Saturday, September 20, 2008

Plant stories

Continuing with the garden/planting theme, today students dreamt up what their plant would be if it could grow up to be anything, and they also wrote from the perspective of the plant, using a first person style. The idea was to practice forms of narrative, and to also employ the use of ‘empathy’ and ‘perspective’, focusing on seeing things from another person or things point of view. It worked out pretty well, and they seemed to have a lot of fun with it.

They are also starting to finally fall into synch with the journal time, starting to learn the rhythm of the class, etc.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

First week

Our first week went really well - introduced the journals, and the kids really got into them. We also got the flower pots finished, and started planting them this week.

Hard at work

Yesterday I had them do their journal time, then copy three new words into their journals, vocabulary we'll be using this week in our projects. I had taped up some huge sheets of paper to the walls, and we are treating that as our 'word wall', so whenever we introduce a new word, one of the students gets to write it up there along with the definition, something they were way excited about. I also showed them a cool book called What It Is, by Lynda Barry to give them ideas for their journals.

I let each group pick out their plant today - I had brought in some basil and mint, some succulents, and some venus fly traps, which, needless to say, were quite popular. The deal was they had to decide as a team what they wanted, practicing both empathy and compromise. A few near melt downs, but all it all it went pretty smoothly. Once they picked their plant, I asked them to imaging what their plant would turn into if it could be anything, if it could get as big as it wanted - their drawings were pretty cool, I'll post some of them later on this week. This in turn will lead to their next project, asking them to write from the perspective of the plant on the windowsill of our classroom.

The journals are turning out super cool. I think I have them work in them as much for their benefit as for the fact that I love looking at them.

Student work from journal

'Sad Worm' Student work from journal

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Back to school...

First day back on site was yesterday, spent most of the afternoon lugging my stuff back into my room and getting set up, was a bit of a pain on one hand, but nice to be forced to get re-organized on the other. Missing a few things, to be expected, taking the loss of my cheap CD player as a sign to get an ipod dock and take things up a notch this year...

Due to first day chaos and schedule mix ups, I only actually taught one out of my three groups, which was fine. 3rd graders, several of whom I've had off and on over the past three years. They are a really good group, really chill, laid back, almost unnervingly so for their age group! We talked about the class, the concept of community and how that is what makes our class unique, and about projects we'd do. I let them all pick a spiral notebook to use as their journal for the year (.10 each at Target, I got a bit out of hand and bought about 250 of them, but seriously, I won't find them that cheap again all year!) - I'm continuing what I started last year, taking the first ten minutes of class and giving that completely to them, allowing them to do whatever they want in the journals themselves. Then, we did our first 'group' project, a little cheesy and hippie of me, I'll admit, but it was a cool project. I had them divide themselves into groups of equal numbers - again, stressing community and collaboration - then as a group they decorated these cool but cheap plastic flower pots I bought for them, the idea being that we'll plant them and have cool decor in our windows while also symbolically growing and creating together as a group. The pots turned out pretty cool, they were way into doing them, and they surprised me with their ability to get into groups and navigate the sharing aspect of the project with minimal involvement on my part.

Drawing dinosaurs...

Today I did a repeat of that with my younger team, a 1st/2nd grade mix, nearly all kids I've had before. This age always is a tough one to manage in the after school setting, I have no idea why, it just is, so I had to be a little more heavy handed the first day out than I would have liked, but I was thinking of my friend Matt and his 'lay it on heavy, THEN be nice' theory. I'm never very heavy handed, really, and I always bring all discipline back to the concept of community and respect and how actions have to fit within those parameters, but I DID find myself being way more of the old school schoolmarm than I ever normally am. The flower pot project had slightly different results with them - two of the groups nailed it, were able to figure out a system for sharing and fall right into it with no stress (one of them being a group of first graders who settled the 'who goes first' dispute with the oft neglected but highly effective negotiating strategy of a few well moderated rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors), two of the other groups didn't fare so well, in both cases the group being rocked askew by students that are suffering from some fairly intense emotional issues. So it goes - I try to get the other students to recognize that those particular students might have unique needs, and in turn, get the students prone to sinking the ship to realize their role within the community structure, but one can only do so much...

Also worked with my 'elective' group today, the mix of older kids that choose to take my class. As they year is young, I only have five as of now, all girls, 5th and 6th graders. Would be down for more kids and some diversity, but also would be pretty stoked if I had that set up for an hour on every Tue, Wed and Thur, as is the plan now - we'd get a ton of stuff done. Gave them journals today, talked about projects, and we did a writing exercise - myself included, the nice thing about having a class that small of older students - that I read about over the summer from a writer, Abigail Thomas, who has a book on writing memoirs. The basic framework is that you write about a time in your life - you defining what time means, be it a decade, a season, and event or a day - using only three word sentences, no more, no less. It's a pretty challenging thing to do, but one of those challenges that breaks barriers, gets you to think. They took to it better than I thought they would, we'll get back to it more tomorrow.