Posts Tagged ‘language arts’

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.

———————————

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.

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’.

unnamed.jpg

 

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.

 

 

Mother’s Lament (NaPoWriMo Day 9)

April 9, 2013

I can taste it,
Like the first bite of a hot-fudge sundae
Or a gooey, cheesy pizza
So delightful
Rich
Decadent,
Yet well-deserved.

I long for it
From deep within my bones
I hunger
I ache

For a
Good
Night’s
Sleep

Why I Don’t Write Limericks (NaPoWriMo Day 7)

April 7, 2013

Sometimes as a matter of course
My thoughts into structure I’ll force
In my strong efforts I’ll
Replace substance with style
(Putting the cart before horse)

Signs of Spring – National Poetry Month Day 6

April 6, 2013

Signs of Spring

20130406-155709.jpg

The hostas, in hushed whispers
Poke their heads from the earth
And signal an all-clear

The crocus responds
Gentle, persistent,
Not wishing to interrupt
But clear to any who listen

And others, in turn, join the crescendo:
Daffodil, tulip, forsythia, lilac

Silenced, I join the world in
The deep, full breath
I had almost
Forgotten how to take.

Do You Remember Me? National Poetry Month, Day 5

April 5, 2013

Do You Remember Me?

You…
You, with that faded bonnet,
The microscopic handwriting,
The comics you drew me,
The moldy mess we excavated from your desk,
The orange sweatshirt you always wore,
The April Fool’s joke you played on the class,

How you didn’t speak until February,
How your grandma was your rock,
How you asked question after question after question,
How I worried about the sadness I sometimes saw in you
How I carried so much of you with me:
Your essays, your homework, your worries…

…You.

You, who I sent out like ripples
Wondering,
Awaiting your return
Like a present
I get to keep opening.

 

Why I write – Poetry month day 4

April 4, 2013

Why I Write

There is a certain
Satisfaction
That comes with cooking a good meal.
It’s the love stirred in
The effort of smelling, tasting, listening, editing
Until it seems just right
And the hungry ones take it in
And where there was once noise
There is the quiet
Of grateful and appreciative chewing.

And I think,
This is what I made, this piece
Of me I served out.
They like it,
And they are
Eating it up.

Priorities (National Poetry Month Day 3)

April 3, 2013

Priorities

Sometimes when I shower, I
(full of distractions) grip the soap
Too tightly, and
It pops right out of my hand.

I used to
Reach for it blindly,
Block it with my elbow,
Slow it down with my knee,
All to keep it from
Hitting the shower floor;
A valiant effort
That many times worked.

Until
One morning, my distracted self once again
Grabbed the soap.
As it slipped through my hands,
Time
Slowed
Down
And I thought
Well, maybe.
Maybe it would be okay this time
And no one would be hurt
And no one would get angry
And heroics look silly anyway
And I maybe could just

Let
It
Fall.

Poetry Month – Entry 2

April 2, 2013

The Poem I Didn’t Write

 

Was the one about
Our favorite tree,
The one out front that you can’t get your arms around.
The one my boys and I picnic under
On lazy summer days while we
Watch the drivers
Pass life by

The tree that grants quiet strength,
Steadfast devotion
(not unlike my father)

The tree my children worry someday will fall,
Or get sick and die.
What will happen when it is gone?
I can’t picture the changed landscape,
The lack of shade
The empty space.

The poem I didn’t write
Wanted to be about our favorite tree, yet
Sank its roots too deep.
It waits for me, unfinished
Awaiting a time
I am ready to dig.

-April 2013