#PB10for10: Celebrating Nature

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of
the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
~ Rachel Carson ~

Thank you to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for creating and curating this celebration of picture books. You can read all the lists contributed to this labor of love here. It is teachers like them, and others in this community, who will keep the gift of stories alive for years to come.

There was a story on NPR recently about how science teachers are dealing with push back from students because of fake news. I wasn’t surprised to hear that climate change was a controversial topic, but I was shocked when one teacher said that students were challenging him about the Earth being round. How is such a view even possible? The more I thought about this, the more I began to wonder if such skepticism for long-established scientific facts is related to the decrease in the amount of time kids spend outdoors. Much has been written about “nature deficit disorder,” a term coined in 2005 by Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods. I’m sure there are many skeptics about Louv’s theory, but too many students tell me they spend entire weekends inside for me to doubt his theory.

I know reading books is no substitute for spending time outside, but these 10 books should whet anyone’s appetite for sunshine (or moonshine) and fresh air. After all, as Henry David Thoreau once said “we can never have enough of nature.”

1. What Are You Waiting For? by Scott Menchin, illustrated by Matt Phelan (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017)

                     

2. Round by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo (Houghton Mifflin Harcort, 2017)

3. Tidy, written and illustrated by Emily Gravett (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017; first published in Great Britain, 2016)

                 

4. Now, by Antoinette Portis (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017)

5. And Then Comes Summer, by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jaime Kim (Candlewick Press, 2017)

  

6. A River, written & illustrated by Marc Martin (Chronicle Books, 2017; first published in Australia in 2015)

7. This Beautiful Day, by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Suzy Lee (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017)

                         

8. A Perfect Day, by Lane Smith (Roaring Brook Press, 2017)

9. Another Way to Climb a Tree, by Liz Garton Scanlon (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017)

                        

10. The Specific Ocean, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Katty Maurey (Kids Can Press, 2015)

My previous Picture Book 10 for 10 lists:

2016: Feeding Our Imaginations
2015: Poetry Picture Books
2014: Friendship Favorites
2013: Jane Yolen Picture Books
2012: Wordless Picture Books

A Slice of My Summer Learning Journey

“Learning is a journey; art is a map”
~ Tom Lee ~

One frustration I often have after attending workshops or conferences during the school year is that when I get back to school, I’m immediately caught up in day-to-day demands. This leaves little time to process and implement what I’ve learned. Presenters always advise to “pick one strategy or activity” to weave into your practice, but this too can be a challenge. So I’ve loved having some uninterrupted time to process my learning from the four days I spent at the Yale Center for British Art, which I wrote briefly about here

I’ve also been reading Vicki Vinton’s wise and thought-provoking new book, Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: Shifting to a Problem-Based Approach (Heinemann, 2017). The reverberations between Vicki’s book and my learning from YCBA are striking. Having met Vicki, attended many of her sessions at conferences and reading her book, written with Dorothy Barnhouse, What Readers Really Do, this really didn’t surprise me.

As I reread my notes, some overarching ideas stood out:

  • possibility
  • observing
  • thinking
  • understanding
  • skill development

I created a document with five columns, sorting my notes according to these ideas. I quickly realized that I was “tackling complexity” by “putting the pieces together, rather than taking them apart, [which allowed me] to see connections, relationships and patterns of interactions.” (p. 4) It was deeply satisfying to see these relationships emerge.

Vicki’s underlying argument is that, in our rush to scaffold our students for success, we have deprived our students of opportunities to engage in critical thinking. They need many opportunities to engage in “productive struggle…the process of thinking, making sense and persevering in the face of not knowing exactly how to proceed” (p.13).

Visual literacy teaches children that, as Linda Friedlaender, Senior Curator of Education at YCBA, pointed out  “images have an underlying narrative.” They automatically provide an accessible text that allow students to engage in productive struggle. Images allow students to think “for themselves, with a minimum of scaffolding.” (Vinton, p. 27). Reading images develops the same skills readers need when they read any text, including vocabulary, identifying key details, precise word choice, observation, and formulating and defending a thesis. (What Vicki and Dorothy refer to as “first-draft” thinking). Importantly, visual literacy makes abstract comprehension skills more concrete.

By incorporating visual literacy into our regular literacy routines, we create opportunities for students “to wonder, generate questions, and form hypotheses, then to test out those hypotheses, using reasoning and logic, to arrive at a final judgment or claim” (Vinton, p. 37).

Give it a try. What do you see in this painting? Images such as “The Young Anglers,” by Edmund Bristow, offer students a chance to orient themselves to the narrative of the image, just as readers have to orient themselves when reading  written text.

Edmund Bristow, 1787–1876, British, The Young Anglers, ca. 1845, Oil on panel, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

After observing and gathering information, students share their thoughts. Just as with a piece of writing, students’ ideas have to be grounded in the details of the painting. Again, the process of reading a painting parallels and supports what we do when we read a book. If someone says they think the dog above belongs to the two boys, they have to share the exact detail from the painting that makes them think that. This is a critical step. As Vicki states, “the more opportunities students have to talk about their thinking, the more likely they are to transfer that thinking from one text to the next” (p. 77). This is true for images as well as written texts, and will also transfer from images to written texts.

Once students have developed an understanding of the narrative of the painting, the response options are limitless. Students can sketch or draw their response, write about their thinking, or (ideally), both. And, just as writing deepens our understanding of a text we’ve read, sketching deepens our understanding of visual images by drawing us ever deeper into the fine details.

The possibilities incorporating visual literacy into our classrooms are endless, and I’m excited to get back to school and working with students to build their thinking skills. In the meantime, I’m going to finish reading Vicki’s book and continue gathering images that will “give [students] a chance to build up the muscle to deal with the problems texts like this pose” (p. 79). 

Thank you to the incredible educators and speakers at YCBA, including Jaime Ursic, Patti Darragh, Tom Lee, James Shivers, and Darcy Hicks, for your insights on incorporating visual literacy in the classroom.

Poetry Friday: “In A Museum”

I was incredibly fortunate to spend four days this week at the Yale Center for British Art‘s Summer Teacher Institute. The goal of this Institute was to provide teachers with strategies for incorporating visual literacy into their classrooms. This is something I have been working on for many years, but my experience at Yale opened my eyes to new ways of supporting literacy with visual arts. In my final reflection, I stated that although school has just ended, I can’t wait for school to begin again so I can share all I learned with my colleagues and students.

The entire, vast collection at YCBA resonates with poetry. We spent hours with individual paintings, delving into the stories they tell. I’m still a little overwhelmed with all I saw and learned, and am grateful to have a few uninterrupted weeks to process the information and strategies the amazing instructors shared with us. This poem, by Thomas Hardy, begins to capture my experience.

“In a Museum”
by Thomas Hardy

I

Here’s the mould of a musical bird long passed
from light,
Which over the earth before man came was winging;
There’s a contralto voice I heard last night,
That lodges in me still with its sweet singing.

II

Such a dream is Time that the coo of this ancient bird
Has perished not, but is blent, or will be blending
Mid visionless wilds of space with the voice that
I heard,
In the full-fuged song of the universe unending.

“Tail piece to The Nightingale” by Alfred W. Cooper, via Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Please be sure to visit Diane Mayr at Random Noodling for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

 

 

DigiLit Sunday: Poetic Problem Solving

This post is part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. This week’s topic is Problem Solving. Please be sure to visit her there to read more Digilit Sunday contributions.

“Every problem is a gift—without problems we would not grow”
Anthony Robbins

One afternoon a few weeks ago, one of our Kindergarten teachers stopped me in the hall as she was taking her students to the buses. She explained that her class was writing a poem about seashells. “But we’re stuck on the ending, and since you’re a poet, we we’re hoping you could help us.” Then one of the students chimed in, “Yeah, you’re a perfect poem maker.”

Blushing, I thanked them for their confidence and told them I’d love to help them with their poem. Then I immediately panicked and thought, “What if I have no idea how to help them?”

When I arrived in their classroom the next day, they were eager to read their poem to me. I was impressed with the description and similes they had already come up with. But there wasn’t much emotion in the poem. I explained that adding feelings is one way poets improve their work. To help them come up with their own ideas and words, we discussed what shells are for. We talked about how different the inside of a shell is from the outside. Through this conversation, they came up with a final stanza that followed the pattern of the previous stanzas, but changed it just enough. They were very happy with the result.

                         

This exchange with these Kindergarten poets certainly would have played out differently if I didn’t write regularly. Having my own writing practice let me know exactly how these writers felt, knowing their poem was missing something but not knowing what that something was. Because I have worked through problems with my own writing, I was able to help them work through their problem.

By tackling my own knowledge gaps, whether about reading or writing, I’ve acquired (and continue to acquire!) the the tools I need to help students when their stuck. Learning from MY mentors*, whether through their brilliant books or at conferences and workshops, has equipped me with ideas and understandings I can use as a starting place when approaching a problem.

Reading, writing, listening, and learning has not only made me a better problem-solver and teacher. They have made me a better person.

*Thank you to ALL my mentors. You are too numerous to name and I’m afraid I’ll forget someone.

Poetry Friday: A Found Poem

Teachers often wonder about their true impact on students. We have work samples, observations and assessments that help us gauge a student’s progress. But these can’t really let us know the degree of influence we’ve had on a student. And in many cases we may never know. We’re like mother turtles burying our eggs in the sand, only to swim away and hope for the best.

But then there are moments when the stars align and magic happens. This morning I was working with a 5th grade student whom I’ve worked with to varying degrees since first grade. He’s quiet and shy, but very sweet. He’d rather play soccer than anything else, especially read. He read the first few lines in The Amazing Amazon, by David Meissner, (Reading A-Z) then stopped. Looking up at me, he said, “It’s like a poem.”

I. was. speechless. Recovering quickly, I said, “I agree.” I asked why he thought so. Again, his response blew me away.

“Well, it rhymes and it’s describing. It’s like I can see it.”

As I said, magic. Here is the poem E found.

“There Is a Place”

There is a place where monkeys swing and howl.
There is a place where jaguars leap from tree to tree.
Bananas and pineapples grow for free.
Tiny frogs live in flowers.
Pink-colored dolphins swim in the river.
Storms come often,
and the air is sweet.

By spacebirdy (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Sweet indeed. 

Please be sure to visit Tara Smith at A Teaching Life for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: Song of the Butterflies

A few weeks ago, I came around the corner in my hallway and this greeted me:

“These butterflies are so beautiful!”I said to the teacher. “They deserve to have poems written about them.” She agreed and invited me into her class to help her students write butterfly poems.

Laura Shovan’s fabulous onomatopoeia lesson was a great inspiration, but I wanted to focus the kids on the movement of butterflies. I found this poem, from Nibble, Nibble by Margaret Wise Brown, to get them thinking.

“Song of the Bunnies”

Bunnies zip
And bunnies zoom
Bunnies sometimes sleep tip noon

Zoom

    Zoom

        Zoom

            Zoom

All through the afternoon

Zoom   Zoom   Zoom

This is the song of the bunnies.

After reading the poem several times, I asked the kids to close their eyes and imagine being a butterfly and think about how they would move. After a minute or two, they shared words with a partner, then we made a list. Several words from the bunny poem were shared, but they came up with great movement words, too. We brainstormed color words, adjectives, and they even came up with some similes.

Working together, we created this poem:

Butterflies float.
Butterflies glide.
Light as a feather,
blue as the sky.
Perched on a daffodil,
sipping sweet nectar.
Me, oh my!

After we were happy with the class poem, they set out to write their own butterfly poems. Some were having trouble getting started, so I suggested “Things to do if you are a butterfly…” as a prompt. (Thank you, Elaine Magliaro!)

Here are a few student poems:

If You Were a Butterfly…

If you were a butterfly, what would you do?
Would you glide like a bird,
or sail like a fly?
Or would you sip nectar,
just like a bee?

by C.B.

Butterflies

Butterflies flap,
butterflies flip,
light as a leaf,
nice and sweet,
red, blue, pink, and orange.
I love butterflies.
Do you?

by I.V.

Colorful butterflies
zip and zoom
they float and flutter
diving for food,
sipping nectar.
Mmmmmm!

by E.O.

I am a chrysalis.
I look like I’m sleeping,
but I am changing,
waiting for my wings.

by Z.J.

If you are a butterfly
you can fly high
in the sky.
You can have
colorful wings, too.
You can find a daffodil
to get nectar.
Mmmmmm.

by K.H.

Little butterflies.
Colorful butterflies,
flutter butterflies,
spying for daffodils,
feeling the wind
on its wings.
Using its proboscis.
Mmmmm.

by L.O.

Here is the door now, with all the butterflies and their poem:

 Thank you also to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny 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.

Stars: A Fibonacci Poem

Dava Sobel‘s The Glass Universe continues to inspire me. Although I couldn’t find any direct relationship between stellar spectra and the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical form seemed appropriate for this topic.

Stars
hide
secrets
in white light.
Spectral lines reveal
elemental composition
and temperature to sleuths who probe their mystery.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Star Spectra by Secchi, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Writing poems in a specific form can be a fun yet challenging way to summarize learning in any subject area. The concision of poetry forces kids to hone in on the essential aspects of a topic, book or article. It also provides an authentic purpose for using subject-specific vocabulary.  As I wrote this poem, I found my biggest challenge wasn’t the basic science behind the stellar spectra, but getting the right words to match the syllable count of a Fibonacci poem.

 Thank you, Laura, for once again being so generous with your time and talents.  Thank you also to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny 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.