Tag Archives: weeds

A Burr in Your Sock

Today was a prickly kind of day in the SDAWP SI.  There’s something about confronting formulaic writing that sticks in your socks like those little burrs you find on weeds that seem to plant themselves in the most unlikely places.

burr

Over the weekend we read a collection of articles about formulaic writing, thinking about why this approach to writing instruction persists, and the implications for student writing.  Even teachers who are proponents of using a formulaic approach to teaching writing still complain about the deadening experience of reading the resulting student writing.  Who wants to read paper after paper of repetitive phrasing and uninspired thinking?

I contrast that with the playfulness of this week at the CLMOOC.  This week’s make is to hack your writing.  And already on day two interesting writing is filling my feeds.  I woke up this morning to a poem by Kevin “stolen” from yesterday’s blog post:

I live in contrasts
in the space between here
and there
I find the nook to hide in
and observe the world
through many lenses
I seek but never find
the whys of the world
so that every movement is
equally beautiful, equally interesting
and entirely different from each other
but only if we take the time to pause
and notice.

And this creation by Sherri:

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 8.41.27 PM

Both Kevin and Sherri played with language and writing, creating their own message and meaning from words I had written.  They wrote for fun, for their own purpose, and gifted their words to me on my blog.  I grant you that they are adults and they are not composing “academic” texts, but I know that the spirit of fun and play supports them as writers.

I worry about who in our schools gets the most formulaic writing.  Why are our English learners, our students of color, our students who live below the poverty line most likely to get writing instruction that is pre-chewed, scaffolded to the point that no thinking is required?  In the name of being helpful, we are robbing students of the opportunity to make sense of their thinking through writing.

And yet, letting go of the formulaic means inviting messiness, losing control, welcoming confusion in order to find clarity and coherence.  What replaces the formula?  That is a question that I am asked over and over again.  The answers aren’t easy, they aren’t neat, and they mean teaching writers rather than writing.

Sometimes that search for answers feels like a burr in your sock.  But if you look closely–maybe using your macro lens–you’ll see the details of the beautiful weed, a natural hacker, springing up where you least expect it.

Exploring Natives…and Some Extras!

If you’ve been reading my blog, you may have noticed my obsession with weeds (here, here, and here are some examples). So when I heard that the Lux Art Institute was hosting an artist whose work features weeds, I couldn’t wait to visit.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  Beverly Penn makes exquisite sculptures by casting what others might classify as ordinary or weed-like flora in bronze and then creating beautiful art that seems to breathe, move, and reflect light.  I wish I could have taken photos of the art–but the museum requested no photos in the studio.

And as an added extra, when I had a minute to chat with the artist, she talked about how her current work (that she is working on as she is in residency at the Lux) uses the native plants that grow prolifically on the Lux grounds.  As we left the studio, we headed out into the grounds to see the sculptures installed in the native plant trail…also surrounded by even more native chaparral.

I took this photo of the native buckwheat.  And if you look closely you will see a little extra in the background–one of the fanciful birdhouses that is a part of the sculpture collection at the Lux.

native and extra

As I walked the natives, I couldn’t resist stopping to put my macro lens on to get closer to these often unappreciated beauties.  Seeing Beverly Penn’s sculptures inspired my curiosity and had me wanting to look even more closely at these plants that seem to grow like weeds…and many consider weeds.  Lately, they have been celebrated for their resilience in drought conditions, requiring considerably less water than the decorative plants that many like to cultivate around homes and businesses.

This Hummingbird’s Trumpet uses its brilliant scarlet to attract pollinators…and my eye.

monkey flower

I was surprised to learn that this vibrant yellow bloom is called the California Brittlebush.  I love the bumpiness of the centers when when you get close.

brittle yellow

I’m really not sure of the name of this purple flowering plant.  The bloom is interesting because it includes a spiky ball and then a delicate flower.

purple native

purple native 2

My interest in weeds has also allowed me to find the beauty in the stages of blooming that some might dismiss as ugly or uninteresting.  This plant, the Seaside Daisy, had a few blossoms in full bloom with white petals and a bright yellow center.  But I found myself interested in the blossoms that were past their prime, “gone to seed”–reminding me of dandelions and their tenacious seed dispersement and the beauty of the husks as the seeds blow away.

seaside daisy husk

seaside daisy seed

I was also drawn to the black sage…a common plant in these parts.  The blossoms are now skeletons, and yet somehow their intricate beauty draws me in and the fragrance evokes San Diego summer.

black sage

I loved the extras that presented themselves as I headed off to the Lux today.  I was reminded to appreciate the natives…and look closely to find their beauty and intricacy.  And one more extra: I ran into one of my students (and her little sister who will be my student when school begins in the fall) as they came out of the art studio and I was about to enter.  Their mom mentioned that they were there because we had studied weeds…they just couldn’t wait to see what the artist was doing with weeds as her subject!  What a great beginning to summer!

Reflecting on Weeds

I’ve been pretty obsessed with weeds over the last few weeks.  These much maligned plants are resilient, tenacious, and often quite beautiful…traits I admire.

On my way home from work today I noticed that the greenhouses I passed were ablaze with color, so I pulled off the road, parked and walked to take a closer look and a few pictures.  And on my way I noticed this weed growing along the cement wall in a crack between the sidewalk and the wall.

urban weeds

When I got home I noticed that today’s Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge was reflection…and instead of thinking about the many photos I take of literal reflections (mostly involving water), my mind immediately went to this photo of a dandelion weed growing in the crack of a sidewalk.

I’ve reflected on many aspects of weeds in the last couple of weeks: their beauty, the role of a negative label, and about things that we see as expendable. Every time I see a weed I find myself thinking about its positive qualities…and wondering if a particular plant is seen as a weed depending on the context.  After I photographed the dandelion weed I also noticed the salty susans growing wild in the dirt where the sidewalk stopped.  I wondered…are these weeds or are they native plants?  And really, what is the difference?  If these yellow blossoms were in the crack of the sidewalk would that make them a weed?

salty susan

And as I finished my parent-student-teacher conferences today I was thinking about the qualities the educational establishment values in learners.  What about the students who don’t quite fit the profile of the ideal learner?

I heard a piece on the radio this morning about the rate of suspension and expulsion in schools of students of color…and know that there is no reasonable explanation for these statistics. These children are being seen as “weeds” in the system, intentionally or unintentionally, and this has to change.  How we talk about kids and how we define success plays a huge role in the ways kids are treated in schools and other contexts.  Plucking them out is not a viable solution…and there’s plenty of research to support that premise.

I think the answer lies in broadening our definitions of school success.  I also think we need to consider what we expect of students.  Do we want them to sit quietly or do we want them to learn?  Is reading from a textbook or listening to lectures the best pathway to learning?  How do we support students in finding their own experiences in the content we teach?  What environments do we cultivate to encourage the growth of students who are quite different from each other?  How do we engage families and learn from them and with them about their children?

For me, weeds are an object of reflection…and of fascination.  And they generate question after question for me to consider as I strive to improve my teaching practice.

And watch out…I might just have an entire garden full of weeds one of these days!

Learning From Weeds

My students seem to be falling in love with weeds.  After reading Weeds Find a Way yesterday, we invited students to be on the lookout for weeds.  And this morning while kids were out running laps for Cardio Club, I was presented with more than one dandelion puff–those magical seed pods of childhood.  I guess they wanted to make sure I knew how much they loved them!

And I love it when different classroom activities intersect and overlap, creating a deeper learning experience for all of us.  Today when students headed out to the garden with our gardening teacher, they went in search of weeds.  And while they had weeded the garden beds before, after our reading yesterday and with the gardening teacher knowing that we were learning about weeds, this time they were looking more closely.  One student came in from recess with a weed clutched in her fist.  She showed me the plant, pointing out what she was as interesting features.  She also let me know that she had sketched this plant in her gardening journal.

Student brought a basket full of weeds back to the classroom…and we’ll use them later this week in a science lab about weeds.  As I peered into the basket, I was immediately interested in the stickers on the plants that I remember as a child.  I have vivid memories of pulling those stickers out of my socks.  And of course, I had to grab my phone and take a few shots.

sticker weed

In some ways the topic of weeds has stuck to me like those stickers I used to pull out of my socks.  I’m noticing a lot of variety in weeds and find myself wishing I knew more about them. I’m also still thinking about labels and how that influences the way we view and treat those labeled as nuisance or disposable or disgusting or not worth time or energy.  This goes well beyond plants.  It seems to apply to both living things and inanimate items.

Think about those one-time use plastic bags that many people (me included) use to carry groceries home from the market.  We find them everywhere they don’t belong…on the ground, at the beach, on park benches and half buried in the sand.  They are seen as expendable, cheap, replaceable–so people are not taking care to keep track of them or even to dispose of them properly.

My city is contemplating banning these bags because of the environmental dangers they pose. How will the ban change the way people see them and use them?

And how does this apply to students?  Which are seen as expendable, easy to replace, just a number in the system? Does that change the way they are treated?

I’m glad we are learning about weeds.  They are helping me learn a lot about myself.

The Dilemma of Labels

I’m still thinking about weeds.  Probably because we read Weeds Find a Way in class today.  Our students were so surprised when they realized the puff balls they love to blow from dandelions are really seeds!

photo-97

We talked about the places weed grow…and I urged them to be on the lookout for weeds in unexpected places and to report back to us what they noticed.

The more I think about weeds, the more I realize that weeds are just plants that have managed to make pests of themselves.  One of my students pointed out that weeds are plants that we don’t try to grow–they plant themselves.  There’s a list of weeds in the back of Cindy’s book, most that I have never heard of (obviously I’m not well-versed in weeds beyond dandelions).

But then again, is labeling a plant a weed just a matter of opinion?  Is a weed a plant you don’t want?  I can remember as a kid my mom calling geraniums weeds.  They grew along the side of our garage and my mom was always trying to pull them out.  And now I see people trying to grow geraniums, buying them from the nursery, cultivating them for their beautiful colors and vibrance.

Yesterday I noticed this ivy coming through the fence to my backyard.

gate with ivy

Sometimes I think ivy is pretty…but it can be insidious once it takes hold and is very hard to get rid of.  We had some ivy wrap itself around the trunk of a tree in our yard…and nearly kill the tree!  And it took a lot of work to free that tree from the ivy, and the tree is just beginning to come back to health.

So just when does a plant become a weed?  Is ivy a weed when it chokes a tree, but a plant when you cultivate its growth? And does the label matter? What about students?  When we label them…gifted, learning disabled, autistic, dyslexic…does it change the ways we view and treat them?  Do they become metaphoric weeds in our classrooms when they become a nuisance?  When they take too much work?  When they choke someone else’s growth?

Can we change our perceptions by changing the labels?  Or by removing the labels?  Would we like weeds better if we learned their names and noticed their unique qualities?

Hmmm…weeds and labels.  I need to do some more thinking about this!

A Homage to Weeds

I’m fascinated by weeds.  They have a way of surviving in the most unlikely of circumstances, even when they are directly and persistently attacked…like the dandelions in our lawn!  And on a lazy Saturday, a day where I am trying not to have the cold this tell-tale runny nose is suggesting, I’m still looking for an interesting photo or two to snap.

So, after wandering around my yard, I spied a patch of dandelions and other assorted weeds that have hijacked an abandoned pot of dirt and the ground around it.

I love my macro lens when weeds are concerned, it takes me in close and lets me see the magic and beauty of what often is mistaken as ordinary.  So with the macro attached, my phone and I headed out to a corner of the yard.  I’m particularly interested in unfolding buds, like this one.

Dandelion bud-macro

The string-like petals remind me of a variegated ball of yarn or multicolored strands of thread. It’s hard to believe that this will bloom into that yellow, sun-like blossom that most recognize as a dandelion.  (I’ve written about dandelions before, if you’re interested.)  Here’s a few tiny blossoms trying to get a foothold in my lawn.

dandelion-macro

SDAWP TC Cindy Jenson-Elliott just had her first picture book released recently.  Weeds Find a Way is a book that celebrates weeds in all their tenacity, beauty, and adaptions for survival. We’ll be using it in our class this week to both teach students about weeds in all their glory and to study the writing as a mentor text for our writing about some other plants in our school garden.

water drop on dandelion

So this post is an homage to weeds, a pause to appreciate these often maligned plants.  Taking time to find beauty, especially in what others have taught us to see as ugly or a nuisance, is refreshing and renewing for me.  And for me it transfers beyond weeds and helps me look at all aspects of life and living in a more appreciative frame.

What have you taken the time to appreciate today?