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17 03, 2014

Maya’s Argument

By | March 17th, 2014|Families, Learning to Write, Parenting|0 Comments

Writers Celebrations punctuate our school year giving festive endings to the studies of particular genres in our Writers Workshops. In a Writers Celebration, groups of students gather together with their parents to share completed and polished works after weeks of drafts, critiques and revisions. Parents and kids share comments, questions and accolades for each young writer.IMG_0120

Our 3rd/4th graders recently celebrated a challenging month-long workshop on personal essays. Each student writer chose an idea s/he cared about and used three pieces of evidence to construct a logical argument for the reader. Sustaining a single idea, supporting it through several paragraphs and completing the essay as a unified whole is truly challenging work for eight and nine-year-olds!

There was a very poignant moment when Maya, having explained why vacations are both fun and educational, read her third reason.Maya Reading

It is good for you, because vacation is about getting my family back together and spending time together. On the Disney cruise line, it got my family back together for 5 days, and then we stayed at a hotel in Orlando. Jacob and Dad went golfing; we (Mom and I) relaxed and watched TV and read books together. We spent a lot of time in the pool. When we are at home it is not like vacation, because we have to go to school and work and spend a lot of time apart. So vacation is important for family.

A great writer speaks to a timeless truth and makes an emotional connection to her audience. When it was time for feedback, more than one parent confessed to being a little teary. I was personally moved by the sweet earnest quality of Maya’s essay.

I thought of this moment the other day when I read a summary of psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair’s address to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference, taking place at just about the same time as our Writers Celebration. Steiner Adair is a therapist and instructor at the Harvard Medical School who researches the effects of technology on our kids and our relationships.

Are we living in a time in which we are more connected than ever and, paradoxically, more isolated? she asked.

According to Bridget Janicki, who blogged from the conference, Steiner-Adair interviewed kids, parents, school leaders, young adults and even preschoolers around the country. She was blown away by this finding:
Children at every single age group use the same words to describe being in a family — and they all speak to feeling alone. It’s sad, because they cannot get their parents’ attention. They feel frustrated that at a moment when they need a connection, their parents’ eyes are in the screen.

And then, a couple of days ago, I saw this headline from Time.com: Don’t Text While Parenting — It Will Make You Cranky. The story described a study from Boston Medical Center showing that parents absorbed in their devices throughout an entire meal had increasingly negative interactions with their children. Since children learn their primary social skills from interacting with their parents, the researchers wondered what the long-term effects of such digital absorption on children’s social development might be.

In our fast-paced and digital world, Maya reminds us that children need and desire deep connection to parents and family. And even amidst all the attractions and distractions of Disney World, the most delicious and memorable moments might just be spent hanging out with your parents.

30 05, 2013

This project is not about cheetahs.

By | May 30th, 2013|Learning to Write|2 Comments


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Can baby cheetahs climb trees?

A 1st grader and a 2nd grader walked confidently into my office carrying a binder, a clipboard and a bin of cheetah books from both the Ancona and public libraries. Placing the book bin on my table, they got right down to business. While the 2nd grader took a piece of yellow paper from the binder and readied it on the clipboard, the 1st grader took out the list of steps in the research process and explained to me how the partners had already consulted books and the computer and were now going to conduct an interview with an expert (me!). I’m actually not an expert on cheetahs, but I did think I could help two young researchers find answers to their own authentic questions.

In the binder, they had written what they already knew about cheetahs on pink sheets of paper, and in an orange booklet, they’d written the questions they wanted to answer. The 1st grader enthusiastically read the questions, and the 2nd grader painstakingly took the notes, which, she knew, had to be in her own words.

What we want to learn.

What we want to learn.

The first question was, “Why do cheetahs have spots?” I was quite relieved, because I actually do know. The last time Room 110 did research projects, I served as an expert on the Revolutionary War, and the first question was, “What was the name of George Washington’s horse?” My expert status was immediately suspect.

Before I could demonstrate my great expertise, however, the second grader told me she knew a folk tale about the spots, and I was tickled to recognize an African folk tale the children had studied and performed in Kindergarten. We know that learning experiences are powerful when children can draw on them in new contexts.

So here is the genius of children.  They led me step-by-step through the book of their questions.  We talked about camouflage, the grassland habitat, trees on the savannah, cheetah speed, what cheetahs do all day, how baby cheetahs are raised, why a cheetah bites an animal in the back of its neck to kill it and the difference between pray and prey. The first grader knew exactly where to find a photo of a cheetah and its prey in one of the well-read books. We had to type a question into Google to find out how high a cheetah can jump, and while we were looking at the Internet, we found a picture of baby cheetahs in a tree, thereby answering the climbing question!

When the interview was over, a full hour later, the second grader carefully added the yellow page of notes to the binder.

WitFaith and Elliot 2h their research complete, the partners will soon write and illustrate a book about cheetahs, and at their final writing celebration next week, they and their classmates will share their works of non-fiction with parents and other visitors.

This project is not about cheetahs; it is about developing the components of project-based learning — setting your own questions, research, organization, discerning fact from fiction, locating quality information,  working with a partner, learning about something you love, seeing where research takes you and presenting your results.  It is also about working with non-fiction — one of the critical emphases in the Common Core standards — in both Readers and Writers Workshops.  And it is about leadership and cooperation.   The 2nd grader drew on last year’s experience to guide the work, and the 1st grader knows his turn to lead will come next year. This is rigorous work for six and seven year olds.

Ancona teacher Jenny Hempel designed this marvelous piece of curriculum to give substance to the idea of teaching young children how to take charge of their own learning. The organizational thinking embodied in the question books, the binder, the clipboard, the different colors, the notetaking,  the thoughtful procedures – these are fundamental tools the students will use to power their genius from now through graduate school.