Yes, This Will Be On the Test

Writing, Reading, Laughing

Sunday, April 21, 2013

View From the 5th Grade Trenches: April 2013: Milo, Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze

As a teacher in these days of high-stakes standardized testing, no matter how hard I try to be fresh and interesting, I feel like I’m sending pre-packaged knowledge down a conveyor belt at a furious pace and simultaneously dumping it into 33 brains.

The days of “discovery learning” and gradual development of concepts seems to have gone the way of the Dodo.

Every so often, there is a magic experience where the kids and I connect as a collective soul. Our hearts swell and shine as one. We laugh together and cry together.

Thanks to Alan Silberberg, this wonderful synergy happened when I read his amazing story, Milo, Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze to my class.

Alan, perfectly balancing loving honesty and humor, guides Milo through the aftermath of losing a parent while navigating the insanity that is junior high.

There is a child in my class who recently lost a parent so at first I was wary of sharing Milo’s experience. I gave the book to the child’s parent to read. She adored it and appreciated the sensitivity Alan used in his storytelling.

Milo, Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze in addition to being an important story, is chock full of terrific drawings. I am able to project books on an interactive white board in my classroom so the kids enjoyed the illustrations in real time as I read the story aloud to them.

We didn’t just read Milo together, we experienced it. Rich conversations sprang up as we laughed, cried, and shared our own emotional journeys with one another. The student who had lost a parent told me how much she had related to and appreciated the book.

Thank you, Alan Silberberg for the gift of Milo, Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze.

 The kids had a few thoughts to share:

Many students said they made a connection with Milo because they have lost someone they loved.

Milo trying to make Summer like him
Milo getting really scared in the haunted house
Booger Flavored Freezies
Sylvia and Milo planting the flowers
Milo finding the blanket
Playing with the salt and pepper shakers
Milo wanting to celebrate Mother’s Day
The dentist’s office
Milo writing the poem
Tuna fish

Did you really know a One-Eyed Jack?
Does Summer secretly like-like Milo?
How do you connect with Milo?
Is there going to be another Milo story like how he handles high school?
Why did you make Milo so clumsy?
Did anyone else give you ideas that were in the book?
How did writing this story effect you? Were you sad?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Stressor Stacks

Do you ever feel your life is a game of Jenga? If you pull out the wrong block the whole works is going to thunk down on your head?

If so, it's time to manage your stressor stack. We all have a tower of obligations that conspire to squash our creativity. The trick is knowing how many you can juggle at once and still have brain space to be creative.

Lately my writing brain has felt like cold oatmeal. 

Writer's block? No. A gazillion unfinished projects still rattle the bars in my noggin. 

Fear of rejection? No. Rejection is an expectation along the yellow brick writing road.

So what gooped up my process? Yep, you guessed it

The human brain had a finite capacity to deal with stressors. When we overload it, we are zapped emotionally and the first thing to go is creativity.

I ignored and mismanaged my stressors, allowing them to shut down the creative factory between my ears.

So how did I solve it and jump back in the creative saddle? 

I identified and validated each stressor to keep them from immobilizing me. We all have them, and they're not going away. By ignoring them, I'd allowed mine to grow fangs and gnaw at my brain. Once I put a face and priority on the blocks in my stack, I could strategize, assigning each a fair portion of my consciousness. The stressors didn't disappear, but they no longer run wild, wantonly slurping up my mental time and emotional space.

I assigned importance to relaxing. I'm terrible at finding contemplative, peaceful moments, but I'm working on stillness to give stress an outlet to leak out of my ears and blow away on the breeze. 

More importantly, I re-validated the place creativity has in my life. It is a "have to" for me. By letting the stressors take the lead, I had passively relegated writing to a lesser priority. *slaps hand* I re-committed to treating my creative life as if I were an athlete in training. I focus on healthy eating, exercise, and not compromising the time my writing muscles deserve each day in order to tone and build.

And guess what?

The creative channels in my brain unclogged. The energy and drive to sit down and write came flooding back. Once again I'm surrounded by spiral notebooks overflowing with ideas and bullet points, and my laptop needs charging everyday.

So get out your whips and tame those stressors. Don't let them sneak up on you the way I did. 

Writer's have a right to write no matter how high your Jenga stack grows.

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