Friday, September 25, 2015

on reading (and quite a few other things)

It's Poetry Friday, and if you're new to this blogging tradition, go here for an overview!

I'm having a conversation with myself--and others--about reading.  At the copier yesterday a short exchange about "stories that teach lessons" and whether "theme" = "lesson" led to a fervent and unexpected rant about my belief that writers don't write stories or novels or poems principally to "teach lessons" but to tell stories, and that if the author's purpose is to teach a lesson then her work of literature tends to suffer.

Meanwhile, I'm finding more time to read for myself, and discovering that while I've had periods of being the quintessential Voracious Reader, I'm more discerning now. After my initial childhood VRP (Voracious Reader Period) ended, around about high school, all those books I downed by the handful like popcorn have left little lasting impression; the books and poems that stay with me now are those that I have read slowly, stewing in them over days and weeks rather than hours and days.  I'm much more likely to bid farewell to a book before finishing it, and those I do finish I return to repeatedl in my mind and my conversations.  Thus I read many fewer books than I once did.

This doesn't alarm me as it used to.  In the classroom, too, my tendency is to move slowly through our shared reading.  I was delighted to unpack my hundreds of books for 2nd grade (in my particular K experience, there WAS such a thing as too many books, especially when we didn't prioritize independent reading).  But whatever the grade, when I'm planning for literature experiences, I have to ignore the curriculum suggestions that we whiz through book after book, although many of the titles are worthy.  To me, at the beginning of the year especially, a class needs just a few well-chosen anchor texts, the ones that we read through slooooowwwly and repeatedly, the ones that we know so well we can quote and look back to whenever we need a reference for structure or theme or vocabulary.  They provide context for our shared social and academic experience.

My curriculum this week (well actually last week; I'm a little behind, being new and all) is unusual because our single reading selection is the Junior Great Books version of The Red Balloon, a story by Albert Lamorisse set in Paris in the 50's that became this famous, almost wordless short film.  We are tackling it using the JGB approach (which I will say is hard to fit in when our whole-group lessons are to be 15-20 minutes).  I resisted this expectation not because I have anything against The Red Balloon, but because it seemed not obviously connected to anything else we're doing....

And then, in our small group discussions after reading only the first half of The Red Balloon, I sat with Gordy's group of the "lowest" readers.  Gordy is an English language learner and reads and writes at the most basic level in my class, but he was the one who said, "The balloon is like the pebble in Sylvester." The ability to elaborate was not available to him, so his buddy Byron C. had to make it plain for me: "Yeah, they're both red and they're  round and they're magic." 

*MIND BLOWN.*  In my rush to keep up and do some of the same things as other 2nd grade classes, I hadn't noticed the rich possibility here.  At the same time, I don't think Gordy and Byron would have been equipped to make this powerful connection if they didn't OWN Sylvester and the Magic Pebble so thoroughly from our long, slow experience of it in the first weeks of school.  I can't wait to finish The Red Balloon and see if some children still think there's a dog or mouse or butterfly inside the balloon to make it act the way it does!

Today, if I can squeeze it in around our Media Specialist-led nutrition research project (can I bring in red Skittles or M&M's to compare, say, to raspberries?), it will be Poetry Friday, and I will support further connections with this poem, first published in Canadian poet Colleen Thibaudeau’s book of concrete poems, Lozenges: Poems in the Shapes of Things, by the Alphabet Press in 1965.  It's also collected in Paul Janeczko's A Poke in the I.

For a teacher and a bunch of 7-year-olds bent on making connections, could there be a more perfect poem?

The round-up this week is with Sylvia at Poetry for Children, where she's joined by Janet Wong for a discussion of National Hispanic Heritage Month.  Next week it will be my turn to host!  And here's the movie for anyone who has 35 minutes to spend...

Friday, September 18, 2015

diamond shiners & Cybils news

I missed Poetry Friday last week while I was out communing with nature at my congregational retreat, but behind the scenes I was awaiting news.  I had applied for the first time to serve as a panelist/judge for the Cybils Awards--the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards--and now I can announce, with a frisson of excitement, that I won!

Well, I didn't literally win anything, but it feels like I've won some kind of prize myself, having the opportunity to participate in the process and to work with poetry-bloggin' friends old and new.  See the illustrious list below.  Once the nominations for poetry books come in--and this year the Poetry Category includes verse novels--we'll be reading and discussing and conferring and eventually selecting an outstanding poetry book published in the last year for children and young adults.  Whoo-hoo!
ROUND 1 PANELISTS:  Nancy Bo Flood, Irene Latham, Jone Rush MacCulloch, Margaret Simon,
                                          Tricia Stohr-Hunt, Carol Wilcox, Sylvia Vardell
ROUND 2 JUDGES:  Linda Baie, Rosemary Marotta, Diane Mayr, Heidi Mordhorst, Laura Shovan

Meanwhile (which I have just this moment realized is one of my favorite words ever, my favorite concepts ever), in Room 203, we have succeeded in naming ourselves!  It was a multiday process involving lots of voting and yes, a fair bit of teacher spin, but it's worked out well.  We are not Ms. Mordhorst's Magic Pebbles (although that name was nominated), but Ms. Mordhorst's...
Diamond Miners!

And here is the poem I wrote to commemorate this effort, which is designed to communicate to 7-year-olds what the hard work of second grade is all about.  We're using it during Morning Meeting for a "passing greeting," using a glass diamond very conveniently discarded last week by my spouse, who had long ago received it as a volunteer award.  (Thanks, Fiona!)

Diamond Miners,
       diamond diggers,
finding all the precious rocks.
Diamond Miners,
       diamond shiners--
lock them in your treasure box.

~ HM 2015 (c)

We pass the diamond around the circle in rhythm with the poem (which instantly became a chant).  Whomever it lands on is greeted by the whole class and then sits down as the diamond continues around the circle.  The last person standing has the hilarious job of passing the diamond back and forth to him- or herself!  They love it.  And I promise that as the year goes by we'll address this idea of mining and make sure that we understand the environmental implications as well as we can in 2nd grade.  They already are beginning to understand that their brains and hearts are both internal treasure boxes.

The roundup this week is with Michelle at Today's Little Ditty...I bet there are some poetry treasures to mine over there too!

Friday, September 4, 2015

second grade rocks

our school has a really big rock out in front
"Letter by letter, the bigger the better--
Great big words!"                                      --Michael Mark & Tom Chapin

And so a new school year begins, with a change from the tiniest full-timers at the school--the kindergarteners--to the not-very-much-bigger second-graders.  Looking back now at my consternation* over this change, I realize that I believed that 7-year-olds would be simultaneously* less innocent and more challenging* than 5-year-olds, less imaginative* and more conservative* than 5-year-olds, less new and sparkly and more ordinary*.

I must have had rocks in my head.  Second grade rocks, especially in the first week of school!  They do not consider themselves too grown-up to enjoy the same greetings and singing games as the 5's, but when you say "Please line up," they already know how to do it.  They were thrilled to climb all over the big rock, but they were able to stop climbing and thoughtfully describe it. And they are very into vocabulary* and learning great big words as well as different words for the same thing.  Just yesterday we compared vomit, puke, barf and throw up in our discussion of the very few things that might interrupt our work on Independent Reading Stamina.  (We reached 10 minutes by Thursday, without nausea* or emesis.*)  Perhaps "Magic Pebbles" would not be a wrong class name after all...thesey are small and shiny and smooth and powerful, just like Sylvester's Magic Pebble.

You'll understand why the following might be the first Poetry Friday poem for our Poetry Anthologies.  I found it in The Walker Book of Poetry for Children

Flint | Christina Rossetti

An emerald is as green as grass,
       A ruby red as blood;
A sapphire shines as blue as heaven;
      A flint lies in the mud.

A diamond is a brilliant stone,
     To catch the world's desire;
An opal holds a fiery spark;
     But a flint holds fire.

The round-up today is with Linda Baie at TeacherDance, one of the several Poetry Friday participants who generously contributed to my DonorsChoose project.  I'm thrilled and grateful to say that my request for 4 Kindle Fire HD tablets, intended for allowing kids to enjoy the ever-growing array of online read-aloud sites and apps, was fully funded in less than a week!  However, it's not too late to help,  Any additional donations will come to my classroom in the form of gift cards that I can use to purchase headphones and cases for the tablets.  Long live crowd-funding, and thanks!