Friday, October 18, 2013

For those about to write

This year has been tough, but enough about that.

One benefit to our schedule is that my two fourth block classes are smallish.  This means 10-15 students most days.  Today I was enjoying myself so much; it almost felt like summer.  Almost.  We were down to 12 kids today because two of my students were on a band field trip; one was somewhere else.  All eighth graders spent their morning completing three intense timed Explore tests, so I thought I'd go easy on them.

This group loves independent reading time, so I made sure I gave them 20 minutes for that.  During that time I was also to get a child started on the audiobook for Frindle. Sadly the archaic technology of the cassette tape requires 1:1 instruction.  (Other books being read in that room include: the Lunch Lady series, the Vampire Kisses series, the Bone series, the Bluford series, the Wimpy Kid series, the Harry Potter marathon, World War Z, The Dead and the Gone, Cobra Strike, The Running Dream, Twilight, On The Run. The last title is part of, you guessed it, a series! It's Korman's Chasing the Falconers-- a sure sell for reluctant readers who can get bogged down by their reading pace. It's Friday night; I'm sure I'm forgetting someone.) Most children are reading good old-fashioned books.  One is reading on her cell phone.  By the way, if you haven't yet fallen completely in love with helping kids develop an individualized reading life, let the lovely Neil Gaiman  help you with that.

Back when I started this blog I had twice the amount of instructional time with all language arts students.  I've had to cut out some of the activities I enjoy.  On days like these when the children are a little spent or we have several absences, I try to move some of those lessons back in.

Today we created the My Name Is...  poems that I used to do the first week of school.   With only twelve students I was able to keep the art mess to one side of the classroom to make it easier on our custodians.  Students who finished first explained the secret second step of the assignment to their classmates as they were ready to pen their creations.  When they completed their work, we "published" by posting their poems on the magnetic white board with some cheap fridge magnets from Wal-Mart.   After that, I could move students around the room in order to give them other enrichment activities.

Some took Accelerated Reader tests and got new library books before the weekend.  Some played with my deck of I've Never cards.  Students sharpened our classroom supply of pencils.  They cleaned up after themselves and others. They used my school-provided iPad to play Chicktionary. They read their classmates' Six Word Memoirs as well as today's poems.  Two students helped cut apart my circus-sized copy of Chicken Soup with Rice.  (I want to create classroom posters with the pages.)  In short, we all just enjoyed each other.

I know that there is some research that negates class size as a positive variable in student achievement, but maybe it's all about the size of the room.  When I can plug learners in to different spaces with different activities when appropriate, my job is easier, and learning can be individualized.  I miss the days of being able to take my class to the technology lab in our former school building.  There were tables, a whole bank of computers, floor space, traditional desks, AND IT WAS RIGHT ACROSS FROM BATHROOMS AND A WATER FOUNTAIN.  The instructor was so cool about letting me have my class there during his planning period.  Think kindergarten classrooms for teens.

Back to reality...

So after the first student's poem was done, our assistant superintendent dropped by for an unannounced visit.  Stay calm.  It's okay.  It's always fun to see another adult in the room.  With the student's permission, I was able to show him a finished product while explaining what was going on.  He asked a young man what we were doing; the young man was additionally cutting out a snazzy moustache and other oddities while completing his 20 word collection.  I pointed out that wasn't quite what we were doing, but the assistant superintendent did remark that the child was engaged.  True.

Allowing children some time to socialize through appropriate, guided play can foster a love of language.  It helps balance out your classroom climate as well.  The classroom needs to be a place of play and experimentation in order for everyone to stay healthy and energized.  Play can build community.  Please resist allowing kids to plug into their iPods to listen to music while all of this is going on.  Believe me-- they will get all of their daily iPod time in later.  I love music too, but allowing them to detach from the "now" prevents them from connecting with friends through language and listening.  It will also dull their observational skills that you are trying to build for their writing lives.  Please don't let them disengage through isolation.  Besides, it will wreck all your feng shui up one side and down the other.

(It may be a bias that I think personal listening devices are for alone time, cutting the grass, going to sleep and pretending to be busy to avoid talking to strangers on planes.  I like my music loud and shared. \m/ )

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