Archive for the 'Learning' Category

A Get To Know You Poetry Activity: TWO-TONE POETRY

leaves-fall-colors-rainbowBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Most English teachers have heard of the Where I’m From poem activity based on George Ella Lyon’s professional example. I begin my Creative Writing class with this exercise each year. But as the school year progresses and students become more comfortable sharing, I encourage them to try Two-Tone Poetry.

I start by discussing how we all have multiple sides to our personalities. I am, of course, different with my friends than I am with my students. And I’m different at parent teacher conferences than I am at The Band Perry concerts.

“Most of us are at least two-tone,” I tell my classes. Then, I encourage my students to talk about the different sides of their personalities.

We also discuss how colors can trigger feelings or moods. Moods—like colors—can be warm or cool; they can attract attention or blend in. I tell my students how we interpret and analyze colors, combined with our self-knowledge, can be a good place to start a Two-Tone poem.

I ask students to write a Two-Tone poem that speaks of their two tones and at least two different sides of their personality. In these drafts, I ask for stylistic devices, action verbs, a purposeful structure and original names for the colors (elephant grey, sunset pink, pickle green). I tell my students they could also choose to work with a pattern (chevron, argyle, plaid) instead of a color.

Here are three student examples:

Most of the time, I am eggshell white—

whispered answers hidden beneath books,

innocent gazes given from across rooms.

I am invisible:

blended behind schoolhouse walls,

left unused in paperback Crayola boxes.

But when she sees me, I am electric blue—

squeals of laughter spew in heartbeats,

and secret adventures hide in memories.

I am both eggshell white and electric blue:

swimming through a sea of wonder,

gabbing jaws beneath black knit stars.

~

Part of me is lemonade yellow—

sporadic and spunky,

loud and lively, and

in people’s faces.

But deep within, there’s another side no one sees—

ash black, like the tip of a charred marshmallow,

hurt and resentful,

damaged and filled with hate.

My heart screams, telling me to hang on to the yellow.

But, they both are who I am.

Both…oh…

so me.

~

Most days, I am amethyst purple—

            go with the flow,

            under the rainbow,

            unnoticed like a shadow.

I go about the same routine,

            wake, work, watch, repeat,

            riding down the road of life from the backseat.

            My spunk…it’s obsolete.

But on some days, I am ruby red—

            rebelling against reality,

            laughing carefree,

            swinging from the fruit tree,

            drinking iced tea,

            singing like a bumblebee.

That’s when my spunk returns

to me.

Is Your Compassion Fatigued?

13-heart-shape1By Elizabeth Jorgensen

As graduation nears, student excuses amass, skipping increases and academics succumb to prom plans and dorm decorating. The school days drag and the problems compound. And when students want exceptions or extensions, I’m less likely to budge. But a few weeks ago, I realized my post-spring break impatience has a name—and, it turns out, seniors aren’t to blame.

As I sat in Arrowhead’s back-to-school teacher in-service, our school’s Director of Student Services discussed Compassion Fatigue. According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, “Day in, day out, workers struggle to function in caregiving environments that constantly present heart wrenching, emotional challenges. Affecting positive change in society, a mission so vital to those passionate about caring for others, is perceived as elusive, if not impossible. This painful reality, coupled with first-hand knowledge of society’s flagrant disregard for the safety and well-being of the feeble and frail, takes its toll on everyone from full time employees to part time volunteers. Eventually, negative attitudes prevail.” That’s it! That’s what happens to me, I thought.

The Director of Student Services recommended battling Compassion Fatigue with mindfulness, meditation and yoga. He recommended proper exercise, nutrition and sleep. He also reminded my school’s staff of the importance of self-reflection and supportive relationships.

He warned that Compassion Fatigue could lead to burnout, emotional exhaustion and negative feelings. I wondered how the increased challenges teachers face impact Compassion Fatigue. I also wondered how pervasive this feeling (in teachers and in our school)—especially considering he started the school year with it.

Then, a few weeks later, DPI sent an email. The email stated that “A DPI-ConnectEd subscriber requested help for ‘the emotions and stress that teachers go through,’ which are ‘getting dangerously’ out of balance for many educators. ‘I am concerned that these incredible, dedicated people will step away from teaching. Some of them already have.’” DPI recommended self-care, awareness, balance, connections, and “small, manageable steps.” DPI, like my district, provided resources, “as part of the self-care module, including a step-by-step guide for developing a plan and a sample self-care plan.”

For me, knowing I’m not alone—and being able to identify and name my feelings—makes me feel better. This year, I’m prepared for what feelings might come, especially as second semester nears. I’m planning to take DPI’s suggestion and follow the ABCD’s of self-care: awareness, balance, connections and develop a plan. I hired a personal trainer, I’m making time for myself, and I joined professional organizations (including Marquette University’s College of Education’s Alumni Board).

Although there’s no quick-fix cure to Compassion Fatigue, I’m hoping my patience and compassion will increase this spring. And if (or when) Compassion Fatigue sets in, I know I’m not alone and I know what I can do to minimize its impact.

 

Mail Call Update

LJBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

On January 9th, my blog featured the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Mail Call project. Shortly after, one of my colleagues received the following message:

“In my role in PR with Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, I sometimes have to sort through thank you letters for veterans that we receive (and later give to them on an Honor Flight), to make sure there isn’t anything upsetting in what is written.  I received a huge box of letters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently, because they’re conducting a well-publicized campaign to raise money for us and collect these letters from schools and groups.

There are a large number of absolutely incredible letters from Arrowhead upperclassmen…Could you please pass on my sincere gratitude for all the extra effort that teacher took with the project, and ask them to thank their students for their incredible work. As I go through them and read them, I am struck over and over again by the sincerity, the creativity and the quality of the letters…and many of the students signed their names in hopes of receiving a response.

In a box of 1,500 mail call letters, the Arrowhead letters stood head and shoulders above all the others. Please thank everyone involved.”

Subsequent conversations included links to additional resources for students:

https://youtu.be/Wty1-U3ieak

https://youtu.be/ALGZzxS3dIc
“Thank you again for organizing such a beautiful letter writing campaign.  The veterans will be absolutely overwhelmed, and will read those letters over and over and over again.” I shared these comments with my students and all were thrilled to make a difference in the lives of our veterans.

The Stars and Stripes Honor Flights happened on April 8th and May 21.

 

The Milwaukee Brewers Seek Positive Message Commercials to Strike Out Bullying

By Elizabeth Jorgensen

Objective: Create a commercial with a positive message to Strike Out Bullying. (Your commercial should be a positive message to raise awareness of bullying prevention at school, online or in the community.)

Eligibility: Teachers of students in grades 6-12 (students must be 13 or older) at a public or private school in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington or Waukesha County, WI are eligible to participate.

Entry: The entry period began on Monday, January 23, 2017, at 3:00 pm CT and ends Friday, April 21, 2017, at 11:59 pm CT. Teachers must submit a link to their submission. Submissions must be on a publicly accessible online platform (YouTube, Instagram, Vimeo or some other public video platform), be in the English language and not exceed 2 minutes in length.

Judging criteria: The winning video will be selected by a panel of judges assembled by the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club. The videos will be judged on the conciseness, positivity, creativity and originality of the message raising awareness of bullying prevention at school, online, and in the community.

Prize: One video will be selected as the winner. The winner will receive a visit to his/her school for his/her class from Brewers players, coaches and/or alumni on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. The students in winner’s class (grade) will also receive complimentary t-shirts and game tickets for the Brewers home game played at Miller Park on Friday, May 12, 2017, at 7:10 pm, and on-field recognition. One student from the winning video will throw out the ceremonial first pitch (if there is more than one student in the video, a name from the creative team will be drawn at the school visit the day before the game).

Rules:

  • The creative team appearing in the video can be one (1) to six (6) people, but no larger than a group of six (6). All students on the creative team must be in the same grade.
  • No one under the age of 13 may be in the video.
  • A teacher is allowed to submit more than one entry from the same grade at the same school. Each entry must have a different set of students in each video.
  • The video must not exceed 2 minutes in length.
  • Online entry only. No other method of entry will be accepted.

To find out more, check out this website.

 

Using an Exemplar to Develop Student Creativity and Voice

6342247835_688a9c2fcd_bBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

I frequently use professional exemplars in Creative Writing. One of my favorite authors is Sandra Cisneros. Her novel, House on Mango Street, is particularly effective in inspiring my students to write specifically, creatively and with a variety of stylistic devices.

In one assignment, students read the chapter “Hairs.” Then, I ask students to identify when Cisneros uses the following stylistic devices: metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, repetition and sensory details. In the 158 word chapter, students identify 32 stylistic devices.

After, students discuss the effect of each stylistic device and the chapter’s content. Students explain how Cisneros reveals information about the narrator’s family through a discussion of one physical trait: hair. Students note in her first paragraph, she describes the hair of the narrator’s father and the hair of her siblings, using descriptions to give the reader insight into each of their personalities. Students also recognize that Cisneros reveals the narrator’s feelings towards her mother in the passage, using a variety of stylistic devices to achieve this effect.

Then, I ask my students to think about the people in their lives—their family, friends, co-workers, teammates. I ask them to think about the characteristics they share with the people in their lives and those that make them distinctive. Although Cisneros chose to write about hair, I tell my students they could write about any physical or personality trait. I prompt students with suggestions: eye color, height, personality, sense of humor, cooking ability, athleticism, hands. I ask my students: Is the trait you want to write about one you share with your family/friends/teammates or yours alone? How might you present your piece like Cisneros did with metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, repetition and sensory details?

Using “Hairs” as a model, students then write a vignette about their own life, discussing an important trait and how it reveals something about the person who possesses it and their relationship to him/her. Although Cisneros used six stylistic devices for a total of 32 times, I require 12 in each student’s vignette. Students share the vignettes and then we submit them to Teen Ink, a national teen publication. Here are two students who had their vignettes published: 1 and 2.

What students tell me they enjoy about the exercise is that they practice skills in a creative way. Students also say they enjoy writing about their own lives. What I most appreciate is how specific, poetic and interesting the pieces turn out—and how students are able to effectively implement stylistic devices and creativity in a vignette about their own lives.

 Building A Better Bulletin Board

language_bulletin_board_ksuBy Peggy Wuenstel

In these days of Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, none of which I am very proficient in using, the old-fashioned bulletin board seems like a dated if not obsolete concept. Users today seem to feel a need to record every aspect of their life, meals, fun with friends, and exotic vacations, all carefully edited for public consumption. I would argue against the retirement of the traditional bulletin board. There are two distinct camps in the bulletin board debate. There are those who love to create, display and use them. There is a team in my building who create amazing art that makes students, teachers, and families feel valued and welcome. There are also those who hate them and think of them as a waste of time better used for direct instructional activities.

There is also the demarcation between the pre-fab vs. the personally created. Our favorite teacher resource books and websites offer lots of choices for those short on time, talent or inspiration. Some educators see the bulletin board as a chance to display student work, create a gallery, track progress, and provide cues for schedules, expectations or timing in their classrooms. Things posted on a board rather than delivered verbally can help build independence and responsibility in students.

This month I am celebrating a different type of corkboard, the kind that we use to attach new thinking, to record experiences, opinions, visual memories, graphic organizers, and memory aids. The larger the board we create for our children, the more new knowledge that they each can attach. With the right kind of encouragement we can help transform them into vision boards, those images that move us, inform us, inspire us to reflect and create.

Every teacher has at least one bulletin board. It might be cork, fabric, magnetic, or digital. It is also always mental. It’s that place where we keep all those things that we can’t afford to or don’t want to forget. You might have caught on to the fact that I am no longer talking about the classroom version that includes the lunch menu and tomorrow’s homework. I’m talking about the personal one.

I am appreciating my bulletin board before it is gone. I have begun the winnowing process, but there are a few things that will always remain pinned there until the very last days. My calendar, a paper version that allows me to smile at puppies every day sits at the center. Just like an analog clock, a paper calendar with its rows and columns is essential to teach kids about the systematic passing of time in ways that our digital tools cannot.

There are the assorted “love notes”, pictures, valentines, and other student created mementos tucked into the frame, expressions of affection that everyone needs to see now and then. There are pictures of my grandchildren, my niece in full combat gear, a vacation snapshot to remind me that not everything I love is here in this building. There are the magazine photos of sea otters that remind my students that I have favorite foods, colors, songs, and animals just like they do and the fact that we know that about each other makes us better at working together.

There are the utilitarian pieces, the contact lists, phone numbers, important dates, and meeting reminders. These change with the seasons, and the reasons for teaching. There are a few inspirational quotes, and always, my theme quote for the year front and center. This year’s version is “Live as if you will die tomorrow. Learn as if you will live forever” from Mahatma Gandhi.

There are the things I need help to remember, along with those that I know I will never forget. The handmade library card holder made of foam and duct tape, fashioned by a student who knows how often I go to the library, the photo of colleagues sharing a laugh, a cherished thank you note. There are also things that are not there, because they are private and would be hard to explain to students and parents. Things that make me laugh, and things that make me cry, including funeral cards for students who left us too soon. There are the cartoons meant for adult eyes, evidences of my political leanings, the talismans of the faith that guides my steps and my educational practice. And because I want no one to think I am anxious to leave here, there are no vision board pieces on this school board, no New England fall foliage or cherry blossoms in Washington D.C. No baby turtles struggling to get to the Atlantic Ocean or tombstones on the fields of Gettysburg because these are the things I hope to see in the first year of retirement. I have a vision board at home that includes these images as well as a tentative itinerary for a year of travel in an RV following the last days of school.

I have plans to send progress reports back to school, possibly labeled “Where in America are the Wuenstels?” but those reports will be on someone else’s bulletin board. I’ll likely post more often on Facebook, but not much more. There won’t be nearly as much that I need to remember, except maybe where we parked the RV.

 

 

Connecting With Parents of My Students

2959912279_8446aa1abdBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Looking for a way to connect to the parents of my students, I relied on email. My junior and senior students just finished writing poems for the Milwaukee Public Museum’s poetry competition. At the end of the unit, I asked for student volunteers to read poems aloud. Then, I emailed those students’ parents. Here is what I wrote:

“I just wanted to drop you a quick note and let you know that Kami volunteered to present her poem in class today. Currently, students are working on a food-themed poem for the Milwaukee Public Museum’s annual poetry competition. After we read Kami’s poem, classmates provided valuable feedback and encouragement. If you are interested, I would suggest you ask her to share what she is working on. I think you’ll be impressed! Volunteering to read her poem to the class was a brave, vulnerable and commendable thing to do. Please encourage Kami to keep up up the great work in Creative Writing. I’m looking forward to a wonderful semester of writing, creativity, and growth.”

Here are some of the responses I received:

“Thank you for the kind message. She showed us her poem Tuesday night and we really enjoyed hearing it from her. She really enjoys your class. Have a great weekend!”

“Thank you SO very much for reaching out to us about Anna! What a wonderful wonderful email to receive. Anna is a great kid. She has had some emotional struggles over the past few years and it has been a big hurdle for her. I’ve noticed this year in particular she has really been making an effort with her school work. I very much appreciate hearing you validate how much her hard work is paying off. I will be sure to share this with Anna and tell her how very proud we are of her! Have a great day! :)”

“Thanks for the good news, Liz. It’s nice to hear about something positive; I appreciate it. I will ask them to share their work with me and will encourage them. Thanks again and have a great weekend.”

“She has been sharing her writings with us and I have been so impressed with her work! I am so glad to hear from you about this! Of course I think it’s good, but to hear it from you is awesome. She shared with me your comments this am about her recent poem, she was so excited! I have never seen her so pumped about a subject in school before so keep up the awesome work motivating her and we will do the same. Thanks again!”

Each parent gave me a boost and reminded me of the positive impact I’m having on his or her child. The students, too, appreciated my efforts: “Thanks for emailing my dad.”— “My mom was so excited to see your email.”—“My mom took me to Culver’s for custard because of what you wrote.”

I’ve now made it my goal to email a different group of parents for each assignment.


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