Poetry

I am sitting here, trying to plan for April. In reading workshop we will be studying the Holocaust and reading Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic.  I began reviewing my great big binder this weekend and I have a rough sketch of my unit.  I plan to spend spring break finalizing my plans and gathering up any more materials that I might need.  I feel confident and this is one of my favorite units to teach. It is also one of the most important, I feel.

In writing workshop, I am planning to study poetry. I have been reading Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School by Georgia Heard and getting some great ideas.  Right now, I am struggling to find a way to start.  I want to really pull my kids in, start with a bang.  I know that my first lesson can make or break te unit because they have a lot of preconceived notions about poetry.  Thankfully, we do a monthly poetry museum where they bring in a poem of their choice and share it with the class.  But of course, I know they won’t make the connection between that and the genre study on poetry.

I am putting a call out to the educational blogosphere- D=does anyone have a great way to begin a unit on poetry?  Or any recommendations on other professional resources?  My biggest problem is finding something grade appropriate.  A lot of the poetry lessons and resources I find are aimed at K-3.  I am interested in 6-8, if at all possible.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Do you use Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak in the classroom? If so, a teacher in Michigan needs your help! According to Halse Anderson, “This teacher could use some professional support. If you teach SPEAK, can you please leave a note in the comments section for her? Tell her why you use the book. Tell her about your classroom experiences and your professional opinion about the place of the book in the curriculum. Or just give her a pat on the back. If you are a teen, tell her what the book meant to you. “

Head on over to Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog to share your stories and inspiration with this teacher. Speak is an incredibly powerful book and deserves its place in our literary canon. Don’t let it be censored!

A Waste of Time?

I found myself nodding vigorously as I read The Book Whisperer’s latest post this evening.  It feels like I could have written the post myself.  Reading is viewed as a “waste of time” or a free period in too many classrooms.  Very few adults realize that this attitude is what leads students to view reading as a waste of time or something that is only done to please a teacher.

In two weeks, I will be leaving my class with a substitute for four days while I go to Mexico on a fellowship.  This will be the first time I have ever left a class for more than a day.  As I am writing the lesson plans I will leave behind I realized that my workshops are very different than the rote and memorization classes that many other teachers/subs are used to seeing.  I think I will have to leave very detailed notes explaining our daily reading time.  My students know that independent reading time is not the time to talk, work on homework, or do anything else.  But of course, I am sure they will push the limits (as any 6th grader would!) when they have a substitute teacher for the week and their regular teacher is in another country!  The note will explain that the students should read every single day.  I wish I could request that the sub also reads, to continue the modeling I do on most days, but I fear that the sub will be hesitant to do this.

Why would a sub be hesitant to sit and read for 25 minutes?  It’s not that I believe the sub would not want to read- in fact, it’s quite the opposite.  I think any substitute teacher would be afraid to do so because what if another teacher or administrator walked in and saw them just reading?  That sub would look like they were ignoring the students and not doing their job.  That is awful!  Reading should never be looked down upon as just a waste of time!  And what would that tell my students?  That reading is not a real, academic venture.  That it is something used to quiet them down and pass the time.   Not in my classroom!

In our classroom, my students and I love to read.  They beg to read.  They groan when I tell them that we need to move on and they have to put their books away.  They beg to read more of our current read-aloud, promising to make up the classwork at home.  They run to the library daily, trying to get new books or sequels.  They talk about books and make recommendations to each other.  They loan books to their classmates.  They write their letter-essays enthusiastically and want them back ASAP so that they can write back to me.  I love it!  Every classroom should be as enthusiastic about reading as mine.   (Not bragging there, just stating that all classrooms should make reading a vital and integral part of their day).

When did reading become a waste of time?  In my opinion, it happened when NCLB made testing more important than learning.  But then again, looking back on my own education, we were rarely given the time to just read.  For some reason, reading isn’t viewed as learning.  Yet I teach mini-lesson after mini-lesson that focuses on the type of thinking we do while reading.  I focus my read-alouds on thinking through my own  thinking, out loud.  I know many other teachers who do the same thing.  Yet we get strange looks and whispers because instead of spending those 20 minutes listening to a teacher lecture, my students are in the reading zone.  They are each in their own space, in their own head, living the lives of their characters.  How is this not learning?!!

Great Posts Around the Blogosphere

-Check out the Learning in the Great Outdoors Carnival over at Alone on a Limb! There are some great links to all sorts of classroom and child-related outdoor learning activities. I am about to go exploring right now. :)

-Get yourself over to the Cybils blog and look for the latest shortlists! I am surprised to see that I have only read one novel on the YA shortlist, but it’s one of my favorites of the year (The Wednesday War). I also have read about half the non-fiction titles and some of the graphic novels (a new genre for me this year) are already on my wishlist. :)

How Today’s Students Learn

Watch this short video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

While the video is aimed at college level professors, the statistics apply to almost all of our students. While my students don’t spend time on facebook in class, they do spend hours at home on Myspace (which they are not even old enough to be a part of) and AIM. I think many new teachers, and some older teachers, are seeing this and adjusting their teaching for it. But too many teachers are continuing to teach out students in archaic methods that don’t apply to their lives. I love telling my students that many of them will have careers in industries that don’t even exist yet. However, we must do our best to prepare them for this. Make technology a part of your daily classroom lessons!

Harry in the Classroom

While reading some other blogs today, I found a great article from Britain’s Daily Mail today about a school in the UK that has experienced a significant turnaround in the academic performance of their students after introducing a Harry Potter curriculum this year. Apparently, the Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery school was in the bottom quarter of schools in Britain. After introducing a student-designed curriculum, they are now in the top 5% of schools in the country!

At Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery school, students are immersed in Harry Potter.

Year classes have been named Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, after the school houses at Hogwarts, the wizards’ school attended by Harry in the novels and hit movies.

Example lessons from the “Harry Potter curriculum”

•Maths: subtraction is seen as a “spell” which has been created by Harry Potter. Children have to say the magic words “numerus subtracticus” when they give an answer eg “58 minus 14 – numerus subtracticus – equals 44″.

•English: to learn about dramatisation, pupils create their own scripts for plays based on the text from chapter two of J K Rowling’s debut novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

•Art: imagine what Harry Potter would do if he painted a version of Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 masterpiece The Starry Night. The Potter-inspired versions featured witches, dragons and other beasties.

•History: the history of flight, starting with a discussion of Harry Potter’s broomstick, then discussing if that is real and tracing the real development of aviation, including the Wright brothers.

•Geography: comparing the children’s home town of Arnold, Nottinghamshire, with Goathland, North Yorkshire, where the scenes of Hogsmead Station were shot for the Potter films.

•Computers: take a virtual tour of Harry’s fictional school Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on the internet, then create a map of Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery School using similar information.

•Science: put a stick of celery in a beaker of blue dye and see how it takes in the fluid, turning the celery from green to blue. Discuss whether Harry Potter could use this to turn one of his foes a different colour.

•Music: learn how to create a mood by performing a piece of music relating to the theme “Hogwarts at night”. Using percussion instruments, the children made appropriately spooky sounds.

•PE: balance and co-ordination is taught by getting the pupils to pretend they are Harry Potter and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger getting on and off their broomsticks (pupils used imaginary broomsticks).source

Wow! What a great idea on the part of the school! While some of this may sound silly to adult ears, I can picture primary students eating it up. How fun would it be to treat math as a magic spell, when so many students dread math? Or to treat science as a Potions class, coming up with magic experiments. And the music class sounds amazing. I’m a grown woman and I would have so much fun playing a piece of music that is related to the mood of the Harry Potter film music.

Part of me thinks that the whole “dressing the part, playing the part” aspect of a Harry Potter curriculum might become obnoxious. However, the students are only immersed in Harry Potter for the present term. Right now, the student body votes on a school-wide curriculum theme for each term. Past themes have included the Titanic, Africa, Princesses and Princes. According to the school head, choosing their own themes has had a dramatic “impact on their[students'] enthusiasm and motivation.” Well, of course it has! I see that on a much smaller scale in my own classroom. Whenever my students have the option of designing their own project or assessment they do much better. This is why the workshop format works so well, also. Student-directed learning is always the best choice.

I wish something like this would jump across the pond. The project-based learning taking hold around here has a lot in common with the topic learning seen in Britain. We haven’t yet made the leap to devoting our entire curriculum to a single theme or idea, but I would love to see some variation take hold here. I know it’s a big step and a huge jump away from NCLB, but it would serve students so much more than teaching to a test every year. Even if we only devoted one semester or marking period each year to a theme, it would be great. I know it would force more teachers to co-plan and work together to set up the term, but it would benefit students to much! Definitely some food for thought.

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