Some days it all clicks.
Some days I am reminded of the frustrations involved in teaching...
Some days I am reminded of the reasons I love what I do...
Some days everything just seems to fall into place...
One of my primary jobs, at least in my own mind, is fostering creativity in my students. In today's climate, where so much of education seems to be pushing us toward making sure students can choose the right letter on a bubble test, this is more important than ever.
Certain assignments that I use from year to year do a better job in this area than others. One of my favorites is having students read maggie and milly and molly and may by e.e. cummings. We read it a few times, and then I dump a horribly open ended task in their laps. Based on JUST the tiny clues left for us in the poem, students need to write a short paragraph describing each girl.
Inevitably, the panic level in the room rises.
"How is that possible, Mrs. Selke?"
"What do we need to tell about them?"
I deflect their questions back at them as much as I can. I try to stay out of their process, and keep repeating a simple refrain,
"As long as what you are saying fits that one little poem clue in YOUR own mind, then you are right."
Creating these character sketches always requires me to do a lot of calming. I remind them that I only want to see that they can build something, someone, from a tiny glimpse. I reassure them that each person in the room will be creating a child who is distinctly different from those created by their classmates - and that IT IS OKAY. More than okay, it is what I expect.
I refuse to allow them to chat, or share, before everyone is done. Otherwise, you know what would happen - one kid figures out a way to answer the question and then EVERYONE'S "maggie" sounds the same.
My students had been working on this assignment for a while in my classroom. I only see them twice a week, so it can take a bit of time to get it done. Finally, they were all done. I collected them and sat down to read. Would they have risen to the challenge, or had their anxiety over such an open ended assignment stymied them?
I was thrilled, to say the least, by their responses. So thrilled, in fact, that I asked their permission to recollect their work after our discussion so that I could share some snippets here with you. (Please forgive the lack of capitalization in some of their responses. Since that is how e.e. wrote, I told them to feel free to do the same.)
Connections to other text: (We had just read Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli)
may is like stargirl in the fact that she is very one with the universe. As archie said, "She may be more in tune with a tree than a keyboard"
milly likes to be happy, likes things that are happy, and likes to see people happy. milly reminds me of stargirl. At the beach milly finds a lonely starfish, but makes him happy and they become friends.
may... sees things differently than others. She reminds me of Charles Wallace from A Wrinkle in Time. When may went to the beach she found a smooth stone, The others thought it was just a stone, but may saw something else in it.
Seeing the future of the characters:
Milly is friendly. She could be a nurse, because the star was stranded. May finds mental treasure like wisdom. She might be a scholar or historian.
Milly loves animals. She especially likes sea animals. She wants to be a marine biologist.
Hobbies of the characters:
Milly is the perky gal of the group. Her favorite activity is volunteering for Red Cross. Molly is very adventurous and she loves to take risks. Her favorite activity is sky diving.
Taking a risk in style:
One student asked if he could write as if the character herself were speaking. Like I would say "no"? It was a fabulous idea, though I wondered if he could pull it off. As I read his responses, the first few just didn't have the detail I was hoping to see. Still, I was encouraged by his willingness to take that kind of risk. Then I read his response as Molly:
I hate nature! All the natural noise and commotion, quite frankly I've had it up to here with all this "Molly, go outside", and "Molly, it's beautiful out!" All I want to do is sit down in the basement and play video games. And guess what? I was chased by a tsunami today! How fun. As I said before, I hate nature!How fun, right? I made sure that I pointed out in our group discussion how please I was by the fact that he took a unique spin on the assignment, and that I could tell he got into the swing of the style. I was so proud of him!
Sometimes we have to take risks as teachers. That risk can be as simple as an assignment with little guidance. I know scaffolding is important, but I believe sometimes we scaffold the creativity and voice right out of our students. Every once in a while, just push them out of the nest. Then stand back and smile when you see them start to fly.
I'm participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by the amazing educators at Two Writing Teachers. Stop by to see what others are posting!
Also - if you stop by and comment, and you are also slicing - PLEASE feel free to include your URL in the comments. With over 200 people slicing, it is often hard to go find your specific link on the Two Writing Teachers page, and I'd love to come read YOUR slice too!