Summer Institute 2008
The Sun Belt Writing Project


Thursday, July 10, 2008


More Than Minutes . . .Moments!



The last Sun Belt breakfast is hosted by Ivy.  Large cinnamon swirls of bun and tubs of cream sweet topping, cheese Danish, strawberries and green grapes, are spread down the table to the marbled colby-jack cheese cubes.  Jevette brings the ice and bottled water. Percolated coffee and orange juice complete the repass.  It’s better than home!


John and Suzan begin the day’s agenda and announcements. Yvonne asks about the attire for a Slice of Sun Belt tomorrow. With Whitney’s help, we understand casual but no shorts! The anticipation of separation anxiety is near as John talks about tears and hugs.


The Morning Writing Invitation is from Merribeth.  She reads “ Eleven” by Sanderson Arrows.  A little girl’s voice tells about her eleventh birthday.  Aging is compared to the layers of an onion, each year holding its own life responses.  Merribeth invites us to write and never forget the child voice inside of us.


After brief poster editing for TC’s, Whitney’s instrumental concert begins. We begin our Morning Writing.  The laptops are circled up like a frontier wagon train.  In the safety of the circle: shared destination, hopes and fears bagged over the years, personal images of  children/people taught, our new writing community blazing trails for their students, teachers, and future writers. Sun Belt!


The warm productive writing climate in which thoughts and feelings germinate.    Whitney sounds the end of morning writing to John. John calls break time and mentions discussing the Writing Marathon of yesterday.  Robbie prepares for her TIW. The voices rumble around the room. Vickie assaults Whitney with photo flashes from across the room.


Experiences and laughter volley from voice to voice. Lori catches everything like a court stenographer.  Questions asked and answered nip the fraggles.  “Whose bread is this? There is nothing between it! Let’s give it to the squirl!”, Vickie. 


Robbie presents her TIW, Let’s Dialogue About It! Connecting Writing to Reading through Literature-Based Dialogue Journals.   In her background, Robbie articulates her goal for her 9th and 10th grade students is for them to become life-long writers.  The activity  intends to engage students in dialog about literature reading and journaling between classes. The ideas for this TIW are influences from Greenwood & Walters, Literature-Based Dialogue Journals:Reading, Writing, Connecting, Reflecting.

With a tenth grade mind, we take a pre-test about reactions to reading and writing. In our sharing, some express being shy and not wanting to speak out in class. Others express liking recreational reading, but not curriculum reading.

The Edgar Allen Poe poem, Annabel Lee is the given reading assignment. Using the reacting and responding rubrics, we write, share with a partner and write back to the partner.


In our Reflections we discuss applications of the lesson at different grade levels.

Mr. McDade, Principal of Deborah Cannon Wolfe comments about the potential effectiveness of the lesson in socializing students.  We also discuss parent –student journaling. Suzan raise the point of parents who can not respond because of illiteracy or language barriers.  Think it was Amy who says the student could scribe for the parent.  Discussion continues about the negative student response that may be seen in teens.  John and Whitney’s journal share illustrates how such writing may include off topic shares mixed with the given writing focus. There are many laughs. Applauds, Robbie!


Everyone returns from lunch. Vickie is wearing a cow-head crown from Chic-fillet and a smile of contentment. Whitney reads “Shitty First Drafts” from Bird to Bird,  by Ann Lamott. The readings give advice about writing through Ann’s literary writing.


Surveys here! John encourages completion of the paper work. Whitney and John leave the room.  The last writing!  Writing assignments are due today.  TC’s retire to the LRC.

Questions about posters and writing assignment buzz across the room.


Thanks to the Sun Belt Invitational Writing Project and our 2008 writing community: Dr. AlysonWhite, John Pennisi, Whitney Reed, Suzan Piper, Vickie Pheil, Michael Sinnott, Holly Robinson, Robbie Flowers, Merribeth Henderson, Lori H, Jennifer ,

Amy, Ivy Howard, YvonneWilliams, Jevette Page, Lori Johnson and guest principal Mason McDade Jr.


 “See ya the Slice!”


Jevette A.K.A. Waterwriter


As I entered the room this morning, armed with a 16.9 ounce Red Bull energy drink, I was greeted by two lime colored packages of sour skittles – a gift from Vicki – as prepayment for technical assistance that will be rendered during her upcoming inquiry workshop.


Teacher consultants carried on conversations in small groups.  One of the more notable conversations included a discussion of Holly’s childhood refusal to taste pies, much to the surprise of Michael, her neighbor.  These conversations lead into the unceremonious dropping of Holly’s (thankfully indestructible) laptop.


This early morning group also tackled some pretty heavy subjects such as:

  • The unfairness of the Auburn City Schools secondary teachers reaping the benefits of the laptop initiative while the elementary teachers struggled to understand why they were left out.
  • Susan and John had a circular discussion about who would send out an e-mail about the postponed leadership team meeting.
  • Jennifer and Vicki have been perplexed the last few days over their missing water bottles.  Their solution was to actually put their names on their bottles. This seems to have remedied the problem.
  • In Whitney’s absence John complained about her messy work space and we all pondered the best position for John to take the best photograph of her area.  After embellishing the space a bit with more crumbs and wrappers, John crawled under the circle of tables once again to take the picture.
  • Unresolved issue: “Tsunami”, a.k.a. Auburn’s wireless network, has created a big wave of discontent the past few days in room 2474.  Many people commented on their frustration with getting online.


After everyone trickled in, announcements were made, mainly pertaining to Friday’s “Slice of Sunbelt” being held from 9-11 at the Alumni Center. Whitney use this time to introduce the vocabulary word of the day, “wonky”, which she used to describe what happens to the graphics on a document when you send them over e-mail.  We were reminded to send her our graphic representations of our Sun Belt experience to her by tomorrow afternoon.

For morning inspiration, I shared The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a picture book by Chris Van Allsburg, author of other popular books such asJumanjiZathura, and The Polar Express.  The pictures in this book inspire children all over the world to write mysterious stories.  (The portfolio edition is a bit unique and can be purchased on Amazon for about $16.00.)

I also read some excerpts from 26 Fairmount Avenue, a children’s chapter book by Tomie DePaola, where he recollects events from his childhood.   I chose to read this after being reminded of….

·        Holly’s wonderful stories about her “Nana”

·        Ivy’s potentially tragic childhood episode with a roof and an umbrella

·        Whitney, disgruntled with the popularity of animated Disney fairy tales

·        Lori and her husband bravely building their own home

·        Yvonne’s story about her relatives escaping a hurricane

·        John’s recurring “Catholic guilt”


Our honored guest, Mr. McDade, graciously passed out gifts from D.C. Wolfe Elementary School and we all began our sacred morning writing time.

After diligently working, most of us feverishly attempting to finish the required four writings for Sun Source, conversations began.  Somehow, the topic turned to dieting and the shocking procedure called “colon cleansing”.  Vicki commented that “it’s all about the fiber”.  I fear I missed some important dialogue when I left the room for a bit of a break.  (You’re probably thankful I couldn’t expound.)


Maribeth presented her TIW, titled “Speech…Poetry…Music”. Just listing the title doesn’t do it justice.  Her font and placements of the words conveyed additional meaning – that poetry is on a kind of continuum between speech and music. She coined a new phrase admired by many “make your writing sound more delicious” when she listed her essential questions: How do writers use sound to make their writing more delicious? How can you use sound to make your writing more delicious?  We all listened intently to Maribeth as she shared a few poems and we collaboratively listed elements of sound that we noticed in each.  Jennifer acted as our community’s hole punch operator, and Whitney took the role of an intentionally difficult student.

 Maribeth had us share words we loved to say, words that “feel good in our mouth”.  Some words shared were: vernacular, onomatopoeia, genre, reliquary, lubricant, subterfuge, britches, awkward, cantankerous, and exacerbate.  Our personal three-word list soon became a whole class activity. We passed our papers to the left, while the recipients listed one word that sounded (or had some of the same sounds) as the initial words on our list. This process continued around the room until we all recovered our original papers.  There were some questionable transitions along the line of words on my paper.  I’m still wondering how my three words (“onomatopoeia”, “aquamarine”, and “quadrilateral”) transitioned into the words, “horny”, “prostitute”, and “penis”.  (I suspect Michael had something to do with this.)

Maribeth had us take our final lists and use these words to create a poem. (You can imagine with the word selection I had, that it was rather difficult). We met in groups to revise and then displayed our poems and word lists in the room.  Maribeth surprised us with gifts of brightly colored containers and Popsicle sticks. What for?  We were to write some of the “wondrous words” we had on our lists on the sticks, place them in a container, and pull one out in our classrooms to inspire our children to used varied vocabulary in their writing. (I, of course, had to “edit” my list a bit. I don’t think third graders, or their parents, would appreciate some of this “broader” vocabulary.) Everyone was so involved in this project, that the beginning of lunch time was ignored.  No one seemed to mind.


After a slightly shorter lunch, Ivy began her TIW entitled, “Obstacles In Our Way, The True Story of Our Lives & ‘Helen Keller’.”  Ivy is a veteran teacher who taught kindergarten for an amazing 25 years.  She is currently the reading coach at D.C. Wolfe.

 Ivy’s Essential Questions:

1.  How do I use writing to get into the heads of the characters read about?

2.  What does student writing look like for these students?


Ivy had us list things that we were afraid of, things that make us angry, and other “obstacles”.

·        Robbie was angered that some solar lights were stolen from her house last night.

·        Maribeth displayed her strip of paper inscribed with only 4 letters: NCLB.

·        Jevette was distraught at the fact that she might not have any summer vacation left.

Ivy had us complete an activity where we identify “tier two” words – words that are not a typical part of a child’s conversational vocabulary. She read us a book about the life of Helen Keller, and we identified some of those “tier two” words when we heard them in the story.

 Ivy’s thoughts about dealing with obstacles:

·        Think positive

·        Keep a clear mind

·        Persist-persevere

·        Think about and picture in mind all possible solutions

·        Get assistance – ask for help

 Jevette, Yvonne, and Lori entertained us with a skit about a clown crossing an obstacle in the road as a conclusion to Ivy’s lesson.


Then, it was off to writing response groups – one of the favorite summer Sun Belt activities. I can’t speak for the other three response groups, but our group had the pleasure of having Whitney today, who was, for some reason, relating all the images in Maribeth’s poems to sex and private parts.  We did, however, actually give out some constructive comments that were genuine and helpful. Thanks, Whitney, for all the laughs.


Our closing consisted of a sincere confession by Whitney, who stated to Vicki that she will be especially nice tomorrow, trying to make up for her displeasing attitude today. Lorie pleasantly ended our day with some comical anecdotes from one of her favorite writers, Jan Karon.


Thanks, Sun Belters, for a great day!  Can’t wait for our writing marathon tomorrow J






It seemed very quiet as we all made our way to the beginning of our last week together.  What was it?  Were we exhausted from the last 2 weeks?  Many of us are also taking night classes this summer so that’s a good possibility.  Were we still celebrating the 4th of July?  Another good possibility.  Many of us spent time with family and friends, swimming in the pool or lake, overeating and staying up late.  Or are we finally realizing that our time here together is coming to an end.  The discussion of cleaning our spaces and taking everything home was sad and seemed unreal.  Is it really coming to an end already? 


I brought a sausage, egg and cheese casserole, biscuits and fruit for breakfast.  I must give credit where credit is due.  All I did was wash and cut the fruit and carry it to the room.  My sweet husband made all of the rest for us.  Thank you John! 


Our morning writing inspiration came from Lorie J.  She shared some pages of Jan Karon’s book on how she came to be an author in hopes of inspiring some of us to pursue our dreams of being published.  (Karon was 50 when she sold everything, moved, cut expenses and began writing.  It’s never too late!)  Thanks for the inspiration to follow our dreams, no matter how old we are or where we are in life.  It’s a lesson that we can all follow. 


We also listened to some personal inspiring music during our writing time.  Alyson’s mom’s piano CD called MOONLIT was beautiful background music and quite inspiring.  The reading from Lorie and the music from Alyson said the same thing; you’re never too old to follow your dreams.  What a great setting to write in.  Alyson, our hearts are with you and your mom and we hope you have fun earthquake proofing her home together.  We miss you. 


We had a quiet morning working on the e-anthology website, creating our posters or reading.  The only problem was Whitney would not share her GingerMan cookies and finished the whole bag herself.  (She was later caught in the fridge stealing someone’s milk to wash it all down!)  Does anyone see a pattern here?


John, the paparazzi man, continues to get in everyone’s face, trying to get that perfect picture.  We must not be a very photogenic group because he won’t stop.  Maybe we need to pass around that magic lip gloss.


Many of us stayed in the room for lunch and enjoyed talking to Dr. Brabum our lunch guest speaker.  She led a very informative talk on reading and vocabulary instruction.  Many of us took notes and have ideas of ways to incorporate what we learned today in our classrooms in the fall.  Thank you Dr. Brabum for sharing some time with us. 


After lunch Lorie J. did her TIW on helping students see mental images and making connections to stories.  She read the children’s book When the Relatives Came,   by Cynthia Rylant.  We shared images we saw in our minds from the story and then wrote our own stories, trying to create those images for our readers.  Some of our images will stick with us for a long time; the shotgunner who stopped the drug runners, the Wally World adventure, and anticipation of the arrival of family are only a few. 


Art lead us in a lengthy, but informative closing at 2:00.  (no, we didn’t get to leave early, Art just wanted to use the tech cart before it had to be returned at 2:30, and he used every minute).  We learned about blogs and wikis by watching a video.  Then he gave us a few great websites.    answer the questions correctly and rice is donated to hungry people around the world.  – use this one to convert files (ex.  From YouTube to wmv that you can watch in your classroom.) they will convert it and send it to you for free if you can wait for it. – free music that is tailored to your likes. 


We then had reading time to work on pieces for SunSource or e-anthology. 

Whitney tried to dismiss us at 3:15, but John, being the leader he is, made us stay until 3:30.  


Moments from Sun Belt July 3, 2008


The morning began with a luscious breakfast of blueberry pizza, three-cheese quiche, sliced tomatoes, cheese cubes and pita chips. Individuals added their own beverages: coffee, juice, water.


Vicki and John patched things up and are now friends again.


Susan Piper is taking over in the morning absence of Alyson Whyte. Alyson returns in the afternoon.


Morning writing time was inspired by Lori Grubbs’s reading of a story from THANKS AND GIVING by Marlo Thomas. Our writing was “rudely” interrupted by a visit from the dean of the College of Education, Dean Fran Kochan. We introduced ourselves and she asked what had been most helpful to us during Sun Belt. Because we had a visiting principal, Mr. McDade, Jr., she wondered if we might start a one-week session for administrators.


Michael Sinnott presented his TIW entitled “what do you mean santa clause isn’t real? losing innocence.” He had us all laughing over our own childhood misconceptions after we looked at a website called, which contains postings about childhood beliefs which turned out not to be true. He showed us how to use such a notion with literature about growing up or losing innocence. His works are TO KILL A MOCKINJGBIRD, A SEPARATE PEACE, and LORD OF THE FLIES.


After lunch, Alyson Whyte returned from her other duties.

Jevette Page presented her TIW. We were relieved to see her because she was AWOL during the morning session and no one could contact her. It turned out that she had burned the midnight oil well past midnight and her body told her she needed sleep more than breakfast and writing. Jevette’s TIW was titled “Helping Children Connect Their Thinking, Talking, and Writing.” She explained how children don’t always think about things and how she got them to think. She tells them, “I want you to stop and think; just stop, stop and think.” We were like first graders in her hands as we worked through her lesson on thinking about various items and talking to partners then writing about the items.


Holly Robinson helped us close out the week before our social by sharing brief readings: a poem and several selections from Jerry Seinfeld’s book SEIN LANGUAGE.


The social at Carino’s was a success. We were all sociable.


These are the moments…from my viewpoint today as I sit between Robbi and MariBeth, the table by the door, the “Mystical Woods” address.


Today, John treated us to breakfast.  After enjoying the delicious homemade banana nut bread…oh, yeah – that was yesterday.  Back to today.  John’s breakfast – granola bars, Pop-Tarts, and crackers.  Love this stuff!  Jennifer commented on the variety of individually-wrapped items and questioned the flavor of the plain-wrapper Pop-Tarts twice.  As usual, John responded so well to questions.  Jennifer – Did you ever find out what flavor they were?  Finally, Holly was kind enough to report strawberry, after someone tried to suggest Boysenberry was a real Pop-Tart flavor.  Feeling a bit paranoid, John asked Whitney to talk with him in the hallway so I could not take notes from their conversation and include them here for your reading pleasure.  Unfortunately, before they left, I did overhear the words “Ex-lax” and “professor” in the same statement from John.  Hmmm…maybe his paranoia is well-grounded.  (This will NOT be his first attempt at CRIME today.)




Greetings and Announcements

John welcomed us with a friendly “Good morning” and thanked Whitney for bringing the fruit to complement his pack-n-go breakfast.  Thanks John and Whitney!  We appreciate ALL you are doing for us during Sun Belt!!


Calendar Updates

Today, July 2 – At 12:30, we will visit the LRC or stay in our nooks here at Haley to begin creating posters that represent our experience this week at Sun Belt.  Michael and Amy will be on-hand to assist, as well as Jennifer, Lori G, and Whitney.  We will use images/photographs from the Internet to create our posters.  This poster can serve as your professional writing piece you will submit to Sun Source and will be displayed Friday, July 11th at “A Slice of Sun Belt” reception.

July 8 – Ivy will present her TIW at 12:30.  We will meet in our Writing

Response Groups at 2:00. 

July 10 – Robbi will present her TIW at 10:00.  During the “Writing Time” at 12:30, we may take this opportunity to meet with our Writing Response Groups or spend time in the computer lab.


Alyson reminded us that we ARE Sun Belt.  Once you are a Sun Belt participant, you now belong to the larger Sun Belt group.  This is not a class you ever “finish”.  We are now proud members of a true writing community.


John welcomed Mr. McDade, principal at D.C. Wolfe Elementary School.  This is his second visit, as he continues to show his appreciation for this Sun Belt group.  It certainly speaks volumes when an administrator supports the learning and continued development of his school’s teachers.  We are glad you are with us, Mr. McDade!  Thank you for sharing your teachers with us!


John reminded us that t-shirt orders should be given to him before 3:30 today.  He is placing the order today and we all want to sport our tees and look spiffy for SB.


Through discussion, Alyson and Jevette connected the Slice of Sun Belt to the mandala – we are the parts of the whole – Sun Belt.



Morning Writing Invitation

Ivy delivered the morning writing invitation.  She read a selection titled “People Come Into Your Life for a Reason”, which reminded us that we have something to share or learn from each single person who comes into our life.  Her piece was very reminiscent of Lori G.’s TIW yesterday (Dear Mr. Falker).  Then, as Bon Jovi (“It’s My LIFE!”) blared through the wall from the neighboring classroom, Ivy started an audio-recording of waves crashing on a beach.  She then read from a piece about the starfish, and how sometimes what the starfish needs most out of life is to be returned to the ocean.  Ivy, and her reading, reminded us about the importance of making a difference to those who may have lost hope.  Thank you, Ivy.



Morning writing



During break, most conversations revolved around computer talk.  Robbi is sporting a new laptop and she shared with MariBeth the cool features it has.  Michael and Holly were discussing server and connectivity issues.  Break time is a time when you can eavesdrop (like Holly’s TIW) and hear great little tid-bits of everyone’s conversation.  Ooops, now you know what I do during break, don’t you?





E-Anthology Time

John passed around a 3 pager that better describes the writings that will be submitted for Sun Source.  (Didn’t he do all of this yesterday?  You remember – in between the jabs and cuts he delivered to some quiet, shy TC across the room who was – I will say – minding my her own business?)  He explained to us the different writings we will need and what to do with them when we are finished with them.  No rude talk here – just email the writings to John.  He was very kind in doing this for us – AGAIN.  Thanks so much, John! 


Since we cannot lock this classroom door (loving 2474, nonetheless), we gathered our valuables (which includes our writings!), and headed to the LRC computer lab.  For you non-Auburnites, LRC is the Learning Resource Center for the College of Education at Auburn.  While in the LRC, we had time for posting our writing on NWP’s e-Anthology, using Word to type our writing, looking for clipart images for our posters, and catching up on other writings we have started.






Lunch discussion in Haley 2474 included Holly’s issues with a non-functioning clothes dryer, Yvonne’s experience as a college student here at Auburn when she went through “Rush” (the first year they used computers to determine Rush assignments and they had to wait outside forever due to the “speedy” computers of yesteryear), and Michael and Amy’s satellite radio favorites.

John received praise from Alyson for bringing crackers!  They have made a great afternoon snack.  Once again, thanks John!




Whitney gave a thorough description of our next task: posters.  She described it as a “visual argument” for our experiences in Sun Belt Invitational Institute.  She posed this question, “If Sun Belt were a book, what cover would you design for it?”  It is not necessary to be complicated, but it should represent the entire three weeks of Sun Belt.  She referenced Kandinsky’s artwork and his focus on color.  Whitney also suggested we may want to free-write and pull key words to find our focus.  Your poster may recognize the entire group or you as an individual.  John compared the poster-creating process to Whitney’s TIW – taking concrete images and moving to the abstract.  Whitney stated it is an aesthetic process – text is optional – your choice!  Alyson further described it as a continuum, rather than opposites.


Transactional/informational ————— poetic/aesthetic

This poster should represent what is meaningful to you about SBII, and it will invite the viewer into the quality/-ies of the experience.


How to begin?  Writing, sketching, using Google images,,

Whitney gave a 3 minute intro to graphic design and explained that if you choose to center a graphic, place it approximately one inch from the center of the page as your eye is naturally drawn to the bottom.  Also, consider the 4 points (MariBeth stated it is called the Rule of Thirds) – to draw attention, but force the viewer (reader) to look deeper for more meaning.


Suggestion – use two fonts, max


Several TC’s remained in Haley 2474, while others visited the LRC to use the computers there.




Personal Reading Time


Alyson read a passage to us from each of these texts:

Dreamkeepers by Gloria Ladson-Billings

Literacy with an Attitude by Patrick Finn

Young, Gifted, and Black by Claude Steele, Theresa Perry, and Asa Hilliard III


She also mentioned the work by Lisa Delpit, including Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom and The Skin That We Speak: Thoughts on Language and Culture in the Classroom and Linda Christensen’s Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word.  Other books mentioned include White Teacher by Vivian Gussin Paley and Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life by Annette Lareau.


Alyson passed these books around the room for our review.


This opened the door to engaging discussion about social justice and the classroom, status issues, and how this can be managed within the four walls of a typical classroom.


Our discussion segued nicely into the viewing of a video taken in John’s classroom, “An Instructional Approach for Critical Thinking”.  John’s class was used to model the dynamics in group work.  Produced by Alyson – great job!






I have issued a warrant for John’s arrest.  He is being charged with Theft by Taking.  Since he returned the kaleidoscope only after being questioned, I still may file a complaint.  Perhaps he was trying to find Tom Selleck?  And then he tried to blame Whitney…




Alyson announced she will not be in attendance during our final week of Sun Belt.  Needless to say, we will all miss her very much.  We wish Alyson a safe trip and we will think of her on this journey she will take.  Alyson – You are in our thoughts and prayers.  To have a little bit of Alyson around next week, John announced that we will listen to “Moonlit”, a compilation cd of Alyson’s mom playing the piano.  I am looking forward to it.


In her absence, Susan will sit in with us for our last five days together.  Welcome Susan! 



The time between yesterday afternoon and this morning was the “halfway” point of Sun Belt.  Seven days completed.  Seven days remaining.  We now have only six.  We press forward.  Blessing and addressing. We write.  Remember…we ARE Sun Belt.


~ Vicki



            This morning, Amy brought delicious sausage balls and her husband cooked luscious banana bread (oh so moist)!  Thanks Amy and husband for the bountiful feast this morning!


Morning Announcements and Other Miscellaneous Stuff

This morning, we decided how we would shape our minutes.  We discussed the warmth of the minutes and how they should be written in a narrative form.  Whitney also added that they should be written from our own voice to preserve our memories from our writing project.  Dr. Whyte suggested changing the term “Minutes” to “Moments.”

Lorie was grateful that someone discarded the dead flowers from her vase.  She is now using this as a piece of her “writing space.” 

            Whitney gave us permission to smack John if he gets in our face with the “paparazzi camera.”


Morning Writing Invitation

            Yvonne shared the morning writing invitation with us.  Her invitation was from Steven King about James Joyce’s writing life.  King makes the point that writers should utilize their talent to the fullest extent: “If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name would you not do it?”  This really spoke to me because I believe, as well, that people should embrace their abilities and use them for good purposes.


It really cracked me up when Lori and Jennifer commented that their writing spaces included Skittles, Whoppers, Twizzlers, and Reese Cups.  (A writing space formed by candy and chocolate: sounds perfectly acceptable to me!)  Of course, you can’t forget that chocolate is a vegetable because it’s a product of the cocoa BEAN.  And, after all, beans are vegetables.



Holly’s TIW

            This morning, Holly presented her TIW: Espionage and Icebergs (A fantastic title!).  She said that her unit stemmed from the need to have a creative writing to break up the monotony of the other heavier writings that they must write throughout the year.  Her Essential Questions

dealt with authentic dialogue and revision techniques.  She delved into Hemingway’s writing style and guided us to point out the stylistic features of his writing that all writers should utilize: write simply, write only the tip of the ice-berg, write from observation, and write using positive wording (not negative wording).

            Teacher Holly had us go outside of the classroom and discover a piece of authentic language and bring it back into the classroom.  We had to write one sentence that we discovered on a piece of colored paper.  Then, we discussed each sentence and the ways it could be shaped to form a narrative or other piece of writing. 

            Jevette’s laugh was hilarious when Alyson read Michael’s sentence: “You’re gonna have to go down first!”  Here are the other sentence gems we discovered as we were eavesdropping on random strangers:

  • “Hey!  Guess what we should do on Friday and Sunday?”
  • “We should definitely go get my car and go.  How do we get there?  We’ve got to find it.  How are we going to find it?”
  • “That is so stupid!  What else did she say?
  • “Dad!  Father.”
  • “You’re gonna have to go down first!”
  • “What time is the visitation?”
  • “It’s all just a bit overwhelming right now.”
  • “I hit a girl in the face with it.  On the bus.”
  • “What do you mean, it fell off?”
  • “He called me and told me.  He was like, Man!  People are using the Port-a-Potties and waiting around and everything.  It’s like going to Florida.   /     Oh! We go to Florida every year – to Naples.  It’s awful.  All the snowbirds.  You get stuck in that inside lane.  Florida is awful.”
  • “No, no man.  We were in the dorms… There was a magician…”
  • “If he wants to fail you, he can work a way around so you fail.”
  • “That’s the problem then.  These are for students in the College of Education.”
  • “Hey, I heard there was something called Camp War Eagle Love.  /    Is it where you fall in love with your counselor?   /    Oh my gosh, I heard about that!  (whispers…)    Ewww… Gross!  /  No, I heard it really happened.  It’s Camp War Eagle Love.”
  • “Put six students in the van and get them down here to Haley Center.”
  • “The plain on plain goes to the girl in the white shirt.”


Response to TIW:

  • Jevette discovered that a deck of 52 cards on the sale table in the bookstore could serve as dialogue / story starter. 
  • Jennifer commented that the standards hold us accountable for learning how to use “flowery” writing (adjectives, words other than said, metaphors, etc…).  (Yet another reason “standards” are never really standard and sometimes never accomplish their intended objectives.)



Lori G’s TIW

Her was all about teaching narrative writing using picture books.  She read to us “Thank You, Mr. Falker” and explained her bog “book talk” she would have with her students as she traversed throughout the book.  I noticed that she has post-it notes to prompt herself to ask students questions as she reads the book aloud to her students.  The book pulled at my heartstrings – especially the part where the narrator says she hopes the people at her new school wouldn’t realize how “dumb” she was.  It made me really feel for the little girl.  It reminded me of cruel things kids said to me as a child.  Lori had such a nice reading voice.  She really made the book feel alive to the listener. You could feel how emotionally tied she was with the book and that, to me, is one of the greatest indicators that a teacher really cares about what she is teaching.  After reading the book, she explained that she wanted her students to put as much emotion into their writing as Patricia Polacco does. 

We, then, wrote one of our old teachers a letter, telling them how they “touched” and changed our lives.  Lori read her letter aloud, and our audience could hear her authentic voice through her writing.  She had such genuine emotion; I think I speak for all of us in saying that it was truly moving.  The entire experience was very inspiring.  By the end of the lesson, we were all in tears.   


·      Jennifer suggested also using this lesson and including coaches, mentors, relatives, friends, and other people who have impacted us so profoundly.

·      Then, Dr. Whyte started a round-circle discussion of the people we are all so thankful for having impacted our lives.


After Lori’s TIW, we had “Personal Reading and Study” time.  Many people discussed what they were writing about and the need for more Writing Response Group time.

            At the end of the day, John ended with a story from Zig-Zag.  A young boy went to a school where the media specialist (or librarian, for us old-schoolers) censored books by marking out the “bad” words and situations.  When he was older, the guy bought a record from the library of Hemmingway’s poems (self-read) only to find out that the controversial sections had been scratched off the record with a razor blade.  Censorship: keeping people ignorant, one book at a time.


Everyone entered the room with the familiar smells of Chick-fil-A!  Their unbelievable chicken minis, sausage biscuits, and fruit tray with the delicious caramel sauce was served by yours truly for b’fast. Of course, I do have an inside connection to CFA, so I must say “thank you” honey!


John opened us with the acknowledgement that several people had added to their writing spaces; Lori G. brought roses from home (and tomatoes, but they were for us, not her writing space); Vicki brought pictures of her family, including her stepson who is stationed in Iraq; Amy brought pictures of her students, husband, and dogs, along with some of her favorite children’s books from her third grade classroom; and last, but certainly not least, Jevette and Ivy won the prize for bringing their principal with them today! 


The morning invitation was given by me.  I read a couple of pages from John Ortberg’s book, Everybody’s Normal Until You Get To Know Them which is a book about community.  We sometimes view ourselves as the “normal” ones, while everyone else is weird and Ortberg simply states, we all come like the clothes from the corner department store “as-is”, with all our flaws.  I also read from Max Lucado’s Facing Your Giants which included a story about him waiting for a phone call as a young boy to find out if he had made the baseball team, only the call never came.  We all have a time in our lives that the call never came.  Be it a missed job opportunity or the date that you thought went well, only they never called again.  The invitations were to write about someone you know or yourself that you have accepted “as-is” or to write about the time in your life that the phone call never came. 


Our first TIW of the day was with Yvonne.  We scoped out a new room in Haley to give us space.  Her essential questions were:

1. How can I help writers consider the reader’s perspective?

2.  How do writers show what they know?


We were given a folder with instructions about how to carry out the activity. Directions: You must describe a picture to your partner so that he/she can draw it without looking at the original.  Take a minute to organize your instructions….give instructions only twice and wait for your partner to draw before proceeding to the next part.  Do not look at your partners sketch until it is completed, and  you cannot use hand gestures.



 Did the activity transmit the intended concept?

 What changes in the procedure would improve the effects?


As we discussed the activity, I took notes from who said what.  It is important for me when I look back on an activity to remember where I got the information.  I am including what I recorded below:


Whitney – extension to have students write their directions next

Vicki – described game of “get Mrs. Pheil out of here” in students giving directions to get her out of the classroom

Lori – use in science classroom to help with descriptions with microscopic organisms

Michael – uses figurative language to describe the drawing “looks like a stop sign”

Jevette – give feedback, “which communications were most helpful?”

Amy – – they draw a picture of a monster, then the description and sends it to another school, use of adjectives; provides an audience for their writing

 Maribeth – ideas for peer editing lesson

Dr. Whyte – how hard it was to face one another; big bright sign that says “solicit side by side feedback” 

Whitney – the reader is literally showing you what they heard you say; what does it mean to conference with my writing; important to make changes to writing; journal or log about what they have learned about themselves; explicitly telling the students to think about what they are going to say before they begin, what type of language are they going to use? learning from someone else’s example person B listened

Vicki – listening skills involved;

Michael – when to consider your audience, language fits with who your audience is; looking at things like a writer, knowing you will have to describe it to someone else. 

Amy – forced to have mental images in your head and put those to paper

Holly – mathematical terms reinforcement


We had about twenty minutes before lunch and we spent time writing our reflections for Yvonne.  I was impressed by the simplicity but the effectiveness of the lesson.  It was great and something we can all use no matter what grade we teach.


Lunch time was finally here.  Some stayed in the room, while some ventured outside in the beautiful weather.  Amy returned to the room early to begin preparing for her TIW.


Amy’s TIW was a beautiful way to teach across the curriculum in an elementary setting.  She combined, reading, writing, social studies, and more into this one lesson.  We read Fairy Tales from other countries, we talked about mail, we wrote to someone from a fairy tale character’s perspective, we learned proper conventions of writing a letter.  We could easily see how effective this was in her third grade classroom. 


Amy’s essential questions were:

1.  How can I get students to enter into the “story world” through the use of writing?

2.  How can I teach the conventions of letter writing in a fun and engaging way?


Amy also gave us several books to use in our classrooms and I am including those titles /authors here for our use:


Jim Trelease – author who came to Auburn in September of 2007 The Read Aloud Handbook


Jeffery Wilheim – putting the students in the role of the character Action Strategies for Deepening Comprehension


Gail Gibbons How the Post Office Works


The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (The Jolly Christmas Postman)


Punctuation takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver


Whitney shared about a handout from Dr. Ash that says “we have conventions so that we can communicate” – if the reader doesn’t know what you are talking about, it looses meaning.  How true!!


We took a break before heading into one of my favorite times, writing response groups.  I feel like my group is my safe place.  Like going to a weekly help group.  It is a time for us to share what we have been working on in a small group and of course, my group is the best!  They are so encouraging and helpful with all they say.  It is a great time and would love to meet with them on a daily basis….Whitney….can you work that into the schedule? 


Our closing was given by Jevette.  I think we are all in awe of her choice of words and ability to convey her thoughts.  Thank you Jevette for sparking the writer in all of us!!  We all left hungry to return to 2474 tomorrow (and I don’t just mean the wonderful food we’ve had!)


The morning began with mini-muffins provided by Vicki and strong coffee made by yours truly. After we all got settled, I kicked off the day with some announcements. Announcement the first: John’s sensitive bowels were the reason for his absence. Announcement the second: Just kidding, John had the opportunity to lead the morning writing with the Open Enrollment Institute that Cathy B., Marty Casey, and Jenn Strekas have been heading up in the colorful, meaningful, powerful, and beautiful way that only they could do! Announcement the third: John’s still taking T-shirt orders (“Show him the money!”) 

Vicki led us in our morning writing by reading a letter that Picabo Street, an Olympic medalist in skiing and snowboarding, wrote to herself at age 27 (now age 35) after she won her first gold medal. Our invitation: to write letters to our (younger) selves with the advice/words that would have helped us has we known the other side of that time. Thank you, Vicki, for an original writing invitation.

After our morning writing, we headed to the LRC to get set up on the E-Anthology with our favorite fuzzy friend, Art Belleveau. Tanned, groomed, donning a crimson Sun Belt t-shirt, the knowledgeable and kind Ogreart helped us navigate the e-anthology and signed everyone up to be on the listserv. What would we do without our amazing tech-liaison? Thank you for being with us today, Art. Seeing your warm smile and getting a great bear hug from you officially kicked off the Sun Belt summer!! We’re happy to have you back from your cruise and on dry land. If you see him around anytime soon, ask to see pictures of the sting-rays… he went floating with them. 

Looking forward to Monday: Yvonne and Amy are sharing their TIWs on Monday and Writing Response Groups will meet. 

Cheers for now!


Today was a fun day for the members of the 2008 Sun Belt Writing Project Summer Institute. We had the privilege of seeing two great TIW’s along with enjoying some nice personal writing time during the allotted Morning Writing. 

We began with sharing inspirations that other TC’s brought to share today. Yvonne brought a picture of her family in front of her new house and a photo of her husband with two of her grandchildren at an Auburn football tailgate. Ivy brought a picture of her daughter and two grandchildren. Vicki brought a kaleidoscope, with which she hopes to see forty Tom Sellecks someday. Holly brought a letter and photos from her Nana. Hopefully we will find great inspiration in these personal items at some point in the summer if we haven’t already done so. Who knows? Maybe Vicki will surprise us with a piece about a Tom Selleck encounter? J

After John and Whitney went over the agenda for the day, Whitney presented a Morning Writing activity. Whitney read a moving passage from Donald Murray’s Crafting a Life in Essay, Story, Poem (1996) from a chapter titled “Developing a Writer’s Attitude”. This passage encouraged us as writers to write about what makes us different. Murray advises that writers need to show a little vulnerability and use a personal voice in our writing. We were advised to write as if sitting at our kitchen table talking to a dear friend. Murray’s theory is that the more personal we are, the more individual we become. He also provides some insightful quotes from Picasso about connecting with painting and knowing what is right to do when creating art. Writing should be instinctive, Murray illustrates. Murray also recommends not planning too much or forcing a draft. Whitney ended with reading a poignant quote from Murray’s book: “Talent is common, energy rare.” Our invitation to write from Whitney is below:

Invitation to write: Write about your differences, and respect your drafts. Remember that talent is common, and energy is rare. Acceptance is as rational as rejection.

We spent the next forty-five minutes (9:00-9:45 a.m.) doing individual writing based on the invitation to write. (Michael provided some sweet tunes).


From 10:00-11:30 a.m., we had the privilege of participating in Jennifer Spencer’s TIW. Jennifer composed her TIW based on a lesson she does at the end of her school year for her fifth grade students on the human body and its systems. She titled her lesson Human Body Project.

Jennifer’s essential questions included the following:

1.     How can technology be used to motivate students?

2.     How does technology increase student’s ability to learn science curriculum?

3.     How do we use technology so that it is a meaningful part of the learning process.

Jennifer said she usually begins with a jigsaw activity, in which students become experts on assigned systems of the human body. Jennifer discussed several areas of her jigsaw activity that she found lacking, specifically that students didn’t know how to teach each other once they left their expert groups. Therefore, Jennifer began adapting the lesson to let students teach the whole class a concept through group collaboration and technology.


Jennifer has used a variety of technology in her projects. We viewed several sample student projects, including a PowerPoint, Pod cast, music video, Photo Story, and home video. The other TC’s noted that Jennifer does an exceptional job of creating technology-infused lessons that are also rich in content and structure. (The lessons are really fun, too)!

After showing us some student samples of the Human Body Project, Jennifer assigned us a scaled-down version of her lesson. We broke into groups of 4-5, and we looked through picture books in order to choose the body system we would like to study and present with some form of technology.

We had approximately twenty-thirty minutes to work on our presentation, and (we must admit) we were very creative in the time given. One group used a You Tube video to illustrate how the heart beats, and they created a song and dance to relay why the heart beats and why we should exercise to keep it healthy. Another group created a Photo Story presentation to teach about the brain and its functions. The final group created a Podcast recording a fictional story explaining how the digestive system works. All projects were both fun and content-rich! It was easy for us to see why this is such a “magical lesson” in Jennifer’s fifth grade classroom every year.

During the reflection portion of Jennifer’s TIW, she presented two questions she still has about her lesson and how to improve it. Jennifer’s reflection questions are listed below:

  1. After my TIW, are there areas of my lesson that could be more efficient?
  2. How might I teach technology resources progressively throughout the year so that this could be a culminating unit at the end of the fifth grade science?

The class offered immediate verbal feedback, and Jennifer said several ideas were very helpful. The class’s feedback includes the following:

  1. Perhaps you could teach some technology concepts throughout the year (Podcast one week, PowerPoint one week, Photo Story one week, etc.)
  2. Make a Podcast that gives instructions for how to use each piece of technology that students may be using in class for projects.
  3. Keep a file of instructions in the room (technology file).
  4. Relate this project to the scientific method.
  5. Incorporate a reflection for students to do to process the scientific method they used to do their project.
  6. Create an authentic audience for the class. Let them present at a PTA meeting or for another class.

We thoroughly enjoyed participating in Jennifer’s lesson!

When we returned from lunch, we were happy to participate in Dr. Alyson Whyte’s TIW. Dr. Whyte teaches an undergraduate class at Auburn University, and she really wanted help in creating an effective lesson that helps students evaluate their own writing and their writing process. In order to better understand what Dr. Whyte has students do to attempt evaluating their own writing, we participated in a lesson in which Dr. Whyte has students complete an audit of their writing for her class. Dr. Whyte made an adaptation for us, and we did an audit of our writing in Sun Belt.

Dr. Whyte had several questions in the reflection portion of her TIW that addressed her essential question, including the following:

1.     What are you aware of that may help me further my understanding of the concept of the writers’ range?

2.     What published resources are there that you respect and are aware of that might help me ground my concept of high-quality writing so that I don’t narrow the concept more than it exists in the wider society yet can give the students scaffolding toward their definition of high-quality writing?

3.     What are efficient ways you can think of or know (e.g. teacher research tools) that I can employ to keep track of my initial responsive introduction on the concepts of growth, range, and high quality writing; students’ uptake of these concepts in their audits, and students’ construction of understanding of these concepts?

4.     How manageable (streamlined) is this plan for formative feedback every one or two weeks? (Which: every week or every two weeks?) How could I streamline it further?

5.     How do you predict these students will respond to this design? What experiences that you have had led you to predict what you did?

We ended Alyson’s TIW with a letter of reflection. We wrote a letter to Alyson in which we created responses to her reflection questions. Hopefully, Alyson will find some useful advice in these letters.

We ended today with a closing activity in which Whitney had us create Sun and Shadow Mandalas. Whitney explained that Mandalas are related to several cultures (Tibetan, for example), and that these cultures have found that Mandalas are natural precursors to writing (both in children and in developing peoples).

We created Mandela’s based on following seven questions:

                                             1.     What animal are you?

                                             2.     What plant are you? 

                                             3.     What color are you?

                                             4.     What number are you?

                                             5.     What shape are you?

                                             6.     What gem/mineral are you?

                                             7.     What element are you (air, earth, fire, water)?

We learned a lot about ourselves through the creation of these beautiful works of art!


Lorie Johnson rolled in breakfast on a black computer chair. Her homemade cheese Danish—the closest thing to having cheesecake for breakfast—was quickly consumed by all of us. Thanks, Lorie, for such a decadent breakfast! After shuffling around the room, plates in hand, we took our seats. 

Alyson opened our morning writing with seven morning meditations. Before she started her reading, she issued some personal inspiration and instruction. She asked us to first think about the pieces that feel warm to us. We needed to find to those pieces of writing. Next, we were instructed to begin our writing when we felt compelled to. We were supposed to tune her out as soon as possible. Her goal was for us goal was to write, not simply listen.

The meditations came from a guidance book for lay and ordained ministers, a British teaching memoir, and a daily Buddhist living book. Each member started his or her writing at different moments. You could tell when a line from the morning meditations spoke to a T.C. because his or hers attention would turn away from Alyson to a pad of paper or a computer screen. As the institute wrote, classical music soothed the white noise of laptop keys and scratchy pens.

Personal study and reading time followed morning writing time. The transition to quiet reading and study was easy after morning writing. Although each T.C. worked alone, a sense of professional and personal collaboration existed throughout the morning sessions.

After lunch, Alyson bravely shared her Teacher Inquiry Workshop work-in-progress. The background and context for her TIW was an undergraduate writing course for English language arts majors. For many of her students, her class was the their first real teacher writing class of their professional lives. Many young people go into English education because they love literature. Alyson used this point to stress how important her class was in helping this to-be teachers develop writerly lives. Seeking collaboration and guidance, Alyson proposed a few her possible essential questions to the institute, and she ended up with something close to “How can I give constructive summative feedback on student papers?”

The meat of the T.I.W. discussion developed from an idea about scaffolding the writing process through teacher feedback. Unaware of the teacher chic term scaffolding, Yvonne bravely asked the institute what it meant by scaffolding. Many of the T.C.s offered some of their own definitions and understanding of the concept. Most of the voices were coming from the secondary teachers until

Following the discussion/workshop with Alyson, the institute engaged in its first reading workshop. John asked the institute to share any reactions or thoughts about yesterday’s choice readings. Robbie praised Jim Burkes book The English Teacher’s Companion, and other T.C.s shared their feelings about the scholarly articles and books read on Monday. The majority of the reading workshop was spent discussing the problems with final portfolio grades appearing inflated to administrators and other education professionals.

 John closed the day by opening the floor to sharing of all kinds. T.C.s shared their new writing area décor.