Del Rio’s Green Team Dream

snailWhen I walk at the beach, I often stop and scan the ocean out to the horizon. I notice the surfers as they wait patiently for the perfect wave, and I watch seabirds soaring overhead as they search for something to eat. Occasionally, my husband and I have even glimpsed a spout of misty air as a gray whale surfaces.

At low tide, I explore the rocky tide pools and enjoy getting an inkling of the turban 2wide diversity of life that exists below. On recent trips, I have discovered an amazing variety of animals, including sea slugs, starfish, anemones, rock crabs, kelp snails, and sea hares. I have even found a couple of the descriptively named wavy topped turban gastropods. The tide pools reveal some of the complexity of life dwelling beneath the surface, just as the litter I find washed up on shore hints at the vast amount of trash that makes its way down our watersheds and into our oceans.

sea hareUntil recently, people believed that “no matter how much trash and chemicals humans dumped into [our oceans], the effects would be negligible.” By now, most have heard of the North Pacific Gyre and the patch of garbage the size of the state of Texas that is swirling out at sea. It has become widely known that the negative effects have in fact been profound. Unfortunately, in spite of environmental advocacy by groups and individuals, bad habits have been slow to change.

I am excited that my school, Del Rio Elementary, is embarking on a zero waste campaign that will help us decrease the amount of trash we produce. We will be the second school in Oceanside, CA to join the city’s effort to achieve a 75% reduction in the amount of waste being sent to landfills by the year 2020.

Two inspirational women, Jenna Roripaugh and Corinna Goodwin, who spent a very long September day at Del Rio conducting our first waste audit, are coordinating the Zero Waste Schools program. They labored for hours at our site as they sorted and weighed every scrap to determine where it is heading in the waste stream. The data will provide us with a baseline that will be used to document our progress.

In October, Corinna visited each of our classrooms to share the results of the audit. In addition, she invited students to join the Del Rio Green Team—a group that will consist of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students who will make our zero waste goal possible.

Many students are actually volunteering to give up their recesses to help collect and sort our trash. They will be assigned to monitor and assist during breakfast and lunch service, and they will also help pick up litter left strewn around campus. As our program grows and funding becomes available, we hope to build a garden and start composting.

I am excited about the impact that we will be able to have on our immediate environment, but I am also enthused about the opportunity to teach our kids that they can have an impact far beyond the school. My hope is that our Green Team will learn that they can become catalysts for even greater changes.

To empower them, we will start a student-led Green Team Zero Waste blog; we will create multi-media productions that will be shared online; and we will participate in appropriate crowd-sourced initiatives such as #litterati.

crabMaybe we will even find a way to take a field trip to the beach so the Green Team can spend some time cleaning up the debris we are sure to find washed ashore. If we time our adventure right, we might even get to observe of a few of the incredible creatures living in the tide pools.

Our school is small, but I believe our ability to have a positive impact is enormous. It will take passion, action, and hard work on the part of many, but I am ready to begin. Our kids are ready too. Are you?

Posted in #Litterati, Education, Environment, Leading, Living, Teaching, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Is Hope?

water bottle Hope is taking action and becoming part of the solution…

I found a water bottle on the beach last week. There wasn’t anything unusual about that. Every time I go to the beach, I pick up several empty beverage containers, many of which are discarded single-use plastic water bottles.

Often, someone has left an empty bottle in the sand among other scattered pieces of litter. Sometimes, I discover a plastic bottle bobbing in the surf. Occasionally, I come upon one that was left perched on the stone ledge carved by nature along the base of the cliffs where I walk.

This particular bottle was wrapped in a strand of kelp and was leaning against a mossy green rock. Its label faced up, boldly stating, “Fitness is hope….”

As I read the label, I became curious about the type of person who would leave the bottle behind. Did he or she actually find hope in fitness? My thoughts quickly turned to my own sense of hope. I began to wonder why the act of picking up other people’s litter doesn’t discourage and depress me. Why does it make me feel hopeful?

I found a definition of hope that explains it. Dr. Shane Lopez, who researches hope, states that it is “the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.”

Another hope researcher, Jennifer Cheavens explains that hope is more than wishful thinking. “Hope has two components: a map or pathway to get what you want and the motivation and strength to follow that path.”

When I pick up litter left on the beach, I do not focus on what is wrong. I resist becoming angry at those who litter. I don’t get upset with manufacturers of plastic containers, and I don’t scowl at the beverage industry.

I find hope in the inspiration that my sister and her husband provide through the art that they make with the plastic they collect from Kehoe Beach in Marin County, California. ( I also find hope in Litterati and those who are “cleaning the planet one piece of litter at a time.” My hope comes from knowing that I am part of a worldwide community that cares about the environment. My hope grows even stronger when I take action and become part of the solution.

Hope is helping others overcome…

A few years ago, I discovered a picture book by Lauren Thompson called Hope is an Open Heart. The book was written in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

As the author tried to find a way to explain the tragedy to her young son, she focused on hope. Written in metaphors, the book couples poetic language with powerful photographic images of children from around the world.

Hope is an open heartHope is the warmth of strong arms around you.
Hope is sad tears flowing, making room for joy.
Hope is angry words bursting, making room for understanding.
Hope is a heart that is open to the world all around you.

Hope is knowing that things can change—
and that we can help things to change for the better.

I used the book as a mentor text and was amazed by the writing that the struggling students in my 4th grade reading intervention group did in response.

One student, who lost his older brother to a drive-by shooting, wrote:

Hope is having fun with everything around you. It is loving people everywhere.fabian

Another, who struggled with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder and was filled with rage, shared:

Hope is the happiness of something you want to do and the happiness of doing it.joseph

Many of the students who attend the school where I work exist in seemingly hopeless situations. They have to deal with abuse, drugs, and gang violence in their daily lives, but they are still able to express hope in their writing.

Cheavens believes that hope can be taught if we “build on the strengths people have and teach them how to develop those strengths. We need to focus not on what is wrong but on ways to help people live up to their potential.” As educators, we must find ways to help our students live up to their potential.

Hope is essential to learning and life. How can we help our students find their own reasons to have hope? We need to believe in them, and we must help them learn to believe in themselves.

Posted in #Litterati, Education, Living, Mentor Text, Teaching, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Writing to Connect with Nature

On the bluffWrite to Connect is the theme for the 2013 National Day on Writing, which has expanded into a weeklong celebration of making connections through writing. In my October 6th blog post, I wrote about the importance of being a connected educator, but I have also been reflecting on my connections with nature.

One way I have been connecting is by noticing the cycle of the tides. At least once a day, I check the Tide Table app I downloaded to my iPhone, because I want to know if low tide will occur when it will be convenient for my daily walk. If I don’t time it right, the waves will be crashing on the cliffs, and I won’t be able to explore my preferred route along the base of the mossy green rocks. I have learned a lot about the patterns of the Pacific simply by paying attention to the tides, and in the process, I have developed deeper feelings of connection to the environment.

For the past three summers, I have also had the opportunity to help children connect with the environment while teaching at Young Writers in Nature (YWN), a 5-day camp held the last week of June at the University of California, San Diego. (UCSD). The camp, which is hosted by the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP), provides students entering grades 3 – 6 engaging opportunities to observe and write about the native plants and animals living in the endangered coastal sage scrub ecosystem of Southern California.

atlanticsThe walking field trip to the Knoll, a protected mesa overlooking the Pacific Ocean, at the Scripps Coastal Reserve has become the highlight of YWN. When we arrive at the western-most-point of the reserve, the campers sit down on logs lining the overlook, and we share a picture book called Atlantic. The book, by G. Brian Karas, is written from the poetic perspective of the ocean.

I am the Atlantic Ocean
I begin where the land runs out at the end of yards and streets and hills
I am the blue water at the beach, the waves, mists and storms

After we read the book, we ask each camper to use it as a mentor text for his/her own “I Am” poem. Campers can choose to write from the perspective of anything in nature that we have observed at YWN. For example, Sakeena wrote from the perspective of the Pacific Ocean while Emre wrote from the perspective of wild grasses, and Eve wrote from the perspective of the cliffs.

group on cliffI am the big, blue mighty Pacific, dancing my waves across the sandy seashore. I hear the soft, playful dolphins splashing excitedly in and out of my silky water. ~Sakeena

I’m the lush green grass on the cliffs, swishing to the music only I can hear, swaying side to side as the wind calls. ~Emre

I am a little gnatcatcher, happily buzzing through the sky, making my small “mews.” ~Eve

Campers submit their favorite lines, which are added to a collective poem that is shared with parents as on the final day. Through their poetry, campers express their connections with nature and their voices come alive as the group I Am Nature poem is read line-by-line.

While teaching at camp last summer, I stumbled upon an article in National Geographic that confirmed what I already felt to be true. The article entitled Connecting with Nature Boosts Creativity and Health includes an interview with Richard Louv who coined the term “nature deficit disorder.” He has written many books about the importance of connecting with nature, and he believes that a loss of connection can affect an ability to “feel ultimately alive.”

photoYoung people (and all people) need time to explore, observe, and appreciate the environment in order to develop and deepen connections. Louv states, “We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love of this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole.”

Opportunities to write in nature can further enhance those feelings of connectedness and will help students develop the most vital connections of all—the connections they make to themselves and their world.

Posted in Education, Living, Mentor Text, SDAWP Photo Voices, Teaching, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Something to Celebrate

never stop writingI lucked into an invitation to hear Lucy Calkins speak at the Marriot Marquis Hotel in San Diego on Saturday, and I spent the day in awe. Lucy is a renowned writing teacher who has written many influential books on the subject. As she spoke about literacy and leadership, I felt the power of her words. My skin tingled with goose bumps, and my heart leapt with excitement. I was at church.

I was exhausted when I got home, but I felt compelled to try to capture the highlights of the day. I contemplated the big ideas from Lucy’s presentation and started to draft a blog post. However, as I tried to synthesize my thoughts, it seemed forced. I spent a day immersed in powerful ideas that resonated, but I was not inspired to write.

Then, Kim Douillard’s daily blog post arrived in my email inbox. Kim candidly shared that she considered not posting to her Thinking Through My Lens blog for one of the first times in close to one-hundrend days. She finally realized that she had something to write about after I Tweeted Ruth Ayers CELEBRATE link-up. Ruth’s Saturday Celebrations prompted Kim to write about celebrating the ordinary, and as I read Kim’s post, I new I had to reconsider letting my own reluctance get the better of me.

pencilsNow, as I consider the twists and turns that my thinking took before I successfully wrote one word, I reflect on the expectations we have of our students. What do we do when children struggle with writing tasks? Do we look over their shoulders and demand that they get to work? Do we pass by their desks and impatiently question why they have only written a few words?

Or do we sit down beside them and ask them what will help them get started?

We can’t even begin to imagine what our students might need if we don’t challenge ourselves as writers first. We must write when we are inspired, and we must write when we are not. We need to feel the joy and the pain of the process in order to understand what our students experience.

notebookphotoAt the end of her talk, Lucy Calkins encouraged each of us to discover our own narratives in order to counter the negative influences all around us. She urged us to find the “storyline that we want to tell and embody,” and concluded by emphasizing that “we are the authors of our lives. We are the authors of the stories of our schools and our communities. We need a storyline that will give us the strength to move forward.”

As we strive to find the storylines that will give us the strength to move forward, how can we help our students find theirs too? Writing—even when we don’t want to—will help us take our first step. In fact, I think it is more than a step forward. I think it’s cause for celebration. Thank you, Lucy, Ruth, and Kim, for helping me find something to celebrate.

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I Am a Connected Educator!

wordfoto2October is Connected Educator Month, which “seeks to broaden and deepen educator participation in online communities of practice and move toward a more fully connected and collaborative profession.”

In response, I have been pondering my own connections.

I have always had trouble connecting. I am somewhat introverted and feel socially awkward much of the time. I have been known to ruminate over every word and can drive myself crazy with self-doubt.

“Still waters run deep,” a college professor once told me after reading one of my essays. He explained that he was surprised by the insight I expressed in my paper because I was so quiet in class. Another professor actually chased me down the hall after we were dismissed. He stopped me and demanded to know why I never spoke in the seminar of ten students. I could only reply with three words, ”I don’t know.”

But I did know. Every time I had an idea to share or question to ask, I felt overwhelming anxiety. My heart would start pounding, my hands would shake, and I would think of all the reasons why anything I had to say was too stupid to share. I would remain in a state of panic until the discussion moved on and the opportunity passed.

I have grown in my ability to communicate, and it is hard for me to imagine that I ever had such difficulty speaking up. I still suffer from what is probably a normal amount of nervousness, but I am no longer paralyzed with fear. I don’t worry—as much—about what others think.

However, my beginning efforts to connect as an online educator presented a few new challenges. For example, I was slow to take to Twitter, and I have rarely participated in chats. As I have lurked, I have thought of things I might want to say, but self-doubt has resurfaced in the unfamiliar environment filled with virtual strangers. I have heard that old voice asking, “What if I say (or Tweet) something stupid?”

My confidence grew over the summer as I participated in Making Learning Connected: A Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration (#clmooc). Each week a new Make Cycle was introduced. For example, the assignment for week one was to create a self-portrait. I used an app called WordFoto to produce the portrait that I shared with the G+ community. I received positive feedback, and I was hooked.

credoThroughout July, we played with new tools and reflected on our makes. I was able to express myself creatively when I shared my credo in Week 4. I began fully participating in the conversation and developed deeper feelings of connectedness.

I never could have imagined that it would lead to the opportunity to speak about Connected Educator Month as a guest on the National Writing Project’s NWP Radio. I felt a rush of nerves when I read the initial email invitation from Kim Douillard, Director of the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP), but excitement was quick to follow as I thought about sharing my experiences.

The host Christina Cantrill and the other guests including Kim and SDAWP Fellows Barb Montfort and Abby Robles made it easy and comfortable. I wasn’t nervous about talking on air. (I even encourage you to listen to the archive of the program at

That young woman who couldn’t speak in front of a small group has grown up and has developed the confidence to speak to the world. I have found my voice and am making connections, but I worry about the quiet kids who sit in class without saying anything. I wonder if they experience the painful feelings of fear and self-doubt that held me back. How many of our students have something to say but no way to say it? How can we help our students find their voices so that they too can share themselves with the world?

21st century educators must connect in order to be able to effectively guide students in building their own connections. Powerful tools are available. Let’s use them to communicate and collaborate as we build enriching professional relationships and model what it means to be connected.

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A Purple Balloon

photoI was inspired by the incredible ideas shared at the San Diego Area Writing Project’s Fall Conference yesterday morning, and my mind was reeling as I stopped at my favorite Carlsbad beach on the way home. I didn’t expect to find a connection to SDAWP Fellow and poet Frank Barone when I kicked off my shoes and set off on my trek but that is exactly what happened.

While walking, I stopped as I always do to clean the beach of washed up debris and litter left behind by lazy beachgoers. The first piece of beach trash I came across was a shredded purple balloon that had obviously spent some time in the ocean. I snapped several photos of it for #litterati and immediately thought of the inspiration that Frank has provided to multitudes of young writers across San Diego County as an English teacher, writer, and speaker.

frank1Frank, who many of our SDAWP colleagues also know as “the man with the purple balloon,” illustrates metaphor by holding up an inflated purple balloon and asking, “What else do you see?” Frank moves the balloon upside-down, sideways, and right-side up and urges students to consider everything that the color and shape evoke. With this simple prompt, students start imagining purple fish swimming in the sea, sweet grapes growing on vines, and vibrant wildflowers blooming in fields. As the children share their ideas orally, he assures them that they are creating metaphors and crafting poetry.

As I reflect on the impact that Frank has had on students and teachers with his purple balloon, my thoughts return to the shredded remnants of a balloon I found on the beach. What metaphors does it hold? A child might imagine a sea anemone or a jellyfish, but I can only see the environmental impact our throw away culture is having on our oceans.

Last Saturday was Coastal Clean Up Day. It is touted as the largest one–day volunteer project on the planet. Thousands of helpful hands picked up tons of trash in one morning. How many more pieces of litter must be cleaned up off our beaches before people realize the harm being caused by our carelessness and callousness?

A purple balloon can be a powerful metaphor in the hands of an inspirational teacher. A shredded purple balloon in the surf is a sad reality.

For more by and about Frank Barone:
frank2“The Balloon Man” by Ariel Foy, Dialogue—Fall 2010.
“If I Ask You to Write a Poem” by Frank Barone, Dialogue—Fall 2010.
“Searching for My Muse” by Frank Barone, Dialogue—Spring 2005.
“Have Fun with Words” by Frank Barone, Dialogue—Fall 2005.
“21 Senses Revisited” by Frank Barone, Dialogue—Winter 2003.

Posted in #Litterati, Education, Photography, SDAWP Photo Voices, Teaching, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Talking About…” A Nonfiction Mentor Text

I wrote the article that follows in the spring of 2011. I am finally sharing it here for the first time as my contribution to SDAWP’s #113texts Mentor Text Challenge. I realize that this is more timely than ever with the emphasis on informational texts and informative writing in the Common Core State Standards.

nonfiction mentor textsMost of the writing we do as educational professionals is nonfiction. We write smart goals, PLC notes, and lesson plans. We communicate via email, social media, and blogs. Rarely do any of us—as teachers of writing—write fiction.

Why, then, have we focused instruction on narrative writing? Ironically, even though we are writers of nonfiction, we have been much more comfortable with lessons that focus on narrative writing, and our classrooms libraries have been stocked with mentor texts that tell well-crafted stories using vivid language.

We need to get serious about the teaching of informational writing. The members of the Nonfiction Study Group, which met as part of the San Diego Area Writing Project’s book study series during the 2010-2011 school year at UCSD, set out to do just that. We knew that the reading would demand risk-taking and experimentation if the process were to lead to growth for ourselves as writers and as teachers of writing. In fact, as we completed the Four “A”s Text Protocol during our first meeting, we listed “feeling equally confident teaching nonfiction writing as narrative writing” as one of our aspirations.

The authors of Nonfiction Mentor Texts, Lynne R. Dorfmann and Rose Capelli, helped us find what we aspired to by challenging our thinking about nonfiction writing instruction. The book is a dense read complete with a 50-page “Treasure Chest of Books” that includes an extensive list of mentor texts. In addition, each chapter includes several “Your Turn Lessons” that include easy to follow exercises.

I discovered a gem in Chapter 2 with “Your Turn Lesson 3: Using a Scaffold for Point-of-View Poetry” (pgs 33-35). As usual, I procrastinated and read the chapters assigned for our November 13th meeting in late October. As I pondered the subject, “Establishing the Topic and Point,” I struggled with how to convey the idea of point-of-view in informational writing to the 4th grade students in my intervention class. I was determined to find a lesson focus that would help me effectively illustrate a complex concept.

Thankfully, “Talking about Sharks” gave me something to talk about. As I read through the lesson, my focus became quite clear. Halloween was approaching, and I realized that I could engage students with interesting facts about nocturnal mammals popular at that time of year, bats.

As I worked through my interpretation of the lesson, I realized that Dorfmann and Capelli were onto something. In fact, the work that my students completed through the point-of-view process developed into some of their best writing of the year. (See samples below.) They wrote deeply felt nonfiction pieces that happened to be poetry. At subsequent study group meetings, other members also shared how they used the point-of-view poetry lesson. PJ added it to the work her 5th grade students were doing for Black History Month, and Tyna modified it to fit her social justice lessons.

I had previously thought of nonfiction student writing as confined to voiceless, fact-laden, out-of-the-textbook, report-of-information kind of writing. However, after trying many of the ideas in Nonfiction Mentor Texts, including the “Talking About Poem,” I discovered that the voices of our students can be heard in their informative writing if we simply take the time to guide them with unusual and inspiring mentor texts.

Your Turn Lesson 3
Using a Scaffold for Point of View Poetry

Adapted by Janis Jones
Non-Fiction Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing
Through Children’s Literature

By Lynne R. Dorfman & Rose Cappelli

bAts1. Read aloud from nonfiction texts that provide interesting facts about the chosen topic. I used Bats by Gail Gibbons and Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats by Ann Earle.

2. While reading and discussing the information, students take notes on the facts they find most interesting.

3. Read the “Talking About Sharks” poem on p. 34 of Nonfiction Mentor Texts and discuss the literary techniques used. For example, my students recognized the repetition of the line “talking about sharks,” and they noticed the commas at the end of most lines. They also noticed that a colon was included in every stanza.

4. Before asking students to begin their own poems, brainstorm a list of words that express emotions that could be used to write from a variety of points of view. My students were able to create the following list:

Terrifies me bat pic 2
Fascinates me
Makes me sad
Amazes me
Makes me mad
Scares me
Shocks me
Frightens me
Makes me happy
Thrills me
Astonishes me
Surprises me
Amuses me
Hurts me
Excites me
Interests me
Depresses me
Hurts me
Confuses me
Impresses me
Makes me furios

5. Students choose three emotions that they feel when discussing the topic. Ask them to refer to their study notes to find facts that support the reasons for their feelings as they write their own “talking about” poems.

Talking About Bats
By Kayla

Talking about bats
Hurts me:
How they are being killed,
Their homes destroyed
Because they are misunderstood.

Talking about bats
Impresses me:
How they sleep
hanging upside down,
How they hunt for food
by squeaking,
How they stay together.

Talking about bats
Terrifies me:
How they swarm
when they are afraid,
How they lap up blood,
And sometimes
they attack people when they sleep.

Talking about bats!

Talking About Bats
By Sydney

Talking about bats
Terrifies me:
Blood sucking creatures,
Flying mammals
With super long fingers,
And live baby bats.

Talking about bats
Scares me:
Vampire bats
Creep through the night
Attacking sleeping cows.
They make a scratch
And lap up the blood.

Talking about bats
Makes me sad:
Hunted for food,
Nets in caves,
Destroyed roosts,
Starved to death.

Talking about bats!

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