Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Home? Where's Yours"

Home.  Where’s yours?  Today I was reading from a wonderful collection by Lee Bennett Hopkins called, Home to Me: Poems Across America.  It’s a grand collection of poetry about “home” and it is striking!

I’ve been thinking about home a lot of late.  Today, I was sitting in my classroom after school, with a pile of books on my table, planning our next study as writers.  In Lee’s book, Pass the Poetry, Please!, I read the words Lucille Clifton offered, “… lives become generations made out of pictures and words just kept.”  Generations.   

And, as I was reading Home to Me I was awestruck when I read Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s poem “A Place Called Prairie.”  I was breathless with her words, “I breathe in stories told to me; when winds came calling, a fine dust falling on these same prairie plains…”  And then, I read “Needed” by Sandra Gilbert Brug.  That was it.  I was brought to tears, remembering…

I started remembering my childhood.  Remembering times spent with my brother-in-law and sister on the “Turkey Track” near Colorado Springs.  Remembering playing with my nieces in the hayloft, in the corrals, in the chicken houses.  Remembering grand dinners and lunches whipped up my sister, Doris.  Remembering feeding cattle, learning to drive the pickup, riding horses, branding cattle.  Remembering laughter and country songs playing on the phonograph.  Remembering the warmth of eggs as I gathered them in the morning.  Remembering tomatoes canned at summer's end.  Remembering gatherings of neighbors and friends.  Remembering falling asleep to the night sounds of coyotes on the lawn and then the raucous roosters waking us in the morning.  Remembering… The simplicity.  The joy.  The hard work.  The life.  Home.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where our educational road is leading young learners.  I think about assessments and standards and backwards planning and publishers out to make a buck.  And the plethora of “stuff” whipped up by the those whose home is farthest away from children... in the name of accountability and ‘being number one.”  Instead of slowing down, we keep speeding up… and learners who need to think deeply, ponder regularly, and question often still have a place in the 21st Century.  It's my hope that we can all slow down a bit, after all, isn't that want the core content standards propose?  Depth, not breadth.  Synthesis, not regurgitation.  Thinking, not filling in blanks. 

But, back to home.  What I’m really thinking about is storyRuth Ayres always inspires me to remember story (she reminds us not to forget story and its importance in our lives).  Ruth’s voice has been echoing in my brain since I heard her keynote at the AllWrite Conference last summer.  And, so I’m befuddled.  In all the madness and rush to move readers and writers through continuums, programs, rubrics, and such, I worry about the simplicity, the organic nature of learning, the heart of the learner.  Moving slowly and deeply must lead children safely into the complexity of this thing called learning.

As I pondered Lee’s work today, I began to lay out our next “unit of study.”  I decided that we, as learners, are going to have to take the slow path, the scenic path, enough to do some remembering.  We’re going to have to dig deep into the satchels of memory we carry (don’t worry, I’ll make sure we’re learning something viable).  We’re going to have create the same kinds joy that has inspired Lee, Lucille, Rebecca, and Ruth. 

Home. The power of “home.”

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Here’s what I jotted in my journal in response to the reading I did this afternoon.  A little poem, just to ground my thinking.  Enjoy.


I drove to the prairie today,
For what?  I don’t quite know.

Perhaps to listen for the sound of cattle hooves
tramping across their well-worn pasture path.

Perhaps to see the windmill blades
churning beside a lone horse tank.

Perhaps to smell the dampness of the blue grama
drifting amidst a prairie wind.

Perhaps to touch the dusty earth
warming slowly after morning rain.

Perhaps to taste the evening breeze
blowing its breath into the world.

I drove to the prairie today,
For what?  Perhaps just to remember.

Perhaps to return... home. 

p.s.  As I reread this post, I felt this kinetic jump from topic to topic... a slight disconnect.  But, it's what was on my mind.  Let's just call it... random post for the month!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Peaceful Start to the Year...

it does not mean to be in a place
where there is no noise, trouble
or hard work.  it means to be in
the midst of those things and still
be calm in your heart.
On a canvas bag sent to me by my friend Mimi
     I started my school year out somewhat differently this year.  Oh... we've had the usual conversations about workshop structures, rituals and routines, the gradual release of responsibility, learning with a spirit of endurance.  And, our conversations have been grand and thoughtful.  But I've added a new twist.  My friend, Dana, nudged my thinking in a different direction (great colleagues have a way of nudging and stretching our thinking, don't they?).
     Dana and I decided that we wanted a "peace-filled" beginning to our school year (she's in Casper, Wyoming and I'm here).  And, after talking a bit (okay, more than a bit), we both decided that it would be a great way to start the year... to build on the concept of "peace" and to incorporate peacefulness into our reader's and writer's workshops throughout the school year.  Together, we did a search of our classroom libraries (and bookstores) to find just the right literature to launch our discussions with children. 
     Within the buzz and bustle of my classroom of 31 fourth graders, I knew I had to bring a sense of slowness and calm, patience and peace, lingering and depth to our work together.  And, what better way to do it than through making careful decisions about some of the texts we're using for think alouds, shared readings, and writing launches?  We've delved into some sophistication along the way so far... comparing, critiquing, commenting.  What a grand way to start the year!  Combined with "peaceful" music, low lighting, and a quiet tone... it's been, well, peace-filled.
     Having an overarching feeling of "peace" has added a new dimension to our classroom environment.  My students and I have enjoyed exploring the concept into our discussions, our notebooks, and our classroom routines.  And with "peace" comes a sense of rigor and quiet reflection that is both contagious and awe-inspiring.
     I thought I'd share some favorite texts I've found with you.  I have used several and plan to use several more throughout the year... as we step "gently out" into our year together, I can't wait to find more!  Helen Frost's wonderful poem (and picture book) "Step Gently Out" has become our theme for this year.  And we all need a little gentleness is our classroom worlds, don't we?  Here you go:
A favorite find!  A wonderful mentor text for writing biographies... breathtaking!
A simple text that creates a grand message!  Talk.  Peace.  Two words that should be on our lips as we work together daily...
This book is definitely for a more mature group of children, but what a grand book to empower children to become peacemakers.  A bit "controversial," but worth having on the list!  Beautifully written narrative text.
Joanne Ryder... need I say more?  Okay, how about Norman Gorbaty.  Enough said!
The photographs are endearing and the text is a tribute to a peaceful existence.
The creator of dynamite now has the most important prize in all the world named after him... the Nobel Prize.  Amazing!  Look at the cover... it is absolutely brilliant!  I love this book and I was amazed by Alfred Lobel's story.
The photographs are lovely... and the text takes the reader through a day of peace.
I love the illustrations by Stephanie Carter.  And Jane Baskwill's words can't help but create a peaceful tone.  If peace is a promise... a wonderful repeating line!
Lee Bennett Hopkins compiled this wonderful collection of poetry from some of our favorite poets.  And, Chris Soentpiet's illustrations are masterful (look for the face of the girl from Something Beautiful on the cover).
Our "theme" book for the year... We're stepping gently out into a year of exploring and learning.  This is a beautiful book by Helen Frost.  Combined with Rick Lieder's photos... stunning!  Check out this Vimeo!  I've blogged about this book before and it's a read and read again addition to our "peace" bag this year!


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sky Color

Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds is amazing.  There's something magical and endearing about the books he writes and this is no exception.
     In Sky Color, he captures the spirit of a young artist, Marisol.  We've all known a Marisol or two... creative, passionate, artsy, quirky.  Near the beginning of the book there's a line "She painted posters to share ideas she believed in."  When I read that line, I was hooked... I knew I was going to love the rest of the book.
     Marisol's class was planning to paint a mural in the library and she chose to paint the sky.  Her only trouble... no blue paint.  She pondered.  And, when she watched the day turn into night, she made an amazing discovery.  She had vision.  She had insight.  She thought outside the "sky."  I won't tell you about her decision... 
     Suffice to say, I worry about the Marisol's in today's world.  I worry that within the core of what others believe to be, well, standard, that the Marisols will stop searching for new ideas, new colors, new inspirations, new vision.  I worry that what's at the very core of the artist's soul won't be nurtured, engaged, nudged... valued.
     I love Sky Color.  It reminds me of a story my sister (83-years-old) told me about coloring a Thanksgiving turkey in school when she was a little girl.  Joy knew turkeys.  While the other children colored their turkeys brown and black, Joy colored the tail feathers blue and red and yellow and orange.  Joy's turkey had a body that was a blend of subtle blues, blacks, and greens.  Her turkey's head was brilliant red... its eye a small white and black bead.  As the teacher walked by, she leaned over and whispered, "Oh dear Joy, turkeys are brown!"  Try as she might to explain her choice of color, Joy was shocked when the teacher put a large red X through her drawing, handed her a new paper and said, "Here honey, why don't you try again!"  All these years later, Joy still remembers being asked to conform to a world she saw differently... more beautifully.
     Joy is a Marisol.  And, I'm so glad we have wonderful writers like Peter H. Reynolds to remind us that THEY need support as well... to their very core!

Thank you to Candlewick Press for the Advanced Copy