In our study of California history, we study Dia de los Muertos.  We have generated lots of writing about the holiday and lots of art work.  We brought in pictures of our deceased loved ones and shared good memories of them.  We read books about Day of the Dead and we watched videos that talked about the holidays and showed real celebrations in Mexico.

But nothing showed us the true importance of this holiday until we went to visit a nearby Mission — Mission San Juan Bautista. The mission is both a Catholic church and a California State Historic Park. When we visit the mission, we tour the State Park buildings and we go through the Mission Museum and the actual church. When we went into the Church, we saw their Dia de los Muertos altar. We were all so moved by it.

Day of the Dead altar inside the Mission Church

When you look closely, you can see the amazingly joyful Calacas skeletons.

Calacas on Dia de los Muertos altar

Calacas  on Dia de los Muertos altar

I know that when we write next week about our field trip, there will be mention about the real altar they saw in the Mission.  But whatever they write about, I know that we have shared an amazing experience that built our understanding of California history and that will help us all understand our place in the state.

This time of year is overwhelming.  I am technically a 2nd year teacher although I have two more years under my belt as an intern teacher and a year before that subbing almost daily.  One would think I’d have my schedule a bit better under control.

But, I don’t.  I really, really don’t. (And the fact that the rest of my 4th grade team, both experienced teachers, are in a similar state is little comfort at this point.)

I feel as if I’m running on a treadmill that is set just a bit faster than I can comfortably run.  Constant catch-up.  The very minute I feel like I’ve got things under control, I forget something or am late with something or something new gets tossed my way.

Or worst of all, I run out of time on a staff meeting morning and don’t get my coffee.  And, I spend the rest of the day being the grumpiest teacher on the planet while simultaneously beating myself up for being so grumpy.

The little joys of teaching are without number.

Mantra:  I love my job.  I love my jog.  I love my job.

In all my years of teaching (which count 4 now, thank you very much! 🙂 ), I have done one thing consistently:  Poetry Friday.  However, this is the first year that I’ve really been organized about it.

Nearly every Friday, I introduce a new form of poetry to my students.  With any luck, I have a book that I can read with examples of the poem style.  The students and I are building Poetry Portfolios.  Some Fridays we devote to organizing our portfolios and finishing unfinished poems.  Their portfolios contain a table of contents where they add each form that we study then there is a page with information about each form and a sample of the form.  Following that page, they put their own poem from that form. So far, we have studied FIB, Group, Acrostic, and Shape poems.

I love teaching poetry because even reluctant poets or poor writers or struggling students can be successful at it.  A poem isn’t daunting.  It’s short and feels achievable.  Some of the poems that have been produced are breathtaking.

I’ll share more about this project as the year goes on.  So far though, it’s all good.

What
Joy!
Sharing
My passion
For words, images
I know they will express themselves.

© 2008 Liza Lee Miller

My students this year are fantastic.  There are those among them that I worry about but by and large they are an easy-to-teach bunch of kids.  There are some quirky ones that stand out . . . in a good way.

One of them is a huge fan of KISS.  Yup, the rock band with the face makeup and all.  He loves KISS.  Every free write he does is about KISS.  I have poems about KISS now and let me tell you, you haven’t really lived until you’ve read a haiku about KISS.

Yesterday, he came up to me at the end of the day, all 9 year old seriousness.  He had something shoved under his shirt and asked me to guess what he got for his birthday.  Well, I couldn’t guess and so he pulled them out . . . KISS deodorant and cologne.

Ahhhhhh, I thought.  That was that pleasant odor that would waft through the classroom periodically today.  He was over the moon about it.  Cute kid.  Wonder what he’ll be for Halloween!  I guess I can only hope that he’s not Gene Simmons and doesn’t stick his tongue out at me while he’s “in character.”

All is moving forward in my classroom.  Math groups are happening.  Social Studies is moving forward.  Spelling is underway.  Reading is progressing.  Writing is my big area of focus this year.  I want to look back at this year and think that was the year that I really started teaching writing well.

Thankfully, some of our stars are aligned.  Our district sets benchmark assessments three times a year in different writing genres.  This guides our curriculum in writing for the year.  The first genre is Personal Narrative.  So, we’re moving forward.  Today, I started reading to the kids from Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry.  It’s a delightful story about an unusual 2nd grade girl who tells stories about herself.  At the same time, we started using our 5 subject notebooks to start this unit of study.  We started with what the class in the book learns about writing Personal Narrative which is that they need to have a beginning, middle, and an end.  They also are about you and you are the main character.  The kids got excited about it.

Along with all that work, we are doing Poetry every Friday.  I’ve done that for three years now.  It’s a huge success and I’ve gotten a lot more ideas now about how to go on.  We started last week with writing Fib poems.  I love them — they are quick and easy to write and the kids really enjoy it.  One of the sections in our 5 section notebook will be for poetry lessons.  We also intend to cover Summary and Response to Literature. I know that’s only 4 sections — maybe I’ll come up with some else for after the last benchmark.

I am gathering books to read for our personal narrative touchstones.  I have a few pieces.  I’m also gathering resources from around the InterWebs to be get me started.  I’ve never been one to feel the need to re-invent the wheel.  I’m excited about it.  I can sense the kids are excited about it.

I know this year won’t be perfect but I also know it will be better than any previous year has been.  Buckle up, class, we’re writing now!

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