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Because….books.

Love this idea from Cult (and am jealous of her cute little hair flippy-do)! To my ELA local peeps–if you have ideas about books we can share with a middle level/YA book club, I think we should do some home-grown discussions. One of our issues is the…

BOOK ROOM!

So…how about we take some time, meet over appetizers and beverages, and figure out just what do we have, what digital resources we have, how to get audio books, etc. for our students? Our best brains work better together, and mapping out what our students need and want (even if they don’t know it yet) would be invaluable. Consider yourself tagged!

 

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Best laid plans.

We broke rain records this year, no small feat considering the Seattle area maintains a well-deserved reputation of one of the soggiest places around. Drizzles, downpours, drenching or dollops–no matter the size of the drop, it’s wet. Personally, my older son and I share the love of the gray, goopy clouds. Whenever I think of our rain, inevitably Tom Robbins’ thoughts on rain come to mind. (Some works of fiction stain a lifetime.)

“And then the rains came. They came down from the hills and up from the sound. And it rained a sickness. And it rained a fear. And it rained an odor. And it rained a murder. And it rained dangers and pale eggs of the beast. Rain poured for days, unceasing. Flooding occurred. The wells filled with reptiles. The basements filled with fossils. Mossy-haired lunatics roamed the dripping peninsulas. Moisture gleamed on the beak of the raven. Ancient Shaman’s rained from their homes in dead tree trunks, clacked their clamshell teeth in the drowned doorways of forests. Rain hissed on the freeway. It hissed at the prows of fishing boats. It ate the old warpaths, spilled the huckleberries, ran into the ditches. Soaking. Spreading. Penetrating. And it rained an omen. And it rained a poison. And it rained a pigment. And it rained a seizure.”
Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

Imagine the first clear, bright May day. A day after two days’ of testing. More days of testing to come. A moment in time–brief and elusive, but there. When we went outside for zombie tag, students felt so free they asked me to go outside again. Knowing I had hit on a currency I could use to all of our advantages, sure. In years past, we’ve gone outside for a Writing ‘rally,’ or as dubbed this year, a Walk’N’Write.

Here’s how it is supposed to work:

Students grab their composition notebooks, something to write with, a writing prompt slip (printed out and cut into strips). The ground rules are laid out clearly on the board, and repeated:

  1. Do not in any way cause any disruption. I don’t want to see my name in an email, hear from other staff members, see a passive-aggressive post on Facebook, be mentioned in ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM. Some student asked in disbelief if other teachers put other teachers “on blast” — yes, sadly. They do.
  2. Stay within earshot: I must be able to see you in the courtyard or the small field at all times.
  3. Try the prompts. Move after around ten minutes.
  4. They were allowed to take their cell phones if they wanted to take photo notes.
  5. Be prepared for an exit ticket (writing a reflection or expanding on an idea).

And, by golly, the majority of students did exactly all of these. They knew that the reason they were going outside was because they were so awesome during the zombie unit, and they earned trust to go outside again. 

Here’s how it worked:

During the first class, one student found some chalk, and one drew a penis on the ground. I don’t know who it was, and I didn’t have anything to clean it up or didn’t think quick enough to grab a cup of water and wash it away. I saw it at the end of the time outside. Middle school students draw graffiti, and genitalia is one of their common art forms. Like cave paintings of beasts and hunts, their choice of symbolism and pictographs trend toward the representation of middle school angst and Maslow’s lowest levels of the hierarchy. Watch ‘Superbad’ if you don’t believe me.

The second misstep was in not confiscating the chalk. From what I saw, there was a small piece of it, I didn’t know where it came from, and moved on. I wish I had thrown it away because other students found it and drew more…things. Pentagrams. Hearts. Butterflies. Initials. And yes, from what admin told me, more genitals. I received an email rightly advising me to make sure students did not do this in the future. But I am still not clear whose students drew all of the drawings.

So now I’m left with the unenviable task of telling my students what happened and consequences. That they have to keep themselves in check, or we can’t go outside again. Some of my fourth-period students waved in other teachers’ classrooms, and when I reminded them that that was a disruption, one argumentative young man justified it by saying the other student waved first.

Sigh.

However, there was far more positive than not. Students wrote. The noticed details, the trash, the good, ugly, and emotions tied with their surroundings. They struggled and grappled with worldly metaphors. Many saw the courtyard with new eyes. They looked up from their phones or used them to take pictures for later writing. They enjoyed the sun on their faces and breathed fresh air. It gave them one of the most important strategies for creativity: look up.

 

Just…

 

…look up.

 

PS If you look closely at the picture, there is a big white square of chalk. Someone drew over the drawing. They had better things to draw.

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Metaphorically speaking…

At one point my life, I self-applied the moniker “Queen of the Metaphors.” Perhaps my crown tarnished a tad due to adjusting verbiage to suit more concrete/sequential folks, including differentiating for students who may not understand the nuances of abstract thought. In other words, I was tired of people saying they needed a translator.

Metaphorical thinking and creating are pinnacles of new thought and ideas. Our ability to communicate precisely and clearly hinges on figurative language: it is a paradox. The more abstract one wordsmiths, the more concrete and accessible an idea may be. However, many don’t feel this way. They don’t see the necessity for poetry or art. Perhaps some feel as if they “should” like it, like a kale or IPAs. Has hating on metaphors become a trend, it’s cool to hate the “A” in STEAM?

In a 2013 Scientific American article titled, “In Defense of Metaphors in Scientific Writing” by Caleb A. Scharf, 

“The problem is that while a specific metaphor might work for some people, it won’t for others. This is especially true for scientists themselves, who sometimes lack a sense of humor, or even just common sense. I once wrote about a dying star as being ‘bloated and gouty’, as its outer atmosphere inflates and blows off to interstellar space. I rather liked this. ‘Gouty’ has always made me think of Willam Hogarth, or James Gillray, and their satirical drawings in the 18th century, filled with wonderfully appalling characters. It seemed like a good way to evoke the sense of an aged and, ah-hem, rather flatulent stellar object. But no, for at least one scientist this was all wrong. Stars, they pointed out, can’t possibly be gouty because they don’t produce uric acid…”

Sigh.

Come on, nerds. Get it together. Be cool.

If you want to be heard, speak in the language of poetry. Tell the story. Share the parable. Observe. Look. Speak.

“If you want to communicate facts or information, then stories are a powerful vessel to do so.”

The Power of Storytelling, with Sir Ian McKellen from Catsnake on Vimeo.

What to do with this thought? What lesson plan to package, what standard to dissect?  Not sure. Since this idea of telling stories to share information is as old as the human voice, as old as instinctual, creatureliness* for survival, perhaps my gift is to allow the evocation of ideas.

I estimate there are about 1,000 ideas in this brief director’s showreel.

Edward L Dark Director Showreel from Catsnake on Vimeo.

Allow our young writers to follow an illuminated pathway to their own stories–add points of brilliant light, and also, don’t be afraid of the shadowy parts, giving them a chance to find ways to illuminate their journeys. Whether it’s math, science, history, physical education, band, language arts…whatever the course and content…stories connect us all.

Ideas:

Teach poetry in another content area

Have students share three things: a song, a poem, and a piece of artwork that’s connected. When framed this way, boys and girls alike had no issue in sharing. It took off the gender factor.

Challenge their thinking. Thank goodness one of my students spoke up and questioned the title of this piece, and then we had a great teachable moment in analyzing his real message:

Her initial reaction was that she would not listen to him because of the title of the video. The rest of the class shouted out, too, once they saw it, so I asked them to wait. Based on the other video we just watched, we shouldn’t assume anything but listen.

They were glad they did.

I think I’ll share this one, next:

 

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Spun out.

Spinners.

Water bottle flipping.

Dabbing.

Clicking.

Candy wrappers.

Sunflower seeds.

Little pencils.

No pencil.

No paper.

Uncharged laptop.

No charger.

Lost charger.

Little skateboards.

Little paper footballs.

via GIPHY

My list is incomplete. There is a legion of ways kids use other objects to distract or fidget with. And no wonder. Quite frankly, a day in the life of a 6-period middle school kid and teacher is physically demanding. Imagine running for a flight eight times a day: in the morning, between every class, 30 minutes for lunch, at the end of the day, trying to take care of biological needs and process learning. It’s go-go-go all day. I completely understand why the average student senses they “need” this, how those spinners seem to help with attention, but from my anecdotal observations, they hurt more than help, if only because they distract us, the teacher, from being effective.

If you want someone to “blame” for the spinners, it’s this man, Scott McCoskery. He had very good reason to create a spinner.  From an interview on NPR:

SCOTT MCCOSKERY: I had a long career in the IT world.

MALONE: This is Scott McCoskery, and as an IT guy in Seattle, he says he spent a lot of time on conference calls and in board meetings that he didn’t really need to attend.

MCCOSKERY: During those times, I often found myself clicking a pen, opening and closing a knife or…

MALONE: A knife in a board meeting, Scott?

MCCOSKERY: A small pocket knife. It was nothing too threatening.

MALONE: All right, all right.

Well, I guess we should be glad kids don’t flick switchblades in class.

One of my favorite education bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo comes out on the side of the spinners, telling teachers to ‘chill out.’ He also confesses to only seeing two out of his 130 high school students. Let that sink in. Two. One-hundred thirty. High. School. Not twenty to thirty a day out of 130 MIDDLE SCHOOL kids. All day, every day, most teachers in my building watch students who click on games sooner than the actual assignment. Kids who reach for a spinner versus a pen or pencil. I agree, we teachers do need to choose our battles. I know kids aren’t getting enough fresh air, time to eat, time to talk and play, and often I feel more like a jailer than an educator. And the inmates will do anything to keep from going insane, and I don’t blame them.

Health Buzz: Do Fidget Spinners Help With ADHD? This article has a balanced approach to them. Just, you know, in case you want to read a balanced approach versus my diatribe.

But I’m not battling spinners only: the onslaught of cell phone use, and if it’s not that, it’s talking. And then I’m told I need to have them engage in ‘accountable talk.’ What if you were told that in chunks of 55 minutes you had to only have ‘accountable’ conversations? I can only imagine how awful book club would be if we couldn’t chat, catch up, talk about kids, food, work, and then spend some time talking about the current book. The thing is–truly–students rebel all the time against this daily structure. If they didn’t they would go nuts. They don’t want extrinsic token-economy fluff, they want time. 

As I plan out the next few weeks, I’m going to build that time in. And parents–if you’re reading this — consider instead of a spinner a little sketchbook or some books they can use when testing is over, or they have some time:

How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith

The Total Brain Workout by Marcel Danesi

Here’s your earworm du jour. You’re welcome.

 

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Staff Lounge Edition: Teacher Appreciation Week

Staff Lounge Honesty:

via GIPHY

Teacher Appreciation Week is May 7-12: I thought it was this week and asked my students to write their favorite teacher, coach, counselor, mentor, etc. a poem last week, thinking it was this week, but…yeah. Typical. A few students immediately had someone in mind, but some didn’t, and that concerns me.

Some wanted to write about me, but the standard rule that they need to think about someone else. It was strange how many didn’t have a connection or relationship with an another adult in the building to say “thanks.”  Writing on demand is difficult, so maybe this extra week will give them the headspace to come up with someone. Maybe they just don’t know the other teachers in the building, for many reasons. We’re all kind of siloed this year, and with any luck and work that will change.

Here’s the thing: do we teachers do a good job of giving thanks to one another, especially if that colleague has been openly hostile? Do we show our colleagues the respect they deserve, even if personalities clash? Can we see beyond the petty disagreements, passive-aggressive communication, undermining behaviors for just one week to consider, “You know, I think you’re a jerk, but you are a good teacher and care about our students?”

My call to action is this: write your colleagues a letter, poem or haiku and tell them thanks — every last one. Find something good about their teaching style that helps kids. Aggressive colleagues are sometimes the best teachers. They don’t have time for small talk or niceties. I confess I have been thought of as that ‘aggressive colleague.’ It’s not my intention to scare a colleague or increase anxiety, in a colleague or myself. It is my intention to make a great environment for students, and I’ll focus on that.

Writing this post means I’ve outed myself, but heck, few people read this anyway. With deep sincerity: if you are reading this, you are an awesome teacher. Really. You have found your path to best serve students, and have the friendships you need. We all work too hard with heart, mind, and soul not to be respectful to one another.

And for the love of pencils, don’t buy them a chicken:

 

*Yes, keep these passive aggressive thoughts to yourself. Let the respect show only.