August 9th was the date of our second Joy Write meeting. A group of teachers had agreed to read Ralph Fletcher’s latest book, Joy Write, come together twice over the summer and just “see what happens.” Of course Dawn, our host, started out by celebrating all those who had accepted the invitation to notice, observe, and write since our last meeting. The list of celebrants was long, the pride genuine. You see, Dawn had intended for us to write and experience the joy during our first meeting, but the conversations were too rich and necessary to cut them short. But with all of that out of the way, Dawn was ready for us to experience the joy that we, along with Ralph Fletcher and so many others, know can be found in classrooms despite obstacles that seem to be getting in the way.
Dawn created three invitations to get us started. They began like this:
“Ideas live all around us in the tiniest objects and smallest moments.” -Lucy Calkins (Grade 2, Writing Units of Study)
“I believe Piaget was right: we learn by doing from our own experience.” -Ralph Fletcher (Joy Write-Page 20)
1. Writers Get Ideas From Books
- Listen to the story for ideas-read the pictures
- Draw an image that comes to mind
- Write what you were thinking and feeling as you listened and read
Dawn read us When I Was Five by Arthur Howard. After reading, she gave us a few minutes to discuss our initial thinking before setting us off to reflect, sketch, and write. She told us to move around, go outside…find a place to work.
Here is my work from that initial invitation:
I drew a plastic green 5, that I received on my fifth birthday and I wrote:
A necklace I still have. Five was a big deal-a whole hand! It must have been special. I held onto this green plastic 5 for almost 30 years. It’s funny how the things that were significant to me, mean nothing to Wren who will turn five in five days. I don’t think she’s even thought of being a whole hand. I was a nervous wreck about everything when I was younger. The other day when I told her I was feeling sad about her going to kindergarten, she said, “But I’m going to have so much fun mom. And I’ll make so many new friends.” She’s reassuring me, not unlike how I was the one reassuring my mom as she cried on every college tour we went on. We are different in many ways, but also the same.
2. Writer’s Observe the World-
- Choose an object-from basket, go outside, take something from inside the house
- Study and observe it through sketching
- Write what you see, feel, think as you draw and study
Dawn had gathered some bark that she collected during her morning run, something she has written about for a Slice of Life post of her own. I chose that to sketch. Others chose eggplants from the garden, flower pots, and seashells.
Let go of the old…old skin, bad thoughts…let them float down the river, fly away on a cloud. Just let it go.
During this sketching process, I got lost in the coloring, the mindlessness of shading in the brown bark. I thought of the tree shedding the bark, the reptile skin we had seen at the zoo the day before, and the mindful activities we had practiced during a faculty meeting in the spring-visualizing negative thoughts and feelings float away (a practice I’ve been experimenting with with my own kids!). All of those negative feelings, the stress and anxiety that makes us feel like our skin is too tight, like the bark. I’m also working on just letting it float away.
3. Copy to learn and think-
- Copy the art card or part of the art card
- Write what you are thinking as you copy. What did you discover?
- Write the memory that bubbles up as you copy and think.
It’s not about making a pretty picture. It’s about thinking and discovery. Play!
I didn’t get to participate in this final invitation at the meeting, because I brought along my mini joy writer, Rose, who wasn’t feeling this particular invitation. I had found an art card that really spoke to me so I took a picture and vowed to try this one out on my own. But as I watched others work, the concentration, playfulness, and calm that filled the room, I thought about Dawn’s words about copying to learn. This made me think about mentor texts and how we use them. Generally speaking, I think we should use them a lot more! I participated in a Twitter chat recently where I Tweeted something like, “Once you begin reading like a writer, you can’t stop.” I’d like to do more of that work with kids (and teachers) this school year. More exploration and play as we study the books we are reading- I even started compiling a list as part of the #pb10for10 challenge on August 10th. You can read about that here.
This Joy Write meeting affirmed for me what I’ve been thinking and feeling since taking on the Slice of Life challenge myself back in March. Teachers need to write (and read!). We need to experience the ups and downs, challenges and triumphs. We need to live the joy in order to pass that along to our students. I’m proud of our Joy Write community. I’m excited to see what this joy translates to back in our classrooms this fall.