“What Will Your Verse Be?”

I can’t stop watching this commercial, which I first saw during the Golden Globes.  What a soul-lifting, heart-building, mind-blowing visual from Apple.  Absolutely beautiful and I hope people take the message to hear.

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering — these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for.

To quote from Whitman,

“O me, O life of the questions of these recurring.
Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer: that you are here. That life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

What will your verse be?

 

Poetry and Science- Perfect Together?

Last Friday a colleague and I took some time for professional development at a high school in northern NJ that has a program similar to ours.  I was very excited to meet Erin Colfax, co-author of the upcoming Writing Poetry through the Eyes of Science: A Teacher’s Guide to Scientific Literacy and Poetic Response. (We have already ordered a copy and I can’t wait to take a look at it!).

Erin was an absolute inspiration. The woman literally does everything.  She designs research projects all over the world and travels to collect the necessary data so that she can bring it back to her students.   On top of this, she is one of the leaders of the Science Academy program at Morristown HS and co-teaches in English and History.  She and her co-teachers work together to integrate science and research into the content areas and the results are amazing.  Erin told us how she studied with an embalmer in town during the Civil War unit and then they set up a mock embalming in the classroom, where the embalmer used Civil War era tools.  How awesome is that?!  And that is only one example of the amazing things she is doing.

Personally, I was thrilled to talk to Erin about English.  I am a science geek and for a long time considered a career in science before I decided to be an English teacher.  As my bio colleague (and my former bio teacher!) always reminds me, I am still pretty involved in science thanks to the Monarch Teacher Network.  But Erin helped write  Writing Poetry through the Eyes of Science: A Teacher’s Guide to Scientific Literacy and Poetic Response and I was dying to pick her brain before I got my hands on the book.  Let me tell you- Erin and Nancy are both amazing!  The way Erin described her Science and Poetry summer camp, it was like my dream come true.  And the way they integrate science and poetry is inspirational.  Erin believes that the act of writing poetry, designing similes, metaphors, and other figurative language, helps students really learn tough science concepts.  You know what?  I agree!

I am looking forward to talking more with Erin in the future and sharing ideas with her.  I also highly recommend Writing Poetry through the Eyes of Science: A Teacher’s Guide to Scientific Literacy and Poetic Response.  While it is only available for preorder now, it should ship at the end of this month.  (And it will only cost about $30, NOT the crazy price listed on the Amazon preorder page!).  I was lucky enough to see a lot of her materials last week and I know it will be well worth it.

Hidden by Helen Frost

Helen Frost is one of my favorite authors.  While she may not be the most well-known MG/YA author on the market right now, I wish she was!  I am constantly recommending her books to my readers.  When I was offered an ARC of her newest title, I jumped on the chance. Hidden does not disappoint. If you are a middle school of high school teacher, I highly recommend picking up a copy.

From the flap copy:

When Wren Abbott and Darra Monson are eight years old, Darra’s father steals a minivan. He doesn’t know that Wren is hiding in the back. The hours and days that follow change the lives of both girls. Darra is left with a question that only Wren can answer. Wren has questions, too.

Years later, in a chance encounter at camp, the girls face each other for the first time. They can finally learn the truth—that is, if they’re willing to reveal to each other the stories that they’ve hidden for so long.

I have a strange attraction to crime stories.  I am the person who can’t turn off CNN when they are talking about a missing person.  I read newspaper articles and magazine interviews.  Hidden was exactly what I was looking for. The story will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The chapters alternate between Wren and Darra and you sympathize with both.  The suspense alone is reason enough to pick up the book.  However, Helen Frost’s real gift is in her poetry.

Nothing is ever as it seems, which is what I love.   The real magic in every Helen Frost book comes when you start digging deeper, really paying attention to the poetry.  In Hidden, Helen Frost has invented a new form of poetry to help give insight into Darra’s story. Darra’s poems are told through especially long lines.  But upon reaching the end of the book, you learn that taking the last word of the longest lines allows you to read Darra’s thoughts and memories, seeing the kidnapping from her point-of-view.  Due to this, I found myself re-reading the book immediately upon finishing it the first time.  The second time through, I simply lost myself in the poetry, paying attention to the word choice, the rhymes, and this wonderful new form.

Hidden is perfect for reluctant MG/YA readers.  Highly, highly recommended!

Spot the Plot by J. Patrick Lewis

Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles by J. Patrick Lewis is a great little picture book that every English teacher should have in their arsenal. Full of riddles that challenge the reader to “Name That Book”, it’s a great title for all ages. The books named in the riddles include Charlotte’s Web, Goodnight Moon, Madeline, and much more.

I used my copy of Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles at the end of this past school year. It was one of the last days of the school year. You know the days- nothing on the schedule but locker cleanout, the kids checked out mentally weeks ago, and no one wants to be there but we have to put in a half day. That morning, I pulled out my copy of the book. I decided to make a game of the riddles, knowing how competitive my students were. I copied the poems and divided the class into groups, giving each group a few of the riddles. I explained that the riddles all described famous children’s books, set the timer, and had them get to work. The group that finished first, with the most correct answers, won. The students assumed it would be easy and were shocked to find that Lewis made some of the riddles into real brain-teasers!

Like I said, this is a book every English teacher should have a copy of. It’s perfect for those moments when you need something for the students to focus on and you want that something to be fun and meaningful. Highly recommended!

Monarch News

Just a few links to some monarch butterfly news.  The migration is reaching farther north each week, and I am hoping to see my first monarch sometime soon!

  • The latest Journey North update has maps of the monarch sightings and milkweed growth over the past week.  You can sign up to get the weekly updates via email.
  • The New Jersey School-Age Care Coalition has just posted a guide to creating a butterfly garden in NJ school yards, as part of it’s Afterschool Care programs.  The brochure is detailed and includes some fantastic ideas.
  • Sign up for Pollinator LIVE! On May 12, 2010, you can join a live webcast from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET. Participants can drop in at any time during this full day of webcasts to learn about pollination, pollinators, participatory science projects, the latest about monarch butterflies, and how to attract pollinators to your schoolyard. Experts will answer your students’ questions.  You can also view the webcasts later on the website, which I will be doing with my classes on Thursday.  (Students have a half day Wednesday, so we can’t participate live.)

And if you are interested in getting involved with the Monarch Teacher Network (like me!), there are workshops being offered all over the country.  Check out the program’s website and the registration form here.

Workshops 2010

June Workshops

[  ] June 14-15:   Naples Botanical Garden; Naples, Florida (Collier County)

[  ] June 15-16:   Leisure Park Elementary School; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma (Tulsa area)

[  ] June 21-22:   Region 14 Education Service Center; Abilene, Texas

[  ] June 23-24: Harper Park Middle School; Leesburg, Virginia (Loudoun County, DC area)

[  ] June 28-29:   Parkdale High School; Maryland (Prince Georges County, DC area)

July Workshops:

[  ] July 26-27: Webster Hill School; West Hartford, Connecticut

[  ] July 29-30: The Advent School; Boston, Massachusetts

August Workshops:

[  ] Aug   2-3:      Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center; Sioux City, Iowa

[  ] Aug   5-6:      Sacred Heart School; West Des Moines, Iowa

[  ] Aug   5-6:      Knox Agri-Center; Galesburg, Illinois (Peoria area)

[  ] Aug 11-12:    Living Classrooms; Washington DC (Stuart Hobson MS)

[  ] Aug 16-17:    William Paterson University; New Jersey (Passaic County, New York City area)

[  ] Aug 17-18:    Hartshorn Arboretum (Essex County, New York City area)

[  ] Aug 19-20: EIRC facility; Mullica Hill, New Jersey (Gloucester County, Philadelphia area)

[  ] Aug 19-20: Peabody Museum; Yale University, Connecticut (New Haven Area)

Also, the Voices program is expanding!  There is a workshop being offered in June in Texas.  I so wish I could go.  For more information, check out the website.  You can also see my students’ Voices project on the blog a few years ago, along with the book we made.

April is Poetry Month….

….and I have cried no less than 3 times since my students started writing their poems.  Three students in particular are gifted poets and their poems honestly made me cry (which the rest of the class found amazing).  Does anyone have any ideas for publication?  I don’t have a lot of resources for places that are interested in student poetry.

So far, we have only immersed ourselves in poetry and opened the heart door (thanks, Georgia Heard!).  If the poems they are sharing so far are any indication, this might be my best year yet with poetry.  They are very open to sharing and I have am getting glimpses into lives that I didn’t know anything about.

Poetry is always one of my favorite units of the year because it truly opens a window into the souls of my students.  I love opening their eyes to poetry; after years of being required to write acrostics, cinquains, sonnets, and other highly regimented forms of poetry it’s awesome to allow them the freedom to write non-rhyming poems!  Even better, they can choose their topics and write about anything they want.  My only rule is that every student must dig deep.  In other words, no poems like “I like summer.  It is not a bummer.  We go in the pool.  It is cool.”  My corny example always brings a few laughs but it seems to sink in.  So far, so good.  I have learned about parents with breast cancer, the death of grandparents, losing pets, losing friends, growing apart, growing up, and more coming-of-age moments in their tweenage lives.

Are your students surprising you this month with their poetry?

Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers

After reading Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers, I immediately added it to my “Where I’m From” unit. It will fit in perfectly with my beginning of the year activities.

Looking Like Me is a celebration in poetry of who we are as individuals. We are brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, dancers, readers, writers, athletes, and so much more. Each of us is so much more than just the sum of our parts. Myers makes this obvious in his lyrical text. I was almost singing/chanting the words as I read it. The message, that we should all celebrate who we are, is powerful.  And the text itself is gorgeous at many points.  One of my favorites stanzas keeps running through my head.

My words are

sometimes

hurried;

At times they

come out

slow.

At times

they fly like

snowflakes

with

everywhere

to go.

At the beginning of each new school year I get to know my students through “Where I’m From” poems. I think that Looking Like Me will be a great introduction to thinking in terms of who we are. I can already foresee activities where we list who we are. What a great introduction to our new community and to writing!

*Review copy courtesy of publisher

Bella & Bean by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Back in April I was lucky enough to have coffee with Kathi Appelt, who was in the area for a school visit.  We had a great time talking about books, writing, and blogging.  Before parting ways, Kathi told me she had a book I absolutely must read.  She said she knew I would love Bella & Bean by Rebecca Kai Dotlich.  I wrote down the title and promised to look for it.  Of course, I promptly forgot about all of this in the chaos that is the end of the school year.

Last week I was at a district meeting and was thrilled when the supervisor pulled out Bella & Bean for a read-aloud!  Of course, I immediately remembered Kathi’s recommendation (and then felt bad for forgetting!).  After listening to the story, I was hooked.  Kathi was 100% right- I loved it!  I can not wait to share this book with my students this year.  

Bella and Bean are best friends.  Bella is a writer- a poet- always playing with words and concentrating on her writing.  She begins each day ready to sit at her window-side desk, writing about the beauty around her.  her best friend Bean is outgoing, fun, and hands-on.  She’s always trying to get Bella to put her writing aside to come and play by the pond.  All day long Bean pokes her head through the window of Bella’s house and tries to get her attention.  She shows Bella her new hat, shows off her “cute toes”, and tries to convince Bella to think of the word “Bean” if she is concentrating on words.  Bean is adorable and I wanted to run off with her!  The illustrations by Aileen Leijten are precious and you just want to dive into the book with Bean.


But Bella will not be distracted.  She even gets grumpy with Bean!

 

I don’t have time for hats, Bean,’ said Bella. ‘I’m writing new poems…I can’t think about rivers and moons when you are talking about hats,’ said Bella.”

Bella perseveres through the distractions and is rewarded- her poems are stunning!    

But what about Bean?  And their friendship?  I won’t spoil the ending for you because it is absolutely perfect.  I admit I couldn’t wait to find out what happened while we were being read to!  I will just tell you to get this book ASAP.

I can not wait to use this picture book in my 6th grade classroom this upcoming year.  There are so many ways I foresee using it.  Of course, it will be wonderful during our poetry unit.  Bella’s poems are not only wonderful but her methods and wordplay will inspire many students.  It will be a great mentor text for my 6th graders.  One of my favorite lines says, 

“The sky poured stars like sugar…”

How gorgeous is that?  I love it!  I can already see Bella inspiring many of my writers.  She certainly inspired me.

Bella & Bean is also a window into the writing process.  I think I will start our writing workshop this year with this book.  What a wonderful way to introduce my students to the workshop we will be a part of during the year.  

But the story is not just about writing.  It’s beautiful on so many levels.  It’s also about friendship and tolerance.  It’s about taking time to live life, not just watch it go by.  It’s about being disciplined but also having fun.  It’s about opposites attracting. Due to the multi-layered text, this book is perfect for kids of all ages, from preschool to high school.  In fact, the adults at my meeting all fell in love with it!  There is no age limit on this one.  And anyone who aspires to be a writer can’t help but be inspired by  Bella & Bean.  Be sure to pick this up for your classroom library!  And maybe even for your teacher library. ;)

Poetry Friday

My students handed in their multi-genre poetry anthologies this week and I am enjoying reading them.  One of the requirements was to include at least three “choice” pieces- poems, songs, quotes, short excerpts from memoirs and stories, etc.  One of my students included the following poem and it really tugged at my heartstrings.

POEM OF A NEGLECTED DOG

I wish someone would tell me
What it is I have done wrong,
And why I must be chained outside
And left alone so long.

They seemed so glad to have me
When I came here as a pup,
There were so many things we’d do
While I was growing up.

The master said he’d train me
As a companion and a friend,
The mistress said she’d never fear
To be alone again.

The children said they’d feed me
And brush me everyday,
They’d play with me and walk me
If I would only stay.

But now the master hasn’t time
The mistress says I shed,
She won’t allow me in the house
Not even to be fed.

The children never walk me
They always say, “not now!”,
I do wish I could please them
Can someone tell me how?

All I had, you see, was love
I wish someone would explain
Just why the said they wanted mine
And then left it on a chain……

Author Unknown

Poetry Friday

One of my students rushed into our classroom earlier this week, a huge smile on her face.  She raced over to my desk and announced that she had awesome news to tell me.  

“Last night I was reading and the doorbell rang.  My mom made me get it, and I was so annoyed at her.  So I opened the door and my brother’s girlfriend was on the porch with a weird look on her face.  She kept smiling and the looking around.  I was about to ask her what she was doing at my house when my brother stepped onto the porch!  He surprised us and got to come home for a few days!”

The smile on her face could have lit up the room.  Her brother, her best friend, has been away at boot camp since last year.  She hasn’t seen him in months.  And he ships out in a couple of months.  Showing up to surprise her made this the best week of her life, she told me.

When I read this poem on Poem in Your Pocket Day, I immediately thought of my student.  She misses and worries about her brother every single day, and this poem captures that feeling so well.

MISSING
By Cynthia Cotten

My brother is a soldier

in a hot, dry,

sandy place.

He’s missing -

missing things like

baseball, barbecues,

fishing, French fries,

chocolate sodas,

flame-red maple trees,

blue jays,

and snow.

I’m missing, too -

missing

his read-out-loud voice,

his super-special

banana pancakes,

his scuffed up shoes

by the back door,

his big-bear

good night

hug.

There are people

with guns

in that land of sand

who want to shoot

my brother.

I hope

they miss him,

too.

AMERICA AT WAR POEMS Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins Text copyright © 2008 

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