretched out into the corn field next door.
It was the same every summer, it seemed.

But this year, my Dad decided, would be different.
The year before we entered the 1st Annual Blueberry Festival Sand Castle Building Contest.
We waited for the victors to be announced….fifth place, then fourth, each call of another
name made
us closer and closer to being the winner. Then first place….But our name never came.
Next year, Dad said, would be different.

He started planning only days after we lost, sketching, designing,
going overboard, as Dad was prone to do once he got a project in his head.
The ideas would explode from the kitchen table as he read the paper…
What do you think about a walrus? An octopus?
Or from the front seat as we hurtled down the highway…
A mermaid? An alligator?

Something more fun.
A popsicle. That’s it!
A sandcastle in the shape of a popsicle, with a big bite taken out.

It was settled, then. And then became now,
Contest morning.

Rustling in the old boarding house began just before daybreak.
A motley pile of tools mounted – buckets, spatulas, squirt bottles, shovels,
bottles, colanders, forks and rulers,
Dad’s precious plans, felt tip scribble on yellow legal,
drawn from above and every angle,

Timeline sketched down to the minute
we hit the beach to stake our claim. Not too distant from the shoreline,
so we wouldn’t have to walk so far for water.
Still, not so close that all the teeny tiny kids, enthralled with their own castles,
trample over ours.

Megaphone bellowed at the appointed hour,
families scattered across the shore
we built.

We piled and planed, shaped and subtracted,
measured and centered, a bit more here, a bit less there.
Sweat and sunscreen poured.
We examined from all sides,
five hours later, it was perfect.

Judging seemed to take forever, then we waited.

Fifth place, family division….not us
Fourth place, no…was this going to be just like last year?
Third place….
There it was. All that work got us third place.
We jumped, we yelled, we cried, we laughed.
You’d have thought we’d won
a million bucks, but
third place was good enough for us.
Our name scrawled in a book
Yes, our family was here.
Celebration lunch followed by popsicles, hours later

We went back to the beach after a long table dinner
for our nightly tradition –
swinging on the swingset that went way too high.
Watching the sun slip through every shade of orange –
from whole to part to sliver to shadow,

We walked down to see the popsicle… our popsicle,
all that was left was a
pile of footprints.
The castle, impermanent
our victory, timeless.

It’s been years now,
long since our last drive across those miles and miles
Cousins have scattered like overripe blueberries dropped from branches.
The Old Kentucky home, once warm with joy and family,
is now carried away rubble. hit by lightning, ruined by mold,
but I know what remains.

Dad, you made up your mind that our family would not repeat history’s mistakes.
Instead of being torn apart by wills and jealousies,
we would build our family out of small moments
like the blueberry hunt,
the ice cream place out on highway 73,
roller coasters, hot dog joints, swings, and sunsets every summer
splashes from the shower.

And the popsicle.

I remember our popsicle, Dad.
Yes, as soon as we built it
It melted away
made of sugar sand and

The sand may be gone, sugar sweet as it was, but the memory remains.
One of many foundations to a family well loved
and monuments to a life well lived –
one that you built.

-Beth Gleeson Friese, March 2011

New Posts at the Georgia Library Media Association Blog

I’ve recently contributed a couple of new posts over at the GLMA Blog:

Thinking Ahead to National Poetry Month


Telling Your Library’s Story

I hope you’ll take time to check them out!

New Year, New Opportunities

I’m getting back into the swing of blogging after a short break.  With the start of a new semester, conferences I’ve attended, and some other changes, there is a lot to share. One of my most exciting personal developments of the new year is the opportunity to write for the Georgia Library Media Association (GLMA) blog. GLMA has been a vital source of local school library knowledge, support, leadership, and advocacy for many years. I know I have benefited from my membership greatly. I am grateful for the chance to make contributions over the coming year.  Special thanks to my friend Buffy Hamilton, Communications Coordinator of GLMA, for the invitation. She is doing an amazing job widening the school library conversation across different media and interest groups.

You can read my first post for GLMA, about attending the ALA Youth Media Awards, here.

From Discussion to Creation: Transforming Talk into Something New

At the beginning of each semester, I set goals for myself as a teacher.  Usually, these goals relate back to flaws or shortcomings I’ve noticed in my own teaching during previous semesters.  I make these goals public to my students on the first day of class.  As a teacher of teachers, I feel it’s important to model the kind of reflective, rethinking, renewing practice I hope my students will embrace themselves.

For my goal this semester, I put concerted effort into making class discussions more meaningful and productive.

As the semester winds down, it’s time to share and reflect on how it has gone.  My students provided anonymous feedback to me several weeks ago about the course, and I asked a specific question about these discussions to see what they thought.

First, a quick overview of where I began and what we’ve done this semester:

Since I began teaching 2 years ago, I’ve felt somewhat lost when it comes to facilitating effective discussions.  My students read every week, then write blog posts responding to their readings.  Up through last semester, they would bring their blog posts to class, then have small and large group discussions to share and debate the points they thought were important, questions they had about the content, and so on.

Some of these discussions were worthwhile, but more often than not it felt like the students just read their posts to each other and then waited for time to elapse.  I would walk around and monitor discussions and when I stopped at a table, they would make extra efforts to engage with each other, then lapse back into more passive tones once I moved on.  Even with guiding questions and other encouragements or scaffolding, it didn’t seem to improve.

Another, seemingly unrelated issue I knew I had with my courses was my habit of doing a “digital day,” which always seemed to happen at the end of the semester.  I use blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, Youtube videos, and so on, throughout the semester.  But I usually reserve a day just to play with technology we haven’t had a chance to talk about.  In the past, these included all kinds of tools, from wordle to tagxedo to photo editors, twitter, and anything else I had bookmarked.  I basically just threw it all at the students in a big link farm, did quick demos, then told them to play. This worked reasonably well – it was always fun because the tools are fun and play is fun.  Students would email me their creations and I would show them up front on the screen.  But I always felt pretty unsatisfied by this kitchen-sink add-on look-how-cool-this-is approach to technology. I wasn’t modeling the effective use of technology to enhance learning.

It was late last spring when I realized that these two problems might be put together into something new.  So, this fall, when students discuss the readings in small groups, they also have to produce a piece of writing / digital composition to show what they have learned from and with each other. They have about 35-45 minutes to create their collaborative pieces. Once they complete it, they email the pieces to me and we view them on the front screen, talking about what they learned and some of the commonalities and contrasts in the pieces they made.

Here are some examples.

The first time we did this, students were getting a handle on writing workshop, working on their “big ideas” of what a workshop might look like from introductory chapters in a book.  They had to transform their group’s ideas into a concrete poem.  I used Paul Janecszko’s A Poke in the I as a mentor text.  Here are a few of their poems:

Obviously, these first compositions weren’t digital, but they are creative pieces of writing that represent the groups’
negotiated understandings.

The next week, students read more about writing workshops and the kinds of activities that take place in workshop classrooms. Small groups used to write a scene (or scenes) from a writing workshop. Here are some examples:

We also talked about comics as good sources for learning about dialogue and “inner dialogue.”

Third, we made piclits to talk about focus lessons in the workshop.  I love the easy drag-and-drop use of this site.

Up until this point, all the texts included visual elements, which is another part of the workshop that is sometimes neglected.

Finally, we talked about conferencing.  I had the students write a recipe for conferencing, encouraging them to use mentor texts off the internet for ideas of the nuances of recipe writing.


Serving: 2, teacher and student


1 Notebook student’s writing

3 heaping spoonfuls genuine interest

2 handfuls of teacher’s writing to reference

Endless possible strategies to suggest

1 teacher’s observation notebook


1. Research by listening to students tell about their writing. Optional: Record observations in


2. Decide which one aspect to focus.

3. Teach by suggesting various strategies to help them as a writer, not just that particular writing.

4. Let students explore and try out suggested strategies.


A teacher
A student
A handful of open-ended questions
A pinch of constructive criticism
A dash of creativity and direction
A pinch of praise

Begin with a student who has started the writing process. Add a teacher who has prepared
a handful of open-ended questions about the writing process. Then, slowly mix in the
constructive criticism. Depending on the consistency of the writing, suggest dashes of
creativity and direction. Let simmer for a couple of days and then top with a pinch of praise.



1 cup quiet space
1 table
2 chairs
1/3 cup teacher talking
2/3 cup student talking
½ lb. student writing samples


Preheat room to 73 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine quiet space, table, and chairs, mix well. Slowly stir in
teacher talking and student talking, alternating until both are
completely added to mixture without lumps. Work in student
writing samples, ¼ lb. at a time. Pour into an 8 ½” x 11” writer’s
notebook, and bake for 7 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool
for 1 hour.

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 7 minutes
Cooling Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 17 minutes


The examples go on and on.

My thoughts about the difference this has made:

There are several reasons why I am pleased with this change. First, I am learning how to further integrate composition and technology into the classroom, in order to make learning different. Some of these writing experiments were more successful than others, but each provided some insights into the content, into the genres, and into the different ways we can use writing to learn and share what we know.  This, in turn, laid the groundwork for their multigenre projects which started after midterms.

These in-class creations also facilitate conversations about the writing process, plagiarism (and how to avoid it), and can be a means of formative assessment of understanding regarding their emerging ideas about language arts and writing instruction.

The student response to these writing tasks has been overwhelmingly positive.  As an observer, they seem more engaged in their group discussions and have more debates about what is important. The students agree: according to the student evaluations, making something new has mattered to their discussions. Here are a few of the comments they provided on their anonymous evaluations:

  • I enjoy the group activities and find them helpful in generating discussions actually around the topic.
  • I really like the class discussions and group writing. I like how you can pull up what each group said, and I want to use the websites that you gave us in my future teaching.
  • I like to see what other people think about the readings.
  • Creating something meaningful from our small group discussion helps me process the information
  • Really great – they help our discussions at our tables and get us to actually talk about what we read.
  • They are excellent. They keep us focused instead of talking about our weekend. I had no idea I could be so creative til you provided the outlet and we create from here. It’s open ended but not too much that I don’t know where to start.
  • Group writing is awesome – better able to discuss a topic when we create something to go along with it.
  • I enjoy doing discussions in creative ways. It is often more challenging, but its fun and it gives us good ideas to use with future students.
  • I think it is so very beneficial to me as a teacher one day.

I need to keep expanding my repertoire and thinking more about technology for learning.  But overall, I’m pleased with how this has turned out.

Do you encourage your students to write collaboratively?  I’d love to hear your experiences!

The Future of Reading: Thinking Ahead to the SLJ Summit

It’s already time for another conference – the School Library Journal Leadership Summit will take place over the next couple of days. I was surprised and thrilled to be invited to this event. As a doctoral student in Language and Literacy Education, the conference theme “The Future of Reading” is of great interest to me on a number of levels.  Here are some of the questions and items that are on my mind right now, as I look through the exciting program, preparing for the conference and all the conversations we will have.

What does it mean to read online?

One of my main questions is, what does it mean to read online?  Although books are still important, it is clear that more and more of the reading we do is online – often filled with hyperlinks, dynamic content, and images. How do we read these emerging, often complex, genres?  I was thrilled to see that Don Leu, one of the leaders of the New Literacies Research Team, will be talking with us during the summit.  I heard another member of the New Literacies Research Team, Julie Coiro, speak last year about her research into online reading. I remember her talking about the way the dynamic and linked content can lead readers to be more active in interacting with the texts.  I also remember thinking (Coiro may have said this, actually) that this reading was almost a new form of co-authorship.  It’s nothing new to realize that our own experiences and traits as readers transact with texts, but online genres seem to invite active reading in new ways. And so, the question becomes, how to we properly read online texts?  Does that question even make sense?  Are we thinking about the different strategies readers need to evaluate and comprehend online texts? Of course, librarians have been thinking and teaching about evaluating all kinds of sources for years.  But I can’t help wondering if the preponderance of online reading that many students do leads to new questions and strategies we are only beginning to consider.

For example, Bud the Teacher blogged an excerpt from a post called the Rhetoric of the Hyperlink which offers some pretty amazing discussions of what hyperlinks are and how they function.  There is also a bit about the Kindle in the piece. As we become more and more accustomed to seeing different online texts, (while at the same time they become more and more complex), there is a lot to think about in terms of the way we read and write.

With changes in reading, what happens to writing?

The talk of co-authoring through linked reading and learning about hyperlinks reminds me that we cannot separate reading from writing. So, I am excited to see reading as the central topic for the summit, but to me the future of reading ties directly to writing.  I’ll admit that, in the past, I thought that reading was the primary skill and writing followed.  But after some study and spending a lot of time writing myself and with students, I see that the process works both ways.  Reading and writing are closely aligned and inform one another. I was reminded of a study I read called Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading, from the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Carnegie Corporation. This report is linked here, in addition to others from the Carnegie Corporation. The SLJ Summit will also feature Andrés Henriquez, who works on the Carnegie Council for Advancing Adolescent Literacy.  I hope he will be sharing some of the insights from these reports and others in his talk.

What concerns about intellectual freedom emerge with new ways of reading?

With all the exciting aspects about the future of reading, I also have concerns.  I am sure there will be lots of talk at the summit about gadgets and apps that are intended for reading of different kinds.  I’ve been watching the discussions about many of the different e-readers with some interest. The discussions about ownership of digital materials and DRM are fascinating.  I also watched a talk by Ted Striphas brought some issues to light that I had not considered before.  (He has since released some written versions of this work, including E-Books: No friends of free expression.) Most interesting to me were the way data are collected from Kindles and the legal status of that data. I love the idea of social reading – to me that is such an incredible benefit of reading with technology. The chance to make reading more transparently and globally social is exciting. But, at the same time, Striphas’s arguments bring up some important concerns about privacy for readers, which I think we as librarians should consider. I haven’t thought through his arguments fully, but I hope we keep these concerns in mind as we continue to develop e-reading collections. How do our ongoing commitments to intellectual freedom wind through these new devices, genres, and reading practices?

What about the book?

In closing, I’ve got to admit that my own thoughts on reading have changed a lot over the past few years.  I’ll admit, I have been one of those people who cherish the physical product of a book – one of the “I-love-to-cuddle-up-with-a-book,”  “Books-have-such-a-great-smell,”  “The-tactile-experience-can’t-be-replaced” people.  (In some ways I still am). I’ll admit that I didn’t see the wrenching away of the ideas in the book from it’s physical form coming as quickly as it has. Well, maybe it hasn’t completely separated, but, as I flipped through the new issue of Real Simple yesterday, I came to a page that signaled to me that something big has changed.  Real Simple does regular features on “New Uses for Old Things” and they devoted a full page spread to how to repurpose books.  These involved cutting out words to make new sentences for an activity at the holiday kids table, ripping out pages and forming them into cones to look like festive trees, transforming the pages into bows for presents, and hollowing out pages to make an unexpected gift box.

(Image from Real Simple, November 2010)

One the one hand, I thought about all the kids who do not have books in their homes (not to mention strained library collection budgets) and thought – Don’t cut up your books for holiday decor – Donate the books to a library or charity! Please! But I also think that this page in Real Simple, a somewhat mainstream family magazine, says a lot about the role of books in our lives.  It is not that we don’t love or need books anymore, but their physical container isn’t as important as it once was. Books are not necessarily the cherished objects they used to be.  The content and the container are really beginning to fracture.  Now, we can read comics on our iPads, books on our smartphones, the list goes on…(I’m not sure what will happen to the picture book, but if you believe the New York Times people aren’t reading them as much anymore anyway, so perhaps it doesn’t matter). (And, for the record, I have issues with the NYT story, but I am not sure the reporting is wrong).

So, it should be an exciting few days to talk more about these issues and keep pushing toward the future of reading and the role librarians and libraries will play. I can’t wait to hear what others are thinking about. There are many other excellent speakers that I’ll be blogging and tweeting about this week. The conference hashtag is #sljsummit10.  I hope you’ll join in these exciting discussions.

(Now I am wondering how many of you actually made it to the end of this post, and how many are off following hyperlinks…)

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