Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Thin Line Between Chaos and Genius

Disclaimer: I would never lay claim to the title of genius; however, sometimes thoughtful, deliberate, hard work looks something like genius.

Sometimes trying to pull together lessons that address standards and curriculum mandates while also addressing students' needs and interests often leaves me feeling like I am walking a thin line between barely controlled chaos and carefully orchestrated genius. Sometimes it takes a while to see the connections among seemingly different contexts and goals. Sometimes it all works.

When my colleague Mr. A. stopped by my room recently, he caught me in the midst of planning for writing workshop. I gestured to the piles of professional books, student writing samples, and notes scribbled on sticky notes. "What I have," I sighed, "is either a mess or something that is going to be very cool."
"Oh, it'll be genius," he replied. One of the things I appreciate about Mr. A. is his unwavering confidence.

Usually I think about the most pressing needs in planning, but right now, it feels like there are several things that qualify. It's April, so of course we want to spend some time studying and writing poetry. We've recently returned our attention in reading to informational text and want to try out some techniques we noticed in what we're reading to write some new kinds of informational text ourselves. After looking at the kids' writing, I realized that we needed to learn how to get more detail into our text and illustrations to help readers understand our work. And the research center--how could I forget that after a peek into their observation notebooks, it was glaringly obvious that I needed to reteach what kinds of writing and drawing researchers do.

After a small, private panic attack, I started looking for how all these things might be related. I kept coming back to informational text. There are a lot of poems that are actually informative--quite a lot once you start looking for it. That could tie into noticing and writing and illustrating with detail--essential in poetry. Poetry could be one of the forms we studied as options for ourselves as informational text writers--why not? As for the research center--it seemed that noticing and learning how to draw and take notes would support our work as writers, not just our research work. Hmmm....maybe there is a little spark of genius here. Or at least a clever way to link seemingly unrelated things in to one study.

Here's the planning sheet we used (since he was there anyway, I made Mr. A. help plan). Mr. A. had already begun studying poetry with his kids, so he started with the lessons related specifically to poetry. I had already talked to my kids a little about illustration work, so I started with that. The benefit is that we are tweaking as we go, so each of us gets the benefit of using parts of the unit that have already been field tested.
This is the plan that captured my thinking before I started--some things
have been adjusted as we work our way through this learning.
As I'm writing this, we are about halfway through our study, and I have to say that while I'm hesitant to lay claim to the genius title, this is definitely not chaos. Instead, because I took the time to lay it out and deliberately searched for how these things overlapped, my kids and I (along with Mr. A. and his kids) have been engaged in some very joyful and purposeful learning.

1 comment:

  1. I truly believe that chaos can produce genius! Even your writing today is so detailed and thorough. I like the way you moved through the dilemmas, made the connections, and captured the planning in the photo. Isn't that exactly what you want the students to do? You might share your thinking with them as appropriate to the age. It could be the real 'ah-ha' moment.
    Congratulations for completing a challenge so well!