Thursday, June 30, 2011

Public Log (Summer Institute: Day 3)

Well, week one is half over, and we’re off to a good start.  I’ve been thinking about the ways that the Summer Institute is like a race: it seems to be equal parts marathon and relay race.  I say marathon because it’s a long stretch to the end—no quick sprint one-day workshop here.  Right now, in the first week, we’ve just set out from the starting line and our legs are fresh and we are eager to be here.  Perhaps the last week, we’ll be a little more tired, but once we cross that finish line, we’ll be exhausted but exhilarated with what we’ve accomplished.
Right, so first week.  We’ve made it to Day 4, yay!  And There Will Be Food today—a bit of sustenance to keep us going strong.  Our first three days, we have set out at a good pace.  We’ve had two demonstrations, and I know I (for one) have been writing more these past three days than I did for most of the last semester, stretching those writing muscles.  I think some of us feel limber, some perhaps a bit sore from new activity.  The best thing I’ve found to ease the pain of sore muscles, though, is to keep going—so on we must go. Although this is often an individual race, we’re really not competing—we are all running alongside one another, and often running as one unit, a team.  We all have to do our part to make sure that the Summer Institute is a success, and so far everyone’s legs seem to be up to the challenge, even if many of us are unaccustomed to the activities.
After our nightly breather (also known as sleep), we got going again yesterday with the starting pistol—well, chime, and Mike read to us about leadership and told us we’re all leaders.  There was some discussion about t-shirts or a goody bag—all good races have them—and then we’re into Lap One: listening to Michelle read the Log in the style of Dr. Suess.  Today she’s passed the baton on to me—this is how it’s like a relay—and I find myself a little nervous starting my leg of the race.  But as our fearless team leaders tell us: WE CAN DO THIS.  She had us write about a book from our childhood, a prompt I think we all loved.  During races, runners near one another often share stories and talk to one another, and Dawn and Theresa both shared stories so sweet and poignant that it made me tear up a little.  Jacqueline told the story of how she’d always wrangle How the Grinch Stole Christmas away from her older sister during the holidays by quoting the lines ahead of her.  Nathan regaled us with his questions about why there were monkeys in Caps for Sale, and I read why I loved The Secret Garden.  I realized that we love these books not just because of their content but because of the memories they evoke when we think about them.  Everyone who shared their Quick Write had specific memories and emotions attached to their book.  We ended this segment with a little rest and time to refuel.
We took a little longer than anticipated, but rounded the corner only a little behind into the next lap of the day: demonstrations!  Jacqueline took the lead on this and totally ran with it, presenting a totally paper-less lesson on Analysis.  Here, we entered the college classroom, watched clips from Mad-Men, and learned that Brenda has two husbands—what??  That made us stop dead in our tracks until she clarified, and then we laughed and picked back up the pace.  Jacqueline showed us how we can use digital tools to enhance and facilitate collaborative work, and I for one was eager to use Google Docs to enhance my own running…I mean, teaching.
At this phase in the race, we’re getting a feel for our running companions.  We learned that Zack—or is it Jack?—is a bit of a prankster, sending texts in the guise of a man named Carl.  He’ll probably be that guy who will dump Gatorade on your head at the water stop.  Jack, watch out because Jamie will exact her revenge on you before the end of our marathon here.  Chris brought the extra long Twizzlers, which he’ll probably use later on to whip us into shape, or make us run, I mean write faster.  During a rest break, Jamie was egged on to place the animal crackers in, well…compromising positions.  We’re quickly learned who are the runners who spend much of their time in the gutter, and who are the ones laughing at their antics.
After a lap of individual running in the guise of Silent Sustained Writing, we met back up to complete the course for the day with Author’s Chair.  Getting in the spirit of running ahead of the pack, Theresa leapt out and read us the start of her historical/family narrative.  Nathan read lovely poetry about chairs, and Dawn read a work in progress about her favorite place in South Africa.  Jamie passed out our readings for tomorrow—Jack (Zack?) found a little surprise in his packet—and with the finishing chime, we all stopped and were able to rest.  One more day of our marathon down, and before we know it, we’ll be at the end of the race, collapsed on the finish line.  And like good runners, we’ll already be thinking about our next event.

QUICK WRITE: List three of your favorite physical activities.  Pick one of them and write a story about something that happened while you or someone you know was doing that activity, or what it is about that activity that makes you enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer Institute: Day 2

...And, we're off!  Day 2, and we already participated in our first demonstration by one of the Fellows.  TT, a fifth grade teacher, did an EXCELLENT demonstration on the Dust Bowl.  We wrote lots of different ways and really enjoyed what she showed us.  I'm a little nervous about the demonstration, but luckily I'm going in a couple of weeks, so I get to really work on it before presenting!

The day began with the Reading of the Log.  Tomorrow will be my turn, so I've been taking notes and watching all day.  H read the log, and it was all very entertaining.  I think we're going to start egging each other on to write funny logs and really come up with clever ways to deliver them.  I plan to post mine for tomorrow on NWP e-Anthology, a site for Fellows to share their Summer Institute experiences.  H prompted us to write about a food experience, and I shared the most recent memory: making a delicious lemon cake for A's going-away potluck.

After the Log, CG gave us a pep-talk/lecture about professional writing.  He encouraged us to seek ways to get published--and I really want to work toward that goal.  I've got several pieces started, and the one piece that I'm working on with my adviser, so hopefully this year I can begin submitting articles to various journals.

We had a nice session of SSW: Silent Sustained Writing.  I like that they give us lots of time to write; it also gives me some time to work on the writing for the projects that I have going.

I tinkered around with my "Kitchen" piece a lot the first night, so I shared it during Author's Chair time, the last block in the schedule for Fellows to share something they've been working on.  It's interesting and scary and exciting to read stuff to my fellow participants, but I'm glad for the opportunity.

The days go by so quick, and I just feel my head filling with ideas and the itch to write again.  It's amazing how writing makes you want to write more...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Institute: Day 1

Yesterday was Day 1 of the National Writing Project Summer Institute, a four-week long program exploring the connections between writing, education, and writing instruction.  The first day was part-orientation, part-introductions.  We began with one of the mentors delivering the Daily Log, a summary of the last meeting's events.  He delivered it in the style of Stephen Colbert, using "The Word" segment.  We then participated in our first Quick Write: a short burst of writing to get the creative juices flowing.  Our prompt was a dialogue of who we might like to have dinner with, and I picked Tolkien (of course).  We shared our dialogues, and Chris's was the funniest, a conversation with THE Cookie Monster.  Cooookies!

We moved into some business and orientation and expectations, breaking up into our response groups.  I think my response group is going to be awesome--they are a supportive audience who will offer great suggestions for each other's writing.

After lunch, we observed and participated in a lesson demonstration, one of our major products for the institute.  The teacher gave an excellent and fun demonstration over revision (geared for a 4th-grade classroom).  She has us write about our favorite space, a piece that I continued to play with throughout the afternoon and later into the evening.

The group of teachers is a fun*, friendly group, and I'm excited to be able participate.

*Favorite words/phrases: "diggin' like a dog in a hole" and "shoulding."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Unstructured Time

You would think that I'd return to my regular writing schedule now that the semester is done (and has been done for a full month).  You would think that, wouldn't you?  Well, you'd be wrong.

I have a secret: I'm no good with unstructured time.  I thrive on deadlines and regular meetings to keep me going.  I would never do an online class because I wouldn't be able to work on it methodically and systematically--I'd either do it in big bursts or wait until the last minute.

This is a problem, however, for an aspiring academic.  See, now (and in the future), I need to be able to work on my own projects/research/writing without someone setting deadlines for me.  I need to be able to sit down and focus everyday on a given task and get it done.  I think it's key to being successful in academia--and key to finishing my degree (and staying in my adviser's good graces).

With that in mind, I'm going to attempt to structure my own time and force myself to stick to some sort of schedule.  The past couple of days I've been working on reading some scholarship and thinking about my Fall course, and tinkering with other tasks, but not in a structured, concentrated way.  I hate feeling unproductive, but I'm having a hard time actually getting much done during my summer days.

Fellow academics, how did you train yourselves to be more disciplined and focus on tasks to be able to accomplish what you want to accomplish?