Poetry Friday: Nothing is Lost by Noel Coward

Poetry Friday is hosted by Violet at Violet Nesdoly | Poems

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I will be going through tomorrow with blinkers on, I know, moving ahead with my teaching, and then preparing to march on Saturday. I will be trying not to think about what will be  transpiring all day: the  seismic shift in our national political landscape – moving from the Obama era of hope into… well, who knows?

It has been a week of saying goodbye to a President who did his best to lift us up, and move us forward.  I cried through the farewell address and the press conference, knowing that it will be a long time before see a successor as filled with grace and dignity as the man who has served us these past eight years.

So, what poem to share this Poetry Friday, when there is such a palpable sense of fear and doom?  Here is one by Noel Coward, which, captures my current nostalgia for January 2008:

Nothing is Lost  by Noel Cowad

Deep in our sub-conscious, we are told
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, out-moded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy, before
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night.

#IMWAYR It’s Monday! Here’s What I’m Reading: Some Writer & Witness

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.

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Melissa Sweet’s Some Writer: The Story of E. B. White is one of those books you just want to carry around with you all the time, just so that you can have the pleasure of reading it over and over again, savoring the words and glorying in the artwork.  Here, for instance, is one page I return to time and time again:

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What I love about that page (apart from the fact that it centers around one of my favorite passages from Charlotte’s Web) is what I love about this book as a whole – it is such a magical celebration of E.B. White’s life, work, and brilliant imagination.

Melissa Sweet tells the story of White’s life, tracing the arc of his boyhood through his years  at the New Yorker and to the writing years that gave us cherished books like Charlotte’s Web.  I loved learning how White worked through his ideas, and what inspired those ideas in the first place.  Sweet shares snippets from letters and journals, as well as photographs and sketches; these are exquisitely woven together with Sweet’s text and art work.

As a life long admirer of E.B.White, I’ve read his books (Here is New York is a personal favorite), letters (such fun!) and his short pieces and essays for The New Yorker.  I’ve loved his humor and his extraordinary ability to write profound truths in simple, direct ways. Sweet’s book allows young readers, also,  to appreciate the writerly life of one of their most beloved authors – it’s a window into his writing life, as well as the life he lived.

E.B. White loved the power of the written word and understood its craft, and Sweet’s book will be windows to the craft of writing for our students; I will be looking for ways to weave its pages into our writing workshops.

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Here’s a wonderful interview with Melissa Sweet, in which she shares her thoughts about the creative process:

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/496699113/496755024

I’ve been on the hunt for a historical fiction read aloud to open our genre study, which is no easy task – so many fabulous choices!  But, this year, I brought a different kind of focus to this hunt; I want our read aloud to connect to historical events that have a particular resonance to America today – race relations, social justice, and the search for truth in a time of hysterical falsehoods.   As I rummaged around in my classroom library, I found Karen Hesse’s Witness.  Re-reading it this weekend, I knew that I had found the book I was in search of.

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Here’s the synopsis from Scholastic’s site:

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Witness is a powerful story, and the beautifully crafted voices of each character tell the story with compelling nuance.  I was moved by the way in which this book, written in 2001, connects to conversations we are having today about race, prejudice, and standing up for the truth.  Witness reveals the best in us and the worst in us, it is a deftly told cautionary tale of how easy it is for good people to be swayed by evil, or to look away when evil comes, as it often does, in the guise of patriotism and religious fervor.  It is an important book to share and discuss with our students, especially now.

#celebratelu:Conversations about kindness

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Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

We had a great week in Room 202:our Mock Caldecott unit  was a wonderful experience, and we are inching our way towards learning the purpose and process of revision as we work to improve our feature articles.

But, when I ruminate over what I want to celebrate this teaching week, my thoughts come to rest on Friday, and our once a week exploration of “Stories From Our World”, and these two podcasts in particular:

Both were stories about kindness, unexpected and spontaneous kindness, the type of kindness that springs from doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do…not because you are being watched and expect praise, and not because your kindness will have any reward other than knowing it was the right thing to do.

We have been talking all year about this sort of kindness.  We’ve looked for it in the books we read.  We practice it in the way we treat each other as we make our way through the learning day.  We watch for it in those around us, so that we may emulate what we admire.  We pay attention to its absence and ask questions why.

But, there was something about these two stories on Friday that seemed bring all of the work above together in one beautiful conversation.  My students heard these stories, and reflected about  the meaning of this version of kindness; they talked about how transformative  such acts of compassion can be, and how little they require of us, really, other than the imagination to be open to someone else’s needs.

It was a lovely conversation, one worthy of celebration.  Today, I celebrate my students and the way they have opened their hearts to kindness.

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Poetry Friday: Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

Poetry Friday is hosted by Keri at Keri Recommends

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Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

I have been thinking a lot about kindness and our collective sense of humanity this week, as President Obama’s days in office dwindle and we enter another dimension entirely: one where bullying, misogyny, racism, and selfish gain are not only permitted by the man who will sit in the White House, but celebrated, too.  If  Wednesday’s press conference is any indication, we will be seeing this behavior every day and it may well begin to be the “new normal”.

I worry about what this will do to us as a nation, but I worry more about its effect on our children; we may teach them not to behave and speak in disrespectful, intimidating ways, but they will see their President doing so every day, and getting away with it.  How to teach kindness in the face of that?

In my small world, which is my classroom, I think I need to speak less about kindness and endeavor to show more of it.  Our kids are watching closely these days, more than ever.  I think they see the disconnect between what we say they should do (anti-bullying posters and assemblies) and how we behave towards them and each other, how we tolerate the bullying by the powerful and make excuses for that.  I need to cultivate my patience, I need to look for the causes underlying acting out, I need to  be willing to see things from their point of view even when it gets in the way of what I’m trying to accomplish as a teacher.   If my students don’t see me practicing every day kindness, if they don’t feel my essential sympathy for them even when they aren’t at their best, it doesn’t matter what else I say to them – the road will only be wide/the rain will never stop falling.

I can’t do anything about the behavior of the man who will soon be in the White House, but I can be vigilant about the way I behave in my house… and my classroom, too (which is, after all, my home away from home.

 

 

The Mock Caldecott arrives in Room 202

Over winter break, I read Jess Lifshitz’s fabulous post on conducting a mock Caldecott unit and knew right away that it was exactly what we needed to be doing in the week we returned to school.  We had been immersed in nonfiction book clubs in the weeks leading up to break, and although these discussions had been informative and interesting, I felt something was missing from my students’ conversations.  A dive into stacks of glorious picture books, I thought, might just be the perfect way to get our reading community excited about being together again.

As is her way, Jess laid out the unit with exacting, thoughtful detail (complete with forms and resources!), which gave me direction.  Our jam packed curriculum calendar does not allow for the quite as much time as Jess had with her fifth graders (17 days), and my focus was narrower.  I had nine days to work with, which I hoped was enough time in which we could:

  • connect as a reading community
  • practice our listening skills
  • develop our ability to gather evidence about our claim and support it effectively, and politely

We practiced using the Caldecott evaluation criteria with a read aloud and discussion of Last Stop on Market Street. img_6797

My kiddos were wonderful about picking up on the literary elements they noticed, but found an exciting new avenue of accessing meaning in a story through  its art work. This was, really,  the big breakthrough of the unit and the work they found most worthwhile. Actually, they LOVED this work!

Jess had shared a video of her art teacher discussing the art work in Beekle, and my students learned so much about how to analyze the merits of each illustration with an eye for perspective, mood, texture, contrast, and technique.  They turned to evaluating their own stacks of Caldecott worthy books with a much keener understanding about what to look for and appreciate in the interrelation between pictures and text, which became evident in the quality of their note taking (if not, unfortunately, in their spelling ):

Even the way they held their books to read changed – the illustrations required holding the books closer and taking the time to peer at details they would otherwise have just raced past.

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Because they were evaluating the relationship between text and art, there was the need to re-read, re-look, re-think each page in the context of the whole.  This was an entirely new set of skills to practice alone and then together as a group, and I loved the progress they made each day in learning to listen, to frame their claims with evidence (and courtesy), and to re-consider their original thinking based on a partner’s different perspective.

It’s been a noisy few days as groups have met to narrow their selection and choose their nominees, but we have learned something new about art and perspective even as these posters were designed and assembled: how the visual can be a critical aspect of framing an argument.

Today, we presented our cases for our nominees and voted.  I was impressed by how my students were able to talk about the artwork in their selection – how they had noticed subtleties of brushstroke, design, perspective and placement, and how they had come to appreciate the critical relationship between the words on a page and the artwork designed to highlight its meaning and give it depth.

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Our winners were:  What Do You Do With An Idea (A.M. class) and Ada’s Violin (P.M. class)…but the real winner was the unit itself.  Here’s some of what my kids had to say when I asked them to note their take aways (something I always ask them to do at the end of a project and unit):

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Slice of Life Tuesday: Stay calm…and be consistent.

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

We don’t have many rules in our classroom.  In fact, there are just three that cover all our needs: be kind, be respectful, honor each other’s right to learn.  From September through December, we journey as a class to understand the point of these rules – they create a learning community built on safety and trust.  It is a long and sometimes difficult journey for my ebullient and impulsive sixth graders, and it’s a long and difficult journey for me, as well.  For no matter what we’ re in the midst of, or how well the lesson is going, if someone calls out, interrupts, laughs at someone else, puts someone down, or (in short) crosses the line with any of our three ground rules, I have to:

  • ask the class to pause
  • wait until the student in question has acknowledged the breach
  • name the issue, accept the apology on behalf of the class
  • move on

If it happens again, I simply pause and wait, and on the rare occasion there is another repetition, I ask the student to leave our room until such time as he or she can collect themselves and return to our learning.

As I said, this is a long journey. September and October see many occasions when we find the need to go through the above rigamarole time and time again.  And then, just as I begin thinking – Will they NEVER learn? -they do.  And we are off and sailing through calm waters.

Until January.

Because in January, some of my kiddos decide it’s time to test the old lady teacher, to see how  much energy she still has to survive the CONSISTENCY TEST!

I felt the first rumblings last week, our first week back from break.  It took a little longer to transition from one thing to the next, to settle into work without a hundred and one pokes, shoves, and smirky comments.  This week, they’ve upped the ante: interruptions, calling out, laughing at classmates’ contributions.  By “they”, I mean the ones chosen for this mission – the few who feel brave enough, ready enough, for the throw down, the crossing of the line.

When it happens, the class grows furtively watchful: did she hear it? see it? will she ignore it? will we have to go through “the drill”?  A part of each student (I think) wants me not to respond, to pretend I somehow missed what was happening under my very nose, to allow our rules to slacken.  But, a greater part of each student (I really believe) wants me to notice, to follow through.  As much as my kids crave the chance to break rules and have a go at mayhem (they are sixth graders, after all) they also need the assurance of structure, the security of consistency.

So, we had our first throw down today.   Out in the hallway, at the end of our little “talk”, I asked X. what had gotten into him? why???  I confessed to being exasperated, perhaps my voice was an octave higher than necessary.   He smiled sheepishly, shrugged, and mumbled, “I don’t know…I just couldn’t help it, you know?”

I couldn’t say it, but I did think, yes, I do know – it’s testing season now…we’ll get to February before long, and it will be smooth sailing again.  I just have to stick to following through, to being consistent.

Sigh….

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#IMWAYR It’s Monday! Here’s What I’m Reading: Flying Lessons, Step Right Up, & Calling The Water Drum

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.

I loved every short story in Flying Lessons & Other Stories, which wasn’t a surprise considering the authors: Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Pena, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, Jacqueline Woodson and debut author Kelly J. Baptist.  These are stories about fitting into new schools and neighborhoods, reaching for basketball dreams, discovering first crushes,  and learning about one’s place in the world and how one can rise above it.   But, the characters in these stories were what I loved best: they are funny, confused, honest, and true.  They represented voices from diverse backgrounds and experiences, all trying their best to figure out issues that were often beyond their own powers to fully resolve: a mother having a hard time coping with tragedy and shifting responsibilities onto their shoulders, or a father seemingly unable to be supportive and empathetic to a son who wants to play basketball in spite of his disability.

The rich variety of characters, issues, and resolutions makes this collection perfect for middle school in particular, and the short story format is perfect for read alouds and class discussions. 

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness is the remarkable (and true!) story of  Jim Key, a horse that could read, write, spell, and do math thanks to the kind patience of the man who rescued him, William “Doc” Key.  

Doc was born in Tennessee and into slavery, but had the good fortune to be allowed to learn alongside his masters’ children.  From an early age, he displayed a yearning to learn and a gift with animals.  Before long, he he had gained a reputation as the one to seek when animals were injured and sick, and he travelled far and wide across his state tending to animals and helping to nurse them back to health.  

Jim required all of Doc’s talents to nurse him back to health, but he proved to be more than just a brave and resilient horse.  It was fascinating to read about how Doc came to realize just how intelligent Jim was, and heartening to hear of how their traveling show challenged the racial assumptions of their time as well as promoted the cause of treating animals humanely. Donna Janell Bowman tells this story beautifully, and Daniel Minter’s illustrations are just stunning.  I also discovered that Donna Bowman has created a marvelous author’s page with ideas for bringing this story into our classroom reading and writing workshops.

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The story of refugees enduring great dangers in order to seek a better life is an old one, sadly, and we are certainly living in a time when we see this happening more and more all across the world.  Calling the Water Drum is a poignant picture book which tells the story of Henri and his parents who set out from Haiti for America at the invitation of Henri’s uncle.  A storm capsizes their little boat, and Henri’s parents are swept away.  Although he is rescued and sent to live with his uncle, a kind man who tries to do his best, Henri feels nothing but loss: in losing his parents, he has also lost his voice.  How, after all, to speak of what he saw and felt that stormy night on the ocean?

But, Henri discovers that he can drum, and that the rhythm and sound he learns to make can lead him back to his voice.  LaTisha Redding tells this gentle story with great tenderness, and Aaron Boyd’s  illustrations are just lovely.  This is an excellent book to share with our students and open discussions about refugees, their plight, and what we can do to be empathetic in response.