Friday, November 21, 2014

live from NCTE 14!

Oh, my--is it Friday already?! It's just as well that I didn't post earlier this morning, because what there is to write about is happening RIGHT NOW.  My first session was about the Newtown Poetry Project, a program that began in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012.  There was every reason in the world to offer families a way to respond through poetry, but I was fascinated to learn that the events themselves were not addressed in the Poetry Project.  Instead, the aim of the writer/teacher and the parent/poet/professor who initiated the program was just to share poetry lessons and invite writing. 

As the 6-week evening program progressed, the leaders realized that the children were responding to the invitation in joyful, spontaneous ways that the adults of their wounded community were finding difficult.  Their solution was to build collaboration into the lessons--collaboration between adults and children and among members of different families.  Here is one of the resulting "exquisite corpse" collaborative poems, from which the title of their first collection, In the Yellowy Green Phase of Spring, comes.

The Great Unknown || Newtown Poetry Project 2013

From here, I can see the world
We are in the yellowy green phase of spring
Birds fly in the sky a lot during spring
Some people like to write in a journal
I like to write about flying birds
My cat, the fluffiest cat in the world, purred softly on my lap
I saw the flag at the front of the room jerking like a chained bulldog
The umbrella flew open as the wind took it
I wish I could wake up with a few less unknowns

It was an excellent session all around, but my favorite idea was to do with how, so often, we approach poetry with a "field trip" mentality, as a one-off unit or author visit rather than as the ongoing, recursive, shared meaning-making that it was from our preliterate beginnings.  I love the idea that every community needs a structure in place for community poetry, whether in times of tragedy or in times of ordinary, glorious life.

You can read here about the second volume from the Project's Spring 2014 session--From the Plain White Table, and if you listen closely you'll hear the gears and engines of my mind revving up for the Rock View Poetry Project...

The Poetry Friday Roundup is with Becky today at Tapestry of Words.

Friday, November 14, 2014

science series VI

The time draws near and I'm getting excited...the NCTE Annual Convention begins next Thursday, November 20!  I'm looking forward, as I do every year, to spending some time surrounded by fellow teachers who are passionate about English language and literature teaching.  It's also the time of year when I get to hang out in person with the blogging poets and teachers whom I "see" each Friday right here in the virtual Poetry Friday community.  Click here to find out more about the six-year-old Poetry Friday tradition.
Out of these steadily inspiring virtual relationships has come a great gift to teachers--the Poetry Friday Anthologies, created and compiled by two champions of children's poetry, professor and cheerleader Sylvia Vardell and poet and community organizer Janet Wong.  Their mission to support teachers in bringing more poetry into  classrooms began with an e-book--Poetry Tag Time--a concept which I am proud to have been a little helpful in developing.

There are now three Poetry Friday Anthologies--one for K-5, one for middle school, and most recently one for science.  Over the last few weeks I've been highlighting science poetry by "classic" poets, but The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science is a catalog of the best poets currently writing for children, all in one place, supporting teachers as they attempt to do Too Much All at Once.

I'm a classroom teacher.  I know what our curricula look like.  Someone in our central office (or several someones) puts together a ginormous pile of standards, indicators, lessons and resources in an effort to help us classroom professionals offer our students a rich and "rigorous" curriculum.  (Personally I prefer a rich and vigorous curriculum; somehow "rigor" always make me think of dead bodies, stiff and cold.)  The effect is almost always an overwhelming feeling of dread as we look ahead each week to all that we are supposed to do and teach in our measly 6 hours per day with our students.  The triage is bloody and there is only one solution:  synergy.
syn·er·gy  ˈsinərjē/    noun

the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects

Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
We also call this "integrating the curriculum," but when your curriculum is delivered to you in several separate binders or individual webpages labeled Math, Reading, Writing, Science and Social Studies, it can be hard to remember that none of these "subjects" stands alone and separate--not in our adult minds, and certainly not  the minds of elementary students.  That's just not how people think and learn.

There is always a necessity to get down into the details of how to teach each little skill and concept, but if we let that approach run our days in the classroom, we rob our students of the chance to marvel at the beauty of the interdependent web of ideas, knowledge and indeed all existence.

So how do we successfully attempt Too Much All at Once?  One way is to use poetry to address other curriculum areas.   This will be the subject of the Children's Literature Assembly Master Class that I'll be helping to lead at this year's NCTE conference.  My roundtable discussion will focus on ways to use poetry to teach science and vice versa--to synergize the elements of language, metaphor, curiosity, investigation, research and data into a whole that becomes a powerful tool for student engagement and learning.  The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science takes us there with next to no effort (although we will need some courage, if we're not teachers who live entirely comfortably in the world of poetry).

Here's a shout-out to my colleagues at Rock View Elementary School in North Kensington, MD, some of whom will win copies of The PFA for Science in a raffle on Monday.  I'll close with one of my personal favorites from this anthology, placed in the 1st grade section but accessible to elementary kids of all ages.  It's by Mary Lee Hahn, my friend and fellow classroom teacher from Dublin, Ohio, who will also be presenting at the CLA Master Class next weekend.  See how few words--well-chosen words!--you need to bring rhyme, rhythm, scientific concepts and higher-order thinking to your students?

The Lion and the House Cat ||  Mary Lee Hahn

different strength
different size
same chin
same eyes

different mane
different stride
same stretch
same pride

And below are a few snippets and excerpts from this wonder of a book, all taken from the Pomelo Books website.  Go on and make your teaching life a little more efficient and a little more beautiful:  commit to Poetry Friday (once a month? every other week? every Friday?) and get yourself one of these anthologies to help out.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Keri at Keri Recommends.  Enjoy!


encouraging citizen science

Friday, November 7, 2014

science series V

We've been exploring some science poetry by authors you might call "classic"-- Robert Frost, Eve Merriam, Valerie Worth.  Today let's top and bottom our world with work from two more classics, Christina Rossetti and Walt Whitman.  Both these Victorian contemporaries are considered poets for adults, but we never let that stop us from finding poems that are accessible to children, do we?

You can see my post about "Clouds" by Rossetti here--it is the perfect introduction to metaphor for the very youngest students. Sinking from sky to sea, we land in...

The World Below the Brine || Walt Whitman

The world below the brine,

Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves,

Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds, the thick tangle, openings, and pink turf,

Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold, the play of light through the water,

Dumb swimmers there among the rocks, coral, gluten, grass, rushes, and the aliment of the swimmers,

Sluggish existences grazing there suspended, or slowly crawling close to the bottom,

The sperm-whale at the surface blowing air and spray, or disporting with his flukes,

The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy sea-leopard, and the sting-ray,

Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes, sight in those ocean-depths, breathing that thick-breathing air, as so many do,

The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air breathed by beings like us who walk this sphere,

The change onward from ours to that of beings who walk other spheres.
  This is a poem whose structure and richness would overwhelm most kids in a kindergarten full of English language learners, unless we were delving deeply into ocean studies, which doesn't happen in our curriculum.  But for students about 2nd grade and up--what a feast!

 I might begin with everyone mixing water and LOTS of salt to make brine, and discussing whether we would be able to survive in that much salt.  This sensory experience becomes important as the poem moves toward its demanding--maybe even intimidating--ending.

 This poem alternates beautifully among lines full of "ordinary" words likely well-known to students (lines 2, 4 and 8), lines that introduce words and syntax likely to be unfamiliar (lines 3, 6 and 7), and then some lines, like 5 and the last three, that use extrordinarily complex language and syntax to ask the reader what turns out to be a fairly simple question: how are we like sea creatures?

Because this poem is rather heavy-going in terms of vocabulary and incorporates a list element, it lends itself to choral reading, with single voices and small groups speaking (acting? in Kindergarten we ALWAYS act out our poems!) the piled-on names of the denizens of the world below the brine.  In the end, this is one of those poems where you might not need to UNDERSTAND every phrase or idea to feel the wonder of the whole--but isn't it the mystery and wonder of the whole that makes scientists want to delve deeply into the detailed How?

Delve yourselves deep into the world of Poetry Friday over at Random Noodling with Diane today.

Friday, October 31, 2014

science series IV

In Kindergarten we have been exploring the water cycle as best as we are able at 5 and 6 years old.  We sing a song I never get tired of, "The Wheel of the Water" by Tom Chapin (enjoy a story performance version here at minute 2:25 and a sample of the straight vocal version here), and use that foundational chorus as the anchor for all our discussions of cycles throughout kindergarten:  the wheel of the apple, the wheel of the pumpkin, the wheel of the sunflower/frog/chicken/turtle/human.

We always get that the water flows down ("down, trickle trickle down") and that "clouds rain down; thunder and lightning sound", but the stage of the water cycle at which the sun cooks the water into invisible droplet-filled vapor is still very mysterious.  We do a simple experiment:

1) Soak a paper towel.
2) Hang it with a clothespin somewhere in the room.
3) Go to Art or Music or P.E..
4) Return and retrieve paper towel.  What do you notice?

This experiment is always accompanied by shrieks of surprise, excitement and even shock.  But the answers to "Where did the water go?" are often very magical, despite the many rehearsals of "See the vapors rise; see them cloud the skies"--because we canNOT see the vapors rise, and it's hard to believe that the water is now in the very air of our room, and indeed that water is EVERYWHair.  This year it was concluded that the water vapor went through the little holes in our ceiling tiles to get to the sky, and I could not prove otherwise!

Here's an original that might have been a helpful addition to this week's curriculum, except that we were too busy with "Five Little Pumpkins" and the Spooky Ghost sound /oo/.  Boo to you and Happy Halloween too!

Water Becomes You

This water coming into your hands,
it’s old—older than today,
older than you are,
older than the oldest people you know.

This water has been around:
playing over and under the world,
coming up in different wells,
turning through the air into nothing.

This water will make its home in you,
become a part of you,
moving in your very thoughts—
old water welling up in new hands.

HM 2006
all rights reserved 


Go knock on Linda's door at TeacherDance--I bet there are lots of poetreats to be had today!

Friday, October 24, 2014

science series III

Scientist, poet...poet, scientist.  Opposite ends of the intellectual spectrum, you say? 

Both poets and scientists begin their work with close observation.  Both employ their senses in wide-open, curious ways. Both distinguish themselves by bringing wild creativity to their work. Eve Merriam gently commands young readers who may want to be poets to behave like scientsts.

One way to approach this poem--after it has been savored and enjoyed as a whole tasty mouthful--is to blow it up large and have students develop a "Five Senses" code to label words, lines and phrases according to the sense being engaged.  Do you need a sixth symbol for the sense of imagination? 
    Reply to the Question, "How Can You Become a Poet?" || Eve Merriam
      take the leaf of a tree
      trace its exact shape
      the outside edges
      and inner lines
      memorize the way it is fastened to the twig
      (and how the twig arches from the branch)
      how it springs forth in April
      how it is panoplied in July

      by late August
      crumple it in your hand
      so that you smell its end-of-summer sadness

      chew its woody stem

      listen to its autumn rattle

      watch it as it atomizes in the November air

      then in winter
      when there is no leaf left

                        invent one

      This poem appear in The Tree That Time Built, edited by Children's Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman (Sourcebooks 2009).

      Rake your way on over to Merely Day by Day with Cathy for the Poetry Friday Roundup.


    Wednesday, October 15, 2014

    science series II

    The leaves are falling in earnest now where we are.  I have used this poem with children as young as first grade, emphasizing the cyclical journey of the leaves, the ecological concept of decay. This is a poem that begins in the realm of the obvious and then teaches readers to look beyond, to follow the trail of a thing.

    The language is at once simple and exquisitely textured, helping younger readers to access a complex concept and probably some new vocabulary.  I like it also because the last two lines insist on metacognition:  consider the reality of our nature but also the possibility of another.  We see how it is in our world, but how might it be in some other world?

    In Hardwood Groves || Robert Frost

    The same leaves over and over again!
    They fall from giving shade above
    To make one texture of faded brown
    And fit the earth like a leather glove.

    Before the leaves can mount again
    To fill the trees with another shade,
    They must go down past things coming up,
    They must go down into the dark decayed.

    They must be pierced by flowers and put
    Beneath the feet of dancing flowers.
    However it is in some other world,
    I know that this is the way in ours.

    Friday, October 10, 2014

    science series I

    In November at the NCTE Convention I'll be participating in a Children's Literature Assembly Master Class called "Poetry Across the Curriculum."  I'll lead a Roundtable discussion about how poetry can support science teaching, while others address math, social studies, art and P.E..  To get myself all geared up and to provide a resource for participants, I'm going to start now on collecting and commenting on some of my favorite science poems.

    For this season I love this one, a sensory feast from the queen of close observation, Valerie Worth.

    pumpkin | Valerie Worth
    After its lid
    is cut, the slick
    Seeds and stuck
    Wet strings
    Scooped out,
    walls scraped
    Dry and white,
    Face carved, candle

    Fixed and lit,
    Light creeps
    into the thick
    Rind: giving
    That dead orange
    Vegetable skull
    Warm skin, making
    A live head
    To hold its
    Sharp gold grin.

    from More Small Poems (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1976)
    Besides the festival of hard c and k sounds and the incitement of repeated long and short i's, Valerie gives us wonderful contrasts:  slick and stuck, wet and dry, white and orange, dead and alive.  Also there is the transformation that I hope every child has the hands-on chance to effect, from farm-field vegetable to human artifact (which makes this a social studies poem as well!).  Stop painting and get carving while you talk about change with K-2nd graders.

    A nonfiction text to place alongside this poem is the skillfully poetic Pumpkin Circle by George Levenson and Shmuel Thaler (Random House Children's Books, 1999).  It's the best way I know to introduce the concept of plant life cycles to young children.

    Join the poetry party this Friday at The Miss Rumphius Effect with Tricia!

    Tuesday, September 23, 2014

    OIK Tuesday: signs of fall

    Today the Mighty Minnows went out for a very short walk, to notice some signs of fall--you know, the regular ordinary things that tell us that the new season is arriving:  changing leaves, acorns, reddening berries. As we stood under an oak tree at the edge of the parking lot, noticing that all the leaves were still green but that acorns were crunching under our feet, I kept up my teacher refrain:
    "Leaves turning red is a sign; acorns on the ground are a sign; berries on this bush are a sign..."

    In great excitement Hector interrupted,"I see a sign too!"  I turned to look at Hector's sign of fall and found him pointing to

    After 25 years there are still things I should anticipate--and forget to.


    Seeing the Signs

    I saw an orange leaf
    I felt a cool wind
    I held a smooth acorn
    and felt its bumpy cap

    I saw a red berry
    I felt the chilly dawn
    I held catalpa pods
    and heard them rattle-tap

    I saw a metal pole
    I felt its cold holes
    I tried to read this sign
    but I'm only five--I can't.


    Go read more poetry signs at Writing the World for Kids with Laura the Prolific.

    Friday, September 19, 2014

    bittersweet twist

    To my 6th grader

    oh little boy
    chubby baby who woke me at 5 every day
    who taught me to rise before light
    to capture the hour of my best self

    oh little boy
    bony 1st-grade early bird up at 6 every day
    swinging sticks and pecking at order
    catching little minutes of your best self

    oh bigger boy
    wiry twelvish boy grown tall on a diet of
    filthy fingernails, outrageous belches,
    lengthy detailed days of strategination

    oh bigger boy
    now, when you must wake at 6 every day
    you huff and snorfle, make unrising noises,
    fight me for two more hours of sleep

    Heidi Mordhorst
    DRAFT 2014

    Thursday, September 11, 2014

    arrow to the mark

    I saw that this week's host, Renee, featured Lee Bennett Hopkins on Lilian Moore a couple of weeks ago, so I went trawling to remind myself of her work.  In my travels I read that Lilian was the first editor of Scholastic's Arrow Book Club in the 60's--somewhat before my long and delighted relationship with that institution.  (There are still paperbacks on my shelves that I ordered from Arrow--notably an edition of Robin Hood--labeled with my name in terribly inexperienced 3rd-grade cursive. Was there anything better than finally receiving the fresh new books you'd ordered on the newsprint form and awaited for weeks?)

    I found my way to this one, a swoon-worthy shaft of perfection that flies to my heart, singing out "Why d'you have to go and make things so complicated?"  Seriously, it's time for me to get back to where I once belonged and write some simple, straightforward rhymes of joy.  Perhaps I'll let Lilian shake me, take me, make me fly....

    Go Wind | Lilian Moore

    Go wind, blow
    Push wind, swoosh.
    Shake things
    take things
    make things

    Ring things
    swing things
    fling things

    Go wind, blow
    Push things

    No, wind, no
    not me–
    not me.
    These first weeks of September have been hotter than most of August was where I live.  Today the Mighty Minnows made their second visit out to our special tree, where we steamed and sweated in heavy humidity and worked to draw like scientists, observing textures and colors.

    Tree trunk
    tree bark
    I think I'll park
    myself in maple shade.

    Tree branch
    tree leaf
    my rest is brief--
    I need some lemonade.

    By golly, I believe Lilian's inspiration blew over me indeed!  Enjoy the round-up today at No Water River.  

    Friday, August 29, 2014

    minnow by minnow
    When I was still quite a new teacher in East Harlem more than 20 years ago, I accepted the offer of a volunteer for my classroom.  He was an older man, perhaps 55, who had worked all his life running his own HVAC repair business.  Now, having sold it and retired, Sal wanted to try to something he'd always been interested in: teaching.

    Sal came to my first-grade class regularly for about six weeks.  He was great with the kids and easy to work with, and everybody loved him.  I don't remember much about Sal's projects in the classroom, but I do remember what he said about why he had realized that teaching wasn't for him after all.

    "In my work I've been used to walking into a building, figuring out what's not working, and repairing it.  You leave at the end of the day knowing that you completed the job.  But here in the classroom, the progress can be so slight each day, or maybe you don't see any progress.  There's a lot of waiting, and sometimes you can't tell if you fixed anything at all.  I guess I still need to walk in, see what's broken, and fix it."

    That's obviously my paraphrase of Sal's wise assessment of his experience in first grade, and off he went back into his life--but his observation has stuck with me.  I'm not an angler, not a fly-fisher like my friend Mary Lee, but I'm joining her in her Trout of the Day project, and I guess that

    what I am good at
    is catching little minnows
    kiss then throw them back

    By this little instaku I mean that here they come swimming--
    I reach in, catch them up midstream and plant a little challenge on them, then toss them back in to catch their breath and find their own next level.

    And each day--even in this first week of school or maybe especially--I can see growth and change and progress in each child, and those little increments are enough to keep me feeling like I'm doing the right work for me.  I love it when Caty-Jean realizes she's safe and can step right up in the line with confidence.  I notice that Jake is thinking hard about which way his capital J should hook.  I see that Emara is learning to say goodbye to her twin after recess.  And look at Hector planting his finger on his lips and waiting for his turn to tell me everythingeverythingeverything all at once!

    In this work, you don't walk in, see what's broken, and fix it.  It's a little more slippery, a little more daily than that.  It goes minnow by minnow.
    For lots of hefty poetry keepers, Check It Out is the river to fish in today, with our host Jone.

    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

    OIK Tuesday returns

    Happy New Year!  All the preparation done, the new recipes, the new table linens, a little extra spent on the better bubbly for the welcome guests--now the feast can begin!

    You know the feast I mean:   the New Year celebration of classroom teachers the world round...we prepare, plan to try out some new ideas and approaches, dress things up a bit, splurge a little to get a special new tool...and then they arrive!

    This year I have 16 adorables (so far)--a perfect number of kindergarteners, if you don't have an assistant. Oh, they are lovely!  Even my poor sad twin, who has never been apart from her brother and is finding it hard to love school, raises her arms like a ballerina to pose when I take her picture.

    Yesterday, as always, we read Swimmy and became Ms. Mordhorst's Mighty Minnows.  In between, Camillah [all names are changed to protect privacy] lost track of her lunchbox.

    "Oh, no!" she exclaimed.  I think I left my lunchbox in the Food Court!"


    Oof.  I tried to write a food court poem and composed a draft so bad I can't even post it...I guess the Happy New Year excesses have left me a little hung over!   I resolve to forgive myself.