Lean on Mentors
Try New Things
This is my advice to teachers and my personal mantra. In the weeks leading up to the new school year, I decided to set aside my long “to do” list, and spend time pouring over incredible professional texts namely Katie Egan Cunningham’s Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness and Leading Literate Lives: Habits and Mindsets for Reimagining Classroom Practice by Stephanie Affinito. I read with my notebook beside me and wrote my vision for bringing tenets of these books into my classroom. In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing some concrete ways these mentors inspired me to try new things and ultimately, trust myself to design lessons that engaged and connected my students.
Lesson: Creating a culture of kindness
Below is a lesson sequence I designed and developed last week with my students. The lessons’ intentions are to engage students in the joyful literacy practices of exploration and expression while also building a class culture based on kindness and compassion.
Day 1: Introduce the poem and generate ideas
1. Read the poem, “Kindness” in Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham and Charles Waters. I read it aloud twice.
2. Students turn and talk about the poem. When needed, you might use the following prompts:
“What are you thinking?
What are you wondering?
What do you picture in your mind?
What line did you need to hear today?
What do the poets, Irene Latham and Charles Waters say about kindness? How do they define it?
3. Discuss how kindness is a verb. It is the small actions we do to show we care.
4. Look out for acts of kindness that you witness in the next 24 hours and pledge to practice them.
Day 2: The breath and white space
1. Read the poem again and invite students to join in.
2. Talk about white space and how it is the poets’ way of telling us to take a breath. **To illustrate this I grabbed my breathing ball and used it to guide the length of our breath in those spaces.
3. Group students into 3 groups (I counted off by 3s for the three stanzas) and have each group practice reading their stanza together.
4. Talk about word choice and the impact of words in conveying the meaning of the poem.
Day 3: Movement to explore the meaning more deeply
1. Read the poem together again.
2. Stand up! ** We came in front of our desks (desks are arranged in a circle which I find allows space for lots of movement).
3. Brainstorm movement that expresses the meaning of each stanza. **I wish I could show you here but my favorite was the last line when students extended open hands outward to express offering someone the larger half of a sandwich. It was magical and by the end, every student knew the poem by heart. I recorded their performance of the poem and shared it with families.
Day 4: Write your own kindness poems and perform them with movement. Teachers, jump in and write your own poem too!
Note: One of the many things I love about this lesson sequence is how it communicates that poetry is meant to be shared and read-aloud!
Last night I was rereading The Dot by Peter Reynolds in preparation for International Dot Day tomorrow and when I came to the line: “Just make a mark and see where it takes you,” I realized how this applies to our teaching. As teachers, we have so much knowledge and intuition for what kids need. Sometimes we just need to try something new and see where it takes us and our students.