I’ve been thinking a lot about connections this fall and all the ways that my students can and do connect with others. Sometimes I write in this blog to wrestle with a big idea, but tonight I think I’m simply feeling happy about our month of October.
We recently completed our first Passion Projects – an independent study of a single biography with a timeline of important dates and a written Heart, Head, Hands and Feet summary. That summary is inspired by the work of Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris, from Reading Wellness. To celebrate student learning and share their work, we held a fair and invited family members and other classes in the Lower School. I loved seeing my students interact with many other people around their work – parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, administrators, strangers (to them), younger students, siblings, and more.
Younger students came with a purpose. Second graders carried small notebooks and jotted down information as they asked questions and read projects. Third graders, armed with clipboards, had a longer term vision knowing they would follow up their visit with individual letters to my students. Hopefully, they were also soaking up the atmosphere of the event, imagining themselves at the fair next year when they would be fourth graders. My students squealed with happiness a week after the fair when they received letters. They remembered being on the other side of the letter writing relationship as third graders. Some examined their letters with more “experienced” eyes as they commented on the writing craft of younger students and recognized their own growth over time.
We changed the format so that all Passion Project work was done at school. Benefits accrued throughout the fall from this decision. My co-teacher and I had a better sense of the work students put into their projects because we witnessed it on a regular basis. There was no question of who did the work, as might come up when projects are completed at home. Parents were unanimously happy and supportive. It decreased stress (for everybody) and increased opportunities for play and family time. Again, important connections for my students.
We’re also reaching out to the wider world through connections with authors. I strive to treat book authors as rock stars. I share interesting tidbits with my students – things that I learn from conferences, blogs, and interviews – things that make authors more like “real people.” I’ve gotten to meet many authors and see their presence on social media, and so I know they are approachable and appreciate meeting their young fans. When one student wondered if Melanie Conklin was writing a sequel to Counting Thyme, I suggested that we reach out to her and ask. I took a photo, the student composed a message, we tweeted it out, … and received a reply. Since then, three other students have initiated direct contact with favorite authors, communicating the book love they feel.
A little more up close and personal was our visit with Chris Grabenstein, the author of the Lemoncello Library series (and more!) who came to our school last week. Third and fourth graders designed colorful posters to welcome him when he arrived. Sixth graders arrived first in our gathering place and wrote a handful of words to be used later in the presentation. Chris wowed us with life stories, funny comments, writing tips, and storytelling-on-the-spot with kid-generated elements (including those words). He stayed for lunch, eating with a handful of students and talking about books, among other things. He made quite an impression on the kids, and the fourth graders’ follow up letters made me laugh out loud. I hope Chris does too!
As anyone who has ever worked in a school knows, today – Halloween – can be a CRAZY day. We decided to embrace the crazy, roll with it, and have a fantastic time. Tiring, yes. Boring, no. And wonderfully, full of connections as well. Fourth grade detoured through the Middle School building on the way to lunch to check out all of the pumpkins and their profiles, voting on favorites. Most of our afternoon was filled with a party that is put on by our parents. It’s an annual tradition that is a beautiful example of connection. Our parents plan games and volunteer to run them. They bring food, and they help us put our rooms back to rights. They hang out with us and party like lower schoolers. Our students move through the game stations in multi-age groups. Mixing them up fosters connection – just watch a fourth or third grader look out for a younger student and help where needed. We were surprised to discover last year that there was a mellower atmosphere to the crazy day than in years past. Mixing up the ages helps the grown ups too!
As I look forward to November, a month where it’s common to talk about gratitude, I find myself feeling grateful for all of the connections that we’re building together in our class community, in our Lower School building, and within our larger communities as well.