Tag Archives: Teaching writing

Tiny Gardens, Young Minds

I think I went to school with that guy...

I think I went to school with that guy…

Earlier this week I tweeted and posted a thing or two on Facebook about fairies–books that describe them, gardens that welcome them, and adventures in finding them. Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about how to incorporate a study of fairies into the classroom. Hold on a second! I know what you’re thinking: “C’mon, are you serious? If I started teaching about fairies, I’d have a flood of parent complaints. If I’m going to do that I may as well enroll a chimpanzee as a student in my class and call it an ‘educational experience’!”

Bear with me for a minute. Without question, the first order of business would be to send home a well timed and carefully worded note that clearly explains the unit you have planned and details the pedagogical value of the unit on fairies. You’d be sure to make clear that you can neither confirm nor deny the existence of fairies to your students, which is best handled by your students’ families. Now you’re asking what I might possibly find in a study of fairies that could have pedagogical value, and that’s a valid question. The following is my answer, which I hope you will find not only legitimate but persuasive as well.  

MiniFairyGarden_top1

The Utah Core Standards for social studies in kindergarten, first, and second grades state that students will be able to use geographic tools and skills, including maps and globes, and 1364782980_1understand map legends and directions. Now, because of that wonderful semester I spent in Educational Psychology (I’m serious! It was hard, but it was also really fun) learning about Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, I know that some students’ learning styles are better suited to visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, and naturalist approaches.

I think you know where I’m going with this one. That’s right, a fairy garden is little more than a diorama of a physical (either real or imagined) space, combined with soil, plants, and other living and nonliving natural features. Because it is a 3D representation, it benefits visual and kinesthetic learners. Its use of plants, rocks, and natural objects facilitates learning for those who lean in the naturalist direction. A fairy garden can include houses, streets, signposts with directions, water features, even tiny human people. Depending on how the garden/city is laid out, students can gain a clearer sense of Core Standards concepts such as “grid,” “landmark,” and “compass.” Moreover, because it’s a fairy garden, the unit satisfies a science Core Standard with regard to examining living and nonliving things (such a multi-tasker!).

moreI think I’ve made a fairly strong case for this idea, but I’m not one for resting on my laurels. That’s why I’ve come up with even more applications. In Writers’ Workshop, why not encourage students to write stories set in the class fairy garden? Instruct them to visually examine the garden and then include those details in their writing, so that someone who hasn’t had a chance to see the garden personally can still imagine what it looks like.

Here’s another idea–as a class, identify a tiny object that can be moved within the fairy garden. Explain to students that as soon as they get to school tomorrow they will want to search for and find the object. Then, after students have gone home for the day, hide the object in a particular place in the garden. For bell work the next morning, have students find the object and write a short paragraph describing its specific location in the garden. Emphasize that they should use directional and measurement words. Collect the responses and pull them randomly to read aloud. The first student whose response correctly describes the location of the target object can have the chance to hide the object for the next day.

Once upon a time in a quiet, peaceful village lived a....

Once upon a time in a quiet, peaceful village lived a….

At this point you’re probably thinking you might be able to do this with your class, but you’re not sure where to start. How about this–collect students’ milk containers, rinse them out, and have students make them into houses and other buildings in the fairy garden. In the note you send home explaining the project, tell parents that students are welcome to contribute craft supplies, plants, and other small objects lying around the house. Ask students to gather pebbles, twigs, acorns, pinecones, and other interesting items in nature. Consider writing a grant proposal and submitting it to local garden centers, asking for donations of soil, plants, and a large container for your garden. More than anything, keep it simple and cost-effective, and as a teacher, you’re already really good at that!

Posted by Karen Rapier, an elementary education major at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT

Jumping on the POETRY bandwagon…

I’m not really one for jumping on the bandwagon of national-this-or-that days, weeks or months. I promise…  I don’t even do much celebrating of less-than-national days, such as my grown kids’ birthdays (I live in shame for this), my own anniversary national-poetry-month(I go to therapy for this), or  National Day of Prayer (I go to church for this). However, there is one month-long celebration that I’m all in favor of. I go to great lengths to celebrate this one: National Poetry Month. As a passionate proponent of “doing” poetry with children in order to convince them that words are their friends (and very playful ones, at that), and as a “Ralph Fletcher convert” to poetry writing that every child can do (love, LOVE his book, Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem From the Inside Out), poetry mattersI simply cannot resist building my own “bandwagon” and inviting my students, my family, my friends, and you, Dear Reader, to jump onboard!

Here are three elementary-teachers-should” truths that I know about …poetry cover1.   Elementary teachers should  have favorites – favorite poems and favorite poets.

2.     Elementary teachers should collect brief, clever, and delightful examples of poetry with which they can delight and entertain their students.

3.     Elementary teachers should nurture the natural poets children are, rather than assigning poetry.

Here are three elementary-teachers-shouldn’t” truths (I know these truths, thanks to Mike Tunnell & Jim Jacobs):

1.     Elementary teachers shouldn’t force and over-do poetry memorization & recitation.

2.     Elementary teachers shouldn’t force/assign all students to write poetry (particularly with rigid parameters, no matter how many lines or syllables called for).

3.     Elementary teachers shouldn’t force/assign heavy-duty analyzing of poems for their structures and meanings.

And finally, here are three elementary-teachers-can” truths that I know about poetry:

1.     Elementary teachers can  entice children with contemporary poems with humor and some sort of rhythm and rhyme.

2.     Elementary teachers can  empower children with writing poems when they demand fewer conventions and permit “poetic license.”

3.     Elementary teachers can inspire children as poets when they show them that (Ralph Fletcher’s idea here) writing a poem for someone is like giving blood.  It goes from the heart of the giver to the heart of the receiver. (I know, isn’t that brilliantly poignant?)

Are you ready to put your own poetic license“Poetic Teaching License” to work? Needing ideas for some fresh poetry to delight, entice and empower your students?  mooseThe scope of this blog post cannot include everything I wish teachers could know, understand, and do about poetry.  But I cannot resist an opportunity to unload a few things from my bandwagon, and leave them with you for yours:

Check out the Classroom Bookshelf Blog  and scroll through everything you will need, including book reviews, teaching ideas, and supporting resources.  Be sure to “search” the archives for the many new and wonderful poetry books they have included on their site!  Then…  well, in the words of Beatrice Schenk de Regniers,

“Keep a poem in your pocket and a picture in your head and you’ll never feel lonely…”PocketFULofPOEMS

Posted by Nancy Peterson, Ed.D., Professor of Elementary Education at Utah Valley University, and Co-Chair of “For the Love of Reading” conference. 

Meet Steve Sheinkin… next year!

Because we want to give this year’s audience attending UVU’s Forum on Engaged Reading, a preview of next year’s program, I want to introduce you to Steve Sheinkin, SteveSheinkinone of the Keynote Presenters for UVU’s 2014 Forum on Engaged Reading.  I “found” Steve on Ink Think Tank itt-logo — a great website that is a true “think tank” of nonfiction authors.  In Steve’s bio, he confesses to being a recovering textbook author… whose mission is to simply prove to kids that his­tory is actu­ally cool.”  You’ll probably recognize a couple of his books:  The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story About Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery (Square Fish Publications, 2013) and Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War (Roaring Brook Press, 2008).

Notorious Benedict2MiserablePres

Whether or not you recognize those books, you’re sure to be interested in his most recent one, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers (Scholastic, 2013), and the one just before that (a Newbery Honor Book), Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon BombBook(Flashpoint Publications, 2012). These books aren’t “your mother’s nonfiction” — these are “thrillers and adventure stories first” so that Sheinkin’s readers will want to read them!

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Since the Common Core State Standards have shifted the focus of teaching comprehension and writing of complex nonfiction, it’s refreshing to find authors like Steve, who lure kids (and their teachers) in to the wonderful world of facts and details that make history come alive.

If you join us (UVU’s Forum on Engaged Reading) in October of 2014, you’re sure to become a Steve Sheinkin fan, as I have. SteveSgiving.talk In preparing for this blog post, I read a blog post by Sheinkin, himself, where he refers to his writing as detective work.  “… a nerdy kind of detective work,” he says, “but still… My job is to find stories, and I read books to look for clues, follow leads, gather evidence.” Wow, what an example for our students!

I’ll end this blog with just a bit of serendipity: at the end of Sheinkin’s blog post, author Jim Murphy makes a comment…  and guess what?  Jim Murphy is Keynoting this year’s Forum on Engaged Reading (Sept. 19 & 20, 2013).  So, Dear Reader, I hope you have become a believer: our conference — “For the Love of Reading” — is just a gift that will keep on giving, to you and to your students!  See you there!

Posted by Nancy Peterson, Professor of Teacher Education at Utah Valley University, and Co-Chair of UVU’s Forum on Engaged Reading

I was attracted to the book because of its title: Creative Power: The Nurture of Children’s Writing, by Ronald L. Cramer. That title makes me wish had written that book!  I bought it and read it, and I keep going back to it… Would you believe, Cramer actually tells his readers that if we are unable to “hear” his voice in this book, to lay it aside and pursue some other enlightening activity!  I’m telling you, his book renews my courage for making bold statements such as…

Thinking is part of writing, and writing is thinking.

Children come wired for writing.  

Our job is not so much teaching writing as it is discovering children’s writing ability.

Cramer isn’t afraid to say it, and does so right up front, in the beginning of his first chapter:     “Writing emerges from the crib with the first thought, the first sound uttered, the first mark scribbled.”

             Cramer goes on to make a wonderful case about the fact that “writing facilitates thinking,” and as such, it is “the supreme intellectual achievement of humankind” (p. 2). And then he presents five characteristics of writing that influence thinking:

1.    Writing is visible.  This means it can be manipulated to help us discover relationships among ideas we might have missed if thought depended only on verbal expression.

2.    Writing is permanent. While oral language un-captured is soon forgotten, writing “leaps the bonds of time and space.”  Cramer says writing gives “eternal life” to our words and ideas.  He says “Writing is the repository of humanity’s accumulated knowledge.

3.    Writing is active. Cramer says it is a “search for meaning” requiring the fullest possible use of mental capacity.  It requires physical action, including “handwriting, spelling, punctuation, depressing keys on a typewriter or computer, erasing, crossing out, rereading, rewriting.” 

4.    Writing is precise. While it is not inherently precise because of how it is subject to the actions and understandings of the sender and the receiver, it does “discipline the mind into precise formulation of its thoughts.”

5.    Writing focuses thinking.  Cramer says that the writing process “enables us to summon thoughts out of darkness and into light.” 

 

“Language is a miracle…” says Cramer (p. 5) and as a pivotal event in a child’s life, the acquisition of it cannot help but make us want to know how it happens. And, he spends the rest of his first chapter briefly reviewing how the major theorists of child development and learning back this up.

I was so enamored by these lofty ideas that I had to find out more about this author, Ronald L. Cramer.  I googled him.  (Yes, really! And I found a photo, plus a long and distinguished list of his credits).  He is impressive, as the documentation of his career shows, but I found the best indication of his “teacher-heartedness” and proof that we are kindred spirits when I went back to the preface of the book I have discussed in this blog.  I may be in trouble for quoting so much of his preface, but I’m telling you, my heart just sings when I read his words:

I believe children are creative; I believe that creativity is as natural to children as breathing. I also believe that its manifestations are often kept under lock and key, that children are reluctant to exhibit their creative instincts if they suspect their gifts will not be well received, it they sense hostility, if they sense indifference.  Good teachers strive to unlock children’s creative potential; they understand that the mind and spirit of a child is as fragile as it is malleable. Children are artists of language, not language scholars. They use language not to impress but to express. Given a little fall of rain from a fine teacher, children can make the flowers grow (p. xiv).

Doesn’t that just make you want to be a “fine teacher”… one that can offer a “little fall of rain”?  Here’s more:  All children possess creative potential; it is resident in them from the beginning, but too often it is creative power unrealized. Someone has to tell them; someone has to apprise them of their ‘wonderful ideas.’ Someone has to entice talent out of the closets of children’s minds (p. xiii)

 Well, he had me back at “the mind and spirit of a child is as fragile as it is malleable.” But here’s where I leave him with you:

And who might that someone be? Teachers, parents, peers, but especially teachers. It is our mission; it is our sacred duty (p. xiii).  Amen!

Posted by Nancy Peterson, Professor of Teacher Education at Utah Valley University.