WMWP in the Newspaper: Chalk Talk

Chalk Talk Quote Sept19Part 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.

The first piece of this school year is about Dreams and Aspirations, and getting to know my young students. You can read the Chalk Talk piece here and peruse the archives of our columns, too, if you want.

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

Six Word Memoirs To Seed The Classroom Mosaic

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.

Peace (in the share),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Sharing Songwriting Notebooks

(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 appreciate that so early in the year, I have already started to make some strong connections with students.

Yesterday, one of my students told me in the morning that they had “something to show me” but we didn’t get around whatever that was until the afternoon. I met the student in the hallway coming back to our classroom, and reminded them of our earlier conversation. They asked me to hold on a second, and then rummaged through the backpack to pull out a small notebook.

“My notebook,” the student told me, “for writing songs.”

I asked permission to look, and was eagerly granted it, and my student noted that there is only one song underway. I, of course, celebrated that they had a songwriting notebook and expressed appreciation for sharing with me. They apologized for the messiness and for having only the one song, but I celebrated both.

I know there is a vulnerability with sharing words and songs not yet completed. I’m the same way. I also know that finding another songwriter to share with is special, too. And I know this student was trusting me because of the fact that we both write songs, and that we both play guitar in order to write songs.

I may dig around this morning and find one of my messy songwriting notebooks, too, just to extend the sharing together as songwriters making a mess of notebook pages, all in the name of writing and of making music, and of deepening the connections as writers so early in the year.

Maybe I’ll even share this photo my workspace …

Songwriting Work Space

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Begin at the Start (again)

Today will be Day Three. Already. We had students for two days, then a long weekend, and now a short week. In some ways, it’s a perfect way to start the new school year, with a slow roll forward.

It’s too early to get a good feel for this crew of sixth graders, but they seem a bit lively, a bit more social for the start of the year than usual, and a little less focused on instructions. I’ll need remind myself to slow down a bit, although we had great success the other day with activating all 70-plus Google accounts, getting them into Google Classroom spaces and beginning to work on a basic slideshow. There were quite a few steps to the process. Everyone is in! (high five)

I mostly have the names of my homeroom students down, and now need to begin to learn the other three class full of student names — this is always a challenge at the start of the year, but I find being systemic about it helps. Names are important. The sooner I have that down, the better I can begin to understand each student as a person.

This week, we’ll begin to talk about stories, and I will be reading aloud Rikki Tikki Tavi as a means to frame discussions around literary elements, as well as just letting them listen (and sketchnote ideas) to a story with a low bar entry point — my own reading, and our group discussions.

Over the weekend, I started to have a chat with a National Writing Project colleague from the West Coast who asked if we could connect classrooms this year for some projects, and I immediately began to think about the Write Out project for the National Day on Writing. I am hoping their classes and my classes can share images and stories of the spaces where they live, and get to know both sides of the country a bit.

It’s going to be a great year ….

Peace (in the classroom),
Kevin

 

Comics for the End of School

School Ends: The First Impression

Over in another online space, I am working to make and share a comic every day for 100 days as part of a challenge. I don’t know how I will do it. But I am trying (I am on day 16!).

With the end of the school year (kids left yesterday but I still have today in the classroom), my comics were focused on those final, hectic days. I had a great class this year — sort of loud and most days edged on chaos on times, but overall, they were wonderful, and I will miss them, for sure.

School Ends: Too Loudand then …

School Ends: The Goodbye Classroom

Peace (in the frames),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Considering the Quiet

John Spencer has yet another intriguing post up, this time about actively and intentionally noticing the way sound in our classrooms play a significant role in student learning. He explores this from a couple of different angles, and I suggest you read the post he has written entitled “Sometimes a Quieter Classroom is Actually the Answer.” We (me) don’t often think much in terms of sound levels of our learning spaces, other than “that’s too loud” or “that’s too quiet.”

John notes that a noisy classroom does not translate into more active learning in this age of collaborative/cooperative learning. Neither does a silent classroom indicate that all students are working independently. Finding balance, and being intentional about the physical space of the classroom is one way to address this. Differentiating the classroom space for sound? Interesting.

This year, I’ve had one of the largest ratios of loud to quiet kids than I can remember, and I found myself struggling often to balance the spectrum of extroverts — who enter the classroom nearly yelling at their friends, gushing with news of the morning — with the introverts — those who settle in with a book or some work amid the morning chaos and try to ignore the noise. The extroverts are not mean; they’re social and excited and just loud. The introverts are not always passive; they often seem bemused by the antics, as quiet observers.

So, you know, it’s complicated.

I’ve tried different approaches to moderate the noise that often emerges from any learning activity, attuned to the quieter of my kids. And don’t get me wrong — we’ve had long stretches of intense quiet, particularly of writing quiet — the solitude within a crowd where a writer finds their words in stories, poems, essays or even daily writing activities. I enforce that quiet pretty strictly.

But other times? Man. It’s like I become a sound fighter, reminding people as I wander the room to “keep it down” and “you seem to be shouting at the person next to you” and “respect the space.” The lull lingers, and then is lost. There are times when we could barely hear the office announcements, and this is at the end of the day, when students are lined up and ready to head home. They’re so loud, they can’t hear the dismissal.

I’m going to mull over John’s points as this year ends — a sound audit of the classroom? Intriguing. More choice for students to work in quiet or active spaces? Possibly.

I am also sitting (quietly) with John’s (a self-proclaimed introvert) observation: Every student needs some quiet.

In music, there’s a deliberate symbol for rest. It’s not a break from the song. It’s a part of the music. But it is silent, and it is powerful. I think we need the same thing in the classroom. In a culture of noise, sometimes relevance isn’t more noise. Sometimes it’s more silence. — John Spencer

Peace (shhh),
Kevin

Pieces in Play: The Great Outdoors as Game Board

Park Site as Game BoardWhat happens when the outdoors becomes a board game?

Yesterday, in our last full week of the school year (still a few days to go, though), our sixth graders took part in an activity called The Ultimate Game, organized by an outside group. The Ultimate Game turned local recreational parks in town into a huge game board, for collaborative and cooperative activities. This was our first time using this group and I was impressed.

There were riddles, and challenges, and a GPS scavenger hunt component. Teams of students had to work together to find clues, solve mysteries and earn tokens, roll huge fuzzy dice, move pieces on a massive game board, draw on their various strengths, and it all came together so nicely — the weather, the kids, the game — that it has me wondering how to do even more of using the outdoors — field, forests, park sites — as settings for cooperative game design.

We have explored game design throughout the year, from different angles, so this field trip made sense as a way to tie things together.

Along with a six week video game design unit earlier in the year, we ended the year in our ELA class with a short story project in which students wrote a fictional piece of a narrator going into a board game to rescue a person from history. The game becomes the setting. Sort of like Jumanji and Zathura, picture books by Chris Van Allsberg (and both became movies, of course).

In the Write Out project from last summer, we explored and talked about more ways to better integrate the urban, suburban and rural outdoors into curriculum, and I admit, I did very little of it this year until the end of the year.

So I paid attention to the group that led yesterday’s events, watching how they so skillfully set up engaging experiences for success for all students, and used the contours of the landscape and woods and fields for the design of the huge game system they put into play.

(Oh, FYI: Write Out for 2019 will be this coming fall, in conjunction with the National Day on Writing. Keep an eye out for more details later in the summer).

Peace (outside inside),
Kevin

 

Marks on Wood: Filtered Effect Artwork

My students recently finished up working with a visiting artist — a woodcarver named Elton Braithwaite, who has been coming to our school now for 22 years — and their two pieces of collaborative carvings are very impressive. One has a tree theme. The other, a book theme.

The pieces have yet to be painted, so I took pictures of both carvings in their unpainted state, and began to play around with app filters (inspired by a friend of mine, Simon). One filter app I used (on the tree) is called Olli and the other (on the read) is Painteresque. The gif maker site is called Gif Maker.

I wanted to see the same image, fading in and out with filters. This approach worked better in another space, where Simon and I and others are sharing writing and art and more. The fade there was more natural. But here, I just used the online gif maker and layered the photos. The transitions are more abrupt, and a bit too quick (maybe I should have tinkered more with the settings on the gif creator).

It’s still kind of neat. The tree one works best, I think, for the app brings to the surface more of the textures of the carving piece. It’s a more natural piece of art. The read one is sort of distracting with the filters I used — at times giving it a sort of metallic sheen that goes counter to the concept of this being a carving on wood.

Peace (in the carving),
Kevin

Where Art, Writing and Inspiration Meet: Graphic Novelist Jarrett J. Krosoczka

A Visit by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

We had the pleasure of bringing graphic novelist Jarrett J. Krosoczka to our school yesterday. He gave presentations to four different grades about his work as a writer and artist, and shared his writing process and passions for making books. Krosoczka is the creator of the very popular Lunch Lady series, and his recent book is Hey, Kiddo.

His origin story of the Lunch Lady series was interesting. He told of going back to his old elementary school as an adult, and spending time with a lunch lady who used to serve him lunch, only to realize that she had a whole life outside of the school building (shocker). He wanted to write a picture book about the cafeteria staff, only to realize that one small strand of that book — a lunch lady as an undercover agent, whose mission is to protect the school and students — should be its own book, and that the comic format of a graphic novel was the way to tell that story. It took eight years from that spark of an idea to publication of the first book, he told the students.

Meanwhile, in preparation for his visit, students across our school have been working on projects, including graphic novel stories, in art class to recognize and celebrate our own lunch staff and other support staff workers in the building. During one of the sessions with Krosoczka, the staff from the cafeteria was brought in, and celebrated, with students performing a rap and short opera they wrote for them as appreciation.

My sixth grade students met him at the end of the day, after a long morning of state math testing, so it was a nice counterpoint to that to hear Krosoczka describe how he came to love reading, and then making, comics, and how it was his passion for art and writing — and lots of persistence in the face of rejection, particularly for his first picture book — that got him to where he is today, as the writer/illustrator on dozens of books.

It’s one thing to teach students the art of writing; It’s another to hear a writer tell of their experiences. Krosoczka wove the two strands together, and hopefully inspired young writers to write (and draw).

Peace (on the page),
Kevin

Classroom Comics and the Visiting Graphic Novelist

Scenes from Novels: In Comic Format

Thanks to funding support from our PTO, the school librarian, Pati M, and I (along with support by our art teacher, Leslie M) are bringing in the very talented Jarrett Krosoczka this coming Friday to share his work as a graphic novelist and maker of comics. Krosoczka’s most recent book — Hey, Kiddo! — is an amazing autobiographical examination of his childhood, with loss and love and art as the underpinning of his story.

Jarrett Krosoczka Display at the Eric Carle Museum

Jarrett Krosoczka Display at the Eric Carle Museum

I regularly use comics in my writing classroom (and did more when we had access to Bitstrips for webcomics but still use Make Beliefs Comix now and then) but I’ve been stepping it up a bit knowing that Krosoczka is coming to our school. And our art teacher has been focused on comics in art class, too, as our sixth graders work on graphic stories that are inspired by Krosoczka’s popular Lunch Lady series. Our students are celebrating non-teaching staff in our building by making them into superheroes, in comic format.

Meanwhile, I’ve had my sixth graders turning important scenes from the novels we are reading — Flush and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg — into comic strip format, and it has been wonderful to see the creativity flourish this way. We also did Onomatopoeia sound effect comics a few weeks back.

Comic Sound Collage

More about Krosoczka via his TED talks:

and

Peace (in frames),
Kevin