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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.

Today is a busy day.  I am preparing for a dinner party tonight as well as a backyard wedding in one week.

Currently:

Baking lemon squares: I don’t bake very regularly.  The new mixer I bought at Christmas was still in the box.  Also, I don’t follow directions well.  I expressed my frustration at having to re-read the directions, and my husband said, “You just don’t like anyone telling you what to do.  Even when it’s a recipe.” He’s right, I guess.  Nevertheless, said lemon squares are currently making my kitchen smell fresh and lemony.

Arranging flowers: I love buying cheap flowers at the grocery store.  I feel like I am rescuing them from a terminal life in the garbage bin.  Yellow-orange tulips and white carnations are currently brightening up the kitchen and dining tables.

Cleaning cat litter: I will spare you the details.

Reading blog posts: The Slice of Life Challenge is well on its way, and I am finding so many great posts to read.  I secretly wish I could sit here all day and read and comment.  But the floor needs sweeping and the bathrooms need a once over before guests arrive.

Cuddling Charlie: Charlie is a cuddle-dog, a nine-year-old schnauzer/ poodle mix, a schnoodle.  Currently, he has an infected mole on his face that needs to be surgically removed on Monday, so I am giving him lots of hugs and kisses.

Opening the doors: The spring air is fresh and warm.  The sun is shining.  The trees are reaching out for green, green, green.  We’ve added more plants to the deck in preparation for the wedding.  They make me happy.  A shasta daisy that I thought died in the freeze is pushing out red blossoms.

Writing and thinking about writing:  This SOL challenge has my mind always thinking about writing. Ideas float around like butterflies.  Every day I look forward to opening the blank blog page and writing.  After 6 years of this practice, I am finally feeling like I can do this.  (Tomorrow may be a different story.)

Celebrating: Each week I join Ruth Ayres blog round up of celebrations.  Having a practice of looking for celebration nurtures a positive, grateful outlook.  Here are some pictures from my week.

Time change means dark morning walks with the moon lighting my path.

The “big whopping dictionary” an antique two-volume dictionary that we used to find root words for fractal poems.

 

Found this watching minion rock at a local restaurant.

My neighbor fed a group of visiting students from Arcadia University. She invited friends to help teach them how to peel crawfish. They quickly got the hang of it and dug right in.

I decided to go all out for St. Patrick’s Day, all the way to green eyelashes.

 

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Poetry Friday is with Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge

 

Do you know what a fractal is?  I had a vague idea, but certainly didn’t know enough to teach my students about them.  Nonfiction books are wonderful ways to introduce new concepts to students.  At the SCBWI MS/LA regional conference last weekend, I ran into Sarah Campbell.  Her most recent book caught my eye and my curiosity. I knew it was be a favorite in my classroom.

Sarah describes fractals through photographs and simple descriptions.

Every fractal shape has smaller parts that look like the whole shape. Fractals are everywhere in nature, and can form in different ways. A tree is a fractal. It starts with one shape that changes in the same way over, and over, and over again.

–Sarah Campbell, Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractal in Nature

 

 

dill flowers by Sarah Campbell

I wondered aloud with my students if there would be a poetry pattern designed after fractals, as we have Zeno poems from J. Patrick Lewis and Fib poems from Greg Pincus and others that come from mathematical patterns.  We did a quick Google search and a poetry exercise evolved.

Fractal poem: Choose a root word.  List words that use that root.  Create a poem that uses one of your words in each line.

Frag

By Madison

A frag of hope
in the fragment of
a diamond,
sparkling
and flaring
like a
fragile
piece of
orange glass
a fragrance
of a delicious
orange.

Enlighten Poem

by Andrew

There is lightning in every storm
which is a light
of hope
and in every lighted room
there is faith.
And in every room is a child
enlightened by a night-light.
And all the moonlight that shines
on this Earth, there is life.

Hope

by Margaret Simon

Hope is in the seed
Food of hope within
Hoping light will shine
Enter my hopeful seed
Hopefulness, dance with me
Take hopelessness away
Grow more hopeful in each day
Hope is in the seed.

Click here to read my students’ posts on Kidblog.

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

I subscribe to the Edutopia newsletter.  When I came across this article, Are we Innovating, or Just Digitizing Traditional Teaching?, I had to ask myself if what I am doing in my classroom is true blended learning or is it just the same ole stuff digitized.  

“True blended learning affords students not only the opportunity to gain both content and instruction via online as well as traditional classroom means, but also an element of authority over this process.” Beth Holland

I watched with renewed interest as my students worked on book talks this week.  I started assigning book talks 10 years ago when I taught 4th grade.  I’ve been using the same rubric.  But watching what my students were doing with the addition of technology, I realized I needed to throw out the old rubric.

In my small groups of gifted students, my students rarely stand in front of the class to present their books.  I can take off the element of “engaging the audience with eye contact.”  I also need to remove “reading aloud a portion of the book.”  While this does show the audience the style and voice of the author, this is difficult to accomplish in an online presentation.

“(An online presentation) is about the visual,”  my student Emily said when I asked her how using the internet changed the work of a book talk.  She realizes that her visual elements play an important role in the presentation.  She wants the viewer to be inspired not only by what she says about the book but also by how attractive her video is.  

Blended learning can mean a step toward agency if we teachers create the conditions in which agency can occur.  I look on my role as more like a coach.  I stand by for any trouble shooting.

A student may say, “I don’t know the theme of this book.”  Then we have a conversation about it.  What are the major events?  What does this say about your character?

“My character was brave.”

“Did he need help? Did his family or friends help him?”

Theme: Family and friends can help you feel brave.

This kind of conversation doesn’t only happen when students are creating book talks; it may also happen during a reading conference, or when a student is writing a literary essay.

Again I ask myself and my students, “What is different when you use technology?”

Jacob said, “It makes it so much more interesting.”

Kaiden said the process of interacting with the graphics is more enjoyable.  He contends that it is more interesting to the viewer, too.

Emily responded with a “Yes!  And it’s so much more fun to do!”

I’m still unsure if I have truly switched over to blended learning. I use technology with my gifted students because it is motivating and gives them control over their product.  They look to the chart on the wall to see if every element I require is there.  When their presentations are done, they call out to me, “Mrs. Simon, come see this.”  They are proud producers of digital media.  This pride of accomplishment is enough for me.

 

 
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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

critical-thinking-digilit-sunday

Last week as I was reading DigiLitSunday posts, I found these questions on Fran McVeigh’s post.

Do we REALLY want students to be critical thinkers?

Then how are we encouraging “critical thinking” every day in our classrooms?

How are we REALLY encouraging independent thinkers and workers?

Tough questions that I contemplated all week.  Am I really encouraging critical thinking in my classroom every day?  To answer this question, I looked at my various assignments during the week.  On Monday, we watched a Flocabulary video on The Voting Rights Act and answered these questions:

1. Connection to other movements: Think of a historical event or movement that is similar to the Selma marches. How are these events similar?

2. Connection to current events: Are racial equality and voting rights still issues in the US today? How have these issues changed since 1965? In what ways are they the same?

3. Connection to civic participation: Why is the right to vote an important right to protect?

I have to credit Flocabulary because not one of these questions elicits the exact same answer from every student.  When we look for questions that encourage critical thinking, we must wonder if the answer will be the same for every student.  Granted these questions also depend on quite a bit of prior knowledge.  Not all of my students have a clear understanding of voting rights or what race relations are like today.  Some of them are quite sheltered from the news and that’s OK with me.  They’re young.  But my older students, those in 5th and 6th grade, really thought deeply about these questions and offered some thoughtful responses.

What is important to me as a teacher of gifted students is to open up the door for communication and for critical thinking.  I have to be willing to hear different responses, and not always ones I agree with.  Critical thinkers are active, and our challenge as their teachers is to keep them thinking and questioning and wondering.

One way I do this is assigning reader responses.  There is no one right way to respond to a book for my students.  We have a chart on the wall that lists multiple options.  These options include: write about the theme, relate to a character, connect the book to the larger world, etc.

This week a few of my students are reading Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels, Smile, Sisters, and Drama.  One student was appalled that Drama was placed on the second grade shelf because it is at a second grade AR level.  “This book is not appropriate for second graders!”  She explained that the book deals with the sensitive subject of sexuality.  A selection from her reader response:

“This book can relate to the world because just like Jesse people know their sexuality, but can’t tell their friends or family because they’ll be teased or judged. In Jesse’s case his father doesn’t accept his older brother Justin because he’s gay, so Jesse is afraid to tell anyone because they might not accept him.”

She went on to rant about the recent controversy over transgender students and bathroom use.  Reading with a critical eye as well as having an open policy for student responses helped this student not only relate to the book, but also to express her own opinions about the subject.

My students are not just writing for an audience of one.  They write on a blog we share with other gifted classes.  When they write about their own thoughts, they trust that others will read them with the understanding that we are all trying to write in a way that best expresses our own thoughts.  A blog space is just right for experimenting with thinking and writing.    A critical thinker understands that others have different assumptions and different perspectives, so in the blog space, we must make it safe for those expressions.

Thanks, Fran, for posing those questions and for helping me realize that critical thinking is purposeful and intentional every day.

I am off to New Orleans Mardi Gras on Sunday, so I am posting early.  Please link up when you can.

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

It’s Dr. Seuss week at one of my schools, so each day is a different dress-up day. Last week I was sick for a few days and then there was the Beta convention, so I missed out on seeing some of my students all week. I wanted to plan better. I got so far as to order yellow mustaches and a used copy of The Lorax. I didn’t put together a full costume, but I let each student choose a mustache style. The rule was you had to wear your mustache while we read The Lorax. Little did I know the thing would tickle every time I spoke. But it made for a festive way to celebrate, nevertheless.

Mrs. Simon's Loraxes

Mrs. Simon’s Loraxes

Following this selfie, we got down to the real business of criticycles. I want my students to be ready for the March Slice of Life Challenge. They’ve been writing a slice each week, but their writing lacks elaboration and interest. I pulled out the sticky notes. I projected a student’s recent post and asked that student to read aloud his/her writing. On the sticky notes, we made symbols for critiquing (+ for something positive, ^ for something to change, and ? for further questions). Following the criticycle session, my students were motivated to return to their posts and edit.

I had forgotten how powerful peer review can be. For whatever reason, we hadn’t done it in a while. My students were receptive to their classmates’ ideas and were motivated to make their writing stronger. I just stood by and watched as they discussed their writing in a meaningful way. I need to remember that sometimes all it takes is a yellow mustache and blue sticky note to turn readers into writers.

DrSeuss_Lorax

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

I hate to admit it, but I have not been the best at teaching vocabulary.  I’ve tried all kinds of methods from word lists to word walls, but I am still met with groans from kids when I say Vocabulary.  This year I’ve been using a workbook.  This goes against my whole philosophy of teaching, so please don’t tell my students.  This workbook provides an authentic text, so the words are in context.  We also work with synonyms and antonyms and always a writing piece.  But like most work with Vocabulary in the title, my students think drudgery.

It is time for a change.  I have been intrigued by Carol Varsalona’s word clouds.  I tweeted a question to her.  Turns out it was our mutual friend Holly who introduced Tagul to Carol.

This leads me to an idea I will be trying this week with my students (crossing fingers the app works in our network).  I took one of our vocabulary words from last week, essence, and typed it into Thesaurus.com.  I opened Tagul and typed in a dozen synonyms.  Then I looked for a shape that would help define the word.  I chose a water droplet because water is the essence of our bodies.  The image shares common synonyms as well as makes this vocabulary work more motivating.

essence-word-cloud

In what ways are you digitizing vocabulary work?  Share your ideas on your blog and link below.

 

digilitsunday-215

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Find more celebration posts at Ruth's blog.

Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.

There are those weeks that seem to go on and on, yet offer nothing to be celebrated. Sometimes I have to look harder to find the bright spots. I am actually ashamed that I felt this way yesterday because this morning I looked through my mail and found so much to celebrate.

I signed up for a poetry postcard exchange. I thought the giving and receiving was over, but this week I got three more poetry postcards.

New Year poem cards from Sylvia Vardell with a Wonder Woman stamp.

New Year poem cards from Sylvia Vardell with a Wonder Woman stamp.

Poem from Donna Smith: Listen to the sounds crunching, munching, lunch a foot Leaves nourishing earth

Poem from Donna Smith:
Listen to the sounds
crunching, munching, lunch a foot
Leaves nourishing earth

Handwritten poem and card from Kim Urband:

Summer Storm
Stone-gray clouds steal azure sky
Lightning stabs, singes
Liquid silver glazes hills
Relinquishes to Rhapsody

–Kim Urband

This sweet, uplifting message from Joy Acey:

My body feels electric like new years fireworks
blazing in starlight.
I want to raise my arms
to twirl and dance in the moonlight.
Poetry fills me
and runs out of my pen.
May the force be with your poetry.
–Joy Acey

And an invitation to my daughter’s wedding in March. Here we go again!

maggie-wedding-invitation

preaching-interior-2-1000x647
This week I read aloud Preaching to the Chickens about John Lewis’s childhood. I wanted my students to know his name and to have a better understanding of the fight for civil rights. This book is beautifully illustrated. One of my students, Madison, was inspired by the paintings to draw her own yard of chickens. I love the personalities of each of her chickens.

Chickens by Madison, 3rd grade.

Chickens by Madison, 3rd grade.

I didn’t have to look very hard to find these celebrations today. What are you celebrating?

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