Not bad for a fat girl

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Greek Mythology Like Never Before

67a1408b76d203375d97ad21f6a535a9.jpgMy fourth grade students have been studying Greek Mythology over the past few weeks, and it’s been so much fun. I’ve taught this content before, of course, but never quite this in depth, and never with some of the techniques we’ve been using. Boy, what a difference!

Some of the changes this time around:

  • more versions of the same myth (in particular Hercules’ Quest: when we view the Disney film it will be the fourth version we’ll examine)
  • more myths (Psyche & Eros, Arachne, Medusa, and others)
  • incorporating drama into our study (tableaux of various scenes, forcing students to deeply explore the characters’ feelings and actions)
  • incorporating more art into our study (resulting in some wonderful projects)
  • allowing students to not only choose various ways of expressing their learning, but letting them create the various choices (and they were so much more engaged in the activities they designed themselves)

Just spending more time in Ancient Greece has been so beneficial to the students. They’re seeing recurring themes including jealousy, vanity, bravery, and sacrifice. They’re drawing parallels between characters and stories and they’re becoming quite knowledgable.

As an added bonus, the Rick Riordan books (the Percy Jackson series) have been flying off the library shelves, as have the other mythology books. The students are excited!

I’m so pleased with their enthusiasm and their level of commitment to their work. I believe we’re building a strong foundation for future learning as they’re developing a love of these ancient tales. I don’t know if this work will show up in the form of growth on their end of year standardized tests, but I know it’s beneficial. For that reason, I’m feeling successful and yes, a little bit proud. I can’t help but feel a bit like Zeus on Mt. Olympus, looking down at the mortals with affection and feeling pleased with their successes.

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Thank Goodness for the Arts


A middle school writer with her nature art inspired writing.

I’m fortunate that I work in a school district where the arts are appreciated and celebrated. We’re an elementary district with students from early childhood through eighth grade. We still have music teachers in our schools; general music for the younger students, and choir, band, and orchestra for the older ones.

Art is alive in our district too, but to a lesser extent in most of the schools. Many of our students don’t have a very strong start in life, and as a result they begin school missing some important skills and experiences. Unfortunately these children spend a great deal of time trying to “catch up” to their peers, and as a result sometimes the fun things (like art) get pushed aside, especially when the pressure of testing is added to the situation.

It’s a pity, really, since the arts are where so many children shine. They have the opportunity to express themselves in ways that are different than the typical classroom setting, and for kids with language delays, learning disabilities, limited English proficiency, behavioral challenges, and more, they are a saving grace.

The arts allow kids to approach the world from their own plane, wherever that may be. They can sing out, dance, paint, draw, mold, model, and manipulate their world in a way that makes sense to them. They are a release and a gift.

Our fourth grade students have been given that gift again this year, as they participate in an original musical conceived, written, and directed by our very talented music teacher. He even made the giant glow-in-the-dark puppets that take the stage and raised funds for the black lights that make the whole show pop. Oh, and he wrote all the music too, as well as taught every lyric to the entire fourth grade. Whew!

Our kids are lucky. They will perform for their friends and families and they will keep the individual puppets that they each created and will use in the show. They are growing up with the arts as an important part of their lives. Too many children are not. Too many schools are throwing out the arts. Too many families shun the arts in favor of less enriching activities. I get it, as parents we’re tired, and helping kids write songs and put on skits and dress up as various characters takes time and energy that we have precious little of. It’s worth it, though. The arts promote creative thinking and problem solving, and they help to increase communication skills, as well as promoting a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Let’s take some time to share the arts with a child. Drama, poetry, ceramics, painting, dance: whatever you enjoy can be enjoyed with a child. I would encourage you to share your talents and interests with some special young person in your life. You will both benefit.

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Why Do I Write?

This was the question posed to my fourth grade students on their recent “Writing Motivation Survey.” It was in the form of an online poll, complete with twenty-eight questions that they were to rank on a 1-4 scale. It was required before they completed their annual district writing assessment.

Twenty-eight questions. They are nine years old. If I ask them why they write they will tell me things like, “I have to” or “I like writing because it’s fun” or “I like making up stories.” Those replies are perfectly appropriate for a nine year old. But twenty-eight questions? Too much.

Speaking of too much, there’s the assessment itself. In the old days we passed out a paper folder with a writing prompt on the front. It was one or two sentences long. We also passed out a check sheet that kids were to use for revision and editing purposes. Some used it, many did not. After they completed a rough draft they got a second paper folder for the final draft. It was a long process, and quite demanding, but appropriate to the age and grade level.

Times have changed, however. Now the kids get a copy of the scoring guideline, which is written for adults. Good thing we have access to it ahead of time so that we can teach them what it means. The test is now on the computer, which isn’t uncommon, but it does take quite a few more steps to get to than passing out a paper. They have to read through two dense pages of “how to use the tools” (again, we are able to do this ahead of time, thank goodness), before they even get to the prompt.

Ah, the prompt. It’s on the right side of the screen, with a related article on the left side. Remember the old one to two sentence prompt? That’s gone. Now there’s about 200 words of text they have to navigate before they can figure out what they’re supposed to write about. And am I allowed to read it to them or help them interpret it? Absolutely not. They are on their own (even though this is not a reading comprehension test, it’s a writing test).

The expectation is that they will then independently read the included article on the topic (again, no help is allowed) and incorporate information into their response. They also watch an informational video and take notes on it to include. Then they are to independently compose their piece, revise and edit it, and type it into the computer. Did I mention that they’re nine?

We try to prepare them for this task, but frankly it’s too much. Even if I could rewrite the prompt so that it’s easier to understand, even if I could choose a shorter, simpler article, even if I could read it to them, it’s too much. How often do you have to read text, view a video, and compose a piece of writing all in one sitting? And you’re an adult!

It’s a good thing they take the “Writing Motivation Survey” before this assessment, because afterward I don’t think too many of my kids were feeling very good about writing, and that’s terrible. I have to do damage control, and work hard to get them back to a place where they don’t hate to write. Tasks like this are discouraging to so many learners, even kids who are normally enthusiastic about writing.

I understand the value of being able to accomplish that type of task, but honestly for kids in the fourth grade it’s too much, too soon. Now we’ll take a few steps back, break down some of those writing tasks into smaller chunks, and tackle those. We’ll also go back to enjoying language and learning how to play with it.

fun-writingThe good new is that kids are flexible. They did it. They survived. They’ll move on. My creative writing club kids met yesterday afternoon, and they proved it to me. They wrote for thirty sustained minutes about planets they created based on their watercolor paintings from the previous session. We had poetry, a space explorer account, a newscast drama, descriptions of the unicorn planet, the rainbow planet, the basketball planet, and more. Now that’s a reason to write.