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"I really didn't fudge around or erase or smear. The graphite went on quite clear."
Texture in drawing translates the sense of touch into the sense of sight.
This particular series of drawings by Celmins are drawing of the surface of the sea. While we did not have the luxury of sitting on the beach observing for hours and hours before diving into our drawings, we did close observations of photographs and film footage to explore the sea's texture. We used prints of the artist's work to study technique as we created our our own textural seas.
I've had the privilege of exploring his architectural scaffolding—Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species—with my apprentices during Science Discovery.
There are four types of sentences: Statement, Question, Exclamation, and Command. Teachers are famous for jotting that last type—command—in swarms on their chalkboards.
But imagine your science teacher marching into class and scribbling this on the chalkboard:
Devise a system for naming and classifying ALL living things.
Imagine the buggy eyes, the tilted heads, the groans, the tears.
Now imagine a time way before the technological advances that our computer age has to offer. Way, way back before our Declaration of Independence was conceived in the minds of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin there was a young man named Carolus Linnaeus. Born on May 23, 1707, in Råshult, Sweden, his father, a lover of all things botanical, introduced him to the joy of observational science. Young Carolus was encouraged to imagine possibility as he tended his very own garden over time. He looked back fondly on that garden as a place that "inflamed my soul with an unquenchable love of plants."
As Linnaeus continued to observe nature, he developed a passion for order. Over the course of his life, Linnaeus accomplished a great many things—research, publication of scientific papers, a medical practice. Greatest of all, he devised a binomial system for naming and classifying all living things... without the prompting of a teacher's command!
Way before computers, Linnaeus was an information architect.
It's taken the better part of the year to appropriate the great lessons we chip away at on a daily basis—value silence, process is a slow and steady pacing, your-ideas-matter, work works—but now, like a spring bloom, I marvel at the fragrance of their progress. In a few short weeks, you too will be able to flip through the Science Discovery Journals to experience the wonder of this important work.
So much of education is couched in the promise that technology will ensure success. But so much of what we really desire for our children cannot develop without the passion to care about an academic work at hand and the longitude to explore. Challenging children to engage in the work of idea-making and providing the time to Discover just what it takes to bring shape to that idea, time and time again, leads to Critical Creative Thinking. Truth is, technology is a tremendous asset of our age, but the art of learning is a low-tech endeavor.
Ideas of the original variety begin with a spark of curiosity, not a command, and rarely a click.
Remember the metaphor of the flying fish...? Here's another idea: click back to our Pinterest, the Write it... board. Scroll down to the boy flying through the air on the shimmering fish and put on your Poet's Cap.
Imagine that the bony on the flying fish of shimmering shades of orange takes you to a staircase pond of giant carp?
Take your somewhere imaginative.
Think pun. For example, let’s say that you were to write about the following pun: “I don't trust these stairs because they're always up to something.” What might those stairs be up to? Does it have something to do with the upper floor, or could it be something unrelated?
Sky's the limit when you travel by flying fish.
I Don’t Trust These Stairs
I don’t trust these stairs; they’re always up to something.
Apart from fooling around with the well-groomed
second floor, they make a point of tripping me
at least once every day in front of someone I admire,
or stretching themselves to seem higher and longer
during those days when climbing them feels like
scaling the frosty length of Everest: and, in particular,
they seem to find undying pleasure in the task
of making me think that there are more of them,
just when I think that I’ve finished counting the number
of flat heads and sharp shoulders on each flight.
The habit of observing is habit worth developing—a Habit of Being. Observation of simple objects is best when you begin your Observation Journal—a spoon, a clock, a marshmallow, an apple.Getting started is easy as 1, 2, 3...
Trace the edges with your pencil follow along with your eyes.
Begin your sketch, following the outline edges (very s l o w l y). Let your hand "see" all the curves and bumps that your eye sees as you look back and forth from your drawing to the apple. Don't rush. Making a connection between the eyes and the hand is a slow motion exercise.
Simple observational drawings can be embellished with a wash of watercolor. Add a wash of color. And always paint from a puddle, never directly from the pigment tiles.
When creating a wash of color for a red apple Sara reminds us that the red is not the red directly from the tile. "Red in nature is complex. Make a puddle of red and add a tiny drop of green." It's the same process for a pumpkin, add drops of the complimentary color into the prominent color of the object to achieve the natural complexity of the object's color.
As you complete the Observation, putting away materials and washing brushes and paint trays, reflect on what was gleaned. It's likely that what was gained is far more than art far more than science. Developing the skill of observing is a habit of being that invites us to imagine possibility.
Join the fun on our Pinterest and Write it!
It's April—National Month of Poetry— let this little paper girl be your muse. Write a poem inspired by something that is homemade. The object in question need not be a DIY art project—you could write about homemade food, homemade clothing, homemade furniture. In the abstract, think about what habits are homemade, and which homemade ideas have influenced you significantly.
Sticky with lumps of butter,
Subject to lunch-hour teasing, but
They were home.
Take inspiration from French photographer Alain Delorme’s project “Totems”, which centers on the juxtaposition between the traditional and modern state of China, especially Shanghai. What would it be like if everyone had to visibly drag some part of the past with them, in such enormous amounts? What would you drag with you? What would that part of your past look like? Would you proud or ashamed of it? Would you try to cover it up as you dragged it around?
There is a man
who walks around
the city park
carrying a red
balloon. I’ve heard
people say that
he used to sell
balloons in the
park with his
wife, who always
used to wear
a large apron
that was bright red.
No one knows
exactly, but eventually
people started to
notice that the man
comes to the park by
when he comes early,
the only sound
except for the chattering
of some sparrows
is the quiet squeak
of the red plastic as
he runs his hands over it.
Write a story inspired by this Moby Image by Max. Be sure to include a constant undercurrent of apprehension in your tone.
For example, in “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, a subtle mood of apprehension and suspense is built when Jackson withholds key details about the lottery from the audience. In “A Game of Chess” from “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot, Eliot creates an apprehensive and anxious tone through diction and sound. You can also draw inspiration from musical devices-- in Florence + The Machine’s “Breath of Life,” a musical sense of apprehension is built through a prolonged build-up, increasing volume and tempo, and long extensions of notes in a minor key. How might you translate such devices into a simple lyric form such as haiku?
tiny white sailboat
below it, a whale’s black shadow
mouth already open
And be sure to visit our Pinterest, Write it... board for more inspiration.
A few years ago Sara brought me a handful of pumice from Mount St. Helens and so I began the lesson with research of the volcano. We moved from there to the chemistry of carbon. When it comes to Observation, the possibilities are limitless. At last, directed the group of Observers to create a close observation drawing in conduction with the research in their Observation Journals—including a close focus section.
This little jar of fodder has proved more valuable than any textbook. This drawing by Marlo began with value—organic shapes of darks and lights. Once she was satisfied with the large shapes, she began to look for texture, began to mimic what she saw with varied lines on the page. Smaller still, she added dark marks to represent the deep bubbled areas on the volcanic stone. Most significantly, Marlo kept going—she kept looking. Perseverance is a skill that can not be be taught from a textbook.
Can anyone learn to draw like Marlo?
Yes, yes you can. You can draw like Marlo, but first you must learn to observe.
Observation is a foundational academic. Learning to "look closely" across all domains of learning will strengthen the student's Creative Critical Thinking skills. For this reason, Observation exercises should be integrated into the weekly routine to transform this crucial skill to a Habit of Being.
Establish a routine. The comfort of routine, once established, will set roots deep into soil, establishing a framework for the tree to grow strong. The following schedule—45 minutes to 1 hour per day—will allow your children to pace (not RACE) through the Discovery guide and establish the Habits of Beings specific to literacy.
Saturday & Sunday - Read the new section over the weekend... Create a tradition of cozy reading!
Monday- Complete the vocabulary Acquire and begin taking notes in the Journal (Characters, Setting, Plot)
Tuesday- Complete notes Journal (Characters, Setting, Plot) and begin comprehension Recollect
Wednesday- Complete the rough draft Explore, re-read and make edits with a red pen
Thursday- Conference with an adult mentor and complete comprehension Recollect
Friday- Complete the final draft, carefully re-reading and implementing all edit suggestions
We remember the things we discover for ourselves. As your children grow, the intensity of the important work that will enable them to discover, increases. Work is GOOD!
Remember, no child is able to do the work of bringing an original idea into the world without the tools. You can present a child with oil paint, for example, but without the skill to utilize the tool properly—color theory, practice mixing, good brushes and so on—the child will produce muddy colors.
Nothing fosters the higher-level thinking that allows students to form new ideas and opinions about real life more than hashing through a story in a discussion circle. What begins as an imagining in the mind of the writer is translated to story, and in turn, transferred to real life through group discussion. Integration is a powerful tool.
Write about an unexpected sliver of nature found in the city. Find inspiration in the dandelion between sidewalk cracks, the butterflies in South Central L.A., rain in the parched corners of downtown.
butterfly in the subway
did no one notice how you wandered in,
like that one person at a party
who came late and doesn’t know anyone,
and after tipping his hat at the birthday boy
bobs his fluorescently orange way out?
The exchange always goes something like this:
“I can’t teach writing.”
“Yes you can! If you have ever been inspired by words on a page, then you can teach writing.”
If you can read and ask questions when you read something that is not clear, you can be a writing mentor. Whether we are reading a newspaper article, a scientific journal, a novel, or a poem, who wants to read words that are void of ideas?
Great writing begins with an idea crafted to words on a page by a courageous writer.
Madeline L’Engle in, Walking on Water: Reflections of Faith and Art, confides, “I am grateful that I started writing at a very early age, before I realized what a daring thing it is to do, to set words on paper, to attempt to tell a story, create characters.”
The most important thing we can do when it comes to teaching a child to write is to value their imagination and to teach them to do the same.
In my book, Habits of Being: Artifacts from the Classroom Guild I’ve collected snapshots from my experience teaching my own children and students in my Guild to demonstrate just what happens when they engage their curiosity.
Ask yourself, “Do I want my child to write formulaically or to write for real?”
Teaching children to write for real begins by teaching them to believe that their ideas are important enough to do the work of shaping words on a page.
Teach your children to become storytellers. Regardless of domain—fiction to non-fiction—great writing tells a story. Writing is a wonderfully tedious process. Provide writing opportunities that teach children the cardinal rule of real writing: Imagination first. After all, imagination is the seat of great ideas. When children discover that their imagination is valuable and relevant, they will work diligently to refine their voice. Purpose helps writers develop habits of being that motivates them to move through the writing process:
Moving from reading and recognizing ideas, to engaging in personal expression through writing, develops an awareness of the world at large. When students are encouraged to engage in the process of writing, they will discover the power of words.
Great writing is work connected to the soul. Great writing brings shape to imagination. Great writing evokes, engages, and inspires human curiosity.
Students who engage in the process of real writing will develop confidence in their voice, strengthen their ability to communicate new ideas and become keen observers of their world. Authentic voice is a one-of-a-kind fingerprint. And those are words on the page that are worth reading.
Taking notes is a foundational skill that will accompany your student through their entire educational journey and beyond. Even though there is no right way of taking notes, it is important to learn how to extract relevant and pertinent information from a text in a neatly organized, concise manner. This takes practice. As students are encouraged to practice over time the art of capturing the most important details from their reading, they will begin to recognize how the intricacies of a story fit into a larger picture. This is precisely how a Habit of Being is established.
When readers take note of character development, trace a setting, and watch a plot thicken, they are learning more than just the skill of recording facts, they are actually beginning to realize the potential of storytelling. Teaching students to dig into a story, to do the work of reading for meaning, enables them to discover how language has the power to communicate significance. Learning to take notes helps to lay the foundation for rich, clear, and organized writing.
Some might argue, when faced with a classroom of 30 students, or even when faced with one student sitting at a kitchen table stubbornly refusing to write, that teaching from a textbook that tells the student what to learn is an easier method than pulling teeth trying to nurture the independent skill of note taking. We would argue that learning to extract information from a story trains students to do the hard work of, not only attending to the details of reading, but more importantly to develop the skill of integrating knowledge into life outside of the book. As students discover the details and framework that make a story great, they will apply this new-found knowledge to broader academic pursuits in all subject areas.
Nothing fosters the higher-order Critical Creative Thinking that allows students to form ideas and opinions about real life, more than hashing through a story in a discussion circle. What begins as an imagining in the mind of the writer is translated to story, and in turn, transferred to real life through group discussion.
Blackbird & Company literature guides have discussion questions built into every section, providing the framework for weekly interaction between you and your students. These questions are designed to spark student’s memories, trigger their interpretations, and get them thinking beyond the page about how a story can relate to their actual lives. Add to this the opportunity to cultivate a cozy book-minded community and share original ideas during the fifth week of culminating projects and you will have a crafted a literary tradition. In time, students who celebrate books regularly will become excited and amazed about the potential of the written word.
Consider the following when putting a group together:
COMFORT & SIZE
Gathering in a comfortable area, whether in chairs or sitting on the floor, helps set discussion time aside as special and relaxed. Groups of 6-8 work best for allowing everyone to participate.
Clustering students with similar reading skills alows the group to coalesce. As students begin to feel comfortable with their group even reluctant speakers will share what’s on their mind.
Having a regular scheduled time each week helps students pace through their reading and builds anticipation.
Be inspired by student responses and guide the discussion where it wants to go naturally. Don’t worry if things get a little off track as long as students are thinking creatively.
Feel free to use the questions creatively. For example, assign each question to a different student for presentation to the group; allow two groups to take sides and debate the pros and cons of a particular question; use the questions as writing prompts for paragraphs or essays; allow students to role play their response to a question. Use your imagination. The possibilities are endless.
On this first day of spring step outside, celebrate the blossoming and craft a haiku greeting.
How to craft haiku:
s e v e n s y l l a b l e s
1. Haiku poems consist of a three-line stanza—16 to 18 syllables total—written in the following pattern:
Line 1: 5 syllables
Line 2: 7 syllables
Line 3: 5 syllables
*Slight variations in syllabication is appropriate as this helps the poet maintain "one thought in three lines"
2. Haiku poems are typically observations of nature (though the form welcomes other topics), often making reference to the seasons.
3. Haiku poems are tiny snapshots capturing moments in time.
So, a "haiku moment" describes a scene that leads the reader to a feeling.
But, remember, your three lines should be woven to a single thought:
and I croon in the
scent of Spring's dotted song, swoon
in her blossoming colors