November 16, 2011

Opening Doors with the Wednesday Walk

This morning, the focus of our Wednesday Walk was gratitude.  What are we grateful for?  How can be specific with our thankfulness?
As we walked, students penciled their ideas into Writer's Notebook's and appreciated their warm coats and heated school building as the chilly breeze reminded us that winter is drawing near.  But there was an amazing moment as we rounded the last corner almost back to the school doors.  An Instructional Assistant (paraprofessional), who was accompanying a student on our walk, stopped me and said, "Look at this!  These are all his ideas!" as she pointed to the full page.  This is a child with very specific needs and is not a typical student, he hasn't ever filled a page with ideas.  We both had tears in our eyes, amazed and humbled by this student's ability to grow beyond our expectations.
This is why we walk.  We walk to open the doors to imagination.  We walk to open the doors to possibilities.  We walk to break down the barriers and discover hidden potential.

November 14, 2011

I had this idea...

I have the best principal.  She nurtures my enthusiasm and responds to my "I had this idea..." emails with positive encouragement.  Which is how I came to host a TEDxYouthDay Viewing Party for the 4th grade members of our school Student Council.  My "I had this idea..." email about this event began with the purpose to empower and inspire students in their role as leaders.  The Student Council is a passionate group of about 40 students who are committed to making our school a better place and the ultimate learning environment.  After sharing a few TEDx talks with this group, they inspired me to give up a Saturday to come back to school and "Play, Learn, Build & Share."  Okay, and the speaker lineup for TEDYouth on 11/19 is pretty impressive and I knew this group of students would love it.

We have embraced the TEDxYouthDay theme Play, Learn, Build & Share and, in addition to watching the live webcasts, we have many student-led activities planned encompassing an array of crafts that include up-cycled bottle caps, friendship bracelets, knitting, origami recycling bins (how cool is that!?!), and tie-dye t-shirts to become our "official" Student Council t-shirts.  Students have also planned science experiments, a model rocket launch, and several musical performances.  We're going to take on The Marshmallow Challenge together and launch our Student Council blog to share with our school community and other school groups around the country.  

I firmly believe that when we take the time to empower youth and give children the opportunity to use their voice we are truly shaping the leaders of tomorrow, who will be prepared to tackle with creativity and innovation the unknown future that lies ahead.  Children can, and do, make a difference in our schools, communities, and our world.  Believe in them, give them the opportunity and they will be the change.

November 4, 2011

To class pet or not to class pet? That is the question.

From the first week of school, my class has been asking, more like pleading, for a class pet.  I cannot even begin to count the number of spelling sentences and Writer's Notebook entries written about the possibility of a gerbil or hamster, or the more unusual requests of a weasel, llama, or parrot named Bingo. 
My students make me smile and laugh with their wild suggestions, but they also inspire me with the passion and enthusiasm that fuels their very, very consistent request for a class pet.  
In the spirit of wondering "What if?" more often, I've begun to wonder "what if we did have a class pet?" It could be great inspiration for imagination and creative writing, lessons in responsibility, or it could be a huge source of distraction.  However, my students' persistence and assurances of responsibility have been chipping away at my firm stance of "no."
Suddenly... (I feel the need to explain that, according to Gooney Bird Greene, one of my students' favorite characters, including a "suddenly" in your story is a great way to add suspense.)  ... an answer to my dilemma became clear.  

Three sister guinea pigs in need of a loving home and lots of play time.  Yep, I think my 21 3rd graders can handle that.  Hopefully our adoption of "the girls" will be official early next week.  

In August I wrote briefly about the Design for Change model of Feel Imagine Do Share Continue.  My students felt strongly about including a class pet in our 3rd grade family and through their imagination and persistent actions they certainly changed my mind.  Stay tuned, because I have a feeling that there will be a lot of sharing about the adventures of 3 darling sister guinea pigs.  Realizing they have changed my mind was an incredibly empowering moment for my students and it's moments like these that become catalysts for action to continue seeking change in the future.  

Any suggestions for guinea pig care or class pet resources are welcomed.  :-) 

November 3, 2011

Inspired by Gratitude

November inspires thoughts of thankfulness and gratitude in a number of ways.  School-wide, we are focusing on the lifeskill of gratitude by writing letters to US military troops.  This activity is near and dear to my heart as my husband serves in the Army National Guard.  He and his fellow soldiers have endured deployments where letters from home were tremendous comfort and source of smiles.

In my search through TEDxYouth talks to share with the 4th grade Student Council group I facilitate, I came across this gem of a young woman who is an inspiration.   I admire her passion, patriotism, and commitment to the explosive moment that created her desire to reach out, and I am truly grateful for her initiative and action.  After showing this talk to the Student Council group this morning, one student's response was "Just, wow."  I agree.

As Veterans Day approaches next week, consider sharing this young woman's message with students, colleagues, friends, or family.  November 11, 2011 is more than just 11-11-11.  It's an opportunity to show gratitude and honor the servicemen and women who have served, past and present, to protect our freedom and ideals.

To connect you or your organization with soldiers actively serving or deployed overseas with the US Military, contact these trusted organizations:
Any Soldier
Adopt a Platoon 

November 2, 2011

Introducing Our Margin Mascot

Today we welcomed Mr. and Ms. Stick to our Writer's Notebooks.  Mr. Stick is our "margin mascot," an idea shared by Corbett  Harrison at the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Writing Fix website.  Students in my class love to draw, especially comics and cartoons, so Mr. Stick was a big hit today.  In addition to our new daily page writing strategy, students are going to include a Mr. Stick drawing to represent the emotion of the entry.  
We had a lot of fun learning how to draw Mr. Stick and using markers to add a little color to our margin mascot.  Here are a few examples from our daily pages today.

I was delighted with the variety of Mr. and Ms. Sticks that were added to notebooks today.  We took a few minutes and had a gallery walk so students could see one another's interpretations and purpose for Mr. Stick in their margins.   

Today my students felt a freedom and control when given the opportunity to add illustration to their notebooks.  I loved every moment and I can't wait to see how Mr. Stick adds even more personality to our Writer's Notebooks!

November 1, 2011

Daily Pages

I've had students use a composition notebook as a "writer's notebook" or "journal" for years, but it never seemed to have a focused purpose.  Then a few years ago I discovered Aimee Buckner's book Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer's Notebook.  Reading through Notebook Know-How, I was immediately drawn to the strategy-based writer's notebook lessons.  Since we use The Sister's CAFE reading strategies model for reading workshop, a strategies approach for writing has made good sense.

One of my favorite strategies from Buckner is the "daily page" to develop writing fluency.  It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like, students write a page a day.  This is not a new idea by any means, but if we're truly going to work with our writing they way that good writers do, my students need to be able to write a substantial entry and have many entries in their notebooks.

So today, I made a pact with my wonderful class of good writers.  We agreed that good writers write more to become better writers, and we all want to become better writers.  They're going to write their daily page each day and I am going to write a blog post each day.  After all, I need to be a good model for my students and this a great challenge for myself as well.

A few kids wondered why they had to write in their notebooks and couldn't they just write a blog post?  Valid question.  We talked about our state standardized test and that they would have a writing prompt and would have a specific amount of time to write an amazing knock-your-socks-off story.  My wonderful writers agreed that daily pages could be good practice.

Together, we set some guidelines for daily pages:

  • Write about any topic but stay on topic
  • Write with complete sentences, correct spelling and capitalization
  • Write varied sentence beginning and different types of sentences
  • Write red line to red line (margin to margin) and use all the lines, normal word spacing
  • Label each entry with the date and start/end times (we're calculating elapsed time)
  • Begin writing your entry at school, but it's okay to finish at home if needed
  • Have fun!
Each student signed our "Daily Pages Guidelines" and then began their first daily pages.  There is so much we can teach students about writing through the example of their own writing.  In her book, Aimee Buckner also uses the metaphor of "kneading the notebook."  While my students may feel that writing the daily page is a bit painful this week, it will get easier, the ideas will begin to flow, the conversations about writing will begin, and we will knead our notebooks in a recipe for wonderful writing.

Other favorite resources:
Choice Literacy - subscribe to The Big Fresh newsletter for practical and inspirational literacy ideas
The 2 Sisters -  Daily 5 and CAFE author's website
Writing Fix - the Northern Nevada Writing Project, sign up for the ning site and get an amazing monthly writing lesson delivered to your email inbox each month.