Thursday, December 12, 2013
Wearing my Two Writing Teachers hat today with a post on a student taking ownership in writing workshop:
Monday, December 9, 2013
The Tuesday Slice of Life Writing Community @ Two Writing Teachers
A colleague stopped to chat with me today about the passing of Nelson Mandela, and, before long, the conversation turned to the political activism of our youth. Although he is younger than me, he also remembered the anti- apartheid rallies to free Nelson Mandela and divest American investments in South Africa. We swapped stories of rallies we'd attended, and the way the years had dragged on without any end in sight - Mandela in prison, and South Africa as racially divided as ever. And then, the day Mandela was free: the seemingly impossible was at last achieved. Wasn't it amazing, we said, that we'd lived in a time to experience such an arc of history - and that we'd had the chance to play a (very) small part in that story? All those rallies and marches and protests, here and all over the world, brought about progress and change. At the end of 27 long years, Nelson Mandela was finally freed.
That conversation has stayed with me all day. I remembered taking part in scenes like this:
and being at rallies with invitations like this:
What I remember most is the empowering feeling of boarding a bus early in the morning, carefully worded posters tucked under my arms, and excited about being a part of something big. And, I remember climbing back on the bus at the end of a long day, exhausted, but thrilled to have done my bit to effect change. There were many such bus rides and days spent marching; so many of us felt that our voices and actions counted at that particular time in history. Some of those rallies yielded very little (who remembers the no-nukes movement?!), and some of those rallies led eventually to moments like this:
I feel so fortunate to have come of age in a time like that - when we felt we could change the world.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!
is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts
History is replete with interesting friendships between unlikely people who come together because they share a cause, or are working towards a similar goal. My sixth graders love these stories. We're in the middle of one right now, that of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and they are following every blip in this relationship with great interest. In a few months, however, we will be studying a friendship that I find even more interesting - President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Both men had a wary regard for each other: Lincoln abhorred slavery but his first priority was to preserve the Union; for Douglass, who had escaped bondage, the eradication of slavery was the single goal of most of his adult life. By the time of Lincoln's assassination, however, Douglass had come to this assessment of the President:
"Viewing the man from the genuine abolitionist ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed cold, tardy, weak and unequal to the task. But, viewing him from the sentiments of his people, which as a statesman he was bound to respect, then his actions were swift, bold, radical and decisive. Taking the man in the whole, balancing the tremendous magnitude of the situation, and the necessary means to ends, Infinite Wisdom has rarely sent a man into the world more perfectly suited to his mission than Abraham Lincoln."
In THE HAMMER AND THE ANVIL:Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the End of Slavery in America, author Dwight Jon Zimmerman traces the lives of these two men in the form of a graphic novel with art by Wayne Vansant.
The two narratives begin separately and wend their way together in the years leading to and during the Civil War - and the one meeting the two men enjoyed at the White House. We learn so much about both men, the events that shaped them and the way in which they shaped events. Zimmerman quotes from Douglass' memoirs, which adds so much power to the narrative, and Vansant's comic book-style illustrations are detailed and evocative.
This is a must-have book for any middle school classroom - and I know that I will be using it extensively when we begin studying slavery and the events leading to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
In a completely different vein, I was able to finish reading Joyce Sidman's delightful collection of "apology Poems": This is Just to Say: Poems of Apolology and Forgiveness:
The premise of this collection of poetry made me smile: Mrs. Mertz, sixth grade teacher, shares William Carlos Williams' famous apology poem with her class:
This Is Just to SayI have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold .
and then invites her students to write similar poems of their own. These are funny, sweet and sometimes thoughtful - written exactly as sixth graders would think and express themselves. Best of all, the recipients of these poems "write back" - sometimes accepting the apology, sometimes not. I so enjoyed reading through this collections, and can't wait to share them with my sixth graders.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
This week, I am celebrating the writers in my classroom, who rise to every challenge with enthusiasm and good will. I had asked my kids to "listen as writers" at the Thanksgiving table. What family stories and traditions did they learn about? Which relative or family friend did they discover anew? What conversations drew them in or piqued their curiosity? These were some of the ideas we tossed around during our minilesson. Take your writer's notebooks home, I said, see what you can capture.
My sixth graders packed their notebooks into their backpacks with just the tiniest bit of reluctance before leaving for Thanksgiving break. Homework? Over break? That's just wrong! I heard one student mutter.
By Friday, however, the tone had changed. Are we going to share our stories this week? they wondered on Monday. Will we get to have our writing celebration on Friday? they asked on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
YES! I answered, each time.
And, on Friday, we kept our promises to each other. Bonnie Kaplan was there to document our writing adventure and ask her insightful questions. I provided the treats:
and they provided the writing. We were happily ready for our Thanksgiving Stories Celebration:
(All photographs were taken my my good friend and colleague, Bonnie Kaplan)
And what a celebration it was! We heard stories that were funny, some that were touching, many that were filled with evocative details that brought back snippets of conversation and important shifts in mood and feeling. My students sat up proud when their turns came, and read with confidence and expression. Best of all, they listened to each other attentively, appreciatively. It was a lovely time.
And so, this celebration Saturday, I celebrate my kids...and how far each of them has traveled this year as writers.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Poetry Friday is hosted by Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
Nelson Mandela 1918 - 2013
AND I WATCH IT IN MANDELA (by John Matshikiza)
It is not for the safety of silence
That this man has opened his arms to lead.
The strength of his words hangs in the air
As the strength in his eyes remains on the sky;
And the years of impatient waiting draw on
While this man burns to clear the smoke in the air.
There is fire here,
Which no prison
Can kill in this man;
And I watch it in Mandela.
© John Matshikiza (1974)
The poem 'Invictus' by William Henley inspired Nelson Mandela during his 27 years of incarceration in Robben Island .
Monday, December 2, 2013
The Tuesday Slice of Life Writing Community @ Two Writing Teachers
I was busy pinning our Social Studies projects to the bulletin board in the hallway outside our classroom when I heard, "Need some help with that, Mrs. Smith?"
The figure approaching me was in the shadows, a tall young lady with her long hair in a pony tail. Not one of my students this year, or last, or even the year before, I thought, but the voice sounded so familiar - so present in my memory.
And then, I knew who she was: Hayley!
Hayley from my first ever class of sixth graders. Hayley! I hadn't seen her since the day before her high school graduation, and here she was, a sophomore in college. A lovely young lady, with the same sparkling blue eyes and crooked smile, the same loping gait and lilt in her voice. We hugged, and we hugged, and we hugged some more.
Then we walked back into her old sixth grade classroom, and I watched her take in the room: the reading area, the memory wall of old photographs, the poetry corner, the desks arranged just as they were in her time, my Red Sox pennant - all that has stayed the same. As her eyes scanned the room, I could see Hayley travel back in time. Here was the place she'd stepped into gingerly as a just-sixth grader, here was the place she'd had a daily melt down (or two!) until she'd learned her way, here was the place she had learned to speak up and think through, and here was the place she'd left a mark on my heart forever; her open and joyous spirit had done so much to lift my doubts and insecurities in that first teaching year. Every morning we'd have this little conversation:
"Hey, Mrs. Smith, what's up?"
"No much yet, Hayley, but it's a new day."
"Yeah, and good thing, too, right Mrs. Smith?"
"You bet, Hayley, you bet!"
...and so each day would begin, teacher and student making their way through their respective first years of middle school.
When Hayley left my class, she'd pop in every day of her seventh and eighth grade year as well. She'd borrow books, pencils, tissues, a shoulder to cry upon. And then, in high school, the visits became more rare. But, she did come by to say goodbye before her graduation.
" Come back to visit me, Hayley!" I'd said.
"You bet, Mrs. Smith!" she'd replied.
And here she was...
So we caught up on the classes she was taking, her college experience, her major. She was going to be a math teacher!
"Ah, that means you can't be my student teacher, Hayley."
"Yeah, but you'll always be my role model, Mrs.Smith. It's teachers like you that made me want to teach."
So, we hugged again, and teared up, and hugged some more.
And then Hayley left my room again...
Sweet travels, my young friend.