Poetry Friday: Peonies by Mary Oliver

Poetry Friday is hosted by Mary Lee at A Year of Reading

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Our peonies are in full bloom this week, just in time for the rain storms that will also bow their heads deep into the grass and fling their petals far and wide.  At the first sign of a downpour, if I am home, I race out to rescue what I can.  They are the loveliest flower…why must they have the shortest season in which to bloom?

‘Peonies’   by Mary Oliver

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

Slice of Life Tuesday: Of gardening and teaching

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Last weekend, my husband and I spent hours and hours choosing sites, preparing the ground, and planting everything from rhubarb to blue berry bushes.  Each young plant came with a few general instructions about how to go about this endeavor, and a note of caution: these plants were young, it would be several years before we could expect any blossoms or fruits.

We knew this. We were planting for the future, for our children and their children, and for who ever else may own our farm years and years from now.  Still, we took care to research what was needed for each variety of plant, to find the spot that would give them the best chance to thrive, and to prepare the soil with what each needed.  And, in the weeks and months and years ahead, we will tend to them.

Teacher nerd that I am, I (of course!) was making many connections between gardening and teaching.  We plant for the future, and we teach for the future.  We plant hoping that, with the right kind of nurturance, things will take root, grow bit by bit, blossom here and there, and eventually thrive and bloom with consistency, year after year.  We teach, day after day, with that same faith and hope.

The end of each gardening day, of collecting assorted gardening tools and storing away the bone meal, peat moss, and the like,  felt very much like the end of my teaching day -collecting  notebooks, storing away our pencils and pens, and restoring order to our classroom library.

In these last few weeks of the school year, I want to hold on to each moment of our classroom lives.  I see so much growth already, and yet I know that I will not be there to witness the flourishing.  Soon, and ever after, my kids will be tended to by other teaching hands.   They are ready to go…we have done good work this year, and they are prepared for the journey ahead…

…but I have begun missing them already.

#IMWAYR: Teaching Reading With YA Literature by Jennifer Buehler

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

NCTE Reads

My summer PD plans got off to an early start on Sunday(we have three more weeks of school, here in New Jersey!) when  NCTE’s summer book club kicked off with its first discussion.  We are reading Jennifer Beuhler’s Teaching Reading With YA Literature: Complex Texts, Complex Lives, which is a fascinating analysis of how we can teach YA lit in meaningful ways.  Buehler calls for  the “development of a YA pedagogy – one that places student motivation at the center of our teaching while upholding the goals of rigor and complexity” (pg. 8), and her book is a road map for how to get there.

We read chapters 1 and 2 for this week’s discussion, and here are some ideas I tagged:

In the real world, readers are always blending their personal response to a book with their analytic understanding of the text.  Readers also instinctively search for connections between books and real-world contexts…As teachers of YA Lit, we can foster complex reading experiences and promote autonomy if we devise classroom tasks that invite students to engage in these forms of blending and connecting.  We don’t have to create new tasks to achieve this goal. Instead, we can recast and reinvent what we already do. (pg.11)

This idea of recasting and reinventing is one that both interests and excites me.  I love working on teaching efficiency – i.e. taking a fresh look at my teaching practices through the lens of new thinking (especially thinking grounded in current research) and reshaping and refining what I do.  So, I cannot wait to read ahead for Jennifer’s guidance in this process of recasting and reinventing.

We must establish contexts for reading that challenge students to be purposeful and intentional in their choices.  One way to do this is to foreground meta-level questions about why we read.  When we invite students to read for the same reasons that real readers do…they become more capable and committed to reading.  Students can develop agency and autonomy as readers only if we give them room to shape the course of their reading. (pg.11)

Like other teachers, I come at establishing contexts for reading through mini lessons, modeling, and our classroom discussions about shared reading.  I focus on strategies with my sixth graders, but I would love to learn more about how to deepen those meta-level questions in ways they will find meaningful and habitual.

Complexity can be found in the text – in the overall quality of an author’s writing and thinking.  But complexity can also be found in what readers do with texts…This means that as we evaluate texts for their inherent measures of complexity, we also need to explore how and why texts become complex for readers.

Because YA lit can speak honestly and directly to teenagers, and because the issues the books explore lend themselves to discussion and debate, it’s easy to see why YA lit is ideally suited to the task of teaching teens how to find and make complexity.  (pg.29 & 30)

Some of my sixth graders still read quickly and for plot. In fact, I would say that this is the natural inclination of most of my sixth graders.  So, getting them to slow down and think deeply about a character’s journey through a story line deliberately plotted out by an author would, indeed, add complexity to their reading tasks, and a greater seriousness to the way they went about their reading.  Here, again, I have much to learn.

Buehler also makes distinctions between “complexity of style: (language, structure, stylistic elements)  and “complexity of substance” (character, setting, literary devices, topics and themes, how the book is put together), and walks us through the process of looking for these in two books – Matt de la Pena’s We Were Here, and A. S. King’s Ask The Passengers.  This was a fascinating exercise in close reading in its best sense; it allowed me insight into the goals Buehler believes we can achieve with our students:

When we teach students to make nuanced judgments about complexity, we help them better understand what different books can give them.  By providing them with a framework for thinking about complexity, we empower them as readers.  We equip them with tools that will serve them in their reading lives for the long run. (pg.49)

Our task this week was to take what we had gleaned from those first two chapters and contribute to the following:

 

Week 1: Make
This week we’re going to create a curated list of YA novels with rationales for why they are complex texts. These lists may prove useful if you choose to use any of these novels in your class and are asked to justify your selection. Please share the title, author, and a few sentences explaining why a YA text of your choosing should be considered complex. Don’t worry if someone else has already listed a title you were considering; either add to their rationale or write your own. Multiple perspectives will strengthen our understanding of any of these books. Consider the elements listed on p. 37 in crafting your rationale:
  • Complexity of Style—language, structure, other stylistic elements
  • Complexity of Substance—character, setting, literary devices, topics and themes, how the book is put together

Here’s my contribution:

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart.  I chose this as the first read aloud of the school year because I knew that my students would love everything about this story and that it would be the perfect way to launch our reading community. Joseph Johnson has just been orphaned when the book begins, and his beloved pony Sarah, all he has left of his own the world, has been stolen away.  Joseph sets out to find her, a journey that is filled with unexpected twists and turns and more heart ache.  He comes to realize, of course, that his search for Sarah is really a search to find love and meaning in the world after so much sorrow and loss.

Complexity of style:  Although the story is told in what seems to be a straightforward style with Joseph narrating the events in a chronological order, there are many flash backs for the reader to navigate through to piece together why Joseph is recalling this particular memory at this particular time.  Many of these flashbacks are in the form of things Joseph remembers his parents advising him, and the language of these quotes is formal, deeply figurative, and of a particular voice.

Complexity of substance: Joseph encounters a Chinese boy his age, who cannot speak a word of English.  He, too, is in search of someone – his father, lost somewhere among  the Gold Rush mines.  Ah-Kee  is subject to the racism of the times, which Joseph must both console him as well as defend him from. Other thematic issues such as courage in the face of loss, self sacrifice and keeping the faith when things seem without hope are also explored. The time frame and setting of the book (1890, in the mountains and cowboy towns of Washington State) are also important in understanding the text and making sense of the characters and events.

I’m looking forward to learning about new titles to add to my must read/must have in the library lists.

 

 

 

Poetry Friday:Marching Through a Novel by John Updike

Poetry Friday is hosted by Margaret Simon @  Reflections on the Teche

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We’ve just begun our last round of book clubs in our sixth grade year.  Usually, our book club rounds follow genre studies, with a read aloud to analyze the structure and characteristics of that particular genre.  But this year, my students asked if they could close the year with  whatever genre they wanted, which sounded like an excellent idea to me.  Book groups and partnerships soon formed around every genre in our classroom library, from historical fiction to dystopian to realistic fiction.

When we gathered on our reading rug to plan our meeting dates, one student remarked at this range of books, which prompted another to ask, “how do they do this? The authors, how do they keep coming up with so many different types of stories and characters?”  This , of course, led to a high spirited discussion about imagination and craft and topics, and how writers pick and choose what they want to write about and how they write it.   Authors, it was decided, were “imagination magicians”…a term I instantly loved, and intend to use in my teaching life.

Here’s one of those imagination magicians, telling us something about his process:

Marching Through a Novel by  John Updike

Each morning my characters
greet me with misty faces
willing, though chilled, to muster
for another day’s progress
through dazzling quicksand,
the march of blank paper.
With instant obedience
they change clothes and mannerisms,
drop a speech impediment,
develop a motive backwards
to suit the deed’s done.
They extend skeletal arms
for the handcuffs of contrivance,
slog through docilely
maneuvers of coincidence,
look toward me hopefully,
their general and quartermaster,
for a clearer face, a bigger heart.
I do what l can for them,
but it is not enough.
Forward is my order,
though their bandages unravel
and some have no backbones
and some turn traitor
like heads with two faces
and some fall forgotten
in the trench work of loose threads,
poor puffs of cartoon flak.
Forward. Believe me, I love them
though I march them to finish them off.

#IMWAYR: Not reading…but making #cyberPD plans to!

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

During these last weeks of school, I simply stop reading anything but student work – there is just so much of it to process!  But, I can look ahead and make plans for summer reading and that is what I am up to today.

Each summer, the #cyberPD community gathers to read a book together, and share what we’ve learned and how we plan to apply this new learning. You can learn more about #cyberPD at Cathy Mere’s blog, where she describes the process better than I can.

Our first task is to share our book stacks – here’s what I have packed up in my “summer to-reads” box already:

#cyberPD

#Celebratelu: Celebrating projects!

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

We are closing in on Memorial Day weekend, a big one for us as we “get back” two unused snow days in addition to the usual three day weekend. When we return, it will be June, and my kiddos will be living and breathing summer dreams of swimming, lazing about, and freedom from school…even though we will STIL have three more weeks of school.

Last week, I turned our classroom over to my sixth graders.   They are working on their multi genre writing projects – choosing a topic and writing about it in four of the twelve different genres we have learned to write, starting book partnerships to dig deep and read through two books in the time we have left, and diving into various history projects that will put what they are learning in social studies to the test.

From Monday through Thursday, I stepped back and watched as my kiddos took my simple instructions: create a game of courage and chance that plots out the dangers and sacrifices made along the Underground Railroad this week, honor the brave men and women who were part of this civil rights movement.

Using their class notes and a few additional research tools, my students got to work (some right away, some eventually, and some reluctantly).  It took all of the following to get to our goal – game day:

patience and perseverance: even the best initial ideas need tweaking and refining, nothing ever is as easy as you first think it’s going to be.

communication: no one is allowed to be a show boat or a slacker, but everyone needs to participate and be heard.  Sometimes, may want to scream at your team mates, but that’s the best way to ensure that no one listens to you.  

trade offs: “you can’t always get what you want” is a fact of life not just words to sing, you’ve got to learn to give a little to get a little (that might be a song, too!)…and that’s hard to do.

staying focused on the purpose: it’s all too easy for a group project to run off the tracks if you lose sight of the purpose of the project in the first place.  You may need to take turns reining each other in, but that’s just part of group work.

sometimes the people you really wanted to work with are just the people you’d best NOT work with: this was a tricky lesson to learn, and one that brought no small degree of frustration and tears.  

Game day was great fun.  We took turns rotating around the classroom to play each game, and then having a “say back” at the end.  And, even in this, there was something to learn:

Your ideas may be clear to you but not to others – directions are hard to write. It was interesting to hear how directions could be revised and refined, there is a reason why I stress working towards clarity in our writing workshop!

So, this weekend I celebrate projects: they are messy, noisy, and often frustrating – but we learn so much about ourselves and others when we work together to create something new. Project based learning is so worth the effort (and the occasional headache!).

Poetry Friday: Heat by H.D.

Poetry Friday is hosted by  Kiesha at Whispers from the Ridge

summer haze

It was above 90 degrees today.My kids came in from recess sweaty, stinky, and s-l-o-w…as in “I’m fried from the sun and can’t be expected to think” s-l-o-w.

By the time I left school for home, the temperatures had soared to 96. Yikes!  My minivan, normally a lovely cocoon of quiet after a day of nothing but noise, was hot enough to roast a Thanksgiving turkey (or so it felt).  By the time the air conditioning made its presence known, I was already pulling into my driveway.

Every blade of grass seemed to be wilting, every flower drooping, every leaf curling into its own cool, green self.

It’s May, but it felt like August.  Late this evening, it still feels like August.  And I am not ready for August heat, quite yet.

Heat by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle )

O wind, rend open the heat,

cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air—
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut through the heat—
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.