Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Dangerous Book

Snapshot from Grade 4 on an Ordinary Tuesday:

We came in to brainstorm how many words we could make from the letters in Thanksgiving and Gratitude....eggs, tides, grit, and kin. And more.

Alexander's NQQ (Notes, Quotes, Questions) question about seeds and trees lead to some deep philosophizing, so this took us to A Crash Course in Philosophy: Love of Wisdom and Questions are our thing, too!

We then explored the Thesaurus.
Yes, it is a DANGEROUS BOOK.
What started as a follow up to having read Melissa Sweet's gorgeous illustrated The Right Word (by Jen Bryant), about Roget and the invention of the thesaurus, veered away from rewriting sentences into genuine astonishment (theirs) at ... what one can find in this book.
YES, "bad" words, too. Merriam Webster put them there.
We had a fine discussion on how WORDS are POWERFUL and must, like magic, be wielded responsibly.
We then had some free choice time.
Some worked on a movie idea that spontaneous erupted. Obi Wan Kenobi (although I tend to think it's Han Solo) lives on our pipes, after all:
The movie is in progress and may debut later!

As often happens, two students played chess. Another read the New York Times "for kids" issue.

I send this into circulation just before our Thanksgiving Break.
I am thankful for so much!

HOLD THE DATE: Bob Gross and I will offer a GT Open House (parents/guardians only) on Thursday January 25th. We'll probably begin at six. Stay tuned for further details. The topic will be The GT Kids Bill of Rights.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Snapshot from Grades 5-8

As we hurtle into November, here come a few snapshots from the GT English Language Arts instructional support groups:

We often lead with synectics - synectics |səˈnektiks|

pl.noun [ treated as sing. ] trademark
a problem-solving technique that seeks to promote creative thinking, typically among small groups of people of diverse experience and expertise

For example: Which is more fragile, diameter or circumference? Take 5-10 minutes to write an argument for your position.

We augment the classroom Wordly Wise 7 work here in our group, with many words ending up in the Word Jar. We've visited the site of the inimitable Grant Snider, whose Incidental Comics are pure poetry. Some students are working on their own versions. We've tried our hand at 100 word Scary Stories and will soon begin reading Something About America, an immigrant story in verse by Portland's own Maria Testa. This will surely inspire much thinking and writing.

How does language evolve? Why?
This unit has sixth graders "translating" Lewis Carroll's classic Jabberwocky, and marveling at how the human brain can categorize nonsense sentences into their grammatical units. What IS language, anyway? We'll traverse a wide region, with focus statements such as "Poetry is what's lost in translation" (Frost). A highlight is a (partial) reading aloud of Hamlet, both in the original and in a modern day translation.
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week.
Why are shipwright being conscripted to work strenuous seven-day weeks?

Ask your seventh grader about LEMON! (That's all I will say. It has us all engrossed.)
We are writing (and about to read) short stories. This echoes their "upstairs" unit. 
The goal will be to submit these stories ... somewhere.

Eighth graders are just finishing up their memoir unit. Students who came to my room for this have experimented with a variety of extensions, many inspired by Maine's very own Monica Wood's book, DESCRIPTION.

HMS Students may be submitting to the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition, and/or to Letters About Literature.
The literary magazine, Legenda (open to all submission, run by 8th grade staff) has kicked off its 22nd anniversary year.

If you have questions about our GT Instructional Support or are looking for resources, please do visit our WEBSITE, handily tucked under the district Instructional Support site.

As always, please be in touch with questions and comments. I do check my school email frequently and am always happy to talk on the phone or to meet with you in person.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pacing Matters

Here is a quick snapshot of our 4th grade table, including the venerable typewriter, The Phantom Tollbooth, some thesauruses (not to be confused with Rarrosaur, which entered through a group story), and the amazing Melissa Sweet illustrated The Right Word (Roget and his Thesaurus) by Jen Bryant, a Caldecott Honor book. Also, a rolodex for collecting hard words and a jar for collecting newly invented ones.....

Today's agenda stalled at the mental calisthenics (ask your child!) stage, when we wrote group "pass around stories." That is the beauty of this work. We can (mostly) take the time needed. We'll turn to the thesaurus soon!

This pacing opportunity afforded to us reminds me of a great article, What It Means to Teach Gifted Learners Well, by renowned GT pedagogue, Carol Ann Tomlinson. The entire article is good (and short) but here's the quote that sticks out to me today, delivered courtesy of Ian Byrd, and Byrdseed. (Note: He'll be at the MEGAT, Maine Educators of the Gifted and Talented New England Conference next week. There may still be room! It's not just for teachers. Follow the link for more information.)

Dr. Tomlinson on how accelerated content isn’t really “fast” to a gifted kid, it’s comfortable:
Often, highly able students learn more quickly than others their age. As a result, they typically need a more rapid instructional pace than do many of their peers. Educators sometimes call that “acceleration,” which makes the pace sound risky. For many gifted learners, however, it’s the comfortable pace-like walking “quickly” suits someone with very long legs. It’s only “fast” for someone with shorter legs.
But here’s the best part, the opposite is also true! Gifted kids can also benefit from a slower pace:
On the other hand, it’s often the case that advanced learners need a slower pace of instruction than many other students their age, so they can achieve a depth or breadth of understanding needed to satisfy a big appetite for knowing.

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!