Presenting a long overdue blog post in which I talk about Writer’s Block and Caldecotts Mock.
Coming soon and sticking with the same rhyme scheme: Taking Stock and Pedagogical Tick-Tock. Topics will include fifth-grade book trailers, “Newey Neighborhoods”, the fourth-grade “Wondering Project” and my pedagogical pendulum swings between the digital and paper-based library world.
After a flurry of writing in December, January came and went with nary a post. This despite a flurry of snow that extended the holiday break to two full weeks and the gift of a long weekend two weeks later.
Now I am finally ready (and thanks to yet another snow day), but before I begin I’d like to revisit the problem of my recent writer’s block especially after such a successful spate of writing. Well, okay, there were bumps in December too. But I managed to work through them with more ease.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I was overwhelmed with an abundance of topics and rather than choosing one and diving in I just stared at the screen. No, not true, I didn’t even approach the screen. Creative paralysis had hit. It was as if I was presented with an all-you-can-eat buffet or one of those endless menus one finds at the local diner (with the tiny kitchen) where somehow you can get everything from a grilled cheese sandwich to veal cordon bleu. What am I in the mood for? What is everyone else ordering? Should I go healthy and hearty or hedonistic? I literally could not make up my mind and so I wrote nothing.
I wonder if this is how our students feel? Write about what you know. Write about a favorite experience. Write about your best friend. Maybe the inability to write that first sentence is not too little to write about, but too much. Food for thought.
Just like my students, I am a learner. Lately, my best teachers are the members of my Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter. It’s amazing what can be shared in 140 characters or less. I have also been blessed with two smart, passionate and inventive student teachers. Sometimes it is hard to tell who is the mentor and who is the student. No one dare call me a stodgy ol’ librarian! Between embracing the ideas of my youthful student teachers and taking advantage of 21st century learning on the twitterverse, I took a tried and true unit and made it even better. This year I decided to go with depth instead of breadth:
- Art gallery-To prepare my students for evaluating art, we make art. As before, the students created illustrations using different media and techniques. This time, however, we took the “gallery” piece of it a little further by discussing how to view art and by modeling art gallery behavior. The results were significant. The students were more observant and made thoughtful comments about each other’s work and their own.
- Experiencing and evaluating the contenders-There is truth to the statement “Less is More”. I narrowed down the potential winners to ten (from 24-28 in previous years). We spent two full weeks reading all ten books in small groups. Every student was able to make a closer, deeper connection to the illustrations and text. In previous years we have narrowed the original field down to eight by using student committees, but not every child had the opportunity to see every book. I realize now, the shortcomings of that approach. There really was not enough time to make a thoughtful decision.
- Voting-Instead of each class making their own choices, I opted for a school-wide approach this time. I used ballots instead of a showing of hands (where everyone peeks, even when asked to keep their eyes closed). The ten contenders were narrowed down to four which were then read again to all students. The final vote also required a sentence or two from the student defending his/her choice. A built-in assessment where before there was none! And the winners were:
- Peasleecott Gold-The Day the Crayons Quit written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
- Peasleecott Silver-Journey written and illustrated by Aaron Becker
- Peasleecott Honor-The Story of Fish and Snail written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman
- Peasleecott Honor-Warning: Do Not Open this Book writtten by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe
- Award Design-In the fourteen years I have been teaching this unit, the students have designed their own version of the Peasleecott Medal, sometimes before and sometime after the final votes are in. This has depended more on the school calendar, snow days and assemblies (which throw the best-laid plans up in the air), rather than any instructional design, but this year I expressly waited until after because I was curious about the images the children would choose to draw based on the winning books. I was NOT disappointed. Another easy assessment and another unique way to honor the winners.
- Writing to the Winners-Although this is an experience that won’t likely be replicated in the future, I can’t help but gush over the serendipitous moment when one student’s idea changed the course of the lesson (and for the better I might add). As I stood in front of the giant chart paper scribing brainstormed ideas that would become a class letter to Oliver Jeffers, a third-grade boy raised his hand and suggested that each kid write their own letters to Mr. Jeffers in the voices of the crayons. Genius! Everything about the idea was better than what I had planned. Opportunity for demonstrating voice in writing, more involvement from students, choice of working alone (for the introverts) or in small groups (for those who might need some support or socialization). And such creativity. I was bursting at the seams with pride as I looked over the final products.
- Twitter as a platform for announcing the winners-This year I announced the winners on Twitter. In less than three hours, I had heard back from both Deborah Freedman and Aaron Becker, both active users. A week later, this beautiful thank you arrived in the mail from Deborah Freedman. I love the connectedness of it all.
And so, although I taught the same unit, I didn’t teach it the same way. And I never will again.