Mentor Text Haiku: Notes from Japan

We’re still in our poetry unit (because who cares about April?) and my students are working on a series of haiku poems, and then using Google Slides to layer image with text. We’ll be pulling together one poem from each student to create a Sixth Grade Digital Haiku Book in the coming days.

I shared some of my haiku poems with them, as mentor texts, and explained that I wrote my poems while on a trip to Japan with my family, using haiku as my journal entries to capture memories from a likely once-in-a-lifetime trip to Asia.

Peace (in 5, in 7, in 5),
Kevin

Annotation Invitation: Writing Our Civic Futures

The last round of this year’s Writing Our Civic Futures from Educator Innovator and Marginal Syllabus is a chance to engage with the first part of writer/educator Steve Zemelman’s new book From Inquiry to Action: Civic Engagement with Project-Based Learning in All Content Areas. 

I know Steve through the National Writing Project and I interviewed him for my Middleweb column recently.

You can access the chapter via Hypothesis (free and powerful open source annotation platform) and Steve is right in the mix, too, interacting with readers in the margins of the text.  In his book, Steve lays out the rationale for student engagement that moves into social and political and community action. His emphasis is on impact in the local communities.

Come read and annotate and discuss the book. You can also read more about the Writing Our Civic Futures project here.

See you in the mix.

Peace (in and out of the margins),
Kevin

 

 

 

Slice of Life: Smoke, Fire, Vape

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I guess it was only a matter of time before we would have to address this alarming health issue with our sixth graders. Although my students are still in an elementary school and not as exposed to older kids on a daily basis as many other districts, the larger cultural and social elements — good and bad — eventually trickle down to us. It’s often just a matter of when.

So, vaping.

In the past two weeks, we’ve had some informal information on the social grapevine of some of our students perhaps trying out vaping (or e-cigarettes), or experimenting with it, or whatever. I can’t say if any of it is true, and our school administration is working to get solid information so they can intervene if necessary.

When I asked my own son, who goes a 6-8 middle school in another district than the one I teach in, if students are vaping there, he didn’t even hesitate to say yes. By the lockers. On the bus. In the bathrooms. It was rather alarming how quick his response was.

I didn’t press too much except to remind him of dangerous vaping can be and how its potential for addiction for young people is incredible high. He later told me that a group of health officials from the schools came into every classroom at his school, to talk about the dangers of vaping.

At our school, our health staff is working on a response to the possibility of vaping, including a letter home and probably a forum with all sixth, and fifth, graders.

“I was hoping we had some time,” a nurse told me, when we chatted about vaping, explaining she is attending a session a few weeks where vaping response will come up. “But I guess not.”

Nope, and not with summer and free time for kids coming up around the corner.

Peace (keep it safe),
Kevin

Book Review: Meet Me in the Bathroom (Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011)

This book may not be for everyone but it was fascinating for me, with an interest in music and music scenes and the way bands can flourish and disappear given the cultural moments. Lizzy Goodman  — in Meet Me in the Bathroom — conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with musicians around New York City just before, during and then after The Strokes hit the scene, causing ripples still being felt in rock and roll.

The story arc is familiar — a band (in this case, The Strokes) shakes off the dust of a stagnant music scene, creates excitement for audience and other musicians, companies come calling, other bands ride the wave, money impacts musicians in different ways, scene ends with a thud (sort of).

I can’t say I was ever a Strokes fan beyond casual listener. In fact, I am more of a fan of Vampire Weekend, one of the bands that came on the far end of the wave in New York City. They were not punk like The Strokes. Instead, Vampire Weekend merged global music and beats with a poetic sensibility.

What I liked about Meet Me in the Bathroom is the oral history format, as Goodman (who was part of the scene) explores the music of The Strokes and then all those who came after (or began during) the time they were suddenly “known.” Some of the bands I know and many I did not know.

Here is an incomplete list of bands mentioned (Note: + means I know and have listened while * means they are new to me)

The Strokes +
Interpol *
Jonathan Fire*Eater
The Killers +
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs +
TV on the Radio *
Franz Ferdinand +
Fischerspooner
The Hold Steady +
Vampire Weekend +
Regina Spektor
The Moldy Peaches
The National +
Dirty Projectors *
The Hives
Kings of Leon +
The White Stripes +
The Vines
Sonic Youth +

I am going to dive my way into YouTube and see what I can hear.

Peace (and rock and roll),
Kevin

 

CLMOOC Annotation: On Ivan Illich and Connected Learning

CLMOOC Annotation: Illich

There’s been some interesting conversations flowing in the margins of Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society as part of a CLMOOC annotation activity, proposed by our friends Charlene and Sarah. We’re using the annotation tool, Hypothesis, to “mark up” Illich’s seminal critique from the 1970s of traditional schooling and the ways students are under/mis-served by the educational system in the United States. I have to admit, I’ve never really read Illich that deeply, so this has been an experience.

 

And I come away from reading this piece over a few weeks with some lingering reactions. The first is that I find myself in a defensive crouch as Illich attacks traditional schools from all different angles, arguing that teachers are ineffective, that schools only care for students as cogs in the business machine, that funding is misspent, that curriculum is merely a means to keep young people in line, the entire educational system is designed to slow down learning.

CLMOOC Annotation: Illich

I won’t say some of his criticisms don’t have some merit, even today, decades later. But I felt as if he were attacking me personally, as someone who has dedicated my career to teaching and working with young people. It may be that I am too sensitive and ready to shout back (which I did in the margins of Illich’s text).

Still, Illich has some interesting points that do seem to coincide with the principles of Connected Learning — particularly around the concepts of student choice, peers as powerful motivators, project-based learning (which is what Charlene to first suggest this text for annotation, I believe), finding mentors in the field to help guide understanding, and building networks through technology to expand access to materials and information.

CLMOOC Annotation: Illich

Remember (and I remind myself), he wrote all this during the time of Mainframe Computers and microfiche files. He was envisioning an expanding educational system that allowed students to think and learn beyond the walls of the classroom, to follow their interests. He talks about poverty and urban schools failing their students. Those are insights to wonder at with appreciation (too bad I find his writing tone off-putting and snobby in its own way).

I’ve enjoyed reading and interacting with the other readers of the text, and marvel that there are more than 130 annotations (so far) about Illich’s views, and that many of the annotations have responses and discussions unfolding. It’s pretty cool.

And open. You can add your ideas, too, and reflect along with us.

I plan to head back in and make the rounds of comments, and think about how to keep the threads turning on our thinking. I hope to see you there.

Peace (in the margins),
Kevin

Adventures in the Music Recording Studio

John and I in Studio May2018

My friend, John, and I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon inside a music recording studio of a local musician. Years ago, John and I wrote a song together (we’ve written many), and it has been his long ambition to record and release this particular song. Yesterday, we worked on laying down the vocals, saxophone and guitar tracks. The goal is release the song later this year, in time for the winter holidays, as the song is a holiday-themed song, with peace and love at its center.

I am always intrigued by music engineers and their studios, and the set-up in a third-floor loft overlooking our city’s downtown area was pretty cool. Actually, it’s right above the downtown music store, where Jim (the engineer) used to work. The scene was laid back, comfortable, and the engineer/producer is an amazing musician himself, so his feedback was helpful.

John and I also remembered some other studio sessions with past bands (he and I have been playing music for years) and I went and dug up a video I had made from long ago for a band we were in called The Sofa Kings. This video was created during a time when I was experimenting with a Flip video camera (the little white ones) was something completely new, and phones weren’t made for video quite yet (unless you had money to burn). The sound quality is terrible, but the moment in time captured (for us) is priceless.

Peace (in the songs),
Kevin

 

 

Graphic Novel Review: Raid of No Return (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales)

Another Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale (graphic novelist). Another tale, well-told. The latest in Hale’s popular series of non-fiction is entitled Raid of No Return, and it centers on the first mission by the United States after Pearl Harbor to bomb parts of Japan as WW2 began to escalate.

As with the other books in this series, the story is deep with research and uses the intersections of comic illustrations with text in powerful ways. Here, we learn about the men who were part of the Doolittle Raid, who pushed their aircraft to extremes to strike fear into the hearts of the enemies at the time. This all stems from the attack at Pearl Harbor and the United State’s entry into World War 2.

Actually, much of this story revolves around what happened after the raids on Japan, as the men of Doolittle’s squadron tried to get to safety when their aircrafts ran out of fuel or were shot down over Japan.

To be fair, this kind of story could be retold from Japan’s side, with a different narrative view. Hale hints at the atrocities of war from both sides. The surprise bombings by the US did kill civilians in Japan, and Japan’s search for the pilots ended up killing  250,0o0 Chinese lives people (some of whom helped shelter the pilots and bring them to safety). I can’t even fathom that kind of destruction of reprisal.

This book would be of interest to middle school and high school readers, although the dense and packed text and pages might make it a difficult read for some students. Hale does not flinch from the horrors of war in this book, but he also celebrates bravery and cunning and survival. The ending, which updates us on the men who survived, is heartbreaking in its emotional punch.

Peace (read it and live it),
Kevin

 

Found Appreciation Poems for Teachers

Found Poem/Teacher Appreciation

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, and the cover story in a recent edition of Time for Kids magazine were small vignettes written by famous people about their favorite teachers, and the impact those educators have had on their lives. I saw an opportunity to teach my sixth graders about Found Poems (and hope to do Blackout Poems some other day), of remixing words and phrases from a text to create a poem from inside the passages.

I created an appreciation poem myself as a mentor text, writing a poem about my sixth grade teacher — Mr. Dudak — who inspired me in many ways, and is one of the few teachers I still remember from elementary school. I even wrote about Mr. Dudak many years ago in The Boston Globe (but I’ll be darned if I can find a copy online … still looking, and I don’t even know where he is anymore to find him, but will keep trying.)

My students enjoyed the poem I wrote. I did, too.

Aside from making mustaches and other cosmetic choices on the magazine images with the Sharpies I gave them as I read the vignettes out loud, they dove in to find interesting phrases and words as they began to make a gift of a poem to a favorite teacher in our building as a token of appreciation.

They will be doing final versions of the poems today, and then decorating envelopes tomorrow, and I hope the found words help them express their feelings about former teachers. The few student poems that I saw being worked on yesterday were pretty powerful. I hope they send a message of appreciation from sixth graders, about to leave our elementary school, to their recipients, my colleagues in the building.

Peace (find it),
Kevin

 

Book Review: The Wild Robot Escapes

I had enjoyed Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot quite a bit, as Brown spun a story of a future time and a broken robot that comes to live and survive and thrive on an island with animals, until it is discovered and taken back to the factory.

The sequel — The Wild Robot Escapes — is also a solid yarn, where our robot, Roz, is back in action, but this time, she is trying to escape the farm where she works to get back to her island, and reunite with her adopted son, a goose named Brightbill.

Brown writes these stories in declarative sentences, an effect that over the course of the novel really brings the character of Roz to life, as she uses her robotic abilities to help others, and to find her way back home. Repeated declarative sentences creates a mechanical rhythm of sorts, although Roz is anything but robotic. And Brown inserts a narrator voice every now and then, too, as a sort of counter-balance. The result is effective story writing.

The world that Roz lives in one of our own possible worlds, where machines and robots and computers have become an overly integral part of the workforce, and where the tension between technology for good versus technology for bad plays out for Roz.

I could see these books being a huge hit for elementary students, although I suspect The Wild Robot Escapes might be seen as a little young by many of my sixth graders (even if the story has enough complexities to engage readers of any age, with a nice twist at the end). The illustrations are interesting, too, bringing a sort of metallic charm to Roz and her surroundings.

Peace (finds Roz),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: What Poetry Surfaces

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The paraprofessional in the classroom called me over to the side of the room during our writing time.

“Did you see what (this student) is writing about? You might want to see.”

Curious, I wandered over to this student as everyone was working on Digital Poetry Books — five short poems on a common theme, built inside Google Slides, with a hyperlinked Table of Contents. Some students are writing about sports, and family, and nature, and hobbies. They are learning poetic form, the way image can intersect with words, and the technological aspects of creating a digital book.

I glanced over the shoulder of the young writer. I look up. It is a deep theme for a sixth grader, an emotional one (I won’t go into details for privacy reasons) that has resonation, and it occurred to me that this student has been quieter than usual lately, although working harder than ever. I attributed it to a sense of the year ending.

Maybe it is something more, something going on outside of our school day, something that is on their mind with someone this student loves. Something that is spilling over into their poetry as a means of making sense of things.

Poetry has the ability to surface the heart in unique ways. It can tap into the heart of your world, if you let it. Poems can provide an inroad to understanding of emotion, and of the complexities of life. A poem can bring forth a difficult topic, and allow you to grapple with it. A poem won’t solve your problems. It could, however, provide you with some balance.

I looked across the room at the paraprofessional and we shared a look, and then we talked later, after school. Now we are both being a little more alert to this particular, student’s world. I am thinking of how to have a gentle conversation to make sure everything is all right, and to let this student know we are here for them, if they need it.

Peace (in Poems),
Kevin