Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Visiting Author Program

For the past four years, our school has invested in our visiting author program as an opportunity for our students to interact with professional authors.  I am happy to say that this investment has been very worthwhile and I believe these visits have had a profound impact on our school culture and our writing program.   Over the past four years, we have had visits from professional writers such as Taylor Mali, Marc Leavitt, Ibtisam Barakat, Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger.  For the most part, the middle school has brought in poets to work with our students and we have found that our students have really responded to the passion that our authors have brought to their lessons.  This year, we were fortunate enough to have Naomi Shihab Nye visit our school for a week to discuss her work and share her thoughts with students, teachers and parents about how we can promote our students to become more active writers. 

One of the most profound impacts that these visits have had our instructional program was the modification of our writing units in middle school.  In the past, each grade level would work on various writing units throughout the year independently.  Now, we are able to schedule our visiting author to arrive at the beginning of our poetry units and use their visit as our “hook” to launch our division wide poetry work.  These units will end with our 3rd annual middle school poetry slam which gives all of our students the opportunity to share their work with live audiences.

Naomi’s visit definitely helped us to blast into poetry and it has been great walking through classes this past week and seeing our students engaged in reading and writing poetry.  This enthusiasm for poetry can be summed up with a letter that one of our 6th grade students sent her teacher.

Dear Ms. Pohl

I had an idea for Viper Vision (I couldn’t wait to tell you on Sunday, but I’m sending you an email because I thought I would forget).  My idea was that we should have a poetry section in the MS newspaper, because it is our poetry unit and some people would like their poems to be read and noticed (like me).
Also, I have been writing Haiku.  Today I wrote 5!  I want to show them to you.  I wrote them in my tiny notebook that I take everywhere.
I really like poetry now.  I think Naomi Shihab Nye, poets I enjoy and you have really opened my eyes to different types of poems.  Thank you.

Thank you to all of the visiting authors that have taken the time to visit our school and help our students discover their passion for writing!

Photo Credits:
Background illustration adapted from Lullaby Raft, written by Naomi Shihab Nye
Cover Art by Vivienne Flesher
Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing, 1997
Portrait photograph of Naomi Shihab Nye
Photography by: Chehalis Hegner

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Parent Book Club - Mindset

I have always enjoyed reading and now devote a lot of my reading time to educational blogs and books that expose me to various ideas and opportunities to improve education.  At some times, I feel like this can present some problems as we incorporate these ideas in our school without an awareness of why changes are being implemented throughout our parent community.  An example of this is some of the changes that have occurred in our school due to the work of Carol Dweck and her book “Mindset”.  I personally believe that the central idea of this book, promoting a growth mindset, has the ability to improve the learning experience for everyone in our school community.   Although our faculty has discussed Dweck’s work and how this can impact our classrooms, I was wondering how we could introduce our parent community to her work and discuss how parents can promote the growth mindset at home as well?

Fortunately, I have been working with a parent group this year to help me answer these types of questions.  Our solution was to have a parent book club that would read books like Mindset, and meet to discuss the central ideas and share how these ideas might impact their children.  I am happy to say that thanks to the organization of our parents, we will be having our first parent book club meeting this week and talking about how we can promote the growth mindset in both at home and at school.  I think that this is that this is a great example of a positive school and parent partnership and looking forward to some fantastic discussions.