The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Social Commentary in a Picture Book

        A little-known children's book is Faithful Elephants:  A True Story of Animals, People, and War.  It's a book that is read over the radio every year in Japan, in hopes that peace will remain and war will never return...

        It is a simple (and true) story.  When the war was going on, the authorities worried that if the Tokyo zoo was bombed, the animals would get loose, causing even more injuries.  So, they systematically began to euthanize the animals.

        When they got to the elephants, injections did not work; their hide was too tough.  They had to resort to starving the elephants to death.

         Needless to say, it is a heartbreaking story.  The elephants have no idea why they are not getting food.  They do tricks, trying to please their trainers.  In the end, I am always sitting in a pool of tears...

          What are books that you use to jar students into digging deep into their conscience?  What are some titles that have moved your kids?  I would love to hear what your recommendations are...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Teaching is a Mission...

          Although I adore my job, can't imagine doing anything else, get energized by my students every day...teaching is a tough job.  It saps everything out of you; I am lucky my couch is just a few feet from my front door, because there are evenings when I barely make it that far.

        Earlier today I was talking to my best friend and former teaching partner.  She was talking about the difference between "fix" and "help" and "serve."  When you "fix" a student or a friend, that implies they are broken.  When you "help" them, that implies there is a deficit; the helper is superior and the helpee is inferior.  When you serve, all of your strengths and experiences and weaknesses come into play.  It is a harmonious pairing.

       Teachers serve.  We're on a mission.  (To quote from the movie The Blues Brothers, "We're on a mission from God."  Teaching is part religion/spirit/faith...) If teachers make the sacrifices and put in the extra hours for some monetary reward, please find another profession.  Students need us to bring our best game to the classroom every day.  

       I was looking on another blog, and saw this book cited.  Since I still have a few weeks before meetings and "Meet the Teacher" night, I thought I might check this one out.  From the description, there are lots of ways to ramp up student learning.  

        If anyone has read this book, I'd love to hear your opinion of it.

        Savor the summer while it's still here...

Round Robin Limericks

          Writing limericks (especially clean ones) is difficult enough for some.  But, writing them round-robin style is even more of a stretch.

         All you need are some beverage napkins, or pieces of note paper if you don't happen to be in a restaurant.

       Each person in your group gets a napkin/piece of note paper.  Each person writes the first line of a limerick, and then passes it to their right/left (as long as everyone passes in the same direction---if you are "leading" it, you might look to your right and left, and decide who you want to follow, and give directions accordingly).

       When each napkin/piece of paper has been written on by five different writers, everyone shares their limerick.

        To add to the festivity of the occasion, a limerick can even be written for the waiter/waitress as an added "tip."  Sometimes, the later the evening gets, the wilder the limericks are...

        This can be done in the classroom during a writing marathon or over some snacks.  It's a great activity to work on rhythm as well as rhyme and rhyme pattern.  (The writers at the Third Coast Writing Project---especially Dr. Ellen Brinkley and Pen Campbell---are the originators of this tradition. )  Certainly, some students would appreciate/need a rhyming dictionary.

        Here is one limerick:

   There was a writer from St. Lou,
  Her name, incidentally, was Sioux.
   She read books by the pile,
  Crocs on her feet---no style!
  (Vegetating, she never did rue!)

     What is a (clean) limerick of yours?  I would love to see it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Data Walls

     My principal is setting up a "data den."  This will be the room that our data teams (grade level teams) meet in.  The walls will be covered with data as we chart our students' progress.  There, we will examine which students are not proficient, brainstorm what interventive strategies we're going to use, and then determine how successful we were.  Post-its, or index cards in pocket charts, will be used (I imagine).

      Since this is a new direction for us, we are going to rely on other schools to help guide us as we create this space.

      I've been surfing on the net, and found a few helpful sites.
Data Walls
Power Point on Data Walls
A Plethora of Photos of Data Walls

Miles Davis, Anyone?

      When my students are writing, I often play some music.  For many, some sort of noise is preferable to deafening silence as they are trying to get "black on white" (get ink down onto the blank paper).

     In room 12 (my classroom) the CD I usually choose is Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.    There is a couple of classical CD's I occasionally crank up, as well as some pan pipe music from the Andes Mountains (Sukay).

     What do your students like to listen to when they write?  (My kids would definitely appreciate a greater variety...)  I would love to have some suggestions...

John Reynolds Gardiner---A God

       When you get to personally meet an author of one of your favorite books, it's like you're a groupie and they're Mick Jagger and you're backstage, drooling all over the place...

        That's kind of what it was like when I met John Reynolds Gardiner at an IRA convention, quite a few years ago.

         Gardiner is the author of Stone Fox, one of my all-time favorite books.  My third and fourth graders love it, the novel brings up many issues (because the two main characters are both "right" even though they are competing against each other) and I cry every year when I read aloud the last two chapters.  (I tell myself it won't happen again, but inevitably, it does.)

         When I met him, I noticed he was wearing a ring with a large stone it.  I felt like I was meeting the Pope, and was tempted to kiss his ring...That's how much in awe I am when it comes to his book.

        During his workshop, he spoke to teachers, advising us to not discount a young writer merely because they make frequent spelling and grammatical mistakes.  He admitted that in his slim novel, he had made 138 errors that had to be cleaned up by editors.

        Great stories can be written down, and after celebrating and praising the plot, the characterization, the quirky phrases, then the editing and revising can happen.  Great writers might be poor spellers.  They might confuse their tenses.  But let their creativity shine through.  Don't squash their spirit by focusing in on just the deficits...

Monday, July 12, 2010

You Know More Than You Think You Know...

    Writers will hit an impasse, and then the flow of words slows down and then...stops.  Putting words down on paper is always more effective when you have a friend or colleague to share your thoughts and plans with.  After all, we write for an audience, not so our words can be read by ourselves, in a dark closet.  However, sometimes you don't have anyone around to give you feedback.

     Try this:  Imagine a critical person that you know. Pick someone who does not like your writing. Imagine they are there, with one eyebrow raised in doubt.  And imagine they are listening to you describe your writing piece as they sit in their pajamas...

      Write a letter to this critic.  Tell them about the piece, describe your obstacles and well as the strengths, and outline what direction the piece is going to take. 

       I did this activity as part of Gateway Writing Project's  summer institute.  I scoffed at it.  I thought it was a ridiculous strategy; I was sure I did not know more than I thought I knew.  But I was wrong.  Writing about it, as I envisioned an overly critical person, gave me some new ideas and some new insight.

         Try it.  And I would love to hear what your secret is when battling writer's block.  Send it my way!  (The music idea I'm sending you is marvelous music to write by.  It's also great driving music.  I got it because the title of the CD is The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster, and I was interested in if, indeed, this singer was phenomenal.  She is.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mary Karr---A Persistent Rewriter

      Two days ago, I was lucky enough to sit in and hear Mary Karr at our local library.  For those who have never read her earlier Cherry or The Liar's Club, they are both incredibly moving memoirs.

       Her most recent is Lit, which chronicles her recovery as an alcoholic.  While she is combating depression and a dysFUNctional family, she find religion... (This is my favorite of the trio.)

       During the lecture, Karr spoke of not being a very good writer.  Instead, she claims, she is a very persistent rewriter. 

      Being committed to the piece...being determined to make the writing the best it can be...Mary Karr said she threw away 2,000 finished pages in the 7 years she worked on Lit.  Writers, once they fill up a page with text, hate to throw it away.  However, to hone the story or poem until it is razor-sharp takes a willingness to deconstruct, and a willingness to divorce yourself from pages and parts, forgetting about the effort involved.

       So, be persistent in your rewriting.  And check out Mary Karr's memoirs (as well as her books of poetry).