Monday, June 27, 2016

Julie Meets Peter Elbow!

This image courtesy of Brave Writer
Julie Bogart, the founder and owner of Brave Writer where I have taught since 2002, interviewed Dr. Peter Elbow, Professor Emeritus of University of Massachusetts Amherst. Dr. Elbow's work has revolutionized the teaching of writing. This interview goes far beyond teaching writing in home schools to the overall philosophy of writing.

I watched this interview live via Periscope while sitting in a Starbucks in Lakeside while Elizabeth had a meeting, and I was completely entranced. (And yes, the "Susanne" she mentions near the beginning of the interview is me. )

When she posted this interview on the Brave Writer Blog, Julie included this introduction:

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My love affair with Dr. Peter Elbow started in the mid 1980s. My mother, a professional author, handed me his book Writing with Power as one of her chief sources of writing inspiration.
I got midway through the first chapter and my margin notes said things like, “Wait, that’s what I do!” and “I never realized other people wrote this way, too!”
Writing with Power put my writing life into words and identified the processes that came naturally to me. Even more, Peter Elbow gave me new ideas to test and new methods to aid me in expanding and exploring my mind life in writing. Writing with Power popularized the term “freewriting” and Peter’s work cascaded into a revolution of writing practices at all levels of the school system in the 1980s-1990s.
Over the ensuing decades, I’ve studied his writings eagerly adding to my “Elbow book shelf.” In 2000, after I published The Writer’s Jungle, I packed up the three ring binder and shipped it to Peter without pausing to consider the audacity of that move. Peter served as the head of the writing department as a professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I told him how his work had inspired me and shaped what I teach in Brave Writer. I thanked him for his ground-breaking ideas and the influence they had on me.
I never expected to hear back.
A month later, an email arrived from Peter! Imagine my shock (and anxiety). What if he thought I was a hack? Instead, the warm voice I had come to know in his books greeted me immediately. Peter thanked me for the manual and told me he was glad I was taking his ideas to the homeschooling market since he had no access to home educators. He liked what I had written. Satisfaction and a big confidence boost came along for the ride.
A few years later, Peter’s secretary contacted me and invited me to hear Peter speak at Miami of Ohio University. I couldn’t believe he even remembered who I was! I attended a writing workshop for professors as Peter’s guest, was seated in the front row, and got to spend time talking with Peter before and after the seminar.
We’ve since had a few email exchanges, including a recent one where I praised Vernacular Eloquence. The pattern had repeated itself. As I read his latest book, I discovered that what we do in Brave Writer is exactly what his writing theories set out to assert—only in this case, we were successfully practicing the principles long before he had completed his 7 year magnum opus! All I could think was how glad he’d be to know that his deepest, most sacred beliefs about writing and process and reader response were most effectively experienced in the home, not school. I couldn’t wait to tell him!
When I realized that I would be traveling to Seattle (where Peter and his wife, Cami, now live), I let him know. Peter invited me to lunch. Cindy and I joined him at his lovely home and followed the meal with a Periscope (live video) where he and I freely dialogued about our shared writing values and strategies. It is not an overstatement to say that spending time with Peter is on par with meeting Bono in person.
For me, Peter is my writing “rock star” and I feel privileged to know him and call him my friend! We played off one another, I learned more from him, he seemed genuinely interested in what we are doing in Brave Writer, and we laughed and laughed.
His most gratifying comment to me came after we turned off the camera.
Peter said, “I meant to say this while we were filming but we kept moving forward. You articulate many of my ideas even better than I have!”
I can now die happy.
Dr. Peter Elbow is 80 years old. His commitment to the writing process and to gently holding a writer’s self-expression while giving meaningful carefully worded responses to that writing is inspiring.
With this introduction, I give you my writing guru, Dr. Peter Elbow. (Yes, I gush, blush, and fawn like a fangirl.)
May you find new inspiration for how to support your children in becoming free, brave writers.


Writing with you,

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Fourth Week After Trinity and Quote of the Week

David Tennant as Hamlet on a Royal Mail stamp to honor the 50th anniversary of the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) in Stratford-on-Avon (Shakespeare's "hometown")

As we continue through Ordinary Time, I thought I would take the time each week to post the new Collect from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 along with the Sunday readings. In addition, I'll include the new Quotation of the Week.

Every week I change these two elements in the sidebar, but I was thinking that I would return to my old habit of posting them each Sunday here in the blog itself.

I plan to be posting a ton more in the blog once I finish this wacky school year. I'm still plugging away on the Literary Analysis: Hamlet class at Brave Writer; in fact, we have passed 1300 posts for this class, almost all of which I have either written or have responded to thought-by-thought.  And then I have to grade the MLA Research Essays for my co-op Expository Essay course at Heritage Christian School's co-op Class Days at East County 2. With final grades for homeschooling during the second semester of the 2016-2016 school year due this Friday, June 24, I have to get those MLA essays graded and returned to my students plus complete B's report card as well. Once Hamlet and homeschooling (Class Days and our own schooling) are done, I'll have time to write, read, and blog. And sleeeeeeep. Oh, how I neeeeeed sleeeeeeeep right now with my average bedtime at 3:00 AM.

I have so many things to share with you all: finishing my final Class Day course, visiting the First Folio exhibit at the San Diego Public Library as part of Shakespeare 400, seeing Alice Through the Looking Glass, Julie's (founder and owner of Brave Writer) interview this week with Peter Elbow, and so much more. So once I'm done being a teacher (until July 5 when my Fan Fiction course at Brave Writer begins--it's full and closed already!), I'll get to all of these wonderful things.

In the meantime, with my brain thoroughly Hamletted (yes, it's a word, says me!), I'll share the Collect and Quotation for this week....

O GOD, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply your mercy upon us, so that with you as our ruler and guide, we may pass through all that is temporal and not lose the eternal; Grant this, heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and rules, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Ecclesiastes 11.3; Matthew 6.21; Hebrews 6.18-20)

Romans 8.18-23; Luke 6.36-42; Psalm 27.1-7; Psalm 9.9-12; Sirach 27.4-7

And the Quotation of the Week, taken from my Quotation Journal which I've been keeping for 15 years this summer....

"The Christian life is one of incarnate spiritual pluck."
~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, May 20

Wishing you all a blessed Sabbath and a wonderful week ahead! I'll be hanging out with Hamlet for the first part of the week, and then I'll be tackling those lofty and long MLA Research Essays, so I'll be quite occupied....

Soli Deo Gloria,

Saturday, June 11, 2016

My Class Day Poetry Class

A re-post from the Archives with an all-important addendum at the end...

With the exception of the few years we did not attend Heritage Christian School's Class Days because of my illness, I have mostly taught high school students. In fact, since returning to EC II Class Day for Elizabeth's 10th grade Biology Lab three years ago, I have taught only high school writing, both college prep and honors levels--to mostly 10th-12th graders.

But this year was different.

At the end of last year, I was informed of two things: 1) My Advanced Writing Class (honors, grades 11-12) was closed due to lack of students (actually, there were students who tried to register later and couldn't), and 2) The 4th-6th poetry teacher had decided not to return to Class Day after all, so a class of 15 students was now without a teacher. And guess what? Both classes were scheduled for first period, so shifting to the poetry class was an easy move. The idea of teaching a poetry class was intriguing, so I volunteered to cover the class--which meant "design and write and then teach the class, and grade all student work."

Once September rolled around, both the families and I were to adjust a bit. Somehow misinformation escaped about the class: I was told that the class was a poetry class and therefore designed the syllabus and wrote the class to reflect the subject of poetry; however, some parents were informed that the class was a creative writing class. I added more writing to the class via the writing of responses during our first semester as we read and discussed the lives and works of such poets as Robert Louis Stevenson, e.e. cummings, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, and Emily Dickinson. We lost a few students whose families wanted a creative writing course rather than a poetry class or who felt the class was too much work for their current workloads, but overall, the class seemed very successful.

The students also worked on a Poet Project over the course of the first semester which included the writing of a report on the life of a particular poet and then the copying of five poems by that poet as part of the project. So on our last day of first semester, the students presented oral presentations of their Poet Projects, covering the lives and works of Christina Rossetti, Walter de la Mare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Shakespeare, Aileen Fisher, Roald Dahl, and Langston Hughes.

During the second semester, our poetry class focused on the writing of poetry. We studied stanzaic structures and wrote couplets, tercets, and quatrains; we tried the Japanese forms of haiku and tanka, and we played with visual poetry in the forms of acrostic, cinquain, diamante, shape, and concrete poems before concluding the semester with letting loose with some free verse.

Our little class of eleven students, grades 4-6, also hosted two Guest Poets: Judith Deem Dupree, author of living with what remains, and Kathryn Belsey who recently completed her Pacific University MFA thesis, Fire Storm and published two poems in the latest In Posse Review. Both poets read their work and/or taught a lesson to my little class, and both were impressed with the quality and depth of work produced by these young poets.

Kathryn Belsey ("Kitty" to those who know and love her) suggested that I should publish my students' work into an anthology of sorts. Our final class on June 10 consisted of a Poetry Reading for parents and family of the poetry class, each student choosing his/her three favorite poems that he/she composed for class and reading them aloud before the class. Secretly I e-mailed the parents, requesting them to e-mail me copies of their students' three poems which I then formatted into a 27-page anthology with "The Poetry of XXXXX XXXXXXXX" at the top of each page, each student (except one) receiving two pages for their poetry--one poet needed three pages as her poems were lengthier than the rest.

I found that I could e-mail the PDF version of the anthology right to Staples, and I picked them up right before class, beautifully bound and ready to present as a special gift to each student in class. After the group of parents had applauded each young poet, I opened the boxes from Staples and handed out the anthologies; both the parents and the students were ecstatic at seeing their work "in print." I wrote an introductory page similar to what I've written here as well as a Table of Contents listing the "Featured Poets" alphabetically, and finishing the anthology with one of my own poems as a gift to them: "Easter Life."

I received many hugs on our last day of class from these wonderful young poets as well as the thanks of many parents who commented, "You brought poetry into our home," and "XXXX loved writing poetry so much that she wrote in her pajamas before starting school" and "I can't get XXXXX to stop writing poems!"

Those comments are more than adequate reward for putting heart and soul into teaching these young poets. My hope and prayer for them is that they will keep writing poetry long after our class ends and that poetry will continue to be a force in their lives long past this year's class.

From Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance:
Hail, Poetry, thou heav'n-born maid!
Thou gildest e'en the pirate's trade.
Hail, flowing fount of sentiment!
All hail, all hail, divine emollient!

Addendum: 11 June 2016:
Last night I attended the high school graduation ceremony of Heritage Christian School, and I watched many of the students from that 2009-2010 4th-6th grade Poetry Class graduate. Over the last two years, many, if not most, of these young poetry students spent another year with me in Expository Essay (11th and 12th grades only), applying their poetry skills to the Poetry Explication Essay and earning extra credit with their own original poems, as well as writing nine other formal essays over the course of the school year. Yes, out of the 80+ seniors who graduated last night, 18 had come through one of my classes, either Poetry, Discussing Shakespeare, or Expository Essay.

Once I get caught up with my Brave Writer class, I'll post here about my "retirement" from teaching Class Day, a volunteer position that I took on starting nineteen years ago in 1997.

Meanwhile, ever in the grip of poesy,


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