Tag Archives: teaching

Bubbles

With the school year coming to a close, I wanted to come up with an activity for students that felt like play–like a party–and still provide academic content to satisfy my ever-present need to make use of all available instructional minutes. (Yes, even in the last week of school)

So, when I came across a blog post about making giant bubbles and bubble art, I knew I could turn this into a meaningful day of learning and fun…all wrapped up in a soapy bubble! I’m pretty fascinated by bubbles. I’ve spent quite a bit of time photographing giant bubbles at the beach and I’ve written about the “bubble man” a time or two (or more). I know that the trick to great bubbles is the solution–so prior to having my students explore and experiment, my husband and I tried our hand at bubbles over the weekend.

The basis of all bubbles is soap and water. But if you want the bubbles to be big and to have a bit of staying power, a bit of corn syrup and some glycerin need to be added to the mix. Using smoothie straws and yarn, I created a bubble wand that my students would be able to make on their own and started dipping and waving in my own attempt to create bubbles. This bubble thing is harder than it looks! I didn’t immediately get big beautiful bubbles flying from the wand. But with some patience, some tinkering, and some exploration of how to get a thin film filling with air onto my yarn…bubbles happened. At that point, with bubble solution pre-made, I was ready for a day of bubbles with third graders!

We started with a very interesting TED Talk titled, The Fascinating Science of Bubbles, from Soap to Champagne. We learned about surface tension, the geometry of bubbles and so much more. (If I were to do this in the future, I think I might devote an entire week rather than a whole day to bubbles!) Then we made our bubble wands and headed up to the field to make bubbles.

In spite of warning students that making these bubbles would take patience and experimentation, there was plenty of initial whining that “it’s not working!” I reminded them to keep trying. And then it happened…the first child experienced success! Like wildfire, bubbles emerged, filling the air with irridescent spheres.

The soap solution ran out before student interest waned, which is probably the best possible result! We headed back to the classroom with soapy hands, happy hearts and filled with visions and language about bubbles.

These young scientists are also prolific readers and writers, so after studying Valerie Worth’s short poem, Soap Bubbles, we created a list of bubble words and a list of potential bubble metaphors and then set the magic 7-minute writing timer and started writing. Like bubbles, colorful, delicate, evocative poems floated up, emerging from the points of students’ pencils.

Here’s a couple:

To complement the poetry and the elusive, temporary soap bubbles, we got out paper, pencils, water-based markers and some water and created bubbles…as art! Each artist created their own composition, tracing round shapes, adding a space where a light source reflected off each bubble. Then they added marker and finally, using just water and a paint brush, urged the marker to follow the water, creating beautiful dimensional bubbles on watercolor paper.

There is so much more we could have done with bubbles–including exploring the mathematics of spheres. Overall, it was an amazing day. Students could not believe that an entire school day had passed before they even realized it. Engagement was high, work quality was inspiring…it was an amazing last Monday of the school year! Based on this success, I know I will be working some bubble science into future teaching and learning!

Is it Worth it? Reflections on Poetry

I wrote a poem a day during the month of April and challenged my students to do the same. And while not every student wrote every day, they did write a lot of poems. When you put that much effort into daily writing, it seems that something more needs to happen. I knew from past experience that drafting a poem each day is just the first step in moving my students toward seeing themselves as writers. So as the month of April wound down, my students and I started the process of curating a personal anthology of poems.

It’s not enough to simply select a poem and call it done. I had to move my students toward meaningful revision–and that meant giving them strategies and techniques to make their poems better. They re-read each poem they selected and considered how they might add a comparison (simile or metaphor), how they might personify an animal or object, how more specific details could help the reader “see” the ideas being expressed. So no matter how small the change was, each poem was revised. Because I had 16 page blank books for each student, we selected and revised ten poems and created five art pieces to go along with them.

As we worked through this intensive process, I kept asking myself, “Is it worth the time and energy–theirs and mine–to put this anthology together?” As I read poem after poem (25 students times 10 poems each), I started to see these young writers in a new way. They had gained confidence and knew what it meant to revise. I watched them own each poem, claiming their writing and making changes that satisfied each of them. I noticed some started poems from scratch. For them, the original poem was simply a pre-writing activity and a new idea emerged when faced with revision. For others, revision meant adding on to a poem, further developing the kernel of an idea that they had started earlier. Some revisions were the change of a single word–the poets were satisfied with their original effort and only went through the motions to satisfy the revision mandate.

And as we finished the last touches, gluing the final poems into place and typing up a table of contents I asked myself again…was this project worth it? There is no Open House celebration this year where families will come through and admire displays of student work products and ooh and aah the hard work done specifically for their benefit–something that has always made projects like this a necessity in the past. But still…my answer is yes, this intensive focus on poetry for more than a month has been totally worth it. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Students see themselves as writers. They confidently write daily and have developed both fluency and style. All those poetry techniques also make other kinds of writing better.
  • Revision has become ordinary. We do this routinely and resistance to going back to a piece of writing has dropped. Writers revise and we are writers.
  • All of our writing matters in our community of writers. Everyone will share their writing and everyone can pick out bits of excellence when they hear it in each other’s writing.
  • A project gives everyone a reason to persist. No one wants a half-finished book, so everyone pushed through, developing stamina as they worked through the revision of all ten poems.

250 student poems later and ten more of my own and we have created 26 individual anthologies of poetry. They are beautifully imperfect and incredibly perfect at the same time. And totally worth the time and effort.

Teacher-Writer

What does it mean to identify as teacher-writer?

I write with my students, I write for my students, I write to understand my students, I write to understand my teaching and my students’ learning. That’s probably the definition of teacher-writer.

Today I experimented with a writing provocation I found in a Teachers and Writers Magazine article. It attracted my attention because it began with doing–actually with a blind contour drawing. I love to have students do something as a provocation for writing–probably because I like to DO as a way to instigate my own writing.

So, following the directions in the article, I used my non-dominant hand to draw my hand, keeping my eyes on my hand and not on the drawing. I tried not to lift my pen, keeping my pen following all the lines and shapes I saw on my hand.

After drawing I opened my notebook and began a list of words evoked by my examination of my hand. then I came up with some metaphors. I thought back to memories about what my hands had touched or done, capturing some of those thoughts in my notebook. I went on to express my gratitude to my hands.

The next step was to write about my hand, using the ideas generated before–or not–for about 7 minutes (my favorite writing time!).

Finally, using a different colored pen, I added words to my blind contour drawing of my hand, creating a collage of sorts. I didn’t directly copy my writing, just added some of the words and phrases I had generated.

Students could go on to write an essay or ode about their hands, having generated a plethora of ideas.

Having tried this writing on as a writer myself helps me identify how it might or might not work for my students. My young students might do better studying their non-dominant hand and using their dominant hand for drawing. I know they will worry about how the drawing might come out–I’ll have to show them some strategies and perhaps do a practice or two before we start for real. We may brainstorm words about their hands as a group before they begin their individual lists. But, I think I’ll try this project with my students. I love the blind contour aspect, the close examination, and the way that careful attention leads to more interesting writing.

What strategies do you use to keep the writerly part of yourself sharp? How do you hone your skills as a teacher-writer? Does anyone know a great picture book that focuses on one body part that is not about hands?

Poetry is Sunshine: NPM #28

Today we studied Francisco X Alarcon’s poem: Words are Bird as our mentor text. My students noticed that way words were described as birds, something that was new for them to think about. It took a bit of work and experimentation for the kids to find their own metaphors. Some that they came up with included: hand sanitizer is a warrior, trees are magical, and words are gum in your hair. I was a bit skeptical about that last one–and expressed that while I wouldn’t rule it out, it seemed like a difficult one to write for a word lover like me (and this student happens to be a word lover). While I don’t have the text in front of me to share with you all, let me tell you that she did manage it…in some interesting ways!

I may have taken the easy way out, writing my poem about poetry. Here’s the draft I wrote with my students today:

Poetry is Sunshine

Poetry is sunshine

that brightens each day

shining its light

on words

emotions

new ways to think

about the world.

Some poems reach deep

burning a little

touching on something

tender and sore.

Sometimes poetry

warms us from the outside in

when we’re struggling

to warm ourselves from the inside out.

Poetry blazes

even when we don’t see it.

Covered by clouds

it waits,

until we’re ready

finally burning its way through

the thick marine layer.

It’s the center

of our solar system

the gravitational pull of words

that express

our humanity.

®Douillard

Oops: NPM #19

A week or so ago I experimented with 6-room poetry with the poem Yellow Bird. Today my students and I tackled this approach–using a moment from our weekend as the topic for the poem. I wish you could have heard my students’ efforts–the one about the dead rat (really?) described as a mountain of fur, the outdoor haircut, and more.

Of course I wrote alongside the kids, using my unexpected dousing by a rogue wave on my walk on Sunday as my moment for the poem. And here it is:

Oops

April beach day

full sun

birds squawking

kids squealing

laughter floating

on the gentle sea breeze

Sun’s shine sparkles

dancing on the endless blue

birds dine

darting in and out of the surf

I squat low, creeping close

slowing turning my lens

to focus

on those long beaks, curved like straws

Out of the corner of my eye

I see it

I hear the rush

whoosh, shush

My movements seem

like slow motion as I stand

and run toward the shore

Too late!

I feel the cold

creep up, soaking

my leg from ankle to thigh

my jeans heavy

from the briny wetness

Surprise floods my brain

Phew! Luckily my camera

is dry

Click, click, click

®Douillard

Snowy Egret Questions: NPM #15

Today was my first day back with my full class, full day, now on a 5-day a week schedule. I’ve challenged them (and myself) to writing a poem-a-day during the month of April. Today I started by reading them Little Black Crow by Chris Rascka–a picture book written entirely of questions. And we revisited the poem Yellow Weed by Lilian Moore–a question poem. Then we set off to write our own question poems.

I love writing with my students–and I love when they make no hesitation before beginning to write. And better yet, when after 7 minutes, I asked who would like to share their question poem–more than half the class shot their hands into the air! What fun to hear their question poems and the variety of topics they picked to write about. And they were not surprised at all to hear than I chose to write my question poem about snowy egrets.

So here is my poem:

Snowy Egret

Feathery friend, what brings you to the beach today?

Is it the tasty orange shrimp in the low tide soup?

Feathery friend, do those bright yellow feet

bring critters near as you stomp and stir?

Are they a beacon shining bright in the salty sea grass?

When you spread your delicate white wings

do you feel like a plane

or a kite lofted into the gentle sea breeze?

Feathery friend, what do you think when you see

my eye pressed to my camera lens?

Am I intruder or a familiar-faced friend?

Feathery friend, where do you go when you leave the beach?

Do you fly away home? Do you live alone?

I look for you on all my beachside walks

my lucky charm

a sign of good fortune.

Good bye snowy egret,

will I see you soon?

®Douillard

Chasing Ladybugs: SOLC #30

Today was the last day for students to attend school in our hybrid AM/PM schedule. They will be remote for the rest of the week to allow time for parent conferences and then after a week off for spring break, the class will unite and become one whole class that attends school all 5 days together. I look forward to this coming together–and hope that the two halves of my class will complement each other.

The PM group is the half that NEEDS their fresh air break. They burst from the classroom doors when it is time, unleashing the energy that they have tried (not always successfully) to contain in the classroom. Today started no different. Most of the kids skipped eating a snack and headed straight for the playground equipment. But a couple sat on the grass to eat a bite…and before I knew it, they were chasing ladybugs.

And catching them.

Gently cupping them, they lifted them from the grass to bring them to me to photograph. (I love that they know that I will want to take photos!) They transferred these brilliant red polka-dotted beauties from the cupped palm to rest on the arm so I could get close for a clear, close up photo with my phone. Somehow they could find these tiny gems when they were not visible to others. Like jewelry, they wore these insects as they danced around the field. Sometimes the ladybugs rested patiently on the arm, other times they spread and fluttered their tiny wings in a blur of red.

These kids never stop talking. They kept up a torrent of descriptions and theories as they ran and collected these friendly insects. One theory they floated was that the number of dots was equal to the age of the bug. (Were they thinking days? Insects don’t tend to live very long lives!) Luckily I had just read an article on ladybug varieties, complete with gorgeous photos (who knew that would come in handy!), so I was able to talk to them about the large number of varieties of ladybugs that exist.

An impromptu break chasing ladybugs was the just right way to end this current mode of teaching. Moments like these remind me how much I enjoy the exuberance and energy of children–and the ways they fuel my teaching and my own learning.

Planting Seeds: SOLC #29

We’ve been writing in 7 minute intervals. Every day. Sometimes several times a day. There’s something about the timer that seems to help my students focus intently on the writing. And when the timer sounds, someone always wants to share.

Of course, that 7 minutes is only the smallest part of what it means to write. That timer-influenced writing usually follows a stimulus of some kind (often a picture book or poem), conversation as a group and in partners, studying a mentor text and the moves that writers make, and sometimes drawing or some other kind of art.

Today we wrote about a place we love. But first, last week we read My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero. We noticed how she focused on places she loved in her community and on her dad and family. We studied her writing. We marked the action words she used: zigzagged, cruised, revs, and roars. We notice the way she uses senses, including sounds and smells and textures, in her descriptions. We paid attention to her comparison of the experience of riding the motorcycle to a comet in the sky. Then we started to name places we love: Tennessee, Legoland, grandma’s house, the kitchen… We sketched a map of this place. And finally, after a quick demonstration of how I might use the mentor text to get started with my writing, I set the timer.

A hush fell over the room. Pencils raced across the page. And when the timer rang, hands started going up. Unfortunately, there was no time to share today. We’ll have to start there tomorrow. I can’t wait to hear how these much-loved places will be transformed into words on the page.

Writing with students is all about planting seeds. I can’t wait to see what blossoms.

Seeking Joy: SOLC #1

These days, I often find myself in search of joy. Sameness is numbing, isolation is suffocating, and uncertainty is paralyzing. And yet, we go on. My students show up in the classroom (on a limited, hybrid schedule), ready and eager to learn.

I realize, sometimes over and over again, that my restricted time with my students pushes me to rush things in the classroom. Instead of giving time and space to breathe, to engage, to explore…I find myself watching the clock, urging students on, never letting them get fully immersed, locked into that indescribable flow that I can’t explain, but I always recognize.

Joy, instead of being a constant classroom companion, has become a shadow that I catch sight of at the edge of my visual field. It flickers, momentarily in focus before it dissolves into the corners–just out of reach. If I can’t reach out and grab onto the joy, how can my students?

Somewhere along the way during this pandemic school year I lost sight of daily writing. The whimsy and playfulness of messing around with words and ideas in the low-stakes sandbox of the writer’s notebook had vanished. Students mistakenly believed that writing should be one and done rather than the messy, living, complex process that it is. I had to make a change.

So, at the end of January, I reworked students’ independent work–the stuff they do during the half the school day when they are not in the classroom with me–to include time for daily writing. I set up a routine–predictable but with lots of novelty and variety. One day students are invited to write to a photo prompt–often silly and far-fetched. Another day they write under the influence of our weekly poem study: they can use it as a mentor text, they can be inspired by the topic, they can grab a word and follow it–the choice is the writer’s. And on the third day, I offer an active sort of prompt. Last week, on our weekly Wednesday Zoom call, students participated in a short scavenger hunt. They were sent in search of 5 items, one at a time. Once found, they showed the item on the screen and wrote it in their notebook. That list then became the fodder for the daily writing. They could come up with a story connecting the items, use one and go in any direction, again…choice is key.

While the daily writing is not amazing, students are finding a rhythm. They are developing fluency. And they are having some fun with it–joy is beginning to creep in. We are paying more attention to language, examining what we like when we read. Just last week, students picked one of these daily writing pieces. They picked not the best one; the one they love so much they don’t want to make any changes. Not the worst one; the one that feels flat and uninspiring. They picked one they were willing to work on, to improve, to make better. They used a Praise Question Wish protocol to respond to the writing in pairs. We studied a couple of mentor text excerpts from familiar pieces we had read in class. And armed with these tools, students went off to revise.

Most of these revised pieces are still not where I want them to be, but they are moving in the right direction. And better yet, they are moving toward discovering the joy of writing and language, expression and choice.

I am actively seeking joy in the classroom. Joy that fills me with wonder and energy. Joy that brings a smile to my students’ masked lips–that is visible in their eyes and felt in the air. Joy that takes me back to what I know is important in teaching and learning, despite pandemic restrictions and schedules that squeeze time into unrecognizable shapes. And I want writing to be a part of that joy, for me and for them.

Let the Poetry Begin! #npm20

It’s April 1st–the “official” start of National Poetry Month. But really, do we only “do” poetry in April? Poetry plays a role all year in my classroom, but I love to ratchet up the poetry volume in April by getting my students to participate in the poem-a-day challenge. We warmed up Monday and Tuesday, pretending April had already begun, starting with shorter, accessible poems. You can see day1 and day 2 here.

Today our mentor poem was Words are Birds by Francisco X. Alarcon. The first responses (in the comments on our Google Classroom site) were, oh no! This looks hard! Do I have to write something this long? Had I overestimated what my students could do, especially since they are all learning at a distance from me?

I was working on my own poem at the same time–I’ve been adding my poem to the Google Classroom site around mid-morning, to support those who need an extra example, but not offering mine up as the only possibility. And I had scheduled a Google Meet this morning as an Open Mic opportunity–instructing students to be prepared to read one of the poems they have written this week. I wondered if students would still want this video meeting if they had to read a poem and not just have a social check in.

At 10am student faces started to pop into my camera screen. At first I couldn’t hear them–but they could hear me (and apparently each other too). After a restart, both faces and voices came into range, a cacophony of sound. With their mute buttons in place we began our Open Mic. 14 students read their poems this morning, some reading an extra just because. I can see their poetry confidence growing and their skills growing too. And it’s only day 1! (Or day 3 if you count our pre-start!)

Here are a couple of student drafts from today:



And here is my poem for today:

Poems are Clouds

Poems

are clouds

that arrive unscheduled

they love

readers

writers

thinkers

lovers

kids

some poems gather

dark and tall

casting shadows

forcing thoughts

to fear

uncertainty

some poems

are light as the shine

of the sun

on the wet sand

reflecting

joy

    contemplation

                    gratitude

and others

clear the sky

leaving the blue

to stand

alone

freeing writers

to create 

their own clouds

cumulous

stratus

cirrus

billowing, stretching, towering

leaving behind

the weather of feelings and

lightning strikes

of

inspiration

Kim Douillard

4/1/20


Will you celebrate poetry in April? Use poetry as a way to calm frayed nerves, express fears, find comfort in words? I hope so…and I hope I will get to read some of your poems too this month.