Wednesday, September 12, 2007

This cold makes me feel funny

Some of my school's Year 3 and 4 students are working with me on an interactive Book Rap, composing and posting emails for other schools to share ideas about selected books. Last week, their progress on some narratives about our school's various playground birds was unexpectedly halted by a visit from poet Steven Herrick, which was apart of National Literacy and Numeracy Week.

Few of our students knew of Herrick's work, but we did have three of his titles in the school library. His visit was an overwhelming success. The Year 4 students had already written their bird stories for the rap and were ready to compose their Wrap Rap-up messages to finalise everything, but we all suddenly realised the potential of applying Herrick's unique style of free verse to such writing as the bird narratives. Therefore, I read a few more Herrick poems to the Years 3/4 classes and, when the Year 3's came in for their catch-up book rapping session, to complete their narratives, I encouraged them to use the option of free verse in their final drafts.

A few groups soon reached a stalemate, having exhausted all of their wonderful brainstormed ideas of two weeks ago. It was not long after recess, so we went out into the playground and waited quietly. Sure enough, in came the pigeons and other birds, one by one, to pck through the students' abandoned leftovers of food! In just a few minutes of observation we were witness to: pigeons' meal time; a young male pigeon's first, tentative attempts at courtship; and the "rules" of avian attack/defence. A few minutes later the huge, glossy black crows had also arrived, swooping down, full of confidence, taking over the new bird bath, and having a great time laying down the law of birdlife. The students quickly noticed the "pecking order" of our school's bird population.

We went back into the library full of renewed inspiration. One group, although they'd written their narrative about pigeons in normal paragraphs (and continued to do so), elected to perform it orally for the other groups as free verse poetry, breaking up the sentences into shorter natural phrasing, a la Steven Herrick. When we typed up their final draft, the new presentation style was retained. I was really thrilled with the result!

Normally I wouldn't share student work online, but the poem already appears elsewhere on a public forum, so I can give you a peek:

by Year 3 students (in the style of Steven Herrick).

The playground is empty,

except for the pigeons.

They go and look

for food

in the rubbish

and eat it.

This is now their territory.

Until lunchtime.

A young male pigeon

strives to impress

a new female.

This will be his first mate.

The other pigeons

peck the ground

and other playground birds, who can’t find food,

follow them.

After their meal of scraps

The pigeons go to the bird bath to relax,

and to decide on the next school to visit.

Once again, raising the bar of expectations caused the students to meet - and surpass it.

I've now put up a display board about the book rap in the library, and one story and one poem have been earmarked for next week's school newsletter. Even though I've been "talking up" this book rap with other teachers at every opportunity, and putting items in the school newsletter, the display board has already caused a few teachers in the other stages to realise that there has been all this amazing creativity going on around them, while they stayed in blissful ignorance. So often, teachers get so caught up with their day-to-day class activities they can manage to miss out hearing of other students' and other teachers' success stories. The display board is going to be a great focal point for identifying examples of successful collaborative teaching, and the use of ICT (information and communication technologies) and cooperative student learning in the school library.

The timing has been excellent! I happened to have my 2007 Teacher Assessment and Review Schedule (TARS) talk today, and I had plenty of positive stuff at my fingertips to talk about (not that I'm usually shy about sharing).

The principal gave me some excellent feedback on my first year back in the library. He especially likes my enthusiasm for children's literature, our school's great improvement in the annual Premier's Reading Challenge (103 additional students made it, making a total of 313 this year!), and how I've made the library extra student-friendly.

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