Morning Pages

Morning pages cartoon recropped NVWP2017

Morning pages are a new concept for me this summer. I was intimidated by thought of writing three pages of longhand writing each morning. I tend to overthink things, so the idea of writing creatively on a regular basis was difficult to digest. I found myself contemplating my impending morning writing in the shower, on the drive to class, and usually again as one of our instructors gave as an inspirational piece of art or an idea to write about. I must admit after writing each morning for the past 2.5 weeks, I have found the practice much easier and very therapeutic. I am surprised at my own inner creative child (nicknamed “LJ”) and I am learning to tame my censor (nicknamed “rotten tomato guy”). I am grateful for the opportunity to experience morning pages with the NVWP ISI and I see the learning potential and plan on sharing this activity with my high school students.

Reading and Writing


I think we can all agree that writing and reading are like conjoined twins or two sides of the same coin—while a person may prefer one to the other, we really cannot separate each facet without seriously disturbing, or even destroying, the other. Philip Yancey’s July 21, 2017 article in the Washington Post, “The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul” ( was a beacon of light for me as I encountered it, while still in bed, via Facebook, on my phone, on July 22. (You will understand why I mention these specifics further down.) It’s not that I haven’t read the same complaint described by Yancey elsewhere—that we read less, we read in bytes instead of chapters, we are constantly distracted while reading—but it was his personal acknowledgement of his reading shortcomings that moved me.
As a Christian, I already knew Yancey to be one of the powerhouse writers of Christian thought, author of dozens of books, but I had never read any of his works. Curious about him, I went to his blog photo which shows a bespectacled, middle-aged, white man, with short curly hair and a goatee, looking more like a hippie than the coat-and-tie evangelical writer that I expected. Reading through his blog, I saw a person that I could admire and attempt to emulate, for in some ways, I have followed a similar journey. And I, as a newborn writer now among my own tribe, could relate to his blog statement, “I write books for myself . . . I’m a pilgrim [searching for Christian truth] . . . My books are a process of exploration and investigation of things I wonder about and worry about.” For whatever the topic we are contemplating, religious or not, are we not writing to understand ourselves?
I find that I, too, struggle with finding time to read widely and effectively, and to ponder what I read. I remember reading as a child and a teen, pulling books of every genre and level from the shelves of our well-stocked library. Although my public-librarian, maternal grandmother died when I was only seven, I am sure that it is a genetic trait in my family as the love of reading has passed from my mother down via me to my own teens. In fact, this summer, not entirely enthusiastically but knowing that we are completely inundated with books, I am culling our family library as they number in the thousands and I have moved on from homeschooling my children.
Somehow, that action of reading for pleasure was usurped in my late teens and early adulthood. The culprit was not an evil being but rather the life events that collided, since completing college, succeeding in the workplace, and finally starting families, leaves little time for pleasure reading.
Now I am finding, as my own teens near adulthood and require less of my personal attention and I am more secure in my job responsibilities, that I actually do have more time for reading. But just as Yancey describes for himself, my own reading has moved from deep thoughtful thinking, to snippets in Facebook and online, caught at random times throughout the day, usually resulting in the dopamine rush he explains in his article.
So, while I do not aspire to make reading through a classic author’s repertoire or delving into ancient canon texts as my goal, what can I do? Yancey quotes Quartz (coincidentally the online arm of The Atlantic) that informs us that currently “we are too addicted, too weak, and too distracted to do what we all know is important . . . [and we need to build] a fortress of habits” instead of relying on our personal willpower. I need to construct that fortress for myself in both reading, and its twin, writing. I need to carve out a habit, which means a time and place, to seclude myself for a half hour of indulgence to compete against the usurper who threatens my soul. I need to be deliberate in my use of time, choosing to consider various activities in terms of opportunity cost as our choices are limited. I am saving Yancey’s article so I can return to it when I need encouragement.

Outside the Lines

James Naismith

As I walked toward Lot K with Cindy yesterday, I thought about the themes and motifs that have emerged out of and given shape to our time at ISI. My lesson on road signs as a metaphor for personal narrative coincided with the stepping stones of Dave Arbogast’s Progoff workshop. Jessica’s lesson on using collaboration and talk to lower ESOL students’ affective filters prepared the way for Heather Grant’s presentation on writing poetry with language learners. I delight in these serendipitous parallels because they illuminate new possibilities in my teaching.

One of the motifs I have found most fascinating is idea of creativity with constraint. Inspired by Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder’s hot new book “Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom,” Peter incorporated visual writing prompts into his demonstration lesson last week. In a gallery walk, we wrote about how each image represented the ISI experience–a crowd of reaching hands, an exploding heart on a skateboard, a tangle of branches surrounding an opening. I cannot imagine that the simple instruction to write about ISI would have yielded such beautiful, smart responses. Ours were full of rich metaphors and playful language. I am excited to read “Intention,” butterfly net in hand, to collect more ideas about how to incorporate creativity with constraint into daily lessons.

This week, Kristinna’s presentation on personal narrative took up the same idea. She gave us a tactile prompt, a piece of chocolate candy (an Australian treat containing a macadamia nut) and asked us to describe it in writing without using the words brown, chocolate, circle, sphere, Whopper, delicious, or yummy. These forbidden words pushed us beyond the obvious and into the creative. My own response tickles me: “It looks like a primitive basketball, like the one James Naismith used when he invented the sport back in Kansas. Its smooth surface gleams in sunlight–well oiled leather with no seams.” I haven’t thought about James Naismith since I did a report on the history of basketball in fifth grade. Somehow, the prompt helped me access forgotten knowledge from long ago.

Where does creativity come from? This question has been rolling around in my brain all week. My own creative process seems to flow in inconsistent waves. Sometimes, I am inundated with possibilities and connections, which wash ashore in green glass bottles. They are gifts from a stranger across the water. I whisper thank you. At other times, I am lost on the Sargasso sea, spinning in a gyre of scuttled ideas. How can I teach students to be creative when I struggle to understand my own process? How do I create the conditions for them to succeed?

Creativity can be quite simple. Necessity is the mother of invention. James Naismith found his inspiration this way. Working at the YMCA International Training College in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891 (correction: he wouldn’t move to Kansas until 1898), Naismith received orders from his boss to invent a new game that would engage students in physical activity during the long, cold winter months when they were cooped up indoors. With a strict deadline of 14 days, Naismith took inventory of his available materials (a soccer ball and two peach baskets) and got to work. He nailed the baskets to opposite walls and lobbed a few brick shots at the task. The first game ended in a score of 1-0. Revision would come later.

I imagine Naismith as a model student. He followed directions and produced A+ work. The constraints of time, setting, and materials were helpful because they narrowed down an impossibly broad prompt: invent a sport. They were the lines in the coloring book. All he had to do was apply color. But what about those students who just want to scribble all over the coloring book? We’ve all had them. Rebels without a cause, they would happily spend an entire class period writing an essay about why writing essays is a waste of time. How do we deal with these students without shutting down their creative process?

I noticed in my demonstration lesson that several of you bristled at the prompts I gave. When asked to add to our Padlet about how life is like a highway, Maggie wrote, “Life is not like a highway. I start to think that maybe it’s a little more like being on a boat. And some of us stick close to shore while some of us go out to the deep end.” Technically, she did not follow directions, but her response was creative. What would have happened if I told her she had to color inside the lines? What would have happened if I gave her no prompt at all?

The point is that lines are important. Creativity needs constraints, but it dies when those constraints are too rigid.

Creating Another Writing Community

I am inspired to start a staff writing group. Jeri told me she is thinking about doing that at her school too.

I’m going to be working on our literacy team this year so I will put the possibility out there to those folks (six or seven staff members, including various departments). I’m also in a PD focus group on literacy with three other teachers: one 8th grade English, one ESOL and one Special Ed. Reading (some of whom overlap with the larger literacy team). This smaller group will be given time during the year to do PD, so why not take some time to actually write for ourselves or to model for the staff?!

The French teacher at my school has also mentioned to me that she would like to write a memoir, and she is someone with whom I feel very comfortable. So I could just meet together with her.

I’m going to start with these folks and see if we can make a plan to write together before or after school or during lunch one day a week.

I’m not sure if it would be better to start small or open it to anyone at the school–I just don’t want it to seem like one more thing for people to feel pressure to join in. I want them to want to do it.

I might just send out an invitation saying I’m going to be writing in the library at this time if anyone wants to join and share work or just write together.

What do you all think? Do you have a writing group at school?


Writing when we are on our own


14 reasons not to write this morning

–there are at least three loads of laundry sitting there in heaps
–the house has not been vacuumed since the ISI started
–I should change the sheets
–there’s more alarming Trump news to follow
–I loved that book I had just started before beginning the Institute
–my body aches from sitting all day, day after day…I must exercise!!
–two email accounts to check
–online sales, good time to stock up
–even the cats accuse me of abandoning them
–technically, it would be a good idea to start prepping for school
–it’s already too late to start “morning pages”
–everything in the garden needs watering
–the car needs gas
–no one around; no peer pressure to write!

My only reason to write this morning:

–my writer’s voice, recovered now, is who I am

Writing Between Languages: How English Language Learners Make the Transition to Fluency By Danling Fu

This is an excellent book for ESOL Specialists and General Education Teachers, who work with English Language Learners (ELLs), alike.
Many people believe that ELLs need to first be fluent in English in order to write in English. This philosophy comes as a huge detriment to ELLs. Research shows that it can take 5 to 7 years or more to reach the level of proficiency of their peers (Cummins 1981; Thomas and Collier 1977). This may be fine for ELLs entering in early elementary school, but what about students who come to our country in middle or high school? If I wait to teach them to write for 7 years, they will have graduated or more likely flunked out of high school.
The nice thing about learning a second or multiple languages is that our brains are able to share knowledge learned in one language with the other languages. Thus, if you know there are 8 planetas en el sistema solar you don’t have to learn again that there are 8 planets in the solar system. You will however need to learn the names of the planets in English. The same goes for ELLs who read and write in their first language, they will be able to read and write in the new language as soon as they learn the vocabulary of that language.
It is a natural process when learning a new language, to think in your primary language, come up with an answer and then translate that answer to the new language.
What this tells me is, that if I allow my ELLs to think and write in their primary language and then help them to translate their writing into English (vocabulary), it will allow the students to access and express their knowledge more easily and at a greater depth of understanding.

The author, Danling Fu presents a 4 step approach to writing instruction for ELLs.
Newcomers begin by writing in their primary language. They may or may not have this writing translated into English. If it is translated, it is important to make the connection between the word of the primary language and English especially when there are cognates.
After students begin to be able to read and write some English words, they can add those words to their writing in the primary language, making use of both languages to communicate in writing.
When there are more English words than words in their primary language but they are still using the syntax of their primary language, you should start teaching the syntax of the English language.
Finally, the student should be able to write as clearly in English as they can in their primary language.

These steps are not linear. Depending on the complexity of the subject, the purpose, genre and audience of the writing, students may need to resort back to writing more in their primary language in order to get their meaning across, whereas their informal writing may be completely in English.
Portfolios of student writing will help to assess the progress that these students are making. Writing may need to be sorted by genre or formal and inform writing etc. before they are put in chronological order.
Writing is important for understanding the information in the content subjects. Even ELLs can answer the questions at the end of the chapter by copying from the text to the worksheet, but there is usually very little comprehension. Not only do ELLs need to learn these subjects but they also need to learn the academic language that goes with each.
If ELLs cannot read the textbook, it is the responsibility of the teachers to find books that are closer to the student’s reading level, even picture books can be used to provide the same information as the textbook in a more understandable way. By providing the entire class with differentiated reading material and then having group discussions on what everyone has learned from their reading, the subject matter can be made comprehensible for all students, including ELLs.
Writing journals require students organize their thoughts and to use their own words to show what they know. Writing in the content areas should not be graded as an English teacher would grade an essay. Writing in the cores subjects allows students to show the depth of their content knowledge. Students can share their writing in small groups as the teacher walks around listening or sometimes joining a discussion.
When writing students use grammar, vocabulary, spelling, word choice and oral language communication. Thus, writing is a perfect way for ELLs to develop and improve their English language skills.
ELLs must feel safe to begin speaking in English. Writing is much more solitary. Therefore, ELLs who are learning English starting in middle school or high school tend to be more comfortable testing out their new English vocabulary in written form rather than speaking. Logically, ELLs find reading their own writing much easier than reading an unknown text aloud. Allowing and helping students to practice reading their own writing before presenting it, will enable them to feel more comfortable speaking orally in English.
Writing also helps students improve reading fluency. When reading something that they have written, they are provided with reading material at their comprehension level.

“What kind of writers (or non-writers) they become tomorrow depends on how we help and value them and their writing development today.” Danling Fu

Afro-Latin & Caribbean Living in the USA

By Mitchelle Samuels

Nice Cultures

Nice Mix



African descent

Salsa, Bachata,

Soca, Calypso, Regue

Hip-hop, Jazz, R & B

African Beats, Zouk

Casaba, Pepper soup, lamb

Rice, beans, chicken

Jerk chicken, coconut water, coco bread

Mark Antony

Bob Marley

Celia Cruz







I Love My Cultural Mix

One of My Favorite Panamenian Dishes

2 tazas de arroz
2 pechugas de pollo grandes
1 cebolla
1 rama grande de apio
3 cucharadas de achiote (si no consigue puede utilizar otro colorante)
1 frasco de alcaparrado (aceitunas y alcaparras)
1 lata chica de guisantes verdes
3 zanahorias medianas
Sal, pimienta, ajo y culantro para preparar el pollo
1. Preparamos el pollo con sal, pimienta, ajo, culantro, apio y cebolla. Lo llevamos a cocción hasta que esté en su punto y retiramos para refrescar, reservamos el caldo.
2. Cuando el pollo está fresco, se parte en trozos o se desmenuza (no muy chico), luego se lleva nuevamente a cocción con la pasta de tomate y el caldo que nos quedó del pollo.
3. Sofreímos el arroz con el achiote (si no usa achiote, usar aceite y agregar colorante al arroz).
4. Se agrega el pollo con su salsa. Si hace falta un poco de agua, la agregamos para que se cocine el arroz. Rectificamos la sal.
5. Cuando el arroz seque, se le agregan las alcaparras con las aceitunas, las zanahorias (previamente hervidas y troceadas pequeñas) y los guisantes verdes y mezclamos todo.

Don’t Know Why

walking pic

This morning was for me like Alexander’s: a horrible, very bad, no good day.

Last night’s sleep had been fitful; my husband’s work responsibilities mean that on Wednesdays we get a series of pre-dawn phone calls (generator testing). Usually I sleep right through these out of habit, but today each woke me anew from a deep sleep. Annoyed, I finally just gave up and got out of bed just as the sky was showing the first light of dawn. The coffee pot had been prepped the night before by my beloved man; alas, once again he had put in too many grounds and–yes, again!–it overflowed. We have had this conversation before.

My time reading the Post already felt more frazzled than reflective; this augured a disconcerted day (although I was able to halfway quote for you this line from Maureen N. McLane’s collection, “Some Say:” “No roads diverged/ no ski trail split/ the mind forked itself/ and doubled back.” Intriguing. Check it out.).

I was heading out the door when I looked down and saw a huge stain on my lavender top. You noticed that I stylishly switched to black, but now I was late.

Certain ones of you have marveled that it takes me so long to get to Mason from McLean. I admit, I myself am shocked. Surely it’s something I’ve been doing wrong, I thought to myself this morning. So today I got it in my mind to outsmart that dumb GPS! I turned left and left again (“University Drive” in Fairfax must lead where I want to go, surely). Well, sort of. But I got snarled in neighborhood dead-end roads; “No access to George Mason” the signs sneered.

So I was late. Quite late.

And then the asphalt pouring guard–I know now that she’d already had to deal with the rest of you rebels, so she was fired up for me–insisted that I take the extra 5 minute, no shade option.

I stopped. I honestly thought, why am I doing this!? Clearly the universe was hinting–loudly–that I shouldn’t bother today. I have a blog post, my profile, my inquiry, my writing group tomorrow, my demo lesson–Lord knows, I could fill a day with fruitful labor at home.

I came because of you, my friends. I kept coming out of a responsibility to show up for whatever our day would hold. I came because of us.

This afternoon after I outlined the reasons for my tardiness this morning to Sheri this as we shuffled along in the miserable heat wearing our hapless sunhats, we said goodbye in lot K. A bus driver stopped me and asked where Lot I was. His bus lumbered on and I heard a voice behind me. “Cindy!” It was Sheri, still standing there. “I’m glad you came today!”

That, my friends, is the ISI 2017.