This morning, my nine-year-old was walking me through the events that will take place from now until the end of the school year.
"Today, tomorrow and Thursday is testing, Monday is a walking tour of Bozeman, Wednesday is our field trip to Virginia City…."
This week is testing?!?
Did I somehow miss all the email blasts from school? You know, the ones that shout:
TESTING IS COMING UP!
EARLY TO BED!
CLEAN THE WAX OUT OF YOUR EARS!
TAKE EXTRA VITAMIN B!
I combed through the emails and newsletters from the past week.
Not a word.
There was no alarm sounded.
No trumpets blared.
Can I say something?
I love that.
I love the message our school is sending by not sending the messages.
You know what it says to me? It says, "Yeah. It's time to test. It's time to see what all this good teaching and learning has accomplished. There's no need to freak out. It's not THE END OF THE WORLD. It's just a test. It doesn't determine whether or not your child will grow to be a productive member of society or be a good parent or be a good person. It's just a test. It gives us some good information about what our students know and where we need to take them next. But, it's not A BIG FREAKING DEAL."
I love that.
Here's a fun way for students to collect facts and prepare to write a biography: Use an Alphabox!
The Alphabox, originally created by Linda Hoyt, is a powerful tool.
Linda and I explain how to use Alphaboxes with students in our book "Crafting Nonfiction."
It hit today.
That oh-my-word-why-did-I-agree-to-write-another-book-I-hate-writing-I-have-nothing-to-say phase.
I avoided writing all day.
I took Max for a walk. Twice.
I washed, dried and folded Every. Single. Scrap. Of. Laundry.
I cleaned my refrigerator for heaven’s sake.
By 3:00 pm I shamed myself into sitting down at my computer.
I had a stern talk with myself. Out loud.
(My husband, who works from home upstairs, thinks I’m on the phone when I do this. It’s all good.)
I sat down. I opened my laptop.
I watched my cursor blink for 15 minutes.
I hate you cursor.
I twirled my hair.
I thought about doing a search for “how to get out of a writing contract” on Google.
I pictured every single one of my former students who I had deemed “reluctant writers.”
Oh my word.
They weren’t “reluctant” writers.
They were writers.
And, writing is hard.
It’s especially hard when you worry that what you write won’t be good enough.
Or that someone will chew it up and spit it out.
Or that you’ll have to (Lord, help me) rewrite it.
And then I remembered the story I heard recently about Beverly Clearly. For her 100th birthday, NPR interviewed the author’s daughter, Marianne Cleary. Marianne recalled her mother’s writing habit: “She’s very disciplined. When she would write every morning, she would sit down after breakfast, my brother and I would go to school, and she would write, till noon or so. She never waited for inspiration, she just got to it.”
That’s how it gets done. There's no magic. It's just discipline and struggle.
I did finally write a bit - just a bit.
But it wasn’t bad. I may even write a bit more tomorrow.
Bit by bit.
This is my "go-to" gift that I reach for whenever someone welcomes a new bundle of joy.
Mem Fox's book "Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever" helps parents understand the incredible emotional and intellectual that impact reading aloud to children has on their ability to learn to read.
I usually pair this book with a few sturdy board books for baby and parent to enjoy together.
Mostly, they stick to the basics: tacos, spaghetti, an occasional lemon chicken with sticky rice.
So I knew I was climbing the Mount Everest of parenting when I decided to make Cilantro Chili Lime Glazed Salmon and Green Beans.
I’m no fortune-teller and I don’t have a crystal ball, but I was fairly sure there would be much wailing and gnashing of teeth when my kids saw their plate.
I could picture their wrinkled noses and, in my mind, I could hear the cries of, “What is THAT?!?”
Sometimes I drink.
So, I dug deep.
“Who wants to play ‘Chopped Junior’ with me?” I called up the stairs to where the boys were playing.
(If you’re not familiar with Chopped Junior, it’s a fantastic little show on the Food Network that invites 4 kids to prepare appetizers, entrées and desserts for a panel of judges. Each round, one contestant is “chopped,” leaving one child crowned as the “Chopped Junior Champion.”)
My boys ran down the stairs, eager to join the fun.
I laid the ingredients on the counter and, using my best Ted Allen voice, exclaimed, “In the entrée basket today, you will be asked to use salmon, cilantro, brown sugar, and green beans. The clock starts now.”
Carson scrambled for the saucepans, cutting boards and knives while Brady
played the role of “time-keeper.”
(Which means he pretty much just watched us and screamed things like, “5 minutes! 5 minutes left on the clock!”)
Carson and I cooked.
We talked to our make-believe camera.
We chopped, diced, sautéd and stirred.
In the end, we plated four perfectly-seared salmon filets with a green cilantro glaze, sautéd green beans and a salad with oranges and tomatoes (folks, we even made our own freaking dressing).
When we sat down to eat, I stayed in character – offering our entrée to the “judges.”
I cleared my throat.
“Today, we have prepared for you Cilantro Chili Lime Glazed Salmon and Green Beans with a red leaf lettuce salad.”
I took a deep breath and waited.
You guys, a miracle happened.
At my dining room table.
My kids dug into the salmon and declared it “delicious and perfectly cooked!”
My husband and I could only stare in amazement as they noshed on salad (salad!!!), crunched green beans (seriously!!) and finished every last bite of salmon.
I don’t think they even noticed they were eating vegetables and salmon.
They were just playing.
As the meal ended, I looked at my husband and uttered one word.
Why am I telling you this?
It could be that I’m wanting to relive and soak up my exceptional parenting moment.
Those are so few and far between.
But, I think there’s a greater lesson to be learned here.
Children learn through play.
They learn through purposeful experiences.
They learn when we come alongside them and engage in the process with them.
Let’s face it: most 3rd graders are not naturally motivated to learn and master Standard W.3.2.A.
(Okay…NO ONE is naturally motivated to learn and master Standard W.3.2.A.)
But, those same 3rd graders might be really motivated to create a brochure for incoming Kindergartners (and their parents). The brochure could highlight important things to know about their school. And, in writing and planning and publishing these brochures, those 3rd graders would be learning Standard W.3.2.A. (and a whole bunch of other standards, too, by the way) They might not realize that they’re learning Standard W.3.2.A. They might just think they are writing.
To actual people.
For an actual purpose.
And, it might be fun.
When I was playing “Chopped Junior” with my kids, my goal was not simply to get through that night’s dinner without any crinkled noises or whines. My goal was to introduce them to new and healthy foods so that the next time someone slaps a salmon filet with strange green sauce on their plates they won’t freak out. They’ll think, “Oh. Salmon. I’ve had that before and you know, it wasn’t half bad!”
So, too, our goals as teachers of writing shouldn’t be to simply nail that dang standard but rather introduce our students to the real world of writing and all of the qualities that make writing powerful and purposeful and poised. Maybe they wouldn't grow up to hate writing so much. Maybe they would think, "I've done this before and you know, it's not half bad!
After writing and publishing the brochures, we could surely explain to students all that they did and how they did it. We could say, “So if someone asks you to “introduce a topic and group related information together; include illustrations when useful to aiding comprehension,” no sweat! You’ve done that! Just remember all we did when we created our brochures.
So, instead of assigning a piece of standards-based writing and telling kids to do it because it’s good for them, invite them to play – to have some fun with writing and thinking and drawing. Allow them to have a purpose for the words and phrases and sentences they are creating.
Being aligned to standards doesn’t have to include wailing and gnashing of teeth. (for students or teachers) It can be joyful and purposeful and playful.
I agree with Regie Routman: “The standards are neither rigorous or non-rigorous. It depends on what the teacher does with them.”
So, dig deep.
And then sit back and be amazed.
Oh. And for those of you who are now dying for the recipe, here you go:
Cilantro Chili Lime Glazed Salmon and Green Beans
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