Celebrating Story

It’s time to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayers. This practice helps me notice the little things worth celebrating, the things that might slip past. Read more celebrations (or add your own) here.

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Traveling this week, I saw a lot of things, and I heard stories from people in line, on planes, in restaurants. Some I overheard. Some were offered. All were gifts. All added to my understanding and the richness of being in this world.

On Friday, my daughter and I took a cab to the airport. I climbed in and there at my feet was a football. Immediately, I liked this driver.

“Hey, did someone leave a football?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s my son’s. He wanted to take it to camp. I told him, they’d have all kinda balls at camp! But no, he wanted his ball.”

The way the driver chuckled and shook his head said a lot. This kid was his joy. He went on to talk about his nephew, his other four grown children, his wife. Love and pride seeped from every word.

Then he’d get back to his boy.

“He’s a Katrina baby, a miracle child. Nine years old and wants to do everything. I tell him he can’t do everything. But he tries. Yep, he’s my treadmill; he keeps me going. He saved me.”

And I wonder how many ways this child saved his dad.

Closing in on the airport we pass Xavier University, and we learn. “My daughter goes there. She’s in pharmacy school. It’s one of the top programs in the country. She’s got it all under control. She doesn’t have a choice, can’t get anything past her momma (she’s a school teacher).”

Did I mention how much I like this guy?

He laughs.

Oh yeah, I say, and smile, looking over at my daughter.

“She’s got a nice boyfriend too; does the right things. You know what I mean? Not just the big stuff. The big things are easy. Birthdays and holidays. It’s the small things that matter. Those are the things I watch for.  Those are the things that tell you about a person.”

They certainly do.

This week I celebrate the little things, like telling a story, sharing a little bit of yourself and with that passing on some joy, some wisdom, when you don’t have to.

Celebrate: Natural Endings

This week, celebrating is a natural thing to do.

One: I celebrate the hard work and team work it takes to perform in front of others.

  • All 120 students performed four times for friends and family, reciting the preamble to the Constitution and the fifty states and capitols.
  • All 120 students ran a mile, a traditional fifth grade race, with the entire school cheering them on.

For some students these tasks were easy. Some are natural performers and athletes. But for most, this took a bit of courage and perseverance.  They were nervous, jumping and pacing before each event. For these moments they were all stars.

Two: I celebrate storytelling as a pathway to learning and writing. Students had researched and written reports about Westward Expansion, but their work was rather lifeless. Their voice was lost in the facts and dates they had taken in. Most did not connect the various parts.

Inspired by a post from Steve Peterson, on the power of narrative in content learning, and a visit from our TCRWP staff developer Katie Clements, who worked with us to help students find their own voice in writing about reading,  I decided to celebrate their writing  through storytelling.

I gave students paper, markers and invited them to tell the story of Westward Expansion.

2014-12-18 09.02.07Most students split the project up into the pieces they knew well. Then they presented their stories to the class. All were unique.  Some told the story as a chronology. Some told pieces of the story as cause and effect, while others saw their part as a problem with needed solutions.

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The hardest part for students to articulate was how the story connected.  As students presented, we kept track of ideas. After each group we looked for patterns that led students to see more about how the story might fit together.

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I was fascinated by this process. Structure was a natural outgrowth. Voice was present in the drawings and the presentations. These elements that I struggled to capture instructionally came out as students revised their work by telling the story together. After their presentations, all saw the need to revise their writing.

 

Three: I celebrate the joy in giving gifts. Students came early to class on Friday, arms filled with presents. They begged me to open them. I loved the mugs, the candy, and the ornaments made just for me.

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I gave students a set of personalized pens.  Finding their name, first and last, embossed on a pen amazed them. “How did you do this?!!”

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Four: I celebrate the end of our read aloud: Wonder. We had a lot to finish in the Julian chapter, but students sat rapt, begging to go on. I was glad to oblige and sipped tea to keep my voice alive. Between the two classes, I spent nearly two hours reading aloud. Not a bad way to end 2014.

Five: I celebrate winter break and the time with family. I’m ready to let 2014 wind down; reflect, relax and look forward.

Thank you Ruth Ayers for the opportunity to Celebrate This Week. Find other celebrations here.

Happy holidays.

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Fact that Feels Like Fiction: Personal Narrative Journey

Writing, the process, purpose and place in my classroom, has dominated my thinking the past few weeks. My fifth grade students did not want to write. I knew  (hoped) they knew what to do from previous years of teaching, but they didn’t want to, and that broke my heart. So many balked at the idea of the telling a true story.  I needed to change up my approach.  They needed to see this kind of writing as something they could do and dare I say, have fun doing.

FINDING THE FUN FACTOR: Last Tuesday, I pledged to my students/challenged myself to tell a true story a day for the month of September.  I’ve done this in part to show that story exists all around us, but most of all to see it as a fun thing to do. While it is early in the month, I already feel this challenge is pushing me to think and pay close attention to my surroundings. Feels like Common Core work, a la Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts new book, Falling in Love With Close Reading, Lessons for Analyzing Texts and Life.

The first three stories I told were about my cat, raccoons getting into my house and a fear-factor diving board experience from my deep dark past. Now my storytelling starts out our Writing Workshop much as  read aloud starts our Reading Workshop. And just like read aloud, they love it. It’s fun. It’s story. In fact a student asked if she could be the storyteller on Monday. Yes, yes, and yes!

FINDING SUCCESS: Now it was their turn to story tell in the air and on the page. I wanted them to be successful, but not with morphed  cat/raccoon/diving board stories.  So I launched them into a lesson where I gave them five plot points with an “every kid” story line that could be developed in many ways. The plot points stayed the same but it was their job to story tell “their” details,  in between the plot points. They told and listened to stories with two different partners and then they wrote. We did this with two story lines over two days. By the end of the second round, their pens were flying across the page. Paragraph after paragraph. It was one of those amazing teacher moments.  Students actually groaned nooo when I asked them to stop after 35 minutes of writing. This was a class that two weeks earlier were groaning, “do we have to write?”

I spoke to one student after, and asked her what made the difference for her with this strategy. She said, “It was easy because I was making it up. When I tell about what happens to me it just happens that’s all.”  Interestingly all of the things she wrote to develop the plot points were really about her, her personal experience, it just felt like fiction, or maybe storytelling felt like fiction.

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MAKING IT OUR OWN: In the next lesson I wanted students to create their own plot points as well as story. I was worried. Would I hear the moan, I don’t know what to write or does it have to be true, or would they lapse back into their bed-to-bed theme park stories.

POWER OF POST ITS AND PARTNERS: This time I set them up with little post its for their notebook’s story arc (bright small post its always increase the fun factor). First they were invited to choose a partner to work out the post it points with.  This partnership was followed up with a second partnership of their choice.  After about 10 minutes of talk, students moved to their desks, notebooks open, post its displayed, pens poised. I pretty much held my breath. Could they do it?  A handful needed support, but the majority had worked through much of their thinking with another student.

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WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT WRITING AND OURSELVES AS WRITERS: The most powerful part of the day was the share at the end.  Students named what they learned:

1) Talking about my story helps

2) Having a structure helps

3) Planning helps

4) Knowing a lot about the story helps

5) Using elaboration tools really helps me write more

Out of the the mouths of babes!