Friday, November 8, 2013

A Crow, a Child, & a Poetry Peek

Crow in Tree
Photo by Hope LV

Click the arrow to hear me read this poem to you.

Students - Yesterday afternoon, my daughter Hope and I were driving home, and a murder of crows (yes, a group of crows is called a 'murder'!) was settling into many of the trees lining our road.  I stopped the car, rolled down the window of the driver's side, and tried to take a photograph, but before I could, all of the crows had flown away.  Hope offered to take a photo from her side of the car, rolled down her window, and...the same thing happened!  Only one crow remained, and here it is.

Later in the evening, I studied the picture and imagined a story to go with it.  The first two stanzas rolled out easily, but it the third one is my favorite.  I like it in the way I like writing that is given to me, almost a surprise from a little writing bird...maybe a crow...

At first my poem-crow was a boy.  And the poem-child was a boy too.  I needed to make a change.  See, I like a balance of male and female in my poems.  So I needed to choose, "Should the crow be female or the child be female?"  Well, I chose the crow to be female, mostly because 'her' rhymes with 'perfect', 'perch', and 'birch' in stanza three.  I find it funny and wonderful how a change for gender surprised me by improving rhyme as well.

Be open to such surprises in your writing.  For me, the surprises are the best part.  The surprises, not the poems, are why I write.

Today I am so happy to welcome kind and wise Suparna Kudesia, a teacher of 6, 7 and 8 year olds at The Logan School for Creative Learning in Denver, Colorado. The Logan School is an independent school that truly depends on the support of its community to continue its good work. Suparna would like to thank and acknowledge teacher assistant Jessica Silas who took all of these wonderful pictures.  Thank you to Suparna, Jessica, and the young learners and poets who share their classroom.  It's a pleasure to host them here for a Poetry Friday Poetry Peek!

"It depends." 

So much of what happens at my school is rooted in those two words. My school, where I get to practice being a better listener, learner, and human each day, is a non-profit independent school in Denver, Colorado. It dependeth embodies the way I see each child: a living wonder with dreams, fears, loves, and wishes. How I respond to each child's individual curiosities, wonderings, and hopes depends on each child. I try each day to listen to each of my students and scaffold them, walk with them to the next challenge, to the next level of adventure, and we also take time to walk down reflection boulevard and think deeply about our learning, growth, and welcome new questions about the world around us.

One special way in which my students are agents of their own learning is through an individual unit. Every one of the 250 students in my school chooses their own individual unit of study. From gravity, mermaids, and DNA to deception, terrorism, and Rosalind Franklin. Children pick their unit and as their teacher, I write an individualized curriculum with and for each child.

Is every child's unit guided by her/his interest. Yes.
Does every unit look the same. No.

Those seem simple enough to answer.

Can a 7 year old study quantum physics? It depends.
Would I have a Socratic seminar about gender in my classroom? It depends.
How do children create projects? It depends.
What determines growth as a mathematician, listener, or scientist? It depends.

So much depends on those two words. Units open doors for children to grow as language artists, social scientists, chemists, artists, architects, inventors, and something that is always very exciting - as  poets. One way in which my students practice being poets is to integrate their excitement and learning surrounding their units with their growing skills as poets. We find different ways to bring poetry into our units and children take their love for poetry in many different directions. 

One such path has been constructed by our love for William Carlos Williams's poem The Red Wheelbarrow. When we read this rather uncomplicated 8-line poem that is in fact one sentence, we meditate over his choice of words, the picture he painted for us, the depth and simplicity of documenting what he sees, and the parts of speech buried so systematically in the poem. We also talk about why "so much depends upon" that red wheel barrow and the possible stories behind that wheel barrow, that rain water, and those white chickens. Then, we begin to ponder, brainstorm, research, and write about what depends upon our units. 

Why is studying about renewable energy or Alaska so important? The children follow a process of research and learning and then experiment with words, patterns, and sounds to create their own versions of William Carlos Williams's poem. Each child works on a few drafts in their writers notebooks and are often freed by the pattern of the poem and always integrate factual information about their unit. After some iterations of editing, the children share their final pieces. We then publish the poems on our bulletin board for our poems, lovingly called, "Poetree". 

This year, my students really enjoyed this project and are coming to school regularly with more "so much depends upon" poems about their units long after the project saw completion in our classroom. 

Poem by Zoe

Poem by Mari

Poem by Pearly

Poem by Sabrina

In my practice as an educator, I feel grateful to be in a space where there is a certain comfort in acknowledging how education of our children lies in the sometimes very uncomfortable space of "it depends".  "It depends" can be messy because it has fewer boxes within which to put children. When we can look at children for all they are and can be, sometimes the boxes that exist in the world of education can be terrifyingly confining. 

How do you define a child who cares deeply about endangered species, has a deep understanding of numbers, is learning to add two digit numbers, listens deeply, loves Taylor Swift, dreams about forests with giant talking ants, struggles at and loves soccer, wants to be a better reader, knows every type of toothed whale, sees themselves as seahorses, is learning how to hug, feels safe communicating in sign language, sees colors differently, can enjoy music with their eyes closed, breathes poetry, is sometimes overwhelmed with noise, laughs when talking about the purple polka-dotted people eater, is making a model of a tornado intercept vehicle, can empathize, doesn't like chocolate and loves homemade pho or pasta…? Is this child a 3.97 GPA? Or maybe an A-? 

I would rather brave the daily joyful confusion of understanding each of my students as individuals than assign them numerical values. So, I don't mind being stopped in hallways or interrogated by skeptics to elaborate on how, why, and so what of "it depends", because this allows me to honor all children as they are and all they can become.

Thank you to Suparna, Jessica, and this classroom community and school for joining us today.  Thank you for sharing your thoughtful and enriching work.

Diane is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup over at Random Noodling.  Head on over to her place and join us in this week's poetry celebration all 'round the Kidlitosphere.

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  1. So much to like in this post today, Amy, but I especially like what you said about a "little writing bird" surprising you with a poem. I'm a big crow fan, too!

  2. I love what Suparna wrote and am always delighted by what her students do, Amy. And I laughed with your trials of trying to 'catch' that murder of crows-they are just too crafty! I like the poem that emerged, however, a crow on tippy-toes and a child's dream-lovely!

  3. Loved this post for so many reasons. Your lonely crow, the amazing school of "It depends", and the children's poems. So much depends upon the empty page waiting for a black crow or for a child to drop a poem on it.

  4. Another post to send to my lovely daughter - a college senior ed major wanting to work with the younger ones. Thanks for the peek inside this AMAZING classroom where children are encouraged to imagine, wonder, and express.
    Thanks, too, for the crow poem - I'm crazy for crows.

  5. Thank you Linda, Margaret, and is a gift to work at Logan with our poets (and all they are and want to be) and watch them flourish, change, and be changed. And thank you dear Amy...for giving me the courage to dream high. High on my tippy toes. Flying high with the crows.

  6. Thank you, Amy, and thank you Suparna. I'm trying to resist pining for a teaching experience like Suparna's having at Logan and concentrate on the wonders that happen in my own school along different paths. Just yesterday we went out with Amy's "Raking" poem in our heads and did some nature work; this will build up in young minds and pop out when I least expect it. *faith*

  7. Thank you, Amy, and thank you Suparna. I'm trying to resist pining for a teaching experience like Suparna's having at Logan and concentrate on the wonders that happen in my own school along different paths. Just yesterday we went out with Amy's "Raking" poem in our heads and did some nature work; this will build up in young minds and pop out when I least expect it. *faith*

  8. "What surprised you?" is my favorite question to ask at the end of writing workshop!

    "It depends..." is my new favorite doesn't-sound-professional-but-it-IS phrase!

  9. "For me, the surprises are the best part." This is so true! Not only for writing, but for teaching and learning (and life!). I loved learning about Suparna's classroom and reading her students' amazing poetry. Thanks for sharing!

  10. loved reading this. it put me right back in suparna's classroom, which is one of the best places to be. ever.

  11. Thank you so much Heidi, Mary, and Catherine. We read Amy's "Apostrophe" this morning and your post, Heidi, inspired me to begin our writer's workshop today with Amy's darling poem.'s a gift each day. Thank you!