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Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

An Autumn Walk with Poetry, Personification & Zen Doodles


It had been a long week- two nights and an afternoon of student-involved conferences, with a respiratory infection. Add finishing data digs and professional goal setting to that mix and  I had survived the perfect storm.  Needless to say, we were tired.  I needed to do something that would make our hearts sing.  We had been so focused on data and assessment. My students needed this as much as I did.

So, I introduced my fifth graders to Pulitzer Prize winner, Carl Sandburg. Carl Sandburg has been a long-time favorite of mine.  I chose to share his poetry  because of the figurative language he uses, especially personification.  Even though this was a fun, low key project, I used it as an opportunity to teach descriptive language.

Over the last five years, I've noticed a trend. My students have difficulty identifying and understanding descriptive language when they read.  When they write, they have trouble using it.  Perhaps it is the lack of conversations we have now, due to technology, that has caused this.   Our oral communication has changed. I've also seen a decrease in my students' vocabularies.  This shows up on our NWEA assessments.  However, it really shows up in their daily writing and reading. So I've made it my mission to provide my students with more opportunity to engage in descriptive talk, writing and reading.

I shared "Theme in Yellow with them. I used a close read approach this part of the activity.  We read the poem four times, each time delving a little deeper into Sandburg's imagery.  We talked about how sometimes when we visualize, we don't just think about what we see. Sometimes we imagine sounds and smells...the way the skin of the pumpkin feels to our hands, or the smell of bonfires in the distance. We tried to put ourselves inside the poem.


Then we discussed personification.  Even though they had learned about this literary device in fourth grade, none of them could remember what it was.  We reviewed it and spent time discussing how Sandburg uses it in his poem.  Then we practiced writing personification sentences about classroom objects. For example, "The stapler bit my finger." or "The pencil sharpener choked on my pencil!" We had a lot of fun doing this.

After sharing the poem and learning about personification,  I showed my students some photographs of autumn subjects.  We went through each photo and discussed ways we might personify it.

We personified autumn!


Students wrote practice personification sentences about their chosen photograph. And then, I taught them how to write a biographical poem for a something non-human!  We wrote our poems as if the fall object or animal was talking.   I modeled taking my personification ideas and using them to write the lines of my poem, using the provided sentence stems. Students followed suit, trying it on their own.  The final step in our writing, was exploring ways to get rid of the sentence stems to create our final drafts. We practice reading our poems aloud so we could hear how the rhythm changed when we omitted certain sentence stems. My poem drafts are below:

November's Tree- ROUGH DRAFT
I am November’s tree
Bare, gnarled, and rough
I see the harvest bonfires in the valley below.
I feel alone. 
I loved the children who swung from my branches.
I remember the summer’s warmth.
I want the robin’s egg blue sky and buttery sun.
I touch the midnight blue sky strewn with diamond stars.
I dream of spring robins.
I am November’s tree.

November's Tree- FINAL DRAFT
I am November’s tree
Bare, gnarled, and rough
I see the harvest bonfires in the valley below.
Now alone,  
I loved the children who swung from my branches.
I remember the summer’s warmth,
the robin’s egg blue sky and buttery sun.
Now, I touch the midnight sky strewn with diamonds.
I dream of spring robins.
I am November’s tree.
By Tracy Willis

You can see the evolution of our poems when we deleted some of our sentence stems. This type of revision was a new experience for my students. We used whisper phones to read our versions to ourselves. They helped us pay attention to the rhythms we were creating. Then, we published.





Later in the afternoon, I taught them about zen doodling. We used leaf templates on brown paper bags to make large leaves.  We practiced different doodle patterns and then drew them on our leaves. We traced the patterns using black or white crayon and then broke out the watercolor paint pans. They were gorgeous and a perfect compliment to our poems!





I have to say, this creative writing, reading, and art activity was the perfect way to counterbalance our October stressors.  You can find it for your own classroom by clicking the graphic below.  It has everything you need for a literary autumn hike with your kiddos!


Psssst! There are a couple of Halloween freebies below to help you through the holiday!




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Project-Based Learning: Three Things to Remember When You "Count Like An Egyptian"


Close your eyes and think back to your ten or eleven year old self. What do you see? What do you remember being on your mind at that age? What books were you into? What were your passions? At age 11, if you had asked me what I wanted to be, I would've said, "Archeologist." Ancient history was my passion. I couldn't get enough of it, and it spilled over into a love of mythology and legend.

Project-based learning is beneficial for so many reasons, but the reason that I love it so much is that it allows students to discover new passions that the curriculum doesn't necessarily introduce. Ancient Egypt isn't part of my fifth grade curriculum. But, place value and fractions are!

I noticed that my fifth graders were pretty geeked about Egypt and mummies. I paid attention to the books they were seeking out in our media center. A couple of students showed me a fun website about Egyptology that they had discovered.  I decided that I needed to bring their passion into our math classroom. By doing so, I helped some otherwise disengaged math students engage. It was an opportunity for them to be "experts" in a subject that ordinarily challenged them.
Project-based learning, however, is only as successful as the teacher's pedagogy. Keep reading to hear me out!
Project-based learning is fun! It's fun for the students. It's fun for the teachers. But embedded in all of that fun, there needs to be rigor. It's easy to get caught up in the projects, but if you're not connecting them to new concepts or challenges, your students aren't learning. 
For example, in the Egyptian place value and fraction project I developed for my students, we learned about whole number hieroglyphs. This was fun. We used to them to review place value concepts my fifth graders had learned in fourth grade. My kids created birthday cartouches using the whole number hieroglyphs.
 





But what did they learn? Was there dynamic change occurring? For these students, this part of the project was a review of previously learned material. There's nothing wrong with that, is there? Of course not. But had I ended the project there, I wouldn't have described it as rigorous.

Instead, I asked students to think like mathematicians. If no hieroglyphic fraction system exists, then how would they create one? In order to answer this question, my students had to recognize patterns within our number system and the hieroglyphic number system (both base 10). They had to think about how the symbols might be related. They had to problem solve. That one question created rigor.

For maximum impact, project-based learning should hook onto concepts students are learning. I know that sounds pretty obvious, but it's important.  Our brains learn best when they can make multiple connections to new concepts.

In our Egyptian project, we learned about the actual fraction system the ancient Egyptians used. We compared and contrasted the systems we created to the ancient glyphs. We were studying how to decompose fractions and mixed numbers in math class. That's where our study of hieroglyphic fractions took us. We hooked our regular math class learning onto our project-based activities.  The project supported and enriched my direct math instruction. 

Sometimes, it's tempting to just do a STEAM or STEM project just because it looks like fun. Make sure there's a learning hook for your students. Their learning will be more powerful if you do.
Let go of the reigns. Let your students drive the learning chariot.
When they began to brainstorm their hieroglyphic fractions systems, my students struggled a bit. I'm not going to lie, I wanted to help more than I should. But I stopped myself. I asked questions instead. Questions like, "What do you notice about how we write fractions in our number system?" or "How might you use the whole number hieroglyphs to help you?" or "How might your system be different from the one we use today?" You get the picture. When you feel like you want to drive the learning chariot, back away. Ask a question instead. An easy one to ask is "What are you thinking?"

A cool thing about project-based learning is that creates productive struggle for your students. That's how students develop stamina, perseverance, and creativity. DROP THE REIGNS.


If project-based learning is "your thing," or if you're just getting your feet wet, you need to check out these goodies.  They all integrate reading, writing, math and art, and will give your more bang for your teaching buck. 


Psssst! This Egyptian one is being offered 50% off today (Sunday, Oct. 8) only!!!







  



Be sure to stop by these other fabulous blogs for a great round up of teaching ideas!




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