Sunday, February 26, 2012

Weekly Inspiration: Poetry, Quotes, and Pictures

One of the ideas I came up with last summer was to create a “Weekly Inspiration” wall. I wanted my students to know how to write from inspiration. My goal was each week to have a poem, picture, and quote and throughout the week during journal writing my students could use these weekly inspirations to jumpstart their writing. I would go over the poem, quote, and picture on Monday and refer back to them throughout the week.

While I think this was a brilliant idea, I struggled to keep up with it. Finding a picture, poem, and quote each week and getting it printed it out (all in addition to normal grading and planning) did not happen as consistent as I would have liked. So my hopes is now that I have more time I am going to post a poem, quote, and picture here each Sunday so that maybe other teachers can have some additional writing inspiration for their students throughout the week.

With a lot of the writing standardized testing, there is a push for students to be able to respond to a quote or picture instead of just a prompt. Responding to inspiration is a great way to build creativity and critical thinking. For pictures, the easiest way I found to build a supply of pictures to choose from was I cut up old calendars and greeting cards and laminated them. Each week I chose from my supply of pictures based on a theme or something I wanted to get across. Other great online sources of pictures would be Pinterest or Google Earth. Rachel Lynette at Minds in Bloom has a great Pinterest board with pictures and prompts for writing. One board is titled “Inference with Pictures” and the other is “Quality Writing as Pictures.”

For the picture, this week I am including one of my favorite pictures of my cat. In this picture, I always wonder what she sees and what she is thinking.

For the quote this week I chose a Dr. Seuss quote since March 2 is Read Across America Day and a day to celebrate Dr. Seuss. I chose:

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
― Dr. Seuss from Happy Birthday to You!
Here is a printable version of the quote you could use in your classroom.

You can download it for free on TPT at:

For this quote, I would have students think about what it means to be them. What makes them unique? How are they different than others? Self-awareness is a powerful tool in the learning process. This might even be a great opportunity to have students do a quick self-awareness inventory. I made one and you can find it at my TPT store.
For the poem, this week I chose “My Shadow” by Robert Louis Stephenson. You can find the poem at this link as well as a bio on Robert Louis Stephenson:  
You could use the poem to have a more in depth discussion of the poem looking at imagery, rhyme scheme, etc. or you could strictly read the poem a couple times, talk about it briefly, and just let the students jump into responding to the poem.

Note: If you haven’t used much poetry in your classroom, a great poem to begin the discussion of reading poetry is “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins. You can find the poem at Poetry 180.
The imagery in this poem is great and really gets students to think. You will probably have to guide their thinking, but it is a great way to introduce poetry.  

When thinking about responding to poetry, explain to students that poems should always be read more than once and it is good to read them aloud. So much of the power of poetry is the manipulation of sound. Laura Candler has a great handout called “The Poetry Peace Map.” I would probably give them a copy of the handout the first time they used it and then have them draw it going forward. The idea is that the students will respond to the poem three times. 

For “The Shadow,” the first time I read the poem I would have the students draw what they visualized in the poem. The second reading I would read it aloud again and have students think about how the shadow is described. What does the child think of his shadow? On the third reading, I would project the poem (or give them a copy) and have students read it silently to themselves.  This is where I would encourage them to consider how they feel inspired by the poem. How would they respond to it? Would they think about their own shadow, would they write own poem about a shadow, or imagine themselves as the child in the poem? Maybe they should consider what the shadow thinks of the child. Additional things to discuss would be the aabb rhyme scheme and imagery. Have the students find examples of what words stand out to them or look for adjectives.

 “The Shadow” by Robert Louis Stephenson

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there's none of him at all.

He hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he's a coward you can see;
I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,

I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an errant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Reviews: The Wright 3 and Chasing Vermeer

My favorite librarian asked me to review some books for her. I love young adult fiction and have always enjoyed helping students find a great new book, author, or series. The challenge is finding the right book for that kid’s interests, reading level, and maturity. One of the books she asked me to review was The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett. Well, this is a sequel to Chasing Vermeer so of course I had to read Chasing Vermeer first. Let me just say I LOVED both books. They are engaging mysteries with interesting characters and they incorporate art in an interesting way.

Chasing Vermeer
The two main characters, Petra and Calder, are in sixth grade and they have an eccentric teacher, Ms. Hussey. An art fan turned thief steals a painting because he feels the world needs to know that some of the supposed paintings by Johannes Vermeer are fake and some are real. The fan thief declares that he won’t return the painting until the truth is revealed. Ms. Hussey’s class dives into the mystery by learning all about art, Vermeer, and his paintings. As a former teacher, I love the way Ms. Hussey conducts her classroom: with energy, excitement, and no restrictions. She has the ideal project based learning/inquiry method learning environment. They go on field trips to art museums and through the neighborhood on a whim. I want to live in her world with that much freedom for creativity and investigation. J As a reader, I enjoyed watching Petra and Calder get to know each other and themselves as they try to solve the mystery of the missing painting. (This book would actually probably pair well to be read with Patricia Polacco’s The Junkyard Wonders. Comparing the two learning environments would be a great activity for students).

The Wright 3 takes place at the end of the school year. This time there are three main characters: Petra, Calder, and Tommy. They live in Chicago near the University of Chicago. Frank Lloyd Wright’s “The Robie House,” a great piece of American architecture, is threatened. The university owns it and the house needs more repairs then the university can afford. The university plans to tear the house apart and sell it in pieces to museums. Ms. Hussey’s class feels tearing apart a great piece of architecture is murder of something priceless. They ban together to try and save the house. In the process, Petra, Calder, and Tommy form the “Wright 3” to join together each of their unique strengths to try and solve mysteries and save great architecture. Each of the three characters has a unique personality with a distinct gift that they offer to the team.  (This book would make a great character study to look at personality traits and personal gifts/strengths. I think it also could lead to some great community building activities.)

Both of these books are engaging and include great characterization. These stories would appeal to students or adults that enjoy a just good all around story, art, mysteries, or great characters. The books are mysteries without being too scary. I would recommend them for 3rd through 6th grade. The vocabulary in is not very difficult and the books are probably about 200 pages with medium sized print. While reading Chasing Vermeer, I made a lot of text-to-text connections to From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  From the Mixed Up Files is another great “art mystery” and a Newberry award winner, but the vocabulary is definitely more difficult. I look forward to creating some activities to go with these books, but for now I am recommending them if you are looking for a great book suggestion for a student or a fun read aloud. The books are also illustrated by Brett Helquist who illustrated the Lemony Snickett books.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thinking about the Thinking Process

I have spent almost two months reading education blogs, and I have been so impressed with the quality of ideas and collaboration that exists in the teacher online community. Education blogs allow teachers to connect and collaborate across the country and across the world in meaningful and supportive ways. (This will have to make another entry.) Anyway, all this research really got me thinking about what I wanted the topic of my first entry to be about. Well my thought process landed me on thinking about the writing thinking process.

I actually went to a workshop last fall that talked about helping struggling writers. The instructor shared something that really stayed with me. She said that as teachers we often focus so much on the product that we forget to emphasize the process. I think there is so much truth in that statement, especially because teachers have so much pressure to think about test scores and grades. The thing is: how do students know how to arrive at a perfect product if they don’t understand the process? With writing, it is easy to say “write about this topic or these are steps of the writing process.” Yet, how do we get kids to understand the thought process behind each part of the writing process? And is there only one way to write? We all learn differently, think differently, and write differently. We will all, obviously, think about writing differently, too. A big part of successfully teaching writing, I believe, has to come from reflection and modeling. We need to understand how we as people, not just teachers, think and write. I have to do a lot of research and reading. I need to see a big picture before I can narrow down. I also make lists and lists about lists. When I find inspiration for an idea, it often spawns tons of ideas. From my lists and reading, I write my thoughts out in a note-like format.

After I have thoroughly explored my ideas in my head and taken notes on them, then I can begin thinking about organization. I met someone when I was working on my Master’s that could do all her research and then just sit down and make a detailed outline. From her detailed outline, she could crank out a twenty page paper like it was nothing. I wish my brain worked like that, but I often have so many ideas that go in so many directions I get overwhelmed. This is why I will often have lots of notes on individual sources or ideas. After reading my notes, usually the organization will come to me.

My brain thinks in lists not in outlines. Have you ever stopped to wonder about how you think and how you write? I intend to create resources to share to help students evaluate their own thought process. Self-reflection should always be part of the learning process. To help our struggling writers, we need to consider what the various struggles are to find solutions. Where do they get lost in the writing process? I look forward to joining this amazing network of individuals passionate about education, learning, and collaborating and exploring my own learning and writing process through the experience.

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