Slice of Life: News from the Natural World

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For the past four years, poet Laura Shovan has hosted a February Poetry Project. What started as “a birthday project” has grown to include 54 poets committed (or challenging themselves) to write a poem a day. I submitted one poem in 2015, when Laura’s theme was Pantone paint colors. Last year’s theme was “found object” poems, and I contributed many poems, but did not succeed in writing every day.

This year’s theme is “10 Words Found in the News.” Laura’s goal is to “encourage everyone to look at that language as a poet. We can create found poems and word art to reflect what’s happening in our country and world.” The project officially begins on February 1st, but Laura and other poets have posted several “warm-ups,” pulling words found in articles related to current events. I have been looking at these words and have tried to engage with them in way that doesn’t drive me to despair. One of my biggest concerns about the current administration is their total disregard for the environment and action toward climate change, so I’ve decided the most meaningful way for me to participate in Laura’s challenge is to view the words through the lens of the natural world. This may not always be possible, but that’s my goal.

Here is my first effort in response to warm-up#1, using eight of the ten words Laura’s randomizer pulled from Trump’s inauguration speech. I also changed some tenses. (factories, behind, pleasant, interests, disagreements, fallen, starting, complaining, cash, stops)

News from the Natural World

A honey factory
clings to a branch
high in an ancient maple.
Starting at dawn,
when the first rays
of sun peek from
behind purple hills,
bees begin their ancient
dance anew.

They have no interest
in disagreements
rippling through the world;
cash and complaints
have no currency here.
Golden liquid
is their only care,
oozing, dripping, falling,
from waxy honeycombs,
free for the taking.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Thank you, Laura, for once again being so generous with your time and talents.  Thank you also to StaceyDanaBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lisa for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Truth Serum”

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Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry is filled with love, sensitivity, and compassion. Her work has been a source of solace and inspiration to me for years. So I was thrilled when she was announced as the 2018 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture on Monday during the ALA’s Youth Media Awards Announcements. The Arbuthnot Award recognizes “an author, critic, librarian, historian or teacher of children’s literature, who then presents a lecture at a winning host site.” I can’t think of a more appropriate choice to share her insights and wisdom in our troubled times.

“Truth Serum”
by Naomi Shihab Nye

We made it from the ground-up corn in the old back pasture.
Pinched a scent of night jasmine billowing off the fence,
popped it right in.
That frog song wanting nothing but echo?
We used that.
Stirred it widely. Noticed the clouds while stirring.
Called upon our ancient great aunts and their long slow eyes
of summer. Dropped in their names.
Added a mint leaf now and then
to hearten the broth. Added a note of cheer and worry.

Read the rest of the poem here.

by Jonathan M. Hethey via unsplash.com
by Jonathan M. Hethey via unsplash.com

Please be sure to visit Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: The Woman Citizen

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When I was a sophomore in high school, my social studies teacher was an engaging, charismatic young woman named Carla Kazanjian. She was also a feminist. Really the first one I had ever known. (My strong, independent grandmothers and mother would not have considered themselves feminists). In the sleepy, conservative corner of Connecticut where I grew up, Ms. Kazanjian was laughed at by some, and considered by a few to be downright dangerous.

I didn’t care what anyone thought of her, though. I loved her. She taught me about the history of the women’s movement and its heroes: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Victoria Woodhull, and so many more. She opened my eyes to injustice, but she also taught me to have confidence and believe that anything was possible. Most importantly, she inspired me to push myself and to never give up.

In the spring of my junior year, Ms. Kazanjian gave me a book that still has a place on my bookshelf. In The Woman Citizen: Social Feminism in the 1920s (University of Illinois Press, 1973), by J. Stanley Lemons describes how “various women and organizations worked for a broad reform movement to civilize, democratize, and humanize the American system, as they worked for progressive reform they advanced the status of American women. And as they fought for women’s rights, they pushed progressivism along in a decade of waning reformist impact.”

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This sounds eerily familiar. Although I read this book forty years (!) ago, this passage from the book’s Preface makes me think I need to reread and rediscover how “social feminists held the progressive faith longer than most.” Many of the causes these women fought for, “…conservation…pensions, municipal improvements, educational reform, pure food and drug laws…social justice, and peace” are our causes still. As unbelievable and discouraging as that may sound, it also strengthens my resolve not to give up on the issues I believe in. Issues I know in my heart are worth fighting for.

As I stood on the lawn of the capitol in Hartford on Saturday, I thought of Ms. Kazanjian. I wondered if she was there among the crowd of 10,000 women and men of all ages and races. I knew I was there, in part, because of her.

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  Thank you to StaceyDanaBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lisa for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: “To You”

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In her “Note from the Author” at the beginning of This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort (Candlewick, 2002), Georgia Heard writes:

“During any difficult time, we all need a place where, as Faiz Ahmed Faiz writes in his poem “Song,” ‘the heart [can] rest.'”

No matter where one falls on the political spectrum, no one can deny this is a “difficult time.” This poem, by Karla Kuskin, gives my heart a place to rest.

“To You”

I think I could walk
through the simmering sand
if I held your hand.
I think I could swim
the skin shivering sea
if you would accompany me.
And run on ragged, windy heights,
climb rugged rocks
and walk on air:

I think I could do anything at all,
if you were there.

by Josh Boot via Unsplash.com
by Josh Boot via Unsplash.com

Please be sure to visit Violet Nesdoly at Violet Nesdoly/Poems for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

DigiLit Sunday: Real Vs. Fake News

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This post is part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. This week’s topic is Real V. Fake News. Please be sure to visit Margaret’s blog to read more Digilit Sunday contributions.

When I taught third grade, learning about our solar system was part of the curriculum. My students researched a planet to learn about its distance from the sun, length of year, etc. It wasn’t very sophisticated according to Blooms Taxonomy or Webb’s DOK, but at that time, it was the first “academic” experience my students had with research. I remember they were surprised to discover discrepancies in information. One book (yes, in the late 1990s, we used mostly books) said X, another said Y, and a third said Z. This was a good introduction for them into the importance of checking multiple resources and using trusted sources.

In my current role as Literacy Specialist, I spend most of my time with first graders who are finding it hard to remember the difference between short i and short e, so the topic of fake news hasn’t come up too much.

But the other part of my job does involve working with teachers to develop and improve curriculum. The Common Core State Standards clearly addresses the issue of valid and accurate sources:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of
the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8

Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility
and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

Which means that being alert to “fake news” has been embedded into our curriculum for a number of years, and was even before the CCSS came out with these explicit standards.

But, as Thomas Friedman points out in his column, “Online and Scared,” we have reached a “tipping point” where “a critical mass of our interactions have moved to a realm where we’re all connected but no one’s in charge.”

Wow. That is scary. Friedman goes on to quote Alan S. Cohen calling for a “new social compact”  that will help reign in the wild west feel to cyberspace. Freidman states “work on that compact has to start with every school teaching children digital civics.” Not only do students “need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything they read,” a “basic civic decency” has to underlie “everything they write.”

This is a huge responsibility, but really not so different from how the school where I teach has operated for many years. Still, I feel I need more information and additional resources. A Google search for “teaching the difference between real and fake news” yielded “about 58,600,000 results (0.36 seconds).”

Where to begin? Right away, I started to filter these links using what I know about the “credibility of each source.” An NPR story from November about students’ inability to tell the difference between real and fake news was the top story, and the page included links to articles from PBS and the Wall Street Journal.

The New York Times Learning Network published “Skills and Strategies | Fake News vs. Real News: Determining the Reliability of Sources” in October 2015, which underscores the fact that this problem isn’t unique to 2016. 

Stony Brook University School of Journalism’s Center for News Literacy’s website has extensive resources, including articles on News Literacy, a Digital Resource Center, and an online course. Both of these resources, and more like them, are worth investigating.

The concept of fake news isn’t new. Clearly, its more pervasive and we are more aware of it. For these reasons, we have to be vigilant that our students have the tools they need to be informed consumers of news and information.

Back to those first graders. I’m not going to start incorporating information about real and fake news into my lessons. I do, however think it’s important to help children develop a sense of perspective, which is related to this issue, as early as possible. To help them with this, I am going to share Brendan Wenzel’s brilliant They All Saw a Cat (Chronicle Books, 2016). Helping them understand that everyone sees things just a little differently doesn’t mean that a person is wrong. There is a difference between making stories up (otherwise known as fiction) and looking at an issue from many points of view.  In fact, being open to the experiences of others makes our own view of the world richer. There’s nothing fake about that.

Slice of Life: Frost Petals

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My OLW for 2016 was present. Part of my rationale for that choice was to not procrastinate. I have gotten better about this, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Another reason I chose present was to be more aware of my surroundings in the moment, to be open to the gifts waiting there.

I have been much more successful with this connotation of the word. Finding “commonplace marvels” and writing #haikuforhealing along with Mary Lee Hahn and other bloggers during the month of December was a perfect way to end the year. But I’ve found that once I started really noticing, marvels were everywhere and being present to them is not something that I could stop. 

Although I have a pretty good idea of why my OLW will be for 2017, I haven’t completely decided. In the meantime, here is today’s commonplace marvel, which I found on my windshield this morning.

in dawn’s rosy glow,
a bouquet of frost petals
blooms

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

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 Thank you to StaceyDanaBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lisa for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

IMWAYR: Reading Resolutions

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“Outgrow yourself as a reader.”
~ Lucy Calkins ~

Last January, a colleague and I decided to challenge our students to make Reading Resolutions. A few other teachers in our building adopted our idea. Although I don’t have statistics about our outcomes, getting kids to talk about and read books they wouldn’t have otherwise considered can be counted as a success. (By the way, I finished the Very Famous Book last February.)

We are making Reading Resolutions again this year. Here are our suggested reading resolutions for 2017, adapted from Scholastic’s “100 New Year’s Reading Resolutions”.

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We’re encouraging kids to pick books from at least two categories, but there are so many books I want to read, I didn’t have any trouble choosing a book for each category.

  • A book written by someone from Connecticut–Connecticut author and poet Leslie Bulion’s The Universe of Fair (Peachtree, 2012)—Leslie visited our school last fall and gave us a copy of this book, which was inspired by the Durham Fair. Other teachers have read it to their students, but I haven’t gotten ahold of it yet.

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  • Best friend’s favorite book— This was hard. My dearest friend and I read many of the same books, and I’ve already read her very favorite book, Little Women. While we were talking about something else, she mentioned The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk, by Paul Gallico. Anything about World War II is always interesting to me, so this was an easy choice.
  • A book of poetry/novel in verse—I will probably read dozens of books in this category this year. I finished Jeannine Atkins lovely Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science yesterday, and have One Last Word (Bloomsbury, 2017), by Nikki Grimes on my desk. Maybe I should modify this to be one book from this category every week.
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  • A book set in a country where I do not live—There are so many possibilities for this category. I haven’t read Symphony for the City of the Dead, (Candlewick, 2015) M.T. Anderson’s book about Dimitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad. Given my penchant for books about WWII, this seems like a good choice.
  • A book published the year I was born—Somehow I never read The Cricket in Times Square, written by George Selden and illustrated by Garth Williams, even though I still have the copy I bought at the book fair when I was in 4th grade!

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  • A graphic novel or comic book—Another category with so many worthy choices. I love Matt Phelan’s work, and his reimagining of Snow White (Candlewick, 2016) set in Manhattan during the Depression intrigues me.
  • A nonfiction book about a topic I know nothing about—Last summer I heard Ed Yong speak about his book I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life (Ecco, 2016). I read about half the book in August, but was distracted once school started. I resolve to get back to it and finish it.
  • Newbery Award or honor book—I’ve read all the recent medal winners, but there are many honor books I’d like to read. I will definitely read whatever wins this year if I haven’t already. Stay tuned.
  • A book written this year—As I skimmed through the January/February issue of The Horn Book, I quickly came up with at least half a dozen titles for this category. I want to read Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d  (Candlewick) by Mary Losure, coming out in Feburary. Then there’s Rachel Vail’s Well, That Was Awkward (Viking), or Me and Marvin Gardens (Levine/Scholastic), which are both also out in February.
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  • A book in a genre I’ve never read before—How about a genre I don’t like? Horror is probably my least favorite genre, but I don’t read too much science fiction either. I have an ARC of Fuzzy, by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger, so for now, that’s my choice.

What books are you resolving to read this year? Please be sure to visit Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers for more book recommendations.