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