30 April 2013

Musing on National Poetry Month

On this last day of national poetry month, I’m musing about the shared poetry experiences I have had during April.  Even though I enjoy poetry all year long, there is something special about the month of April and the emphasis on the appreciation of poetry that brings people together to enjoy rich language.

Highlights from April

An Opportunity to Share

In the weeks prior to April, I sent an email to all the English department chairs in our district, asking them to share a couple of links related to national poetry month and asking them to share with their colleagues.  I am so glad I did this because all month long teachers have been sharing poems and poetry projects with me based on the work happening in their classrooms.  I heard about poetry slams and writing projects, saw examples of students work, and witnessed teachers smiling in the midst of End of Course Testing.

A Poem Per Day Project

A young high school English teacher from the district has been sharing daily poems performed by students.  He sends a different text and a video file each day.  Seeing the variety of poems students select makes me smile because it’s obvious the teacher provides choice in the project, so it is more meaningful to each student.  This tiny paragraph only hints at the enjoyment I received all month long from watching the students perform.  Unfortuantely, the links were shared through the district’s Sharepoint site and are not available for public viewing. 

A Pulitzer Winning Poet

On the very day one of the students performed a poem by Sharon Olds, one of my all-time favorite poets, Olds won a Pulitzer for Stag’s Leap. I was first introduced to the poetry of Sharon Olds while in college when my English professor handed me a book of her poems because he knew me well enough to know I would enjoy her work.  I have blogged previously about that experience in a post on close reading.  Poetry  (and excellent professors in the English department at Piedmont College = primary reason I learned to read closely).

A New Kentucky Poet Laureate

A former student, Amanda, who is now a friend and mentee sent me  a text message the day Kentucky’s new Poet Laureate, Frank X Walker was inducted for 2013-2014.  She texted to ask if I would be going to the induction ceremony.  Unfortunately, I had other obligations and was unable to go.  I encouraged Amanda to head over from her job in Frankfort to the Capitol Rotunda for the ceremony.  She was glad she made the trek and even sent me a picture she took with her phone and agreed to let me post it here.

A Poem in My Pocket

For the past several years, I have been a faithful participant in National Poem in Your Pocket Day.  This is when my introverted self becomes outspoken and slightly edgy for the day as I walk around asking people what poem they are carrying in their pocket and then telling them (or sharing, if they let me) the poem I am carrying.  This year I carried “The Wound Dresser” by Walt Whitman.  I carried this poem because  1) our family recently returned from Washington DC where we saw a quote from this poem at the entry tothe DuPont Circle Metro  and 2) National Poem in Your Pocket  Day was the day after the Boston Marathon bombing and I had the wounded victims on my mind.

A Poetry Bell Ringer Series

A former colleague shared her daily class warm up for the month.  Students read a poem and used a line from the poem to launch their journal writing for the day.  She provides more specifics on her blog.  In addition to sharing this bell ringer activity, she also encouraged people to utilize the Poetry Foundation’s new poetry app.  I loaded it and love it! Coincidentally, I had lost contact with this colleague because she moved to a new state,  but we reconnected via twitter during the fabulous month of April.

How do you share and enjoy poetry all year long?  Do you do anything special to celebrate poetry in the month of April?  I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

21 April 2013

The Common Core is Not the Problem, Nor is the Common Core the Solution

Write the spelling words 3-5 times each on Mondays, write them in a sentence on Tuesdays, complete a spelling worksheet on Wednesdays, take a practice test on Thursdays, and a final test on Fridays.  Take a practice on-demand writing assessment once a month in every class.  Read the same book as everyone else in your class, answer questions about the book and write an open response question.  Copy notes from the teacher’s power point, memorize the facts, and respond to multiple choice tests about the facts.   Complete all the even numbered problems in the pre-algebra textbook for homework.

This is not the way to educate our children for what they need in our world now or what they need in the world when they graduate from high school. The common core does not suggest these approaches be utilized nor does it dictate these approaches not be utilized.

So let the naysayers complain about the common core and let the dreamers rejoice for the common core. But understand this—the common core is not the solution nor is it the problem. Students need dynamic and engaging learning experiences every day in their schools. They need to be taught by teachers who are qualified and accomplished and always looking for ways to fine-tune their practice. Students need to engage with principals, assistants, counselors, and deans who honor teachers and give teachers time and support in their quest to reflect upon and improve their practice.

Education news media and social network sites are bombarded by statements from people either loathing or valuing the common core. As a parent of school-aged children, an educator, a community member, and a citizen of the United States, I am here to support teachers and administrators in the implementation of standards which are more rigorous than standards we used previously in our country.  Spending my time and energy to support better practices makes more sense than spending my time and energy complaining about standards which in and of themselves will not improve the educational experience for students, nor will they harm the educational experience for students.  One blogger opposed to the common core states “The future needs passionate, creative, collaborative innovators and entrepreneurs, not compliant, uniform test takers.” I couldn’t agree more, and guess what? The common core does not mandate that we create compliant, uniform test takers.

Misunderstandings and misinformation sometimes lead people to believe the common core demands such practice, but this is simply not the case. Everyone I have met on the state and national level who has been involved with common core implementation agrees that American students need to innovate, collaborate, and create.  Our teachers need this too, which is why many of the same common core advocates promoting common core implementation are also supporting opportunities for teachers to innovate, collaborate, and create the types of learning experiences our students need. Standards alone will not improve the learning experiences for students.  Instead of blaming one group or another, and instead of complaining about what will or will not work, we must work together to provide students the experiences they need.

17 April 2013

Why I Pair Poetry with News Articles

Even though I haven’t had my own classroom for several years now, I still find myself thinking about how I might deal with a national news situation if I still worked with teens on a daily basis.  Almost always, I find myself looking for poems to pair with news articles, and more often than not, I look for an angle leading toward thoughts of human compassion.  Since I no longer actually teach these lessons to teens, I modify the lessons planned in my head for use with my sons (now ages 9 and 12).  Once a teacher, always a teacher, I suppose. 

The lesson plan in my head this time relates to a convergence of events, people, ideas, and places--National Poem in Your Pocket Day 2013, Boston Marathon, family trip to Washington DC, poem by Walt Whitman.  I'm pairing news articles about Boston with "The Wound Dresser" by Walt Whitman.

Tomb of the Unknowns
It’s disquieting to watch television footage or follow twitter stream with news of bombings or shootings, and it’s especially unsettling to watch and listen when children are involved.  Over the past couple of days while following news related to the explosion at the Boston Marathon, I’ve been encouraged to see many acts of human compassion.  Strangers reaching out to others in distress or injured, websites established for donations for victims, public Facebook pages in honor and support, Google Documents people finder, twitter hashtags such as #prayforboston, and even stories of Boston Marathon runners giving their medals to runners who were unable to finish when the race was shut down after the explosion to protect remaining runners—all excellent reminders of human compassion.

This year for Poem in Your Pocket Day, I am carrying “The Wound Dresser” by Walt Whitman.  It’s a reminder of human compassion carried out by many nurses on a daily basis.  Whitman writes of the suffering in Civil War hospitals and of children longing to hear stories of battle, much like my own nine year old son wanted to hear all about various war battles on our recent trip to Washington D.C..  Instead, of all scenes from battle we read scenes from inside a war hospital as noticed in this excerpt

… On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!)
The crush'd head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away,)
The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through I examine,
Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard,
(Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!
In mercy come quickly.)

From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,
I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood,
Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv'd neck and side falling head,
His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump,
And has not yet look'd on it.

I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep,
But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and sinking,
And the yellow-blue countenance see.

I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,
Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive,
While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and pail.

I am faithful, I do not give out,
The fractur'd thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,
These and more I dress with impassive hand, (yet deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame.)

Quote from Whitman poem Dupont Circle Metro Station

Thus in silence in dreams' projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals,
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young,
Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad,
(Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have cross'd and rested,
Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)


As someone who enjoys making connections between events, ideas, people, and places, the poem I carry  connects our recent family trip to Washington D.C., compassion shown at a recent horrific event in Boston, my love for reading poetry and national poem in your pocket day.

What poems do you pair with news events?  What poem are you carrying for Poem in Your Pocket Day 2013?


05 April 2013

Students Need Opportunities to Learn More than What's on the Test

Note--Arts & Humanties = 5 day rotation--1 day music, 1 day visual art
1 day P.E., 1 day library, 1 day writing
What do you notice about this fourth grade schedule?  Does it look like a schedule similar to that of your children and/or students?  Hopefully not, but I suspect it might.   We live in a school district that promotes the teaching only of subjects which are tested in a particular grade level.  This means my nine year old son who loves history has received little to no social studies formal instruction in his public school.  This is not the fault of the teachers—it’s the fault of a system which prioritizes subjects included in high-stakes testing.   At the elementary level social studies is tested only in fifth grade, so schools adjust what they teach and ignore social studies until that one year.  It doesn’t get much better when it comes to science; students around here only have official science instruction during fourth grade (again, the year it is tested).   My sixth grade son loves science, but he was offered science instruction only one year of his six years in elementary school.  I won’t even start on how limited the opportunities for technology and the arts are as well.  You see, these are the unintended consequences of state and federal mandates for high standardized test scores. 

If I were a pessimist, I might end my post here and tell you I’ve decided to remove my son from public school in search of a better alternative for a more well-rounded education.  However, I am an idealist and a dreamer who has a vision—a vision that we can collaborate to make a difference in the schools in our communities.  In fact, this vision or a similar vision is being enacted in a school district only about forty five minutes away from where we live.  In Danville, Kentucky, leaders of the schools and teachers are implementing project based learning as one way to meet the needs of students beyond what’s on the state standardized tests.  Kudos to this district!  I’m ready to move forward with creating more opportunities like this in my own district as well.  All students deserve the opportunity to learn more than what’s on the state test. 
Tower of books at Ford's Theatre
museum in Washington D.C.
In the mean time my husband and I supplement what our children learn at school with learning at home.  We encourage our children to be responsible and tech savvy citizens; we read content rich non-fiction as well as fiction and poetry.  We also take local and out of state trips (when possible) to promote active learning through experiences.  I feel fortuante that we can work to provide these experiences to our children, so when wearing my mom hat I feel fine about this supplemental approach to education.  However, when wearing my educator hat, I realize not all children have this same luxury of parents who are able or willing to supplement what they learn at school with more well-rounded experiences at home. 
 A few changes to our current system could provide more well-rounded learning experiences for all students, and that is my mission and my vision--to support educators striving to provide experiences for all students.  Please share your ideas and suggestions with me. 

03 April 2013

Why We Didn't Take Forbidden Pictures at the National Museum ofAmerican History

Oh let me tell you how much I really wanted to snap a photo of the hat Lincoln wore the night of his assassination, not for me but for my son, the great fan of Abraham Lincoln. But I didn't because I think it's more important for me to model respect and responsibility. The museum actually encourages photography throughout with only a few exceptions when flash might harm the artifacts. As someone who values open source resources, I appreciate the museum's open attitude toward photography, and I also respect the importance of forbidden photography for exhibits which cannot endure accidental flash thousands of times.

We explored almost all of the exhibits in the museum, and even returned for a second visit today in search of this nearly century and a half old hat.

Because I was the only family member who wanted to see the First Ladies exhibit (just had to see Michelle Obama's beautiful inauguration gown), my husband moved ahead to The Emancipation Proclamation exhibit with the boys to find Lincoln's hat. When I rejoined my family twenty minutes later, my nine year old eagerly greeted me and led me to the darkened area of the exhibit to show me the hat. Lights from cameras flashed and cameras clicked while Isaac proclaimed his dissatisfaction for people showing disrespect for the aged museum artifacts.

I will admit, I would like to have numerous gorgeous photos of artifacts from America's past to post on this blog right now, but I don't and I won't. Instead I hold beautiful memories of an enjoyable learning-filled spring break with my children and husband.

Shortly after writing the first part of this post, I happened across a blog post by the National Museum of American History where I learned more about their stance regarding photography and their offer to share flicker photos for download by patrons. (Side note: a post for another time will be when I write about how happy I am with museums that stay current with technology and communication.