It seems like some of my best lessons and most successful classroom activties strike at times when I'm less concerned about a perfect and tidy plan and more focused on student needs and engagement. It seems simple and obvious enough, but adjusting my "work barometer" is something I'm always trying to finetune.
Last week my AP Literature students worked hard at reading, interpreting, and analyzing poetry. It was the kind of week that felt like a great workout -- challenging and a little uncomfortable, but valuable and motivating because you're getting leaner and stronger.
Each day, we took on a new poem. To kick of the new year, we studied a beautiful poem called "At the New Year" by Kennth Patchen. We then went "down the vista of [our own] years" with D.H. Lawrence's "The Piano." And after several student requests for "animal poems" (they're cool kids, what can I say?) we took a look at the wonderful and Zen "Golden Retrievals" by Mark Doty and the fiercely self-aware hawk of "Hawk Roosting" by Ted Hughes.
By the end of the week, students' increasing confidence in poetry analysis was palpable. So on a welcome 2-hour delay Friday morning, I thought it best we hit the brakes and play for a day.
Here's what we did.
I asked students to create a structure or sculpture that extended, supported, or highlighted an INSIGHT they had about ONE of the poems they studied during the week.
The goal was for students to revisit, re-read, and deepen their understanding of one of the poems from class and to use manipulaitves and play as "a way in" to their insights, interpretations, and analysis.
After that, we broke out the hand sanitizer and a big bucket of toys and got to work.
Here are some highlights of student work:
After time was up and all students had completed the task, I asked students to complete a Quickwrite Journal explaining and unpacking their thinking and choices in creating their structures or sculptures. Some questions I asked:
Besides the excited and bubbling "This is so fun!" from students, the best part of this purposeful play: Students were invested in learning and discovering more about the texts -- I heard thoughtful conversations and read thoughtful commentary about the poetry we studied. So...
WVCTE is wondering...
What does purposeful play look like in your classrooms? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Karla Hilliard teaches STEAM Academy Honors English 10 and AP Literature and Composition at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, WV. She's a contributing writer on www.movingwriters.org and a teaching fellow with Collaborative for Student Success. When Karla isn't teaching, you can find her hanging with her husband and two little girls.
Karla serves as Executive Vice President and Head of of Secondary Affairs for WVCTE. See what's happening in her classroom at www.hilliardsclass.com or connect with her on Twitter @karlahilliard.
ByTeresa Shockey Campbell
Every summer I have the opportunity to refresh and renew as a school teacher. I am an avid vegetable gardener, and I would like to share with you how my garden is my field of dreams, and how it contributes to my constant motivation as a teacher...
Every spring, I plant green beans. My husband tirelessly cleans up, weeds, and then tills my garden for me. Then he goes through and makes tiny rows for me to plant my beans. I plant them all on the same day at the same time. They are quickly covered with soil and watered. Each bean gets the same amount of water, and each bean receives the same amount of sunlight. My husband continues to weed the rows for me as they grow into tiny seedlings, so that I can get my joy of reaping what I have sown. Interestingly, although each bean was planted at the same time, watered at the same rate, and received equal sunshine, when I go to pick, some beans just aren’t ready to be harvested.
I equate this to my students every year. While all of my students have received 9 years of education before they enter my class, not all of them are ready for the “harvest.”
Why is that?
Just like my beans, why are students, who have so many more variables in their lives than simple green beans, expected to be equal learners? And, how as an educator, can I transfer my knowledge of harvesting green beans to helping my students learn and grow?
Now, I go through each row of beans in the early morning when it’s cool and quiet. I tediously search the leaves of each plant and pick the largest, longest beans that I will later that day “put up” (my grandma’s phrase for canning and storing for the winter) for later dinners throughout the upcoming year. When I see small beans and tiny blooms waiting to sprout, I think to myself how they have not grown at the same rate as the big beans.
Do I just pick the good beans and move on? Absolutely not!
I go back in a few more days, with bucket in hand, and I check for the growth on those tiny beans. I will not let them go to waste. They will also be part of my harvest! I always can between 55-65 quarts of beans each summer. Just because a few beans are slower at developing, I will not let that shrink my canning numbers. It’s a process. It’s a long process. I don’t just plant and just pick – remember, these little fellas need rain and sunlight. If it gets too dry, I have to water them. When the weeds start to invade, they must be held at bay so as not to overtake my plants.
And just like my beans, teaching my students is that same long process.
I have to get the higher level achievers (big beans) ready to move forward, and I have to keep checking on my strugglers (tiny sprouts) to see what kind of extra help they need: extra time, a different passage to read, or a breakfast to eat to fill their tummies. When I keep adding these extra strategies to my classes and my students, I see growth, and they see growth. We are all encouraged to keep learning, to keep growing, to get ready for that harvest of the next grade!
This is my garden, my classroom, and my “field of dreams.” I hope you, too, will cultivate your classrooms into your own “field of dreams.”
WVCTE is wondering...
How do you reach the "big beans" and "little beans" of your classrooms? How do you teach all learners despite their varying abilities?
Leave us a comment, connect with us on Facebook, or Tweet us your thoughts @wvcte!