“Māra,” by Moira Wairama

During the last week of term, I introduced many of my E.S.O.L. students to “Māra,” a poem published in Issue 52 of the New Zealand Junior Journal, a journal of writing geared towards students working in level 2 of The New Zealand Curriculum. The full journals, with illustrations and audio recordings, are available here at no charge: http://literacyonline.tki.org.nz/Literacy-Online/Planning-for-my-students-needs/Instructional-Series/Junior-Journal.

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A pēpepe I met in the Auckland Domain

 

In a smooth blend of English and Māori, the speaker invites us into her māra (garden) to meet all of the insects she meets there. The (free) audio recording available on the educators’ resource site highlights the poem’s magical, musical quality, capturing students’ attention in a way that simply handing them the poem as a silent reading assignment could not.

Though the poem is a great example of how students can use imagery, rhyme, and meter in their poems, I find one of the most important things this poem does is highlight the bilingualism and biculturalism that is so important to New Zealand. While I am an American citizen teaching English to non-native speakers, I feel a responsiblity to honour and lift up Te Reo wherever feasible in my teaching as well, and to set a norm in my classroom that all languages are equally precious. Of course, though the poem incorporates both languages, I don’t know if it actually tells us anything particular about Māori culture, so I should be on the lookout for more poems that do this. Learning English is never about replacing what one has grown up with but about adding something new. This is a topic for a future post, but does anyone have suggestions of other poems appropriate for young children that incorporate multiple languages fluently? I’d love to start a solid collection. Thank you!

Most of the articles in the journal come with teacher guides, but the poem does not, so I’ve written up some activities and prepared a vocab sheet for pre-teaching the Māori words and some of the Tier 2 English words that non-native English speakers would need support with. I included some questions to prompt a discussion about the concept of being “special” and what it means to consider something or someone special. My sessions with these students are each quite short, so we don’t have the opportunity for full on CoI, but as always, I’d love to hear of your students’ responses – just hit “reply” below! Adjusting for your students’ needs, I would discuss the unfamiliar words first, so that they have context. Then listen to the poem, giving each student a copy of the poem (from the journal) to have in front of them. Then proceed with the discussion and writing activity.

The guide is available here: http://tinyurl.com/maraguide

After a few drafts, I publish the students’ poems on the wall and give them a chance to read their poetry to each other. It gives each student a chance to showcase their own work and be publicly proud, to review what they have done vs. just turning in an assignment and never seeing it again, to recognize their own work as publish-worthy art, and to learn from and about their peers. I’d love to hear your experiences, successes, and challenges of young students writing and sharing their work!

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Muffins, Maths – and Poetry?

This week one of my students baked carrot-apple muffins as part of his maths lesson. Finding the recipe, discussing each ingredient, sounding out the words and copying down the ingredient list was all part of English study. The project doubled as practical maths as he developed literacy around fractions and figured out how much we’d have to make in order to have enough for each child in his class plus staff. “You do baking for maths?” a classmate exclaimed. “Baking is also science!” another teacher pointed out. I wish we had the resources to have every lesson for every student have a practical component! Unfortunately our kitchen isn’t big enough for more than a couple of people at a time, and it makes me think about how privileged we are to have kitchen access at the school at all. 
The whole class is working on cinquains and other poetry this week. They are tying this into their unit on the Olympics, and some wonderful imagery around sport is coming out of this study. They began by looking at photographs of athletes and brainstorming words they would use to describe the image. Does anyone have suggestions of some fun baking poems to connect it all together? They should be short and straightforward enough for a kindergarten student to make sense of and read most of the words with help within a few minutes, and fun enough that it will keep their interest (think Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky-esque). Thanks!
For any bakers out there, here is the recipe we used! A gem from The Minimalist Baker, one of my standby recipe blogs. Vegan, of course. http://minimalistbaker.com/easyrecipe-print/8877-0/
It is also gluten-free, but if you have only wheat flour on hand and no one you’re serving is gluten-intolerant, that works just as well. Pretty customisable. We didn’t have any walnuts and just left them off, no harm. Easy to do with a group of kids and/or in a small space because there are lots of little things to prep (the flax egg, grating the carrot) but only requires one large mixing bowl. 

Community of Inquiry Code of Conduct: Language Arts “Lesson”

I recently finished a five-week unit on My Side of the Mountain in my grade four classroom, in which I incorporated philosophical inquiry into each week of study. My Side of the Mountain, for those who don’t know, is Jean Craighead George’s 1959 novel about a boy (we never find out for certain his age, a subject of much contention among my students!) who runs away from home to live in the Catskill Mountains. All the lessons I teach this semester are aligned to the United States Common Core Standards. Happily, the skills practiced in Community of Inquiry fit neatly into the English Language Arts standards. Below is my lesson plan for day two of the unit, the day I introduced philosophy. My first observation was during this lesson, and it went quite well. There is an emphasis on student autonomy and inquiry. Students are held to high standards and expected to participate fully. There are multiple ways to participate, and students are encouraged to help each other feel safe sharing half-formed thoughts as part of the learning process for everyone. I’d love constructive feedback on my work and would love other educators to share their experiences supporting Community of Inquiry in ELA. 

Lesson Plan: My Side of the Mountain Week One, Day Two

Objectives:

  • Students develop a working definition of philosophy and philosophical inquiry that includes heightened respect for diverse perspectives and a sense of wonder/intellectual curiosity.
  • Students work together to develop their own Community of Inquiry Code of Conduct – a set of guidelines for philosophical inquiry stressing civil discourse, respect for community members, and critical thinking.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1.B: Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1.C: Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others.

Student Engagement/Timeline: 

1. Students convene in a circle on carpet. Introduce philosophy: I majored in philosophy in college largely because I think it is one of the most fun things to do. You get to think really hard about questions you care about with people you care about, and learn from each other – wow. Philosophical questions are special in four ways:

  • You can’t look up the answer in a book or encyclopaedia.  You can’t just ask a grown-up either! Philosophical questions take debate and careful reasoning to decide what we think.
  • You need to be able to disagree. There isn’t just one right answer. In this way, philosophy is a lot like poetry and literary interpretation. Different perspectives can be valid even if they come to different conclusions.
  • You can change someone’s mind using reasons. Some questions we may never agree on, like “what’s the tastiest flavour of ice cream?” If I really love chocolate, and you really love vanilla, there isn’t something you can say to convince me that I’m wrong. But if I really think that homework on the weekends is important, and you disagree, you might be able to convince me that you’re right. A philosophical question is not just a matter of opinion. 

2. Philosophy isn’t just something you study; it’s something you do. Sometimes philosophical questions come out of a story. I’ll give you an example. Who here has read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein? [take hands, take one person to paraphrase for those who haven’t read] So raise your hand if you think the boy in the story did something wrong. [briefly discuss different perspectives – even people who agree that the boy went wrong at some point tend to disagree on when he went wrong. Most people agree that playing with the tree and eating just a few apples was okay.]

Post-lesson note: I had expected almost everyone in a small town, middle-class New England community school to have heard this story at some point. I was mistaken, or at least many had not heard it in years. It ended up taking a while longer than I’d planned to explain the story, so I would suggest referring to a story the class had recently read together.

These kinds of philosophical questions are ethical questions – they are questions about how we should behave. There are lots of different areas of philosophy, and we’re going to get to talk about them this semester. In our Wednesday book groups for the next few weeks, we’re going to get to do philosophy with Sam Gribley in My Side of the Mountain. In order to be successful, we’re going to create a Code of Conduct to help us.

3. Code of Conduct: What is a code? [different types, students throw out a few ideas] → here we are talking about a contract. Our Code of Conduct is an agreement about how we are going to treat each other and how we are going to do our best thinking.

What does our community want to include? Think/pair/share time here so everyone gets a chance to contribute. Stress everyone’s ideas are valuable and actually essential to community development. Then come back to large group to create final list.

{{I try to encourage some version of the following in order to have a successful CI, but all in students’ own words. Usually students come up with a variation on these themselves; if they don’t, I just ask questions – e.g. “Do you think we should have anything about what we do while someone is talking?”

  1. One person speaks at a time.
  2. Listen to the person who is speaking.
  3. When it is my turn to speak, I say whether I agree or disagree and why OR I ask a question about what has just been said.
  4. Everyone’s ideas are valuable. }}

These are some strategies my fourth graders had already been practicing before I joined their classroom that we’ve incorporated effectively into our Community of Inquiry:

    1. Agree/disagree with the idea, not the person.
    2. Everyone gets a chance to speak → “name tokens” to show everyone’s spoken already at least twice, no one dominates
    3. Use body language to communicate focus. Eyes on the speaker, body still, no side conversation.
    4. After you finish speaking, call on the next person. Look for someone who hasn’t spoken yet.

A communication tool I learned at Eurekamp that my fourth graders have made great use of: If you have a build on to what’s just been said, put in two fingers. If you have something brand new to say, put in one finger. Try to first call on people who have a “build on” so that we can go really deep into each question before we move on.

4. The role of dialogue, discourse, and collaboration – “good talk:”

 

  • Is dialogue teacher led?  Does it include the teacher?  How are groups structured?

Discussion occurs in circle on the floor – no one at the “front.” At first, teacher calls on students. When we move to creating Code of Conduct, students call on each other.

 

5. What is the (expected) range of challenges for your learners and what supports are you building in for them? This is something for each educator considers for themself.

In general, students tend to range from very talkative to very quiet, and from very confident to very wary. We build in time for students to speak in pairs in addition to the large group discussion that makes up the majority of the lesson. When asking questions to the large group, we give enough wait time to allow all students the time they need to process and decide whether or not they would like to contribute. By using talking tokens in the large group and combining large group discussion with pair/shares, we ensure that every student will have the opportunity to share ideas with peers and will feel a responsibility to do so.

6. What evidence of learning are you looking for (to guide your teaching)?

Students are practicing the skills of sharing ideas and listening to other people’s ideas.

Engaged students will…

  • listen attentively to peers.
  • contribute original thoughts of their own that connect to the questions raised.
  • provide reasons and/or evidence to back up their claims.

***

Hey check out this fun graphic I found about collaboration. It’s a Venn diagram! How philosophy-relevant!

 

Lesson Plan: “Where I’m From”

Last week, I had the privilege of introducing an origin/identity poem discussion and writing exercise to my fourth graders. In this lesson, students study and discuss George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From,” and they write their own poems inspired by Lyon’s work. Lyon is the poet laureate of Kentucky, currently working on a project to collect poems from every county in the state. My lesson plan for this study is posted below. If you do a similar activity with your students, please post your experiences in the comments!

Wherever you are in the world, you and your students can use her form to explore how memories shape identity. Encourage your students to use vivid sensory details from sights, smells, sounds, sensations, and tastes that resonate with them deeply. The stronger and more important each image is to you, the stronger and more meaningful it will be for the reader.

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Strategies for active engagement with poetry

This week my Sheltered English Instruction for English Language Learners course has been focusing on lots of strategies for approaching writing in a way that makes it more accessible for students of varying language backgrounds. I’ve been working a lesson plan incorporating critical thinking into a unit on “The Dormouse and the Doctor” by A. A. Milne. I’ve put together a collection of ideas inspired partly by our discussions and course readings and tailored them all to active engagement with narrative poetry, creative expression and critical thinking. Suggestions/comments very welcome! I would like to expand and specify the ideas below. They are not all explicitly philosophical activities and questions, but could certainly be used as a stimulus to develop some questions for a Community of Inquiry. Most could be adapted for writing prompts or for discussion prompts/question generators, but lend themselves more to one or the other. 

Some Ways to ENGAGE with Narrative Poems for Critical Thinking

Roleplay perspectives.

  • Think about who, what, where, when, how, and especially why characters behave the ways they do or make the decisions they make. Could have students reflect on paper or in small groups.
  • One idea: Act out what happens in the poem OR what they think would happen next and then reflect as a class. Probably more suitable for older children.
  • Another idea: Split up into small groups and encourage unstructured imaginative play for a period of time; then reflect in small groups. Follow up with discussion and/or writing or drawing activity.

Journal from perspective of one of the characters.

  • Similar to the roleplaying idea above, this activity requires students to think critically about the How and 5Ws of individual characters’ behaviour.
  • This assignment is particularly interesting if the student takes on the persona of a minor character or antagonist.
  • I wouldn’t worry about poetic form or formal writing structure at this stage; the idea is to get the juices flowing and think about the reasons someone else might have to justify their ideas/feelings/opinions/behaviour.

Work with “realia” (physical objects related to the poem in some way) to make the poem really come to life.

  • Facilitator or students could bring in.
  • If you are beginning with a poem to spark discussion, the educator could bring in objects to ground the poem; then the next day or the next week students could bring in objects from home to inspire/help ground their own writing. Physical objects help make communication accessible to everyone of different language abilities, and they provide physical stimulation.
  • Kinetic engagement tends to help students make more complex connections and reinforces learned material.

Use graphic organizers.

  • K/W/L charts for brainstorming subject matter: First column is what we know about a topic, second column is what we want to learn, and third column is for recording what we have learned after we research our questions.
  • There are many ways to organize thoughts around plot development (in the writing process of a new poem or in interpreting a poem you’ve read).
    • Cycle Webs can show chronological progression of events and/or cause-and-effect. Students can draw bubbles in a circle with arrows connecting each one.
    • Cause and Effect graphic organizers are another way of showing what follows from what and can strengthen logic and formal reasoning skills.
  • These charts can be created with words, pictures, symbols, or all of the above together, depending on the students’ language ability and how they best process material. Opens opportunity for differentiation for different abilities so that everyone in the class is working on the same project but doing it in a way that will give them each the appropriate amount of challenge (not too much (they’ll freeze) and not too little (they’ll get bored)).
  • Engage with character traits by using Venn diagrams to compare/contrast what is the same and what is different about key speakers in the poem.
  • Main idea webs: Ask the students what the poem is about. Many main ideas will come up. Have them agree on one of them to begin with, and write in the middle of the board. (Note: I’ve found that reaching consensus on a starting point, particularly with a large group, can sometimes be very time-consuming, so if time is limited, you may want to suggest one idea to begin with for discussion, acknowledging that others are just as important and can be discussed another time.) Extend with questions and related ideas to generate a group mind map of inspiration for inquiry around that idea. **NOTE This is related to the “One word or main idea” activity in Philosophy with Young Children: A Classroom Handbook by Philip Cam, Liz Fynes-Clinton, et. al.

Cut, paste, and extend!

  • Physically cut up a poem to engage with it on a physical level. Split the poem into strips so that each line can be moved around and replaced on the page.
  • This can be used as a strategy to edit your own poems OR to glean inspiration from an existing poem you have read.
  • Great activity for children or adults to get a different perspective and strengthen our own writing.
  • Move lines up and down, add spaces and edit, remove words entirely, etc.
  • You can pick just one line you really like from a published poem and write a spin-off poem from that line.

Activity: What Makes Us People?

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An elephant painting

This is an activity to introduce thinking about essential and accidental properties of human beings, and what may or may not be important differences among people and between people and other animals.

  1. Get a large sheet of paper to hang on the wall (the giant Post-It stickies work well), or use a white board. (I prefer the giant stickies so they can be posted around the classroom afterwards and stay there to stimulate further musing.)
  2. Have the group generate ideas. Let children call out, or if you have a shyer group, go around the circle so everyone gets a turn.
  3. You may get things like “two eyes,” “can speak,” “can think,” etc., or you may get wildly different responses. Be prepared for anything and do not judge! Write everything down that the children suggest.
  4. After everyone has had a chance to speak, go back to your word cloud and ask of each one: Is this true about all people? And/or are there other animals of which this is true?

In the beginning, it may seem easy to come up with a list of traits that describe a human being, but in the end, it may be more difficult than expected to categorize what is true of all humans and only humans! After this activity, the group may like to continue with a discussion on perspectives and/or animal ethics using one of the poems above.

Activity: Perspective Shift

Have everyone read a poem written about a nonhuman animal, Richard Jarrette’s “Beso the Donkey,” for example. Consider having each person in the circle read a couple of lines, or invite a student who hasn’t had the opportunity to speak in a while read the poem aloud. This is also a nice way to include students who are shyer about sharing their ideas, and help them get used to participating in the circle in a gentle way.

  1. Split into pairs or split off individually and rewrite the poem from the individual’s point of view (e.g. with “Beso the Donkey,” instead of writing from the perspective of Beso’s observer, write as Beso himself.)
  2. Come back to the circle to share your new poems and discuss why you made the choices you did. How did you choose what to include and what to leave out? What do we learn about the subject of your poem that we do not learn from reading the original poem? Is there anything that we can learn by reading about him or her in the third person that we don’t get from your first-person poem? Why is this?
  3. Read the original poem again (if just one person read the first time, have someone else read this time), and move into a Community of Inquiry around the poem with your new deeper appreciation for what the poem is doing.

*Alternative: It could be just as fruitful to begin with the Community of Inquiry and then split off to write poems. If you write and share first, the CoI will likely be more fruitful. If you discuss first, the poems may likely be more insightful/deeper. It’s up to you as a facilitator. Try out the activity with two different poems two different ways, and see which yields the most philosophically interesting results.