Tag Archives: teaching

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.

SOLC Day 10: Leaving a Trail

Rain sang me to sleep last night. And I woke to a damp morning. As I headed out the door, overloaded as usual with this bag and that one too—along with my lunch and coffee—I nearly stumbled as I spied the tiniest snail crawling near the doorstep. I just had to stop, pull out my phone and photograph the snail and the damp trail behind it.

As I thought about that snail I found myself thinking about those trails I leave, will anyone notice that I have been here? I hope I leave trails for my students. Those that they can turn to even when I am not around. Can they locate a mentor text for themselves when they have something they want or need to write? Will they remember to start with what they know when faced with an unfamiliar math problem?

Maybe those songs we sing in the morning help. Perimeter Around the Area by the Bazillions is a fun way to keep area and perimeter from crossing paths. And who doesn’t love singing the FBI (fungus, bacteria, and invertebrates) by the Banana Slug Band to learn about decomposition?

Getting to know Naomi Shihab Nye through poems like Kindness or Famous or A Valentine for Ernest Mann helps us explore the power of language. Books like Love by Matt de la Pena and Wishtree by Katherine Applegate help us see our own experiences and those that are different from ours.

Making stuff…from art to slideshows to videos to bridges made of cardboard and construction paper allow schoolwork to slip into the realm of play. Playing together and laughing and those long deep conversations about important topics just might leave those trails I’m thinking about.

And I know for sure that my students leave trails of their own, for their classmates to follow, for younger brothers and sisters and most definitely those etched deeply on my heart. They remind me that the ordinary matters, that caring is more important than any test score or report card and that if we pay attention we can find the pathways that matter most.

SOLC Day 3: Writing Under the Influence

Yesterday’s photography foray into the garden was still on students’ minds today.  I always seem to be living (and teaching) on borrowed time, so after finishing up some other work I was able to give students time to go back and look through the photographs they took yesterday.  I asked them to select their three “best” photos…thinking about the categories/compositional strategies they had tried yesterday.  Then of the three, figure out which one would be best as a black and white image.  I showed my own process, talking through the three photos I selected and showing my black and white image (you can see it on yesterday’s post). They were excited…eager to select, eager to edit, and I smartly limited the time to minutes in the single digits.  I called them together, iPads in hand, and had them all hold up their images.  Stunning, striking, interesting, and sometimes surprising…all words that described those photographs.

And with a few minutes until recess, I reminded students about the poem we had read and studied yesterday: Peeling an Orange  by Eve Merriam.  I started my own poem in front of my students, thinking aloud as I talked through what I saw in this mentor text and writing my poem’s first lines.  I knew they were ready as they suggested ideas for my writing, questioned my decisions, and started asking questions about their own writing-to-be.

There is something magical about writing under the influence.  EVERY SINGLE STUDENT in my class had a title and an path forward for their poem in less than 5 minutes…and were asking when they would have time to return to this writing as we walked out to recess.

Just enough structure and lots choice meant students took photos of what caught their eyes. Being outdoors, wandering through the garden felt more like play than work–offering opportunities for creativity and exploration.  Selecting meant making some intentional choices–but choices again.  And nothing makes my students happier than messing with filters in editing mode!

We read and study a poem each week, so my students are familiar with poetry as a mentor text.  They know me well, expecting to write any time we do something creative and artistic. And there is something wonderful about writing short.  Small poems invite students to try something new, explore language, and still know the end is in sight.  The lift is somehow just right.

Here’s a tiny taste:

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 8.47.55 PM

And on some crazy whim, I decided to have my students create a slide deck of their small poems and photographs this afternoon.  (Reminiscent of something we did for #writeout and #clmooc)  So here they are:  first draft small poems and Ansel Adam-inspired photos from the garden.  We were definitely under the influence:  of nature, of photography, of freedom and choice, of a mentor text, and of a community of writers composing together.

 

 

 

 

Things and Places: #writeout

An email subscription led me to a podcast called Everything is Alivewhere inanimate objects are interviewed.  (Full disclosure, I only listened to a few minutes of one podcast–but did read the transcript linked above.)  But, this idea of the personality and alive-ness of inanimate objects got me thinking about inspiration for writing.  And, in the serendipity sort of way I often experience when thinking and writing and lesson planning, I came across an old favorite poem I have used with students called Pencils by Barbara Esbensen.  (You can read Esbensen’s poem linked above.)

I have this idea that students will pick an object that matters to them and create their own inanimate object poetry inspired by Pencils.  Should I have them write about pencils?  No…let them choose something that matters to each of them.  What would I pick? My camera, of course.  So, here’s my try:

Cameras

The rooms in a camera

are a tight fit

but forests seascapes classrooms

crowd right in

 

In a camera

nature’s colors riot, drawing your eye

and dim light shifts the world

to black and white

 

From a photographer (experienced or not)

an unexplained photo may emerge

framed by the untold story

living in the stillness, frozen in time

 

Every image in your camera

is ready to

dance on rays of light

ready

to focus and expose

ready to come right out

and save that moment

so that you can explore

and experience it again and again

®Douillard

Will my third graders be able to animate their inanimate objects?  I think so…and I also think that the objects will connect them to places they love and spend time at…so #writeout it is!  I’ll share the results later in the week!

Here are some of my favorite places that crowd right into the rooms in my camera!

sand art

img_2944

img_3139

 

Shhhh: SOLC 2019 Day 24

Shhhh…I missed a day of the Slice of Life Challenge.  It was one of those days–rare in my teaching career–when I couldn’t get myself up and out to work.

On Tuesday night, after a long day and a late meeting, I headed to bed feeling chilled and achy.  I’m pretty good at sleeping, so I figured I would feel better in the morning. I felt myself toss and turn throughout the night, trying to find a position where my head didn’t hurt, where my body felt relaxed.  I woke up before my alarm feeling the heaviness of a dread I tried to push away.

As I wrote on Tuesday’s slice, I had great plans for Wednesday!  We would be creating wire fish, a project including science, engineering, math, technology, art, reflection, creativity…  So when I woke up with the horrendous headache and body that felt on the verge of collapse, I pushed back.  Of course I could go to work, I would will myself to feel better.

I stumbled to the shower, sure that the not-too-warm water would ease the pains and refresh my mind.  When I found myself sitting on the shower floor trying to muster the energy to stand, I knew work wasn’t a possibility for me.

But now what?  I texted my favorite sub with crossed fingers, hoping she didn’t already have a job for the day.  All the while my pounding head was searching for what learning opportunities would replace my plans–plans that exist only in my brain.  Flat on my back–the only position I could bear–I texted my team partner.  Did she have some kind of a math lesson she could easily pull together for my sub?  My phone on my stomach started to buzz.  Yes, my sub could come in, but would be late since she wasn’t yet dressed for the day.  Okay–that could be handled.  Another buzz…of course a lesson could be prepared.  Appreciation and relief flooded my still pounding head.  I am so fortunate to work in a community of educators who pull together and support each other.

I’m not sure when I moved that phone off my stomach.  Once my class was covered and my mind was at ease, sleep was the only option.  By about 1:30pm, my headache had eased and I could finally lift my head.  It was 4:30pm by the time I finally got out of bed.

My feeling of dis-ease left as suddenly as it came.  In less than 24 hours, I felt sick and then not sick again.  I missed my teaching day on Wednesday, the afternoon time when I had planned to work on report cards, and had to cancel an early evening meeting…and of course, my slice for the day.

It feels like I have been playing catch up every day since.  But shhhh, don’t tell anyone that I missed a day of my month-long challenge!  (Maybe I’ll have to write two slices on another day!)

A Doing Day: SOLC 2019 Day 5

You know it’s been a good day in the classroom when nobody has to go to the bathroom. That’s not to say that students didn’t need to go–or even that they didn’t go, just that the asking and the going doesn’t interfere with the learning and learning activities that are going on.

I notice that those are days filled with lots of doing.  Today started with students going online to vote for anti-hate messaging from a contest we entered.  The google form made it easy for each to independently watch the short videos and make decisions about the images and poems and posters and more.  After Cardio Club and an abbreviated morning routine, we dove headfirst into another weaving project.  (You can find a mini post about last week’s weaving here.)  A novel tool is always a plus…who knew there were 18 inch rulers?  Using a ruler to measure effectively and to draw straight lines is challenging for third graders, but with a little help from their friends all were able to manage the task.  (I wish I had remembered to take photos!)  Finishing our 4-triangle inquiry set the stage for a study of two-voice poems through the poem Squares by Theoni Pappas.  (And that was all before recess!)

Add some bubble blowing and birthday cookies along with a couple of chapters of Save Me a Seat before we dove into writing claims about the “right” age for kids to be able to stay home alone.  We were sharing our claims when the principal and superintendent stopped by.  (While the claims were more similar than I would have liked, students did a great job composing defensible claims based on some articles we read…a great early effort!)

We returned to the weaving project, tracing geometric shapes that would be woven into the monochromatic art piece that features design, math, and writing.

tracing shapes

After some last detailed directions before lunch, students returned to the classroom after lunch to weave their geometric shapes into striking pieces of art.  We were so engaged, we almost forgot to get our things packed up to go home!  (And the photo included above is the only photo I took today!  I’ll have to take some of the finished products once we get our two-voice poetry completed.)

This was definitely a doing day!

 

Pollinate the Future

I love Fridays.  There is something wonderful about a teaching day that is flexible, full, and ready for whatever learning opportunity is needed.  My plan book was blank today, but I knew just what learning would support the learners in our class today.  We didn’t squander a single minute…and left inspired and ready…for more learning, for spring break, and for our 30-day poetry challenge!

My time in the garden yesterday stayed with me today.  I was thinking about bees and the work they do.  As I wrote today (waiting for a table to be ready for us for dinner), I realized that teachers are a lot like bees.  The work we do is often perceived as unremarkable, the day in day out attending to a series of seemingly small skills that add up to fueling all of the professions in our country.  Like bees and pollination, teaching is work that matters in so many ways but seems so inconsequential in its dailiness.  As teachers, we pollinate the future, growing the innovators, the designers, the architects, the scientists, the work force of the future.  I’ve learned to appreciate bees, and I know that teachers are appreciated in many circles, but the teaching profession tends to be under appreciated and misunderstood in our larger society.  Enough from my soapbox, here’s today’s poem:

Bees

Cellophane wings

with invisible speed

buzz buzz

carry fuzzy pollinators

from bloom to bloom

buzz buzz

doing unremarkable work

that matters

to all of us

buzz buzz

pollinating the future

Douillard 2018

bees

I can feel the pollination of poetry taking hold in the classroom.  Students came in to school this morning ready to share poems they had worked on at home overnight.  Here’s a little collection to enjoy!

Trees

Tall, lanky branches

stretch out

like fireworks,

leaves explode into different colors

throughout seasons,

roots grapple to find water in the dry soil.

After getting old

the bark shreds off,

like a snake shedding its skin.

The branches that used to be fireworks

slowly snap, then fall

and break into pieces of branch and twig.

Koa

Avi's tree

The Giant

The giant soars above me

towering over the town

the giant’s arms glide against the wind

over everything in the park

the calm surrounds me

as the roots dig deeper into the ground.

silently watching everything

Photo and poem by Avi

And something playful…

siena's hula hoop

A Hula Hoop

It twirls like never before
it dances like a ballerina
it spins like a dreidel

When it falls it gets back up

Photo and poem by Siena

It’s officially spring break…I can’t wait to see how the poetry momentum sustains when we are away from school!