Saturday, February 9, 2008

Deadline Looms

Deadline for Summer Invitational Institute - March 1, 2008
Institute runs from June 26 - July 24, 2008

The Summer Invitational Institute, the core of the work we do at the Eastern Michigan Writing project, officially closes applications on March 1. Admittedly this “deadline” has had a life of its own in the past, but it’s only fair to warn our prospects that we already have a number of applications from the early and the eager, and we have a fixed number (15) we can subsidize under our current grant.

You can still get brochures if it would help your recruiting. Download the application or contact Sarah Soebbing to receive them by surface mail. We will also have an “open topic” meeting for “Tap into Writing” at the “Drowsy Parrot” in Saline (February 21), which would be a great time to talk about the Invitational or any program of interest to you and your colleagues. Don’t forget to RSVP on this one, so we know if we have a viable group.

The Summer Invitational Institute returns to the luxurious Student Center this summer, running concurrently with many of our summer programs, including “Inkstains” (writing camp, July 7-18), the Teacher Research Institute (July 14-18), and the Advanced Writing Institute (July 21-29).
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Friday, February 8, 2008

Tap Into Writing

Our popular meetings continue monthly in locations hither and yon. This month we’ll meet in Saline for a “No-topics-barred” gathering at the welcoming “Drowsy Parrot.”

The movable feast rambles through Adrian, Ann Arbor, and Plymouth in succeeding months. Please let us know by Tuesday if you’re coming. RSVP with
Sarah Soebbing

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

EMWP in Transition

Since we have always valued continuity in the EMWP, we have maintained the same leadership over several years. This year it is safe to say we are in leadership transition. The only positions that depend on stability are the Coordinator for Professional Development and the Family Literacy Coordinator, which are growing so rapidly as to require continuity in leadership. We value the service of our other leaders, but want to offer them room for change. Therefore we especially encourage applications this year.

Positions for EMWP Teacher Consultants: 2008-09
Deadline for Applications is February 15, 2008

Conditioned on funding, the Eastern Michigan Writing Project invites applications for each of the following positions. All positions include serving on the EMWP Advisory Board. Teacher consultants of the Eastern Michigan Writing Project may apply in writing by stating interest and qualifications.

Positions commencing February 18, 2008 through April 30, 2009.

For the 2008 Invitational Institute, June 26 - July 24, 2008, with one afternoon pre-institute meeting in April and five Continuity meetings throughout 2008-2009.

1. Teacher Coordinator for New Teachers
Assists co-director with interviewing, planning, and teaching the Invitational Institute and co-leads continuity meetings. Stipend: $3,000.

2. Returning Fellow
Assists co-director and teacher coordinator with planning and teaching the Invitational Institute and five continuity meetings. Stipend: $2,500.

For the two summer writing camps, commencing July 13-24, 2008.

1. Director of Youth Programs
Assists co-director with the planning summer writing camps for middle school and high school students, recruits and trains teachers, supervises camps, recommends new programs supporting secondary writers. Stipend: $2,000.

Positions commencing May 1, 2008 through April 30, 2009.

1. Returning Fellow for Advanced Institute: Writing for Professional Growth
Assists co-director in the teaching of a 7-day institute in July, 2008, with pre- and post-institute meetings or assignments, and subsequently to plan a permanent Writing Group. Exact dates TBA. Contact Bill Tucker for details.
Stipend: $1,200.
Positions commencing May 1, 2008 through April 30, 2009. (cont.)

2. Family Literacy Coordinator
Plans and implements parent workshops for non-profit agencies, mentors and hires teacher consultants for Parent workshops, develops a plan for working with home school families, and coordinate Family Literacy Programs for Professional Development through EMWP partnerships.
Stipend: $4,000.

3. Teacher Coordinator for Teacher Research
Assists co-director with monthly teacher research meetings and recruits interest in teacher research within EMWP. Stipend: $2,500.

4. Teacher Coordinator for Professional Development
Promoting professional development program, mentoring teacher consultants, coordinating in-service requests with available consultants, coordinating activities with North Central Association and National Writing Projects of Michigan. Requires 10 hours / week. Stipend: $8,000.

5. Technology Liaison
Assists director with technology improvements and support for the graduate assistant. Supports technology integration in Invitational Institute. Maintains web site with monthly updates. Attends NWP annual meeting. Stipend: $2,000, plus travel expenses to NCTE, 2008.

6. Media Editor
Solicits and prepares articles and announcements for three online newsletters and web site. Coordinates with graduate assistant and technology liaison. Stipend: $500.

All applications due: February 15, 2008.

Address to: Bill Tucker, Director
Eastern Michigan Writing Project
612 Pray-Harrold
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Bill Tucker, Institute Director
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Family Literacy Initiative

Second in a Series:
EMWP Professional Development Workshops -

The Family Literacy Initiative
Kim Pavlock

On Saturday, February 16, a number of us involved in EMWP's Family Literacy Initiative (FLI) will get together to not only talk about how the FLI has developed over the past eighteen months, but also to plan for future outreach possibilities.

TC's new to the Family Literacy Initiative will have an opportunity to review our already created workshop materials and receive training on presenting the workshops that we offer. TC's already involved in the FLI will have workshop time to either work on an outreach project of their own or help us develop new workshops for parents of K-2 students and for parents of high school students preparing for the MEAP’s, SAT’s, ACT’s. We would also like to develop a workshop for parents who want to learn more about how to support their middle or high school reader.

This year, we have had a number of requests for parent and family workshops from elementary schools in the Ann Arbor area. An elementary school in Ypsilanti contacted me yesterday to schedule a Family Writing Workshop. The Cesar Chavez Academy in Detroit has requested five workshops for this spring. A charter school in Grand Rapids has invited us to lead a writing workshop for their families. Whew! This is such an exciting time to be involved in sharing best practice in the teaching of writing with parents! How would you like to help us present and facilitate these workshops at a school or library near you? If you don't feel ready to present, how would you like to join us to learn more about the FLI and to work on a parent outreach project of your own?

Please let us know if you can join us on February 16 at the new EMU Student Center, room 104, from 9:30 a.m. to noon. We hope to see you then!

Kim Pavlock and Cathy Fleischer.
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Advanced Writing Institute, Summer of 2008

Living the Narrative Life

Gian S. Pagnucci, author of Living the Narrative Life, says ,

We ought to seek out stories. Even our troubles, the broken down car, the lost treasure, the embarrassing fall: when we become attuned to the ways these events create a storied life, they lose some of their bite, becoming, with some time and distance, moments to treasure. Once, walking out of an Eric Clapton concert that had cost $85 per ticket, I heard a tall, blonde man say to the friend next to him: “Sure, It was expensive, but what are your memories worth?” (55)

This is a glimpse of what Pagnucci means by “the narrative life.”

In our second annual Advanced Writing Institute this summer, we invite teachers to pursue their “narrative lives” in about ten days of writing, sharing and reflecting on how narrative shapes our personal and professional lives. We can compose teacher narratives, literacy narratives, family narratives, digital narratives, case studies, personal profiles —whatever uses narrative to explore a memory or topic.

As we did last summer, we will set a goal to publish our pieces in journals or books or monographs or whatever form of dissemination seems appropriate. We will support each other to complete some important narrative from our lives.

The institute will be centered around seven days in July, the 21st to the 29th and a pre-institute and post-institute meeting. At the pre-institute meeting we will set our individual writing goals for the institute and at the post-institute meeting reflect on our present or future steps toward publication. We are anxious to recruit our active teacher/ writers as consultants as well as participants in this institute.

In another article in the Winter Newsletter, Sarah Soebbing reflects on our Continuity Group’s goal to write a book of teacher narratives. This is the first time a Continuity Group has set a goal of publication, but I hope it is the beginning of an active writing community among the teachers of the Eastern Michigan Writing Project. We need each other to support the urge to write. Without our community, our best efforts lie dormant in our journals.

Following the model of last summer, we will offer the institute with three ways to pay: $100. fee for EMWP teachers, $200 for teachers who are not EMWP members, and the cost of three graduate credits for those registering for credit (Engl 592). Naturally we are eager for everyone to take this for credit, because it seals a commitment, but we are trying to be as inclusive as possible.

For more information and to express interest in participation, contact Bill Tucker, Institute Director.
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Teacher Consultant

2008 Spring Meeting - National Writing Project
Join Me April 3rd and 4th
Sarah Lorenz

Meet your colleagues in the nation's capital on April 3–4, for the 2008 NWP Spring Meeting. Always an exciting event, the meeting provides writing project teachers and leaders an opportunity to share their classroom successes with members of Congress and with each other.

I'd like to invite any of you to apply to accompany me to Washington D.C. for the annual NWP spring meeting. It's April 3-4, 2008 (Thursday and Friday). All your expenses will be covered. On Thursday, we'll be working with other TC's from around the state of Michigan to meet with legislative aides and/or representatives and tell them more about the NWP. This is lobbying to encourage continued funding for NWP, and it's really interesting and exciting. (Don't worry--we can rely on some of our NWPM colleagues to do the hard work and do most of the talking.) I went for the first time last year, and it was a great experience. On Friday, we'll meet with the entire NWP group for the spring meeting and sessions.

I'd especially love it if someone would like to work ahead of time to contact one or more of our representatives with an opportunity to see some student writing/publishing/etc. and/or bring student work to DC. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter has the 11th district, which covers the following, much of EMWP territory:

City of Belleville
Canton Township
City of Dearborn Heights
City of Garden City
City of Livonia
City of Northville
Charter Township of Northville Website
City of Plymouth
Charter Township of Plymouth
Van Buren Township
City of Wayne
City of Westland

He is not an active supporter of the NWP, but he lives in Livonia and has school-aged children. He visited my school once for an event, so I think he is a good candidate to bring on board as a supporter. If you teach in any of these cities, think about contacting him and telling him about your experiences with the NWP.

So let me know if you are interested in coming to DC. If not, feel free to go ahead and let your representatives know if you'd like to see funding continued for the NWP.

Sarah Lorenz, Professional Development Coordinator, EMWP and State Coordinator, National Writing Projects of Michigan

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Teacher Narratives: Telling Our Stories
by Sarah Soebbing

As the focus for our continuing meetings, teacher consultants from the 2007 Summer Institute are currently investigating the genre of teacher narratives. Similarly to memoirs, teacher narratives involve stories and anecdotes from our experiences as teachers, writers, and people in general. We’ve discovered many possible approaches to writing our own narratives, such as the focus of “life informs teaching,” or “problem/solution” teaching scenarios, or “my development as a teacher over a period of time.” The genre seems to be increasingly popular, in part because it is story-like; we can learn from other teachers’ stories as they model their successes and failures, showing us through dialogue and detailed description. Readers are hopefully inspired, informed, and engaged from these reflective, and often humbling, teacher accounts, for the narrative qualities keep our attention while we receive expert information from an expert source – a teacher.

The author of a teacher narrative gains much in the act of writing, for we get to tell our stories, validate our experience, and likely benefit from the therapeutic process. There is plenty of creativity involved in recalling past scenes and dialogue, combining invention with actual events. Teachers will likely feel, through this act of reflecting and recreating, an even better sense of the importance of the experience we are recalling. Teacher narratives can easily incorporate other sources, be highly academic and informative, and combine more formal attributes, depending on your purpose. The possibilities are broad. Some of us have focused on a particular student, a particular class, lesson, curriculum, etc.

Commonly, the genre involves reflecting on something that wasn’t working in our teaching, allowing us to show how we were able to improve a situation. It’s easier to learn from someone else’s mistakes when you really experience how they made those mistakes from first-hand, narrative accounts. The genre is somewhat of an invitation, as if the author is saying “Join me. Learn along with me as I write, for the writing itself is part of the discovery.”

If you are interested in learning more about teacher narratives, this summer The Writing Project is offering the Advanced Institute - Living the Narrative Life. The course is titled Eng 592, and will meet from July 21-29, 2008. For more information visit the Eastern Michigan Writing Project website or contact Bill Tucker at
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Teacher Citizen

Because Global Warming Isn't Happening
To the Science Department Only:

10 Ways to Incorporate Outdoor Experiences in the Language Arts Classroom

by lisa eddy

Happy Yule, ms. eddy!

During our Yule celebration with family and friends, Rebecca gestures toward the beautiful, dark-haired young woman in the recliner on my right. “Did you know,” she asks, “that this girl is really going to do something good with her life? I mean, she's really smart, and she cares about the planet. She's going to be an environmental journalist! Isn't that great?”

I turn toward Chelsy. She asks, “You knew that, right?”

I nod, remembering a recent conversation we had in the hallway at school. She had talked excitedly about going out to sample the River Raisin for her dual-enrollment Environmental Studies class at Adrian College. “Yes, you shared that with me last week. I am so proud of you,” I say and turn to Rebecca. “This is great! I know Chelsy has a really strong connection with the land. I think her career interest may have been influenced by the outdoor project she did in American Literature class last year.”

“Yes, that's right,” Chelsy says.

“She wrote a great multi-genre composition. She explored the connection between war's destructiveness to people and people's destructiveness to land.”

Chelsy nods.

Rebecca looks stunned. “Wow,” she says, and looks from Chelsy to me and back again. “That is amazing. How great is that?—for both of you.”

Chelsy and I look at each other and smile. This moment is the best gift I could hope for—whatever the occasion. When the guests have gone home, I fall asleep feeling grateful for this brief exchange and for the opportunity to contribute to the sustainability movement through language arts education.

What is Place-Based Critical Pedagogy?

In his article, “The Best of Both Worlds: A Critical Pedagogy of Place,” David A. Gruenewald “invite[s] theorists, researchers, and practitioners to...consciously blend approaches from [two] powerful traditions: place-based education and critical pedagogy.” He says, “a critical pedagogy of place ultimately encourages teachers and students to reinhabit their places, that is, to pursue the kind of social action that improves the social and ecological life of places, near and far, now and in the future” (Educational Researcher, Vol. 32, No. 4). Gruenewald argues that it is the job of schools to educate students for a sustainable future by grounding our teaching in “pedagogy that is socially and ecologically critical.”

“But isn't that the job of the science department?” members of the English Department may ask. Certainly it is, but also, dear colleague, it is our job as well. How can we tell it is our job? Look around. Find an area of our lives that will not be affected by the changes now occurring in the environment. Think of a career that doesn't have an impact on the soil, water, and air on which all life depends. Look at the faces gazing back at you from the student desks. Ask yourself, “Will my teaching 'improve the social and ecological life of places, near and far, now and in the future?'”

In talking with colleagues over the years, I've found that many English teachers share my concern about the natural world, but that just as many are unsure how to bring socially and ecologically critical pedagogy to life in their classrooms. With all the preparation for the ACT/MME and making sure to meet the HSCE's, it can seem like place-based critical pedagogy is an impossible dream. Also, English teachers often tend to think of environmental education as canoing down the Huron River with a group of fifty students—an activity that truly is impossible at many schools, due to concerns over lawsuits and dried-up field trip budgets.

But environmental education is a broad umbrella under which thousands of opportunities to interact with the natural world exist. Several studies have found that what brings people to environmental activism is not a school field trip where thirty kids trample a forest for a day but outdoor experiences that allow children and adolescents to form emotional and psychological connections to nature and time spent with adults who model respect for nature (Louv, 149). What this means for us as English teachers is that we don't have to orchestrate complicated field experiences for large groups of students—and we don't have to know the answers to the questions our students ask about the natural world. Instead, we can look for places where the language arts curriculum and landscape intersect and create opportunities for individuals, pairs, and even family groups that allow students to connect to the natural world in their own ways. Most often, once students find themselves outside, Nature takes care of the sense of connection, just by being Herself. Most of us just can't help feeling inspired, rejuvenated, and connected to the greater whole when we go outdoors!

One Caution

One danger of environmental education is that the focus becomes environmental devastation, which can lead to hopelessness and despair. It is important that we guard against this. It is crucial that we nurture students' connection to land in a way that fosters joy and hope. Fortunately, examples of positive responses to the environmental challenges we face are only a mouse-click away, on websites like the Children and Nature Network (, Living on Earth radio show (, and Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots Network, among others. Undoubtedly, our students are aware of issues such as global warming, species extinction, and pollution, but such knowledge often does more to foster fear and despair. Providing a student an opportunity to feel a connection to plants and animals in her own yard, on one city block, or even in a single tree can do more to empower her to seek sustainability in her life and work than a whole decade of bad news. Fostering an ecological conscience in others requires that we and our students get outdoors and have a good time!

PBCP In Practice: Ten Ways To Re-inhabit the Local Landscape Through Language Arts Activities

Grab your coat and hat! It's time to get started. Try these inquiry activities that link the language arts curriculum to the local landscape with your students.
  • What happens when we explore the landscape through writing sensory observations? Using Annie Dillard's essay, “Seeing,” as a model, invite students to describe the “free gifts from the universe” that they find in the local landscape. OR using Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses as a model, invite students to create snapshots and thoughtshots of an outdoor sensory experience. OR using Byrd Baylor's picture book, The Other Way to Listen as an inspiration, invite students to write a “soundscape” of an outdoor place after spending time listening to the land.

  • What happens when we explore the landscape through Multiple Intelligences? Invite students to experience and respond to the landscape through one or more intelligence. Using the Logical-Mathematical intelligence, a student can calculate, quantify, and discern logical or numerical patterns in the landscape; using the Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence, a student can create a workout for physical fitness by interacting with the landscape; using the musical intelligence, a student can identify the music of the air, water, plants and animals of the landscape OR create instruments from found objects on the site. Of course, all outdoor activities further the development of the Naturalist intelligence (Gardner).

  • What happens when we explore the landscape through genre models? Share a genre model in Writer's Workshop that illustrates a writing technique for students to try in their own writing. One of my favorites is If You're Not from the Prairie, by David Bouchard, a beautiful pattern poem/picture book that inspires students to write pattern poems about the local landscape. After trying the pattern from Bouchard's book, one of my students decided to use a favorite childhood book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, as a genre model. He wrote a humorous piece about giving Bigfoot a haircut in his multi-genre composition, “Bigfoot in Lenawee,” where he wrote several pieces about the mythical creature living in his yard. Other favorite genre models among the students are the Harry Potter series and other fantasy books. Many students have been able to see the local landscape in new ways when they look through the eyes of their favorite authors and characters.

  • What happens when we explore the landscape through literary lenses? Read a literary selection in which the author describes a landscape. Invite students to observe and describe the local landscape by adopting the attitude toward landscape the author uses. Try using the essay, “Seeing,” by Annie Dillard or a children's book, like Eve Merriam's The Wise Woman and Her Secret. Along with selections that emphasize curiosity and appreciation for the natural world, it can be fun to try others that are not necessarily nature-focused, like Edgar Allen Poe's “The Fall of the House of Usher,” or Kate Chopin's “The Story of an Hour.” Using models that are not nature-focused allows students to become aware of the ways that writers use details of the natural landscape to create setting, mood, theme, central image, and symbols. As in life, landscapes in literature are often overlooked. Helping students to see landscape through literary lenses can help them enrich their writing through the use of details of setting as well as reconnect to the natural world.

  • What happens when we explore the landscape through historical lenses? A chronological approach to literature is an excellent way to get students to think critically about the interrelationship between human history and natural history. At the school where I teach, we make our way through American literature from Indigenous Oral Tradition, through Colonial Literature, the Enlightenment, the Romantics, the Realists, the Modernists, the Harlem Renaissance, and on to Contemporary literature. As we move along the time line, I invite students to adopt the attitude toward nature they find in the texts from that historical period. For an interesting history-science-literature intersection, see Fritjof Capra's 1996 book, The Web of Life, where Capra discusses the contributions of 18th and 19th century Romantics to the paradigm shift that took place in science, from the “mechanistic Cartesian paradigm” to the older view of Earth as “an integrated whole, a living being,” a paradigm found in contemporary science, in “systems thinking” and “the Gaia Hypothesis.” When students have been introduced to systems thinking, invite them to step outside to explore the networks of relationships in the real world, especially those among the human and non-human members of the Earth community. In my classroom last spring, this exercise led to an epiphany for a student who believed that outdoor assignments had nothing to do with fixing cars. By using systems thinking, Jeff began to see the parallels between the fuel, power, and waste systems in cars and those of Earth. His discovery led to a strand in class discussion (which began on the topic of the literary selections) where students discussed the environmental impact of cars and the possible effects of alternative-energy vehicles on the future job market and the economy.

  • What happens when we explore the landscape through cultural lenses? The Hopi settled where they found blue corn; the Ojibwe settled where they found wild rice; and the European diet and economy were drastically altered by the potato from the Americas. For most of human history, culture and landscape were inseparable. The landscape controls our diets, our housing, our clothing, our language, our health care practices—even our religions! A brief study of creation myths from different parts of the globe makes this apparent. Twentieth-century technological advances created an illusion that human life was separate from the natural environment, but as nature reacts to the changes brought about by human activity with droughts, hurricanes, and floods, we are being reminded again of the human-land relationship. Literature offers an incredible array of myths, legends, poems, and novels that illustrate this relationship. For example, let's look at corn. We find it in the Navajo Origin Legend and the Hopi emergence (Blue Highways), the “first Thanksgiving” accounts of the Plymouth colony, and in Sherwood Anderson's short story, “Corn Planting.” In each of these texts, corn plays an important role in a cultural practice: creation/origin traditions, harvest celebrations, and grieving rituals. What role does corn play in American cultures now? Our diet is (genetically modified) corn-based; we are seeing epidemic levels of obesity and diabetes because of our dependence on corn and high-fructose corn syrup. Some biofuels are made from corn; this is causing food prices to rise; consequently, some of our Mexican neighbors are unable to buy corn to make tortillas, a dietary staple. Most of the corn grown in the world comes from a handful of seed companies who are gaining ever-tighter control over the food supply through seed patents. Clearly, world cultures are still being shaped by this humble food and the land on which it grows. One way to begin such an exploration might be for students to keep a food journal for a week, then explore the journey the food made to get to his plate. If we ask ourselves, “how does landscape shape the cultures of the writers, characters, and students in our classes?,” it could take us around the world and back again.

  • What happens when we explore the landscape through college and career lenses? “The Green Collar Revolution” (Curwood) is underway, and our students will have opportunities in fields we can't imagine. We are awash in articles, TV shows, radio stories, and websites that document the greening of our world, in all aspects of life, from hair care to lawn care, from green babies to green roofs. It is an exciting time to be young, to be able to participate in the sustainability movement as one grows into adulthood. I bring up topics related to college and career as often as possible in my classes. I encourage students to try the types of thinking required by their career fields, especially in their field research assignments and multi-genre compositions. Students have looked at the local landscape and asked these career-related (in parentheses) questions: “What would happen if this landscape were a battlefield?” (military) “How is this landscape like the human body?” (medicine) “What music does this landscape create?” (musician) “How do human homes affect the homes of non-human beings?” (construction) “What happens when the landscape is the context for pre-school and elementary learners?” (education) “How does the landscape inspire me?” (art) “How has the landscape shaped who I am?” (literature) “What happens when land is used for sports?” (football) “What happens when land is used for food production?” (agriculture) “How is my mood affected by the landscape?” (psychology) Two excellent resources for information on career connections to land are National Public Radio's Living On Earth, and E (Environment) Magazine. Both are available online, and I often share radio stories and web pages with classes as topics arise in student research. Another way to explore the language arts-career connection is by identifying career-specific genres of writing. Students may select genre models from their career fields for guides to their own pieces of writing.

  • What happens when we link language arts and landscape through guest speakers? Over the years, I've invited several guest speakers to the classroom: poets, novelists, and college students—graduates of our high school—to talk about the role of reading and writing in their lives and work. This year, I invited Bev Ruesink, owner of Needle Lane Organic Farm. She held the students spellbound with a basket of vegetables she had brought, which included blue corn (which students recalled reading about in William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways), and her descriptions of farm life. They were surprised to hear that growing vegetables for 500 local families requires reading, writing, accounting, website design, publishing, and advertising. Another surprise for students was learning that Bev holds a degree from MSU. Of particular relevance for my students was Bev's explanation of the effects of “eating local” on the landscape and the economy. Many students in our district have seen their parents lose automotive industry jobs in recent years, so this message really hit home. Their written reflections were among the most enthusiastic and appreciative I've ever read. A couple of students asked about the possibility of working on the farm next summer, and one young woman became so excited about eating good food that is grown in a good way, she went directly home and convinced her grandparents to buy a CSA share next spring. Other community members I'd like to invite to the classroom include the city Forester, a community college biology teacher, Nature Conservancy members who are involved in land restoration on a local site, and Indigenous elders from the local Powwow committee. Guest speakers are a real treat—for students and teachers. By talking to community members at the local farmer's market, the health food store, nature centers, colleges, green businesses and environmental organizations, one can easily find excellent speakers who generously donate their time to help spread the word about earth-friendly living.

  • What happens when we link language arts and landscape to ACT/MME preparation? Don't laugh. I'm serious! Why not combine the State's requirements for informational reading and written arguments with place-based critical pedagogy? The 2006-07 school year was our first year as a Trimester high school, and as such, we were faced with the task of writing common final assessments using the ACT/MME and MI Work Keys as our genre models, so that our students could have several opportunities over their high school careers to practice taking The Test. I asked, “What kind of informational reading selections will foster students' ability to think critically about the way our lives intersect with the place we live, now and in the future?” I answered my question by including these reading selections in the eleventh-grade exam: an informational article about the role of soil in our lives; directions for proper disposal of household hazardous waste, such as batteries, paint thinners, and toxic cleaning products; and an employee manual that explains the process one company uses for resolving conflicts between employees and management. Once I realized that even practice test materials can be socially and ecologically conscious, writing the exam took on a new meaning, and now I find it enjoyable to think about what texts I can be use for future exams.

  • What happens when we weave language arts and landscape into informal conversation? Since implementing PBCP in American literature classes, my life outside the classroom has changed dramatically. My social and ecological relationships with the local environment have been shaped by what I have learned. To name a few of the changes this work has engendered in my own life: I have learned how to properly dispose of hazardous and toxic household products; I've switched from toxic to organic cleaning methods; I've begun to buy produce from a local, organic, Community-Supported farm and to shop at the local farmer's market; I've begun to give workshops in my community about the importance of outdoor experiences for all; and I've even begun to consider growing some of my own food. Because I've become more conscious of the inter-relatedness of life on earth, a question as simple as, “What's in your lunch, ms. eddy?” can provide an opportunity for talking with a student about our relationship to plants, animals, air, water and soil. When a student asks about my lunch, I can show her the beautiful and tasty produce that was grown just down the road at the local, organic farm and the organic, whole grain bread that was baked eight miles away in Tecumseh. Such simple exchanges have had an influence on at least two students I know, who, at times, proudly declare, “I brought a healthy lunch today!” and show me the items in their lunches that were grown locally and/or organically. On the other hand, I sometimes have to own up to choices I make that are not earth-friendly. Sometimes when I distribute hand-outs in the classroom, students ask, “Why are we using so much paper? We're killing trees!” At that moment, I have to agree that there is room for improvement, and we can talk about the tension between the initial cost of virgin paper and the long-term costs that are not apparent at the time of purchase. I celebrate moments like this, because they show me that students are beginning to see everyday actions critically, in terms of their effects on the web of life. Another inconsistency students like to point out in my life is the fact that I drive a minivan. I have to agree with them that I should drive a more fuel-efficient car—but I explain that I have spinal deterioration that requires the type of seat the van provides. Then I can talk with students about the ways I try to make up for owning this vehicle by walking and bicycling to school when weather permits and by keeping a commitment to set aside at least one day per week as a no-driving day.

Conclusion: It's All About Love

I am listening to Diane Rehm's rebroadcast interview with Alan Alda on NPR. Remembering his friend, actress Anne Bancroft, at her funeral service, Alda talks about how she had admired sea glass at the shore with his grandchildren. He says that she hadn't lectured the children about nature—she had loved it with them.

This makes me smile, and I think, “Well said, Alan!”

It is impossible to overestimate the important role that love plays in Place-Based Critical Pedagogy. In his book, Sharing Nature with Children II, Joseph Cornell captures this idea beautifully when he says, “Whether you're a nature educator or a nature enthusiast, the most effective thing you can do for the Earth is to cultivate love for all things. Love fires our enthusiasm to take nature into our care. It fills us with a vibrant, living power that communicates Nature's joy and wonder as no mere words ever can” (122). As language arts teachers, we can play an important part in the movement toward sustainable living by providing opportunities for our students to experience the local landscape in our classes. With our students, we can wander and wonder, read and write, and think, and feel, and care about where we live--for now and for the future.
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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Teacher Writer

An Excert: NaNoWriMo Novel, 2007*
Carol Sliwka

Seriously, almost every time I get in trouble it’s because someone doesn’t understand me. I do not try to get in trouble, honestly I don’t. Well, at least most of the time I don’t. On that particular day, I was just coming from phys ed class and running late as usual. I like to stay after to help Mr. Gilbert pick up the basketballs or baseballs or whatever equipment we have used that day. He’s a nice old fart and I noticed early on in the year that he makes little grunting noises when he has to bend over, so I figured from the beginning I’d stay after a couple of minutes each class period, all casual like, to help him. Anyway, on that day we’d been playing tennis indoors, which is one of the stupidest things I can think of because if you really smack one of those balls, especially if you are Tom Streeland, the biggest kid in four counties, those balls are going to go flying and you’ll practically have to climb up on the ceiling supports to get them all. By the time I had retrieved about a million tennis balls, there was not a spare second and I did not have time to take a shower. I know, I know—I know what you are going to say. Gross and stinky. I agree. I didn’t’ want to turn into Stinky Boy, but it was risk that or be late to class and I hate being late to Ms. Dub’s class.

Here’s the thing about Stinky Boy. There is one in every class. Ask any teacher and they will tell you this is true. No matter what, you are going to have a Stinky Boy. Sometimes the Stinky Boy is really a girl, but usually it’s a boy. The Stinky Boy is the one who smells like he never bathes or showers. His hair is greasy and he has dirt under his fingernails and his clothes looked they washed up on some distant shore and he just put them on when they dried—all wrinkly and smelly from the sea. No one ever wants to sit by him or even worse, work with him, but once you get past the hell on earth that we call middle school, everyone is mostly polite enough not to hold their nose or make gagging noises and they just politely shift away and casually wave a hand in the air to deflect the stench in another direction. It is important that you understand how important it was to me that I not be Stinky Boy.

I finally got to class with about thirty seconds to spare, and I found a substitute teacher in the room. Now normally I would enjoy tormenting a sub, but not today. Ms. Dub specifically asked me to make her proud while she was gone (which is teacher-talk for you better not screw up, buster, or I will bust you so fast your head will spin.) In any case, I got the point. I had every intention of being a good little boy, but as you will see, I can’t control the whole universe.

The cool thing about Ms. Dub—or one of the cool things—is that she does not look out at the class and see one gigantic blob of kids. She sees each one of us as individuals and she does not play favorites. Seriously, as hard as that is to believe, it is true. Almost every teacher I have ever had had their few special pets who could get away with murder. Literally. Like in Mrs. Ellis’s class in 8th grade, her special pets were the cheerleaders and I swear if one of them had pulled a Magnum .357 or a grenade launcher out from under her skirt and started blasting away, Mrs. Ellis would have just worried that they were going to break a nail while handling those big guns with their delicate little cheerleader hands. I, on the other hand, who was never a favorite, could not sneeze without a twenty-minute lecture on hygiene. But for Ms. Dub, who had no favorites, every incident and every student got its own consideration.

One example of this consideration is that she knows I sweat a lot. I just do. Call it the Watson Curse if you like—my dad is a sweater, too. (Ha, ha, you know what I mean. Not a fuzzy itchy woolen garment but a person who sweats a lot). This is a good thing if you are trying to lose a couple of pounds for wrestling weigh-in days, not such a good thing in the middle of the school day. So Ms. Dub lets me sit by the window after phys ed class. There is usually some sort of breeze coming in and it helps dry the sweat. I need that cool down to prevent being Stinky Boy. Strangely enough, although I sweat like a horse, I don’t stink unless I sit in my sweat and let it get putrefied. If I can dry it fairly quickly, I escape the dreaded Stinky Boy Syndrome. I flop in that desk for the first few minutes or until my sweat dries up, then I move to my Assigned Seat. That’s why I tried to do with the sub, too.

“Young man,” she said. “Where is your Assigned Seat?”

“It is over there, third row, right in front of Alice Mary Reynolds,” I replied in my most polite tone, something subs are not used to and therefore served to raise her suspicions.

“Then I suggest you move there, pronto.”

“I will in a minute, ma’am,” I tried to explain. “Ms. Dub lets me sit here until I cool down from gym.”

The sub was not one who had ever heard the phrase ‘pick your battles,’ because she clearly was not in the slightest bit interested in hearing my explanation. “Move now!”

So again I had to make a decision. Do I do what the sub is asking and move and turn into Stinky Boy and sweat all over myself and my desk and probably everyone within a six seat radius and then cause those people in turn to get nauseous from the smell and sight and have to go home and miss a valuable day of school? Or do I stay where I am even though the sub will write me up and complain to Ms. Dub and I’ll wind up getting sent down to Mrs. Allen’s office? My loyalty to Ms. Dub won out over my own common sense and I unfolded myself from the window seat, pushed through the rows to my Assigned Seat. The short walk seemed to take forever because not only could I feel every eye in the classroom on me, but the sweat glands seemed to be calling for an all out war on my body. I didn’t usually mind the eyes on me part—I’ve been going to school with these people since pre-school and they could always count on me for some unusual entertainment, which I am generally happy to provide, but the sweat sliding down my face was troublesome. My eyes were stinging and wiping them with my forearm only made things worse because that was a sweat factory too. A tiny drop of sweat on the top of my head had to decide which way to go—to follow its brothers down my forehead to wind up somewhere on my chest, sucked into my shirt, or to forge a new path down the back of my head and join the revolution brewing on my back. It decided to trickle down the back, and soon a drip became a torrent. The sweat was rolling down my head so fast I could feel it pinging off my shoulders. This was not good.

I finally reached my seat and flung myself into it as casually as possible, desperately hoping that the sweat wouldn’t act like a slip-n-slide and cause me to flip right out of the chair onto the floor. I made a casual grab for my desktop as I landed and in the process, my back hit the back of my chair pretty hard. My head whipped back and deposited a healthy dose of Sam Sweat on the pristine desk top of Alice Mary Reynolds. Of all the people in the room, she was the most immaculate, the most tidy person there. She reacted in a predictable way to the wave of sweat landing on her papers.

“EEEEWWWWW!” she screamed, scrambling to her feet and backing away as if I’d just dropped a snake down her considerable cleavage. “That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen!!” She was furiously backing away and wiping her hands down the sides of her neatly pressed jeans.

The sub was not in any happier of a state of mind. “Get to the office!” she yelled. Boy, did her face get red!

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” I tried to get out an explanation, but really, what could I say? I’m sorry I’m such a drippy pig that my sweat covers anyone and everyone within a six-mile radius? I’m sorry that I didn’t mummify myself before I left the gym? I’m sorry I was born? I decided not to bother, just gathered my books and slid my slippery self out in the hall and down to the office.
I wound up with a two-day suspension for that incident, thanks to Mr. Coldwell who never believes a word that comes out of my mouth. The funny thing is, I have never lied to him. Not a big lie anyway. I have said, “have a nice day” to him when I really wanted to say, “eat shit and die” but I am not sure that counts as a lie. The record for this referral was officially titled “causing a disruption” but what I remember most about that was my mom’s reaction. As crabby as she can get, she at least always waits to hear my side of it before she decides whether it’s worth busting out a lecture. When I told her what had happened, she asked her usual question, “Are you sure you aren’t leaving anything out?” and then she called her friend Mrs. Carpenter who is a special education teacher at the high school and always hears all the “Sam stories” and can be counted on to give a fair description of what happened. Mom did a lot of hmmmming and ahhhhhhing and Oh?-ing before she hung up but when she did, she had a sort of smile on her face.

“Well, this is a first, Sam. You are probably the first student in recorded history who got suspended for sweating.” She thought for a second, and then said, “You will be coming to school with me for those two days.” She held her hand up in the do-not-even-bother-to-argue-with-me sign, and added, “It will be good for you.”

So I spent those two days in her room, scrunched down in those midget desks and having a bunch of 8 year olds crawling all over me like lice. But at least the time went fast and all in all, it was a much more enjoyable punishment than cleaning out the basement or garage, which is what my folks usually resort to when the school asks me to “spend a couple of days at home.” We have the cleanest basement and garage in the country, I bet.

*Editor's Note: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenges you to write a 50,000-word novel, from scratch, in the month of November.

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Writing is like a liquid. It can flow over you or drown you. When it flows...

by Carol Sliwka

Writing is like a liquid. It can flow over you or drown you. When it flows, it can engulf you in the rhythm of the waves and the tide, with ideas washing over you, refreshing you, carrying you to new places. As a liquid, it can be a cool drink to soothe you on a hot day or calm you like a hot drink in the midst of winter.

But if you aren't careful, it can drown you with expectations and frustration. Like the ocean threatens to crash down upon you, writing can overwhelm you and crush you beneath the weight of words. As a cold liquid dashed upon your face, writing can bring you up short and shock you into speechlessness.

Sometimes the liquid backs up, unable to break through the stopped-up drain filled with discarded phrases, passive verbs, and disjointed sentences. It sits there growing stagnant and brackish until a bolt of inspiration serves as Drano Max to get things moving again.
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Teacher as Writer
by Tricia Maslowski

What if I have what THEY call writer's block every single day?!
"Don't worry," THEY tell me. "You will do fine. Many of these people say they are writers, but this doesn't mean they are GOOD writers."

Easy for YOU to say – you are one of them. How do I decide what to write about? How do I choose the words to express myself? What if I have what THEY call writer's block every single day?!

I have to do WHAT?! A Writing Marathon? How the hell do you expect me to write about what ever I want for three hours?! THEY are sending emails expressing how they can't wait for the big day! How they have been looking forward to this event for weeks. I don't understand the jubilation in going away from the classroom and writing. How is this going to help ME?

Well, here I am sitting at an outdoor cafĂ© in Ann Arbor—my new blank notebook in one hand and blue ink pen in the other. THEY are all scribbling away. I wonder what they are writing about. Probably chapters for their novels and deep analytical poetry that makes one think about the world we live in today. Mmmmm . . . the rules said to just WRITE. Ok, I'll write.

Hey, we are moving to the next location already? I have been writing for 45 minutes now? This isn't so bad. Some ideas came to me. Not huge ones, but it was something. I hope we hurry up and get to the park that THEY thought would be a good location. I like parks. At least I can sit and enjoy the beautiful weather. An idea! I wonder how this will sound?

Time is up? The Marathon is over? We have to leave? But wait, I'm not finished! I need some more time to write. You only gave me three hours!! (Not nearly enough time to complete this piece).
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