Tuesday, September 12, 2017

4th Grade Communications Sets Sail!

My new crop of 4th graders and I met this morning.
We'll meet weekly, on Tuesdays, first thing. Here is a snapshot of what we did today and a bit about what lies ahead. After all, not only the students are new to this, but parents and some teachers are, too!

We always open with calisthenics ... but in this case, for the brain not the body (although we'll occasionally dance the polka, perhaps). These warm-ups are teamwork, although we make sure to make room for solo THINKING before sharing. This morning, for example, we played around with Runny Babbit phrases (you know, that billy sook by Shel Silverstein) as well as with solving some anagrams.

After that, I introduced them to their NQQ notebooks. This stands for Nibbling, Quarreling, and Quantum physics. Just kidding! Notes, Quotes, and Questions. Each week, I ask that each student bring a note or a quote or a question. This can be ANYthing at all, even a favorite word. This sets the table with contributions from our many voices. This is the only "official homework," and, as I explained to the kids, it might take you half an hour a week, or two minutes!

We then watched a short video: Wind and Mr. Ug.
What sort of world is this?
It's life ... on a Möbius Strip!
Next week, we'll create our own Infinity Worlds and story go-rounds.

Which reminds me: we're conducting an ongoing investigation into the nature of time. This should take us a while! Maybe you will have some dinner table conversations?

I had a quote up on the board from Kierkegaard: The moment is not properly an atom of time, but an atom of eternity." As a student exclaimed, "This makes so much sense!"
Quotes from this morning's discussion with kids include:

  • A moment is an atom of now. (Antonio)
  • Time is a rhythm with no beat. (Jay)
  • Time is a song with no melody. (Emma)
How fortunate I am to spend time with such philosophers.

Up ahead lies so much. I think of it as an archipelago of possibility, for I do like to tailor these meetings to what the students seem to be most excited about. We will probably read that classic wordplay book, The Phantom Tollbooth
We'll write, think, and read every week. Sometimes, the work will be related to classroom activities. Much of the time, we'll exist in a separate but related universe.

I hope to blog about us with relative frequency, but please feel free to be in touch if you have questions or comments, ANY time. (I will often email when a new blogpost is up, but feel free to subscribe, esp. if you do not mind viewing what other grades are doing.)

If you wish to visit GT Instructional Support, click here.
Ms. Agell's teacher page is here.
My author/illustrator site is here. I'm always working on something or other, and am happy to report that Scholastic will release a picture book of mine in 2019.

For now, best wishes for a happy early fall!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Altered Books from 7th Grade!

The 7th Graders altered some books....can you detect some themes? A book might stab you in the heart, it might fill you with music, it might make a movie in your brain. Our final unit was very conceptual! Please scroll through.
Note: All books were destined for the dump. They were RESCUED for the purposes of becoming art.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spring Sprang Sprung

The snow lies heavy but the new daylight dazzles! Spring is ... trying.
Hello from the end of March....
What's been going on in groups?
Below is the micro-version!
Read it all for context, or just scroll to the grade level of your child:

The Communications group is reading The Phantom Tollbooth and being mightily inspired (in our own writing) with how Norton Juster plays with language. The group has also provided great feedback to a middle grade chapter book I am writing and drawing. Such editors! Our conversations about plot and character seem very real.
Before School Writing Club, Philosophy Club, and a Wrinkle in Time group round out my 4th grade involvement.

Wisdom from the Whiteboard...gr. 4: Love is gross when your parents kiss

In further YES news:
I visit 2nd grade rooms during "Second Grade Hour," focusing on literacy, and also often collaborating with Chaké Higgison on literacy with art extensions. From our museum visits to mix-n-match flipbooks, the emphasis is on making note of DETAILS.

I visit each 3rd grade room weekly, to offer open-ended writing and verbal thinking challenges. This means I have a large number of third grade penpals!

With second grade teacher Carli Page-Redmann, I am also about to spearhead a drive on behalf of the amazing bookfairy pantry project. After all, the soul can starve as surely as the body! More on that soon.

Some fifth graders have compiled the results of the survey they sent out on behalf of our Poem Booth. Many (122!) responded. Do you know what the most poetic season is considered to be? Word? Place? Number? Analyzing this, particularly in poetry form, is fun.
We are about to start that annual project, The Insider's Guide to HMS (written by 5th graders for future 5th graders). The Communications kids not only write articles but also serve as editors for incoming articles.

From the Whiteboard, gr. 5: A conversation begins (dragons are popular)

The sixth graders are deep into culture research. Different cultures do things so differently. Why? And can a cultural lens be applied to investigating literary genres, for example: SciFi? We read an article from The Economist's sister magazine, 1843, called Folding Meanings. How do young Chinese writers use science fiction to criticize aspects of their society? Why do they do this? What is censorship?

Seventh graders are nearing the end of Hesse's Witness (see last blogpost). This is the first year I've read this book during which I've brought in local articles about current KKK activity for us to discuss. The work feels extra meaningful. What is racism? WHY? How do people's minds open and close?

Besides finishing up Godless (see last blogpost), 8th graders have been serving as adjunct editorial staff for our literary magazine, reading and rating submissions (and there are a LOT of them). Next up: students write parody, compose sonnets, and soon enough the 8th Grade Civil Rights unit will bring us plenty of opportunity for extensions.

It's an honor to be co-facilitator of the HMS Civil Rights Team. The HMS blog has charted some of CRT efforts, including a "labels" activity. What does calling someone a name say about the name caller?

Fifth and Sixth Grade Writing Clubs continue to meet monthly. Student writers from any HMS grade are encouraged to see me after school on (most) Wednesdays, if they would like 1:1 time.

On a final note, it was gratifying to attend the annual Scholastic Writing Awards night at which HMS had a strong showing. I feel so fortunate to work in a district that so promotes writing.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Year of the Mooster!

Welcome to nearly February! We've recently ushered in two new calendar years, of two different flavors.

In attempting to draw a rooster, in honor of the Chinese Lunar New Year, I realized that I was rebranding it as a mooster! Cross-pollination seems so emblematic of what we do in GT instructional support that I decided to go with it! I hope 2017 and (and The Mooster) bring you and your family health and happiness ... and the chance to think outside the box.

Below are notes about what each grade level has been up to lately. Thanks to the many of you who responded to a recent GT survey that Bob Gross and I crafted. It's clear that informing you on particular units and activities needs to be more of a priority!
Please note that GT instructional support is often quite individualized (especially for writers!). One of the best sources of information is your own child. That said, please reach out to me any time you may have a question or a comment. I'm at HMS on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. I'm at YES on Tuesdays. Fridays is not a district day for me, but I am often on email. Charlotte_Agell@yarmouthschools.org

So, what's up?

4th graders have been focused on individual writing work, including hammering away at my 1970's manual typewriter. The recent Spirit Series stole some of my students away for a few weeks (alas, the snow day eclipsed my chance of SEEING these fine productions!). The two remaining students worked on Letters About Literature, a National Humanities Council contest about how a book changed ones life. We sent these letters also to the authors of these books. Guess what? Soman Chainani wrote back! As usual, we do plenty of word game warm-ups. Starting this week, we'll have the full group back and will venture into that classic wordplay of a novel, A Phantom Tollbooth. Will Rhyme and Reason prevail?

5th graders meet in two different small groups, and they do slightly different things. From inventing their own schools, complete with sorting-hat sorts of activities to determine "houses," to reading and discussing short stories, to working on creative NON-fiction (in honor of their classroom focus on the essay), the periods pass very quickly. As usual, I am able to see more of those students pursuing and sharing their own creative writing as we meet "on the doc" and outside of time, somehow.

6th graders, in honor of our ongoing "evolution of language" unit, have recently read the famous "All the World's a Stage" soliloquy from Shakespeare's As You Like It
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts....
Student variations have been amusing, witty and wise.... At the moment, we are are reading Amy Tan's amazing short story about an young Chinese chess prodigy. The Rules of the Game has so many relevant themes, from immigrants to geniuses, dealing with parents to strategizing about longterm outcomes.
7th graders are in the middle of reading Karen Hesse's brilliant book, Witness. It takes place in the 1920's in a small Vermont town. What happens when the KKK comes to town? We're doing this piece as readers' theater and the tone and discussions are highly expressive. This comes on the heel of a poetry focus and, as always, many word game warm-ups.
8th graders are in the middle of the National Book Award winning novel, Pete Hautman's Godless. What happens when a high school kid invents his own religion and some of his peers take him too seriously? We've had the chance to discuss all sorts of themes thanks to this book, which isn't so much about religion as about community and peer pressure and belonging. Classic quotes are playing a role in our discussions. For example:
So long as man remains free, he strives for nothing so incessantly and and so painfully as to find someone to worship.
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
These are just thumbnails of projects. 
How I wish you could be a fly on the wall!
Please do be in touch if you'd like more specific information on the instructional support your child receives.

Note below: GT Instructional Support below Gr. 4 and above Gr. 8 does not generally feature any pullout groups. I see all 2nd graders during "Second Grade Hour" and offer "Challenge by Choice" to all 3rd graders. Individual high school students may do independent studies with me, pending administrative approval. 

Please see our website for more details, or if you have never visited and are curious about resources! Just click on Chapter 104 - GT in the middle of the I.S. line-up.

On a final note, I'm delighted to announce that I just landed a book contract with Scholastic for a picture book, currently titled Elba & Norris (and field tested, last year, on the entire third grade). I'm particularly delighted since my 13th book contract comes after years of various projects and rejections. 
I feel fortunate to work in an environment that cares so much about writing and that believes so truly in fostering grit. I'm very glad that I did not give up on not giving up!
The book won't be illustrated by me (oh well) and isn't due out until the spring of 2019. (These things happen in glacial time.) Still, I am frolicking!
May joyful things happen to you all!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving Thoughts

The snow dusting the ground, the short week ... it's that time of year - Thanksgiving!
I am truly thankful to be writing to you from room 104. It's a room in which metaphor flourishes and thoughts are so lateral that they practically defenestrate themselves.

All groups are used to warm-ups when they come in the room. Often, these are think/write/debate sorts of warm-ups. Lately, for example, we've been playing with questions like these:

  • Which is more tranquil: Area or Perimeter?
  • Which is more fragile: Diameter or Circumference?
And oh, the various approaches! Mathematical, lyrical, visual, whimsical....
We reason, we try to convince others. We listen. We revisit our opinions. We write some more.

Below is a snapshot of some things that various grade groups have undertaken, or are in the midst of exploring:

5 - We've been experimenting with metaphor, as an extension of classroom work in figurative language. How did the Reverend Martin Luther King use metaphor? Can we tuck metaphor into our verbs? Here is a link to the Family Travel Haiku site, featuring some of our metaphor haiku (along with droll editorial comments). We've also had fun dabbling with designing our own ideal schools, architecturally and philosophically, inspired by this Japanese Design Team's notion: some amount of danger is crucial to growing up. One group has also played with Möbius strips, along the lines of Wind and Mr. Ug (a fine video by a young mathematician). Ask your child to explain! Students are always encouraged to work on their personal projects in writing, with a dash of art. 

6 - In our quest to understand the evolution of language, we are investigating many things. (Does "survival of the fittest" apply to words? What's up with our diminished vocabulary these days?) Some fun resources include The Three Little Pigs recited in Shakespearean English (more or less) as well as an attempt at "translating" Lewis Carroll's classic Jabberwocky, with some help from Alice and Humpty in Through the Looking Glass. (Yes, Robert Frost, poetry IS what's lost in translation!). Many of the students are hard at work on independent writing projects, too.

7 - Are these The Fifty Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature? Well, that's debatable, so ... why not debate it? What's your favorite in the list? Why? Can you add your own top sentences? What even makes a sentence "good" anyway? Seventh graders are experimenting with poetry. A fine, inspirational site is this one, Poetry 180 (set up by Billy Collins, way back when he was U.S. poet laureate), but there is poetic inspiration everywhere. Also on our table are the Genius Hour projects. 
Some students may be working on "solutionary" projects, with their work and advocacy traveling on to a forum at USM. More on that later!

8 -  Our focus is on writing, revising, and submitting work for consideration beyond the classroom. Some venues are the thematically based, internationally read magazine KidSpirit, the Scholastic writing competitions, and our very own literary magazine, Legenda. Students are also undertaking MUGsX, an independent orchestrated grammar and usage exploration, based on such treasured sources as The Elements of Style, as well as online resources. We're just beginning to read Pete Hautman's National Book Award Winner, Godless. From the author's site: Godless is not about God. It doesn't weigh in on the existence or nature of a Supreme Being. It is not about which religion is the truest, or the best. It's about how people--teenagers in particular--deal with the questions that arise when their faith has been shaken.

Please let me know if you have questions or comments.

I am at HMS on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
I am at YES on Tuesdays.

Very best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving!

Charlotte Agell

What is the opposite of Dreaming? Of mushrooms? Of stars?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Woosh Goes Autumn

Welcome to Footnotes from Room 104. This (overdue!) post is for you, parents of new 4th graders. Outside the window, leaves are dancing in the wind. Inside our tiny, happy YES classroom, pencils are dancing on the page.

It's such a pleasure to work with your 4th grader, every Tuesday. The agenda on the board always includes a warm-up, NQQ, and an activity. Ask your child what NQQ stands for!
Today is October 25th (!). We started with a stanza from Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer's Night Dream:
You spotted snakes with double tongue,
Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong;
Come not near our fairy queen.
What is the rhyme scheme? How about the rhythm? The writing challenge was for us each to write a small poem of our own, warding off danger of some sort or other. We always have a group writing challenge, as well as some free choice.
Recently, we went outside to harvest autumnal imagery in our notebooks. We then put this to use in writing seasonal haiku. Each of the children is now published! Please ask your child to show you this work, along with the spiffy editorial comments, on this website, Family Travel Haiku.

Each class session provides us with a chance to really focus, and also to digress; whether we're discussing synesthesia, clichés, or working on inventing archeological tidbits using the "hatbox," engagement is the rule. A common criticism of our work together is "there's not enough time." Still, we squeeze in what we can, and writing (and drawing!) notebooks mean that work can continue independently, according to each student's wishes. As a writer, I keep notebooks everywhere, including my very own NQQ version.

There's so much to tell, but for now, ask your child about our work together. Maybe you'll hear about our venerable typewriter....

Note: Room 104 (the inspiration for this blog's title) is the number of our Middle School classroom, and - coincidentally - Chapter 104 is the law that governs Gifted Instructional Support here in the state of Maine! For more information on that and other programmatic details, please visit our district GT site, nestled under Instructional Support!)

For more information on me, please visit my teacher page.
I look forward to seeing many of you at the annual GT Open House (tentatively scheduled for January 18th - more on that to come!)
If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to email me!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Notes from the Pink Moon

Snow is back on the ground, but that doesn't mean it isn't spring!
April's Pink Moon - also known as the Egg Moon, the Sprouting Grass Moon, and the Fish Moon - is already waning.

The end of the school year is doing that funny thing where it ramps up and up and up. It's as if we are ascending to the highest height of the roller coaster, just before we plummet so very suddenly to the end.
The view from up here is glorious!

Here is a quick look at some recent highlights and routines....

My YES Tuesdays start with 4th grade before school writing club. A devoted group of writers comes in early for writing prompts, literary games, and a chance to sit down at the venerable typewriter!

Each week, I'm in a second grade room for a full hour of art and writing. I visit all third grade rooms with new "Challenge by Choice" activities weekly and work with a few third graders on the side. Fourth grade features a Communications group, a recess science club, as well as a small poetry group. The day flies!


5th Grade groups have been pursuing their own writing, punctuated (and perhaps galvanized?) by group writing prompts. Some of the students have been in charge of the School Haiku Board, with its seasonal display....We've also embarked on a "poetry in unexpected places" mission, in honor of poetry month (although the Poem Booth would argue that EVERY month is poetry month).

6th Graders are working at the sentence level. Can we take the same ingredients (a very basic sentence) and end up in vastly different regions? Yes. We've experimented with many writing prompts. Students are sharing many works in progress. I've found myself confessing that I, someone who grew up to be a professional writer, most often started things when I was young. Perhaps that's still true. Some things deserved to be finished, of course, but experimenting - with voice, with tone, with plot -  is the most important. (Fun fact: the average novel takes 2-10 years.) 
N.B. When we get frustrated, we allow ourselves to forage in the Shakespearean Insult Kit and to fume aloud - Thou errant knotty-pated knave! 

A sixth grade literary (and existentialist philosophy) lunch group flourishes.

7th Grade took books destined for the discard pile and turned them into beautiful art with a stated theme. Check out their fanciful work on this Altered Book Blog (produced by students, too).
A seventh grade lunch group is devoted to book talks and sharing. 

8th Graders have been immersed in (informal) debating. Maybe it's in their general nature. Generally, we begin with a writing prompt, write for 10 - 15 minutes, then take up the topic. For example: Zoos - beneficial or not? We're waltzing around in poetry for a while, riffing on Wallace Stevens and Wislawa Symborska, and will soon embark on readings and activities designed to complement the upcoming Civil Rights Unit. For example, we'll read the powerful wreath of sonnets that is A Wreath for Emmett Till.
The photo below is from our annual Poetry KaBaam. A KaBaam is a locally invented variation of a poetry slam. After the student reads or performs the poem, audience members hold up signs on which they've written how the poem made them FEEL. A standing room crowd of 7th and 8th graders attended.

Here, YHS Poetry Out Loud winner,  senior Manny Dettmann, works her magic.

The Poem Booth has had a super busy year...each week sees a backlog of poems awaiting their chance for hallway fame. Someone even finally wrote a poem for the Parrot of the Poem Booth, seen at his perch here.

Soon it will be time to publish the 20th Annual issue of Legenda, our NCTE award-winning literary magazine. We received almost 300 entries from 5th through 8th grade students, as well as 28 superb cover submissions. The 8th grade staff has been busy, as each submission has to be read by at least six editors!

What about next year?

Along with the many activities and groups that are flourishing, we are getting ready to make enrichment recommendations for next year. What can the GT staff do to help the classroom teachers support the needs of our quickest, deepest thinkers? 

Options include small groups, 1:1 projects, and helping teachers with differentiated materials for the classroom. Support plans for an individual may vary from year to year, as we seek to serve our grade 2 - 8 population. As always, the GT teachers and the classroom teachers work as a team.
The enrichment screening committee includes Bob Gross, Jodi McGuire and me, along with administrators, school guidance counselors, and a classroom teacher from YES and HMS.

For more information on our process, please visit our website. You'll see that we are under Instructional Support. Click on GT/Chapter 104.

Also, it's not too early to begin thinking about SUMMER opportunities. 
In our very own backyard, amazing YHS English teacher, Anne Tommaso, will run a Young Author Camp for students entering 9th -12th grade. This camp takes place at Merrill Memorial Library and offers the chance to explore poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction in a relaxed, supportive, and fun environment both inside and out. They'll also experiment with basic bookbinding techniques to add visual art and dimension to writing. 

Portland's amazing TELLING ROOM offers multi-age options for those who like to write.
If math/science are what you are after, the summer camps at Maine School of Science and Math get high ratings from campers.
To art and inquiry!

Thanks for visiting the blog.

As always, please let me know if you have any questions or comments!

Charlotte Agell