Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

The 3 Es Blogging Collaborative & Featured Author and Guest Blogger, Claudia Whitsitt

DRUM ROLL, PLEASE!  This month, as part of the 3E's Blogging Collaborative, we welcome youth and adult fiction author Claudia Whitsitt to our collaborative. Welcome, Claudia!


Studies have long shown that reading is a great healer, but those of us who read already know that. We don't need a study to recognize how quickly our stress levels drop when we delve into a story or to understand that avid readers maintain active brains and remain healthier the longer they live. Reading is the gift that keeps on giving. 

As I talk to students throughout the year, I'm continually amazed at their insight and understanding of the human experience. I focus on the holes we have in our hearts, invisible though they may be, and how we can help each other to heal by treating each other with respect and kindness. This idea came out of Between the Lines, the first book in the Kids Like You series, which focuses on racism and prejudice in the sixties. Writing this book for middle grade students took me back to my early reading days and the reasons I became an enthusiastic reader at such an early age.  

When I share my version of the "Holes in the Fence" with students, even at the tender ages of nine and ten, they recognize what it's like to have a hole in their heart. They tell me that wounds of the heart may never heal, although they may live to a ripe old age. While the wounds may scab over, kids also recognize how easily a memory or trigger can reopen them. The bottom line is this—we've all suffered loss and pain, no matter our age, but the holes that live in our hearts are invisible to all we meet. We don't "wear our hearts on our sleeves" each moment of every day, but in the same sense, we know how painful the wounds can be, because each of us has lived with pain.  

No one bugs me when I'm reading.

At a recent school visit, few students attended first hour, having parents who are too busy sleeping in from a late night with drugs or alcohol to make sure their kids eat a healthy breakfast, are dressed properly, or kissed goodbye when they head out to class. When those kids finally arrived, we talked about why they love reading. Some common answers were "No one bugs me when I'm reading," and "I can hide in my room and read. It's quiet after everyone is in bed." Escaping from the chaos of their lives, learning to solve problems in different ways, seeing examples of courage and identifying with characters gives these kids hope, helps them develop empathy, and allows them to envision a life beyond the troubled walls of their birth families.  

Art is the nearest thing to life...
                                                           ---George Elliot 

As children, we are often drawn to reading for the simple reason that we love stories. Stories pull us out of our lives and into the lives of others. From characters, we learn to overcome struggles, to display courage in the face of fear, to laugh, to cry, to root for characters that have become our friends. "Mirror neurons" develop—neurons that fire in our brains as if we performed an action ourselves. When we immerse ourselves in a character's world, we develop empathy. Reading soon becomes self-medication. Not just a Band-Aid, but as George Elliot, an English novelist believed, "art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot."  

When we teach kids to read, we also demonstrate how to become well-rounded human beings who believe in the strength and value of each individual, as well as give them the gift of lifetime healing. We teach kids to crave equity, for themselves and others. By offering them stories of survival, overcoming obstacles and facing fear, we empower kids to be courageous. 

Readers are more self-reliant individuals. They become better citizens, deeper thinkers and happier, less wounded people. I can't think of a better way to support our future leaders than to teach them to read. 

Claudia Whitsitt is a former educator and the award-winning author of the Kids Like You series. Between the Lines, Beyond the Lines and Broken Lines teach many lessons, prompting readers to think about the value of friendship, equality, and tolerance. If you would like her to visit your school, you can find information by clicking HERE.

Continue to join in the conversation by reading about more thought-provoking ideas and resources below. Join us!


Finding Our Way Between the Lines: Courageous Conversations About Racism

 And then the realtor told my parents to make our house look less black so it would sell faster and they'd get what it is worth.
                              --- "John," a fifth grade student

There was an audible gasp from surrounding students. And one of my blonde-haired, blue-eyed students asked in disbelief, "Wait---What? Why?" John replied, "Yeah, really. That really did happen."

My classroom exploded into chatter, into upset, into a barrage of questions. I sat quietly for a few seconds before I intervened,  letting my students talk. I was about to learn something from my students. I could feel it, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. 

How We Got There

I sometimes work with a Civitan group in the town where I live. The Civitans are service groups that can be found all over the United States. This particular Civitan group focuses on funding and supporting literacy projects in our schools.  Peg, our fearless leader, gave me a book at the beginning of the school year.  She explained that the author of the book would be the guest speaker at our annual Literacy Tea, our major fundraiser of the year.  She thought it was a good fit for fifth graders.  I thanked her and put it on my teaching shelf for later in the year.

Flash forward, through countless mentor texts about leadership, common good, and acceptance, to February and Black History Month.  In January, I had taken the book home to read.  From the first chapter I was sold, and I knew this would be our next mentor text.  Between the Lines, by Claudia Whitsitt, became the vehicle that facilitated our courageous conversations.

 Setting the Stage

Our exploration into civil rights began with Langston Hughes' poems.  You can read more about our beginning here.  We read a number of his dream poems, and then we read "Daybreak in Alabama."  I chose to begin our book study this way because I wanted to develop my students' schema.  We read "Daybreak in Alabama" deeply, using visible thinking and CLOSE reading routines.  We watched footage of the Selma March and listened to Dr. King's speech. We read about Bloody Sunday.  We thought about these things symbolically and actually created symbols to sum up our thoughts about the poem and the march to Selma. 

Beginning the Book

After building our prior knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement, we were ready to begin reading Between the Lines by Claudia Whitsitt. This first chapter opens with the main character, Hattie, excitedly preparing for her birthday party, only to find out that the Detroit riots have exploded.  Her party is cancelled as her family goes on "lock down" as the fighting around her escalates. This prompted us to research the Detroit riots of the '60s. Students' initial reactions to Hattie's upset about her party was that she was selfish.

However, as the character develops and deepens, so did my students' understanding and thinking about her. Hattie's family moves out of Detroit, and she experiences public school for the first time.  There, she meets two friends... "Crackers," a white girl who is a tomboy, and Beverly Jo, her first black friend. What unfolds is Hattie's struggle to maintain her friendship with Beverly in the face of some parental resistance, a teacher's bigotry, and her peers' racism.  As Hattie finds her way, respecting the adults around her while doing what she feels is right, my students' conversations about race bubbled to the surface.

The Tough Stuff

As we progressed through Hattie's story, we read about classmates calling Beverly a nigger.  We read about Hattie being called a nigger lover. We read about a teacher,  adored by the three friends, who wrote a cruel note about Beverly and then had her deliver it to another teacher.  We read about Beverly's crushed spirit.  We read about Hattie's "war" with her mother and her struggle to understand her mother's fears.  We read about Cracker's bravado as she deals with her dad's issues. We began to ask questions:
  1. What is racism?
  2. What causes a person to be a racist?
  3. How can we make a difference in our world?
  4. What is it like to be a minority?
And these questions led us to John's confession: "The realtor told my parents to make our house look less black..." My students and I talked and talked.  They decided that racism is when people respond to or treat others differently from others based on their race, culture, or religion.  Early on, my students commented on Hattie's mom's fears.  She feared what neighbors would think. She feared for Hattie's safety.  She feared black people.  We talked a great deal about how we all fear differences... some times those differences have to do with religion, race, culture, or gender. Other times, those fears are about more mundane life experiences.  

They began to wonder if racism is based in fear. This led to some current event connections about immigrants.  And so, they wondered about the fear that is expressed in the United States right now. 

One of the over-arching themes in Between the Lines is Hattie's altruism.  She wants to make the world a better place.  She grapples with how to do this on an almost daily basis.  She has an uncommon awareness of the mixed messages she is receiving from her parents, her grandmother, her peers, her teacher, her church, and the community and society around her.  We asked ourselves, "How do we make the world a better place?"

Safety & the Vicarious Experience

 Between the Lines and books like it provide a safe place for students to discuss hard issues, because we can live and learn vicariously through the characters' experiences.  My black students talked about some of their experiences. My other students sat in shock. They listened. They questioned.  They had no idea.  Why would they? They are not black.  This book created two spaces in my classroom: A space for my black students to share their realities, and a space for my other students to listen and discover.  It also led to conversations about other prejudices...those toward Chaldeans, Muslims, developmentally disabled, and on and on. My students with immigrant experiences began to speak up, too. We also talked and talked about what it means to "stand up" for someone.  How do we support someone who is being bullied or picked on? 

The Side-Effects

Our conversations about racism and the world are ongoing.  We've recently begun to read about the Flint water crisis while we're also reading A Long Walk to Water.  We are talking about author bias and several students have begun to ask questions about how people around the world get their water.  Some of the questions they are asking go back to economics, politics, and race. Perhaps what is most exciting to me is that they are asking these questions on their own. And I truly believe that this type of questioning began because of Between the Lines.

We celebrated our reading of Between the Lines in a very special way.  Remember that Civitan group and their Literacy Tea? Well, they invited my class to attend in order to meet the author!  Part of the Literacy Tea is that Civitan hosts design tables around books. Guests view and vote on the tables. Prizes are awarded and raffles are conducted.  The featured author speaks.  

We collectively decided that we wanted to design our table to represent all of our thinking about the march to Selma, "Daybreak in Alabama," and Between the Lines.  Students went online to pull images of civil rights demonstrations.  Others drew the main characters of the novel and mounted them on foam core board.  A group of engineers built a model of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  We use our "Daybreak" symbols as placemats.  Other students pulled excerpts from Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and some pulled excerpts from the novel. They typed these and placed them on the table as well.

After much anticipation and planning, the night arrived. My students met Claudia Whitsitt and her two friends on which the other characters of Crackers and Beverly were based!  We were high as kites for the rest of the week. I don't think my students will ever forget that night or how Ms. Whitsitt responded to their questions about her characters, her experiences, and her writing practice.

It Isn't Easy

It takes courage to talk to our kids about racism and prejudice. It can even be a fearful thing to discuss current events. I don't know if our conversations would have been as safe or as deep without the support of literature. But I wonder, if not us...than who? Who will facilitate the courageous conversations? Because what I learned from kids this year is this: They are listening. They are watching. They are waiting for an opportunity to talk and question.    

Please feel free to use this free resource for facilitating conversations about civil rights by clicking the picture below:

This week's post is a 3Es Blogging Collaborative post.  We have some thought-provoking ideas and resources for you this month, along with a guest post from author CLAUDIA WHITSITT. Please visit!


Dr. Frankenstein, I Presume? Developing Culture with Lab Classrooms

                                 "Dr. Frankenstein?"
                                 "You're putting me on!"

                                 "You must be Eegor."
                                 "No, it's Igor."
                                 "But they told me it was Eegor."
                                 "Well they were wrong then, weren't they?"

The words "lab classroom" never fail to conjure up images of crazy-haired Gene Wilder and boggle-eyed Marty Feldman in the opening scenes of "Young Frankenstein." I imagine myself in a white lab coat, wearing glasses that make my eyes appear 10 times larger than they really are...and my students tethered to numerous scientific experiments, calmed only by the strains of "Puff the Magic Dragon" played on my ukulele.  In fact, I'm giggling to myself as I sit here typing these words.

Pedagogy Is a Science

All kidding aside, pedagogy is "the art, science or profession of teaching" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).  Sometimes, it does feel like "MAD science," as we race around implementing procedures and techniques that have very little basis in the real science of educational research.  Some days, I do look a little like Gene Wilder. Other days, I think I channel Marty Feldman.

My staff has been on a journey over the last two years.  We've begun delving into the work of Harvard's Project Zero, and we've chosen to examine Ron Ritchart's Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools and its implications for us as a community of learners. We began this journey by reading Making Thinking Visible (Church, Morrison & Ritchart). This year, we've waded into the deep end of this inquiry. 

One thing that became apparent in our learning is that we are really good at talking about data...REALLY good. We examine it. We know where our students are in their learning. We know who needs to be pushed. We know who needs remediation.  However, we seldom talk about the how. How do we push this child? How do we help that child? In our PLTs, we seldom discuss pedagogy.

Dr. Frankenstein Has Entered The Room

We want pedagogical conversations to occur naturally.  And on some level, they used to before the content of team meetings became so heavily monitored or dictated. So in order to shift our staff culture, we scheduled two lab classroom days.

What are lab classrooms?  In our building, lab classroom days are when staff members, who have agreed to open up their practice to their peers, teach a 45 minute lesson in front of 4-5 colleagues. Within the lesson, the host teacher is using a thinking routine embedded in the lesson. Colleagues are there to observe, not participate or interact with the students. After the lesson, the host teacher leaves the classroom (a substitute or another staff member provides coverage) with the observing colleagues for a 30 minute debriefing session.

The debriefing session is highly structured and requires the host and observing colleagues to reflect on the moves the teacher used to encourage student thinking and the evidence of student thinking during the lesson. Another staff member or in our case, a staff development teacher or coach leads the debriefing session.  

During the debrief, participants are not allowed to make judgement statements...this includes PRAISE.  Not praising a colleague is perhaps the hardest part of the debrief.  The purpose of it is to focus solely on the what was observed and the evidence of thought.  The minute we start to praise, objectivity goes out the window. On our lab classroom days, we secure 4 substitute teachers who travel throughout the day to cover staff members who are observing.  We have five teachers who volunteer to teach lessons using thinking routines, and then we schedule the rest of our staff in groups of 4 or 5 to observe those teachers.

When You Put The Lab Coat On...

I volunteered for the first day of lab classrooms, since I had facilitated them as a coach in years past, I felt more comfortable in sticking my neck out.  I chose to model a thinking routine that was new to my students, because I thought that watching a teacher "unpack" a new routine might be beneficial for my colleagues.  I chose Claim-Support-Question.

We had been studying powers of ten in our math workshop, so I came up with the question, "Do other multiplication patterns exist when we use exponents with other numbers?"

I began my lesson by introducing the Claim-Support-Question Routine. Using a slide show that I had created, we discussed the words "claim" and "support."  I asked students my math question, and then sent them back to their table groups to discuss it and write a claim statement on their table's chart paper.

After they had written their claims, they returned to the carpet to report out to the whole groups.  Then, we talked about how we might support our claims.  What procedures might they follow? They returned to their tables to investigate. 

This was fun to watch. All groups, except one, claimed that there would be patterns.  All groups chose a number and found the exponential products for that number up to an exponent of 10.  I allowed them to use calculators for this part, so it was more easily investigated.  We stopped briefly to remember that scientists and mathematicians want more than one set of data to prove a claim, and then groups continued to work with other numbers to triangulate their data. 

At this point, I had to leave with my observing colleagues and a substitute took over. But before I did, I asked my students to talk to me about their thoughts about the new thinking routine and the type of thinking they believed they engaged in... in other words, I asked my students to engage in some metacognition.  They did not disappoint. Using Project Zero's Circle of Understanding, my students engaged in a lively debate about uncovering complexity and reasoning with evidence.  Then, my students continued the investigation without me.

Mad Science Without The Crazies

The debrief of my lesson was fun.  The lack of praise was weirdly awesome.  Here's why: When people praise me, I am uncomfortable.  Sometimes, I distrust what they say.  Often times, I feel embarrassed.  In the debriefing session, I heard specific feedback.  I heard my colleagues comment on the amount of scaffolding I used to introduce a new thinking routine.  I listened to feedback about differentiation and how I utilize the Circle of Understanding in my classroom.  I swelled with pride as they named and noticed evidence of student thinking and depth of student thinking.  All of this without, "You did a good job when..." Afterward, I walked out feeling six inches taller, and I had some new pedagogical targets to chew on for upcoming lessons.

Shifting Culture

We have a long way to go in our learning community.  Don't we always?  That's the nature of being a community learners: CHANGE. That being said, I've noticed three shifts as a result of our lab classrooms.
  1. More of us are talking about our classroom practices more often. 
  2. These discussions have an inquiry-like tone.
  3. Our conversations and reflections have deepened, and we are asking more questions about our practices.

Ohhhhhh, Sweet Mystery of Life

"Ohhhh, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you..." Madeline Kahn rocked that song at the end of "Young Frankenstein," didn't she? Change has begun in our learning community because of lab classroom experiences.  It's exciting to see what happens when teachers take control of their own learning and protocols are implemented that promote a safe sharing environment.

When I returned to my classroom, my students showed me their questions. They asked a number of questions, but two particular questions gave me goosebumps:
  1. If we multiply fractions exponentially, will there be patterns?
  2. If we multiply decimals exponentially, will there be patterns?
They connected the inquiry to our past units of math study! "Ohhhhh, sweet mystery of life! At last, I found you!"


If you'd like a copy of the inquiry math lesson I taught during my lab classroom experience, click the picture below.

You might also be interested in the these visible thinking resources:

Until next time, teach on!
P.S. Come back next week! It's 3 E's Blogging Collaborative Week and there'll be free goodies!


Reader's Workshop Strategies in the Math Classroom: 3 Components

With my school district's emphasis on workshop approaches in reading and writing, more and more of my colleagues began scrutinizing the way they teach math.  I was no different.  I watched classroom organizational wizards design visual rotation schedules for students to follow.  They developed a center-like approach where students were divided in to 3 or 4 groups (ability, based on unit pretest data), and they taught the daily math lesson to each of the groups...think guided reading groups for the math classroom.  Because I have always been somewhat organizationally challenged, I paid close attention to the structures my colleagues were developing. I learned early on in my career to "borrow" organizational structures from my colleagues.  I contribute to our teams in my own way, but organization is not my forte. 

After watching and listening, I tried implementing similar routines in my math class. I created a gorgeous rotation schedule. I created and collected center materials. I analyzed my pretest data and formed math groups.  As a former literacy coach, this didn't feel foreign to me, and I thought to myself, "I got this!"

Self-Reflection is the Root of All Learning

I fell flat on my face and learned something about myself and my pedagogy.  My gorgeous rotation schedule was a problem.  It was too rigid, and unlike guided reading, my student's math gaps with unit content closed more quickly than instructional reading levels improved in guided reading groups.  So, I would move my students in and out of groups over the course of a week.  This disrupted any rotation schedule I was trying to maintain. 

I also wasn't comfortable giving up my whole group math lesson. My math instruction felt disjointed, and this created the challenge of keeping track of instruction of the same lesson for 4 math groups, and God forbid one group didn't get their lesson for the day due to interruptions. Did I mention that I'm organizationally challenged?  


After struggling for three weeks, I had an epiphany.  I was tuning into a Jennifer Serravallo Heinemann webinar about small group instruction in readers and writers workshop, specifically STRATEGY GROUPS.  Cue the "Hallelujah Chorus" music.  As I watch Serravallo teach three young students a new reading strategy in a brief small group lesson, I thought about the rigidity of the workshop structure I was trying to implement.  It wasn't working for me or my students because the pretty rotation schedule was the focus---not my students!

I returned the following week with new zeal and a belief that this could work.  Over time, I was able to identify 3 important components necessary for the success of my math workshop.

Strategy Groups Are THE Answer!

Strategy groups are the answer for me.  They allow the grouping flexibility I found necessary for my comfort level.  Here's what I did: 
  • I used our unit pretest as a way to inform my groupings during the first week of a unit.  Think of it as peripheral vision. 
  • Students met with me in small groups based on concepts where their tests showed weaknesses.  These flexible groups also were based on my students communicating their needs during whole group instruction.  
  • As a unit picked up steam (beginning of second week, usually), my strategy groups were formed based on students' performance on independent work or homework.  These were formative assessments...they drove our strategy groups because by week 2 of a unit, the pretest is OLD DATA.

 The Pretty Rotation Schedule: It's All About Purpose!

My rotation schedule became a weekly schedule, not a daily schedule.  It went like this:

Mondays: We focus on skill building like basic facts or advanced multiplication and long division, depending on where we are in the school year and the grade level I'm teaching (4th or 5th).  This means I work with small groups at this time.  The groups are determined by students' levels of mastery. They are based on weekly skill assessments I have developed.  Students that I am not meeting with are engaged with online math learning like www.mobymax or odyssey learning.

Tuesday: Whole group lesson and independent work (+/- enrichment). I teach a whole group lesson to my class using a workshop structure.  This means I introduce the teaching point, we ask questions, we explore together, I model, students practice with support (on the carpet right in front of me or with a peer), and then they practice independently.  During independent practice, I move around the classroom interacting with students, like I do when I hold writing conferences in writer's workshop with individual students. Then, I go to the back of the room (another teaching area in my classroom), and my students know they can join me there if more support is needed.

Students needing more enrichment have more advanced problem solving opportunities embedded into their independent work. Sometimes this is created by me, and other times it is provided by our math series.

Wednesday: Number of the Day learning opportunities.  This is a small group instruction day. That means that I use my students' class work from Tuesday to form strategy groups.  As we work together to gain understanding, other students are engaged in reteaching or enrichment number of the day opportunities. They draw a number and complete problem-solving tasks around the number.  I created these around skills that demand more repetition for student mastery. Many of them are centered on fraction and decimal concepts which are challenging in 4th and 5th grade.

At the end of this session, we come together as a whole group and examine our thinking with "At first I I think..." visible thinking routine.  This helps us cement our learning.  During this time, I also do some pre-teaching about the whole group lesson coming up tomorrow.

Thursday: This day is a repeat of Tuesday's structure.

Friday: On Fridays, we assess our leveled skills we've been working on all week via homework.  These are the skills that were taught or reviewed on Monday.  

In addition, we engage in project-based learning in which math is heavily integrate for much of the day, or we begin another whole group math lesson from our unit.

Student Self-Reflection is Key 

I work very hard to incorporate reflection opportunities into my math teaching every day.  I rely heavily on visible thinking routines developed by Project Zero and Dr. Ron Ritchart.  Using routines like Claim-Support-Question, See-Think-Wonder, and Tug of War elevated our discussions.  We often choose one problem from our lessons to delve into more deeply.  Our math workshop has become thinking-based.  My students are engaged because they have a voice in their learning.  

Implementing a workshop approach in any subject area is a journey. I knew this from my work with literacy. I 💓workshop pedagogy. I'm still not satisfied, but I've come a long way.  And isn't that the point?  As teachers, we're always learning, developing, and changing because we're learners. 

Some of the resources I mentioned in this post can be found below. Some are specific to 4th and 5th grades. Others are more general.  

Number of the Day

Each of these can be used as remediation or enrichment. I use them for an entire month at a time because practice makes permanent. Display numbers, an assessment and answer key, and a daily workout are included in each one.  OR you can buy the whole bundle at a discounted price and get 7 months of number of the day activities.

Math Workshop Organizational Bundle

This bundle consists of calendar and small group instruction planning pages, as well as a rotation schedule bulletin board.  Once you purchase it, you will enjoy a yearly update for free!

Project-Based Learning Opportunities

These are project-based math and art projects. All have a literacy component and require critical thinking and higher-level problem solving tasks. All include an math-art project.

Skill Challenges

These two leveled skill challenges are motivating for students. The advanced multiplication challenge takes students through 6 levels of advanced multiplication from 4 digit times 1 digit to decimal number times decimal number. 

The division challenge has four levels, and students move around the bases on a baseball diamond.  First base begins with 3 or 4 digit numbers divided by a one digit number.  Home plate (the last level) requires students to divide decimal numbers by whole numbers. Both product include data notebook sheets for student use.

Should you choose to purchase any of these resources, be sure to leave feedback and email me, letting me know what you purchased and your user name for verification purposes.  I will send you a free number calendar/number of the day organizational mini-bundle for your use! 

Not only will you earn TpT purchasing credits for leaving feedback, but also a free product.
Until next time, teach on, friend!

Poppies & Pantoums: Poetry Comes Alive with Georgia O'Keefe

It had been a long week- two nights of student-led conferences, a teacher evaluation meeting with my administrator. Add finishing report cards to that mix and preparation for MStep, and I had survived the perfect storm.  Needless to say, we were tired.  I needed to do something that would make our hearts sing.  My students needed it, too!

So, I introduced my third and fourth graders to Georgia's paintings.  Georgia O'Keefe makes my heart sing.  I began by sharing a short mini-biography I had authored, and then I read aloud My Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter.  This delightful picture book is a biography of Georgia O'Keefe. From the time she was just a young girl, Georgia O'Keeffe saw the world differently than those around her.  While other girls wore braids and played with toys, Georgia practiced her drawing.  She let her hair flow free.  Georgia followed her love of art throughout her life. This book shows how Georgia followed her dream of becoming an artist and shared her unique vision of the world.
who respond to <b>georgia</b> in hawaii may then pick up <b>my name is georgia</b> ...
After sharing the book and some examples of O'Keefe's art I found on the internet, I showed my students some photographs of natural subjects. The photos were close ups, not unlike Georgia's flowers.  We went through each photo, using the visible thinking move "See-Think-Wonder."  Using this thinking routine elevated my student's responses.    Using this routine, I first asked students to respond orally to a photo selected by me. I recorded their responses on our class response chart paper. Then I showed the other photographs and had students use "See-Think-Wonder" to discuss the photos in their small table groups.  Finally, students used a "See-Think-Wonder" graphic organizer to reflect on one of the photographs of their choosing.

We got "up close and personal" with photography.

Later in the afternoon, we worked with our chosen photograph again.  I modeled how to do a quick write. I viewed my photograph of yellow daffodils, and wrote single words and phrases that came into my head as I viewed it.  I did a lot of thinking aloud for them, so they could hear my stream of thought. Following my lead, students wrote their own quick writes using the quick write page I provided.   Then, I introduced the Pantoum poetry form.  This form of poetry comes from Malaysia and employs a series of repeated lines.  It's perfect for when you want to emphasize an idea or image in your writing.

Again, I modeled taking my quick write ideas and using them to write the lines of my poem. Students followed suit, trying it on their own.  My poem is below:

Spring Daffodils

In mysterious canyons of sunshine and butter,
I follow the secret pathways,
Past bends and turns
on a ruffled and rippled river.

I follow the secret pathways,
Dripping with sunlit honey.
On a ruffled and rippled river,
I ride the tumultuous waves of spring.

Dripping with sunlit honey,
Alive with bumble and buzz,
I ride the tumultuous waves of spring,
Swimming in its yellow currents.

Alive with bumble and buzz,
Past bends and turns,
Swimming in its yellow currents
In mysterious canyons of sunshine and butter.

                                     By Tracy Willis

Later in the afternoon, we made our own poppies using templates I created and common classroom materials like scissors, glue, and construction paper.   The pictures below show the results.  After our crazy week, it was remarkable to listen to my students as they wrote.  It was the quietest they had been all week.  Even more remarkable, my boys were so earnest as they wrote their poems about Georgia's flowers and bones.  It was a Friday well spent.  

I have to say, this creative writing, reading, and art activity was the perfect way to counterbalance the stresses of standardized test and student-led conferences preparation.  You can find it for your own classroom by clicking the graphic below.  It has everything you need to be ready for April's Poetry Month. 

This month, I've linked up with some other great educators for Teacher Talk. Check out their classroom antics below!