Monday was Halloween. It is absolutely my favourite real holiday of the year, even if I do greatly enjoy celebrating Australia Day (because it is my birthday) and Talk Like a Pirate Day (because it is silly and fun). We had our regular school-wide Halloween costume parade in the afternoon and classroom parties immediately following, but my students also had a pretty awesome experience in the morning that I have never been able to do with a class before.
We went with the two third grade classes and the other fourth grade class to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts for a half-day workshop with the Lyric Theatre at Illinois to learn about their production of the opera Hansel and Gretel. Many of the students knew the basic story, but this experience was unique in that we weren’t watching the show or an abbreviated version of it. Instead, the students got to work with cast members to learn about some of the dances, songs, and costume design.
It was really neat learning with my students about these aspects of opera, some of which I didn’t know before. (For example, Hansel and Gretel is written so that the parts can be played by anyone, regardless of gender. So the witch can be played by a male singer and Hansel can be played by a female singer.)
It was also fun to spend time with students I don’t normally get to see. Although we had four classes going, the Krannert Center folks asked us to divide the classes into three groups. Instead of trying to mix and match all four classes, the teacher coordinating the field trip suggested that my class divide evenly among the other three classes. As a result, I was with the other fourth grade class and a third of my own students. Even though we were only together for a few hours, I noticed today that many of the other fourth graders seem much more comfortable talking to me and approaching me with concerns.
Oh, and our Halloween party was pretty great, too: lots of goodies, lots of fun costumes, lots of chances to chat with my students in a more informal setting, and a few chances to talk with parents who weren’t able to make it to parent/teacher conferences last week.
All in all, Halloween 2017 was a great success! Now to convince Congress to declare November 1 a national holiday so that students don’t have to come to school the next day when they have likely eaten too much sugar and gotten too little sleep…
The other day I had the opportunity to accompany five Wiley students to the 39th annual Urbana School District Young Authors Celebration. I have written quite a bit about the Young Authors program in the past and continue to feel a great deal of gratitude that I get to work in a district that so thoroughly supports this program for our students in grade K-8.
During the celebration, we got to listen to a professional storyteller, Mama Edie, who told students that we are all storytellers: any time we come home from doing something and start off with, “Guess what?!” we are preparing to tell a story. I love telling stories. It is often the way that I introduce new topics in my classroom, whether it is fractions (talking about the time I messed up a recipe because I didn’t double the ingredients correctly), or early American history (the story of the Revolutionary War), I am always telling stories.
I also love listening to stories. My students have wonderful experiences and they rarely shy from telling them, no matter how silly or how serious they may be. I listen to podcasts as I bike to work so I can listen to the stories of other school leaders, I watch documentaries, television shows, and movies to listen to the stories others have to tell, and I surround myself with music to embrace those stories, too.
So it should be no surprise that, when given the opportunity, I find ways to let my students tell stories through their writing. Inspired by an activity I used at the Young Authors celebration yesterday, I had my students today engage in collaborative storytelling using Rory’s Story Cubes to start the stories.
Students broke up into groups of four and spread out in the room. Each group was given a sheet of paper, a pencil, and four random story cubes. Then they were given five minutes to start telling their stories. Every five minutes, they would rotate papers, read what the previous group wrote, and continue the story, using the story cubes if needed or just picking up where they left off. This provided a great way for them to tell stories together, have fun, and work on writing, all at once.
As students read each others’ stories, they began revising and editing, making corrections and clarifying confusing points. They supported one another and engaged in the writing process in a way that they don’t often do. While I won’t be able to do a writing activity like this every day, it was a great way to kick off the return of Mr. Valencic teaching writing. (My student teacher is finished on Friday and so we decided to transition back some instructional control to me today, starting with writing so that he wouldn’t start a new unit and have me finish.)
How have you engaged in collaborative storytelling? Do you find it valuable?
[NOTE: I started this post several weeks ago. but couldn’t get the photos to load and kept forgetting to finish. Sorry!]
When I first started teaching at Wiley Elementary School, I heard about a program the fifth graders got to participate in called KAM-WAM. Both fifth grade classes spent an entire week at the Krannert Art Museum on the University of Illinois campus, learning about and creating art. I admit it: I was jealous. The second year I was teaching, I continued to be jealous of this and wished that fourth graders could do something similar. During my third year, though, we finally got to do something with the Krannert Art Museum, too!
It wasn’t a week at the museum, but it was still awesome. We got to spend half a day at the museum. The students loved the experience and many of them excitedly brought their families back, many for the first time. The in 2015 we got to expand the program to a full day and KAM-BAM was born.
Wiley fourth graders recently participated in our third full day KAM-BAM with the art museum educators. We divided students into four groups and, after a brief overview of the day, the groups separated and spent the morning exploring, examining, and the discussing art in different exhibits throughout the art museum.
Following lunch in a classroom in the nearby Art and Design building, groups spent the afternoon creating artwork that was inspired by the exhibits they saw. One group repurposed materials to design drinking vessels of the future. Another group designed an exhibit to display items from the exhibit of decorative art. A third group created hidden messages in their artwork. The fourth group created fantastic creatures and told stories about their creatures.
We wrapped up the day by coming together as a large group and sharing with one another. It was an awesome day of art and discussion that gave students the opportunity to do things that they wouldn’t normally do. I left the Krannert Art Museum once again filled with awe at the amazing resources in our community and I hope that many, if not all, of our students will take advantage of these museums and performance spaces!
I love data. Really, I do. I find it incredibly valuable to look at data and interpret the story of what the numbers and facts represent. Data tell us so much about what a student is doing at a specific time, what is happening in a room or a school, and how students, teachers, administrators, and families are operating as a system. I love digging in deep and sifting through the massive amounts of collected data to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
A big component of data these days comes from standardised testing. There are many who thumb their noses at such assessments, rightfully arguing that not all students learn the same way or at the same rate, therefore testing them all the same way does not accurately tell us the whole picture. And I agree, especially with that last part: standardised tests should never be used to determine the whole picture. However, they do give us useful data about part of the picture and we can use that part of the picture to understand how some of the other components are working. Data drives instructional decisions and help us know what we need to do to help our students be successful.
But there are some things in a school setting that can’t be measured by hard data. There are some things that simply cannot be adequately measured, categorised, and tagged. I got a brief glimpse of this today as I went with my class, along with the other fourth grade class and both fifth grade classes, to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts to see and listen to a performance of by Black Violin. This performance was a part of the Krannert Center’s amazing Youth Series, which allows young people the opportunity to watch fantastic performances in a world-class facility for a very low cost. Black Violin, for those who have never heard of them, here’s a video that provides a great explanation of what they do:
For about an hour, our students got to listen to a performance that energised and excited them. I saw students standing up, clapping, singing along, cheering, and full of a pure joy that will never be captured by a standardised test.
And that’s okay. In fact, that is more than okay. It is wonderful! The thing I love most about taking my students to Youth Series performances is that I am able to see a completely different side to my students than I will never get to see in the classroom. The message that Kev and Wil shared is that we should be willing to break out of our boxes, defy stereotypes, and do the unexpected. Watching these two guys on the stage with their violins, playing a synthesis of classical music and hip-hop, is all about breaking stereotypes!
Thank you, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and Black Violin, for making it possible!
When I first started teaching at Wiley, I heard about an off-campus learning experience that our fifth graders got to do called KAM-WAM. This was an opportunity for the students to spend a week at the Krannert Art Museum, learning about art and history and literature and movement and light and so many other things. As part of this project, most of the students would be reading the book Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, Some of the students would read a similar book by Marianne Malone called The Sixty-Eight Rooms. This latter book floated in the background of my mind for several years until last year when I met the author at the Illinois Young Authors Conference in Bloomington. Hearing her talk about the book and some of the processes involved in writing it piqued my interest and I purchased a copy (which I also got autographed, of course).
As with so many other books, this went on my To Be Read pile by my bed but then stayed there for months as new books went on top and other obligations got in the way. I finally read it this summer and quite thoroughly enjoyed it. This is the first in a series of books that incorporate a theme of magic in modern days along with interesting art history.
What I found most intriguing in this story was the incorporation of the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. I have only been to the Art Institute once in my entire life but now I very much want to go again so I can visit the exhibit and share in the wonder of the miniature rooms that Mrs. James Ward Thorne created to represent, on a scale of one inch to one foot, everyday life from Europe and America.
The characters from this story are equally compelling and I found myself wanting to cheer when they solved a problem, hug them when challenges were overcome, and laugh when they shared secret jokes that, as a reader, I was in on.
If I ever have the opportunity to bring a class to the Art Institute of Chicago, I will make sure that they have read this book first and come to the exhibit prepared to question, to wonder, and to observe. And if I am unable to bring my students to the Art Institute, I would find a way to bring the Art Institute to them!