Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Cleveland Elementary School Day 8 teaching notes: Hands, journal

We began our class a little late because I could not get online via Zoom for the longest time. No matter that I had tried to join too early which thoroughly confused Zoom. That was OK because Ms. Loser was talking with the kids as to how she spent her weekend, and how she would spend her Easter break. I realized that these normalizing moments are important. That led to a segue into April Fool’s Day. 

I asked them what they thought April Fool’s Day was all about. We got some interesting answers. I told them that during Roman times, the beginning of the year was in spring which was in March, and April 1 was sort of an extra holiday where people could clown around and do silly things. I said that in the medieval world, about 1200 years later, the court jester could actually be king for a day, and people could change places, step outside of their normal roles—usually this happened before Lent. I asked students if they had ever played an April Fool’s Day trick on anyone. Some kids told me what they planned to do which was quite funny as it usually involved fooling their parents.

Because Mr. Grant wasn’t with us last week I use the opportunity as a teaching moment, to have the students recap what we did last week by telling to Mr. Grant. Recall. Cameron gave a really good synopsis: he told Mr. Grant how we wrote about odes, which were small songs to ordinary everyday things, and we included what it reminded them of, their feelings, and memories. I asked them, did they write the poem from the point of view of their object, or were they speaking about it? They agreed, they were talking about it. We were discussing narrative, and the idea that sometimes an object itself could speak. I suggested that they might want to try having an object tell a story during Freewrite.

We yoga stretched, we breathed deep, we shook out our hands, we made starfish hand, and we made moose antlers. And I told them that making moose antlers was a visual sign to cue your audience in that you were going to change the subject and say something completely different. I was secretly leading them up to today’s lesson plan. So we wrote for five minutes. I said they could write about anything they want to as long as they used comparisons and strong imagery. I said, you could go back and revisit an old lesson, you could write from the point of view of your object telling you a story, or you could even choose a different object to write about. But Freewrite was like warming up before a soccer game. I said if you get stuck you can write down I don’t know what to write about and see what else comes up. I wrote: 

I am writing as fast as I can, 
moose antlers, change the subject, 
starfish hands, twinkle star hands, 
hands that speak of things unseen, 
giving voice to the moon, 
the silence of stars, the stars that hunger for the night, 
last night’s worm moon, why worm moon anyway? 
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out. 
Pinochle, a card game I don’t know. 
Resurrection. The past. 
April Fool’s Day coming up on the  horizon. 
Oh what fools these mortals be? 
They come and they go, like Michelangelo. 
My mind is a radio receiver from deep space nine. 
Who is watching all those Jackie Gleason reruns 
in the Andromeda galaxy anyway, and why? 
We have landed on Mars, a barren desert of a place, 
drier than the Sahara, drier than a volcano’s dream.

Since kids were a little shy about sharing, I suggested they use the chat box and paste their best one-liner into the chat box, then I compiled their lines into a group poem. If they sent me a poem via direct message I could give them complement verbally, but not read it aloud if they didn’t want to share with the class.

You smell delightful like the morning after it rains.
Fox fur as orange as fire
Last night’s worm moon crawled out of the darkness.
In the Redwoods there could be a Sasquatch.
The beautiful smell of ocean breeze
Rain clouds are like sadness but the sun is happiness
I am the sun shining in the air
Giving sunlight to the world
and bringing happiness to the world
so everyone stay healthy as me
Zoom is like a cage that lets me see the world
and never really experience it fully.
the whirlpool of dark seas of rage
I have nothing at all to say
Covid is like being home
and exercising is like outdors
reading is like watching tv from a tree
still nothing is coming to me
The sound of page flipping that seeks my attention.

Ms. Loeser’s awesome 4th grade class poem from Chatbox

Today’s lesson was about hands, I went back to the idea of the moose antler explaining that we use it as a silly secret code when we were changing the subject. I asked,  did you know that hands can speak? Then I did some sign language. Very simple stuff, things like crazy. I signed the song, I love a rainy night. I made hearts. Kids also signed back to me showing me what they knew of hand language. I told them the old Italian joke: how you can keep an Italian quiet? You tie their hands behind their back so they can’t speak. I said just try talking to someone sometime without using your hands. See how it goes.  

Our hands are very expressive and they have their own language, and yes there is real sign language, but our hand gestures are an automatic thing that we do without thinking. Our hands are another form of communication. Today’s lesson is about giving our hands voice beginning with the idea of If. 
If my hands could speak, then what would happen?

I gave them five different line ideas and I asked for five separate sentences for all the five fingers. We threw in a little bit about digits. Some people actually have six digits instead of five. Ms. Loeser said that during biology they learned about dactyls. I told them the story of how I visited Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West, and all the six-toed cats everywhere. And even seven-toed cats!

One thing neat about using the chatbox as they posted their lines and poems, I was able to give them direct verbal feedback.

I wrote: 
if my hands could dream, 
they’d dream of cumulus clouds 
blooming over the ocean at sunset. 
If they could fly, they would become 
the wild birds riding the currents, 
and the jet streams to another realm. 

I didn’t get a chance to finish that poem fragment because I wanted to make sure we had enough writing time. I took the one liners that they had and reposted it as a singular poem. So they could see how each contribution added to the whole. It’s hard to teach, to multitask, and to write all at once.

Part two drawing. I asked each student to get a scrap paper and a pencil, a Sharpie, or felt tip pen, and their art paper. As they gathered supplies, I wondered how I could possibly pull off the drawing component. Well, necessity, the mother of invention and all that, it dawned on me when I realized I had no way to show them how to do this part of the drawing assignment, that the iPad I had set up so I could see the class, I could tilt down and focus on my hands drawing while I talked directly to them using my computer for my main zoom. How many Zoom accounts does it take for me to teach? Two.

I quickly sketched with a pencil outlining my hands and I talked about how when I went over it with a Sharpie, I could put rings on my fingers, I could put fingernails on, and I could put knuckle wrinkles. But more than anything, I needed to fill my hand with a story—the story of my past, my present, and my future. Imagined future. Secret life. I later shared a worksheet, or rather a symbol dictionary with them to work from. I said the hand drawing will be their homework over the Easter break. I asked that they only use black pen, and not color anything in, as these drawings would probably become illustrations for our poetry book.  

After Spring break, I would like to follow up this lesson with Ofrendas or gift offerings of the hands. And also the Dorianne Laux poem about the heart. We are moving into the body of poetry.

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