Stacked in Our Favor

Thoughts about libraries, education, children's literature, writing, art and being connected

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Nature of Feedback and Nurturing Feedback Challenge

A number of years ago I entered my sour cream coffee cake in the county fair. I took home a second place ribbon that year with comments written on the back which have delighted me ever since. Whenever someone tries to entice me to don my apron and take up a spatula to make one they refer to it as “your award winning coffee cake.” I’m a sucker for that. Nothing like a little affirmation as a catalyst for motivation.

The online challenges I have participated in over the past 18 months are part of the reason I am thinking about the nature of feedback. Part of the allure of these challenges is the feedback. The opportunity to have others share your work and comment upon it is not only helpful, but also motivating.

During Month of Poetry, fondly referred to as MoP, this year I truly understood how I needed that kind of community. It was the catalyst for me to go out and find myself a writer’s critique group. While not comfortably settled in one yet, I am definitely working towards that goal.

While writing is something done for the self, there is also a communal aspect to the experience. The presence of a reader makes it so.

During MoP I received a great deal of support from poets from across the globe. The motivation to keep at it was provided by the forum, the structure and the feedback of others. Without feedback, without knowing that someone was reading and commenting, I find that one of my many projects takes over. I haven’t written a single poem since MoP finished.

So I am looking to join or create that sort of space for myself on a local, physical level. The time is full. This is the season for this thread in my life.

That got me thinking. When I neglect to provide feedback on something I read, I am depriving the author or artist of that support. I am receiving, but not supporting when I go away silently inspired.

I was mulling over the nature of feedback in a social media environment when I came across an article by Jane Friedman on her blog for Writer’s Digest. As always, Jane wrote a thought provoking post.

Still, my own thoughts nagged at me. The amount of information available to us means that we can never stay on top of it all. We try though, don’t we? Personally that translates into an almost feverish chase, clicking on articles, getting inspiration, “liking” or “retweeting” them. Perhaps I’ll amend the tweet with a “must read” or “brilliant.” While I do feel that social media has benefitted me greatly, I also feel that the nature of my interaction with others has changed greatly. Instead of reflecting and responding to much of what I read, I am now tending to read, acknowledge and move on to the next. While that puts me in contact with others, I do not become truly part of the conversation that way.

My comments tend to be quick blasts, sent from my iPhone. Twitter allows me to make use of those “stolen moments” – waiting in the doctor’s office, in the grocery line, waiting for my car service. It also allows me to disengage from unpleasant thoughts in useless moments. It provides a useful distraction while improving my mind and allowing me to keep in greater contact with the world around me. These are not times for composing long, thoughtful comments. My thumbs are getting enough of a workout already.

Still, while hopefully we blog and network and tweet because there is something intrinsically positive about the experience itself, a large portion of the joy is in the dialogue. I find, like a skinflint, that I’ve been tightfisted with my feedback.

These musing have led me to determine that during the month of March I am going to flex my feedback muscles.

Nurturing Feedback Challenge
March 2011
1. Except for retweets on Twitter, I plan to eschew the one word comment.
2. This month I will increase the number of comments I leave. 
3. I will try to leave more than a comment indicating that I liked what I have read. I will include information about why I liked it, what it made me think, how it benefited me, thoughts that spring to mind related to what I am seeing.
4. I will slow down and think about what I am reading and express my thanks to the author.When appropriate, I will provide a relevant link, a nugget of my own experience that is supportive or a nod of understanding.
5. I will keep track of my thoughts and experiences this month to see what effect this challenge has on my social networking experiences.

I don’t mind company. If you want to join me, I’d love to have you along for the ride.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Other Thinking Chairs

I gave plenty of thought to where I am most creative during the month of November. Spurred to reflection by Dana Cary’s post about her “thinking chair” I made my own chair complete with floral print quilt and tassled, fuzzy, pink throw. The time I spent in that chair was highly productive (and sometimes relaxing), but I discovered that I have several other, more public thinking spots. These are places I go to write. Places where my mess doesn’t come along and taunt me. Places where the dishes are for someone else to worry about. Places where I am virtually alone.

I love writing in coffee shops and tea rooms. I don’t drink coffee, preferring tea in a tea cup, if possible. I am fortunate to have found a quiet one where I go almost every week to write. Those around me can tell if I missed my weekly sojourn because I’m grumpier than usual and out of sorts. The view is marvelous.

Libraries are another place I love to go write. There is usually a spot where I can spread out far more than I need to. The best thing, though, is that there are none of those piles of paper distracting me. Just me and a clear table space. That makes for ease of concentration.

I try to keep my desk clean. Really, I do. But there are the receipts to go through, the new Booklist and Horn Book Magazines, scraps of paper with curriculum ideas and cords from various electronic gadgets. There is usually a pile of books to review and a bag of books to return to my public library. I’ll forgive the public librarian if her or his desk looks like the one I have at home. I won’t bat an eyelash if it’s a tripping zone in the back office. Keep a table clear in the reference section or tucked away in a corner for me, though, and I’ll be your friend forever. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Poetic Month of January

There goes my resolve to be more consistent in blog posting this year. January was a month full of writing, poetry, new friends and shoveling snow. I spent most of my free time at Australian children’s book author Kat Apel’s Month of Poetry. The challenge was to write a poem and post it every day. Sorry, you can’t see it as it is password protected, but you can put Month of Poetry on your calendar for January 2012 if you like.

What did making the commitment to writing a piece of poetry a day do for me? Tons. I started listening to words and feeling how they felt as I said them. I started listening to conversations with an eye for how words fit together. My eye became tuned to the small details about every day things. That was in the first week. Somewhere around the middle of the month I wrote a poem which surprised and delighted me. It was not the kind of poem I meant to write in January. I had meant to write short, fun and kid oriented poems – maybe one which could be turned into a picture book. On that day in the middle of the month I wrote a poetic memoir and found that my stories were new to me. Very different from recording them in prose or telling them in person, these poetic memoirs helped me to see the small details in my experiences in a new way. I didn’t write much of anything else for the rest of the month. That’s ok with me. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have gotten to that place without the discipline.

Beyond the action of writing a poem a day, it was a wonderful writing group. They were very supportive and helpful. Inspiration came daily in the form of other people’s writing. I made new writer buddies from Australia as well as stateside.

What can I as a teacher librarian get from this experience? I find I’m tackling poetry more in my daily teaching. Today I spent time with a kindergarten class learning the difference between rhyming and alliteration. Will they all remember and get it right now? No. I have no illusions, but they did improve their ability during our class. I find that writing and especially the care with which you choose words when writing poetry has helped me be clearer with directions. It has also helped me to appreciate the writing process that our young students must learn. 

It was a great month!