Posts Tagged ‘gifted’

Ah, Fiction! We meet again.

May 12, 2018

I have a confession to make.

I have not written fiction in…I cannot remember how long.

There’s just something about writing fiction that stops me in my tracks. I don’t know what it is. Personal narrative? Poetry? Essay? I’m all in. Fiction? Move it along, nothing to see here. I’ve tried countless times, with stops and starts.

To tell you the truth, I had been feeling guilty about it. After all, I’m the queen of getting in there with my kids, rolling up my sleeves and writing along with them. Except with fiction. I always demonstrate my pre-writing, model my storyboards and such, then quietly fade away when it’s time to do the actual composition.

Well, this week I had an assignment for one of my classes. We were supposed to imagine that an educational reformer from history visited our classroom, and to respond creatively.

My original thought (as it so often is) was to use poetry. Little by little, my verse started reading more and more like prose. Until I finally sighed, gave in, erased the line breaks and embraced my writing for what it was. Fiction.

Here goes. It’s a little rough around the edges; I’m not gonna lie. But boy am I proud that I climbed this mountain after who knows how long.

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Monday morning, 7:36 a.m. Time to begin my daily ritual. I slung my teacher bag to the floor, threw my coat over my chair and slumped down. I reached into my bag to unpack. My laptop and plan book assumed their rightful positions at the altar, as did the pile of grading I should have done the night before. Pencil in hand, I began to assimilate just exactly how the day would go.

A shadow in a dark suit appeared at the door. Crikey, I thought. Please tell me I haven’t forgotten some sort of meeting. I straightened and turned to the figure, then grew puzzled. It wasn’t someone I knew. “Good morning. Can I help you?”
“Yes, I’m looking for a…Mrs. Levin?”

Rising from behind my desk, I reached out to shake hands. “I’m Mrs. Levin, and you are…”

“Dr. John Dewey. They didn’t tell you I was coming? I’m here to observe your class for the day.”

“Wait…John Dewey?” I replied.

“Yes, from the Time-traveling Reformers for Enlightened Education.”

“Ah…TREE. I’ve heard of you. Well…welcome! Have you been to many classrooms before?”

“A few,” Dewey said. “So here I am, ready to learn from you.”

Holy cow! This guy wrote the book – literally! – on progressive education. I better have my A-game ready today. “I don’t know,” I stumbled. “It seems I’m probably the one who has some learning to do from YOU. Well, Dr. Dewey, my mentor teacher always says that you can tell a lot about a teacher based on how the classroom looks.” I gestured towards my clearly lived-in classroom space. “So what do you think?”

John Dewey adjusted his spectacles, cleared his throat, and began his tour. He started by examining the tables for groups of students, the supplies I keep in the room available to the kids, the Wonder-Bot 3000 some of my loveys made for when kids had questions to research for fun. He thumbed through my shelf full of professional books (Reading with Meaning, The One-World School House, Learn Like a Pirate) and gave a satisfied “humph.” Turning to my desk, with the too-large pile of grading on it, Dewey gave me a quizzical look. “Are these…worksheets?”

What? If only he knew how much busywork is my nemesis. “Oh, no,” I quickly say. “My students are exploring the evolution of the English language. These packets help guide them on their research.”

“Ah, I see.” Dewey looked through the pile, pulled out a random paper and began reading. “So, you’re studying Noah Webster and his contribution to American language.”

“Well, he IS kind of a dude.” I feel myself turn red before adding, “At least the kids think so. You know that’s one of the highest compliments they can give a person.” An awkward silence. “Perhaps you’ll understand when you meet them during your observations.”

“I suppose I will. Well, Mrs. Levin, your classroom does seem to be quite student-centered, and their work does seem interesting. When do the children arrive?”

“In a bit. They just need to check in with their home rooms.”

“Home rooms?”

“Yes. The students just come to me for language arts enrichment. These are students who demonstrate a high aptitude for reading, so they come to me for additional challenge.”

John Dewey furrowed his brow and folded his arms. “So…this opportunity isn’t available to all students, then?”

“I know what you’re thinking, Mr. Dewey. All students need the opportunity to be creative and to explore. You may not entirely agree with the premise of gifted education. I know not everyone does. Heavens, even I didn’t for part of my career, and I was even a product of that system.”

“You’re not making a strong case for yourself.”

“Allow me to continue,” I said. “The thing is, gifted students need each other. This classroom expands their opportunities to be creative and explore the world around them. To make it better, they often go back to their classmates and spread that knowledge and those skills.”

“I see,” Dewey said.

“The thing is, Mr. Dewey,” I went on, “I agree that it might be nice if ALL students had the chance to engage with curriculum to the same degree of depth and complexity as these students do. But…given the time constraints classroom teachers have, plus the expectations to meet our state and national standards for every child, many classroom teachers don’t have the room or the freedom to pursue courses of study like this one. You can thank your friends in the standardization movement for THAT one.”

He replied, “We have some philosophical differences, Mrs. Levin, but you do seem to have your students’ interest at heart.”

“I’M HERE!” interrupted Sandro as he strode through the door. “DID YOU MISS ME?”

“Of course I did, Sandro. It’s been a whole three days! Where are your classmates?”

“They’re coming.” He turned to John Dewey. “Who are you?”

“I’m Dr. John Dewey, young man. I’ve made some important contributions in the past to the way you learn, and I’ve traveled through time to visit you and your teacher.”

“Wait. Dr. DEWEY!? I know that name!” he shouted, as the rest of the class came straggling in. “Hey you guys! This is the Dewey Decimal System guy. Can you believe it? Here’s here from the past – to visit US!” A commotion arose as the other students gathered around, asking all kinds of library questions all at once.

John Dewey’s shoulders sagged, and he gave a heavy sigh. Clearly this was not the first time he had heard this one. He adjusted his spectacles, shook his head (did he just roll his eyes?) and said, “No, no. That’s not me. You’re thinking of MELVIL Dewey. He’s the library man. I’m JOHN Dewey. I made reforms in progressive education throughout the early twentieth century.”

Amelia piped up. She was never shy about asking questions. “What’s progressive education?”

“Simply put, young lady, progressive education means that learning is there for you to explore and learn about your world. Learning is not just to prepare you for some job later in life, but to help you make the most meaning of your life now, as you live it.”

There was a general murmur as the students considered this idea.

“That’s kind of like what Mrs. Levin does!” answered Jenna. “She lets us explore cool stuff all the time! Have you ever heard of Noah Webster? We’re studying him now.”

“I am vaguely familiar,” Dewey said as he shot me a look. He continued, “I am glad to hear that you are enjoying your studies. You must remember how important it is to seek out big ideas and make them a part of your educational experience. It is the best way for you to understand and connect with the world around you.”

“Dr. Dewey,” declared Sandro, “you’re a DUDE.”

From behind his spectacles, John Dewey blushed as the other kids nodded in agreement. Check’s in the mail, kid. Check’s in the mail.

 

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Right Poem, Wrong Assignment

April 24, 2018

Today I had my fourth graders write about something small, taken for granted, or unappreciated. We started with a poem I wrote and shared about lowly feet. Then it was time for the kids and me to get cracking.

I meant to do the assignment along with them. I really did. But I couldn’t think of ANYTHING to write. So after a few minutes of being blank (which felt like an eternity) it struck me that perhaps boredom itself goes unappreciated.

In I went to compose a poem elevating boredom through poetry. But then a different poem came out. It’s still one I kind of like, so I’m sharing it here.

The kids still have me on the hook for the real assignment, though.

Boredom

When my pencil
(poised above paper) awaits,
Anxious to do the bidding
Of my master/mind
Yet no command comes
A standoff:
As my hands
(eager to get moving) wonder
What is wrong with
The machine that moves them
And my mind
(unused to blankness) panics
When finding itself
In silence.

So my imagination
(relenting to this break in the action) sighs,
Succumbs to numbness,
Twiddles its thumbs
And waits
For a lost, lonely idea
To find its way
Home.

More Important Things

April 23, 2018

Once again, I got to enjoy composing alongside my students today. This group of fourth graders was also working on “important” poetry, but we decided on pencils as our object. Here’s my contribution:

The Important Poem

The important thing about a pencil
Is that it is sharp.
It’s long, it’s yellow
And you can twirl it between fingers
If you teach yourself how.
It gets shorter and shorter, especially
When you sharpen it to the perfect point
And blow on it
Because that’s what you do.
And whether it is
Fresh-out-of-the-box-new, or
Worn down to a tiny
Eraserless nub that you
Pinch in your fingertips,
It will still take
All of the pictures
That circle your brain
And give them to the rest of the world.
But the important thing about a pencil
Is that it is sharp.

Important Poetry

April 20, 2018

Once again, my students and I are composing poetry, this time based on Margaret Wise Brown’s The Important Book. It’s such a charming read, and both the kids and I love how Brown takes ordinary things in our lives and sees the poetry within.

The kids wanted to write their poetry today about paper. So, I joined in. It may still be a work in progress, but I thought I’d send it out into the world for now. Have a good read!

The Important Thing

The important thing about paper
Is that it is thin.
We find it in any size
Or color.
We ball it and throw it.
We fold it and tear it.
It carries the weight of words
And stories
And lists
And lives.
But the important thing about paper
Is that it is thin.

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…)

Fifth Graders Take Over, Part II

April 27, 2017

Click here for the next installment of “How We Took Over the World.”

Watch, enjoy, and leave a comment for these great kids.

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Going with Plan B

April 18, 2017

I wasn’t going to have them watch it.

As part of my daily blogroll, I came across the wordless animated short “How to Wait for a Very Long Time,” and the first thing I thought as I looked at the title was, “This will be a quick way to teach my kids patience and persistence.”

And then I watched the video. It’s about 3 minutes long. Go ahead and click here to watch. (I promise I’ll wait for you.) You may as well, because I’m spoiling it below.

Needless to say, this video is NOT about patience and persistence.

I worried that students would be let down by the ending. That they would be disappointed with how abruptly the guy dies at the end. That they wouldn’t see the point. That on this day, which marks two years since my brother’s passing, I would not be able to manage teaching anything close to this subject matter. That it was better to go forward with my plan book as written.

And yet. When a great opportunity to have rich discussion or work on literary argument arises, I’ve can’t help but grab it. So…onward.

As a group, we watched the video three times.

First time? I stopped at the title and had the kids predict what they thought the lesson of the story was. That’s just before I confessed to them that MY prediction was dead wrong. Then they just notated plot.

The ending surprised them just as much as it did me. There was a lot of, “Whoa.” and “Oh!” and “Wait…what!?” We spent time sharing our surprises and questions. And yes, ALL of us fell for the easy predictions from the title. Silly us.

Second time? Pick up on everything we missed the first time. Talk to people around you. What’s the ONE THING you NOW believe is the point of this story?

Third time? Note the evidence to support your claim…then get writin’.

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Once again, my kids surprised me.
Once again, they inspired me.
Once again, they allowed me to see things in new ways.

Proving, once again, that some of our best teaching moments aren’t the ones we put in the plan book.

 

 

The Premiere! World Takeover Day

April 17, 2017

 

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You know, as a teacher, I’m never quite sure which ideas will go in one ear and out the other, and which ones will take hold.

Several months ago, my fifth graders and I were talking about the power that we each individually have. I joked that we should each look in the mirror in the morning and tell ourselves to take over the world that day. And that they should come back to me with how they took over the world.

Apparently that stuck.

Fast forward to just before spring break. The kids and I watched speeches from kids who felt passionately about important issues. I asked what they were motivated to do. Lots of inspiring answers here.

One student? She wanted to have us make videos about how we each took over the world.

I, in my standard teacher mode, shrugged, “Why not?”

 

So here is the first installment of what will hopefully be many. It gave me goosebumps, moved me to tears and gave me inspiration in a tough week. Here’s hoping you do the same. And if you have any comments for the delightful ones you see in the video, share them and I will happily share them with my loveys. Click here and enjoy!

 

Putting Myself Out There: Part 1

April 10, 2017

Oh heavens.

What a slippery slope.

It starts with sharing this video about the typewriter orchestra with my young writers. And then a conversation about how musicians see the music in everything. And how poets see the poetry in everything.

“Mrs. Levin, that would be cool to do.”
“Yeah, it would.”… “Hey…I have an idea. For your homework today I’d like for you to go home and find something that makes music in your house. Experiment with the sounds it makes. Then make a video of yourself with the music you created and share it with me.” (patting my own flexible back)
“Mrs. Levin, will you do it too?”
(putting on big girl pants) “Yep. And I think I know what I’ll do, too.” “Come to think of it (getting big for my britches), I think I’ll do hockey.”

Oh heavens.

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So I made a video. Originally, when I made this video, I was pretty proud of it. I definitely heard the rhythm in my head as I worked to tap out the different sounds with the stick and puck. I took a take and thought, “Hmm. That’s pretty good.”

But to my sons, to whom I showed that video? My teenage, hockey-loving sons? They couldn’t stop giggling at how lame it was. At how, when you look away listen for sounds, it’s just a whole bunch of random whacking noises. They just kept listening. And giggling.

And OH. They are SO right.

Here’s the link to the video. Go ahead and watch once, then look away and giggle while you hear the random whacking. (It’s OK, my big girl pants are still on.)

That got me thinking. How many times does this happen for us, or for our students? We make an effort – perhaps it’s a solid effort, perhaps it’s just a first effort. But we’re pleased with it, and we think it’s good enough.

Then we put it out into the world and realize (rolling our pride into a ball and shoving it into our back pocket) that we were wrong. That maybe we could have -should have- done a better, more mindful job.

I am going to share this video with my students for that VERY reason. They need to see that even grown-ups sometimes need a kick in the pants to do a better job.

Keep your eyes peeled for video, Part 2. As for me, I’ve clearly got stuff to work on.

When the Writing Gets Tough

April 2, 2017

First of all, happy poetry month!

Those of you who read my blog know that I enjoy writing alongside my kids. I like to share my work and my struggles with them.

The week before break, I asked the kids to take on an ambitious poem: to title and write a piece about an important person in their lives, but to do it only by describing something in nature. The reader must be able to make the connection through the text.

Which worked out great, until I hit the source of inspiration for my poem. My brother. My brother, who died two years ago this month. My brother, who sometimes makes his presence known through dreams, or ladybugs, or rainbows, or just the random odd moment that leaves me unable to catch my breath.

It was heavy lifting. I wanted to push this poem to the side, especially when working with students at the same table. I just…couldn’t ignore the need to write. Below is what came to me. It’s ragged around the edges, and it wants more attention than I’m giving it right now, but here it is.

 

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What to do
When the poem choosing me
Stills my pen?

If I could, I would
Tell them
Of my brother the rainbow
The smile-bringer
The color-giver
The everything-is-ok-er

But then, I must
Tell them
Of my brother the rainbow
Who went away
Who disappeared too soon
Who only comes to me in the glints, glimpses
I’m ready to see.

I think their hearts
Could absorb
Those droplets of grief
But I worry
That one moment they
(Remembering my rainbow)
Look upon their brother
Or sister
Or mirror
And see
That they, too
Are just rainbows.