Our Eco-art book!

Yay! Today my class’ eco-art photobook arrived, and it turned out beautifully! The book includes photos of both class’ eco-art and the poetry that it inspired in my students. The book was created as part of the Voices….From the Land project through EIRC.

The book, a 12×12 photobook made on Shutterfly

The awesome back cover, a collage of the art created in our schoolyard.

One of the photo/poetry spreads. (Made smaller because I don’t want my students to be recognizable!)

Another photo/poetry spread

One of the poems that a student wrote after creating his group’s artwork.

Another poem.

The final page in the book- a photo I took inCape May coupled with my favorite quote (and mantra).

I am completely in love with this project. It is a great marriage of art, science/ecology, language arts, and technology. We will also receive books from two other schools (including one in New Zealand!). How cool is that?  Even cooler?  The fact that I might get to meet that teacher from New Zealand at a workshop this summer.  Talk about making global connections in a new world, huh?  Absolutely amazing.

My favorite quote from today was, “Wow, Miss M!  I am published in a real book!”

Eco-art

Today, after a morning of standardized testing, I took my students outside to create eco-art.  In the tradition of Andy Goldsworthy we created art from the natural materials readily available around our schoolyard.  My kids were so amazing in this project!

After spending a good amount of time wandering the schoolyard, the students broke into small groups.  For the first time all year, there was no whining or fighting over working together.  Students seemed to naturally gravitate towards working alone or with a small group of friends.  They gathered materials together, brainstormed ideas, and even claimed their area without an ounce of anger or annoyance.  They quickly got to work and produced some amazing art.

Tomorrow, I will print out their artwork and we will use the pieces to inspire poetry and prose.  The words they write will then be combined with the photos before becoming a book on Shutterfly.  Through the Voices…From the Land project, we will share our book with another school and will receive one from another school.  We are very excited!

Multi-genre Research Projects

My students are currently working on their multi-genre self portrait poetry anthologies (Georgia Heard, Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School). They are working on them at home while we focus on the poetry toolboxes and revision in school. Next week we will be taking in part in our annual state testing (oh joy), so I am trying to decide what our final unit of study will be after testing is completed. I am very intrigued with the idea of a multi-genre research project.

A multi-genre research project allows students to research a topic of their choice, just as they would with an expository research paper (the “report” we are all used to seeing). My problem with a research report is that I end up reading 45 of the exact same paper, some of which are even plagiarized. The students are bored, I am bored, and I don’t think either of us gets much out of it. A multi-genre project will let my kids research the topic of their choice, thus letting me do a little more work on their research skills before they head off to middle school. But more importantly, it will allow them to be creative and present the information they learn in a synthesized way, without boring regurgitation. I need to lay it out and get some more reading done, but this seems to be the path I will be heading down for our final unit of study!

Does anyone have experience with multi-genre projects in middle school or intermediate grades? I would love to hear an advice or information you have!

*More information:

Introduction to Multi-genre

Multi-genre Writing

A Teacher’s Guide to the Multigenre Research Project: Everything You Need to Get Started

The Multigenre Research Paper: Voice, Passion, and Discovery in Grades 4-6

TCRWP Saturday Reunion

At 5:40am this morning, I was out the door and headed towards school, where I would drop off my car, meet up with some friends, and head to the train station. By 6:35am I was on a northbound train headed to Penn Station. By 8:00am I was inside Riverside Church on Riverside Dr. in NYC. After years of trying to attend, I was finally at Teacher’s College Saturday Reunion.

When my colleagues and I arrived, we picked up our schedules and began scanning the multitude of workshops being offered. Within moments I announced I would be eating my brown bag lunch on the run and attending all four sessions. My colleagues quickly agreed. How could I possibly choose to give up a session for something as silly as lunch?! As I read the descriptions of the many sessions being offered, I was circling possibilities left and right. How on earth would I ever decide which workshops to attend?

Eventually, I made my choices. In the meantime, we made our way to the main chapel to hear the keynote speaker. Tomie dePaolo (author of over 200 books, including Strega Nona), renowned and award-winning author/illustrator gave a rousing talk entitled “No Teacher Left Behind”. He was a brilliant speaker and had the packed church in stitches. He shared many tales of his childhood and the importance that reading and writing held in it. He is also a strong supporter of teachers. He told us that his personal book sales have decreased 50% since the inception of No Child Left Behind. He and his agent attribute this to the huge number of teachers and school districts which can no longer purchase and use his books because they must focus on “the test”. It was a staggering statistic and I would be very interested in hearing if other authors have experienced a similar drop in sales.

After dePaolo’s speech, I made my way to my first session. I was very excited to finally hear Mary Ehrenworth (om/gp/product/0325006881?ie=UTF8&tag=thereazon-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0325006881″>The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language) speak, as she heads the middle school aspects of the Project. She gave a great presentation on working with stronger readers, the ones who are usually left on their own in workshop. She shared some great picture books to use in small groups that allow students to stretch their thinking above and beyond the literal. I ended up with a great list of picture books and plan to order one immediately, for our Holocaust unit.

More importantly, Ehrenworth told the group that we can not expect our students to be readers if we are not readers ourselves. We must share books with them, carry books around, even tell them, “I’m sorry, I didn’t even get to finish planning my lesson last night- I was reading this phenomenal book!” You will teach them more with that non-lesson that you would with any mini-lesson. She also shared a great analogy, courtesy of Lester Laminack. Ask any middle schooler what they can’t wait to do, and invariably you will hear “drive”. We don’t teach them this desire- there are no minilessons, no group discussions, no direct instruction on why driving is great. Instead, their experiences with cars and in cars have made this a natural desire. We need to make reading just as natural a desire. They should want to read, they should desire to read. I can’t wait to share that analogy with some of my colleagues!

My next session with with the famous Lucy Calkins (The Art of Teaching Reading, The Art of Teaching Writing). Her session was standing room only and it was like being in the presence of a celebrity. While she didn’t teach as much as motivate, she was extremely inspiring. She shared some sample writing with us and I still managed to learn a lot.

The third session was one I was looking forward to because it focused on grammar. A project leader (whose name escapes me right now) took us through a typical week of grammar instruction in the middle school she coaches. It was a great marriage of direct instruction and inquiry, and a model I think my district would be satisfied with me pursuing. She also told us that we shouldn’t spend more time planning our grammar lessons that we actually spend teaching grammar. So if we teach 20 minutes of direct instruction grammar during word study, then don’t plan for 3 hours. I took lots of notes in that session and walked out with a booklist of books I must buy! Already I am planning to get Constance Weaver’s The Grammar Plan Book: A Guide to Smart Teaching and Don Killgallon’s Grammar for Middle School: A Sentence-Composing Approach–A Student Worktext. Has any used either of these? Or have a suggestion for where I could find them a little cheaper?

I was very excited for the last session. Georgia Heard shared her poetry unit of study with us and it was phenomenal! First of all, she was a lot younger than I expected (which surprised me, for some reason). It was so inspiring to hear her share her own experiences with poetry in the classroom. I also have a much better understanding of the doors to poetry that she discusses in Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School. I took copious notes in all the sessions, but especially hers, and can’t wait to go back and read them over to let them really sink in.

I swear, I was such a fangirl today. I could have stayed at TC all day, because I was finally in the presence of these men and women who have shaped so much of my teaching. They were practically celebrities to me. To hear my own beliefs and experiences in the classroom affirmed by the Project leaders and the other teachers attending the Reunion really strengthened my resolve to continue what I am doing. It was an invigorating, renewing, energizing day. I would go every month if they offered it! My next goal is to attend a summer institute at TC, as soon as I can afford it (our district doesn’t pay for it). If 5 hours taught me this much today, I can’t imagine what a week would do! I would just need a little more sleep. Getting up at 5am killed me today!!

Oh, and I finally experienced a document camera/ELMO for the first time today. How do I get one in my classroom?! It was amazing! I could already name a million ways I would use it in my classroom!!!

Twisting Arms

A few months ago I purchased a professional book that I was hoping would help me with my persuasive writing unit in writing workshop. When it arrived over the summer, I put it on my shelf and figured I would glance through it when I got to the unit. Normally, I end up with a million professional books that I use 1-2 pages from and then never look at again. It is safe to say I wasn’t expecting a lot from Twisting Arms: Teaching Students How to Write to Persuade.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Over the last few weeks, I have turned to Twisting Arms: Teaching Students How to Write to Persuade over and over again.  For anyone who is working on persuasive writing, this book is perfect!  It is filled to the brim with activities that will help you plan a great unit for any grade level.  This is one of the few professional books in my library that I have used numerous lesson ideas from.  I can’t recommend it enough!

Writer’s Notebook Wednesday

Today, while outside for a fire drill, I noticed that it is almost December. It is cold.  Frigid, almost.  Considering that the temperature on Thanksgiving was a balmy 65 degrees, today’s high of 40 degrees seems practically Arctic.  I notice the red noses on my students and the I’m-freezing-cold-can-we-please-go-in-now(whyisthistakingsolong) hoppity-dance they are doing to keep warm.  The leaves are no longer on the trees and the ground is cold and hard; finally frozen, brown , and dreary.  As I look around, the cold air on my skin and the chattering teeth I hear behind me remind me that Christmas is drawing nearer and winter is here for the long haul.  This gives me the idea that winter and cold will be surrounding me for a while and I should get used to it.  

Some people view winter as the dead time of the year, the low point in the wheel of seasons. Not so, says I. Look around you- the heartbeat of winter beats all around us. Notice the deer hoof prints in the newly fallen snow and imagine the small family scampering across the backyard in the dusky twilight. See the scarlet red flash of a cardinal as it alights from the snowy ground. Listen to the ‘chirp chirp’ of the winter birds as they eat at the birdfeeder. Taste the hot cocoa, with whipped cream and peppermint, as it passes over your lips. Feel the nip of the cold air as it chills your nose. Feel the warmth of the fleece gloves and scarf that you wrap yourself in to shield against the cold. See the snow-white moon in the navy blue sky, with the lone bright star shining in the distance.

 

Winter is beautiful. Stop, look around, appreciate it. Soak in the cold air and the bright sunlight. Relax under a blanket next to a warm, crackling fire. The wheel of seasons has been turning since time began and will keep turning when our time is up; now is our time to be a part of it.

Writing About Reading….Continued

I’ve spent the majority of the day working on my next unit of study for reading.  I am using Calkins’ Literary Essays unit of study in writing as the basis for my reading unit.  I had forgotten just how long it takes to write mini-lessons.  I’m on my fourth lesson and about 3 hours have gone by!  Of course, I am extending that time be even more just by coming to blog. Four minilessons down, so that covers me for the week, at least.  A lot of thinking going on over here, revising the plans I laid out over the summer.  It seems the best-laid plans never work out.  No matter how well I plan in July/August, each class brings new surprises and new information.  Inevitably, those plans are reworked, rearranged, and tweaked a lot.  Hey, at least teaching is never boring! 

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