March 2 was Dr. Seuss’s birthday, celebrated as Read Across America Day. In West Haven, Connecticut, planning for the event began in January when the Reading Department discussed how teachers were the model readers in every building. In a previous post, I added a sideshow of photos of classroom doors that teachers and staff designed to help students recognize the importance of reading and pay tribute to Dr. Seuss.

Many of the designs were remarkable. There were doors decorated as “Readboxes,” a playful twist on the movie-dispensing Redboxes. There were doors decorated with book choices displayed in Twitter tweets, or pie charts, or hot air balloons taking students “to the places they will go.” There was even a Type 40 TARDIS door where Dr. Who can meet Dr. Seuss!

Even more remarkable was the amount of time and effort that these West Haven educators put into the communal sharing of texts. Back in January, the hope of the Reading Department was that conversations about books would happen between students; between teachers and staff; and between teachers and students and staff.  Too often in education, there is an expectation that reading a book will end in an assessment or grade. Too often, reading a book means analyzing theme, discussing character change, or identifying setting.  Too often, there is no celebration in reading.

The hope of asking teachers to share their favorite titles on classroom doors was that these displays would spark new conversations about books that were far more informal, something akin to a student saying,  “Hey, I like that book, too!”

Two other West Haven elementary schools participated in the Read Across America, and their classroom doors and bulletin boards will hopefully continue their school community’s conversations about books. At minimum, their door decorations have definitely sparked conversations about  the impact of Pinterest on education!

Some of Mackrille Elementary  School’s offerings are seen here:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The numerous weather delays and cancellations resulted in a delay of festivities for Forest Elementary School, but their enthusiasm for engaging in conversations about favorite books and reading is clearly evident:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These posts wrap up the 2015 West Haven edition of Read Across America where educators contributed time and effort to celebrate reading. Now, we can listen for students to say, “Hey, that’s my favorite book, too!”

A Seussian-thanks to all those who participated:

The doors, the books, a wonderful sight
Seeing everyone share was such a delight!

March 2 is Dr. Seuss’s birthday, celebrated as Read Across America Day. Here in West Haven, Connecticut, there were book sharing activities for teachers and students in grades K-12.  Planning for the event began in January when the Reading Department discussed how teachers were the model readers in every building.
Because teachers are successful readers, several teachers and staff members shared their personal reading histories with students and other staff members. This sharing was most evident with a wall display at Washington Elementary School where students could “Guess which book was a childhood favorite?” Photos of teachers when they were in elementary school were paired with book covers such as The Little Prince or Go, Dog, Go!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

At Bailey Middle School, teachers also shared their favorites with recommendations for students in Grades 7 & 8:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Since reading “opens doors”, teachers and students at several different elementary schools shared their favorite books together on classroom doors. The Doors of Haley Elementary School were a Pinterest-lit explosion:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While grades 5 & 6 teachers and students combined to pay tribute to Dr. Seuss and share their favorite titles on the Doors at Carrigan Intermediate School:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The day’s celebrations included other activities as well. Students at Savin Rock dressed as Dr. Seuss characters and spent time in their classrooms reading. At Pagel’s Elementary school, there was a character parade that ended in a laser light show.  Forest Elementary School will be celebrating with a door contest  held  mid-week. Finally, at West Haven High School, 12th grade students wrote letters to 9th grade students listing the books that they would recommend to read in order to succeed.
The National Education Association (NEA) created Read Across America in order to  motivate children to read. Their research has shown that children who are motivated and spend more time reading do better in school.
The photos from West Haven illustrate a high degree of motivation where teachers and students are talking about books. The day’s success was made possible through the  collective efforts of teachers and students  and building principals.
Thank you to all who participated in a Dr. Seuss fashion:

One Thanks,

Two Thanks,

Big Thanks,

True Thanks!

One of my favorite things to do when I taught a poetry unit was to select a poem I had not ‘prepared” to teach and then ask students to give me their impressions. A selection like this always brought interesting discussions because there was no prescribed agenda; we read for meaning together. One of the “go to” poets in such classroom experiments was the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

My students were already familiar with his Paul Revere’s Ride. They were also familiar with some of his acquaintances including the authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dickens. His verse was always accessible to students in different grade levels; the narrative in his poetry always captured their imaginations.

As we approach this last weekend in the coldest February on record, readers can get a glimpse of how Longfellow might have approached his birthday on the 27th with  Afternoon in February:.

The day is ending,fence
The night is descending;
The marsh is frozen,
The river dead.

Through clouds like ashes
The red sun flashes
On village windows
That glimmer red.

 

The snow recommences;
The buried fences
Mark no longer
The road o’er the plain;

While through the meadows,train
Like fearful shadows,
Slowly passes
A funeral train.

The bell is pealing,
And every feeling
Within me responds
To the dismal knell;

Shadows are trailing,
My heart is bewailing
And tolling within
Like a funeral bell.

In six short stanzas, this New England poet accurately captures the bleak experience of this winter month. Looking back, I am reminded how well my students understood that this Longfellow’s poem makes a solid case for February’s brevity!

Testing a Thousand Madelyns

February 25, 2015 — 1 Comment

My niece is a beautiful little girl. She is a beautiful girl on the outside, the kind of little girl who cannot take a bad picture. She is also beautiful on the inside. She is her mother’s helper, fiercely loyal to her older brothers, and a wonderful example for her younger brother and sisters. She is the gracious hostess who makes sure you get the nicest decorated cupcake at the birthday party. She has an infectious laugh, a compassionate heart, and an amazing ability “to accessorize” her outfits. For the sake of her privacy, let’s call her Madelyn.

Two years ago, the teachers at her school, like teachers in thousands of elementary schools across the United States, prepared Madelyn and her siblings for the mandated state tests. There were regular notices sent home throughout the school year that discussed the importance of these tests. There was a “pep-test-rally” a week before the test where students made paper dolls which they decorated with their names. A great deal of time was spent getting students enthused about taking the tests.

Paper dollSeveral months later, Madelyn received her score on her 4th grade state test. She was handed her paper doll cut-out with her score laminated in big numbers across the paper doll she had made.

Madelyn was devastated.

She hated her score because she understood that her score was too low. She hid the paper doll throughout the day, and when she came home, she cried. She could not hang the paper doll on the refrigerator where her brother’s and sister’s scores hung. The scores on their paper dolls were higher.

She cried to her mother, and her mother also cried. Her mother remembered that same hurt when she had not done well on tests in school either. As they sobbed together, Madelyn told her mother, “I’m not smart.”

Now, the annual testing season is starting again. This year, there will be other students like Madelyn who will experience the hype of preparation, who will undergo weeks of struggling with tests, and then endure a form of humiliation when the results return. The administrators and teachers pressured to increase proficiency results on a state test, often forget the damage done to the students who do not achieve a high standard.

That paper doll created during the fervor of test preparation is an example of an unintended consequence; no one in charge considered how easily scores could be compared once they were available to students in so public a manner. Likewise, many stakeholders are unaware that the rallies, ice-cream parties, and award ceremonies do little to comfort those students who, for one reason or another, do not test well.

There is little consolation to offer 10-year-old students who see the results of state tests as the determiner of being “smart” because 10-year-old students believe tests are a final authority. 10-year-old students do not grasp the principles of test design that award total success to a few at the high end, and assign failure to a few at the low end, a design best represented by the bell curve, “the graphic representation showing the relative performance of individuals as measured against each other.” 10-year-old students do not understand that their 4th grade test scores are not indicators for later success.

Despite all the advances in computer adaptive testing using algorithms of one sort or another, today’s standardized tests are limited to evaluating a specific skill set; true performance based tests have not yet been developed because they are too costly and too difficult to standardized.

My niece Madelyn would excel in a true performance based task at any grade level, especially if the task involved her talents of collaboration, cooperation, and presentation. She would be recognized for the skill sets that are highly prized in today’s society: her work ethic, her creativity, her ability to communicate effectively, and her sense of empathy for others. If there were assessments and tests that addressed these particular talents, her paper doll would not bear the Scarlet Letter-like branding of a number she was ashamed to show to those who love her.

Furthermore, there are students who, unlike my niece Madelyn, do not have support from home. How these students cope with a disappointing score on a standardized test without support is unimaginable. Madelyn is fortunate to have a mother and father along with a network of people who see her all her qualities in total; she is prized more than test grades.

At the conclusion of that difficult school year, in a moment of unexpected honesty, Madelyn’s teacher pulled my sister aside.
“I wanted to speak to you, because I didn’t want you to be upset about the test scores,” he admitted to her. He continued, “I want you to know that if I could choose a student to be in my classes, I would take Madelyn…I would take a thousand Madelyns.”

It’s testing season again for a thousand Madelyns.
Each one should not be defined by a test score.

In a well organized essay, explain how the author conveys his meaning. Be sure to consider structure, diction, setting, and point of view.

Popular MechanicsAbove is the prompt I used when I taught Advanced Placement English Literature (APLit) for all kinds of literature. This was before the Common Core’s “close reading” dictums; APLit students read and looked for author style and purpose because that was the focus of the course.

Tonight (2/22) there is a Twitter Chat #aplitchat on Raymond Carver’s short story “Popular Mechanics”; across the nation, APLit teachers will contribute their ideas on how to guide students through this particular dark story. I am trapped here in CT under another 7″ of snow, and while I wait to be dug out, here is an explanation of how my students wrote about this story.

When I passed out the copies,my students were, at first, delighted to see its brevity; the entire story is under 500 words. I would watch my students as they silently read. As they would finish in unison, their heads would snap up in shock.

Some of my students saw the story as deeply disturbing; others saw the story as dark humor. They wanted to talk plot, so I would allow several minutes of “What just happened?” and “They killed the baby??” and “Those people are sick!”
No surprise that Carver’s story generated strong responses by all of my students.

My next step in pre-writing would be to share some supporting information.  One year I gave the students the Biblical story of King Solomon to contrast the behavior of the mothers in each. Every year, I provided the definition of the word issue, the key linking the concluding sentence and the title. Here are some of the possible means of issue with connections to the story.

  •  something that is printed or published and distributed, esp. a given number of a periodical: 
  • a point in question or a matter that is in dispute, as between contending parties in an action at law; 
  • offspring; progeny:
  • a discharge of blood, pus, or the like;
  •  to go, pass, or flow out; come forth; emerge.

My students would reread the story, take notes, and spend several minutes of peer-to-peer discussions in groups. They would share how Carver’s structure, diction, setting, and point of view contributed to their understanding. After the discussions, I would ask them to draft a response using the standard prompt above.

My contribution to the #APLitchat tonight is a folder with three student exemplars that were created one year as a result. These drafts represent some interesting ideas as seen in some of these excerpts:

Student #1

Finally Carver uses these simple but revealing details about his characters to keep his story interesting and detailed but also very concise. The story starts in a bedroom, a place they probably consecrated their marriage but he is now tearing apart by leaving. We then switch to the doorway of the kitchen, paralleling her change in emotion. The kitchen is typically a place of family and love.

Student #2

Carver uses words and phrases such as “Bring that back” and “I want the baby” (Carver). The use of very simple, short words provides a more aggressive, hard-hitting tone. Carver’s sentence construction is very mechanical and rhythmic, which furthers Carver’s theory that the inner workings of a marriage and a family can be broken down into a mechanized object where basic laws of physics can be applied.

Student #3 

Carver brings in this contrast of light and dark in his first paragraph that states “it was getting dark. But it was getting dark on the inside too.” There is still light in their life before the argument, but as he packs, it begins to fade. By the time the couple is in a shady corner and the baby is torn apart, the house is darkened. It creates good imagery for the reader to illustrate the family “issues.”

As these excerpts from essay illustrate, Carver’s terse dialogue and minimal details helped my students appreciate the link between an author’s style and his or her purpose. Students enjoyed “Popular Mechanics” and at the end of the school year, they would always mark it a story that made them think about an author’s choices in writing a story.

I was fortunate to have 90 minute block periods to do this lesson in one sitting, but the lesson can be spread over two sessions or truncated to fit into a 45 minute block organized as 15 minutes of reading and discussion and 30 minutes of writing.

Good luck, #APLitchat on your discussion, and may all issues on responses to this story be resolved!

Screenshot 2015-02-21 12.54.55Finally catching a break from the weekend snowstorms that have plagued Connecticut this winter, the Connecticut Writing Project (CWP) at Fairfield University hosted a session of the Assignments Matter National Task Jam on Saturday, February 21. The CWP morning seminar gave 25 educators a chance to collaborate and to design high-quality, engaging writing assignments for the Assignments Matters Google+ Community  Their created tasks will be posted alongside the assignments by already created in January by 475 middle and high school educators throughout the country. This National Writing Project (NWP) initiative is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as “a collaborative, knowledge-building and sharing experience open to any teacher who knows that meaningful tasks create powerful results.” This Gates Education Foundation provided grants that allowed teachers nationwide an opportunity to develop writing tasks that can be shared through NWP collaborative platforms.

As with all NWP workshops, teachers began the workshop by writing. The prompt was meant to focus attention on the importance of clarity in designing writing tasks:

Write about a time where you gave a task to someone and the result was not what you wanted. What happened? What was the purpose of the task and the desired result?

The discussion that followed illustrated how critical good directions are in lesson design. Take for example, my own story when I was teaching grade 6th:

“Take out your notebooks and go to the back”…I said to the class.
I looked down for the markers on the bottom of the overhead cart.
I heard shuffling.
I looked up.
Several students were walking.
“Wait!…”I yelled, “What are you doing?”
Everyone froze.
I saw students mid-way out of their seats stiffen.
They all looked surprised.
“You said go to the back….”, stammered one of the boys.
“Yes, well…I meant….go to the back of the notebook….”
Moment of realization!
6th graders are literal.
I need to be clear and specific when I give directions.

That lesson in clarity has stayed with me in my teaching career, and based on the examples given by other teachers in their responses, there was mutual agreement on the importance of clarity in giving directions-written and spoken-in teaching.

The afternoon session was dedicated to the development of writing prompts that teachers could use in their classrooms. Teachers were encouraged to use templates provided by the Literacy Design Collaborative. The opportunity to revise and to share new prompts with other teacher participants brought immediate satisfaction. The knowledge that these prompts will be shared with teachers across the country throughout the school year was gratifying as well.

These prompts are a clear demonstration that while #taskmatters, the role of the teacher in crafting writing prompts as assessments that address the needs of their student populations is critical. These prompts are not “canned” curriculum prompts. They are proof that in in creating assessments #teachersmatter.

Thank you, Bryan Crandall, for hosting; thank you, Shaun Mitchell, for facilitating!

During a pop-in visit with the 8th grade social studies teachers last week, the discussion turned to the growing number of interruptions to the school calendar because of the snow cancellations and delays we are experiencing here in Connecticut this winter. The teachers were grumbling, frustrated that they were not able to cover the content in the curriculum units.

“There are some advantages to ice and snow this winter,” I suggested.
They looked at me skeptically.
“Our students are feeling the same conditions that the Continental Army felt that winter at Valley Forge,” they paused.
I continued, “I can’t imagine how teachers in San Diego get students to understand what it was like to be a soldier in that winter in 1778.”

Of course, imagine is the key word here. Students taking classes in sunny 75 degree weather would have to imagine the conditions penned by George Washington to then New York Governor George Clinton from his headquarters in a chilly farmhouse at Valley Forge. Our first Commander-in-Chief’s desperation to keep his troops fed and clothed in frigid conditions is clearly evident in this letter, written while the well-stocked British troops camped comfortably nearby in Philadelphia. During that encampment at Valley Forge beginning on December 19, 1777, nearly 2,500 American soldiers, a quarter of the Continental Army, succumbed to disease and exposure by the end of February 1778. A modified version of Washington’s letter for students (Created through the TAH Making History Grant)  appears below:

To Governor George Clinton

Head Quarters, Valley Forge, February 16, 1778

Dear Sir:

It is with great reluctance, I trouble you … For some days…, there has been…a famine in camp. A part of the army has been a week, without any kind of flesh, and the rest for three or four days. Naked and starving as they are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery, that they have not been [led]…by their sufferings, to a general mutiny…

…I am, on my part, putting every engine to work, that I can possibly think of, to prevent…fatal consequences…. I am calling upon all those, whose stations and influence enable them to contribute their aid upon so important an occasion; … I expect every thing within the compass of your power, and that the abilities and resources of the state over which you preside, will admit….

Valley Forge was not Washington’s first test of endurance in harsh winter conditions. Two years previous to this encampment, Washington had successfully crossed the Delaware River in a surprise attack against the Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey. Taking advantage of the Hessian’s late night holiday celebration, Washington crossed the icy waters on December 25, and attacked on the following morning.

Washington’s trip across the icy waters was immortalized in the painting Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, (Metropolitan Museum of Art-NYC, 1851).

Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA-NYC,_1851

Washington Crossing the Delaware is also the name and subject of a sonnet by David Shulman (1936).  This sonnet is entirely composed of anagrams, or verses of word play, where the letters of a word or phrase are used (once) to produce a new words or in Shulman’s case, verses:

A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
“How cold!” Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!

The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general’s action wish’d “Go!”
He saw his ragged continentals row.

Ah, he stands – sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens – winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.

George can’t lose war with’s hands in;
He’s astern – so go alight, crew, and win!

The nation’s tribute to George Washington, combined his birthday (2/22) with Lincoln’s birthday (2/12) to make President’s Day, a National Holiday celebrated from the frigid shores of the Delaware River, across those same fields of Valley Forge, and all the way to the warm sunny beaches of the San Diego coastline.

The combination of Washington’s letter to George Clinton, the famous painting by Emanuel Leutze, and the sonnet by David Shulman can help students everywhere in the United States to imagine the severe weather conditions of these most famous exploits of Washington, but the students here in the Mid-Atlantic and in New England have the historical advantage to experience that same weather first-hand every year.

Here in Connecticut, in the winter of 2015, our students’ empathy lies with George.

K centers

Examples of center activities

At the beginning of my teaching career, I worked as the 8th grade English Language Arts teacher in a K-8 parochial school. Once a month, my students would pair up with the kindergarten students to complete a creative project: paper maché globes, paper kites, Q & A interviews. On those afternoons, my noisy and awkward adolescents longingly stared at various learning stations: art centers, counting blocks, easels,finger paints, and beanbag chairs circled around picture books. It was evident that my 8th graders wanted to go back to kindergarten.
And why wouldn’t they want to go back? Even back then, kindergarten combined the elements of fun and learning through a structured day of collaborative and independent activities. In today’s kindergarten classes, the morning meeting is a cooperative exercise where students are oriented for the day’s activities. Language arts centers develop reading and writing skills and include collaborative guided reading or read alouds. Math centers provide materials for independent practice in developing math skills. Structured play activities build social interaction, while recess, especially outdoor recess, allows students to practice unstructured play. “Specials” expose students to the arts and/or other disciplines. The entire kindergarten day day is structured to provide students with multiple opportunities to collaborate or to be independent.

In an article titled Ready for Kindergarten? In Parent Child Magazine (Scholastic publication), five kindergarten teachers discussed what attributes they believe children should have to be successful in kindergarten.

Their recommendations for the top five readiness skills students should have, in no particular order, are:

  • Ability to play well with others
  • Ability to listen
  • Solid oral-language skills
  • Desire to be independent
  • Enthusiasm toward learning

What is interesting is comparing these skills that kindergarten teachers look for in students to the skills that recruiters look for in hiring once students have exited a school system. A recent survey by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) a non-profit group that links colleges with recruiters, asked hiring managers what top skills they believe to be the most important in recruiting employees. The top skills for recruiters look for are:

  1. Ability to work in a team structure
  2. Ability to make decisions and solve problems (tie)
  3. Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
  4. Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
  5. Ability to obtain and process information

The elements of collaboration and independence that started in the structures and strategies from kindergarten are evident in both lists. The ability to communicate is critical whether a student is entering as a five year old or exiting with five years of graduate school.

In addition to this information, consider the first-hand individual employee accounts from those who work at Fortune 500 companies that have been designated as “The Best Places to Work.” Included on this list are predictable choices (Google #1) where the  activities of a Google Employee (highly edited) might look something like this:

Google Workspace or Center

Google Workspace or Center

  • 9:00 AM: Morning meeting
  • 11:00 AM: Call with the team to plan
  • 2:00 PM: Brainstorming with my team.
  • 4:00 PM: Submit ideas; Spend ten minutes trying to convince others.

The skills of communicating and collaboration in this abridged account mirror the qualities required by the five kindergarten teachers. And those reviews by employees from various Fortune 500 companies included statements about additional learning, “They really know how to push you” (McKinsey#9) and “Given great opportunities to expand my knowledge about the field” (Chevron #6). The desire to participate or be “pushed” was a connecting thread for all the top rated companies, and that desire for additional learning could be the spark that is ignited in kindergarten.

An example of a Kindergarten workspace

An example of a Kindergarten workspace

I am not suggesting that the focus of kindergarten should be career readiness as has been expressed by some education reformers, but it is surprising how many of the kindergarten-like structures and strategies are embedded in the more successful companies. Perhaps it is no wonder these companies receive such enviable reviews from their employees.

A little creative liberty in rewording one of the reviews from Forbes given by an employee from the top rated company Acuity, illustrates how these structures and strategies in employee satisfaction might sound like the ideal kindergarten experience [my additions]:

One Millennial commented, “I have never worked for a company that has an upper management team [OF TEACHERS] that is so forthcoming and approachable. They are always praising us and you can tell we actually are making a difference in the organization [SCHOOL]. I love coming to work and doing my job [OF LEARNING]. It’s just an added bonus that we often get special treats like food and gifts as well as parties to celebrate our success as a company [CLASS].”

Yup. Let’s not forget that “special treats like food and gifts as well as parties,” are also part kindergarten experience, and just one more way that kindergarten may be preparing employees for those Fortune’s Top 500 companies.

Graphic 2It’s snowing again in Connecticut.
It’s February.
No surprise.

In fact, snow days are not a surprise for thousands of school districts across the US.
Snow days interrupt instruction.
Again, no surprise.

It’s a fact that schools have requirements for school instruction days and for instruction hours or seat time. So if snow days and interruptions to instruction time requirements are not a surprise, what can educators do to be ready for the inevitable snow day?

There are some districts that prepare for snow days in advance by organizing assignments before the school day.

In New Hampshire, some districts have used ‘‘Blizzard Bag Days.” On these days, students complete assignments at home, either online or on paper. If 80% of students complete assignments, then the snow day is not added to the end of the school year. Some districts have reported that the number of students who participate in Blizzard Bag Days has risen to 90%.

As technology expands in the classroom, the use of different learning platforms can halt the disruption of learning by allowing students to participate in activities that allow them to practice skills they have been taught in the classroom. For districts that are concerned about the amount of technology in homes, many platforms are easily accessed by digital phones through mobile apps. Phone message apps that deliver assignments do not chew up the data time if the materials have already been sent home in anticipation of a snow day.

One possible argument in designing the use of technology to facilitate learning on a snow day is how to determine the percentage of students who must participate in order for the day to “count” in the school calendar. Previous attendance figures by school could be used to choose such a percentage for credit, and student work turned in or digital work submitted could be used to validate these percentages.

Another argument is choosing a method to determine how many hours or how much seat time is necessary to complete an assignment  in order to “count” for credit. The seat time argument may be less of a concern given that there are districts with students, particularly in the upper grades, who are receiving credit for core coursework on platforms with flexible seat time requirements. For example, instead of using Carnegie units (120 hours per unit) for course credit, some online platforms, such as platforms like Odysseyware, provide fewer coursework hours in grade level subject areas. Many of these online course platforms require the use of seat time waivers, with sometimes as little as 70-80 hours, to complete coursework.

Another concern may be raised by teachers who might initially interpret snow day assignments as “extra work” to prepare, review, or grade. As a former teacher, I would argue that while snow days gave me an opportunity to catch up on grading or lesson plans, I was in effect, working twice. I would work during the snow day, and then work again on the date tacked onto the school year. How many times in June, in a particularly warm and steamy classroom, did I wish that we could have kept to the original school closing date?

The Common Core’s focus on increasing non-fiction materials into all grade level curriculum means that every subject area, including “specials” or electives (art, music, physical education, computer technology, etc.) could contribute in preparing materials for snow days; core subject areas need not be the only requirements for snow day lesson preparation. Rotating responsibilities for assigning work (Snow Day #1: English, Art, Science; Snow Day #2: Math, Social Studies, Music) might be a way to ensure that students do not lose practice in the same subject area with each cancellation.

Finally, in support of snow day assignments, is the argument that practice for standardized testing, now required by the Common Core in the form of SBAC or PARCC, needs to happen before early spring test dates. Any interruption in skills practice caused by snow days, particularly in the later winter months, could have an adverse impact on student and school test results. Even at the upper grade levels, snow day interruptions pose problems for delivering Advanced Placement content, already in overstuffed syllabi, in order to prepare students for annual AP exams held in early May.

graphic 1The result is that days added in late June to meet state requirements become educationally superfluous and may place students into another meteorological challenging situation: overheated classrooms when outside temperatures climb into the 90s.

When school calendars are decided a year in advance in any of the Snow Belt States, Mid-Atlantic States, or New England, it is common practice  to add snow days to the school year. The same practice could be extended by having teachers prepare materials for snow cancellations either at the beginning of the school year or soon after the first quarter.

It’s no surprise that it will snow again next year.

Here in New England, when that first snow day comes next year, there should no surprises.

blleding heartSt. Valentine’s Day traces its origins to the priest, Valentine, who was performing Christian marriages when the Roman emperor Claudius II (not to be confused with the more capable Claudius I) ordered his execution. Valentine was arrested, beaten to death with clubs, and then beheaded.
The date? February 14, on or about the year 270. Valentine’s Day was off to a painful start. But the legend of Valentine started to spread with a story of a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, signed “From Your Valentine.”

The Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love, held around mid-February, became entwined with the legend of Valentine. Lupercalia had been celebrated Hunger Game style by placing the names of young women in a box, and then pairing up with men who drew their names. The debauchery was halted by Pope Gelasius in the 5th Century.

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why (Sonnet XLIII) offers the perfect blend of Valentine’s pain and Lupercalia after-party regret. As a plus, it is a sonnet, one of the easiest ways to teach author’s craft: 14 lines of rhymed iambic pentameter that pose a problem and a resolution after the volta or “turn” in the final line(s).

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, 
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain 
Under my head till morning; but the rain 
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh 
Upon the glass and listen for reply, 
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain 
For unremembered lads that not again 
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. 
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree, 
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, 
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: 
I cannot say what loves have come and gone, 
I only know that summer sang in me 
A little while, that in me sings no more.

So, what is the problem? I asked my students every year I taught this poem:

“The problem is she kisses everyone,” say some students.
“The problem is she cannot remember every lover,” say others.
“Was she a little ahead of her time?” asked one who noted her birthdate:
“She’s a slut…” or “She’s a little loose…” or “She’s a man-eater…no, a lad-eater,” they judge collectively.
“The problem is …she’s grown old, and cannot get love the same way,” they conclude.

Their responses have followed this poem’s pattern; from promiscuity to regret, they follow the sequence in the pattern created by Millay.

When I taught any sonnet, I would ask, “Why did the poet choose this format? Why not a lyric poem of four stanzas of 16 lines total?”

Questions like that always puzzled my students; poetry for many of them springs Athena-like from the mind of the poet without regard to form or word craft.  Helping them to understand a poet’s choice leads to appreciating author’s craft, and in this case, Millay’s choice to bare her past using a sonnet.

The sonnet is Petrachan, the octave (first 8) lines with requisite abbaabba ryme scheme. This section is “haunting”, full of “w”s creating a whoooo sound, and to confirm how sound is related to the sense of the poem, the “rain if full of ghosts” that start howling at “midnight with a cry.”

The following part of the poem is the sextet (last 6) lines with the rhyme scheme cdedce dominated by images of winter and summer, the poet as the leafless and lonely tree. “I only know” marks the volta, the turn, into the resolution, where “summer sang” carefree love, but in winter “sings no more.” Two motifs, noise and time, connect the octave with the sextet.

One student suggested that Millay wrote this as sonnet for self-exploration, “Like she put herself on an analyst’s couch and worked her way to a solution.”
Another suggested she was a making poetic confession.
Several saw the poem as a warning, but they all agreed that understanding the structure of the sonnet helped them understand Millay’s message.

“Love hurts,” they said. St. Valentine would agree.