The Messy Work of Dissecting Sentences

We’re in the midst of a unit on Parts of Speech (hey, did you know yesterday was Grammar Day? I didn’t, even though we were working on grammar all day. The video — March Forth — is from The Grammar Girl). We’ve been working on nouns, verbs, adjective, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, interjections (!) and conjunctions for about two weeks and now they are into a project in which they color-code various parts of speech in their own writing. (See the project handout)
Parts of Speech sample project

I can’t say they are having fun with it.  Isolating words  and trying to determine what role they play in context of a sentence is difficult work for sixth graders (heck, and for most adults), but I do hope that by using their own writing, it is a bit more authentic of an activity.

Of course, who am I kidding? Knowing Parts of Speech does not make you a better writer. Still, this is one of those topics that the curriculum requires and on some level, I do believe they need to have a grasp on what role words are playing in their writing. The Parts of Speech unit follows our work around the Origin of Words, and we will next move into Sentence Structure, and then on to Paragraph Writing, and then to Essays. I’ve tried to make our work a logical progression of sorts, so that students see how their longer writing is built out of smaller pieces.

The projects are due next week. We’ll see how they do.

Peace (that’s a noun, right?),

March Book Madness: Treasure Island

I’ve been sharing a log of Glogster poster projects as part of my March Book Madness series of independent book reports from my students, but a handful of my kids decided that they did not like Glogster at all and wanted to go a more traditional route. That was fine with me. Here, the student read a version of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and made connections with the book to various elements of popular culture and foods.
Treasure Island
Peace (on the island),

Disheartening News: NWP Gets Cut

One of my favorite bands is Los Lobos, who shot to fame with their version of La Bamba but whose album How Will the Wolf  Survive is a classic mix of mexicano rock and roll. I was thinking of the title track yesterday of the wolf surviving in the midst of change as I received some disheartening news from the National Writing Project. In a recent budget action, President Obama signed a bill that cuts NWP (and other educational groups) out of the federal education funding formula.

Here is part of the text of the NWP bulletin:

Dear NWP Colleagues,

Yesterday President Obama signed a bill to keep the government running until March 18. The bill cuts about $4 billion in spending from the FY 2011 budget, eliminating funding for a number of education programs, including the National Writing Project, Reading Is Fundamental, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and Teach for America. These cuts impact NWP’s federal funding beginning October 1, 2011.

I know you have many questions about what this means for us as a network and for each of us as individuals. While we cannot answer all of these questions today, below are some we can answer. Despite the funding decision, legislative offices continue to voice strong support for NWP and the work of Writing Project sites in local communities. While this funding news is a significant setback, your countless efforts to reach out and educate Congress have had a tremendous impact.

NWP was founded on a set of principles and values, and these ideas still guide us today. We began as a single site in 1974, before federal funding, and we are a strong “human network” of sites and individuals that will not go away with the stroke of a pen. We are a powerful organization and we are here to stay!

We will continue to pursue options for federal and non-federal funding and will share them with you as soon as we have a definitive path.

Sigh. Anyone with any understanding of politics knows that once funds are removed, it is very difficult to get it back in a budget. That said, I am sure that teachers and administrators who are connected to NWP will make their voices heard and push for support for a network that provides important and valuable professional development around writing, reading, technology, social justice, and more. A spring  meeting that is also a prime lobbying effort by NWP folks (including my wife) will no doubt be fraught with anxiety and passion, and provides a time to bend some important ears.

The NWP has a site set up for information related to the funding issue: come visit NWP Works.

I can’t imagine the National Writing Project going away, but I can imagine that things will be different. Like the wolf, which still thrives today (just not everywhere it once did and not in the same way it once did), the NWP will still be a vital connection for many of us whose practice and thinking has been transformed by the experience of being part of something that began with a few teachers talking about how to become better teachers.

Peace (in the survival),

March Book Madness: Dirt Bike Racer

Today’s book project as part of my March Book Madness feature is from a very reluctant reader, who finally latched on to some books centered around the thing he talks about, dreams about and does outside of school. Dirt Bike Racer by Matt Christopher
excited this student like no other book, so much so that he had to lobby his mom to go out and get him more. I’m hoping that translates into more interest in other reading this year.

Peace (on the track),

Yertle the Turtle and Middle East Politics

Yertle the turtle

Some days, things just fall into place nicely. Yesterday was one of those days, as the celebration of the birthday of Dr. Seuss allowed me to have discussions with my class about allegory of stories, the art of picture books, and mature themes that can reside just below the surface of even the most silliest of stories.

I’m talking about Theodore Geisel’s Yertle the Turtle and its connection to the uprisings and political movements of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries in the Middle East/Northern Africa region.  Here is a story about a turtle king who cares only for his glory, and expanded influence, and does so on the backs of his subjects (literally) until one of them (a little turtle named Mack) gets so fed up, he revolts. Of course, he revolts in typical Seussian style: he burps and that burp topples the king.

Here is an excerpt:

Then again, from below, in the great heavy stack,
Came a groan from that plain little turtle named Mack.
“Your Majesty, please… I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.
We turtles can’t stand it. Our shells will all crack!
Besides, we need food. We are starving!” groaned Mack.

“You hush up your mouth!” howled the mighty King Yertle.
“You’ve no right to talk to the world’s highest turtle.
I rule from the clouds! Over land! Over sea!
There’s nothing, no, NOTHING, that’s higher than me!”

In class, we talked about the connections between the modern political landscape and this story, which was written in the aftermath of World War II and was more of indictment on European countries with despotic rulers whose people were suffering. We also noted how the protests in the Middle East might seem like a good thing, but really, the uncertainty there will be unfolding for years to come. “Pay attention,” I told my kids.

Our discussions then moved on to other Dr. Seuss books: The Lorax as an indictment of corporate greed and environmentalism (brought to light yet again by the recent $18 billion ruling against Chevron for its mess in the Amazon Rain Forest); The Sneetches (racism and acceptance); and The Butter Battle Book, which took aim at the Cold War mentality of more bombs, bigger bombs, better bombs.

You know that moment when you see something in your students’ eyes — that moment when they see something different now — well, that was our Dr. Seussian moment yesterday. These books that always seemed to them to be little children’s books suddenly were something bigger — maybe a little scarier, too — and for me, as a teacher, those are moments of discovery worth savoring.

What did you do to celebrate Dr. Seuss?

Peace (in the world of little Macks),

March Book Madness: Fang (Maximum Ride)

I am trying to share out a student book project just about every day in March to celebrate reading and literature under the title of March Book Madness. (I think I need a cool icon!) Some will be glogs; Some will be photos of regular posters. This project is about one of the books in the Maximum Ride series, by James Patterson, which a whole lot of my students are devouring right now.

Peace (in the story),

March Book Madness: The Underneath

I was very impressed with the independent book projects that my students completed last month. So much so, I am going to try to feature their projects here (mostly on Glogster, but a few offline posters, too) as a way to celebrate reading this month. I am calling it March Book Madness (since basketball is about enter its own madness stage soon enough).

Today’s feature is a glog about the book The Underneath, by Kathi Apelt.

Peace (in the book collection),