The goal is that each day will be purpose driven and meaningful in a way that engages and excites all students in the learning process. When we notice that much of our space is filled with the “silly, stupid things” that get in the way of learning, it’s time to step back and ask ourselves, “What really matters?” Last week I asked that very question. Company members retreated to a comfortable writing place and put pencil to paper. When given time to reflect, we can see what is happening around us and inside us. Then we are able to recognize the moments and experiences that affect us positively and negatively. We are more cognizant of what really matters.
The day after the election, my students wanted to talk. They wanted to tell me how they were feeling and what they were thinking. I listened. Then I encouraged them to write their thoughts in a letter to America. Below are excerpts from their writing. I am hopeful as I think about the future of our country when I hear these eight year olds speak their truth and begin to discover their music inside. They matter. And they want the world to know it.
“We have to speak up and show who we are.”
“We should have kids vote, like 6 year olds, seven year olds, eight, nine and ten year olds.”
“We want people to not want so much power.”
“America needs to know who we are and what we are capable of.”
–Iyannah and Mark
“Everybody needs to have freedom.”
“We are all unique and that’s okay.”
“We have voices.”
In education today, play and improvisation are often regarded as frivolous, fluff, a waste of time. In reality, they hold the key to learning and understanding the world around us.
By creating an environment and simulating a situation to explore our opera theme of judgment, students bring to life an imaginary world by improvising a scenario. They are completely uninhibited because they are merely playing. What this “play” yields astounds me every time I witness it. From what appears to be total chaos, comes profound revelation.
. . .
The Island of Judgment and Criticism has a river that runs through it. One side of the river is inhabited by compassionate, empathetic beings. On the other side of the river live those who are judgmental and critical.
No one has ever crossed the river . . . until now.
We are now in the process of introducing all jobs in the opera company.
As a writer, a chief responsibility is composing song lyrics. Given a familiar story about fishermen from The Congo, small groups set to work crafting lyrics for an aria to be sung by one of the main characters, Benguela.
Generally speaking, learning to work collaboratively is no easy feat. But today, teams settled quickly into a productive flow. There was immediate interest and engagement in the task.
I was delighted to see students who struggle with writing take the pen and lead their peers in this creative pursuit. The classroom was abuzz with unique ideas and lively discussion. To my surprise, several groups broke into song, tapping rhythms and singing melodies to accompany their words.
In talking with my students about living a great story, I simply asked, “What parts of our story can we control and what parts of our story are beyond our control?” Several shared that anger sometimes gets the best of them and they are not able to control it. For this reason, every day after recess and lunch, we find the space to stop, be still, breathe and release.
One day, during this period, a dear friend and former opera parent, Lissa James, came to class to lead us in a guided imagery session intended to help us recognize and confront our anger. Through story and vivid images, company members became conscious of their anger dragons.
Now, the goal is to determine ways to control this unpredictable beast that appears time and time again, catches us off guard, wreaks havoc in our lives and often leaves us feeling defenseless and defeated.
Where does my anger dragon live? What is his motivation? How will I control him? These are questions we all might ask ourselves.
We are Discover the Music Inside Kids Opera Company. After reflecting on the experiences we have shared since school began, the students were able to synthesize the metaphors, inspiring song lyrics, profound books and all we have lived together these last five weeks to arrive at their company name. It will surely serve us well and will inform our individual and collective stories.
Late Friday afternoon as the first week of school drew to a close, I asked company members what they had learned over the five instructional days. Samir, who rarely contributed ideas during discussions and group sharing, raised his hand and responded, “Others Matter.”
As hands shot up around the circle and students generated a comprehensive list of lessons learned, I wondered, “If they are able to recognize and utilize these tidbits of wisdom in September, where might they be in June?”
On day one, I presented the incoming company members with the directive, Live a Great Story.
I simply asked, “What does this mean to you?” Their responses, so authentic and introspective, launch our year-long journey of discovery.
“Write my story.”
“I want to live my life like a story, make it beautiful and amazing. I want my life to be as clean as the Earth after rain. I want to make good decisions and be a good example.”
“Follow your heart. Nobody can tell you what you can or can’t do. If you make a mistake, it’s okay. The good thing instead of giving up, is that you learn from your mistakes.”
― Belinda [Read more…] about Live a Great Story
To sell an idea, promote a product or further a mission, one must craft the perfect sales pitch. Getting someone to purchase something he really does not need or want, takes persuasion, persistence and probable cause. Our company mugs are lovely, but who needs another mug? It’s what the mug represents, the purpose for funding and the delivery of the sales pitch that will make or break the sale. Want to buy a mug?
For years, teachers have engaged in taking running records to assess reading progress. Teachers analyze mistakes, determine strategies to help students correct mistakes and create an instructional plan of next steps to help students become proficient readers. When used correctly, this tool can provide great insight into teaching and learning in a profound way.
The first week of school, my former colleague, Ellen Bloom, came to my class to teach students how to monitor their own reading progress by administering running records. Why should the teacher be the sole proprietor of the assessment tool and the process through which students learn to be better readers?
As students learn to monitor their own progress and the progress of their peers, they better understand themselves as readers and for the first time, can unlock the meaning to the printed words on the page. The words come to life. It all begins to make sense.
Since Ms. Bloom’s visit in September, my students have persevered in their efforts to become proficient readers. They coach one another and provide unsolicited assistance and support for fellow readers. When we turn over the responsibility of learning to our students, they do not disappoint.