Slice of Life: Unexpected Chaos

(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 don’t know all the details. The entire sixth grade class was outside for a short recess and I was in the office when a call came in over the walkie-talkie about a student falling off the slide, and landing on their head. The nurse rushed by me with a wheelchair.

As the class came in from the outside, I heard murmurs about the incident, with some students telling me that another student had pushed the fallen student off the top of the slide, on purpose.

The next class period in my classroom was chaotic, as the student who fell is a member of that class and all of their friends were worried (I am purposefully writing gender-free here, to protect privacy). Some students got called down midway through class to talk about what happened on the slide to the vice principal, further disrupting the learning.

I did my best to acknowledge the incident in very general terms — expressing concern for the student who had been hurt — without opening up the classroom to accusations. I had the sense that any opening about the incident could easily turn my classroom into a courtroom.

Unfortunately, this particular class needs very little distraction to get off-track – nearly every day requires a command performance to keep the lessons going forward — and I spent the entire hour trying to keep them on task with our reading and our game design project. I can’t say I was all that successful.

The ambulance pulling into the school driveway just outside my window didn’t help. It just made us all more worried and concerned, and for the fallen student’s friends, even more angry. I kept the calm as best as I could.

A note later from the vice principal confirmed some of the incident that students had suggested to me in the hallways, about the push seeming to be intentional (but probably not the severity of the injury). Some things are hard to explain, difficult to understand. The impulsiveness of adolescents is a known and yet surprising part of child development.

I just hope my fallen student is doing OK.

Peace (on the playground),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: That Girl Can Teach

(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.)

She had been asking me for weeks now. In fact, after every lunch, she and her friend would rush back to our sixth grade classroom before others arrived, stand before the whiteboard with my daily agenda, and use their “teacher voices” to explain to an invisible classroom of students what the plan for learning was today. They would deepen their voices, an adolescent playfulness combined by a fake adult voice, and then crack themselves up.

“Can I teach a lesson? For real?” she asked, and I had told her, yes. I just wanted to find the right time and content, so before Thanksgiving break, I asked if she would like to lead us in the next vocabulary lesson. She sure did. She was so excited. She took her book home to make sure she knew what she was doing and came back, with the lesson dotted with sticky notes.

Yesterday morning, she checked over the pronunciation of words with me (‘monotonous’ seemed rather challenging), asking some questions on how to best proceed, and then later in the day, she took over my classroom, leading the lesson on vocabulary. The class was amused that I had handed over the reins but mostly game (one boy was a little too amused and had to be separated from the rest) as she called on students to help with words and definitions.

She was confident and knowing, giving encouragement and helping with challenges. This girl can teach!

She will continue as our teacher during the next days of this vocabulary unit — and she informed me she had figured out how to explain a rather difficult and new section in our book this week — while others, including the “rather amused boy,” asked if they, too, could lead a lesson in the future.

Yes, I told them, now wondering how to balance all of this “visiting teacher” out, but knowing that I will.

Peace (and sharing),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Hallways of Peace

(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 love this time of year for the ways our art teacher has decorated the hallways with a myriad of posters created by our sixth graders for the Lions Club Peace Poster contest.

Peace Poster sampling

Each year, the kids work off a theme about peace, and their posters are designed to capture the concept. This year is all about the Future of Peace. One student’s work will go on to the state level of competition, and then perhaps beyond.

Peace Poster sampling

The young artists cannot use words or text, only image and design. I work with the art teacher on the students’ writing of an Artist Statement that will hang with each piece. Students write about their artistic intentions, use of symbols, choice of elements and more, and that writing really exposes their thinking.

Peace Poster samplingYou can’t help but notice the possibilities of peace as you wander our school hallways. That’s a good thing.

Peace (beyond posters),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Unexpected Poem

(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.)

You may not believe me on this but it’s true. I was at our local library, and I often kill time there by looking at the rack of “recently returned” books to see what other people are reading. Sort of a like a literary voyuer. I was scanning the far side of the rack when I saw a small book of poetry and art about the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, which is where I live.

I sat down, flipped through the pages, perusing some of the writing and enjoying the art of where I live when I landed on page 82. And I saw my own name and one of my poems. And that’s when I remembered — in one of those odd “oh yeah” moments — submitting a poem to a local anthology about ten years ago. Publication took time, and I guess I sort of forgot all about it. This book was published nearly four years ago, I see.

Ghost Train poem in Anthology

But there I was, a poet in the collection. Of course, I checked out the book from the library, and showed my family the poem with a mysterious ‘turn to page 82.’ (My middle son then flipped to the bios, and saw his own name referenced, which gave him some excitement). The piece is all about the train tracks that have been transformed into bike and hiking trails in our neighborhood, and the ghosts of the past that ride with the present.

Interesting, right? Serendipity. Or something.

Peace (you never know),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Maps in the Mailbox

(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.)

In the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) this month, we’re centering on the theme of maps, in all sorts of ways. Geographical maps. Game maps. Learning maps. Systems maps. Imaginary maps. It’s all connected to the idea of #Mapvember, and the way we can visualize the known and unknown worlds.

As part of our monthly CLMOOC postcard project (where about 70 of us have signed up to send postcards to each other from time to time, either one postcard a month or season or year, or more, if you are so inspired), the theme is also mapping. I found these very cool postcards called Map of the Heavens, which are elaborate celestial maps from a museum collection that are just fascinating to look at.

Map Postcards for Mapvember

Yesterday, I popped a dozen postcards into the mailbox, sending my maps (and my text on the postcard was a compass map of my writing life) to places in the United States and way beyond (Scotland, Australia, Canada, etc.)

I love this way of connecting throughout the year, beyond the traditional CLMOOC Summers.

Peace (find your way),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Rattling The Bones

(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 title for this post is sort of click-bait. This is not about Halloween and funny bones. It’s about the final lesson in my Digital Lives unit with my sixth graders, where I talk about bullying in online spaces. While I often try to balance out my Digital Lives unit with lots of positive messages — for all the many ways that technology allows them to compose and connect and learn — this lesson is a bit of hard reality for them.

It’s the only time I will intentionally mention how two students in our area of Western Massachusetts were harassed so much in online spaces that they took their own lives, and how those tragic events triggered the ways we talk about bullying in our state and our schools.

The room gets completely silent and thoughtful, as I see that reality registering in their minds. I see looks around the room when I talk about how police now keep files on students who have engaged in any bully behavior in the school system. I see the seriousness in their eyes, and it feels as if they are too young for all this.

But, of course, they are not too young. They are at the right age for this discussion. Social media is already in their lives, as I know from the survey I did with them and from our discussions.

These sixth graders are heading off to the regional middle/high school next year, where all sorts of new social dynamics kick in, and many of them are already in multiple online social spaces with their smart phones.

I always end with the message of hope and love. Of places where they can turn if they find themselves the victim of online bullying. Of the importance of friends and family. Of us, as teachers, caring deeply for them and being here for them. That they should look out for each other, too, and stand up when needed. To be strong. That despair and loneliness in the face of social media can be countered and dealt with.

Of all the things I said yesterday to my sixth graders, I hope that message is the message they remember the most.

Peace (in the world),
Kevin

Visual Slice of Life: Avatars on the Window

(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.)

Sticky Note Avatars on Window

We’re in the midst of our unit on Digital Life, and we were talking about online identity and the many ways people represent/misrepresent themselves in online spaces for all sorts of reasons: privacy, acceptance, gender, etc.

Before launching into an online activity around building avatars with different sites (and considering using what they made for their school Google Accounts), I had my sixth graders create Sticky Note Avatars and put them on the window as a sort of public display of representations.

They looked pretty neat, all there on the glass.

Sticky Note Avatars on Window

Peace (imagine it),
Kevin

 

Peace (falling),
Kevin

Slice of Life: I eye i

(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 spent a good part of the long weekend reading and assessing short stories, the first large writing project that my sixth graders have done this school year. There were a lot of fun and interesting stories, but one thing kept sticking out for me.

i

i

i

You may know that I am all in support of the ways that technology and digital writing techniques and possibilities have opened up many writing opportunities for young people. Embedded media, hyperlink associations, etc. Composition is changing, and I’m fine with that. And young people are writing all the time. Writing is at the heart of most of the texting, video creating, commenting, Instagramming, status updating, etc. that they do.

Yet …

I still get frustrated by the use of “i” instead of “I” when it comes to more formal writing. It feels like one of those non-negotiables when it comes to formal writing, right?

I do mini-lessons around techniques of proofreading and of writing, and of how different formalities of writing call for different things. Lower case “i” is fine for texting with friends, I tell them, but not for formal school writing, and I show them, and explain it to them.

Still, the i persists.

It’s likely a combination of them seeing the lower case so much in other places and spaces that their eye doesn’t immediately notice it, as mine does. Immediately. When using their Google Docs accounts, the “i” is not always deemed a spell-check issue, I’ve observed. So no red squiggles appear on the screen. I don’t know why not. I also know they should not need to rely on the red squiggles for something as simple as “i” becoming “I”. Finally, we all know that proofreading is always a struggle for young writers.

Sigh.

Maybe there are a few ee cummings in the mix …

Peace (i mean it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Out On the Wire

(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 may have written a bit about this last year, too. Our team-building outdoor adventure field trip happens this time of year, and yesterday, we took our sixth graders to an all-day outdoor space, with the highlight for many being the high ropes course.

High Ropes

Watching from the ground, with the deep blue sky above, is always an interesting perspective.

High Ropes

What you can’t hear are is the soundtrack of all the students not on the wires, shouting out encouragement and advice. That’s as wonderful as watching kids counter their fears of the course by completing it.

High Ropes

Peace (in the skyline),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Not Yet Grounded

(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.)

So much of the start of the year is about finding out more about who our students are as learners, as writers. I’m still figuring that out, particularly now that I have a short story project underway that involves multiple steps (planning, drafting, etc.) and involves more critical thinking and effort that anything we have yet done this year. One of my four classes has quite a mix of struggling writers and behavior issues that stems from the grouping of students, and some of these students already seem disinterested in what we are doing (five weeks into the school year).

I lost my patience in class a bit with one of the students yesterday who was being disruptive, even after some warnings and moving to another part of the room. I knew in the very moment it was happening that calling them out was the wrong approach. This student clearly needs a more personal approach, and other ways to engage, and I am going to make time to today for a one-on-one chat, to both apologize for my approach and to try to brainstorm ways to deal with that behavior if it comes again. That doesn’t mean the disruption is acceptable. But I could have figured out a better way to address it.

Much of the behavior issue stems from a resistance to writing (so, it is going to be a long year, since writing is a key feature of everything we do) and struggles with learning. The behavior is clearly a way to divert attention, to provide a front for peers. I get it. I’m going to have to work through all that cloud to get to the real kid in there and help them make gains with their writing.

It’s on me, as much as on them.

I wish every class were this well-oiled machine, where everything flows perfectly. It’s not. Almost never is. And that’s one of the most challenging elements of being an educator — the unpredictability of kids and their lives, and how what happens in expected moments of the classroom changes the dynamics of the space  — and one of the things that makes being a teacher so rewarding when breakthroughs happen.

Peace (finding my ground),
Kevin