Posts Tagged ‘students’

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.

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!

On Parent Conferences

February 3, 2017

After about thirty parent-teacher conferences over the last few days, I have to admit that I’ve pretty well run out of articulate things to say.

But if I could take the recommendations, advice and encouragement from those conferences and wrap it all up with a bow, it would look something like this:

Your child is amazing. I am grateful to say we work together. I cannot say that often enough or more sincerely.

Look at your child’s work. Does it give you goosebumps, inspire you, or make you wish you had their talent? It sure does for me.

I can’t tell you if your child will be identified for the program next year. I wish I had that magic power, but I don’t. Would I love to work with your child next year? Absolutely. Heck, I would jump at the chance to take your child under my wing all day, every day. I just know that child development is a funny thing. Some kids start slow and hit their stride. Others start quickly and even out. Still others take a different path. They are children, and they grow in as many directions as there are children.

And yes, I hear you when you share your worries about your child. Believe it or not, things will be okay.

More likely than not, the things that discourage most us during our children’s elementary school careers are the very things that serve them well later in life. An argumentative child grows to possess a strong sense of justice. Kids who constantly “direct traffic” will demonstrate leadership. And the shy, reserved ones emerge as the colleagues who listen, reflect, then move the group forward in reason and wisdom.

But right now? In so many ways, it is BUMPY right now.

I get it.

Even within my own family, things are bumpy in every which way.

All of us, as families, are somewhere in the weeds. It is hard to be a parent at any stage of the game. Some children make it even harder.

But you are doing a great job. I have absolute faith in you, and – more importantly – absolute faith in your child.

Things will really, truly be fine.

Getting to fine will be a challenge.

But things will be fine.

And…in case I haven’t told you? Your child is amazing.

 

The Best (and Hardest) Part of My Day

April 24, 2013

(overheard in my third grade math group as some kids were trying to put a math problem together from random words and numbers)

Them: Mrs. Levin, this is hard!
Me: Yep. It is. You’re not complaining, are you?
Them: No.
Me: Oh good. Because you deserve to have things hard sometimes.
(more work, more missing the target)
Them: Is there even an ANSWER TO THIS?
Me: Yep.
(more work, still no answer)
Them: This is IMPOSSIBLE!!
Me: Nope. Nope, it’s not.
Them: This is so FRUSTRATING!
Me: Yep. And you deserve frustrating. You deserve the chance to work for something really hard.
(more work, still no answer)
Me: (taking some index cards with the words and numbers on them) Here, try arranging these until you find something that works.

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(shuffling the cards, switching and swiping, still no answer)

Them: Mrs. Levin, are you SURE this has an answer?
Me: Yep, I’m sure.
(more shuffling, more debating, until EUREKA!)

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THE HARDEST PART
Watching them and saying nothing even though these kids were SO DARN CLOSE, SO MANY TIMES. My tongue still has bite marks on it.

THE BEST PART
Me: See what I mean? You struggled through something and then you did it? How do you feel now?
Them: Super-awesome.
Me: Yeah. ‘Cause you ARE awesome. Awesomely awesome.

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

What’s to Love?

January 19, 2013

So why is it, exactly, that I have taught for almost 18 years now without fear of burnout?

I consider this week, a week so crazy I think it took me until Thursday before I had a real planning time longer than 15 minutes. A week so nuts that I was up every night late grading, planning, and catching up on house work I couldn’t ignore.

What was there to love about a week like that?

That the third graders in my math group use the word “theory” when discussing how to do a tricky homework problem.

That a teacher told me I made her think of gifted kids from a new perspective.

That my former students, now big bad eighth-graders, gave me a cheerful greeting in the junior high hallway.

That the kids in my storytelling group recognize each others’ talents and eagerly cheer each other on. That they brag about each other to the substitute teacher.

That I have third through fifth grade kids in my writing group who choose topics for writing like abandonment. Children with siblings who have special needs. The rapid population of Heaven after the Mayan apocalypse. A poor kid and a rich one who find themselves drawn together. A shy hippo who has some really great friends.

That my fifth grade math students thank me after math every single day. Ok, so one of them confided in me that it was part of a bet (that he, of course, wasn’t part of), but I’ll take what I can get.

That I have a vocabulary group using the introduction of Beowulf in their study of the history of the English language.

That the kindergarten kid I worked with in math counts forward and backward through the ten thousands.

That every day, I get to look into the eyes of dozens of students and see sincerity, kindness, and an irrepressible love for learning.

They don’t just help me avoid burnout, they inspire me to come each day, each year, with renewed passion and energy.