First Grade Art

Artwork is one of the things I miss from my days of teaching primary grade students. Junior highers can do intricate and beautiful artwork, but there is something sweet and innocent about first grade art. Look at the care this little one went through to write this message on my placemat at the reading council banquet.

I’m looking forward to taking her advice this summer!

Unwrap a Good Book!

Joining the Conversation…

Over the past few months I have delighted in meeting so many excellent educators through their tweets and blogs. So many people contributing their genius out in the digital world! A few are amazing writers, but many of us are not. But you know what? I’ve found it doesn’t matter!

Is writing the most important contribution people make in their lives? No, of course not. Does it have to be the most important mark you leave on the Internet? No, it doesn’t. You don’t have to be a great writer to be effective.

Your contribution is not a polished five-paragraph essay or creative writing assignment. Your job when you join the digital conversation, should you choose to accept it, is to create, contribute, connect, collaborate and curate.

All those things can be done without Pulitzer prize-winning prose! Let me tell you about an example that happened in my class recently. Nicole, along with Leah and Kim, created a silly video as they tried out a new tool called Animoto. She wrote a quick paragraph explaining a contest related to the video.  (And they painstakingly checked it for proper English conventions, I might add.) Here is her blog post.

Next,  she sent it out to the world using Twitter and the hashtag #comments4kids. Fourteen seventh graders, Mrs. Sigler’s first graders, and a sophomore Spanish class accepted her challenge to write a story about the video she created. You can read the stories here. Look at the number of lives Nicole touched. Look at the people who practiced literacy as a result of Nicole’s 21st century contributions.

Finally, we created a digital prize on Xtranormal. You can watch it here and at the beginning of this post.

Was Nicole’s greatest contribution her writing? No. She wrote, but she also did much more. Look at all the things she accomplished…

  • created–the initial video and digital prize
  • contributed–added her blog post and made it a contest for the world
  • connected–sent out the link to the world
  • collaborated–worked with Leah and Kim in the classroom, worked with me on Xtranormal
  • curated–this is an elusive one. Nicole and all of us need to not become overwhelmed with the wealth available to us online. Nicole didn’t just launch a random monkey blog post and leave it. She organized her online world. Even though she was busy, she approved the comments, read the stories, determined the winner, and followed-up to complete the task.

I am so proud of her and my other student bloggers. They are becoming 21st century learners and using technology to create, contribute, connect, collaborate, and curate.

Is there a benefit in doing those things online, as opposed to doing them in the regular classroom? Yes, there are many reasons that I am just learning about. One thing I have become convinced about is the fact that we have the chance to be accepted in a new way. The bullies and the bullied, the straight-As and the strugglers, the cool and the nerdy, the introverted and extroverted, the acne-ed and the brace-faced, the too thin and the too round. It doesn’t matter what we look like or how we are perceived on our campuses. Online we can all be on a level playing field. We can all make valuable contributions. Even the weakest writers can do the work of the 21st century when they share their own genius.

Be anonymous

Don’t get me wrong. I know we need great literacy skills; we should not be lazy about literacy development in ourselves or our students. More than ever, in this digital age, we need to be strategic readers and effective writers. (At the least, everyone can proofread their own writing or ask a friend or teacher to help.) However, I believe blogging, joining the conversation, 21st century teaching and learning–whatever you want to call it–is about doing those five C’s: Create! Contribute! Connect! Collaborate! Curate!

So, whether student or teacher, you can join the conversation. In fact, as Angela Maiers says, “You are a genius, and the world demands your contribution!” Please join in the conversation. We need you.

Will you please leave a comment telling how you were inspired to join the conversation?

(Road) Apples for the Teacher?

Road apples for the teacher? That’s what I briefly thought when I came to school the other day. This is a picture of what I saw on my desk.
road apples
What is it? I thought, as I approached my desk. At closer look, though, I saw it was not road apples at all, but tape balls. My sweet seventh graders peeled the old tape off my floor. It had been there since October, when we turned our linoleum floor into a makeshift cargo hold of a slave ship to experience the small space each person was allowed on board.

The tape needed to come off, and when I was called away from my class unexpectedly, the students talked the sub into letting them finish the job!

Tape balls for the teacher!

Thanks, Sevies!

The Future of Our Nation Depends upon Critical Literacy

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

~Declaration of Independence

US Capitol

Teachers are the Key to Our Democracy’s Future

Saving our democracy! That’s what we do as teachers. If students don’t become critically literate, our very republic is at stake. We have to teach students to read and question, to become fully literate, not content with just reading the words.

Governed vs. Government – Yeah, but aren’t they the same base word?

Today I was reminded of the  importance of my teaching. My eighth graders were paraphrasing the introduction of the Declaration of Independence. They came armed with a partner, a dictionary, and weeks of studying colonization and the American Revolution. However, when they got to the phrase–certainly one of the more important in the document—“…deriving their powers from the consent of the governed,” I noticed several students used government for a synonym for governed in their paraphrase. What?

While wandering the crowd, I saw the first one, and I stopped to visit. I mentioned that it sounded like they changed the declaration to one advocating communism, instead of our current form of government. We talked about it for a bit, and I helped them see the difference between governed and government.

Then I continued looking at other paraphrases and quickly noticed a trend. Fully, the first four pairs I got to had made a similar switch in terminology.

So, I stopped and kindly, of course, gave the class my “You-need-to-be-critical-readers-so-you-can-maintain-our-democracy-for-future-generations” speech. “You’ll be taking over,” I continued, “so YOU have to be a strategic reader and thinker to be able to protect the freedoms we have in America.”

Together we came up with a list of synonyms for governed and government and they realized, of course, that they were NOT synonymous words.

Government Gets Authority from Us — Yes!

They got back to their work on their paraphrases with a better understanding, writing passionate summaries of the phrase they first glossed over. Here are the summaries they came up with after the mini lesson…

1. …receiving their powers from the votes and permission of the citizens of the United States of America.

2. …taking their just powers from the permission of the U.S. citizens

3. …they obtain their powers through the approval of the people, not the government

4. …obtaining their powers from the approval of the citizens of the United States

5. …receive their powers only from the permission of the people

6. …obtaining their powers only with the permission of the people of the U.S.

7. …taking their authority from us Americans

8. …getting their fair powers from the permission of the citizens

9. …getting their just powers by the choice of the people of the United States

Much better!

Here is one group’s complete summary of the introduction:
When during human history one nation finds it necessary to stop being a colony of another, they should declare the reasons why they are forced to separate. These truths are obvious, all people are created equal. They have God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which cannot be taken away. Governments are set up by the people, and they get their authority only when the people give it to them.

I think they became more critically literate today! I also think our democracy smiled and stood up a little straighter today.

What is the difference between basic literacy and critical literacy?

What stories do you have of teaching critical literacy?

Photo by keithreifsnyder on Flickr with CC Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Frustrating Geniuses

Would these students frustrate you?

I’ve been teaching long enough to have experienced the joy of former second graders becoming productive members of society–some married, some parents. There is an engineer, actor, comedienne, teacher, stay-at-home mom, pastor, nurse, graduate student, and professor. Of course, I haven’t kept track of all the students I’ve known deeply, but enough of them live around here or have occasion to visit that I’ve reconnected with many. It’s always a great joy.

When they were in second grade, though, some of them caused me frustration. Maybe you can relate? For instance, what kind of second grader would Will Ferrell be? Think Elf. We’ve all had a student or two like Will who could make a name for himself on SNL someday, haven’t we? Another example–imagine how frustrated the teacher was who called Albert Einstein addled, causing his mother to pull him out of school and teach him at home. We too have students in our classrooms who are more intelligent than us.

When I consider the students who have frustrated me over the years–the ones who got my goat after a long day–I think of the clowning, the spacey, the proud, the hyperactive, the oddball.

I’ve grown as a teacher, and fortunately, over the years I’ve become less frustrated with students. Now, don’t get me wrong! I do get frustrated still, for now I teach junior highers. I don’t always understand their special adolescent brand of genius! Maybe I’ve learned, though, to not look too soon for the adult they are going to become. Besides the normal school smarts, I try to look at genius in my students in its myriad forms–comedic ability, technological savvy, a deep inner life, high intelligence, physicality, construction skills, spirituality, athleticism, and a one-of-a-kind spirit.

What kind of second graders and junior highers do you suppose these folks would have been?

  • Steve Carell, Jim Carrey and Steve Martin
  • Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and Ernest Hemingway
  • Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs
  • Tom Cruise, Cher, and Winston Churchill
  • John Lennon, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jack Nicholson
  • Howie Mandel, Lady Gaga, and Michael Jackson

What geniuses are you nurturing in your classroom right now?