Archive for November, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: On Sunsets

November 30, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


Yesterday was a bingbangboom kind of a day. One of those days where I rely on to-do lists and razor-sharp logistics. Drop the dog off, take care of Chanukah packages, make it to my meeting, squeeze my plans in, teach, meet, shovel down food, teach, meet, run the errands, skip the workout, go to get the dog and…

Empty parking lot be darned. Just look at those COLORS!

WOW. The sky. The sky, as I was driving. I kept hoping I would make it to my destination in time to snap a picture or two or three or four. The above and below pics. They’re testaments to the power of dusk. Really, the right dose of sunlight is like a dandelion. It has the power to bloom and brighten and beautify whatever surroundings you might discover it in.

That LIGHT. The reflection. The beauty amidst concrete and steel. Perhaps there’s a metaphor for resilience to be had somewhere here.

Skies like this…I can’t NOT look at them.

More sky pictures from today. I also have to confess that my camera roll is chockablock with sky pictures. Pretty please tell me I’m not alone in this.

And clearly, there is something to be said for a late November sky, because this was a Facebook post of mine from ten years ago yesterday.

Talk about serendipity.

I’ll close out with one of my very favorite book excerpts of all time:

“The sky was a ragged blaze of red and pink and orange, and its double trembled on the    surface of the pond like color spilled from a paintbox. The sun was dropping fast now, a  soft red sliding egg yolk, and already to the east there was a darkening to purple. “

-Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

Slice of Life Tuesday: On Do-Overs

November 16, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


My fourth-grade class today started out with a confession and an apology.

Let me explain.

Last week, I had an AMAZING lesson plan all ready for my kids. We had been examining art, pinpointing interesting details, and articulating the emotions art brought us. The next step was to introduce a simplified guide to art concepts. The vision was clear and simple: bring things together in a way that kids see for themselves that:
1) art makes us feel things
2) that’s not by accident
3) artists make craft moves on purpose
4) knowing those craft moves helps us talk about art
5) and create it
6) and we can transfer that idea to our WRITING

These are big ideas, and they are thought-provoking and exciting.

Unless I ruin things.

Which I did.

Because all of the above things do NOT fit into a single lesson. And somehow, I had it in my brain that my lesson was so well-designed and efficient that I could.

Nope.

Those poor kids. They were bored to tears and I felt so sorry for them, having to sit through that grind. They really did try so very hard, but it was just way too much to try and put together in one go. Really, they were such good sports.

I went home that day feeling small, swearing that I’d redesign the lesson in a way that brought both the fun and enthusiasm back.

So today, I started class with a confession. I fully admitted that last week’s lesson didn’t go the way I saw it, that I felt terrible for them, having to sit through such an experience, and that I was hoping to try again if they were up for the challenge.

You know, I think my kids appreciated the apology. I think they appreciated my acknowledgement of their experience, and the fact that I wanted to do better by them. So they gave it another go.

We examined Morgan Russell’s “Synchromy,” art concept guides in hand.

Courtesy of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

I decided to just let the kids talk to each other about what they were seeing. And they dug it!

At one point in the lesson, the kids accidentally zoomed in too closely on the painting. True to Bob Ross’s “happy accident” wisdom, we discovered how much skill went into these seemingly simple shapes:

Are you catching those brush strokes? What order do you think Russell painted these shapes in?

Friends, they did BEAUTIFULLY. Would you believe this one piece held their attention for over a half an hour? They couldn’t believe it, and neither could I. It was just what my teacher soul needed.

And in the coming weeks, there will be more to learn and more big concepts to connect. We’ll just…try to enjoy the journey just a little bit more thoughtfully…

Slice of Life Tuesday: Learning to Unlearn

November 9, 2021

his post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


Today was another good day.

I had lots of favorite parts, but my favorite favorite might be from first grade.

We had an inquiry lesson about fiction and nonfiction. My challenge to them: sort a group of picture books into categories fiction and nonfiction. My job was to stay out of their way while they worked. And then, they’d call me over to investigate the piles. I didn’t tell them which of their books were correct or incorrect, I just told them the number of incorrect books in the pile and let them try again.

Calder’s Circus: now THAT’s a tricky one!

I. LOVED. This activity. How cool it was to watch the conversation, taking notes of the knowledge and misconceptions as the evidence surfaced.

I also loved introducing the kids to a new concept: UNLEARNING. Yes, unlearning. Friends, I will tell you that it blew my six-year-old students’ MINDS to know that there are times where we have to take a fact or an idea and UNLEARN it. “Wait, Mrs. Levin. I thought we came to school to LEARN things, not UNLEARN them!” Yes, buddy. You’re right. But sometimes what we learn is not correct, and we need to replace it. That’s where the magic happens!

Among the ideas we had to unlearn:

Drawings go in fiction, photos go in nonfiction
Fiction reads like a story and nonfiction doesn’t
Nonfiction could happen, fiction couldn’t

At the heart of our discoveries today?

Sometimes the difference between fiction and nonfiction is messy. And the only way we can REALLY tell is to look at the text itself: titles, pages, back matter, dust jackets. 

We’re on to something, people. I’m excited to see where they go. And what’s even better? I get to do this same activity with my first-grade loveys at another school on Friday. 

Shhhh. Don’t give it away!

Slice of Life Tuesday: Gamifying Reading

November 2, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


It’s been two weeks since I first got my students. Yes, it’s a late start. I’m a gifted-talented enrichment teacher, so I have to wait on instruction until after our identification process.

Yes, there’s probably another soapbox waiting to happen about identification. But even with the struggles and challenges, I can tell you two things without a doubt:
1. Gifted kids NEED one another.
2. The fact that my job even exists is a miracle in and of itself.

One thing I’m excited about is a reading activity that I introduced a long while ago, but put away because…well, I don’t really know. As a teacher, I think we all have great activities that we shove under the proverbial bed and forget about sometimes, then take out and dust off, only to wonder why we ever put it away to begin with.

Let’s start at the beginning. Some time ago, I noticed that kids, especially when reading in a group, almost NEVER stop reading to ask about an unfamiliar word or pose a question they don’t understand, let alone marvel at fabulous language. Yet that’s exactly what I NEED them to do when they’re together.

I know I’m not alone in this.

So, I developed a reading activity that I’ve used with kids to “gamify” the group reading experience. I call it the “Speed Bump Game.”

Basically, when we’re driving, we know that speed bumps are there to slow us down. If we don’t, we’ll do damage, both to our car and perhaps ourselves! Well, if we don’t slow down for a challenge in our reading, we do damage – to our learning.

Right??

The Speed Bump Game treats us readers like we’re all just passengers in a car. The person reading aloud is our “driver.” Anyone can stop and say “Speed Bump!” any time they have a question that needs answering. The group then talks through or researches the question. If they can answer it, they’ve safely navigated the speed bump. If not, they report it as a “road hazard,” and I’ll help them out later on.

I’ve also started asking the groups to reread sentences or paragraphs after a stoppage so they can hear the word and understand it in context.

Here was a class example from today.

We didn’t have any “road hazards” here, but that’s because I was part of the discussion. These are, however, all their own answers after discussion. It’s all about the gradual release, friends…

I’m hoping this game accomplishes a lot of things:
1. Convinces kids what a relief and joy it is to admit when they don’t know something
2. Gives kids the confidence to work through difficult text together
3. Builds to text-based conversations about wonderings, reactions, thoughts
4. Transfers to independent reading
5. Transfers to instruction in the regular classroom

A girl can dream!

Interested in giving this a try in your classroom? I’d love to hear how it goes. You can make a copy and personalize the rules by clicking this link.