Thursday, October 25, 2012


Yesterday in inquiry block, we read the amazing true story of Henry "Box" Brown's journey to freedom.   He was a slave who worked with tobacco in Richmond.   Once his family was sold and sent to another state, Brown decided to make a wooden box and ship himself to Philly with the help of two friends.   That's the short version.

Read this book to find out the details.   

It's illustrated by Kadir Nelson
I first fell for Nelson's warm style when I bought a copy of Ellington is not a Street because the cover had a beautiful girl in braids holding a 78.   It's like everything he paints is smooched by the sunlight.

But let me tell you about the craft we did today.   Thanks to Pinterest, I decided to bring in paint chips and have my students make small boxes.   One chip for the lid, one for the box.   Easy enough, right?   And free!

Well, the first set of directions I found were not in English, and the computer translator was no help.
I found another set of directions that seemed straightforward and headed to Lowes for more chips.

Yeah.   I was so prepared by the time IB rolled around, so prepared that I should have known better.   My paint chips were smaller than the pattern suggested, and we weren't too skilled at immediately reducing the box to lid ratio.  

Who among us can do such precise math in the 15 minutes before lunch anyway?   

I showed the kids the main idea behind creating the box...where to cut vs. where to fold and then we estimated the size of our matching lids.   Some of us did pretty well.   And others of us, ahem, had lopsided marshmallow looking creations.   In spite of it all, many of the kids gave it their best shots.  

We ended up with enough oddly shaped containers to have a wedding shower for Barbie -n- Ken and offer them endless colors and sizes in casserole dishes, litter boxes and trash cans.  

And that's all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Love Have Mercy

I'm spent.   What to do?   What to do?   I just visited YouTube and typed in "ps22."   Why?   Because somewhere children are singing.   They are.   I need PS 22 to remind me of that.   I've mentioned them to you before, but I really can't get enough of Mr. B's wee songbirds.

Here's their current featured video--

I'm too old and unhip to know who Rebecca Loebe is, but you can visit her website here.  

All I know is that this song is like a tiny meditation, and you can't help but feel better about life.  

In supporting roles are the patent leather shoes on a dear girl in the front row.   Baby girl church shoes are timeless and sweet.   Isn't that alone a comfort in itself?

Have mercy on yourownself, if you can find the time.   You're worth the effort.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pass the Peace Like We Used to Say

Soul Brother Number One!   You know who I'm talking about.   The Legendary James Brown!

I've been thinking about JB a lot lately because I feel like one of my engines is on in SOS.   I mean, how did he do what he did for year after year without burning out?   That's a lot of energy wrapped up inside some snug tailored suits.   Didn't he ever get tired?   Well, he feigned it sometimes.

Exhibit A:

Not to say that I'm laying down all of those slick moves during a school day, but I sure am beat when the children leave.   I like to imagine that someone comes and puts a cape on me when I feel like I can't go on.   Mine is made out of flannel or terry cloth, and you know it's machine washable.   Otherwise, I'd just fret about getting it dirty and paying the dry cleaning bill.

Lately some of my work stress has also made me wake up in the middle of the night guessed it...a cold sweat.

Oooooooooooh.    Heh.

But not in a good way.

But enough about me, back to JB.

Have you been looking for a way to fit James Brown into your classroom studies?
If you are studying the civil rights movement, I think he fits just fine.

It's April 5, 1968, the day after Dr. Martin Luther King was gunned down during his visit to Memphis where he was supporting the local sanitation workers' strike.   Riots were boiling in cities across America, including Boston.   Boston's Roxbury and South End areas to be specific.
Brown was scheduled to perform at the Boston Garden, 
but would it cause the violence to escalate further?   
The mayor was unsure.   Should the show go on?   
It did.
It was broadcast on television too, and looped repeatedly through the night.
According to, the crime rate was even less than a normal Friday night in Boston.

Here's the set list.

The sound isn't great, but you can catch the concert below.

Here's a better sounding version of one of the songs he performed that night.   
That's life, people.   We gotta pick ourselves up, cape optional, and get back in the race.

Get on the good foot, y'all!


You can't listen to this and feel bad for too long.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Learn to Fly

Earlier, I told you about how much I was enjoying the children that I see in my daily Inquiry Block.   It's still true.   I witnessed another magical moment yesterday after lunch as everyone read silently until I made them stop and go to the next class.

Okay...every kid but one, but I'll get him going eventually.

This week we've read the ghost story, "The Woman in the Snow," retold by Patricia McKissack.   It's a tale that combines the history of public transportation in Alabama with a little bit of the spirit world. You can find this short story in The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural.

Grady, our antagonist, refers to the black domestics that line his bus route as "blackbirds."   Most of us have a lovely image in our heads when we read the word "blackbirds," so it's a good reminder that words can have both positive and negative connotations based on the attitude of the user.  And, yes, connotations are in the curriculum framework for the 8th grade Virginia Standards of Learning.

We're also listening to the following song.   I bet you knew that this was coming.   It's Paul McCartney's tiny, elegant song, "Blackbird."   This time the tone is one of hope and compassion.

I copied the lyrics for the kids.   Next week, we're going to fold the lyrics up and tuck them inside a plastic egg to make a Beatle Bomb.   Are you as concerned as I am about unleashing 25 teens with plastic eggs to toss into THE REAL WORLD?   Hold your breath.

On the other hand, wouldn't it be awesome to spy a lonely plastic egg, open it and find Sir Paul's lovely words?   It's worth the risk.   I think.

Our next art activity was based on a Christmas ornament from The Art-Full Tree.   Knowing one of the authors makes me feel really important, so let me tell you that I know Ms. Jan Gilliam, and this book is one of a kind.   

There are several ornaments that you may choose to make, but we are made the dove.   We are using black card stock to keep in line with our idea of beautiful blackbirds.   I admire the dove that was given to me all year long, so it is not solely for the purpose of hanging on a Christmas tree.   Teens love to decorate their bedrooms, and a few of the boys had already planned where to place their creations.

Card stock, push pins, scissors, clear thread, a light crayon/colored pencil and some cardboard are the only other materials you'll need.   There's a template for you to photocopy in the back of the book.

The finished products looked better than I predicted.   I have to admit that when it came time for the detailed push pin work, I wasn't sure if they'd have the needed patience.   They did.

While I have you here, I also wanted to show off two of the small collages a student made earlier.
If you remember, the subject of the artwork was, "If I had wings..."

Kat's going to fly to concerts all around the world. Check out her bloody handprint wings.   Creative idea.
Those handprints came from a magazine; I promise.

Caroline's going to sprinkle our world with food for hungry animals.
Special thanks to my dear friends and art people:
Rachel Oney for gifting us with card stock and clear thread
Aimee Layton for those deliciously new white Crayola Crayons
Sandy Phillips and Donna Lassiter for regular contributions to my Magazine Mountain.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What will your verse be?

Excuse me.    I know that you are busy stomping on bubble wrap to relieve stress after assessing assessment assessments and the assessors themselves.

May I interest you in a little inspiration?

It's free.

The last time that I remember watching Dead Poets Society was years ago...on the big screen.   I was an awkward teenager who was excited at the thought that there was all of this marrow to suck out of life and that boys would write me sheaves of poetry.   It's not likely that I was seriously pondering a career in education at the time.   I was thinking about boys and rosebud gathering, not inspirational teachers.   Yawn.

I'm kind of excited about watching the film as a teacher.   Mr. Keating had some great ideas about connecting literature to life and making the beauty of language unfold before them.   Remember the earthy coziness of the poets' lair and how much fun it was for the boys to carry on with their education outside of the classroom?   Awesome.   When kids take the reins, it's a great day.

I think that it's because of this film that I skipped so many of  my college English classes that were held in a windowless bank building.   Literature and life without a single ray of sunlight or glass portal to the natural world.   It was making me dumberer.   And grouchy.   But this is all beside the point.

Here's the rub.

What will your verse be?   It's up to you.   

But...I beg you.

Please don't be the person who put the "ass" in assessment.

Yes, I said "ass," but so did Shakespeare, so that means it's okay, right?
Let's not let anything make "fools of us all."

Little and Fierce

Monday, October 8, 2012

And you thought bubble wrap was cheap...

This idea is so simple.   I don't want to insult anyone by posting it, so if you're easily offended, look away now.

Ok.   Now.

Last chance.

Sometimes rewarding students by writing their names on the board works.   Now, I wouldn't do this for just anything.   When you recognize a kid for excelling, sometimes it can backfire.   Peers may resent the child as some 8th graders are wont to do.   You know what I am saying here.

I set quarterly reading goals for my kids, and when I get a pack of around 20 who hit the mark, then I start listing names.   There's safety in numbers.

Also, by 20 you usually pick up a handful of kids who are a surprise to others.   As in THAT KID is reading more diligently than I am?   Yep.   He sure is.   Get with the program.   You know that kids are constantly measuring themselves against their peers, so sometimes this list whips them in shape.   They also know that the goals can vary based on reading ability, but that the kid with the smallest goal sometimes works harder to get there.

Once the list goes up, we need to check our students daily to see if their names can be added.   It's good to build momentum with this type of reward.

You know that the list is titled "Ms. Davis's Favorite Readers."   But everyone has a good chance of making the cut with a little effort.

When it's towards the end of the 9 weeks, I may list the top 15 point earners and let my voracious readers try to claw their way to the top.   Those kids usually love close competition.

Best of all, it's FREE!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sweet Spot

On days that I don't have planning, I find myself summoning all of the powers of the universe to come to my aid.   I imagine some hybrid of Cat Woman and Aqua Man.   Telepathic rings radiate from my being and lasso the tiny bits of extra energy that I will borrow from the world.   When underwater animals show up at my classroom door, I will change my approach.

I do this before leaving the house, and when I'm in my truck I scan radio stations until I find the right song.   After filling up my gas tank, I found a little Zeppelin to energize me.   Halleluyar.

I was feeling pretty good about today, and it went better than even I anticipated.   I almost don't want to talk about it for fear of jinxing myself, so I'm just going to tell you.   Got it?

One of my five language arts classes seems more diverse than my others.   I have all kinds and levels of readers in there.   My preference is to have children grouped, so I can dial in instruction and book choices based on what works for them.   I know that I lost some of you right there, but it works for reading.   I teach struggling readers with as much heart as I do my confident readers; trust me on that.  And no one is worksheeted to death.   It just makes it so much easier for everyone involved when children are closer in reading abilities.

Back to this particular class.   I only see them every other day, and I've been feeling like I just wasn't getting any traction with some of them.

It takes some time for new 8th graders to:

1) figure out that I'm not kidding when I say read
2) realize that I can smell fake reading a mile away
3) understand that I'm not giving up or letting it slide
4) decide to get with the program.

This class hit their sweet spot today.

I looked around the room, and everyone was reading...for real.   Then the assistant superintendent came in right in the middle of the magic.   He saw it too.   I wanted to cry happy tears and dance around to James Brown.

No one was reading the same book.   Everyone was doing his/her own thang.   We had everything from Dr. Seuss, the graphic novel of Paul Bunyan, The Fault in Our Stars and some Tolkien.

Holy Hobbit Toes, Bat Girl!   I'm telling you the truth.   Who knows what will happen next time, but today was more enchanted than a British wardrobe.

I hope that your day had a few great surprises in it too.

Monday, October 1, 2012

For the Win

Bubble wrap.   Don't you just feel joyous already?   I ordered some bars of Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap, and they came nestled inside bubble wrap.   Two of my favorite things in one box!

So while I was gathering a few odds and ends to throw in my reward drawer at school, I grabbed my new plastic stress reducer to take as well.   I'm cutting it down to 3 x 5ish pieces to make it last longer.

Today we battled our two sentence journals for the amazing reward of BUBBLE WRAP!   Yes!

Apparently there's an app for that, but you can also pop some virtual bubbles here.   Nothing beats the good old tactile experience of smooshing those little cells and irking someone else's nerves though, does it?

I haven't always had a reward drawer.   Kids loved it when I fished around in my old desk or the corner closet until I found something ridiculous and undesirable.   Ahhhh.    I remember when I found a lonely checker and the whole class broke a sweat trying to earn such a enviable trophy.

I don't give out prizes every day, but when I do, they're cheaper than cheap.