Childhood Memories


This post is about Prewriting…and about online teaching. This summer of 2017, I find myself teaching my first large-scale (180 students who are teachers) online graduate course. I spent a year NOT looking forward to it, imagining a dull Discussion Board with students who possibly dreaded posting on it. YET…I should’ve known that once I actually starting designing the curriculum for the course (I LOVE curriculum–building), my creativity surged. I LOVE TEACHING THIS WAY–I just had to find a way to ensure the course was energizing for me AND the students.

So, my wonderful instructional designer Dawn, helped me set up VoiceThread assignments where students commented on one another’s responses to readings/videos, etc through three options: audio (like a podcast response); video; or written text. We had over 3000 interactions on VoiceThread in two weeks! The students sent complimentary emails even when they had a difficulty on VoiceThread or if something didn’t work quite right. Each time I checked in and listened to some of the interactions, I smiled throughout it all. I also built in a weekly Friday “office hour” using ZOOM technology; what fun that has been! The teachers talk to one another and share ideas about how they will use the information about writing and professional development and leadership at their schools. Several teachers are already networking with their closest NWP site. I could say more, but I must get to PREWRITING. Let’s just say I’m deliriously happy that this course has enabled such valuable and meaningful outreach to teachers who want to deepen their knowledge about writing and writing instruction!

So, for Week Three, students will compose a personal narrative. I’ve invited them to engage in PREWRITING by drawing a map of one of their childhood homes. They are to think back to 2 important or memorable events that happened in their home, a part of the house, in the yard, or maybe even in the neighborhood in which they grew up, then label both on the map. Then they are to compose two short paragraphs briefly describing WHO, WHAT, WHEN…..Here’s my map!

Childhood home prewriting

So, one of my paragraphs will be about an evening when my mom was working late into the night, and I was in my bedroom reading. I saw a shadow cross by my window even though the shade was down. It happened again and again. I looked out the window and saw nothing, but it was so late and so dark, of course, I was spooked. I saw the shadow again, then 5 minutes later, again. Then again. And again. I called the police. They came. All they saw was a cat. Yes, a cat.

My second paragraph will be about the joy of riding my bike when I was 7-8 years old. I used to pretend I was in a race (although I was alone), and I would speed up and down my neighbor’s driveways kind of like I was cycling through an obstacle course. I even challenged myself to touch each mailbox I sailed by. My bike was my freedom!

From these two experiences, students will choose the ONE they most want to write more about and develop a entire personal narrative/story about that childhood event or memory. Voilah! PREWRITING.


Swimming Monologues, Part 5 “I Understand.”

Darn, those weaknesses. As an adult, sometimes it’s easier to go WITHOUT teachers…well, because I’m an adult and am supposed to know a lot at this point in life. When you engage in any sort of athletic training or have a workout trainer, or in my case, a notorious Masters Swim instructor or two, well, those weaknesses don’t go unnoticed.

“I have a challenge for you for the rest of the workout,” says Joseph this morning. He’s pointed out this weakness before, but I became a little anxious when I heard his words. “Every time you push off the wall, don’t take a breath before your first stroke. Wait until the second one.” Oh, geez. Not that, I thought.

underwaterDear readers, you have to understand, although I enjoy swimming, I do not enjoy what I call the “body buzz” where I feel like all the blood has drained from all of my limbs and I may just be on the verge of fainting. When I cannot take a breath after a flip turn or even right after pushing from the wall when starting a length of the pool, I sometimes get the body buzz and it’s not pleasant–not something my brain tells me to do to myself on purpose.

“Okay, but you may have to jump in and save me. I may pass out!” I shouted to Joseph with a smile.

“No problem! I’ll jump in and get you,” he replied unwaveringly. His refusal to doubt my ability to do this reminded me of the self-fulfilling prophecy. He had an expectation of me, and he wasn’t backing down. I didn’t have a choice.

So, I accepted his challenge and did it. Got the body buzz a few times, but I survived and he didn’t need to jump in to save me. Toward the end of practice, I shared with him about the body buzz, and he nodded vigorously as I described it. “Yep, I know that feeling. If you start having vision trouble or your eyes feel weird, that’s when to start worrying. The last time I remember that happening to me was when my coach had us swim 4 x 25’s underwater. Toward the end of that, everything was blurry and I said, ‘Coach, am I dying?'”

Joseph had already been through what I was going through, and he knew what it felt like. He knew I needed to break a bad habit to get better, and that there may be some discomfort involved. Many of our teachers have already been through what they watch and guide us through. They know of our discomfort, our fears, and our resistance to break bad habits because it’s happened to them. Joseph let me know that he understands. His wisdom left no room for my complaints, my objections, or distractions. Sometimes the most important words form our teachers are, “I understand.”

Swimming Monologues, Part 4 Voices in my Head

i am a swimmerI have new material, thanks to Joseph, or maybe due to several workouts without him?

Perhaps you’ve had experiences in life when the voice of a favorite teacher enters your mind. Maybe it was something like, “Never give up. Believe in yourself,” or something more specific like, “Always think of your audience when you write.”

In my work with preservice and inservice teachers, I often hear Dr. Howard Jones, emeritus professor from University of Houston, who was my doctoral advisor. Love that man. He lives in my head when I’m observing a not-so-great or ill-prepared lesson: “Always find the pony in a room full of poop.” There’s always a positive–that’s hard to remember on some day! Also, through his actions, I learned how to validate my students when they have embraced and sometimes surpassed my own knowledge of a particular concept, method, or topic due to intensive study and/or application. He let me know more than once, “You know more than I do about this now. Will you come present to my next class?” My other most prominent mentor, Dr. Cheryl Craig, an AERA distinguished fellow and my dissertation co-chair, taught me to burrow into teacher knowledge and to look at all dimensions of a teacher’s lived experiences (place, personal/social, temporal-the past, present, future), then pull meaning from walking alongside them. She taught me a lot of other things as well, and all of those things swim around in my head most of the time. Most of all, she modeled to me how to believe in my students because she always believes in me. One of my former students, now a successful teacher, often texts or Facebook messages me saying, “You were in my head today. I was talking about my favorite books and….” You get the idea.

So, back to swimming…I was doing a mid-day workout with another awesome instructor, Nikki. She developed a workout with several 100 and 200 pulls. Joseph had directed me in the past, “Keep your core strong when you do pulls so you don’t go from side to side.” During the pulls, his voice entered my head so I tightened my torso and felt like I was slicing through the water straighter and stronger. On the last length of any “build” or “sprint,” I think we all have the tendency to get a little sloppy due to fatigue or over-exertion on the first part. It’s hard to keep your style intact when all you want to do is take a breath. As I ended some of the 50’s we swam on that day, I heard Joseph again: “Keep that stroke long and deep, even when you’re sprinting.” Doing that enabled me to keep my form even though I wanted to break it and flop around a bit. I ended that workout with more promise and more pride because of Joseph’s voice in my head.

Great teachers live in our heads. Thank goodness! There are so many days when we are tempted to lose our form, to give up, to do something less than the best. Those great teachers won’t let us get away with that, even when they’re not around. Just imagine ways that you might live in the heads of your students when they need you. Imagine how that helps them make it through the day when they are tired or feel like giving up.

Swimming Monologues, Part 3: A Slice of Life

Pay attn to the world quote






One unique site/blog I follow: the “Two Writing Sisters: A Meeting Place for a World of Reflective Writers,” . On their blog today, they posted this meme from Susan Sontag, which I love, and they encouraged onlookers to post a “slice of life” to our own blogs. So, the “Swimming Monologues” continue here because I’ve been trying to pay attention to the world!

Swimming Monologues, Part 3….Finding areas of improvement (and a coach).

I shared with Joseph in my early days of masters swimming that freestyle kicking is a weakness of mine. Since then, I’ve improved greatly, but I do not kick as well or as hard as I could–my arms seem to dominate, and my legs just follow along behind when I swim. Today at our 530 am practice, Joseph had to remind me twice to “kick harder.” Finally, toward the end of the practice, we had 4 x 75 yards to swim–1 length pull, and the other 2 freestyle swim. Joseph, as always, was watching and came over to share some coaching advice. “I want you to almost overkick on these 50’s….” He offered no explanation, just a straightforward message, a challenge he knew I needed.

So, as I swam the 50’s, I kicked harder and my arms took on the passive role while my legs were dominant. I felt power from other limbs as I swam, all because of a coach who watched and saw my area for improvement. Sometimes, we need eyes of wisdom to give us direct messages that tackle our weaknesses because that may be the only way we discover our power. We need others to watch over us, to guide, and to help us find new strengths.

How is your core?

I’ve already shared that Joseph is a masterful swim coach. Yet again, as I try to pay attention in my world, he shared a coaching message that is easily applied to life.

We were swimming 100 pulls (that’s where you focus on your arm stroke and you have a buoy between your legs to prevent kicking and to help your bottom half float). Pulls are one of my favorite things because I use my arms more than my legs. They’re easy for me and, quite honestly, provide a breather in the midst of the workout….until Joseph (always watching) finds a new challenge for me.

“During your pulls, pay attention to your torso. Keep your core strong so your body stays straight and you don’t move from side to side.” Well, that was new. So I tried to pay attention to my torso, tensing my core/abdomen area so that my hips stayed aligned with my arm strokes–straight ahead. I immediately felt it, like you feel ab exercises during a 10 minute ab lab. Sure enough, my legs followed in more of a straight line than any other time I’ve done pulls. After the pulls, I shared with Joseph, “There’s another life lesson, Joseph. Stay strong in your core, and use it when you need it.” He smiled.

How strong is your core? How can it help you stay straight, more aligned to your goals? A good question to ask today! There’s your slice of life, Two Writing Teachers. Thanks for the challenge. 🙂



Swimming Monologues, Part 2

pullsDoing Drills

So, we usually swim 2000 yards in a little over an hour. Sometimes I leave the pool with my calves twinging a bit or my shoulders feeling like lead weights. No matter, I always leave the pool with more life lessons.

In every practice, we do “drills” of some kind. Joseph may let us choose, or he may provide specific guidance that will help us with some aspect of our freestyle. I usually do the drill where I lift my elbow high as my hand touches my side all the way through the stroke. This reminds me to not to swing my arms wide when I swim–helps me avoid a messy, non-effective stroke. Today, Joseph advised I do that drill, but he narrowed in even more…”Really keep that arm close to your side all the way through more than you usually do.” And I did. By doing so, I realized how much space I was still allowing my arm to swing around…and once again, my stroke improved.

I’ve not been one to love drills of any kind. I prefer serendipity and beautiful coincidences when I think about learning something. However, I’ve come to appreciate drills. Because of the drills we use in swimming, my strength and technique improve almost unconsciously, under the guidance of a master. Perhaps we could see learning this way in classrooms–perhaps effective, appropriately-placed drills (like the ones Joseph gives us), can help students improve given the passing of time. This rehearsal actually changes the physicality of our brains (neural networks) according to the Information-processing learning theory. Executive control processes involve meaningful repetition. Maybe the key to success with drills lies in the “meaningful” part.

swim workoutReaching Out

We had one of those workouts today with multiple 100 free swims (at 70-80%) between varied 50 swims. After that, we did a variety of 100’s. One of them was a 100 pull fast. Joseph advised me: “This time, I want you to reach out…like, pretend you are reaching over something with your arm each stroke. This will help you really get the most from your stroke.”

Hmmm. Pretend I was reaching over something? I thought of a barrel, or a person, or a big wave, and I reeeeaccchhhed. My shoulders were already tired, but I visualized a barrel and the big wave. I moved faster and reached deeper. Visualization. Sometimes, you have to pretend you have a support you need, or visualize to help you finish something, or imagine that you’ve succeeded. I like pretending. It certainly helped me today.



Swimming Monologues–Adventures in the Pool

swimmerThe 10T

10T… “What is that?” I asked Joseph, our Masters Swim group instructor.

“I’ll tell you in a minute,” he winked.

Once everyone finished their slow 50, Joseph directed us.

“So, you all will swim for 10 minutes without stopping and I’m going to count how far you swim. Just go steady and we’ll see how far you can get in 10 minutes. I’ll blow a whistle halfway through and then three times when 10 minutes are over. In 5-4-3-2-1…GO!”

Swoosh! We pushed off the wall and we were off—I had just finished swimming a 300 build-up and my shoulders felt heavy with fatigue. Hmmm…10 minutes. I knew I could swim a 500 in 20 minutes, so how far could I get in 10? Flip turns? Yep, I hadn’t done many today, so I decided to do one at the end of each lap.

After about 8 lengths of the pool, I found my second wind with a rhythm of right, left, breath out, breath in…steady and centered each lap with breath and blood circulating and cooperating as they should. The slight pain in my shoulder disappeared and my arms and legs kept moving, pumping like a machine with even strokes and breathing, long reaches and effective flutter kicks. I felt like I could swim for another half hour. I loved feeling myself move through the water like a ship cutting through water, strong and smooth. The best part of it is that I was creating my own momentum—my own energy propelled me forward and made me move. It was me—I was a force for my own propulsion. There’s a metaphor there somewhere!

The result? 15 lengths of the pool—I swam 15 in 10 minutes. Not bad. What more could I do with momentum that I create? What more could I accomplish? How can my momentum make waves?


Skipping laps

One would imagine that skipping laps is something teenagers, not adults, would do during swim practice. Well, adults do it too.

Joseph had directed us to swim easy 200’s (8 lengths of the pool) between our sprints. The end of number 6 for me was almost completed, and when I came to the wall, I touched and headed out for my last two. I noticed the gentleman in the lane next to me had stopped after just 6. For a moment I thought maybe 8 had been over? No, I had been counting. When I arrived at the wall, Joseph shared, “I think you did an extra 50, but that’s okay. It’ll just make you stronger.” I didn’t respond but thought, oh well and started on the next sprint.

The next 200 came around, and I knew I’d be more careful in my counting…Sure enough, at the end of 6 lengths, the gentleman had stopped again. I kept going, and when I came back after 8, Joseph was there. I said, “I don’t think I’ve been doing extra laps.”

“No, he skipped out that time…”

So, why do people skip out, take the short route, cut out appetizers and desserts, refuse to stay for entire conversations, or do the least possible without getting caught or noticed? Who can fully understand human behavior? Maybe people are just tired. Maybe they need help. Maybe relevancy needs to be added to the event or activity. Or maybe they just need to care a little more. Knowing when to help or knowing when to reflect, whichever the case may be, seems a life skill which I’d like to develop more. I certainly don’t want to skip out.


Pushing Limits

Tuesday Morning—530 am. It’s dark outside.


4 x 50 kicks.

100 Build.

200 Easy

4 x 100 hard.

200 Easy

4 x 100 hard.

200 Easy

4 x 100 hard.

200 Easy (really?).

“Really,” said Joseph with a coach-like glare. And, I swam it. My shoulder muscles were burning. They were burning from the Saturday morning swim too.

4 x 25 fast. “You’re almost done!” Joseph said encouragingly.
“That’s easy for you to say,” I retorted from my goggled, dripping stance below him.

“I’d rather be in there swimming. You get to have the fun,” he answered. So I shut up and swam. My muscles continued burning for the next week, and I scheduled a massage.

Sometimes the burn and the hard stuff can get us down. That’s all the reason I REALLY, REALLY appreciate positive, supportive, and encouraging people like Joseph to remind us to be grateful, to press on, and to work hard. I love people who remind me of the pay-off.


Giving it 80% and Knowing It

Since January and being in the Masters Swim group, I’ve learned swimming workout lingo related to the speed of our laps. One day my swimming friend, Deb, shared with me, “I only swim one speed!” But there are several speeds and terms that tell swimmers how much effort to give for particular parts of the workout.

My favorite? Smooth. What does smooth mean? Reaching out and focusing on the reach, the pull, and finishing the stroke smoothly.

Another great one: Easy. Don’t you love it when people tell you to “take it easy.” It’s almost like hearing you deserve a break.

Then there’s 100%. This comes at peak moments of the workout when the coach is asking you to give it your all—give it all you’ve got! Hold nothing back. Full kick, full stretch, strong pull, all the way to the end.

Strong. This one can be fearful for me. It depends on how long I have to “go strong.” If it’s a 50 (2 lengths of the pool), earlier in the workout, I’m good. I need a about 20 seconds to recover if I have to do more than one (which is usually the case). When Joseph has 4 x 100 strong on the workout board, I am sure to take a sequence of deep breaths before I start. Those 100’s require determination, strength I didn’t know I have, and some sort of invisible belief in myself. But I always finish them—usually swallowing several gulps of chlorine water along the way, my face beet-red. I defeat the fear every time, but that doesn’t stop the fear from coming at the start.

And, there’s the term Build. Sometimes, we have 50 Builds; sometimes we have 100’s. This gives us time to go smooth for a bit and think about all of the details of the stroke, the breathing….then when we are halfway through, our kick develops, we pull more with our forearms, and we feel like torpedoes that have just engaged. I like builds; I feel my strength the most during builds. It’s like I’ve been given the opportunity to grow and show that growing is possible.

Swimming has enabled me to transfer these understandings into my life. Do I know when I can or should give 80% to a task because others are helping or need to help, or when I need time for myself? Do I appreciate opportunities to build and grow? Do I need more? How can I find more belief in myself to go strong in different arenas of my life? How long can I go strong? When do I need to find my easy? When can I flourish and be smooth? When have I gone 100% for too long?


Opening Up

One day during Masters swim, Joseph offered me a tip on my stroke. “Pull with your forearm,” and he demonstrated by lifting his arm above his head, tipping his hand downward, and pointing to his forearm as he pulled down. “It’ll hurt for a while, but it will make your stroke stronger.”

It was the middle of our hour-long workout, and I breathlessly replied, “Okay.”

So I mimicked his pull and enacted his advice; immediately, I realized he was right. It hurt. New feeling—forearm burn.

I worked on my forearm strength for the next few workouts, and after three workouts, my forearms no longer hurt and I felt as if I were an unstoppable paddle boat wheel swimming through the water. That week, Joseph also advised me on finishing my stroke completely as each hand comes out of the water beside my legs. He also said, “Kick up; not just down.” How did he know I wasn’t giving enough effort in kicking up? Can you kick up and down? I tried it and discovered, yes, there was capacity to more swiftly bring my kick up with the same power I was bringing my kick down. “Wow,” I thought. “That was cool.”

I am almost 50 years old. I began swimming competitively at 10 and became a lifeguard at 15. I was a lifeguard instructor during my years in the Army and also swam competitively in the Army. I am a certified scuba diver. Now, I’m transitioning to swimming as a form of workout and relaxation. One would think I know a lot about swimming, and I guess I do. Joseph is probably 21, and he’s an expert. He has a coach’s critical eye, and through his experiences swimming, he knows what to watch for. He knows what the forearm strength can do; he knows how it feels to build, to go strong, or to give it 100%. Me? I was willing to open up and listen, to benefit from his expertise.

Last week, after all of these lessons I’ve learned, Joseph said, “Dixie, I’m running out of things to nitpick about for your stroke. You’re getting so fast, I may not have much more to tell you.” That felt good because even at 49 plus years old, I’m proud that I can still listen and learn.

This week—

Joseph: “Tuck your chin in a bit so the top of your head breaks the water as you swim.” Still learning.


Everything is…in the midst…is incomplete.

universeSo after allowing myself a few glasses of wine on this beautiful October Friday evening, one of the key thoughts upon which I based this blog comes to the forefront: Everything I’m about to say is incomplete.

Partly, it’s because the universe and the lovely people in it bring us unexpected surprises. Like caramel apple nachos–I love Facebook ten times more because I learned about caramel apple nachos today. And also butternut squash chickpea curry. Thank you, Universe.

Thanks also, Universe, for a difficult week where I made lots of mistakes, acknowledged them, all while watching the weekly episode of The Baking Show and Home Fires (PBS, yeah!) in my spare evening time. I even squeezed in time to finish two grant reports and yoga several times this week. I’ve been neglectful of my meditation, yet I’ve brought it, tantra-like, into a few moments of the week, when I really, really needed it. And I’ve begun to see violet light (thank you Rod Stryker).

So, someone this week reminded me that I’m unique. And someone this week reminded me that I’m exquisite. I’d like to pass that on. YOU are unique and exquisite, and thanks for reading this. Please take a moment to breathe in the magnificence of who you are. And open yourself to the beauty of our world, to the gifts of the universe, and to understanding that everything I’ve shared today is incomplete. Thank goodness.