Saturday, November 22, 2014

welcome, roundtable participants!

It's nice to meet you online as well as in person (which is itself a welcome change from meeting folks first onlne and THEN in person)!

Please peruse the last half-dozen or so posts with the labels "science series," and then feel free to nose around my juicy little universe for anything else that might be of use to you.  From every post you can leave me a comment asking for materials, sources or ideas.

Thanks for visiting!

Friday, November 21, 2014

live from NCTE 14!

Oh, my--is it Friday already?! It's just as well that I didn't post earlier this morning, because what there is to write about is happening RIGHT NOW.  My first session was about the Newtown Poetry Project, a program that began in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012.  There was every reason in the world to offer families a way to respond through poetry, but I was fascinated to learn that the events themselves were not addressed in the Poetry Project.  Instead, the aim of the writer/teacher and the parent/poet/professor who initiated the program was just to share poetry lessons and invite writing. 

As the 6-week evening program progressed, the leaders realized that the children were responding to the invitation in joyful, spontaneous ways that the adults of their wounded community were finding difficult.  Their solution was to build collaboration into the lessons--collaboration between adults and children and among members of different families.  Here is one of the resulting "exquisite corpse" collaborative poems, from which the title of their first collection, In the Yellowy Green Phase of Spring, comes.

The Great Unknown || Newtown Poetry Project 2013

From here, I can see the world
We are in the yellowy green phase of spring
Birds fly in the sky a lot during spring
Some people like to write in a journal
I like to write about flying birds
My cat, the fluffiest cat in the world, purred softly on my lap
I saw the flag at the front of the room jerking like a chained bulldog
The umbrella flew open as the wind took it
I wish I could wake up with a few less unknowns

It was an excellent session all around, but my favorite idea was to do with how, so often, we approach poetry with a "field trip" mentality, as a one-off unit or author visit rather than as the ongoing, recursive, shared meaning-making that it was from our preliterate beginnings.  I love the idea that every community needs a structure in place for community poetry, whether in times of tragedy or in times of ordinary, glorious life.

You can read here about the second volume from the Project's Spring 2014 session--From the Plain White Table, and if you listen closely you'll hear the gears and engines of my mind revving up for the Rock View Poetry Project...

The Poetry Friday Roundup is with Becky today at Tapestry of Words.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

on the science of poetry

CLA Master Class: Poetry Across the Curriculum
NCTE 2014

Within both poetry and science beat the twin hearts of observation and imagination. In my kindergarten classroom, we talk about Noticing and Wondering--about how using your five senses to attend to the world all around, and about how asking questions and testing out guesses, make you smarter.

Both poets and scientists begin their work with close observation.  The most striking poems stand on the poet’s ability to help us notice something familiar in a new way.  Ground-breaking, life-changing science is built on the scientist’s ability to wonder how something familiar works or might be put to work. Both pursuits are deeply creative.

I emphasize this broader view of the scientific process because it can be difficult to achieve the right conditions for laboratory experimentation in the elementary classroom--but it is always possible to facilitate observation and imagination.

Poetry is a powerful tool for inspiring a scientific turn of mind: on the front end as introduction, and later as a means for recording and summary.  Let’s look at how a series of well-selected poems can lead into, enrich and then expand a study of leaves—an easily accessible, versatile and essential natural resource.

For the youngest students, begin with something simple and active like Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s “Raking.” (2011)  For older students, start with the intoxicating “Plenty” of autumn leaves (Mordhorst 2009).  Next, draw children’s attention to a single leaf with Merriam’s “Reply to the Question: How Can You Become a Poet?” (Hoberman 2009).

Already in the first lines of this poem students are coached in how to really look at a thing, and in becoming both scientist and poet.  By the end, they have used all their faculties to consider the lowly, perfect leaf.  Now is the time to fetch bags of leaves into the classroom and to compare, sort, identify and label quantities of (free!) leaves.

“A hole is to dig,” (Krauss 1952) but what is a leaf?  Laura Salas provides plenty of answers in A Leaf Can Be (2012)— “Shade spiller/Mouth filler/Tree topper/Rain stopper”.  What else can your students think of?  Challenge them to engineer new uses for different kinds of actual leaves. 

Does your curriculum include life cycle and ecology studies?  Share “In Hardwood Groves” (Frost 1926), emphasizing the cyclical nature of “the same leaves over and over again” going “down into the dark decayed.”

Finally, offer students the opportunity to write their own leaf poems. Some will describe, some will invent, some will teach in their poems. If you have children who need a scaffold, open their twin hearts of observation and imagination with the line, “I thought I knew leaves, but now…”  Answering this question of how we know what we know is the poetry of science.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Poetry Friday & NCTE

The time draws near and I'm getting excited...the NCTE Annual Convention begins next Thursday, November 20!  I'm looking forward, as I do every year, to spending some time surrounded by fellow teachers who are passionate about English language and literature teaching.  It's also the time of year when I get to hang out in person with the blogging poets and teachers whom I "see" each Friday right here in the virtual Poetry Friday community.  Click here to find out more about the six-year-old Poetry Friday tradition.
Out of these steadily inspiring virtual relationships has come a great gift to teachers--the Poetry Friday Anthologies, created and compiled by two champions of children's poetry, professor and cheerleader Sylvia Vardell and poet and community organizer Janet Wong.  Their mission to support teachers in bringing more poetry into  classrooms began with an e-book--Poetry Tag Time--a concept which I am proud to have been a little helpful in developing.

There are now three Poetry Friday Anthologies--one for K-5, one for middle school, and most recently one for science.  Over the last few weeks I've been highlighting science poetry by "classic" poets, but The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science is a catalog of the best poets currently writing for children, all in one place, supporting teachers as they attempt to do Too Much All at Once.

I'm a classroom teacher.  I know what our curricula look like.  Someone in our central office (or several someones) puts together a ginormous pile of standards, indicators, lessons and resources in an effort to help us classroom professionals offer our students a rich and "rigorous" curriculum.  (Personally I prefer a rich and vigorous curriculum; somehow "rigor" always make me think of dead bodies, stiff and cold.)  The effect is almost always an overwhelming feeling of dread as we look ahead each week to all that we are supposed to do and teach in our measly 6 hours per day with our students.  The triage is bloody and there is only one solution:  synergy.
syn·er·gy  ˈsinərjē/    noun

the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects

Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
We also call this "integrating the curriculum," but when your curriculum is delivered to you in several separate binders or individual webpages labeled Math, Reading, Writing, Science and Social Studies, it can be hard to remember that none of these "subjects" stands alone and separate--not in our adult minds, and certainly not  the minds of elementary students.  That's just not how people think and learn.

There is always a necessity to get down into the details of how to teach each little skill and concept, but if we let that approach run our days in the classroom, we rob our students of the chance to marvel at the beauty of the interdependent web of ideas, knowledge and indeed all existence.

So how do we successfully attempt Too Much All at Once?  One way is to use poetry to address other curriculum areas.   This will be the subject of the Children's Literature Assembly Master Class that I'll be helping to lead at this year's NCTE conference.  My roundtable discussion will focus on ways to use poetry to teach science and vice versa--to synergize the elements of language, metaphor, curiosity, investigation, research and data into a whole that becomes a powerful tool for student engagement and learning.  The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science takes us there with next to no effort (although we will need some courage, if we're not teachers who live entirely comfortably in the world of poetry).

Here's a shout-out to my colleagues at Rock View Elementary School in North Kensington, MD, some of whom will win copies of The PFA for Science in a raffle on Monday.  I'll close with one of my personal favorites from this anthology, placed in the 1st grade section but accessible to elementary kids of all ages.  It's by Mary Lee Hahn, my friend and fellow classroom teacher from Dublin, Ohio, who will also be presenting at the CLA Master Class next weekend.  See how few words--well-chosen words!--you need to bring rhyme, rhythm, scientific concepts and higher-order thinking to your students?

The Lion and the House Cat ||  Mary Lee Hahn

different strength
different size
same chin
same eyes

different mane
different stride
same stretch
same pride

And below are a few snippets and excerpts from this wonder of a book, all taken from the Pomelo Books website.  Go on and make your teaching life a little more efficient and a little more beautiful:  commit to Poetry Friday (once a month? every other week? every Friday?) and get yourself one of these anthologies to help out.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Keri at Keri Recommends.  Enjoy!


encouraging citizen science

Friday, November 7, 2014

science series V

We've been exploring some science poetry by authors you might call "classic"-- Robert Frost, Eve Merriam, Valerie Worth.  Today let's top and bottom our world with work from two more classics, Christina Rossetti and Walt Whitman.  Both these Victorian contemporaries are considered poets for adults, but we never let that stop us from finding poems that are accessible to children, do we?

You can see my post about "Clouds" by Rossetti here--it is the perfect introduction to metaphor for the very youngest students. Sinking from sky to sea, we land in...

The World Below the Brine || Walt Whitman

The world below the brine,

Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves,

Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds, the thick tangle, openings, and pink turf,

Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold, the play of light through the water,

Dumb swimmers there among the rocks, coral, gluten, grass, rushes, and the aliment of the swimmers,

Sluggish existences grazing there suspended, or slowly crawling close to the bottom,

The sperm-whale at the surface blowing air and spray, or disporting with his flukes,

The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy sea-leopard, and the sting-ray,

Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes, sight in those ocean-depths, breathing that thick-breathing air, as so many do,

The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air breathed by beings like us who walk this sphere,

The change onward from ours to that of beings who walk other spheres.
  This is a poem whose structure and richness would overwhelm most kids in a kindergarten full of English language learners, unless we were delving deeply into ocean studies, which doesn't happen in our curriculum.  But for students about 2nd grade and up--what a feast!

 I might begin with everyone mixing water and LOTS of salt to make brine, and discussing whether we would be able to survive in that much salt.  This sensory experience becomes important as the poem moves toward its demanding--maybe even intimidating--ending.

 This poem alternates beautifully among lines full of "ordinary" words likely well-known to students (lines 2, 4 and 8), lines that introduce words and syntax likely to be unfamiliar (lines 3, 6 and 7), and then some lines, like 5 and the last three, that use extrordinarily complex language and syntax to ask the reader what turns out to be a fairly simple question: how are we like sea creatures?

Because this poem is rather heavy-going in terms of vocabulary and incorporates a list element, it lends itself to choral reading, with single voices and small groups speaking (acting? in Kindergarten we ALWAYS act out our poems!) the piled-on names of the denizens of the world below the brine.  In the end, this is one of those poems where you might not need to UNDERSTAND every phrase or idea to feel the wonder of the whole--but isn't it the mystery and wonder of the whole that makes scientists want to delve deeply into the detailed How?

Delve yourselves deep into the world of Poetry Friday over at Random Noodling with Diane today.