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The Big Fresh January 16, 2016 Must Be Present to Win

Brenda Power

Your true home is in the here and the now.

                                                              Thích Nhất Hạnh

It’s plenty dark at 5:30 in the morning when I walk a mile loop through my sleeping neighborhood. I’ve been making that loop for so many years now that it’s a little frightening how often I lapse into autopilot, planning a lesson or drafting a poem as I walk, and then getting to an intersection without remembering what I strode past to arrive there.

The loop takes me a block to the west, two blocks north, a long block east, two blocks south, and then two long blocks back west and home. On the long blocks I walk on the sidewalk, but the short blocks don’t have sidewalks, so I walk in the street for those.

Yesterday, as I walked the second of the short blocks south, in the mental fog of some thought or another, a movement caught my eye on the sidewalk to my left. Two deer were walking in the opposite direction, apparently unconcerned that a human was walking 10 feet away from them in the street. They were so close I could smell their musty deer smell. I stopped and looked back at them just as they stopped and looked back at me. Maybe they could smell my musty human smell.

Then, this morning, just as I was finishing my walk, through the everyday sounds of the neighborhood (dog barking in the next block, train rumbling on the nearby tracks, swish of cars on the street) came the clear call of a barred owl, “Who cooks for you?”

Two deer and an owl on successive days in an urban neighborhood. And all I had to do was show up and be observant.

Life is like that every moment of every day – you must be present to win. It takes two deer and an owl to remind us sometimes that there are riches waiting to be discovered if we will only show up with our mind and eyes wide open.

The same is true for teaching. Keen observation is one of the most important tools in a teacher’s toolkit. We spend hour after hour observing, noticing, and tweaking our teaching moves to match what we see. Being so present at every moment of the day is what makes our job so hard. There is not a single moment of a teacher’s time with students that can be spent on autopilot. But every day there are the deer and the owls to reward us.

This week we consider the complexities of the writing process. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Mary Lee Hahn

Contributor, Choice Literacy

Mary Lee Hahn has been teaching 4th or 5th graders for more than 20 years. She is the author of Reconsidering Read-Aloud (Stenhouse Publishers). Mary Lee and her colleague in the Dublin City Schools, Franki Sibberson, blog about their reading lives at A Year of Reading.


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Ruth Ayres considers elements of the writing process that are common to all, and which ones vary according to the needs, interests, and quirks of writers in The Writing Process . . . and Processes:


Tom Romano meets with Kacie, a student writing about an experience that shames her. He ponders the importance of facing the darkest parts of our experiences when we write. This is an exclusive excerpt from Tom's new book, Write What Matters:


Neil Gaiman has 8 Rules of Writing to describe his process:


Jennifer Allen is offering her popular online courses Literacy Coach Jumpstart and Better Meetings over the next few weeks. Each course includes three webcasts, a book, a DVD, and personal responses from Jen on the course discussion board. Click on the link for details:



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Dana Murphy considers the differences between authentic writing processes and what we teach in schools in Exploring the Writing Process


Melanie Meehan shares a minilesson using student writing as a model for experimenting with leads in Debating How to Begin Stories:  


In this week's video, Ruth Ayres challenges Grant to add paragraphs to his "finished" piece: 


Jodi Mahoney applies principles from one process to another in What I Learned About Teaching Writing from My Trainer:  


In an encore video, Heather Rader works with a second grader who is at the end of the writing trail on a piece in Knowing When You're Done:


That's all for this week!

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Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.