Celebrating: Circle Time

Every year I play with the physical space of my classroom. Moving desks, chairs. Trying to create new areas for children to find quiet, thoughtful moments as well as places to collaborate. Finding what fits the needs of every child takes equal parts kid watching, experimentation and questioning.

When we set kids up to do something and watch, so much is revealed. In January, I changed our morning routine to start the day with a circle question. Watching how students negotiated the circle was fascinating.  Some kiddos chose to sink back behind, while others quickly found their spot. That led to me making the circle space bigger. Still, with ample room, some found a way to be behind the circle. Slowly, those students are finding their space in, outside the circle.

I had discounted this kind of work for upper elementary students. Thought they were too old for this. Oh. So. Not. So.

Questions range from the silly to the serious. They are specific and ambiguous. Student and teacher-generated. Written on the board next to the agenda, there is no verbal explanation. Interpretation is up to the responder. The only rule: one person speaks their mind at a time, and all others listen. Silent approvals are welcome, but verbal responses are not allowed. (A challenge for my very verbose students.)

This week’s questions:
If you were a fairy tale character, who would you be?
What was the weirdest place you’ve ever been?
Where is your favorite place to read in the classroom?
What do you prefer pen or pencil?
What do you wonder about our classroom?

You can probably guess which ones came from students. All gave me insight and direction.

The last question on the list was on Friday. That day students walked into a room that had been changed significantly. About half of the tables had been lowered to the ground. Two tables had been removed, allowing more space in the back of the room. I wanted their reactions, questions, and thoughts. And as usual, unexpected ideas were voiced. Two unrelated to the question, all valuable to me. Views and opinions that will change my approach and course of instruction.

This year, the daily circle question is time students look forward to.  It has led to better listening and has pulled students into the community. Our morning circle has opened doors to instruction and deeper understanding of each other. But, interestingly, I have ended up being the biggest learner.

This week I celebrate the art of wonder, my students’ unrelenting questions and another day to try to answer them.

Thank you, Ruth, for the weekly call to celebrate. Find more here at Ruth Ayers Writes.

Celebrating: How Poetry Teaches

This year my students and I are celebrating National Poetry Month with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s poem project. Every day I add her poem to a Google doc and attempt the lesson she proposes. Then I share this growing document with my students. Their poetry project will last through the end of the year: collecting and creating poetry in their poetry notebooks and then publishing work in a blank book.

I sandwich poetry in between reading and writing workshops. For 20 minutes, students pour through books for poems they love, explore Amy’s poetry, check out the Rhyme Zone (a site we love), write their own poetry, or share poems with each other. During this joyous part of our day, constraints are lifted.
They have stopped asking, can I …
They just
write them in their notebook
create google docs for their poetry
write them on origami
write one for a friend in need
share  their favorite lines

The other beautiful thing about this work is the transference to reading and writing. Earlier this week, we were exploring the importance of understanding a character’s perspective. That reading lesson sat right after our exploration of persona poems. Friday’s poem in the second person preceded our study of craft techniques used by informational writers that included addressing the reader directly. ‘Tis true, Poems Are Teachers.

Yesterday, I introduced Amy’s poem for April 5th, shared the strategy, and then my own attempt.  It was a humbling challenge you can read below. From the form to the topic. I can’t say I’m thrilled with it but, my students were.  Funny. All the parts that I disliked they loved.  They are a generous audience.

Thank you, thank you. Amy, for your daily inspiration.

You Are Not Alone

Yesterday I told you, “Today we will take a test,
don’t worry, just do your best.”
You looked like you were going to cry.
I said, “I know you can! Try.”

This morning Coach said, “The next set’s a test.
Don’t worry, just do your best.”
Hearing those words from another
I freeze up, want to call my mother.

I wonder, what excuse can I make?
Is there something I can take
to  disappear, avoid the pain
I see nothing here to gain.

After the swim, I stop and think,
of what made my soul sink.
The competition was too much for me
even if it was for my eyes to see.

I thought of you and in my heart
felt the panic that can break you apart
the fear of not being your best,
the agony of failing a test.

Please know, you are not alone.
Testing makes me want to stay home.

And thank you, Ruth, for your weekly call to celebrate the week. Read more celebrations here at Ruth Ayres Writes.

The grinds

Spring Break lingers for me. One more day to write like this. A time to give praise to National Poetry Month.
I look forward to what April brings. Each day.

Today I honor my notebook that habitually falls short of what I think it should be.
Today I acknowledge my notebook’s nature. My reflection. Filtered through influences of the moment.

The Grinds

Coffee promisesnotebook.jpg
as a gray sky blankets —
creamed comfort for each sip.

Then the pen stutters,
skips, slips and words stumble
on that lined-page.

Repetitions sneak
in alongside arrows
and doodles flourish
obscuring the ugly

Unwanted. The first
impulse is to tear and toss
a thought creeps

No. Turn. Compost the page.
History nurtures
the grinds left behind.

Celebrate Poetry

Finally, it’s April and the beginning of National Poetry Month. Hurrah!

Usually, I sit on the sidelines and watch and read all those who dedicate themselves daily to poetry during this month. But, this year is different.

Perhaps because I am going to embark on this journey with students.
Perhaps because I have gotten more comfortable with it.
Perhaps because, most days, I partake in poetry.

So today is a day to honor and celebrate April and National Poetry Month.

I celebrate the plans I’ve made for my students and me.
Read a poem a day.
A blank book to document our journey.
Time to read, notice, sketch, write.
Choose to memorize a poem. Perform it for ourselves.

Today. Sunday. Time to read many poems.
Today,  This poem.


I will offer my students on day one. We will plant shriveled seeds.
It’s perfect.
“These shriveled seeds we plant…type and retype”

again and again.



by Naomi Shihab Nye

These shriveled seeds we plant,
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips

These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares

These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
this rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl

.This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out

This envelope I address
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of the sky

This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it

The days are nouns: touch them
The hands are churches that worship the world