Posts Tagged ‘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…)

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!

 

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.

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!

Shangri-La

December 1, 2011

Welcome to Mount Math-More

You know what this stuff is, right?

To the uninitiated, it’s just a big old mess of math supplies.

Well, actually, you’re right. That’s what it is. But really? That’s not what it is. You see, I’m a teacher. The desire for new school supplies runs in my veins. The yearly school supply order brings squeals of joy as I rip into boxes of bulletin borders, EXPO markers and scratch-and-sniff stickers. Back-to-school sales at local stores send me into near euphoria as I contemplate crayons with perfect tips and impossibly pink erasers. And a perfectly sharpened pencil? Don’t get me started.

So the thought of new school stuff is exciting enough already. But this pile of sheer math-y goodness isn’t for me. All of these materials – the thousands of cubes, the hundreds of dice, and more – all of them are going out to other teachers in my school. That’s what makes it even more exciting.

Every teacher who gets one of these kits is going to use it to differentiate math instruction in his or her classroom. And as a person whose job it is to support teachers in differentiation, this pile represents more than you can imagine.

I’m pretty proud of this pile. It’s a physical product of my belief that every kid deserves to learn something new every day. It’s a tangible reminder that I work with incredible colleagues who are ready and open to take on professional challenges. It’s only taken a few weeks for the order to arrive, but it takes years to develop the trust for teachers to open up their classrooms and their planbooks, and invite me in. It’s one thing when teachers ask me for books, worksheets, or lesson ideas. It’s quite another when teachers want to make changes to the way they teach. I’ve always felt in my heart that I could effect change outside of the walls of my own room, and I am finally seeing it happen. It’s humbling to be part of it all, actually.

Tomorrow afternoon, some teachers and I are going to have a packing party. We’re going to bag and box everything up. Kits are going out to teachers I’ve worked and planned with, with extras ordered for anyone who wants to jump on the bandwagon.

Until then, you can find me in my classroom. I’ll be taking a private moment in the presence of new school supplies. The polyhedra dice are calling. Such a sweet, sweet song…