Archive | When We Reach Them


This is the sound of walk­ing into retire­ment for me and so many teach­ers this spring. Although friends are already email­ing to con­grat­u­late us on this new jour­ney, we’re all alone while pack­ing up our offices and class­rooms for the last time. There will be no big par­ties, no for­mal farewells, no cozy get-togeth­ers where every­one dredges up the good, sad, and fun­ny days of our teach­ing careers.

Graduation with Fatima Nelson and Anna Stone

Ann Angel at their grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mo­ny with Fati­ma Man­son and Anna Stone

These cel­e­bra­tions may be replaced with “BYOB and snacks” Zoom par­ties, or a dri­ve-by with bal­loons and signs. But these small cel­e­bra­tions can’t com­pete with the amaz­ing mem­o­ries that sit inside our silence.

Ann Angel

Ann Angel

I find the iso­la­tion of this stay-at-home teach­ing has been a gift as I ease into retire­ment. This gives me time to con­tem­plate what I’ve learned as a teacher, and what I plan to do next. I know I’ll take some art cours­es. And, of course, I’m going to be writ­ing. A lot.

Most­ly, I find myself focus­ing on the way I’ve grown while teach­ing cre­ative writ­ing and lit­er­a­ture to hun­dreds of stu­dents over a thir­ty-plus year career. This growth can be reflect­ed in the way my course choic­es have changed and the cre­ative activ­i­ties my col­leagues and I have incor­po­rat­ed into each class.

Over my time as teach­ing writer, I’ve gone from teach­ing “Report­ing and Fea­ture Writ­ing” and basic “Cre­ative Writ­ing” to “The Lit­er­a­ture of Protest, Vio­lence and Redemp­tion,” “Com­ing of Age,” a “Graph­ic Nov­el Work­shop,” and “Dig­i­tal Sto­ry­telling.” The more exper­i­men­tal a class, the more involved stu­dents appeared.

In cre­ative writ­ing class­es, my stu­dents cre­at­ed visu­al art and pho­tographs to accom­pa­ny their poet­ry in response to “I Am…” A few class­es dec­o­rat­ed a Poe­t­ree that stood in the Eng­lish Depart­ment hall­way for a while so that every­one in the uni­ver­si­ty could see our poet­ry and add a poem or take a poem. Mag­ic wands with words to live by became a tra­di­tion in “Com­ing of Age,” a bridge to help­ing stu­dents share their own fam­i­ly com­ing-of-age tra­di­tions. Over the past two years, stu­dents have been adding to a laun­dry line of poet­ry that hung out­side the Eng­lish Depart­ment offices as a reminder that every day brings hope and new ideas.

The Poetree

The Poe­t­ree, “write a poem, leave a poem, read a poem”

laundry line

A laun­dry line of poet­ry out­side the Eng­lish Depart­ment, a reminder that every day brings hope and new ideas

After my col­league Dr. Paula Reit­er and I made more than a dozen cakes and col­leagues Dr. Jen­nifer Kont­ny and Pro­fes­sor Lau­ra Otto donat­ed frost­ing and cake dec­o­rat­ing mate­ri­als, our stu­dents frost­ed them with book cov­er designs, show­ing us the way back to the ear­ly books — many of them pic­ture books — that drew them into an Eng­lish major. 

Displaying Cake If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

If You Give a Mouse a Cook­ie with Kait­lyn McK­night and Bri­an­na Eck­er

Rainbow Fish

The Rain­bow Fish with Ala­nis Marlen and Bian­ca Alva

Students displaying cake

Chic­ka Chic­ka Boom with Ivette Alvara­do, Hureyah Rasool, Anas­ta­sia Hartin, Sarah Khi­mani, and Gao­zong Lor

What about you? Whether you’re retir­ing or sim­ply walk­ing through the silence that is the end of a pan­dem­ic semes­ter, what mem­o­ries are you tak­ing with you?

Ann Angel, creating the Poetree

Ann Angel, cre­at­ing the Poe­t­ree


The Gems: Revolutionize Your Teaching of Writing

Margo Sorenson

Mar­go Soren­son

The stack of stu­dent papers lurks on the cor­ner of your desk, just wait­ing to be marked and grad­ed. Yes, the rubrics and grad­ing stan­dards will be applied con­sci­en­tious­ly, paper after paper. Your stu­dents wait, some in dread, some in hope­ful antic­i­pa­tion, for your final judg­ments on their papers. But wait — there’s anoth­er way to eval­u­ate stu­dent writ­ing — one that I read many years ago in the Eng­lish Jour­nal. It rev­o­lu­tion­ized the way I taught writ­ing to my mid­dle school­ers, and I hope it may res­onate with you.

This inno­v­a­tive method rewards those spark­ly gems in stu­dent papers that stand out in and of them­selves, even just one sen­tence or one para­graph, regard­less of the mer­its of the rest of the paper. Indeed, my stu­dents eager­ly looked for­ward to get­ting their papers back, just to see if they got a “Copy to the Green Book” nota­tion in the mar­gin. Even a sen­tence in a “C” paper could qual­i­fy for being includ­ed in the Green Book, if the voice and word choice were exem­plary. Some­times, a paper that earned an “A” did­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly con­tain a sen­tence or para­graph that could earn a place in the Green Book.

What, then, is this Green Book, into whose pages my stu­dents yearned to be able to copy their work? It was a large, green (imag­ine that!) three-ring binder on a shelf in my class­room, with plen­ty of blank, ruled note­book pages on which stu­dents could copy their gems. The bril­liance of these con­tri­bu­tions was admired by all the stu­dents who would eager­ly pick up the Green Book and page through it in their odd moments in class or at recess­es. By doing so, they not only could appre­ci­ate good writ­ing and be inspired them­selves, but they caught a glimpse of what vivid writ­ing real­ly was. Stu­dents from oth­er class­es enjoyed read­ing the Green Book, as well, and com­pli­ments and fist-bumps were the orders of the day, bring­ing shy or tri­umphant smiles to the authors.

from the Green Book

A sam­ple page from the Green Book

One of my fond­est mem­o­ries of teach­ing writ­ing was a day I was pass­ing papers back to my 8th graders, and one of the ath­letes in the class raised both his arms in the air and exclaimed joy­ous­ly, “YES! I got some­thing in the Green Book!” The Green Book both inspired and affirmed my stu­dents’ excel­lent writ­ing gems and made them excit­ed and eager to write. Let­ter grades, of course, are always impor­tant, but the pos­si­ble reward of being in the Green Book was what often moti­vat­ed my stu­dents to try their best, no mat­ter what the assign­ment was. In short, it tru­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ized my teach­ing of writ­ing, and I hope it may do the same for you.


Timeless Tales Program

Cre­at­ing a Con­nect­ed Com­mu­ni­ty of Read­ers: Inter­gen­er­a­tional Sto­ry­time

After see­ing a hand­ful of arti­cles about nurs­ing homes open­ing up preschools in a shared space, as well as the ben­e­fits from this part­ner­ship, I want­ed to find a way to cre­ate the same inter­gen­er­a­tional con­nec­tion in a library set­ting. We already had a rela­tion­ship with our local retire­ment home as our Cir­cu­la­tion Super­vi­sor does month­ly out­reach and book check­outs for the res­i­dents, so I approached their staff with the idea.

I was for­tu­nate to have a very will­ing com­mu­ni­ty part­ner in Fran­cis­can Vil­lage Assist­ed Liv­ing at Our Lady of Vic­to­ry Con­vent, who could not have been more sup­port­ive of my vision for bring­ing fam­i­ly sto­ry­time to their facil­i­ty. Work­ing with their staff, we planned a day that worked well both for them and for our sto­ry­time fam­i­lies. The major­i­ty of our pro­gram par­tic­i­pants are preschool aged and younger. We also chose to have me present to their mem­o­ry care res­i­dents.

We adver­tised the pro­gram in our newslet­ter with the fol­low­ing descrip­tion: “Enjoy sto­ries, songs, crafts, and a spe­cial treat at an inter­gen­er­a­tional sto­ry­time with the res­i­dents of Fran­cis­can Vil­lage. Join us off­site at the Assist­ed Liv­ing at Our Lady of Vic­to­ry Con­vent.” We post­ed fly­ers in the library and on our dig­i­tal sig­nage, cre­at­ed Face­book events, and had the events list­ed on our online cal­en­dar. We are lucky to have a very involved patron base of fam­i­lies so with those pro­mo­tion­al items and word of mouth at oth­er pro­grams, word spread eas­i­ly.

families attend Timeless Tales storytime

At this once-a-month pro­gram, I plan a reg­u­lar sto­ry­time with a craft, aimed at the kids that are going to be par­tic­i­pat­ing (because this is a reg­is­tered pro­gram, I have a gen­er­al idea of the ages of the par­tic­i­pants). So far our reg­is­tra­tion has been full for all ses­sions, but I do have a con­tin­gency should no fam­i­lies show up. This would con­sist of read­ing longer pic­ture books to the res­i­dents, so that they will still be pre­sent­ed with a pro­gram.

For our Decem­ber ses­sion, I chose four win­try sto­ries and we dec­o­rat­ed wood­en orna­ments with mark­ers and stick on gems. It was heart­warm­ing to see how quick­ly all the chil­dren took to the res­i­dents and how easy the inter­ac­tions were. When it came time for the craft, the kids and res­i­dents worked side by side, and any res­i­dent that need­ed help with the fine motor skills, the kids would step in and assist. There were some that even made the craft out­right for the res­i­dents so that they would leave with a fin­ished prod­uct.

Both our library and Fran­cis­can Vil­lage are very encour­aged by the start of this pro­gram and have dates planned into the Spring.

Please feel free to con­tact me with any ques­tions about the pro­gram: Rachel Sny­der, Children’s Ser­vices Man­ag­er, Lemont Pub­lic Library, rsnyder@lemontlibrary.org.

Rachel Snyder, Lemont Public Library

Rachel Sny­der, Chil­dren’s Ser­vices Man­ag­er, Lemont Pub­lic Library


When We Reach Them

Let Your Voice Be HeardWe’re out of school today in obser­vance of Oaks Day here in our area. This morn­ing, Ani­ta Sil­vey, chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture expert and resource, remind­ed us on Face­book that Pete Seeger cel­e­brates a birth­day today. 100 years. I might not have known that with­out her post. How many of us would? How many of us would have known that Ani­ta Sil­vey has writ­ten one of the best non­fic­tion looks at Seeger’s life and work?

Adam did.

And, as you will see, as luck might have it, I had Adam’s project to share with you out in the van. Here is that project. As you will see in the pho­tos below, Adam’s instal­la­tion is built like a stage that dis­plays a bro­ken-down ban­jo Adam found at the Ped­dler’s Mall right before the project.

Adam's stage display for Pete Seeger's life

Stage dis­play of Pete Seeger’s life and music

Adam had no aware­ness of Seeger or his music or his influ­ence on many of the artists Adam did know. When Adam was stuck in his sub­ject choice, we had just fin­ished watch­ing clips of Bruce Spring­steen’s Broad­way show to inspire some writ­ing in Room 407. I thought that Pete Seeger would be a great sub­ject to tie into the idea of the theme of an Amer­i­can Creed and how music can be the lan­guage we use to express our per­son­al creed as Amer­i­cans.

This is a moment that we might stop and remind our­selves that our stu­dents do not read 100% of the books and they do not write 100% of the pieces they might if we don’t know about them, shelve and share them, and work these with stu­dents while they are in our build­ings. I had Sil­vey’s book in the room as well as oth­er resources you see in Adam’s Anno­tat­ed Bib­li­og­ra­phy. I had Seeger CDs at the ready or I would not have made a rec­om­men­da­tion to him to pur­sue the project.

Watch as Adam lists his Table of Con­tents right after the orig­i­nal tracks on this album set (and that his project is tucked inside of a vin­tage boxed record set). His review of Sil­vey’s book (post­ed to Ama­zon) is also includ­ed with­in the project. A lit­tle book­let is tucked inside of the project that serves like “Lin­er Notes” for the project.

Cover of the project

Cov­er of the project, a riff on the ban­jo Pete Seeger played through­out his life, which bore the inscrip­tion, “This machine sur­rounds hate and forces it to sur­ren­der.”

Boxed set

Adam lists his Table of Con­tents right after the orig­i­nal tracks on this album set.

Detail of project enclosure

Table of Contents

I sim­ply love the earnest­ness of this project as it is pre­sent­ed. Adam nar­rates the “turns” in the project as well as how it all comes togeth­er in the end. Adam has (and he will not mind or push back against this) been a lit­tle late on some of the pieces along the way. All I want­ed for him this spring is that a project could come in that reflect­ed his love for music. All I want­ed for Adam was to take a deep­er look at the roots of the music he lis­tens to today. That’s what I want­ed. And Adam deliv­ers here.

project statement

Adam nar­rates the “turns” in the project as well as how it all comes togeth­er in the end.

Introduction to the Project

Book Review

Adam’s book review of Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger, writ­ten by Ani­ta Sil­vey

annotated bibliography

Anno­tat­ed bib­li­og­ra­phy for the project

As a side note, Adam’s project caught the eye of senior, Calvin, and he want­ed to know more about the ban­jo Adam had found (Calvin is a pick­er). This led to an IRP (study hall) con­ver­sa­tion between two stu­dents who might not oth­er­wise had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to share an inter­est in the instru­ment and the music.

It is a joy to share Adam’s project with you today on Seeger’s birth­day.