Where I’m From

This summer, I learned about something called “Where I’m From” poems on the RealWritingTeachers yahoo group. I was intrigued and decided to give them a shot this year. The beginning of the school year is always chaotic because our team doesn’t switch classes until the second week (we are departmentalized) and we are constantly interrupted. I don’t like to jump into anything other than routines and procedures until we are past all that. I decided the poems would be a great way to introduce writing and get a nice Back to School Night display.

I was SHOCKED at how well this went. My 6th graders immediately dove into the project once I showed them the format and my own example. I tweaked a worksheet I found online to make it a fill-in-the-blank for the rough draft. After revising and peer editing, the students typed the pieces and decorated them. They are absolutely stunning. Plus, it was a great way to learn what is important to my students very early in the school year.

Now, to be brave, here is my poem (as an example).

Where I’m From
I am from books,
from Pepsi and the NY Post
I am from hills and grass
(green, soft and smelling like summer).
I am from the milkweed,
the hibiscus brought inside during winter
(an orange and pink sunset growing toward the sun no matter the season).

I’m from “taking a ride” and always being late,
From Jane and Tim.
I’m from the fast talkers and fast walkers,
From eating your crusts and haunted old roads.
I’m from Psalm 23, bagpipes playing hymns, and rosary beads.

I’m from Ireland and Scotland,
Grandmother macaroni and breakfast for dinner.
From the Little Grandfather, a professional football player who jumped
ship in the United Stateswhen sailing as a Merchant Marine,
from Nanny, following Papa around the country during his naval years, raising a son with a husband fighting in a great war.

I am from the photo albums and boxes of pictures in the upstairs closet, telling the stories of a loud, large, and loving family.
I am from dog-eared baby books and school pictures hung over the fireplace

I am from love.

history of a name

This week, my 6th grade class began working in their writer’s notebooks. During the first week of school, we wrote “Where I’m From” poems, which turned out beautifully. Now I want to get them into the habit of writing daily. I started with Aimee Buckner’s history of a name activity. I had not used this before, and I can’t believe how well it worked!

Both of my classes wrote for 20 minutes, completely uninterrupted. When they shared, I learned so much. I pride in the voices of students explaining the Jewish tradition of naming a child after a deceased family member. I learned who hated their name and who thought it was “ok”. Some students wrote about ancestors who came to this country and changed their last name (or had it changed for them) at Ellis Island. Some talked about famous relatives. Some talked about the pride they take in their Hebrew name or Confirmation name. Others talked about who named them or what their name almost became. No matter what they wrote about, they all wrote. And they were all dying to share! It was a great activity to start the year off with!

Monarch Magic

Tomorrow morning, I will leave bright and early to head down to Cape May Point. I will be meeting up with my friends in the
Monarch Teacher Network
, for the semi-annual Teachers for Biodiversity meeting. While this may sound odd for a Language Arts teacher, I raise monarchs with my class every fall. My classroom theme is “Journeys”, as my students are on the final leg of their journey to middle school. They also get the chance to emerge every morning, as a new person. Just like our caterpillars.

At 7am, I will begin the 2 hr drive to Cape May. As Erik, the director, states: “Each year the Teachers for Biodiversity group (a network we support) conducts two, one-day events for somewhere in …. for teachers and their friends/families, the Spring and Fall Gatherings. Because it seems likely this fall will be the best migration of monarch butterflies in over a decade… the 2007 Fall Gathering will be held at Cape May Point on Saturday, September 22… THE PEAK period for monarch migration in NJ with lots of hawk and songbird migration as well. The 2007 Fall Gathering offers the chance to explore Cape May, a world-famous migration site… and to socialize/share knowledge with people who share the same passions… ”

I can not wait for tomorrow. I have never been anywhere that is home to thousands of monarchs at once. I am hoping to see more monarchs than I ever have before. I also hope to see a monarch roost. A roost is when many monarchs (sometimes hundreds!) choose a tree, fence, or other safe area to rest or stay out of bad weather. When monarchs are migrating, they also rest in trees as part of a roost. I have never been lucky enough to see this and hope I can tomorrow!

I am sure I will a ton of pictures tomorrow, and I will be sure to post them!

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

ElsewhereThis book was recommended to me by one of my students. (Tangent- how great is it that I already have students recommending books to me in the first 3 weeks?). I picked it up in the bookstore last night and didn’t put it down until I finished it in reading workshop this afternoon. It is an absolutely amazing book! I highly recommend picking it up. I am shocked I haven’t seen it on many required reading lists. I know my student did read it because an older sibling chose to read it for summer reading, but I see so many possibilities for using this book in the classroom!

The main character, Lizzie (Elizabeth, Liz) is a 15-year old girl who is killed in a hit and run accident. “Elsewhere” is the story of her ‘ afterlife ‘- Elsewhere is where you go after you die. As one would expect, Lizzie is furious that her life was taken from her so suddenly. She struggles with meeting the grandmother who died before she was born, and people she admired from afar in life, like a famous rock star. She is not perfect, she misses Earth, and more than anything wants to live a normal prom and boyfriend-filled life back on earth. I don’t want to write any more than that because this book is an absolute must- read. It challenges your beliefs about life, death, love, and the afterlife. Zelvin writes beautifully and was constantly making me say “wow!” Run out and get this book!

I love having my students recommend books to me. Nothing gives me a greater feeling than having a student say, “What part are you at? Oh my gosh, that is my favorite part! Tell me what you think after this chapter”! I can already tell this is going to be an amazing year in reading workshop. I can also tell I will be buying a lot of recommendations to add to our library!!

Alright, I’m off to read “A Mango-Shaped Space”, another recommendation from a student!

Specials by Scott Westerfeld

I am a huge fan of this series and was so glad to see “Specials” out in paperback. See, I own the first two in paperback and I want to keep the formats the same. It’s a weird quirk. 😉 Anyway, I really enjoyed this book.

“Specials” continues to follow the story of Tally Youngblood. She has become a Special, and more specifically a Cutter. Cutters are extreme specials, created by the government. Tally is happy because she is able to work with Shay and they are always icy. (By the way, it’s amusing how I pick up some of the slang from this series!). Of course, nothing is ever easy for Tally. She begins missing her boyfriend, Zane. And the Smokies are causing more trouble than ever. Tally is forced to make some very difficult choices about who she is and who she wants to become. Her choices now affect her friends, city, and the wider world.

One of the over-arching themes that I really enjoy in this series is the idea of taking care of our world and environment. Tally’s world is the way it is because the Rusties (us!) destroyed the earth by over-building and using dangerous weapons like bioterrorism. There really are some great lessons in here.

School started 2.5 weeks ago, and two of my girls are completely in love with the Uglies trilogy. They have been walking around with their noses in “Pretties” for days! They can even tell you when the next installment, “Extras”, comes out. Well, they were ecstatic when I told them this morning that I saw “Extras” at Barnes and Noble last night- two weeks early! They were going out to buy it tonight. How great is that?????