Digging for awe: Golden shovel poems

I recently wrote a post for the CCIRA Professional Development Blog on the sometimes spirit-crushing work of literacy education. I will not list all of the contributing factors here; I will just say that there are many, especially during this long year of COVID-19. Prior to to writing the post, when asked what teachers are facing in regard to literacy and what is most needed, I responded: “A great lot of pressure at present. We have to able to relax some and find joy in our work.”

As I wrote, and as is usually the case, the path became clearer: Make room for awe.

That is my guiding “one little word” (OLW) for the year, see. And maybe for the rest of my life…

Yesterday I spoke with a colleague who will continue teaching virtually until the year ends in June, for students whose parents have chosen this option. She spoke of awe in regard to the Google Classroom chat feature: “So many more kids share their thoughts this way, more I’ve ever seen in person. I’m in awe of how much they have to say and how they encourage each other. We use the chat all the time now.”

This means students are writing more, which makes my heart sing. If ever there is a conduit for awe, it is writing.

Example: Have you noticed how many people—many students—have suddenly been enraptured by poetry after hearing Amanda Gorman? Who credits her childhood teachers and her school for valuing this kind of expressive, artistic, move-the-mountains writing?

I’ve been lamenting the loss of meaningful writing in elementary schools in my corner of the world, just when it it’s most needed—the writing workshop model having fallen out of favor in the last few years for an embedded, formulaic approach around a topic at a time. That is another whole story; suffice it to say that I am in awe of teachers and students finding their way back to writing that matters.

All of which brings me to Golden Shovel poems. It’s a form I’ve been playing with for about a year. It holds great appeal on a number of levels, practical, creative, metaphorical…the idea of mining for the nuggets of gold, the diamonds that lie within, often so unexpected, yet so important.

A teacher might give the Golden Shovel to students to dig something more out of whatever books they’re reading, songs they’re singing, famous speeches they’re studying, even a line a classmate has written—anything, really. Not necessarily as a response to the work itself, but latching onto any line that strikes them with its beauty, or pierces their hearts with its poignance, or stirs their souls with its power, to create something new and personally meaningful from it. Make room for awe…

Try digging with the Golden Shovel yourself. Take a line from a poem or a favorite book, speech, or song that has special appeal to you and transform it into something of your own. Each word in that line becomes the ending word of a line of your own poem (or the beginning word, if you prefer). Your poem may reflect an aspect from the original work. It may not. A Golden Shovel poem can mean whatever you wish; it’s just inspired by the line you use to create it.

I chose this line from Gorman’s Inauguration Day poem, “The Hill We Climb”: Even as we grieved, we grew.

Days roll on, even to odd, odd to even,

tossed dice, never quite landing, as

we wonder how that’s possible. Don’t we.

In the spinning we still loved as we grieved

and we’ll go on, won’t we, 

even as we did when odds against us grew.

And this one, from the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, by Katherine May: We do not fade so easily from this life.

Now, who are we

and what should we do,

here where the sun shines not

and Earth’s colors fade.

Even so

consider how easily

we glide from

that room to this,

enduring, rather than living, life

And so I pass the Golden Shovel.

Here’s to the awe of your own discoveries.

Happy digging.

Photo: Golden shovels. Alachua County. CC-BY


The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, 
meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. 

This marks my fifth consecutive year.

36 thoughts on “Digging for awe: Golden shovel poems

  1. Thanks for passing the shovel, Fran, and delighting me with two of your Golden Shovel poems. A line that stuck me in your slice is so important for educators: “We have to able to relax some and find joy in our work.” It is the joy of being a teacher that allows us to understand the world of virtual happenings and rekindle the love of writing. The Golden Shovel is one way to bring awe back into the virtual, hybrid, or face-to-face instructed classroom. Happy Writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You, yourself, are a true Golden Shovel master, Carol. Always inspiring. Yes – the form is simple enough to be used in any setting, and it’s both fun and exciting to see where the Golden Shovel takes you and others in your community. It is a little ticket to awe, for sure.


  2. Fran, your Golden Shovel poems are divine! These are so much fun. I believe the first time I ever wrote one was when Glenda Funk hosted Sarah’s group a couple of years ago. You pulled it right out today and inspired me to want to write a GS! I particularly love this: If ever there is a conduit for awe, it is writing. Amen!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you. This technique is new to me. I support your idea that we need awe and joy at school (both face-to-face and virtual) and in life to keep going and to lift us up.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m in awe of the way Google Classroom has inspired student discussions and writing. That’s amazing. I’ve been on the fence about “Wintering,” but love the poem and inspiration line. Your poem is lovely. Amanda Gorman’s poetry is a gold mine of inspiration. I love Golden Shovel poems and became familiar w/ them after hearing Nikki Grimes speak at NCTE and after reading a book she wrote of them honoring the Harlem Renaissance. I shared the form w/ students and w/ our Ethical ELA group.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Glenda. I found several lovely lines in Wintering. I admire Grimes tremendously – she’s an inspiration, for sure. I’d have loved to hear her speak at the conference. If I recall correctly, I first encountered the Golden Shovel a year or so ago on Carol Varsalona’s blog. Had never heard of it. I was also delighted to find Ethical ELA last year and have only managed to participate in three (I think) Open Writes so far, but I love that vibrant, welcoming community and experimenting with new forms. Exhilarating, really!


  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on literacy education. I’d be interested in hearing more. I love the line make room for “awe”. I find it’s easy to forget that, but it’s so important. That’s what truly inspires us as learners. I loved the poems you shared, and I can’t wait to give it a try. Just have to find my golden shovel 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks and because of your comment, I went back and linked the CCIRA post to my opening line; it’s called “In the Spirit of Literacy.” So thank you for making me think this might be good to do … I so appreciate your response to the poems and am delighted that you are going to give the Golden Shovel a try! It’s a different way of thinking and composing – fun to see where it takes you.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am going to try this. There were so many lines in The Sun Does Shine. The problem is, I was listening in the car. Now I need to get my eyes on the text. Have you read Kate Messner’s book Breakout? One of the characters does some very nice golden shoveling.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Fun! I am excited to know you are inspired to write a Golden Shovel! I discovered that quite a few folks didn’t know it so I thought I’d share – and you have made me glad I did. Right about now it’s also helpful to have more Slice material, lol. Thank you so much for your words.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I know Messner but not this work, so, I will check it out. This is another favorite thing about this Challenge – the wealth of resources shared. I remember your post on Sun – I can only imagine what stunning Golden Shovels await in those beautiful lines…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Fran, thank you for your wonderful awe-inspiring post. It inspired me today to pick up the golden shovel you passed on and write a Golden Shovel poem for my SOLSC. Thanks for your invitation.

    I love your poem using Gorman’s words “Even as we grieved, we grew.” It is rich imagery of rolling the dice and the world spinning through space–and yes, we will go on and even thrive. Thank you for this.

    Also in these lines are some beautiful nuggets:
    “here where the sun shines not
    and Earth’s colors fade.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Delighted to know you were inspired to write a Golden Shovel, Denise! It is always helpful to have more Slice material! I so appreciate your response here regarding my poems – it means much. Thank YOU.


  8. I don’t know this style of poetry–thank you for the inspiration! Your poems are beautiful. I love, too, what you wrote in your introduction to the poems, about the need for finding awe. That feels like an especially important reminder to hold onto. I’ll be thinking about ways to help my students notice things that strike them with awe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your words and delighted to know you enjoyed the Golden Shovel! Yes, how different would learning be – for us and for students – if there were more moments of awe? It’s very motivating!


  9. I am glad you got a copy of Wintering, and it inspired you so! I will ponder the Golden Shovel for an upcoming post; I already have a favorite line or two running through my head. Maybe I will save them for next year’s SOLSC, when I really do think I shall try my hand at a different style of poetry each day. Lines and stanzas seem to come so much more easily to me than prose. Both of the lines, the poems you wrote with them, are so very relatable and relevant. As for your lament about writing in schools these days…I feel the same about reading, too. I had yet another student ask me about finding their “dot” in the library this week, instead of finding what interests them. So much work to be done…

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are many lovely lines in Wintering – I’ve not yet finished it ,which is typical for me; I’ll start something else and go back and forth. Lines and stanzas work so beautifully for slices. Poetry is something I want to work on more – I love the “feel” of writing it. A different feel from prose. Egads to the reading dot…why is a true love of reading and writing so often sacrificed on the altar of models designed to keep kids “boxed in”?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. “Make room for awe.” Absolutely delightful and inspirational, and exactly what we need to do as educators. Thank you for walking us through how to do this. Favorite lines:
    “and we’ll go on, won’t we,
    even as we did when odds against us grew.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am thinking of students’ faces, that sudden glow, the intake of breath, the sudden stillness, when something new and wonderful has struck… awe can be so visible, and I have seen it connected to writing more than anything else! How much different learning would be if there were more awe involved. -Thanks, Cindy.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. In the “At Home” section of today’s N Y Times there was an article about Golden Shovel poems. They suggested finding several headlines in the paper and choosing one to use for the pattern. I was intrigued by that idea and then to see your post just now gives me the nudge I need. I’ll get around to it soon. Thanks, Fran.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fascinating re: the Times, and this phenomenon of seeing the Golden Shovel everywhere! I decided to share these today because several people hadn’t heard of it. I wonder if these writers, too, will find it glinting in unexpected places? Just another part of the magic of writing… I know your GS poems will be magnificent, Diane. It’s fun to see them take on a life of their own.


  12. Fran, I will bring my soapbox to you, set it up next to yours and together we can PREACH – to our colleagues, our students, to anyone who will listen about the need to open up spaces of wonder and awe for ourselves. YES!

    There is magic in the poems you’ve given us here. In the first one, especially, I loved your use of word play: the odds/evens, the don’t we/won’t we – that was a FEAT.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m in, Lainie! If teaching is a joyless chore for teachers, then learning is a joyless chore for students and it SHOULD. NOT. BE. THAT. WAY.

      -What if we opened our own school? IMAGINE-!!!

      Thanks so much for your words about the poems ❤ – the form is such a different way of thinking, you can't really see what's coming 'til it's there.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I had never heard of the Golden Shovel poem. Wow, the possibilities with that form! Thanks for sharing your beautiful poems and for educating so many of us about the Golden Shovel….I am going to try it at some point. 🙂 ~JudyK

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Sherri’s slice sent me back to yours today – I love the golden shovel form & had kind of forgotten about it. Your poems are beautiful & now I’m wondering if I can’t incorporate this idea into my last few days of classes for this quarter. My brain is spinning… you are a coach and a literacy leader for me, even from far away and across levels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for these gracious words, Amanda – the form is simple to use (with a well-chosen line, anyway!) and takes a person in such interesting and amazing directions. I would love to what comes if you do pull it into your classes – awe is pretty much a guarantee. 🙂


  15. Just amazing again, thanks for inspiring us to write Golden Shovel poems and to pass it on and showing us how to do it. I love your poems and the content. It’s great to know more kids are appreciating poetry, young people do inspire other young people! Thanks again for all the teaching and literacy ideas you provide!

    Liked by 1 person

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