Some of you know that my sixth grade class was featured in a recent Fox News Special about Big Data, privacy and digital citizenship (that’s where we came in), and I shared out the edited clip that featured us. But here is the entire hour-long special on Hulu, in case you are interested. It certainly has that paranoid Fox slant, but some of the findings about the reams of data being collected on all of us is eye-opening, and always worth remembering.
My sixth graders come into my room in the morning, with a routine that begins with lunch count and morning work. I’m always divided on morning work, so I try to give them critical thinking activities and problems to sort through as a way to get their brain pumping before the day really begins. This week, as they ended their last two rounds of state testing (math), I decided to do something different.
On each desk, I put a handful of Wikistix bendies, and their instructions were simple: create a creature. That’s it. I didn’t explain anything more, nor did I elaborate when asked. I just let them go at it. And boy, they were jazzed up about making something. Some had used Wikistix before; Others, never. But the buzz in the room was palpable as they twisted, cut, re-arranged, traded colors and started to … make.
I overheard one student saying to another:
“Just invent something. You’re making something that doesn’t exist. It’s fun.”
How great is that quote? It really hits home with the idea of the need for creativity in our classrooms, to imagine something out of nothing. We lined up all the creatures along the shelf near the window, on a sort of impromptu display, and when the other sixth grade classes came in during the day, boy, were they jealous.
We ended our poetry unit last week by connecting the work we had done around writing and reading poetry (figurative language, rhyme, stanzas, theme, mood/tone, etc.) by looking at some pop song lyrics. As I told my students, I don’t suspect many of them go home and curl up on the couch regularly with a book of poetry (although, they should). But most of them do listen to music on a regular, daily basis, and songwriting is poetry put to music. They readily agreed to my assessment.
I love this connection, not only a teacher and musician, but also as a writer, and the students get excited about thinking about the music they like to listen to in terms of the artistic approach. Here, we use two songs from the past few years: The Goo Goo Dolls and their song, Better Days; and Kris Allen’s Live Like You’re Dying. Both songs offer up good examples of pop music structure — the verse, chorus, bridge pattern is in full display, and there are noticeable rhyming schemes, and the overall “message” of the lyrics combined with the pop sensibilities of the music is strong.
Plus, we rocked the classroom with the music.
I then remind them of the real lesson: when you are listening to the songs you love, do you notice patterns? Rhyming? Themes? My hope is that they begin to make connections to poetry, but also that the lesson sparks the skill of active listening. What is that songwriting trying to say? How are they saying it? How does the rhythm of the words work in partnership to the rhythm of the beat? Why did the songwriter do that instead of this? These are all things to notice.
When we did a poetry freewrite on Friday, one of my students wrote and then performed for us a rap song that he wrote, with lots of internal rhymes and a theme about picking yourself up when you are done. If you knew this student, you would not expect to hear flowing hip-hop coming from his lips, but there he was … writing a song and rapping it for us. Nice.
I had a student who decided to use our Interactive Fiction writing as a way to meet the goals of a science project around the structure of cells. She crafted this story, working on it for three weeks, and then shared it out last week as part of a Cell Walk. A lot of students did other kinds of projects (mostly food related) but I was proud of her for working so hard, being engaged, and then sharing her story out during a public showing of projects with students and family members.
I’ve been doing more work this year around the idea of “close reading” with my students, focusing in on how to read carefully and critically, and I have definitely seen growth in their analytical skills as a result. We’ve been in the midst of a poetry unit, and I have been trying to take some of those “close reading” concepts and use them for “close listening.” I am working on this because there is a sizeable number of kids who seem to drift off a little too easily at times when I am doing read aloud. And while I want them to be enjoying the text, I also want them to be learning about the text, too.
Poetry seems a perfect way to get at this idea of active and close listening. Yesterday, for example, we studied The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, and focused on mood. My students were digging into this poem, which was unfamiliar to all but a few of them, and considering the question of “mood and tone” from listening to the poem. We went about identifying words and phrases, and poetic techniques (symbolism and repetition), to get at the heart of Poe’s classic tale. The we watched The Simpson’s spoof of The Raven, and brought that idea of satire into the discussion (How did The Simpson’s version alter the mood?)
I also used a wonderful book called My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States. This is a collection of poems that center on a “place” with great imagery. The way this lesson unfolds is that they don’t know what part of the country the poem I read aloud is from, and using evidence from the text they are listening to (the poem), they have to place it on a geographic map of the United States. We use a simple chart, so that they have to pull out “evidence” from the poems to support their guesses, and then another part of the chart has them listening for figurative language devices.
The use of the chart really does focus their listening skills, and the conversations about the evidence they have heard and why it signifies a certain place in the country is wonderful, as the poems connect not only to certain spaces but also sparks memories and poetry about their own vision of places they have been.
We’ve now moving from reading and listening to poetry to writing and publishing poetry, and yesterday, we explored haikus as a form and structure of poetry. Some kids really love haiku; others, not so much. But volunteers from my four classes shared their poems for a podcast collage, and here it is:
Here’s yet another student-created Interactive Fiction piece, using Twine. I’ve been sharing out some student work as I pull together stories for a class website. I invite you to see all the work we have done (and I have been doing) around Interactive Fiction (from reading to writing and creating).
I’m slowing sharing out a collection of student-created Interactive Fiction pieces, which I am compiling into a website resource, too. Here, a team of two students really got into the narrative choices as they worked with the software, Twine, to map out and create their story: Exploring Brankav (I believe the name is a play on elements of their names).
The other night, the segment about data mining and privacy issues in the digital age ran on Fox News, and my students and I were part of the mix. Some of you may remember that I allowed Fox News, with anchor John Roberts, to come to my sixth grade classroom on Digital Learning Day as we were in the midst of a unit around digital citizenship. The hour-long feature — called Your Secret’s Out — is pretty damning, as Fox examines how companies and the government use data to know who were are and what we’re up, too, etc, and is pretty much, well … Fox News. There’s heightened music, a sense that something is very wrong with the world, and Robert’s arched eyebrows show us that we better be more aware of our use of digital spaces. Now, this is true, but the feature gives is more of a dark underpinning than it needs. But that’s television, for you.
Now, you can imagine my worries about how my students and I would be portrayed in that kind of conversation. The last thing I want is for my students to come across as fools, or inarticulate kids. That didn’t happen. We did OK. I think we all came off as pretty thoughtful, and the brief segments show us in good conversations about the digital world. I think I was able to explain the rationale for teaching about digital footprints, in soundbites. I have edited our section out of the larger piece so that I can show my students. The stories that immediately follow us include references to sex tapes and Charlie Sheen and other pop cultural references that I’d rather not bring into my classroom, if I don’t have to.