Thursday, April 26, 2012

Imagine your 6-word memoir here.

Do you remember listening to National Public Radio's 2008 story on Smith magazine's call for six-word memoirs?   Did you try it out?    It's not too late.

What would your young writers say about their years on this earth?   How would they sum them up in six?  

If you've tried the two sentence journals, maybe this would be a good starting point.   Write a two-sentence memoir.   Reduce it to six words.   Of course, be open to complete revisions that include shifts in focus.

They're so tiny, you can post everyone's work in your classroom at the same time!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Putting Kids in the Corner

Well, sometimes it needs to be done.   I'm not talking about a screaming match and banishment.   I'm talking about reducing distractions in order to focus.  

Here's the thinking spot in my old classroom.   Note that it's surrounded by many people who have mastered the art of writing.   (Oh, and there's James Dean as a tribute to teenhood.)   Kris Kristofferson is a Rhodes Scholar, y'all.   This is a power desk.   Behind it is a big, wooden podium that provided some additional privacy.   There's not a "think about what you did" poster in front of the child.   It's Joe Perry being calm and cool while Steven Tyler breaks out into some kind of wacky musical scat-- I'm guessing here.

I would sometimes ask a child to try out this location after several attempts to redirect his/her focus on the task at hand, but there was also the option of a child choosing to sit there if he/she wanted a cozy place to create.   At first, there was some hesitance about the corner, but for some students, it was the most coveted place in the room--and they knew they didn't have to act up to use it.

This isn't a sleeping corner or a quarantine corner.   This is a tool for you and the child.   I have one in my new classroom, but I haven't gotten the corner vibe just right yet.   When the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter finally aligns with Mars, I'll let you know.

Sometimes when I write, I vant to be alone.   It's nice to be able to provide teen writers that option as well.

My desk was at the back corner, directly behind this row of students.   I also had a magnetic mirror that I could place on the white board, so I could check up on the lone writer and wave hello at welcome intervals.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Adventurous, Charming, Hopeful, Optimistic & Loyal

I admit it.   I do not enjoy teaching vocabulary.   Ever since I heard Ms. Laura Robb explain the frequency with which some struggling readers need to meet and remeet a word before they own it, I just got tired thinking about how to make that happen.   I think this makes the strongest case for building vocabulary instruction around root word studies.

Last Thursday we did a little harmless vocabulary work, but I can't promise you that all of it will stick.   I made copies of the "Sample Word Wall of Adjectives That Describe a Character's Personality."   You may find it inside Laura Robb's Easy Mini-Lessons for Building Vocabulary.   It's published by Scholastic.
Easy Mini-Lessons for Building Vocabulary (Grades 4-8)

Here's what we did:

1.   Highlight the words that are unfamiliar to you.
2.   Choose five of those words to define.
3.   Identify five words that describe you.
4.   Support your choices.
5.   Watch a clip from "The Muppet Movie."
I showed "Rainbow Connection" to the end of the segment below.
6.   Choose five adjectives that describe Kermit.
7.   Support your choices.
8.   Choose a character from your independent reading book
and five adjectives to describe him/ her/ it.
9.   Support your choices.

A modification I made for my inclusion class is to put them in pairs.
They did all of the same work, but more.
Putting them in pairs made it more natural to say the words out loud to each other as they decided which words they did not know.   Also, they chose five different words to define and shared their answers with their partner.   I put some kids on the class computers to use instead of the paper dictionaries.

And if you are wondering who the title of this entry describes, it's not me; it's Kermit.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

On Highway 61

Remember a couple of months back when I tried to get you to hit the road?   We were talking about the Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.   In particular, I was trying to make my way to the the most southern place on earth.   Cleveland, Mississippi.

I'm on the short list, y'all.

It sounds like a week full of hard work at Delta State, but I'm looking forward to being in the birthplace of the blues.   BBQ, tamales, Koolickles, The Fighting Okra, Stax Records, Po Monkey's Lounge, catfish, and so on.  

And he's not on the itinerary, but guess who was born in nearby Leland, Mississippi.  
Kermit. The. Frog.

I've not had a mind or the money to scoot down highway 61 before now, but I'm looking forward to my first visit to M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.

And $30 for some graduate credit/ recertification points?
Thanks, DSU!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Guerrilla Poetry Bombs

Something tells me that many of you are about to have a lot of empty plastic eggs at your disposal.   How about some Guerrilla Poetry Bombs?   ( explosives needed.)

This is an activity I tried out with the Eastern Virginia Writing Project Fellows of 2009.   It's simple.   Pick some favorite poems.   Print them out.   Fold them up.   Tuck them inside a plastic egg.

Now for the fun part.   Where are you going to leave these little bits of magic?   It's up to you.   You could have a friend ride shotgun with you after sundown and launch these babies in random lawns.   I guess it could be called littering, but wouldn't Smokey and Junior enjoy a bit of surprise Shel Silverstein?   Who wouldn't?  

Don't limit yourself to the canon of lit-tra-ture.   Consider songs too.   Willie Nelson's "Always on my Mind" strikes me as the kind of lyric that would hit someone just right.   Van Morrison.   Lennon & McCartney.   Otis Redding.   Leiber & Stoller.   Brian Wilson.   Dolly Parton.   Robbie Robertson.   Bob Dylan.   Bruuuuuuuuce.   Just be sure to include the names of the poets/ lyricists.

Even a song we've experienced a billion time's before like U2's "Beautiful Day" shows a different kind of beauty in the quiet of reading the words without hearing the tune.

Here's an old classic that would be a lot of fun on paper.

Let's illuminate our little corners of the world with uplifting and lighthearted words.   Here's a free, printable bookmark from your old pal, Shel Silverstein, to inspire you.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Your Marks

As an 8th grade writing teacher, my ultimate goal is to create independent writers by March.   First quarter focuses on narratives, ideas, written expression and apostrophe usage.   I feel like if I can get 8th graders to see writing as a craft by revising for specific nouns and strong verbs, there's a big payoff.   Craft.   That's what I'm talking about.  

I've written before about how I incorporate highlighters into writing instruction, but I'll mention it again because I think color-coding is one of the best approaches students use during editing and revising.   In short, we use pink to pause and green to go.   Pink means something's amiss; green means that something's sweet.   The more tools we can give our writers, the more independent they become.   And the more independent they become, the less you have to correct.   (Highlighters, colored pens, colored pencils---anything similar will work.)

Which brings me to the issue of marking up students' final drafts...   Use red, if you want to.   There's no harm in that.   You can also use highlighters to mark up a final draft. Highlighting something in pink...not just putting an editor's mark...puts the responsibility on the writer to determine the type of error.   We do need to consider the writing instruction given by that point in the year.   For example, I'm not going to write rants about usage and mechanics on children's papers in September.   That's counterproductive.  

I realize that students don't really have much of a choice when it comes to deciding if we are the type of people they'd like to share their thoughts, hopes, dreams, feelings and stories with, but we should be the type of readers that can offer both critique and praise.   If we shut our writers down early, how can we expect them to approach each of our lessons with a sense of optimism?   How can we encourage them to take stylistic risks or dig into some of their darkest corners for honest storytelling?

Okay.   I know that sounds a bit deep for third grade students, but I think you understand what I mean.

I would caution teachers against creating a penalty system to grade papers in which a product can fail on minutia.   The best example is spelling.   You will have some wonderful thinkers who have a diagnosed or undiagnosed processing hurdle when it comes to spelling.   What if their essays are perfect in every way, but their spelling is not?   Using a rubric will help avoid failing a child on one isolated skill.  And I don't get a kick out of marking up finals with negative comments at all.   My preference is that the skilled child writer will find all of his/ her errors before I do.

Am I saying to take it easy on your writers?   Nope.   Just give them challenges in which they have the real possibility of success.   Don't get caught up in carrying on about which skills they should have mastered in earlier grades.   It doesn't matter.   That's for your administration to ponder.   Teach the students in front of you what you want them to know now.  

Also, if you are a true crafter of language, you can identify something successful in just about any paper.   Voice, written expression, word choice, imagery, sequencing, believable dialogue, ideas, sentence can find it.  

If you are still thinking that you need help on giving constructive feedback, here are 100 trait-specific comments!