Yesterday, during an extended freewriting time in my four classes of sixth graders, I wrote these small poems, trying to capture the energy and essence of each class period.
Murmurs in the room
captured voices – planning —
talking slowly — each
demanding attention — sharing
thoughts — go wander in among them;
insights fueling discovery –
they teach each other
ways into the world
marbles on a wooden floor
a hornet’s nest, disturbed
glitter in a spring wind
confetti from a skyscraper
voices at a riot
eraser marks on paper
This is how the mind works
the longest day of the year
writes stories —a 20 headed monster
We walk in
on forty feet, pencils
gripped against the void
We voice dissent, but not discontent,
sowing chaos — long thin threads
pulled against the quilt of conflict
Only gathered up together like this
do the strands become woven
into something newer, stronger, better
Our stories bound
shared, and beautiful
we were all just characters
in a comic strip? one asks
and we wonder — what if
everything we said was in bubbles
above our heads? another pondered —
and we wondered — and what if
we could reach our hands
beyond the wall itself to grab hold
of our future self? another added
and at that, the room went quiet,
an empty frame of thought
Guts continues the talented Raina Telgemeier’s storytelling into the minds, hearts and lives of middle school students, using her own experiences as anchor. Telgemeier is a favorite of many of my girl students, and some boys (but not many), and I am already seeing Guts being carried around.
And the topic of this latest graphic novel is apt. It’s all about the hidden troubles of anxiety in young people, and how debilitating it can be, and how mysterious anxiety is for young people and the adults who care for and love them. In Guts, Raina (the main character, built on Telgemeier’s own struggles with anxiety) comes across as a normal, quiet, creative young girl, but inside, she grapples with fears of the world around her, particularly being anxious over certain foods and a fear of sickness.
The result is stomach troubles, loss of school, family confusion and an inability to express what’s going on. Eventually, therapy and friendships help Raina begin to deal with her anxiety, as she soon realizes that many people have secrets about the things they fear or worry about. Some can deal with those worries easier than others. Some, like Raina, bottle it up until they any longer can.
As with her other wonderful graphic novels — Smile, and Sisters, and Drama, and Ghosts — Telgemeier’s graphic art style is engaging and her writing is spot on, capturing the humor and stress of adolescence in a meaningful way that gets to the heart of the characters. Storylines of friendships, of family change, of puberty all feed into the confusion that Raina is having with understanding her world.
As a teacher, I have witnessed the impact that high anxiety can have on my students, and I’ve worked with guidance counselors and families on strategies. I’m working right now on this issue, as a matter of fact. I’ve read up to better understand some of the root causes, although every case is different, and how I, as a caring adult in the classroom, can be sympathetic and helpful when an anxiety attack comes on. I’m still learning. This book helps.
A helpful author’s note at the end of the book relates Telgemeier’s own struggles with anxiety, and her path to finding some balance in dealing with it. She notes that this is only her own story, but that she hopes readers might find understanding or parts of their own story in hers, and that this might help forge a path towards healing. What more can you can ask of a book like Guts?
Once again, we celebrated International Dot Day (inspired by the book, The Dot) in the classroom this week by having students write very short stories, with a circular theme (object, motion, etc) and then use the Visual Poetry site to “paint” the objects with the words of their stories. And once again, the creativity of some students just amazed me. We shared them out at our Padlet wall of circle stories.
What to make of this? Since the first day of school, I’ve been hearing references and seeing references to being a ‘VSCO Girl’ in some of my students’ work and discussions. I did a quick search, and found that VSCO is a photo filtering app, and when I asked one of my students if calling themselves a VSCO Girl was related to photography and app filters, they gave me a look of confusion.
So, eh, no, maybe not?
Yet, sort of.
Their own explanation of what VSCO Girls meant was confusing to me, something about scrunchies and hydro-bottles and clothes, and so I decided I needed to do a little more research. Doing so uncovered this summer-long viral meme of the VSCO Girl that had been completely under my radar. (To be fair, I am a middle age white man with three boys)
Centered mostly on Tik Tok, but now moving over to Instagram and YouTube and SnapChat, being a VSCO Girl is related to how a girl perceives themselves, and apparently, certain products and clothing are key elements.
Another element of this is the saying and typing of “sksksksk” (which seems to stem from slamming fingers on the keyboard or keypad) and “And I oop.” (A meme reaction people use to show surprise on social media.) VSCO stands for Visual Supply Co. – the business which invented the app that sparked the meme that fed the movement.
One site, StayHipp, described it this way:
A VSCO girl is someone who is active on the VSCO app and/or whose style matches the aesthetics of VSCO. This trend has grown to the extent that “VSCO” is used as an adjective to characterize something or someone who embodies a VSCO girl lifestyle.
The VSCO girl trend is largely based on owning a specific set of items including Birkenstocks, scrunchies, hydro flasks, metal straws, and anything from Brandy Mellville. Many of the items associated with the trend are brand-specific and may be pricy, but things like homemade friendship bracelets and oversized T-shirts are just as important to the trend as AirPods and Instax cameras are. Each individual has the power to put their own spin on this trend, whether it’s through their attitude, style, social media presence, or just the good vibes they radiate.
Most importantly, being a VSCO girl, or even just dabbling in the trend is about keeping a positive outlook and having fun! — via StayHipp
It then goes on to list all of the objects that a VSCO Girl might have, and the cost, and how to buy them.
Scrunchie hair ties
Hydroflask water bottles
Brandy Melville clothing
Slip on Vans shoes
Multiple rings worn at once
Pastel nail polish
Mario Badescu skincare products
Stickers on laptops and water bottles
Carmex lip balm
Which makes me think this is all part of some larger Product Influencer Campaign, to sell stuff to young girls by targeting their Girl Identity through social media. Which makes me wary of the trend, yet I’m amazed at how much the concept has filtered through my entire sixth grade classes in just a few weeks of summer. In a small activity yesterday, many tried to add sksksksks and I Oop into what they were writing. That includes boys as well as girls, which makes me wonder if the meme is turning into something else altogether.
A piece at Slate, in which the writer interviews some high school teenage girls, indicates that the whole VSCO Girl concept can be seen in two lenses — one way is that some girls view it as a connector point through social media, a way to “fit in” through style and choice, and another way is some girls see it as a way to mock the whole consumer-driven marketplace, making fun of the idea of products defining a girl. (And did you know there are not just VSCO Girls, but also Soft Girls and e-Girls?)
For the teens I talked to, most said being called a VSCO girl was a bad thing, something to be avoided. They were mixed on whether anyone would own up to being one or proudly proclaim her VSCO girl status, or any strong connection with it, to the world. — from Slate
Why do I have a sense that these two competing concepts of empowering girls and mocking girls, making its way over social media, are going to collide and the girls who just want to fit in are going to be the very ones who are going to get the most hurt?
How do I have a meaningful discussion about trends like this to give my students the ability to make decisions about social media and memes and empower them to question the viral nature of their world?
I suppose I can do that best by empowering them to be critical of the world, and to think on the power of real friendships, real connections, real people. I want the wonderful girls who spend their days in my classroom with me as writers and readers and members of our community to be true to themselves, and not just become some product of influence from the technology they use.
Part of my role as outreach co-director with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project is to recruit teachers in our network to write a monthly column with the local regional newspaper. The column is called Chalk Talk and provides a teacher voice to the newspaper’s education section. Usually, once a year, often to kick it off, I’ll jump in and write, too.
One element of a project launched at the start of the school year with my homeroom students is to so a six word memoir. Tried, but true, their six words often give a glimpse of them as people for me, their new teacher, and seen together, it is the start of the mosaic of our emerging classroom community.
The other night, I was able to join some facilitators and friends interested in next month’s Write Out project (learn more) in a National Writing Project Network gathering on Zoom. Everyone began in one huge room and then headed off into Zoom-room breakout sessions.
In our room, we shared an overview of the place-based Write Out (October 13 -27, with Oct. 20 National Day on Writing as a centerpiece) and then spent some time exploring resources and elements of place-based learning, before coming back together to chat again and reflect. The video is an edited version of that gathering in Zoom.
Here are some notes from our collaborative explorations:
Next month, the second year of Write Out will be taking place. From October 13 through October 27, with the National Day on Writing right in the center on October 20, we hope to engage teachers and students and park rangers and other public space stewards into looking at how stories inform our sense of place.
Here in Western Massachusetts, on the National Day on Writing, we are hosting a Writing Marathon on the grounds of the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, with hopes of teachers exploring the museum, its history and primary sources as inspiration for writing, and to bring that sense of curiosity back to students.
If you live and teach in Western Massachusetts, we hope you will consider joining us for this writing celebration. We may even have a Button-Making-Activity! The Armory is even offering small stipends for registered teachers.
Sheri Edwards has set up a collaborative Slideshow for anyone who wants to take part in the upcoming Dot Day celebration. Dot Day is connected to Peter Reynold’s picture book, The Dot, about art and creativity and individual spirit. International Dot Day is celebrated in schools and organizations all around the world. Officially, this Sunday is Dot Day, but as the site notes, that date is rather flexible.
Last year, for CLMOOC, I set up a collaborative drawing, and asked folks to add their mark to the file, creating a collage of colorful dots and writing. (I also do a Dot Day activity with my students — I will do that on Monday, I think — here is a teachers’ guide to some Dot Day activities, if you need some ideas)
This year, Sheri has set up a Five Dot Challenge, which involves simply putting five dots down on a page, and then connecting them to make a person. Then, write a small poem or small bit of writing, and upload into her Google Slideshow.