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What do I carry into the classroom?

Last month I saw a tweet by Jess Lifshitz that referred to this question. She uses it as a writing prompt at the beginning of the school year with students. If I had a class of students this year, you know I’d be using it too!

But it’s a question that today I ask you. In fact, I challenge you to sit for ten minutes–yes, you can spare ten minutes–and freewrite. To make it easier if you get stuck, turn the question into a statement. “I carry ______ into the classroom.” Fill in that blank and then expand on that idea or explain what you mean. But when your brain stops with that thought, rewrite the prompt and fill in the blank with something else. Do this as many times as needed to fill the ten minutes.

Even though I don’t have my own class this year, I did this freewrite myself but changed ‘classroom’ into ‘school year.’ Some of my thoughts were as expected and yet the longer I wrote, the more profound the ideas. I discovered what I believe to be my strengths, acknowledged a sadness, and an insecurity too. All in ten minutes time.

I hope this exercise affirms all of the wonderful skills, talents, and qualities that you bring into your classroom each day. When your classroom fills with students, try it with them too!

Wise Words from This Year’s Students to Next

In my region, there are three days left of school! In the midst of all of the planned activities, give your students one last writing assignment: a letter to a student who will be in your class next year…

Brainstorm together. What would they want to hear as an incoming student?

Try a three paragraph structure using topics such as these:

  • Welcome to grade _____! My favourite part of grade ___ was….
  • The best thing about (teacher name here) is…
  • My advice to you in (teacher name here)’s class…

What might be a creative closing? How will they ensure a positive tone?

End your year with a meaningful, purposeful example of the power of writing. Words really do change worlds.

Zoom in and Step Back

As we enter the last few weeks of the school year, it’s natural to become reflective. Consider your year from two perspectives: a zoom lens and a wide-angle lens.

First, zoom in to a random day. Think of those ongoing, seemingly small interactions with individual students. Consider some of your lessons and the routines you put in place.

  • How did you show you care in those regular day-to-day interactions? Think of your words, your actions, your mannerisms…
  • Consider a moment when you recognized that a student’s emotional or social well-being was more important than academics. What did you do?
  • Did you give up part of your lunch: your literal lunch to a hungry student, or your time at lunch to help a student?
  • What lesson are you most proud of? Why does it stand out?

Now, put on your wide-angle lens. Think of the year as a whole. It wasn’t all smooth sailing; there were certainly bumps along the way. But consider the many positives…

  • What are you most proud of this year?
  • Knowing that you had an impact on all of your students, who might you especially have had an impact on this year? Why do you think that is?
  • What is it that your students are leaving your classroom with: more compassion, more patience, a love of books, excitement about learning? (Remember, this is no accident. This is YOU.)

Zoom in and step back. How might these reflections inform how you approach next year?

Are you ready for new curriculum?

If you are a Kindergarten to Grade 3 teacher living in Alberta, you will be implementing new curriculum in a few subject areas this coming fall. Grade 4-6 teachers will follow in a year’s time.

Prior to this year, we haven’t implemented new curriculum in more than one subject at a time. Many teachers have expressed feeling overwhelmed and somewhat intimidated. Understandable. Entirely understandable.

If you will be teaching Kindergarten-Grade 3 ELAL next year, join me tomorrow for a free session where we will unpack the new curriculum. My goal is to empower teachers to uncover ways their practice can remain the same, and decide how (and why) some areas might need to be tweaked.

If you want a jump start into understanding the new ELAL curriculum, sign up for tomorrow’s session. Expect practicality grounded in pedagogy.

(Grade 4-6 teachers are most welcome too!)

Time for a Summer Book Talk

Generate some book buzz leading into summer! Over the next few weeks, students choose a favourite book and give a book talk to their peers.

Keep it simple with a five finger structure:

  1. Title
  2. Author (and illustrator if applicable.)
  3. Genre (…realistic fiction, fantasy, adventure, graphic novel, nonfiction, biography, poetry…)
  4. Brief Summary
  5. Recommendation (Who might like this book? “If you liked ____, you’ll like this.”)

A fun addition is to ask students to choose a favourite passage from the book that might entice readers without giving anything away.

Students can also record their books talks (on Flipgrip for example) for your incoming students to watch in the fall!

Passion, Patience, Persistence

I’ve spent the last four days surrounded by writers. Others who write for children. Others who love playing with language as much as I do. I sat next to someone on the first day who said, “Who knows, maybe by the end of the weekend, I’ll realize I shouldn’t be doing this.”

That’s not the case for me. I know I want to write for children. I also know I need to write. It fuels me. It both challenges and delights me. It gives me purpose.

I leave here with a better understanding of my strengths as a writer and new understandings of how to improve. I leave here with more ideas of how to help student writers, too.

I also leave here reminded that this process requires passion, patience, and persistence. Today on the beach, I chose a small shell to represent each. They will find a place on my desk at home: reminders of what I need to keep this writing dream alive.

As Neal Shusterman reminded us the other night, there is power in storytelling. How can writers change the world? One reader at a time.

Library Love

Sometimes I take my time and browse. Sometimes I put books on hold online and then run in to pick them up. Regardless, every time I’m in a library I marvel at this wonderful service and wonder why more people don’t use it!

With our influence as educators, why not talk library love with our students? Share one or more of these quotes about libraries and then talk or write!

  • “The library is like a candy store where everything is free.” Jamie Ford
  • “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Jorge Luis Borges
  • “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” Albert Einstein
  • “Libraries are where it all begins.” Rita Dove

Who knows? You just might encourage a first visit or perhaps contribute to a lifelong habit…

Uncovering Craft

I was fortunate to attend ELAC a few weeks ago in Banff. The highlight? Penny Kittle, a fellow observer and lover of craft, talking about the craft of one of my favourite creators, Lin Manuel Miranda. Pure joy.

One of her slides read, “Study, imitate, transform.” Lin Manuel Miranda did just that in creating Hamilton. He was inspired by everything from Harry Potter to Macbeth to The West Wing. He studied, imitated, and transformed.

It’s what I do with my students through mentor texts during mini-lessons. It’s also what I do within my own writing. When I’m reading, listening, and watching favourite books, music, and shows, I’m looking for craft moves, sometimes consciously, often not.

Consider these examples:

The engagement and humour created by the smashing of genres in Hamilton becomes a history lesson like no other. The shifts in time, and parallel themes across time, in This is Us lead to connection, reflection, and realizations in our own lives. Neal Shusterman–without the reader even knowing at first–puts us in the head of one with mental illness, enabling us to experience what we might not otherwise.

Studying the craft moves of text in any form leads our students to more creative, more interesting work.

Study. Imitate. Transform.

By the way… connecting Hamilton to lessons in literacy, why did I think of that?

Hold them Tenderly

During a recent writing residency, I was yet again reminded of the power of writing. The residency had a narrative focus. Even still, it was obvious how students explore their identities and process their world through writing.

When I was one-on-one with a student, she tearfully told me that she based the character on herself because she was bullied and wanted to write about that. After a momentary pause she added, “But everyone just thinks it’s my character.”

A grade two student wrote about living in Ethiopia and how he had to help his family (his mom was pregnant and his dad was working) by carrying a basket and collecting fruit for hours and hours.

A grade five student shared that her character was transgender and then described their personality, appearance, and emotions.

As teachers, we hold each of these students–along with their experiences and emotion, their fears and hopes–tenderly in our hands. As they write and explore, revise and share, they learn about themselves and the world around them.

And if we’re paying attention, we might just learn something too.

A Little Bit of Chance…

Have you been studying and writing different forms of poems with your students? Haikus, limericks, acrostics, cinquains, diamantes, found poems, pantoums, free verse… others? Are you and your students ready for a challenge?

Spice up the end of your focus on poetry by adding a little bit of chance to the mix. Use a site such as wheelofnames.com to generate custom spinners. Create one spinner with all of the different forms of poetry you have been working on. Then create a second spinner with broad topics such as sports, animals, emotions, colours, the five senses, family, or food.

There will be much excitement and hype as the spins determine each students’ form of poetry and topic.

By keeping the topics broad, there is still some element of choice for students. For example, if a student has to write a haiku on sports, they could write about sports in general, or pick a more specific topic such as lacrosse. Even with intentional constraints in place, try to allow for some student choice.

P.S. Feel free to share some of the poems created through this process! I’d love to hear them.