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Nikki Grimes’ Golden Shovel

6 Aug

Poet Terrance Hayes is credited with inventing Golden Shovel poetry. When you write a Golden shovel poem, you take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire, and, maintaining their order, use each word as an end word in your poem.

Poet Nikki Grimes has taken this strategy and written a beautiful homage to the Harlem Renaissance in One Last Word. 

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Publisher’s Summary: In this collection of poetry, Nikki Grimes looks afresh at the poets of the Harlem Renaissance — including voices like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and many more writers of importance and resonance from this era — by combining their work with her own original poetry. Using “The Golden Shovel” poetic method, Grimes has written a collection of poetry that is as gorgeous as it is thought-provoking.

This special book also includes original artwork in full-color from some of today’s most exciting African-American illustrators, who have created pieces of art based on Nikki’s original poems. Featuring art by: Cozbi Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, Nikki Grimes, E. B. Lewis, Frank Morrison, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, Shadra Strickland, and Elizabeth Zunon.

A foreword, an introduction to the history of the Harlem Renaissance, author’s note, poet biographies, and index makes this not only a book to cherish, but a wonderful resource and reference as well.

Books of poetry rarely win Newbery medals, but this one is certainly in the running, although I wonder of the presence of the Harlem Renaissance poems disqualifies it. regardless, Grimes’ book bring artists and writers of the period to a new audience and addresses tough issues that persist.

The Case of the Anonymous Commenter

25 Apr

They don’t teach handwriting analysis or crime scene investigation in teachers college. Those are skills good teachers just pick up along the way.

I had to call on these superpowers last week in The Case of the Anonymous Commenter.

You see, we have a classroom tradition. At the end of a writing unit everyone displays their finished product and students wander the classroom, take a seat and read a person;s paper. When they have finished reading they make a positive comment that acknowledges a move the writer has made. After reading and commenting on one piece, they get to take two cookies.

We like to splurge when we celebrate writing.

The kids know the rules: Sign your actual name. Comment on the moves. No ‘suggestions’ or criticism.

Well, last Tuesday, we celebrated the end of our sci-fi mini unit. The room had a minty scent because I bought mint Oreos. What I really wanted to buy was alien head cookies at a bakery, but, with 600 6th graders in two classes, that was not in the budget. Minty Oreos, green like alien heads, were. In any case, students were milling around absorbed in the creativity of their peers, munching their Oreos. It was good. All too soon, it was time to wrap things up.

“When you finish the story you are reading,” I announced in my best Lt. Uhura voice, “please return to your seat and take a few minutes to look over the comments you have received. When you have finished reading the comment, staple them to you paper, turn it into the basket, and take your break. ”

I looked around the room monitoring student behavior. A quiet girl came up to me, her paper in hand.

“Someone didn’t sign their name,” she said, concern in her voice.” They just put anonymous.”

I looked at the paper. Indeed, someone had signed something other than their name, for written on the line for a name, was  “anonomous”. Interestingly, the comment was actually quite complimentary. It turned out she was not the only recipient of  an anonymous comment.

Break buzzed with the mystery of who the anonymous commenter might be. I overheard a conversation and knew which papers to start with to solve the mystery.

When the students returned from break, they got started on their Social Studies project while I got to work sleuthing. I took the stack of papers from the basket and found the ones with Anonomous’ comments. All in the same handwriting. Then, I looked through the others, paying special attention to the one belonging to the name I’d overheard at break. Sure enough, there was a match. In fact, he used some of the same words in his comments, anonymous and signed. I had him. The funny thing was, all of his comments were kind and supportive. I didn’t really understand why he hadn’t signed his name.

While the class worked, I sauntered over to his table feeling like Miss Marple must, just before cracking a case. I crouched beside the boy and simply asked, “Are you Anonymous?”

He reddened and spluttered, “Yes, but…. I….” and didn’t really know how to excuse his crime. I complimented him on his comments, reminded him that he should always sign his own name, then I slipped him a sticky note.

“By the way, ” I said, a smile on my face. “This is the correct way to spell anonymous.

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The Great Antonio

5 Jan

I haven’t written about picture books much, mostly because, as a middle school teacher now, they don’t really fall into my purview. Many titles come across my book feeds and a few have captured my interest, either because of the subject or because someone thinks they seem Caldecott worthy. The end of a year brings out many “best”  book lists and there are only 18 days until ALA’s Youth Media Awards.

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A picture book that can’t win the Caldecott (because the author/illustrator is Canadian) is Elise Gravel’s The Great Antonio.

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Publisher’s Summary: What made the Great Antonio so great? He weighed as much as a horse; he once wrestled a bear; he could devour twenty-five roast chickens at one sitting. In this whimsical book, beloved author and illustrator Elise Gravel tells the story of Antonio Barichievich, the larger-than-life strongman who had muscles as big as his heart.

The Great Antonio was a real person, who lived in Montreal. Gravel’s biography reads like a tall tale and celebrates Antonio’s quirkiness. The type style and illustrations bear witness to real feats he accomplished.

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The Great Antonio is published by Toon books, who specialize in beginning readers. Their website for the book offers a teacher’s guide that teaches young readers about biographies and autobiographies and shows students how to examine the boundaries between fact and fantasy and create an autobiographical world of their own!

A great addition to beginning biography unit.

Second birthday

18 Oct

It’s Dad’s second birthday since he passed away.

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We are doing a mini unit on personal essays in sixth grade and today we are quick writing some micro stories, and lists (tight and extended).  I thought I’d try some of these strategies talking about my dad.

Microstory 1:

We weren’t a family that prayed at meals, except on special occasions. Because we weren’t a family that prayed at meals my father developed a strategy for  a successful grace. Before the meal he would write the grace on a slip of paper. Then, he would bring it to the meal and slip it under the edge of his plate . When all heads were bowed, he’d slip the paper closer and read the text.

Tight List 1:

My dad loved crossword puzzles, his children’s education, and a cool beer on a hot day.

Extended list 2:

My dad loved doing the crossword puzzle and always had one affixed  to his clipboard, next to his mechanical pencil and extendable eraser. My dad took an interest in our education, expecting us to do our best and asking questions about what we were learning. My dad loved to sit on the back deck sipping a cool beer on a hot day, admiring his backyard.

Microstory 2: 

In grade 6, my dad essentially made our science fair project. My twin sister and I were partners and Dad suggested we make a telegraph. We spent several hours with him, down in his workshop where he cut tin and wire. We watched as he nailed and screwed the  parts together. Finally, when it was finished, we got to test it out. He’d made the wires extra long, so you could send morse code from one room to another. We got an A.

Tight List 2:

My dad was an excellent electrician, gardener, and chef.

Extended List 2:

My dad was an excellent electrician and handy man who could build or fix anything. My dad was an excellent gardener who grew orchids inside and roses outside. My dad was an excellent chef who didn’t mind doing the dishes afterwards.

Before sitting down to write these, I hadn’t intended to share these with my students. I think I might, now. I can use these as models of the ideas, before I show how to apply the strategies to the topic I’ve chosen for my personal essay.

It’s National Poetry Month!

7 Apr

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I’m, a little behind, finally getting around to talking about National Poetry Month here on the 6th. Better late than never, right?

I came across a gem this week. Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poetry by Bob  Raczka.

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If you have ever tried to write concrete poetry, you know how hard it is to do really well. Bob Raczka is a master, and this book proves it. This book has 21 poems that play with the form and well as the title.

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With topics as diverse as mazes, dominoes, pencil erasers, and the subway, each of the poems makes the reader smile and think. No matter how old the reader, there is something here for everyone.

Some cold humor

30 Mar

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Last week I was in the pink,

Today I am coming down with something.

Last week, I was right as rain,

Today, I am under the weather.

Last week I was as fit as a fiddle,

Today I am as pale as a ghost.

Last week I was the picture of health,

Today I am at death’s door.

Last week I was alive and kicking,

Today I am running a fever.

Last week I was on top of the world,

Today I have one foot in the grave.

This week I took a turn for the worse,

Next week, I hope I am over the worst.

I asked for it

11 Mar

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On Monday, I gave the students in my Humanities class time for a free write. One or two groaned, but most cheered. I teach the gifted and they are always complaining that they never get to write their own stuff.

I wandered the room, helping a few kids get started then went to sit and write myself. I wanted to try writing a Villanelle poem. They appear simple but are actually quite tricky. I got lost in what I was doing, but the kids were writing away quietly. I had a writing time frame in mind and as the deadline approached, I put my writing away and wandered the room. There was lots of what you’d expect from gifted 6th graders.

And then there was THAT ONE.

He’d spent the whole time writing, but it was what he wrote that caught my eye. The title at the top of his page was Why I Hate Humanities.  Gut punch. I tried to read more, but couldn’t. Fortunately, as a veteran teacher, I have developed some stealthy spy skills. While the kids were working on their Mesopotamia group project, I snuck over to his seat and took a peek. His biggest complaint was that Humanities was 2 hours long and that it was “even more boring than Math”. He also did not enjoy the group project we were working on. Okay. Nothing about me personally. He’d gone on to write a second personal essay entitled Why I Hate Enrichment. Enrichment is a required reading class for everyone and part of the elective cycle. I didn’t get a chance to read that one, but I saw the student adding to that page later on. Apparently he hates it more than my class because he was onto a second page. Ouch.

I didn’t take it personally. Like most teachers, I work hard, teach my heart out, and strive to become better at my profession. I know a lot of kids love my class, but I am not so naive that I think they all do. So, I will keep on doing what I’m doing and keep on learning. I don’t suppose I will ever see Why I Love Humanities  in that boy’s writer’s notebook, but I will teach as though I might.

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