Posts Tagged ‘elementary school’

Finding Trusted Readers

May 2, 2017
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Kids discussing work with trusted readers.

Sometimes, I don’t have all the answers.

(Whaaaaatttt? Stop the presses! And don’t tell my children.) Naw, just kidding.

But really. I know I’m not the only one who gets blind to my own writing, unable to either see or overcome the shortcomings of my craft. That’s when I need somebody else’s eyes on my work.

My fourth graders have been composing poetry for several (glorious!) weeks now, and the time has come for them to begin putting together their collected works. In addition to crafting numerous poems, they are setting about the task of choosing the poems that best belong in their collection and refining those poems to be publication-ready.

That’s where the “other eyes” idea comes in. We talked about how important it is to have a circle of trusted readers we can go to, and how we need different types of readers depending on what feedback we want:
-buddies who can give us validation and cheer us on
-writers whose craft we admire
-people whose perspectives are different, and sometimes contrary to our own.

At some point, we need all of these people in our support network. So my kids put together their lists of trusted readers. But they voiced that they weren’t quite ready for having these (sometimes tricky) conversations completely on their own. That’s where they needed support.

Enter a pre-reading slip to help guide conversation between poet and trusted reader. It allows the writer to express what they’re trying to do with that particular piece, gives the reader a sense of what to look for, and specifies if the poet simply wants feedback or actual suggestions.

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Notes from a conversation about my poem. I’ve got work to do!

I modeled conversations about my poetry with a (thankfully, willing!) volunteer from class, expressing my purpose for writing and entertaining suggestions from my reader. I got some great ideas that helped my poem come closer to the vision I had in my head. And, from what I can tell with the conversations I’ve seen around the room, the students are getting there too.

Next up? We’ll do some training in how to frame difficult conversations. This is, as I so often like to put it, a GOOD problem to have. What do we say to a poet when we don’t understand what they’re trying to say, or if we don’t think a poem is quite ready? Knowing how to tackle these “speed bumps” is both a literary and a life skill.

And, if you’ve made it this far, I suppose I’ll let you read the Golden Shovel poem I wrote and worked on in front of the students.

Dawn (after Byrd Baylor)

Morning. Stillness all
Around as I
Nest my toes into the dewy grass. They know
The cool earth is
Their home, their true grounding. Suddenly
Light shifts, wind stirs. I
Sense a wakening that wasn’t
My own, and it wasn’t the
Earth’s. It could only
Be coming from the one
Mourning dove, with its soulful, solitary singing.

April 2017

(post-script: I didn’t notice, when writing this poem, that the first and last lines of the poem matched. It’s a nice effect, I think. Let’s just call that a happy accident…)

Just Can’t Help Myself

March 29, 2017

Earlier this month, a colleague and I sat in on a meeting with student teachers in my district. The focus of the gathering was to talk about what we do with our gifted and talented students, and to discuss differentiating in the classroom. In essence, our job was to talk about what we do and why.

Friends, that is absolutely one of my FAVORITE things to do. It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows and works with me that it is frightfully easy to get me talking about what’s important to me as as an educator. The title of my blog – Soapbox – should be the first clue.

The hardest part about sessions like this is to communicate as many of those key foundational ideas as possible without completely scaring people off.

The importance of social-emotional learning? PARAMOUNT.
Homework? It’s nice, but if kids can’t do most learning at school, I’m doing my job wrong.
Gifted kids? They NEED each other.
Want to know what I think – about anything education related? Ask me, ask me, ask me!

I’m just getting started, people.

In some ways, it is a little embarrassing that with nothing but a nudge, I wax on about one of the (many!) areas of passion when it comes to education. I can imagine several folks I know rolling their eyes in a “here we go again” sort of fashion when I geek out with another soapbox. Even now, I’m having trouble sitting still because there is so very much I want to say in this post. I must be a hit at parties.

And yet.

I am over twenty years, three states and four school districts into my practice. I am still just as enthusiastic, as passionate, as idealistic as when I first came out of college. If nothing else, my experiences with students and as a parent have only served to strengthen those ideals. It’s taken a lot of work, but I’m proud that I have been able to hold on.

I’ve been on this blog for about eight years. I love how it serves as a record of my discoveries as a teacher. My practice evolves (always a journey, and probably the subject of a future post!), yet I’m grateful to find, at my core, the vision that has guided me from the start.

‘Til then, just know that if you hear me get rolling on any particular issue…you’ve been warned.

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Using Images to Establish Mood

March 19, 2017

A little while ago, my fourth graders and I began to pair poetry and art to show how words and images are powerful creators of emotional imagery.

First, we talked about art. What mood do artists create, and what techniques do they use? Color? Light? Shade? Brush strokes? Position and treatment of the subjects? It was wonderful to see how clear and articulate the kids were when it came to discussing their thoughts.

From there, it wasn’t a far leap to talk about poetry. Just as artists use their craft to fill viewers with emotion, poets also have tools to accomplish the same task with readers. Instead of using brush strokes and shading, however, writers use tone, figurative language and descriptive vocabulary.
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To further drive the lesson home, we examined Albert Bierstadt’s Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite (1870). Each student reflected on the emotions the painting stirred up within themselves. Our goal was to make our readers feel those same emotions though poetry.

For me? I did the same. My writing began with a brainstorm of the emotions this piece of art brought out in me, then a poem to (hopefully!) invoke those emotions in my reader. I started with a draft, showed students how I edit for word choice and clarity, then asked them for further feedback. It got messy!

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I wound up with the following poem. Enjoy.

Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite

Sometimes my eyes don’t see it
Through the brush,
The fog,
The trees.
But my heart
Remembers it is there.
The mountain lays in wait,
Its sun-washed steep face solitary as the journey itself.
My legs demand respite from the climb.
My soul answers a higher calling:
To sing from the heights,
To discover the next summit.
It wills my feet onward.

Onward.

Post-script: My students’ poetry was absolutely FABULOUS. Both they and their parents were floored to see what their talent and creativity could accomplish. Here’s to more amazing writing!