Monday, May 25, 2015

Sharing the Power of a Great Book

Every week or so my class send me a letter about a book they are reading. I love hearing their reactions to the stories they read and what they think of the characters they meet.
As I sit here reading, cup of tea in my hand and my cat on my lap. I am totally blown away by their growth over the year and their incredible insights into what they read. I see them really connecting with their books. Their comprehension level goes so far beyond knowing the story. The children show how they are emotionally affected by their books, expressing wonder, happiness and also anger and sadness. Their work is honest, some opening up about their own feelings as they see themselves in the characters they meet. They also show an understanding of the importance of not just the words but the power of the illustrations as a vital part of the book, be it informational or fiction. I see them reading as writers and writing as readers. All the children write with their own voice, their emotion coming through, effectively sharing the joy in the book they have just read.
Arthur read "Out of My Mind" by Sharon Draper
"Sometimes it makes me think, how could I be able to go through life and elementary school without being able to express myself in any way. She must have been so strong but so weak at the same time. It's mind-blowing, truly mind-blowing....But most of all I like the description, the feelings, the sounds! ....It all seems so real, it's like in in the room with her, living and breathing, but I'm not actualy there. I mean it's sort of like I'm looking through her eyes, speaking through her mouth."
Grace read "Spirit Animals- Blood ties" 
"I really felt really sad and shocked when a whole war busted out, and it went on for a long time, but then when it ended I couldn't believe what was written. What was written was just so sad, it had be crying like a little baby, it got to me real bad, because I didn't want to have any people , or animals die, but I didn't have a say. I wish I had a say....I liked the tension. It was building up between the chapter where the person was dying. I just wanted to scream!"
Sam read "Dumb Diaries"
"Do you ever notice drawings that are supposed to look hand-drawn but are really really, REALLY detailed, I mean, it looks awesome.  Anyway, the author makes Angeline look like, a well, GODDESS! As for poor sweet, lovable Jamie, the author makes her look kind of what I would probably write as average....Yet ANOTHER reason that I like this book is that the author makes the story so believable, that sometimes I forget that I'm reading a book!"
Mallory read "The Imaginary"
"The main reason I liked The Imaginary  was because the story was a story of persistence and friendship. Most of the story Rudger is looking for Amanda, and will stop at nothing to find her. The author was able to make Rudger's emotions so real and deep that I couldn't help but feel a great amount of sympathy for him, even though he isn't real in real life or in the book. Any author with that ability deserves an award. The way he writes is what makes the book ABSOLUTELY OUTSTANDING."
Lila read "My Life is Horrible" - written by Lila herself
"You just want to feel sad for her, and in the funny and happy parts you feel her happiness and it just makes you want to laugh....In some books the main character is so dry and just not interesting, but this character had emotions."
Stella read "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon"
"Minli is brave, she left home to do something for her family's fortune, and met much danger along the way. but Minli was tough. I admire Minli a lot, she is who I'd want to be if I were in the book....Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is wonderful. When I open it up, I can never put it down, when I finally close it and out it down, I want to pick it up all over again. The rope that pulls me in is strong."
Jude read "The Imaginary"
"The Imaginary made me feel really sad because it made me think of Cracker and Ken, the fading away thing that happens to imaginaries when we grow older. The Imaginary made me think about how people are friends with other people, but they don't want to tell anyone else. "
Sophia read "Ocean Food Webs"
"Most of all I like this book because it talkes about all the living things that lie in the ocean from plankton or orca whales...The photographs are amazing, I really recommend it. There's one picture that is so beautiful that when I saw it I had to put the book down for a minute and regroup."
Sydney read "Oh Brother, Oh Sister"
"I think this book would be very useful to every girl out there who has problems with their sister. And remember, whether it's a brother, or sister you fight with they always will and forever love you. You can count on it....It helped me to solve fights with my sister, it really helps."
Tally read "AART"
"I really liked how they didn't actually have to draw what they looked like, they didn't even have to draw people. They really did real art and it made it really beautiful...It was inspiring and you could learn from it and that's cool and amazing. It brings people closer. AART stands for more than prettiness it stands for who you are in every way."
Dylan read "George"
"The emotion in this book is outstanding, whenever George shouted I wanted to too. I almost cried when I got to the part where the teacher denied her. It doesn't seem huge but to someone who cannot express themselves, it's heartbreaking...Wow! If anyone doesn't think this book sends a message they're crazy."

Monday, March 30, 2015

Telling our story with objects

Today I decided to ask the children to think like historians. I wanted them to learn that objects can tell us a story. My end goal for the next few lessons is to guide their thinking about how objects can tell us about the past, how objects can become different pieces in a story about the past.
So I asked them to pick five objects in the classroom that told the story of us, of our class and what we do here. I was so surprised at what they came up with I just had to share it.
The first clue that something different was going to happen was when Tally asked " Can we do this metaphorically?"  As I was being open to their thoughts I replied, "sure, that sounds interesting." Now thinking purely as a historian I might not have gone there, but we are exploring and I was intrigued.
Each group quite quickly came up with five objects and were easily able to write down the reason for choosing each object. Here are their thoughts.
Mallory, Lila and Sydney
A photograph of me – representing the importance of the teacher  (nice to hear!)
Maraca – straightforward representation of music but also the deeper thought that our classroom is  festive and happy
Belt – friendship - "friends tied together" and the connections between us
Word study book – writing down ideas and continually making them better
scissors and glue – our close community, "we know how to help each other when in sticky situations.”
As interesting were the comments that followed. Arthur commented that "a musical instrument could also represent how we express ourselves."
The first group had actually started out very simply. They had picked the workbooks to literally show the work that was being done. Then the group felt like it didn't tell the whole story. "The belt started the whole symbolic vibe" said Lila "The workbooks had no emotion."
Tally and Dylan
Glue – us sticking together as a community.
Crayon – one in a million we are all very unique.
Binoculars – seeing each other as we truly are.
Sharpie – how our ideas stand – they can change things, they are permanent.
Clock – the time ticking – we are persistent – the clock never stops.
This set of items also encouraged comments. Mallory noticed the use of the glue stick as a very different symbol then their group. Dylan replied that her group's glue was like their group's belt. Sophia added onto the binoculars metaphor saying that "with binoculars you can see more than with regular eyes, you can see what people are like." Jude added "we look out for each other."
                                                                    Sam and Jude
The book “Trouble Talk” - representing both the role of guidence class and friendship
 Map – the whole world where we live, and how to navigate through life.
Ping Pong - Sam's fiction story  representing the improvements the class had made with their writing.
Investigations book – tells the story of our math program, not just naked numbers but real problem solving.
A copy of the schedule –  represents what we do each day – how we work together.
Comments included Mallory noticing that their objects were "half telling a story and half metaphorical." Dylan added that she sees the map a representation of "how far we've gone this year."
Arthur and Grace
Computer – representing choices we make about writing style, and also our best work.
Rubics Cube creativity, thought and imagination.
Book – reading, growth, knowledge and imagination.
Pencil - thought and writing.
Eraser – going over your work and thinking about it
Mallory noted that she liked how they put imagination in almost everything . "I love what you did with the eraser. If you think you don't have a good idea, you don't have to keep it. There are good ideas and bad ideas. Kind of opposite of what Dylan and Tally had." Arthur added that he felt the eraser represented that"it is okay to start over."
Stella and Sophia
Dictionary – learning new things about writing and reading, all of our knowledge.
Marker – creativity
Eraser – erase mistakes and not being afraid to start over.
Rubics cube – everyone is unique – all the different colors and the little people on it too.
Paper dolls – our community and everyone is unique
Samantha noticed the importance of being both a community and being unique and that the group had included two objects to represent that. Sophia replied that they had at first noticed the rosebud paper and chose it to represent "children blooming, learning new things."
What struck me most about this experience was that the children went immediately to the habits of mind, the dispositions and social aspects of their learning. The objects represented not subjects that they were learning but practice with life experiences. They showed that those are the things they are working on, those are the things that are important to them. It was a joy to watch them thinking in this way, and made me feel so happy about the work that we do.
When thinking like historians, we pick objects that tell us about a time in history. We draw conclusions about what we find and piece together a story. Of course, the children live their story and have applied symbolic meanings to their objects based on their own experiences. But it certainly gears them up for thinking about the significance of objects and why they might be significant in a historical study.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Patience Salgado helps us find our call

We have been working so much on different projects about stopping litter that it was time to refocus.  We have made reusable bags to lessen the use of grocery bags, started a hankie factory to lessen the use of tissues. We have laminated our anti-littering posters and placed them around campus, our "I vow to not litter" board is full of signatures. We have picked up litter on our campus and in the city, and we've started looking into launching a world wide social media campaign. Some of the children were concerned that we had too many disparate things going on. Taking their lead I felt we needed to slow down a little, figure out why we were doing all these different things and then refocus our thoughts. Anna once again to the rescue, she called in Patience Salgado to help us - Patience is known as the Kindness Girl ( She has made a life of spreading kindness and has even undertaken a project with the local trash men that inspired our thankyou notes.
Patience told us about some of her projects, then invited the children to share theirs. So they told her about their goal of ridding the world of litter. How they had had litter pick ups not only at school but also at Abner Clay Park. How they had put up signs and invited others to share in picking up the trash. They told her about their thank you notes for the trash men and how they wanted to throw them a party. The discussion was animated as the class gleefully told her all they had done, they are so proud of their work.
The class were then invited to focus in on their work and to think of it in the categories of:
Humanity - What do we have in common? How are we in this thing together?
Advocacy - What do we want to change in the world? Who do we want to empower?
Community - School? Neighborhood? City? World?
Whais important? Simple? Accessible? Free/low cost?
Guerilla - What do we want to say?  What do we want to rise?
On large sheets of paper the children crowded around the tables eargerly  sharing  their
ideas. IMG_3517 IMG_3510 IMG_3514 IMG_3508 "Let's stop litter together."      "Respect the trash collectors."     " A healthy planet"
"I would like to make a litter free world."
"I want to talk with the trash people and help them receive respect."
"I want people to understand people do so much for us, like the trash men."
"People need to understand the problem and what people do for them."
"I want people to think differently about litter."
They also decided that their project needed to be public, involve the community and be BIG!
Breaking down their project into these categories really helped the class focus in on their project. To remind them of the main ideas of their work, and their intentions. Also Patience was so intrigued by their work, and so on board with what they were trying to accomplish, that the children really did feel that they were indeed making a difference with what they were doing.  She noticed that they were "trying to change the world's attitude towards litter, and educating each other.....knowing what the problem is and how it affects us."
They then had to be sure of their Call. What is a call? Patience explained to them that it is something they need to do, something they have a passion for and only works if they believe in it.
At the end of a wonderfully rich discussion Patience asked us to keep checking in with her. She told the class "I am so grateful for you and am proud that you are in our city."
So all geared up we headed back to think about our call- what did we really want to accomplish? Do all these different things we are doing match with our goal?
Working closely with Anna we relooked at our original question for our project.
"How can we make Richmond a better place for children?" Then brainstormed on how to match it with what we were doing.
So we picked out the important words and reordered them on paper.P1110199 P1110198 P1110197 P1110196
We now have our call.
"We want to make Richmond a clean happy place by picking up litter, and we think that making it fun is important to add to the happiness and brightness. If everyone picks up litter we can leave positive messages and create a positive idea of Richmond." 
I think that is pretty attainable!
 "This project was made possible by an award from Partners in the Arts."

Monday, February 2, 2015

Martin Luther King Day of Service

What a fantastic day at Abner Clay Park and Monroe Park!
Our class is so involved in the horridness of litter and ridding the world of it that we decided to stick with this idea to make Richmond a better place for children, and for all.
We were looking for another place to pick up trash and Anna suggested Abner Clay Park. One of the class groups had been interested in city playgrounds so this was a great choice. The class had remade their trash picker uppers and were ready to test them out.  So with backpacks full of supplies: gloves, spare gloves, sketchbooks and pencils, and re-designed trash picker uppers in hand we set off for Clay Abner Park.
Once there the children got right to work, they worked non-stop for over one hour, steadfastly ridding the park of litter.
They were amazed at how much litter there was. They commented on the signs that were there telling park goers not to smoke or drink alcohol, that glass was not allowed. They were appalled as they spotted hundreds of cigarette butts, and beer bottles and bottle caps.
They even found an old cell phone and a watch!
Even the parents got involved! Tally's dustpan and brush was invaluable for sweeping up the litter! We weighed each bag as it was filled and ended up picking up about 40lbs of litter which we depositied in the trash cans right there in the park.
The children wondered why there was so much litter about as there were alot of trash cans!
We ended the day at Monroe Park, meeting the rest of lower school and the preschool.
Even the weather co-operated - such a successful day!REL_1170
"This project was made possible by an award from Partners in the Arts."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Thanking our trash collectors

Children love to do meaningful work. I always find that when they feel their work is useful or relevant the quality is always amazing.  As part of our litter project, the children were brainstorming ways of getting in touch with the trash collectors. We had lots of ideas. Anna sent an email with their questions to the city, but we hadn't yet heard back and the children really wanted to do something for them. They have been so appalled with litter that they wanted to let the trash collectors know that they were appreciated. So, Anna, our atelierista, who is always the problem solver, gave them a provocation - how about a thank you card. They loved this idea and brainstormed how they could get them to the trash collectors. Leaving a note on the trash can was the consensus. Anna again took their idea a step further,  to make three dimensional cards that would stand out when placed on a trash can. The children had been worried that the cards may be mistaken for trash.
So they created cards in the studio.  As you can see the cards were beautiful.
IMG_3397 IMG_3394 IMG_3388 IMG_3387 IMG_3386 IMG_3398
It was coming up to winter break so I asked the children to send a picture or report back the response to their kindness.  It was so wonderful to hear what had happened.
photo 2 photo 3 photo 1 copy 2IMG_1679 photo 1 copy IMG_20150105_094845
"She was delirously happy as she got a wave, a "Thankyou" shout out, and honking from the driver."
"They honked the horn in thanks"
These reponses were so special to the children and their seemingly small thing became huge to them. The work was meaningful, it gave them joy and sent joy to some important people in their neighborhood, They so enjoyed the opportunity to reach out and make someone's day.
They are now ready to take their litter campaign global!
"This project was made possible by an award from Partners in the Arts."

Student Documentation

Sometimes it is just about putting the right tools in their hands.
This year I wanted to focus on having the children start to document their own work. We now have three ipads as well as a classroom camera. I have noticed such a huge change in the way the children have been using the tools. I made them available to them but did not prompt them to use them, prefering instead to just observe and see what they did.
At first the children were very interested in taking photos with the iPads. Not only do they take pictures but without a suggestion from me are deleting ones that are blurry or ones they don't like. We can all learn a lesson from that move! They were mostly using them to capture light images in science at first. They then experimented with video, again mostly in science, recording phenomena that they noticed or had questions about.
Recently, this has changed. The class just compeleted individual or small group projects investigating a science concept of their own interest. Two groups decided to share their work through the creation of a video. They spent time figuring out how to keep the camera still, how to get the best shots and how to keep the audience interested. When shared, the class loved them.
During this sharing two other children decided, on their own to document all the presentations. Holding the camera still is still an issue but they are thinking hard about lighting, positioning and what to capture. They asked permission of their classmates to document before starting to film.
I am seeing all these things that I had intended to teach, yet they are already beyond the basics. They easily use the equipment as tools, with respect to both their classmates and the machines.
This week we re-embarked on our project about the trash in Richmond. We took a field trip off campus armed with about 4 cameras and two iPads. One student filmed us while we walked, capturing snippets of talking as well as the walk and the litter itself.  Lots of pictures were taken. When we returned the class, the children uploaded their pictures, chose and edited them to their satisfaction. Discovering by themselves how to crop and style the pictures.
DSCN8548 IMG_3842 IMG_3843
During discussions I usually am the notetaker. As Susan and Anna had been with us on the walk, Anna led, and Susan documented the discussion. One of the students had an ipad with them and was also taking notes on the discussion. Thus encouraged, another student started writing the main points of the discussion on the board. It is still up there for us all to refer to.
I am so amazed at how the simple addtion of new, yet simple tools have so encourgaged the children to take charge in documenting their own learning.

Just returning to blogger with a new class and a new set of posts.