Friday, February 22, 2013

Positive Response and Personal Symbols

The new writing circle groups shared their writing twice this week. On Tuesday, the students eased into peer feedback by employing the no response method. This gave writers a safe environment in which to share their work and to hear their pieces as they would sound in a reader's ears. They were also able to practice reading aloud at appropriate speed and volume.  Friday, students brought new drafts to their writing circles. After a short review of the forms of positive response learned last semester, authors were free to choose which type they wanted when they were finished reading – point out, say back, 'Just the Facts,' or sketch it.  In point out, students begin their response with the phrase, "One thing liked..." or "One thing I noticed..."  With say back, kids use their own words to tell what they think the writer was trying to say.  When using 'Just the Facts,' kids provide the writer with an objective response that signifies what they know to be true about the writing.  Finally, sketch it allows students to draw a quick response and explain it to the writer.  In my writing circle, most students chose point out, but to mix things up, I asked for say back when I read my piece about my buckteeth.

In addition to writing circles, composition students studied the way Mildred Taylor used symbolism in Papa’s description of the Logan and Granger families. By comparing each to a different tree, he helped to create a strong visual image in the minds of the readers. Papa explains, “You see that fig tree over yonder, Cassie? Them other trees all around...that oak and walnut, they’re a lot bigger and they take up more room and give so much shade they almost overshadow that little ole fig. But that fig tree’s got roots that run deep, and it belongs in the yard as much as that oak and walnut. It keeps on blooming, bearing good fruit year after year, knowing all the time it’ll never get as big as them other trees. Just keeps on growing and doing what it gotta do. It don’t give up. It give up, it’ll die” (206). Taking a cue from Papa’s description, students created personal symbols based on their beliefs, values, hobbies, interests, and ideas held dear.

Mr. Dunning's Personal Symbol

Literature students are close to finishing their Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry book presentations. I have been impressed with the range of ideas and the students’ creativity. While there is no doubt that the expectations of the assignment were challenging, many kids really stretched themselves and produced amazing results. Stay tuned for a full update and a photo gallery!

After examining the creation story in Greek mythology, students began to explore the Olympians. These twelve gods and goddesses ruled from Mt. Olympus after the defeat of the Titans. Because of the complexity of the Olympian family tree, we have utilized a variety of mind-mapping techniques to keep relationships straight. In particular, students have been working with Prezi to organize who is connected to whom. This Web 2.0 alternative to PowerPoint allows students to create visually stunning presentations. While it requires patience to learn, the results are amazing.

Friday, February 8, 2013


Writing Circle Teasers
Publication can take many forms.  Read alouds, gallery walks, blog posts, and bulletin boards are all vehicles for taking a piece public.  Sixth grade composition students publicly shared their writing circle pieces this week outside Room M314.  But, displaying writing on a bulletin board has its challenges.  Typed documents often have minimal visual appeal, and when there are 18 of them stapled in a 6' x 4' area, most passersby are loath to stop.  Taking a page from the entertainment industry, the authors created teasers for their pieces.  They carefully combed through their writing looking for the exact words or phrases, that if pulled out and read separately, would make a reader want more.  After applying stylistic touches, the phrases were combined with QR codes that link to the piece in its entirety.  Students are excited for peers and visitors to scan and read.

Students took a field trip to First Stage on Friday to watch a performance of To the Promised Land.  In the play, Ruth, an African-American girl living in Milwaukee during the civil rights movement, finds herself inspired to continue going to school while reading the story of Golda Meir, the first female prime minister of Israel. The play dovetailed perfectly with the literature student's completion of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, as students heard about racial inequality and the escape from Southern sharecropping.

While literature students began studying Greek mythology on Tuesday, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry will be officially completed when book projects are presented next week.  I am excited to see how the kids will demonstrate their understanding of the themes of the novel. Conferring with them certainly revealed a wide range of creative and unique choices.  Newscasts, sculptures, paintings, photo collages, skits, movies, and songs are just a few of the projects I can expect to see!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

PK Picnic

Checking out my room - Click for photo gallery
Monday, I was very fortunate to have Mrs. MacKie and Mrs. Bach's PK class visit my room during second period.  It was Henry's (my son's) day to bring a healthy snack to share with his classmates and time for their next picnic outing.  Carrying a basket and a blanket, the children arrived without a peep.  In fact, I didn't even hear them walking down the hall!  Before getting down to the very important business of enjoying their picnic, the PKers spent time exploring my room, sitting in my chair, and looking at pictures of Henry and his brother, Trevor.  Once they familiarized themselves with the new environment, they were ready to eat.  Prior to their arrival, they had worked up quite an appetite during gym.  Since I did not have sixth grade students at the time, the PKers quickly turned aside their blanket in favor of sitting in the big kids' desks, and they waited patiently while their teachers passed out trail mix and waters.  Spending time with such a polite, inquisitive, and happy group of children lightened my mood that day.   What a refreshing way to start off the week!