Monday, September 30, 2019

Slice of Life: The Connections Between Axe-throwing and Writing

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!


I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I went axe throwing for a THIRD time on Friday night. Please know that the first time was a surprise visit and this third time was to celebrate a very good friend's last day of taking blood-thinners which was what HE wanted to do (it was NOT my idea!). I tried to explain to him that there was NO chance that an axe was going to lodge in his foot or any other part of his body and require clot-making platelets, but he still held fast to the axe-throwing concept. 

When we got there, I had a short conversation with Grizz, the gentleman who would be our axe-throwing facilitator. 

"I'm not good at this," I said, fully aware that I could add a YET to that sentence, but also intentional about leaving that growth-mindset attitude out of my self-presentation. It was easier to just own my ineptitude rather than suggest that I had hope of becoming better at lodging a blade in a square of splintering pine. 

"What do you mean?" Grizz asked. 

"I've done this twice," I said. "I've had it stick once, total. It's not my sport."

"I'll get you up and running," he said. 

I wasn't sure what to say. I appreciated his optimism, but I also didn't want to disappoint him. The other facilitators had said similar things. I might have been a tougher project than they thought I'd be. 

Just as I predicted, I showed no axe throwing prowess. My first attempt lofted high over the target, and Grizz told me to follow through. My second try ricocheted down toward the ground, and we all laughed as it spun and slid back toward me. (Maybe you shouldn't be on blood-thinners when you're throwing axes.) My daughter Julia and I talked about the overall axe-throwing experience on Sunday, and she pointed out that one of the problems for her was that she was never given enough time to practice and figure it out. Two throws and then a long wait while others took their turn just didn't lead to any sort of mastery. She was trying to make me feel better, and I appreciated that, and she also had a point...

If you are expecting a happy ending to this story, you're going to get one, but not because I started throwing bulls' eyes. I was with my best friends, we had great food, a lot of beer, and the night was paid for long in advance. 

And, if you're expecting me to make some connections to students and writing, you're going to get that to. Collective efficacy has one of the strongest correlations with growth and achievement according to John Hattie's studies about visible learning and what leads to learning. Last Friday evening, at Montana Nights, we all believed that I could not throw an axe effectively. Fortunately for me, I didn't really care and it didn't really matter. But that's not true for writing. When we believe and the writing community believes and the writer believes that they're not so good at writing, then guess what? They're not. 

We don't get many opportunities to experience these situations and make these sorts of connections, but when we do, it's worth reflecting on and wondering about. As Julia said, we need time to practice, approximate, adjust, and figure out what works for ourselves. And we also need people, including ourselves, to believe that we can do it. Otherwise, it's simply more fun to do other things. 

Happy Slicing.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Slice of Life-- There goes that plan!

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!


I had great plans for writing a great post today. For telling about an experience and relating it to teaching. For doing a glorious job, like some of the other slicers I admire so much, of writing about a small moment, a seemingly non-consequential interaction, a slice of life that could go forgotten and uncelebrated, and then incorporating some beautiful connection and reflection that inspires readers to pause, wonder, and maybe even change their thinking... 

I really did have great plans for today's post. 

But, one daughter is working on a cover letter. It's well over a page and it needs some serious trimming. Could I help? Of course. Another daughter is working on her application for her semester abroad. Could I look at what she's written so far? Of course. And still another daughter wants to bring cheesecake brownies to her after school meeting tomorrow. Could I make a batch of brownies to use for the crust? OF COURSE. 

And now it's about the time my brain shuts off and mandates sleep. 

So many, many times I have great plans in so many, many aspects of my life-- and they just don't go as I envisioned.

But-- please know-- I really did have great plans for a great post today.

Happy slicing,


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Slice of Life: "I'm SO writing about this!"

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!


"Oh my gosh!" Emma exclaimed, pointing in my direction. "It's Mrs. Meehan."

I think all teachers have had the experience of seeing students outside of school and having them be shocked that we have an existence beyond the classroom walls. On Saturday night, I went to a professional soccer game in Hartford. When we sat down in our seats, I couldn't miss the familiar faces all dressed up in their uniforms and as excited as they could be. 

For a while, I tried to catch someone's eye, but they were focused on their selfies, their popcorn, and every now and then, on the game. My friend and I laughed at their antics when there was an injury on the field or a break in the action. 

At half time, they all headed to the field, set up a smaller field, and scrimmaged. I'd read many soccer-related writing pieces from my experiences of working in their classrooms. When they came back to the bleachers, that's when Emma spotted me. She pointed me out to the others, then to her parents, and then she headed my way. 

"Mrs. Meehan," she said, her face flushed and her voice still high with excitement. "I am SO going to write about this on Monday."

I high-fived her and told her I'd be sure to stop by her classroom and check that out. 

"That's awesome," my friend said. 

Yeah. It was. 

Happy slicing,

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Slice of Life: Today I'll do better...

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!


"So what's the name of your character?" I asked D., a fourth-grade student. His class was in the second week of their realistic fiction unit, and I was in the room for the first time, trying to orient myself and learn names. That being said, I expected everyone to have at least a character. D. was not one of the students his teacher had expressed concerns about. 

"Sirius Black," he answered after a few seconds of hesitation. 

Uh oh, I was thinking. "Let's hear about him," I said. 

"He's a wizard," D. said. "He does all kinds of magic things."

In my head, I was thinking about how I was going to get D. back on the track of realistic fiction. Out of my mouth came the words that we'd talk in a few minutes-- I was going to hear from some other students about their characters. 

When I circled back to D., I had another couple of students in tow with different but related issues. Characters who were in college or high school, one girl with a character whose name was another child in class. 

"Here's the deal," I said, proud that I had a quick lesson to show to a new teacher. "We need to have a few constraints about characters in our realistic fiction lesson." I explained the importance and meaning of the word realistic, the need for characters to be within a couple of years of our own ages, and the potential for hurt when there' s character whose name is that of a classmate's. 

The students were compliant, and yes, they did move on. 

But I wish I'd handled that situation differently. 

What if, instead of telling D. he couldn't have Sirius Black be his character, I'd talked to him about how much he loves magic and the Harry Potter books. What if the conversation had spun into his reading life and some shared interested we had? What if I'd even let him contemplate some fan-fiction oriented stories that revolved around D's own version of Sirius? What if...

D. is NOT a student who writes a lot-- I got that quickly. This morning I'm beating myself up for stomping on his potential engagement. Later, when I'm in his class again, I'll make sure I honor him and that my interest in  and respect for students comes before my obsession with getting them to write. Relationships matter. I can teach them a lot of things when they know I care about them and respect them. 

Happy Slicing,

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Slice of Life: Banana bread for fresh tuna

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!


When my nephew Jack walked in with fresh tuna on Monday afternoon, I had just taken banana bread out of the oven. Outside in the driveway, I talked to his mom, Amy. I tried to give her money for the fish, but she waved me off. 

"How about I give you banana bread, then," I said. 

"I don't know that Jack will take it," she said. "He's on a fitness kick. He might just take it to be polite."

In the house, I asked Jack if he'd like hot banana bread to take home. 

He didn't hesitate. "Sure," he said. 

"You're not just being polite," I said. "You won't hurt my feelings if you turn it down."

"Actually," he said, "I was worrying about not being polite by accepting because I'd think you'd want it."

(I love that kid.) 

I wrapped it loosely and handed it to him on a potholder. 

"I got a good deal," I said. "I'll trade warm banana bread for fresh tuna any day."

Later, I got a text and picture from Amy. 

I guess we both got a good deal!

Happy slicing!